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Robert Lee Extrom
Arlington Heights, Illinois -
"I remember that we were walking in some rice paddies and I was trying to stay on top so I didn't get my boots too wet. I was following behind Captain Corley when he turned around and said, “Extrom! Back off! You're drawing too much fire!” That's when I realized that the bubbles in the water were from sniper fire."
- Robert Extrom
My name is Robert Lee Extrom of Arlington Heights, Illinois. I was born April 6, 1930 in Congress Park, Illinois (now part of Brookfield, Illinois), a son of Harry Arthur and Frances “Fannie” Goodyear Fincham Extrom. My father was born in 1887 in Holdridge, Nebraska, and my mother was born on May 27, 1891 in Streator, Illinois. Dad's family was from Sweden and Mom's family was from England.
It should be noted that the family name was Magnus/Magnuson and apparently changed just before they migrated to America. The reason for the name change is unclear. One story said that Sweden had compulsory military service requirements and the family of Magnus had five sons and one daughter. With their plans to go to America soon, they apparently figured a name change would forestall the military process and not hinder their plans. If this was so, it worked.
They came over in the mid to late 1870s. My great grandfather
Magnus was a farmer. Somehow they ended up in Central Illinois.
Around 1883 some of the family, including my grandparents Petter and
Christina Extrom and their one daughter at the time (Ellen, born
June 1882 in Illinois), decided to go west to Nebraska--perhaps for
homesteading, in 1883. They worked as transient farmers for
about ten years in the Holdridge, Nebraska area. Their second
through sixth children were born in Nebraska. We were told that they
lived for some time in a “soddy” house and as farm hands in and
around Holdridge. If Nebraska had had enough timber, I’m sure they
would have built a log structure in quick time. My dad had a twin
sister named Maude. My Uncle Bill was born in Nebraska in May 1889. He
later in life became a policeman in LaGrange Illinois. The Petter
Extroms then came back to Illinois in the early 1890s, got their own
farm, and had three more children to round out the nine
I came into a crowded family. My parents had ten kids but my mother raised twelve as my oldest brother had two small sons whose mother died. The three of them came to live with us. My siblings were Donald Harry Extrom (born in Winona, Illinois, in 1911), Marjorie Eulola Bergstrom (born in 1913 in Ancona, Illinois), Kenneth Albert Extrom (born in 1914 in Ancona), Dorothy Mae Bergstrom (born in 1917 in Winona), Betty Jane Extrom Seaholm (born in 1921 in Cicero, Illinois), Arthur Roland Extrom (born in 1922 in Brookfield, Illinois), Dale Franklin Extrom (born in 1924 in Brookfield), Ellen Ruth Sutton (born in 1925 in Streator, and Edith Laurene Reinmuth (Fisher) (born in 1927 in Streator). Marjorie and Dorothy have the same last name because Marjorie married Carl Bergstrom and Dorothy married George Bergstrom. Carl and George were brothers. All ten children were born at home. Hard to imagine, even with a midwife helping. Just think of all the cloth diapers they went through and that had to be washed, strung on a line to dry, folded, and put away. Mother always had calloused fingers (sometimes bleeding) from getting stabbed by the diaper safety pins over and over again.
My parents farmed in the Winona, Illinois area. Farm families wanted big families because that's where they got their labor. One of the moms who lived in the flats helped my mom with the babies. I was close to my parents and siblings, although my sisters had arguments about who took care of me the most. As the youngest, I often felt like I had more than one mother.
Before my folks were married, my paternal great aunts (Ellen, Mabel and Birdie) used to go hunting for fun. It was like men going fishing. If the women got some squirrels or rabbits, they brought them home. My grandma hunted in her earlier years. My mother did not hunt. Most likely my aunts learned to hunt from my grandfather, Jan Petter, on his farm.
My folks moved often, always renting until 1941 just prior to Pearl Harbor when they bought their first home for about $5,000 in Downers Grove, Illinois. The family came off the farm just after the first World War, about 1919 or 1920. Our folks had four children at that time (Donald, Marjorie, Kenneth, and Dorothy.) The first move to the Chicago Suburbs was to Cicero where in July 1921, Betty was born and became their fifth child. Dad wanted very much to work in the up-and-coming automotive business which had started to boom, but jobs were scarce and he took what he could get. Initially that amounted to various and numerous jobs. Selling vacuum cleaners and other door-to-door products and doing some part-time repair work at an auto dealership. He and his brother Bill took up a little moving business using Bill’s small truck for local moves.
My family moved to Berwyn, Illinois--a few miles away from Congress Park, in 1928. I was born there on April 6, 1930. Ruth (or Edith) was born in the 1920s. My parents primarily moved because my father didn't like farming. After leaving the farming business, my dad worked on farming equipment, keeping the machines running. During harvest, he went with the big equipment (mostly steam engines) to keep the machines running. He also worked on machines used to pull equipment. Dad really could fix anything with a motor. He seemed to be able to remember precisely the sequence of tearing apart mechanical items and reassembling them was no problem.
Dad Takes a Fall
On one very stormy evening, upon walking home from a bus or the “L” line Dad sought shelter in a building under construction. He stepped through a door opening only to suddenly fall some eight or nine feet into an excavation hole, breaking a leg in three places. He passed out in the wet muddy hole until dawn when he came to and began to yell for help. A milk delivery wagon came within his shouting range. Somehow help arrived and he was taken to County Hospital for surgery and rehab for ten or twelve days. My Uncle Bill picked Dad up and took him home from the hospital where he would be bedridden for four to six months. Dad was 26 or 27 years old, and my parents had no income when he was injured. When that happened, three or four of the kids went to live with cousins in Streator. Dorothy, Betty, and Ruth went down for six or eight months to live with relatives who didn't have as many mouths to feed.
A close neighbor of the folks was a great help for Mom with baby duties and supplying food and general support during this rough period. Finally the family was brought back together just in time for another member to come along as our family moved to Brookfield. The exact timing of events is sketchy. Art and Dale were born in Brookfield. Ruth and Edith were born in Streator in 1925 and 1927, respectfully. Apparently Mother’s sister (Edith Cramer) in Streator was able to help her out. Aunt Edith used to say, “She’d have one baby, then our mother (Fannie) would have two before she has a second one—and on it went."
Extrom Bike and Lawnmower Repair Shop
In the latter part of 1930, our family moved from Congress Park to South Madison Street in Hinsdale. We have a group picture of the family at that time with me on mother’s lap—at that crawling age. The house is still there. After two or three years on Madison Street they moved a short distance to South Grant Street and 55th Street on a corner lot. That house still stands. Too bad they couldn’t have kept it for the Sound Hinsdale High School was built a block and half away. I started school at Madison Elementary, just three blocks from home. I walked to the school from Kindergarten to third grades.
Around 1933 or 1934, Dad took out a loan and bought a little tire shop and started the Extrom Bike and Lawnmower Repair Shop located in Hinsdale near the railroad tracks (near York and Ogden Avenue.) Dad was out and gone from the house by 7 a.m. and didn't get home until 7 or 8 at night. Later in life he developed arthritis, but he was able to be at the shop until his arthritis became debilitating.
In 1941, the family business picked up. They had built up more bicycle work with gas rationing on (because of the war). They also picked up lawnmower sharpening work, even repaired washing machines, vacuum cleaners, skate sharpening, almost any type of household and yard garden equipment. For awhile we even got into sporting goods. We became a “Schwinn Bike Dealer” and would you believe it, I never, ever had a brand-new bike. I always had a rebuilt one that I ended up painting and assembling. But it got me where I needed to go for the 4th of July. Seven to eight of us always rode decorated bikes in the Hinsdale parade advertising “Extrom Cycle and Service.”
We had one car when my dad started his business. Dad bought an old car and worked on it. He just loved mechanics. He always had a car—the oldest one that still ran. Then eventually when we were on York Road, he bought a paneled, closed-in truck, and that's what he used for picking up bicycles or other things he could use. Eventually my brother Don bought his own car. I don't remember Mother driving or getting her license. She could drive a horse and buggy. (Before I came along they had a horse and buggy.)
The family moved again to the north side of Hinsdale on York Road, a block from Ogden Avenue. We had a large lot and a barn, orchard, and a lot of trees to climb in. The house was quite run down with a gloomy gray paint, peeling exterior. In Hinsdale, we attended Sunday School at a Baptist church. Sadly, I can’t recall my folks going to church, but I do recall Dad reading his Swedish Bible on Sundays.
We then lived in a three-bedroom apartment in Hinsdale, Illinois on Grant and York Road on the south side. There was one bedroom for my parents and two bedrooms for my siblings and me—three or four kids to a room. When I was about two years old we moved to the north side near the dam. At that time Hinsdale was a town building up. There was a lot of space, but I would not call it rural. We moved from Grant Street because my parents were renting houses then. Much of the bike shop work was seasonal, so Dad had to take out some small loans to pay the rent or fix the car.
In our York Road residence we were less than a mile from Fullersburg Forest Preserve, Salt Creek, and the Old Grau Mill. That was our “playground.” I learned to swim in that dirty creek, as well as ice skate, play hockey, and do some fishing. At the boat house, we helped clean row boats and canoes that were rented out and by doing so, got to use them when they weren’t busy. I remember once we skated from Hinsdale to Western Springs-LaGrange area, which had to be a ten-mile round trip. It took us at least three hours.
John Petter and Christina Moblad Extrom
As far as I know, Grandpa Pete never visited our home. We saw him in Wenona, Illinois, and usually at the Extrom Reunions. My first memory was being somewhat scared upon seeing him—his ruddy wrinkled face partly obscured by a massive mustache covering his upper lip. I recall he spoke with a Swedish accent. We (kids) were not schooled in the Swedish language, so when some of the elder relatives conversed in Swedish we figured it was something we were not to know. My dad seldom spoke in Swedish. Grandpa Pete was born in Vase (Varmland, Sweden) on November 20, 1855 and died in Wenona on March 12, 1946 at age 90. Grandma Christina Moblad Extrom was born February 2, 1854 in Sweden and died on November 9, 1925 in Wenona at the age of 71, before I came on the scene. Hence, I didn’t know her. Petter and Christina were married in Varna, Illinois, on November 4, 1881.
Christina’s mother was Kayse Forslaf of Sunne, Varmland. Christiana had a twin sister Marie, of whom little is known. She also had a half-brother, E.G. Moblad, who lived in Chicago. [NOTE FROM FAMILY: We have since learned more about Christina. She has quite a number of half-siblings. It’s a sad story from another time and to retell at another time. Let it be known, it was quite trendy after immigrating to tell bogus stories portraying immigrant’s illegitimate royal heritage, whether in jest or to hide truth. Bob was told that Christina’s father was supposedly a member of the Swedish Royal family, but in actuality that was a fabrication.] Grandpa Pete had five siblings: Charles (settled in Oklahoma), August (settled in Illinois), John (settled in Illinois), Louise (settled in California), and Andrew (settled in Illinois).
Our grandparents had nine children, thirty-two grandchildren, thirty-six great grandchildren. At death, Petter was survived by one brother—August Extrom of Varna, Illinois. Our own parents helped swell the rank in all offspring categories.
Harry Extrom and Siblings:
|Ellen Theresa||b. June 29, 1882||Born in Varna, IL||d. February 2, 1964|
|Selma Emilia||b. February 21, 1884||Born in Holdridge, NE||d. June 11, 1960, Saskatchewan, Canada|
|Charles Elmer||b. September 26, 1885||Born in Holdridge, NE||d. May 30, 1946|
|Harry Arthur||b. July 14, 1887||Born in Holdridge, NE||d. May 14, 1963|
|Maude Agnes||b. July 14, 1887||Born in Holdridge, NE||d. June 12, 1974, Lakefield, MN|
|William Rudolph||b. May 30, 1889||Born in Holdridge, NE||d. May 19, 1968, LaGrange, IL|
|Mable Olive||b. August 20, 1892||Born in Wenona, IL||d. October 23, 1977, Streator, IL|
|Berdie Marie||b. May 22, 1894||Born in Wenona, IL||d. March 31, 1975, Memphis, TN|
|Lloyd Leonard||b. March 14, 1896||Born in Wenona, IL||d. June 1973, San Bernardino, CA|
We grew up poor, but we didn't realize it. Everyone was in the same boat. Although there were some wealthy people who lived in Hinsdale, ran businesses in Chicago, and commuted by taking the Burlington, they weren't affected by the Depression like the rest of us. During the Great Depression people lost jobs and stores closed, but the bike shop survived because we started to fix other items like sewing machines and radios. I worked at my dad's shop, but I didn't get paid. I worked on bikes, painted them, and fixed them. Of course, I worked under the supervision of my brother Don (and later my brother Dale), who took over the business when Dad began suffering with rheumatoid arthritis. The family business moved to Case and Ogden Avenues in Westmont Illinois in 1944. Don moved the shop to Lisle, Illinois (still on Ogden Avenue) in 1963 and Dale took over when Don died.
I drove the truck for pickup and delivery, mostly lawnmowers, and I swept the floor. In those communities especially, many times the kids had to go to work. Kids dropping out of school was almost more normal than abnormal. My siblings Dale and Edith graduated, but Marge, Dorothy, Ken, Don, and Ruth dropped out of school when they were 15 or 16. Art didn't get his high school diploma until he left the service. Even when they were going to school, when they did get a job they had to bring money home. Almost all the kids had to work. They were expected to work if not busy elsewhere. Betty used to housesit for a doctor who had kids. She spent her summer times and a couple of days a week there.
In those days, if we got twenty-five cents an hour, we were rich. Probably the only thing that helped us survive was when Don got a job at the A&P butcher. We always got meat at a discount or before they threw it out. In those days, they didn't have the big freezers to keep stuff in like they do nowadays. When my brother Kenny went to work for Piggly Wiggly, he brought home leftover stuff that didn't sell. We went to shops for day-old bread and stuff like that. This was just normal for everybody. We always had a large veggie garden and Mother (with help) did a lot of canning of fruits and vegetables.
The way we lived was like The Grapes of Wrath. We came looking for a job and we took what we could get. We couldn't be choosey. Being industrious was built into us. It didn't matter what our age was. When we lived in Hinsdale, to earn a few extra coins we picked the lilacs on Memorial Day. (I shouldn't say this, but we swiped a few tulips that didn't grow in our yard, but in our neighbor's yard.) Then we went to York and Ogden and sold them for twenty-five cents a bouquet. People bought them because in those days there wasn't any other option. There weren't floral shops like we have now. If somebody could get something for a quarter, they bought it instead of spending a buck and a half. That's how we earned our spending money. If we had a little money we could get a foot-long hot dog or a pop or go to a matinee because they were cheaper on Saturdays. We could see the newsreel—we were educated there.
We hunted, fished, and grew veggies. My brother Don moved back home with his two boys when his wife, Clara, died after going into a diabetic coma. Clara was just twenty-six years old. The kitchen table wasn't large enough for all of us to eat at one time, so we ate in shifts that depended on who had to leave first. Supper was the same. Lunch was a peanut butter sandwich and an apple off the tree. We had an orchard back in Hinsdale. Two of the houses had orchards with fruit trees. We also had a grape arbor. We had a mini-farm, so we raised our own chickens for a while. I used to help Don when he killed two or three chickens on a Saturday for Mom to prepare for Sunday dinner. (It took about three chickens per meal.) My brothers whacked their heads off and I remember watching the headless chickens running around spurting blood all over the place until they became motionless. Then they were soaked, plucked, gutted, and cleaned, ready for cooking. We ate a lot of chickens in those days.
We bought a lot of our clothes at second-hand stores and rummage sales. More than half our clothes came from those places. (I didn't like it when I got my first knickers. They rubbed together.) My dad used to cut all the boys' hair and that was before they had electric shavers. Laundry was the biggest household chore. Every Monday, regardless of the weather, Mom had us strip the beds. We probably had four bedrooms on York Road and if there wasn't a bedroom for someone, then there was a bed in the hallway where the landing was. In those days we didn't have as many clothes to launder because we wore our clothes over and over. The biggest things were the underwear and socks. Of course, Mom wouldn't let the boys handle the girls' underwear, but we had to help by putting the clothes out on lines. In the winter we hung them in the attic. It took forever to dry them. I had to match socks. If we got a hole in one of them, we darned it—we didn't just throw out socks because they had a hole.
One thing I can say about a town like Hinsdale, in those days it was probably one of the wealthier areas. The people who had resources were pretty generous in our terms. So if we cut their grass for money, they paid well. There wasn't welfare in those days, so if they knew there was a family in need they sometimes helped them. Art quit school to work for Butler—the polo ranch. He loved horses. I don't remember how they paid, but it wasn't too bad. Some of my early friends became millionaires—the Cushings and the Ketterings. They got their money through their family and education—the Sloan/Kettering Research. Many of them made money through real estate ventures and a lot of people who had pretty good jobs in Chicago in those days (like store managers) had a better income.
There weren't too many that went out west to the cowboy belt or gold mines, but I had an uncle who went to California. It was not like a wagon trip. It's surprising how those old cars got there. I don't know how they did it. There were not gas stations like there are now. Travelers had to bring extra gas with them and tie it on the side. My dad's brother Charles went to Oklahoma.
Chicago went through a transition in those days. There were those who went through some despair, and when they got a few bucks went to the local tavern. But my mother never had any alcohol in the house. She got angry if my brother or Dad took any of us kids into a tavern. We weren't supposed to go into any bowling alleys either. There were certain places we were not allowed to go into because Mother said it would corrupt us. She was a Puritan, meaning she had high moral standards. My dad had high moral standards, too, but my mother spoke it more.
My mom and dad had the desire for a better future. When we moved to Downer's Grove, I usually went to my dad's shop on Saturday. (It was open for business six days a week.) During the week it was too expensive to pay the train fare from Downer's Grove to Hinsdale, so my dad drove the truck. Sometimes I went with him and sometimes I rode my bike the five or six miles from Downers Grove to Hinsdale if I had something to do later in the day.
I remember coming home one time when things weren't going too well at the shop. Like any small business owner, my dad performed work for people–-fixing washing machines, vacuum cleaners, fans, and electrical stuff, as well as bikes and lawn mowers. That day he was really dejected. Probably this was during the war, because a lot of war industries had started up. It seemed like the people who had regular jobs were also getting tight on paying their bills. That was one of the biggest things we had to confront. My sister Edith had to call people who were more than thirty days behind in paying their bills. We didn't think of charging a fee in those days if someone was late, but we probably should have. Collecting money for work performed became a big thing. People used to pay their bills real good, but it seemed like the wealthier they got, they just thought it was a little bill. But it wasn't a little bill to us.
We were coming home from the shop on a Saturday. I can't recall what my dad was talking about, but I remember that he started crying as he was driving. At that time my dad was probably pushing sixty and he, I think, just felt that he didn't have much to show for it. He felt very sad that he couldn't give us what other kids had. It was the first time I ever saw any emotion in my dad. He was pretty stern, but he had a heart about things. It was a side of him I hadn't seen before. Our family started in World War 1 in 1914. There were ten kids born over nineteen years. I think my folks were in a depression their whole married life, although their business started to do better right after the end of the Second World War.
In those days doctors made house calls. I had measles for two weeks and a fever. The doctor came to us because we weren't supposed to go to him if someone had a communicable disease. Certain measles were quarantined by the doctor. My nephew Dick was quarantined with whooping cough. I don't think he was two years old yet. I remember having signs on the door that said, “Don't come in here. You can come to the door, but you can't come in.”
My mother used hand-me-down folk remedies. She gave us castor oil and aspirin when we were sick and used Vicks. If we had an earache she used to heat oil of some kind and put it in our ear warm. There weren't prescriptions in those days. Even the doctors gave us stuff they carried around.
In those days my parents' activities revolved around their churches, but with twelve children to rear and a business to run, I don't remember just how involved they were with churches. Mother went to a congregational church in Streator. Dad went to a Lutheran church.
Christmas was hectic. We always had big gatherings. We had Christmas with our folks early in the morning about seven. That is when we had our Christmas presents that our folks made for us or bought at the Five and Dime. Then Ken and Eleanor, Don and Clara—whoever was married, had their Christmas with us later. We had a big dinner and spent Christmas Day together. It was the Cowboy/Indian era when boys got cap pistols, holsters, and play guns as gifts. I remember that my brother Ken got me a toy cow that mooed when it was moved. He wrapped it up and I didn't want anything to do with that present! One thing I wanted and kept asking for (and probably got when I was in fourth grade) was a pair of boots that had a pocket on the side where I could put a knife. Those were kind of cool.
In Hinsdale, when we moved to York Road, we were near Fullerburg Forest Preserve and McGraw Mill. That was kind of a hang-out place. We went ice skating there and played hockey. There was a boat house there that had canoes and rowboats. On a few occasions we were able to rent one. We used to go fishing down there. I learned to swim in the tributary of the Salt Creek. There were houses on the east side of the street and just farm land. We used to go swimming in the swimming hole. I'm surprised we survived that since cow manure washed in there.
I remember our family reunions. They were a big thing for us. It was our family vacation for the year. The Extrom one was in Winona and the Fincham one was in Streator. Almost all those people down there were farm people. On the Fincham side, they were more business-oriented. My mother's brothers worked for Streator Brick Company, which was a big company. That was when they were still using brick for roads. My uncles did pretty well because the work was steady. During the Depression, the unemployment rate was like 25%. In 1926 construction was down two billion dollars in today's dollars. About 13 million Americans lost their jobs by 1932. The farmers were hit with the Depression. Many of them lost their farms, even though they had food.
The Petter Extrom reunions held in Wenona were special, well-organized in the early years, and well attended. Some 80-100 usually attended. In those days, most relatives lived on farms in Marshall County, Illinois, and any who had moved out of state or to Canada made efforts to attend the reunions every other year. If possible, they were held on the second Saturday in July. Postcards were sent out as a reminder to those living over 100 miles or so from Wenona.
At the reunion in Wenona Park, the younger active generation went
exploring, played softball and other games, toured the four-block
long town, climbed the old coal mind Slag Hill east of town (against
our parents' wishes.) Families arrived around 11 a.m., and after
greetings began to set out all the food in the pavilion, covered
carefully to keep the flies off everything. A call to eat rang out
at about 12-12:30. A prayer of thanksgiving was always offered.
Following lunch and cleanup of tables, a planned family program
commenced. There was
singing, of course, with cousin Alice Olson Evans playing accompanist for duets, sextets, etc. Alice played the accordion or portable organ. Pastor Joseph Hultgren (August Extrom) of Varna gave a devotional and prayer. There was an update of Extrom happenings—births, deaths, illnesses. Sometimes there were readings or citations of poems/story, etc. They held an election of a committee for the next year's reunion. The more local yokels always were elected. The program ran a little over an hour, closed by singing Blest be the Tie that Binds followed by a benediction.
Sadly, the reunion event began to change after World War II. The older ones were leaving the farms, movement to urban and city life and the grim reaper took a toll. Families began to fragment. A remembrance I can’t forget is how our family was stuffed two-deep in our car. Dale, Ruth, Edith, and I were generally the lap-sitters on a two-hour or more drive with only a hot breeze to cool us. Perspiration always won out on the trip. Forbid that we got a flat tire, for we had to empty out all and everything at the side of the road, remove and patch the tire tube and hope it held until we got to Wenona. My first attended reunion was 1934 when I was age four.
A highlight stopover for some of us who were fortunate to be dropped off at Ray and Mabel McFadden’s family farm between Streator and Wenona after the reunion for a few days' stay--usually one or two at a time, depending on available space. It made the ride home less congested for the others. We tasted the real rural life—smells and all. The McFadden boys (Howard, Robert, George, and Dean) did their best to teach—tease and find a few easy chores they felt we “city kids” could handle. We got to ride an old tractor, ride their somewhat stubborn pony (Lady), and play hide-and-seek in the barn hayloft in 90 degree temperatures.
Most of all, I remember enjoying Aunt Mabel’s cooking and baking. Breakfast was the big meal of the day. I think she started baking and cooking before 5 a.m. Many chores were accomplished between 5 a.m.-7 a.m. Then we ate a breakfast that included meat, bacon, eggs, veggies, potatoes, fresh-baked rolls, chocolate milk, and coffee, of course. It couldn’t have been better. A year earlier, we had taken our German Shepherd dog, named Silver, down to the farm. We always liked to see how she was doing after being a “city” dog for three or four years. She was heavier (overfed,) but seemed to enjoy her open air freedom. Brother Don usually came back down to take us home. On one occasion sister Betty stayed at the farm and her cousin Robert McFadden enjoyed teasing her. The story goes that one morning at breakfast time Robert told Betty that some fresh fruit would be nice to have. He asked her to go behind the barn and pick some fresh bananas. Betty (naively at age 15) went out and found stalks of bananas and brought some in, stating that she thought bananas grew on trees. Bob responded, “No, we’ve been growing them just like corn for years.” You see, Robert had gone out and substituted real bananas in the corn husks to set Betty up. I’m sure they had a good laugh at dear Betty’s expense.
My mother graduated from Streator High. Dad got through sixth grade before quitting to work full-time on their farm. That was quite usual for that time period. Of their ten children, four went through the twelfth grade (Dot, Dale, Edith, and I). All the rest dropped out of school by the age of fifteen or sixteen to go to work. None went on to get a college degree.
I was well-behaved mostly. When I was at Madison School, we were putting on a play and when it ended I stuck my head through the curtains and stuck out my tongue. I attended kindergarten and first and second grade at Madison Elementary K-3, a public school. I was four when we moved over to 55th Street and Grant. I either walked or rode my bike to school. The summer before I started third grade we moved to the north side of town and I went to Monroe School. The school was about a mile and a half from York Road. I rode a bus to school once in awhile, but I usually rode a bike. I always took a bag lunch and bought a pint of milk for three cents.
In September 1941 we moved again--this time to 5337 South Lane Place in Downers Grove. We lived in a nice large house on a small lot. There were four bedrooms upstairs and there was a full basement (coal heat), but only one bath (upstairs), where there was always a line in the mornings. It had a one-car garage which later was used to store used bikes and old mowers for parts. Our truck and auto were parked in the back yard, which often created starting problems in the cold winters. My parents were just coming out of the Depression that year, and they bought a house that cost about $4,000-$5,000, I think. They bought it on a payment plan, paying about $50 a month. It was the first time my parents owned a house. Prior to that we moved around a lot, probably because my parents found a place that had cheaper rent. The house is still there. It was a rehab in recent years. It had new siding and windows, a driveway, and a sizeable addition on the back. That $5,000 price in today’s market is near $500,000.
I worked at the Butler Ranch. It had two locations—one in Hinsdale, Illinois and the other in Texas. I worked there in the summer along with other kids, including my brother Art. The youngest son of the owner, Paul Butler Junior, was spoiled. He went to a private school most of the time. He was always immaculate and well-dressed. (Eventually he got in with the Hollywood group later in life.) The older guys who worked at the ranch realized they had never initiated Paul, and felt he shouldn't have been treated any differently than anybody else. Those of us who were part-time at the ranch decided we should initiate him. We dragged him down to Salt Creek and threw him in the muddy creek. He had a beautiful riding outfit on. He got all muddy and gooped up. He was mad. We had to throw him back in the creek to wash him off. He went home and told his older brother what happened. His older brother wanted to get after the boys who initiated Paul, so he came out and asked, “Who did this to my brother?” We had to skedaddle out of there because he found his shotgun to scare us to death, shooting over our head. He chased us a little bit and then we went home and never went back.
I liked school and I liked all my teachers. (You had to.) I didn't participate in any extracurricular activities other than playing football in high school. I was a defensive linebacker, but I was one of the smaller ones, but I was a rather good tackler and back-up center. I was also a guard in basketball and played wherever they needed someone. I was encouraged to go out for sports even with only a five foot three inch frame plus 106 pounds. As a freshman I tried out for football. In those days they had lightweight and heavyweight divisions. Lights was anyone weighing under 140 pounds in August before the first practice started. Since they were usually short of bodies, few if any, were cut the first year. I was a light weight until my senior year. I usually played as a lineman and usually on the second team, but I did letter my junior and senior years. In my junior year, we were undefeated but shared the West Suburban Conference Championship with LaGrange, which also was undefeated. We had one tie each with LaGrange. In our senior year sports changed to the Fresh-Soph and Varsity level format. Dale had been first team at Hinsdale his sophomore and junior years, but was not eligible to play at Downers his senior year because of our move in September. Hinsdale and LaGrange were usually the powerhouse teams in football and basketball in those days.
Sister Edith was a good singer and had leads in Gilbert and
Sullivan operas put on for six or seven years at Downers. My brief
singing career was in my sophomore year in the chorus ranks as an
(policeman) in The Pirates of Penzance. It was fun, but sports were my outlet and desire so I
hung up singing.
When I graduated from Downer's Grove High in 1948, I had reached five foot ten inches, but just weighed 140 pounds. I made the honor roll in three semesters out of eight, but got lost somewhere in the class standings. Our class of ’48 was a rather uniquely-bonded group. Following our 50th reunion, a class newsletter was started and published twice a year. Florence (Hubbard) Babos (later of Fox River Grove) was the editor/publisher and very skillfully directed the “48 UPDATE” for nine years and some eighteen publications. Members of the class tracked and located nearly 98% of our class members. Besides keeping members up to date on happenings, special events, highlights from occupations and careers, travels, birthdays, anniversaries, family illnesses/deaths etc., Florence requested and compiled classmates' biographies for the newsletters, which helped bond us even more. Reunions were held every five years locally, while some regional ones were held in Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and Massachusetts. These were well-attended. The newsletter started out with being thirty pages long and grew to sixty-six and even seventy pages. I guess we got longer winded as we aged. In September of 2008 we had our 60th reunion in Lisle.
No TV’s. No electronic devices. No cells. No stereos. How did we live? We did live better than cave dwellers. We survived childhood diseases and injuries—many home remedies worked quite well. There was no medical insurance in those days. Doctor’s office and examination fees were paid in cash and or even on an installment basis if needed. Their fees were low as were food prices. All was relative, I guess. All of us earned our own spending money. Newspaper routes, selling eggs, selling bouquets of fresh flowers at York and Ogden, grass cutting, leaf raking. Our clothes were mostly hand-me-downs, retailored, patched and clothing was usually purchased at rummage sales. Everyone was in the same boat financially so no keeping up with the latest styles or the Jones’s. It was sometimes hard, but we pulled together and most of our necessities were met.
Entertainment? There was just AM radio, a Victrola for 78 rpm records, piano playing (Mom), violin (Dad), singing (sisters mainly), newspapers, a few magazines, can’t forget comic books and marbles too. Play was imaginative: Kick the Can, Rover, Tag, Dodge Ball (don’t remember anyone getting hurt badly.) Now we’re made to be scared of playing anything that has the potential of injuries in the slightest and from lawsuits. With our family size, we played lots of softball. We had archery, Badminton, tennis, always horseshoes around even smaller rubber horseshoes us kids could use. Croquet, target shooting with BB guns, played Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, Robin Hood, etc. Many of us kids liked to explore the woods for arrowheads, etc, and search through abandoned houses and barns. Treasures were everywhere if one took time to look and dream and search from some. We did have good fun even when I got stuck high in a tree in our yard at age ten. I was playing “Look Out for the Enemy” and ended up getting my foot wedged very tightly in a fork in a tall tree while descending. It must have taken me a half hour to free my foot and finally work down to the ground. We were rather daring. Does this sound like Little House on the Prairie? Our family could have been somewhat like that story.
Mother was always the first line of discipline and control when any of us got out of hand or sassy. If we resisted her corrective action, the dreaded warning “I’ll have to tell your father when he gets home.” We seldom challenged her. We all learned the hard way—that one time with dad was usually enough to brand our memory to obey. With ten children, order had to be maintained. Mother was 39 years old when she had me and she had been through a lot by then. There was 18.6 years between their first son (Don) and the last son (me.) She raised two more 14 after me—grandsons Donny and Dick. Her life was always caring for others. Prior to getting married, [Note from daughter Janice: "Fannie also took care of her own mother after Eulola suffered a stroke."] She endured tremendous daily pressures, worries, stressful events to the point of a nervous breakdown. Several times I found her softly weeping sitting on the living room sofa when I got home from school in Downers Grove. I would hug her, not knowing what to say to her. [Note from daughter Janice: "Only a “manchild” would think a woman weeping was having a nervous breakdown. She was just releasing her stress, Bob! You kids probably did drive her bonkers, but it wasn’t a nervous breakdown."] In a few minutes, she would gather herself, get up and head for the kitchen to start preparing dinner.
Even my dad had his emotionally tough moments as he thought about the stressful times. He battled both Osteoarthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis for years. He developed badly deformed and inflamed hands and joints were very painful to the touch. He got so bad and got to the point that his last ten to twelve years were torturous, needing much care, like what is now rendered in nursing homes today. He died in 1963 at the age of 75. Mom developed cancer. Had surgery to remove half or more of the stomach and did live about four more years before it reappeared. She died in July 1966 at the age of 75. Marjorie died in the year 2000. I will always miss them, one and all. [Note from daughter Janice: "Bob died March 12, 2020 at the age of 89, just three weeks shy of his 90th birthday. Aunt Dorothy lived the longest--until she was 92 years old."]
The Depression continues to affect people even today. Sometimes you hear stories about people who now hoard stuff because they didn't have anything before. We couldn't give things away; we used stuff until it fell apart. I guess we did a lot of things together as a family, too. We all did a vegetable garden. The girls did canning, and we put it in the cellar. It goes back to not wasting your time. Being industrious. I got upset with somebody who appeared to me to be lazy. Of course, going into the marines, you couldn't be lazy—unless you wanted to get kicked out. That's why I have to keep busy, I feel sluggish if I'm not doing something or not planning on doing something.
If a similar financial crisis like the Great Depression hit America today. I think Americans would fare poorly. I guess it would go on the basis that we didn't have credit in those days. It was pay as you go. Do all you can to not borrow money. They started to come out with payment plans at some of the stores, but that was looked down upon. It was like, why would you want to do that? While I was in the service and I was over in Korea, I sent allotment money home. I told my brother Don, “If I get out of here, see if you can find me a car.” I used to go on dates with my dad's greasy truck. Don bought the car for me. I never even saw it. I just wanted a Chevy convertible. That's what I had when I got married and went on my honeymoon.
Like everybody else, I heard the news about the outbreak of World War II on the radio. When the war broke out the government started the draft system. I was too young to be in the service, but my brother Art served with the 82nd Airborne Paratroopers Division (508). He was wounded twice and received two Purple Heart medals. He was shot in the jaw and took shrapnel in the leg during a combat jump in the Netherlands/Holland area. I don't recall how my folks received the news about his injury. I was in middle school at the time. He first took a hit through his lower jaw while descending from the plane. It must have been a small caliber round. It lodged in the jaw bone. They sent him to a hospital in England, and a few months later he rejoined his unit in time to make a second jump at the Battle of the Bulge area. This time he caught shrapnel wounds in his right thigh and hip area and he nearly died from loss of blood. He was put on a med-flight to England for surgery and rehab. He eventually was put on disability at a V.A. Hospital in the United States. Even though the leg injury was worse than the jaw injury, he recovered quite well from his wounds and then put on partial disability all his life.
My brother Dale was in the army also. He joined in 1943 and ended up in an artillery unity before he went to Europe following the Normandy Invasion. Most of his duty was near Belgium. He wasn't in any front line fighting that I know of. Those big Howitzers could fire up to twenty miles. He was in Europe at war’s end. I remember he shipped a large wooden crate home that contained an “over/under” three-barrel shotgun—a rifle used for hunting wild game. He also sent some German officers' swords and bayonets, a Lugar pistol, and other small items (contraband that he probably bought/traded for or won in a card game). I kept the crate under my bed until he got home. Most of the items slowly disappeared as he needed cash. Somewhere I still have couple of bayonets that he gave to me. my brother Don was deferred because an armistice had been declared by then. He was working for my dad and for the A&P. Ken was flat-footed, so they wouldn't take him in the army.
Brother Don and Ken married, as did Marj and Dorothy, and the crowded conditions at home slackened some. Kenneth worked as Assistant Manager at the local Piggly Wiggly. Ken and his wife Eleanor eventually moved to Glen Elynn, Illinois, and he went to work with the National Tea Company. He was in the retail and wholesale food business until he retired. Don became a butcher at the A&P and then worked with Dad in the family business. Marj started a hair salon before she and Carl Bergstrom moved to Alton, Illinois. Carl worked years for Illinois Bell. Art went to work for National Tea Company in 1945. He married Marjorie Lass from LaGrange in 1946. They had no children. He died of a sudden massive heart attack in 1978 in New Orleans while working for a franchise food chain. He was just 55 years old. Dorothy married George Bergstom (Carl’s brother) who was in the Marines—so they moved around a lot. George and Dorothy settled in Phoenix, Arizona. When George retired he went into real estate sales in Arizona. I should note for the record that George and Dorothy’s daughter Susan was Miss Arizona of 1962 and then fourth runner up in the Miss America beauty contest in 1963.
While Dale and Art were in the army, I was down at the bike shop almost every day in the summer time. My job was cleaning up and helping put bikes together, I was also the sweeper and the cleaner-upper who wiped the grease off of stuff. That's where I got my ability to clean.
Six months after my high school graduation, I enlisted in the Marines. I wanted to join the military and since they were drafting already, I decided to join the Marines. I wanted to choose that branch of the military so that I could go into something I could be proud of. I didn't know much about the marines before I enlisted, but Bill Belter's brother was in the marines. I talked to Bill's brother and liked what he said. He said marines had to be in shape and that they did more amphibious landings and not walking through the muddy fields. (I ended up walking through rice paddies in Korea!)
My buddy Bill Belter and I joined the United States Marine Corps together on June 16, 1948 at Navy Pier in Chicago. No promises were made to us by the recruiters. We had to take written, multiple-choice-answer tests to see what we might be qualified for. I wanted to get in the motor pool, but that didn't work out. Five months later I took my boot camp training at Parris Island, South Carolina. My mother and father were not aware that I was signing up. When I told them, Mom and Dad asked, “Why are you doing this?” They didn't want to take the last boy out of the family, but what could they say about it? I don't know if my dad said anything. .By that time my brothers Art and Dale were home from the war, but still assigned to the army.
My overall itinerary during my enlistment in the Marine Corps was as follows:
No one saw me off to the train station. They just said goodbye from home. Everybody gave me advice. Some advice was useful and some of it wasn't. My mom didn't give me a hug. She wasn't much of a hugger. She was like a drill instructor. I wasn't going steady with anybody when I left for Parris Island, so Mom was the biggest letter writer to me while I was in boot camp. Mom took a lot. Because she had three boys who were active members of the military, she put three little US flags in two windows of our home.
We took a train from Chicago to Port Royal, South Carolina, with stops along the way. The stops included Cincinnati, Ohio, and Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia. I was in charge of nine others, including Bill Belter. The orders stated, “You are directed to conduct yourself with proper decorum while en route. Any misconduct by you or the men in your charge is punishable by disciplinary action.” I had to make sure they got meals, we got to Atlanta and picked up a bus in Augusta, Georgia, and that we all arrived at Parris Island.
I smoked on my way to boot camp. We had to buy our own cigarettes. I smoked Lucky Strikes and Camel cigarettes before I went into the military, even though my mom didn't like smoking or drinking. (My dad smoked, but not much.) I can't remember when I quit smoking, but it was a common thing at that time. I guess I was apprehensive on the trip to Parris Island, wanting to make sure that we all got there, and not really knowing what to expect. I didn't know what I was doing, so I wasn't nervous. Having a couple of older brothers who were in the service, I at least got clues what I was going to face.
The nine in my charge were:
1. Erdmann, Stanley John
2. Peterson, Stewart Hand
3. Vaughn, Richard Hamilton
4. Schulte, James Robert
5. Semiginowski, Daniel John
6. Schmidt, Allan Charles
7. Belter, William Rienhold Jr.
8. Albert, David Henry
9. Holschbach, Marvin Valentine
Other than visiting my Grandpa Pete in Winona a few weeks in the summer, this was my first extended time away from home. I had never been out of the State of Illinois except maybe we went out to Lake Geneva (Wisconsin) once. We never took vacations other than short ones to Streator, Pontiac, and Winona.
After entering the base for boot camp, they took roll call for all of us and we learned to take orders. We were given a utility uniform. All they had to do was look at us and they knew our size. I got my hair buzzed. That didn't bother me, but some of the guys from Chicago and Milwaukee—the guys with the zoot suits who had duck tails and curly hair that grew down their neck, broke out crying when they got shaved!
Our platoon number was 255. According to our official platoon photograph, our drill instructors were Sgt. P.H. Myers, Sgt. W.M. Nierman, and Sgt. J.H. Gacik. We had ten weeks of training where we learned how to march, how to clean weapons, how to take orders, and how to shine personal gear. We were given tests to learn what our strengths and weaknesses were. We learned how to shoot a rifle, and at the rifle range we had to qualify with an M1 rifle to become a rifleman. I passed. Toward the end of boot camp I practiced with a .45 pistol.
Our living quarters were barracks with a foot locker and lock and key. We had to make our own bed and put our clothes up. We wore dungarees and we had to press our own clothes. There were maybe twenty or thirty recruits. There were black recruits, but not too many. I didn't notice any prejudice toward them. I only knew Bill Belter from high school at the time, but became friends later with Bill Barks in communication-radio school. (Bill Belter died July 11, 2010 in Springfield, Illinois. William Richard “Bill” Barks died August 10, 2017 in Ohio.)
We had to get up at 5 a.m. by the bugle blowing. We took a shower and then had breakfast in the mess hall. We were fed well. We had a little slack time during meals, but an NCO was still in charge, so meals were somewhat regimented. After we ate we fell out and went back to the barracks to take care of personal gear. We shined our buckle and shoes. On different days we did different things. Sometimes it was classroom training. Other days it was marching, etc. I think we were awakened in the middle of the night maybe once. They wanted to see how we would react after only two hours of sleep.
Every day we were tested. Marching, hiking, jogging, running. They timed us. If we got a cramp we went to sick bay and they took care of us. We had to take classes on the rifle range and we had to meet minimal requirements coming out of boot camp. There were swimming tests. Some guys didn't know how to swim so they had to spend more time with lessons. One of the things we had to pass was to hold our breath and swim fifty yards. I learned to swim back home in Illinois in the Salt Creek. We got acquainted with different gasses and learned how to work the mask. We had to sing the Marine Hymn without a gas mask on, which meant we were crying due to tear gas in the little cabin that was the gas chamber. We didn't worry about cold weather training as it was in South Carolina coastal. Parris Island was semi-tropical, but it wasn't exactly a tropical paradise. There were mosquitoes and there were alligators. The alligators stuck to the water and we didn't see them much. There were a few armadillos. None of these caused grief to the platoon, but we always kept our eyes out for water moccasins.
Some of the D.I.'s were very strict. Some were not. They were picky about marching in formation, how our uniforms looked, if our shoes were in good shape, how we displayed our weapons and if they were clean. Physical discipline was given out, but it was nothing we didn't expect. If the gear was not clean or hung up properly and someone was a repeat offender, he got roughed up and shaken, and possibly special duty like cleaning garbage cans, etc. I personally didn't get into trouble, but I saw others who got extra yelled at or were assigned extra duty. It was the D.I.'s job to get the guys working together for the same goals. I always appreciated my D.I.s. They were not jerks. They didn't have a superiority complex. Our platoon didn't really have any troublemakers. Nobody went AWOL. Bill Belter was in my platoon and he got in trouble for smiling a lot. They told him to wipe the smile off his face. Some of the big city boys had trouble with boot camp, but I don't know why.
Church was offered. I went to church at the times they allotted because I wanted to worship God. About half of my platoon went and half didn't. Even on Sunday they planned things around church. “Fun” in boot camp consisted of writing letters home. We went to bars on the base and I drank Coke.
I was never sorry that I had joined the Marine Corps. I knew what to expect. Boot camp was hard physically, but it wasn’t as difficult as I had feared. The fundamentals of becoming a disciplined Marine were taught well, and I made the necessary adjustments in my life to obey and not let the nitpicking, harsh, intimidating threats get under my skin. As they say—keep your nose clean and make not waves and you’ll survive almost anything. We just followed instructions and listened to them scream at us: “YOU IDIOT!”
At graduation we had to march for the ceremony. Someone from my family came, but I can't remember who. I don't think it was my parents. I was glad that boot camp was over. I persevered. I was a proud U. S. Marine. I felt more confident. I knew that I was expected to follow orders and stay out of trouble. It gave me confidence to be a U. S. Marine.
I went home on a ten-day leave. I don't remember what I did, but I probably visited family and buddies and close mates. I wore my utility uniform. I'm sure people complimented me, but I don't remember. When leave was over, I went to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina, by bus and train. Nothing unusual happened on the trip.
Once at the training camp, I started more classroom stuff. I also had to get acquainted with other weapons such as machine guns, revolvers, M1's, grenades, bazookas, and mortar rounds, We had to learn how to detect other gasses. Rifle and target shooting consisted of firing from the knee, sitting, standing, and lying down. We were tested on our skills. The training I received at Camp LeJeune was more comprehensive than boot camp training. We were taught how to look out for ourselves and others.
The biggest challenge of infantry training for me personally was getting used to the gasses (laughing gas and tear gas), wearing the masks, and removing the masks. We had to go in the classroom without a mask and then they put gas in the room. We had to put our mask on before we passed out or got sick. Some gasses had their own odor. Sometimes we couldn't detect a gas because they had no odor. Sometimes we couldn't detect it until it went off. This training lasted about two weeks and it was on the base. We did not receive any cold weather training.
Following some mundane duty and taking tests at LeJeune for determining a military operational specialty (M.O.S.) for a specialized school, I was reassigned to communications school at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. I didn't receive that assignment at my request. They ordered me because that's where they needed me. I was okay with it and accepted it. I wanted to drive trucks, but the Marine Corps thought I would be better serving as a radio operator.
I attended communications school from March of 1949 to August 1949. The 19-week course was given in a classroom setting. I learned how to receive and send messages, naval procedures, operating procedures, message center, radio equipment, typing, and teletype. I learned to type on a typewriter, although I had had typing in high school. I learned how to operate a teletype machine, how to operate radio-audio equipment (a machine used to send and receive verbal messages), how to code and decode messages, and Morse code techniques. By the end of the course I was qualified as a radio operator-low speed (MOS 776), message center man (MOS 667), and teletype operator (MOS 237).
I don't recall liberty while at communication school, but the Oceanside Camp/School was a nice spot. I spent lots of afternoon on the beach and even tried surf-boarding. I also actually met John Wayne on a movie set at the beach. He, Forest Tucker, and Arleen Dahl were filming a movie (Sands of Iwo Jima) along the shoreline. I was busy taking pictures of all the other guys with John Wayne (using their cameras) and then forgot to get one of myself with him. There were many different events that were enjoyable and fun at Camp Pendleton. For instance, I was a spectator at the 2nd Annual Camp Pendleton Rodeo on July 8, 1949. Major General G.B. Erskine was the commanding officer at that time. I still have a copy of the rodeo program that lists all of the participants. Their names appear in the Appendix of this memoir.
I completed the communications course on August 5, 1949. After graduation I was sent back to Camp LeJeune and became a Radio Operator for an Infantry Company in the 6th Marine Regiment. A few months later I was ordered to go on a Mediterranean cruise. I loaded gear at Motörhead City, North Carolina, on January 3, 1950, left Camp LeJeune by bus the next day, and then boarded a train at Wilmington for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania the same day. I had liberty at Philly at night and visited with friends of Colonel Williams.
I boarded the USS Roanoke on January 5 at noon and she sailed at 1030 hours on January 6th. The Roanoke held up to 1400 officers and men. I knew Bill Barks and a few others. I think there were only Navy/Marine personnel on it, but I don't really remember. I don't recall if there was cargo on it that needed to be dropped off at any bases overseas. The only cargo was what went with the guys.
The ship headed out the Delaware River and into the Atlantic Ocean. I held the rank of Corporal and was assigned to B Company, 1st Battalion, Sixth Marines, Second Division while on the ship. Known as a “Mediterranean Tour”, its purpose was basically to uphold and enforce, if necessary, our foreign policies. It was a four-months duty from January 6 to May 23, 1950. We traveled to Gibraltar, Algeria, Cyprus, Arabia, Greece, Crete, France, Tunisia, Augusta, Messina, Spax, Cirus, Port Said, Jidda, Athens, Suda Bay, Genova, Thessaloniki, Naples, Marseilles, and Algiers—not necessarily in that order.
I had never been on a big ship before, so for a land-lover it was unforgettable. I got a little queasy during the ten weary days that we crossed the rough, wintry sea. Although the Roanoke was a fast light cruiser, it could run only as fast as the more slower ships in the convoy which were joining the Med Fleet. Among those ships were the carrier Midway, the cruiser Newport News, the destroyer tender Sierra, and the auxiliary ship Arneb. There was much tossing and turning, dipping and rising, which kept us 190 fleet Marines on board striving to keep from turning green. We hit rough weather on the trip. Ships always hit rough weather--the ocean is always moving. (At least we didn't travel through a hurricane.) It was kind of like being on a Ferris Wheel at a carnival—going up slow and coming down fast. My stomach and brain had to get used to that. The more we were on the ship, the better it got until everybody got their sea legs in one degree or another.
The USS Roanoke had orders to rendezvous at Gibraltar (the "Rock"), the entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, on January 16, 1950. We anchored and stayed in the Gibraltar Harbor for nearly six days. During that time we were not allowed liberty at the Rock. After leaving the Rock, the Navy held a week of sea exercises with other vessels of the 6th Fleet. We Marines were just spectators, but it was interesting.
Our living quarters were very tight and had five decks. We had to crawl up the corners of the other guys' beds and roll into our bed. Our bed was a little two-inch mattress on springs. We could roll it up and carry it on our back if we wanted. There were little lockers for each guy. There wasn't much room at all. There was a bathroom with a shower. The fact that our quarters were tight didn't really cause a problem because of someone who was seasick. If someone was going to get sick they got up and went to the bathroom.
For entertainment we watched movies, played cards, and read books. I enjoyed the cruise. It gave me time to relax a little, write letters, watch the movies and do some work (exercises). We took turns at guard duty on deck. We also had further training. We had to get off and on the ship by rope ladder and we had weapons training. We did target practice on the ship. They put pennants up in the air like balloons and we tried to aim at them. We used a rifle or artillery piece.
At some ports we were allowed to disembark. At others we couldn't. It depended on the harbor and the countries. When we arrived at the ports, we worked on our equipment, had liberty, and did sightseeing. I purchased postcards for myself and also wrote on them and mailed them home to Mom and Dad. The liberty varied. At some ports we stayed two or three days.
After Gibraltar and the week of watching sea exercises, the Roanoke headed to August, Sicily. The City of Syracuse, which the Apostle Paul visited, was an hour away. After a few days, we sailed around Sicily and put in at the beautiful city of Messina. The Marines had their first shore liberty. From Messina, we could see the Italian mainland and observe Mount Etna and its snow-capped peak. We had to get adjusted to the lire/dollar exchange rate. (At the time it was 625 lire to a dollar.) [Note: The lire was replaced by the euro in 2002.]
The Marine contingency held landing operations on the Island of Malta the first of February. It was our first experience of going over the side of the ship with full gear on (including my 55-pound radio). We gingerly descended down a rope cargo ladder (8-10 abreast) into landing barges, and headed for the beach. I always felt more secure on the beach.
We headed south from Malta and put in at Sfax-Tunisia for a short stay. From there we sailed northeast to Cyprus (Famagusta.). On a tour, some got to visit the Othello Tower—the scene of Shakespeare’s Great Tragedy. Some of us got to visit the city of Salamis where Barnabas was buried.
Leaving Cyprus, we headed for Port Said, Egypt, and then to the city of Suez at the mouth of the canal. Waking up that morning was strange as we went through the canal, moving slowly past Egyptian gun emplacements on the starboard (right) side and British sandbagged bunkers on the port side. If the facing troops had started a firefight, we would have been right in the middle, but all remained quiet as we sailed into the Red Sea and down to Jidda, Saudi Arabia. The Roanoke was the first U.S. vessel through the Suez Canal since before the Second World War. Jidda was the city where Lawrence of Arabia once had his headquarters.
We left Arabia on March 3, and sailed back across the Mediterranean to Izmir (Smyrna) Turkey. There we got to tour the ruined city of Ephesus. I found myself taking a renewed interest in the old world history from Turkey to Greece and Athens. I would have liked to tour Athens had I not run short of cash. (There was no loan office on board.)
From Greece we moved to the Island of Crete for another practice amphibious landing operation. From there we set sail for the west coast of Italy to the Port of Genoa, where Columbus was born. I found Genoa fascinating and not damaged from the war like many other cities were. A real surprise was running into a high school classmate at a local pub who was on a merchant marine vessel also anchored at the Genoa port. We had a little reunion there before the Roanoke sailed back to Greece for a week at Piraeus and Salonika. The more cash-loaded shipmates toured Corinth. Again I was scraping bottom on resources after Genoa.
We sailed back to Italy--the host country of Naples/Rome/Pompeii and Capri. I was able to join a tour (at a cost) to the Vatican, St. Peters, and even was in a group having an audience with Pope Pius XII. We toured the city, the catacombs, and a little of the Appian Way over two days.
We went to Marseille, France and visited Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde church atop the highest peak in the city offering a great view of the entire city and harbor and the fleet. I did not find the French people very cordial to Americans at that time.
On May 6, we headed to Algiers, North Africa, then sailed on to Lisbon, Portugal, making preparations to head for home. The Fleet flag was turned over to the incoming 6th Fleet, then we pulled anchor and sailed for home May 15, 1950, arriving in Norfolk, Virginia, on May 23. We had to board a train and take a bus back to Camp Lejeune, arriving May 25. We soon began to hear about deployment to the Far East.
We were in Camp Lejeune when we began to hear about deployment to the Far East after news of North Korea’s sudden attack into South Korea reached us. I didn't know anything about Korea other than the Japanese lost control of Korea after World War II. I didn't want to go to war. Of course not. Nobody wants to go to war. At my enlistment I didn't know there was going to be a war; however, I signed up knowing that war was a possibility.
After a ten-day leave, most of those just off the Mediterranean cruise were ordered to Camp Pendleton, California. I had no personal effects or car to store. We packed up and headed west to Camp Pendleton. For the next eight weeks we went through intense training in the very hot and dry conditions at Pendleton. We had many twelve-hour days of rapid maneuvers and marches in full-pack, supplies and weapons, into rough terrain, hoping we didn’t step or fall on a rattlesnake--which were everywhere. After getting our shots, we found ourselves in San Diego harbor being loaded on the troop ship USS Buckner. It was around August 1st. We were well out in the Pacific when we found out our next stop—Kobe, Japan.
Bill Barks traveled on the same ship. The difference between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans is that the Pacific is calmer and a smoother ride. We hit one large storm and one smaller storm en route to Kobe. I had watch duty (the same as guard duty) on the ship. It could be six to eight hours duty looking to see if there were any enemy ships in the area or other boats out there. We also had lifeboat training and how to go up and down the net. We used a cargo net to get from the top deck to the lower deck to get into the landing crafts. There was really no trick to it—we had to hold on and use it like a ladder. Every day we had something to do about military protocol. I don't recall having any briefings about what was happening in Korea during the trip.
After approximately seventeen days the USS Simon Buckner arrived at Kobe, Japan, on August 15. I don't recall how long we were there, but we did have some liberty. We could go shopping and meet up with other friends. Three or four guys and I went to a diner and we wanted a milk shake. We couldn't speak Japanese and they didn't speak English, but we were able to persuade the owners of the diner to let us go behind the counter and make them.
While in Kobe we had more classroom training, plus live firing at an old Japanese Army range. We had to brush up on our radio/communications systems and procedures and check out our equipment. In September we went onboard LST troop carriers, and sailed around the Sea of Japan while other ships congregated into a sizeable fleet. After three or four days of going up and down the east coast of North Korea, the fleet made a U-turn and went around the tip of South Korea up into the Yellow Sea toward Inchon.
When we left Japan for Korea we were transferred to another ship. There were ships that went ahead of us to clear the beaches of any mines to make it safe when we landed. I'm not sure, but it may have taken about a week for them to do that. It took maybe two or three days to get from Kobe to Korea. We sailed around the Sea of Japan while other ships congregated into a sizeable fleet. After three or four days of going up and down the east coast of North Korea, the fleet made a U-turn and went around the tip of South Korea up into the Yellow Sea toward Inchon. From Kobe to the port of Inchon we were briefed on what was about to take place. I can't remember who did the briefing. This was most likely done the day before we landed. The mood on the ship was a little of “Let's go get them”, and hoping everything went well.
We loaded our gear into the landing crafts and they lowered the landing crafts down to the water. These crafts carried twenty or thirty troops. Then navy personnel drove the landing craft toward the beach. The weather conditions were good enough to make the landing, and the tide was right. (If the tides were too low, the ships couldn't get in.) The 1st Marine Division was ordered to land on three designated beaches spread out along the shoreline at Inchon: Blue Beach, Red Beach, and Green Beach. One company was to be dropped off at one location and then a hundred yards further there was another drop-off.
There were cruisers and larger landing craft in the vicinity of Inchon, but I didn't count how many. I remember fighter planes and some planes dropping bombs and the sound of boats and artillery fire. Britain had a few ships, but other than that I don't recall other ships that participated in the invasion. The navy had cleared the harbor of mines before we landed.
Early on the morning of September 15, after the big guns stopped firing, we loaded into LVT’s (smaller landing crafts) and headed toward the shore (designated Blue Beach), southeast of the city’s urban area. We landed on Blue Beach in the first wave. We immediately disembarked and moved to higher ground where there were designated areas for us to congregate. The first groups in had to get out of the landing crafts, walk up the shoreline, see where we were going to gather up, and see that everyone was accounted for. By the time we all got off the landing craft, it was four or five o'clock in the afternoon.
Landings never worked out just right. Our officers were always making adjustments on the way. They couldn't just put all of the marines in one little boat and say, “You go to Inchon” or whatever. They were organized into groups. During the landing they could be halfway down the shoreline. Then they had to get everyone back in their right groupings. They didn't give us any real instructions on what to do or not do about wading water up to our waist to get up on shore. There was lots of sand; it was rocky; and there was not good footing. We had to be careful what we stood on. We had to kind of climb over rocks and boulders that were normally in the water. There were big rocks to maneuver around and we tried to not get knocked on our rear-end. The moss near the shoreline was treacherous. It was slippery, so while we walked along rocks we tried not to fall and go under the water because that would get everything we were carrying wet. We didn't want that to happen. I felt safer on the water than I felt on the land going from the landing crafts to the shore.
I remember that Inchon was a good-sized, spread-out city. We secured Blue Beach and then came across a little resistance from the enemy. We were even greeted by the North Koreans. They had set up speaker systems. They blew horns and then we heard, “Welcome to Korea, Americans. Wouldn't you want to be home with your wives and children? Give up now and then you'll get home sooner.” That was their psychology.
Our platoon regrouped around the edge of Inchon city. The captain had his map and had the area where we were going to be. He had to make sure that we were all accounted for. (Some guys might have gotten washed out to shore and took longer to get back in.) We had to get to our assigned groupings and squads and get into the positions they wanted us to be in for that first night. Communications had to be in a certain order. We had to help unload supplies from Green Beach and help build a pontoon dock. We didn't have any problems. At least we didn't have to fight the elements. Rosters told us the ones who would patrol and watch for any Korean groups still in the area that didn't move out—hidden troops or hidden equipment.
With only moderate resistance we made good progress to cut off the east side of Inchon. We then had to find places to bed down that night and have machine guns ready. (I had my .45 ready.) There were two or three captains, staff sergeants, etc. They all had their assigned duties and we had to wait for the master sergeants or staff sergeants or whoever was in charge of our particular group. We had to dig our own “hotel” that night. The officers told us, “Okay. Start digging your foxhole. You twelve men dig your foxholes right here.” We did the best we could until daylight because there wasn't much we could do at nighttime.
I was assigned as a low-speed radio operator in Howe Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division. I had a radio pack and my .45. My equipment was an SCR300 radio, and my job was to operate it. It was like having a telephone. With it we received orders and ordered supplies, and received messages about where the enemy might be, etcetera. As a radio guy, I was supposed to be up with the captain usually, and he was up in the front of his battalion or company; but I didn't really meet Captain Clarence Corley until the next day after we landed at Inchon.
I'll never forget Captain Corley. I liked him. He was more human. Not stuck up. He was kind of the fatherly influence of the guys. He didn't try to show off. He had a kind heart. Corley was a teacher. In fact, he had quite a career after Korea teaching about combat—things that worked well and things that didn't work well. I'm glad I had him because he was a little more down to earth. He was not one of those guys who said, “I know it all. Leave it all to me.” A radio operator gets to know his officer because he sleeps near him, eats with him, reads with him, etc. Captain Corley and I were just like brothers. I had to be with him night and day. I guess he kind of took a little extra precaution with me sometimes. He knew I was on a lot of patrols in a strange area. He had been in the South Pacific during the Second World War and had experienced some of the island skirmishes that they had. He was a young father who had two daughters who were probably grade school age.
After securing the beach and spending the night, we packed up our gear and started heading toward Kimpo and Seoul. (Seoul was about fifteen miles away.) We had South Korean soldiers with us, so we had to have interpreters due to language problems. We left early in the morning at about 7:30 or 8:00 a.m. We didn't see any civilians out while en route to Kimpo.
There was an airstrip at Kimpo where we were to set up defenses and make sure the enemy didn't get it. [KWE note: Kimpo airstrip was originally built on a bed of rocks 1935-1942.] It was daytime and there was some engaging of the enemy, but they were pulling out because they were outnumbered. There were those in the company who were killed or wounded, but I wasn't taking a head count.
We probably had a few World War II Vets with us, but most of us were green troops—we didn't know any better. I had heard about combat from my brothers. They didn't fudge their stories. War was pretty much like they said it was. We had to always prepare ourselves that it was never going to be what we expected. If we expected too much, we would be in trouble.
Captain Corley sort of taught me my vulnerability as a radio operator. I remember that we were walking in some rice paddies and I was trying to stay on top so I didn't get my boots too wet. I was following behind Captain Corley when he turned around and said, “Extrom! Back off! You're drawing too much fire!” That's when I realized that the bubbles in the water were from sniper fire. My five-foot antenna whipping above my head was an attraction and something to site on. I began to realize this was all for real. Up until then, I didn’t feel too threatened or scared. Fortunately the snipers weren’t good shots--at least they missed.
I don't recall exactly, but the buildings that I saw at Kimpo were a little bit of everything—administration, hangars, tents, permanent structures, etc. There were a couple of two engine planes there, but no super jets. There were Jeeps and trucks mainly. There were no tanks there at that time because they were outside of the city of Seoul. We didn't see much of the airport—we didn't go into any hangars or anything. Some of the men in my unit had to go building to building and seek out the enemy that might be hiding. There were small pockets of outburst from the enemy. The few we came across were in everyday clothing and it was difficult to tell the difference between North Koreans and South Koreans because they had no characteristic differences. After we were sure the buildings were clear, we used them to keep our supplies. It was the second afternoon after we landed at Inchon. We were right off the river by the airport, so that made it easier to bring in Jeeps and supplies for use the next day. We pretty much cut off the rest of the communist groups that were in the area, and we got a little more organized.
I remember the first two nights that I spent in my own dug foxhole trying to get some rest while barrages of heavy artillery shells went over our heads toward Seoul. Who could sleep? Catnap, maybe. We came to the shore of the Han River just west of Seoul, crossed the river on the 20t,h and prepared to assault the city of Seoul. We had never trained for city street by street fighting, but we soon learned. Our regiment was assigned to go through the center of Seoul. In the days to follow, we made pretty good progress. Well into the city, I began to hear of increased casualties of Marines I knew from the Mediterranean cruise and from radio school.
The first night in Seoul I was confused about our sleeping arrangements. We spent the night in the northwest corner of Seoul because by that time it was dark out. I remember how lonely I felt and I remember I had to dig my first foxhole. We doubled up so we weren't alone. I remember that the trains that we controlled were running, but there was no air support. During the Inchon invasion through fighting for the liberation of Seoul I didn't really have any close calls. That meant that the North Koreans were heading out.
Going into the capital we didn't have much time to look around. There were no stores open. Seoul was a big city, but the people went to the outskirts. We had to inspect the buildings and sometimes had to set off grenades in a building. We also had to help any South Koreans if they needed any help. We were conscious of anyone in the streets because the North Koreans didn't wear uniforms. Enemy resistance was weak. We basically tracked those who were truly North Koreans out of the city. We didn't take prisoners, but I'm sure there were some taken by other marine units.
While in Seoul I was in a group that was sweeping buildings. We had to be more careful going into a building because there were more places for the enemy to hide. They also rigged bombs onto the door knobs, so we had to be cautious. We were by a grade school that was in an apartment-like complex where children up to maybe sixth or seventh grade attended. We were trying to keep the people in the buildings and not wander around. Suddenly a guy came running at me. He was a South Korean who might have been eighty years old. It was hard to tell because the Koreans were smaller built and looked older than they really were. I didn't know who he was—he might have been the school principal. He wasn't wearing a uniform and was dressed as a civilian. He came at me waving a flag and wanting to hug me. I couldn't understand what he was saying and just because he was waving an American flag didn't mean anything because the enemy wanted us to believe that they were our buddies. My pistol wasn't out. I was just talking on the radio. I had to draw my .45 from the holster and point it at him because I didn't know what he was up to. I kept telling him to go back into the building and told him, “You better stop now. Lay down the flag. Stay there.” But I couldn't converse with him because I didn't know the Korean language. I was afraid I was going to have to shoot him. Some other South Koreans at the school building windows yelled at him to stop, and motioned for him to come back. He was safer in the school than out in the field. He finally stopped. I went against what the book said—I couldn't shoot him even though he was running at me. It was a judgment that I had to make on the spur of the moment.
With the school there that made it harder. Their schools were not set up like our schools. There was no junior high or high school. They were all mixed together. I don't remember the length of the school sessions like for the summer time. I don't remember seeing too many kids with books under their arms, so whatever they had for school books was left in the schools. They didn't take them with them. When a lot of the younger kids were in their schools, the parents were usually there with them. So it was like a family-organized situation that was not like our systems in the USA. We had to inspect the school kids to make sure they weren't carrying grenades or other weapons. We had to try to get them to stay out of the way.
We had to assume that the enemy was smarter than we thought he was. One time they got unique. They mounted a machine gun on a little cart and covered over what it was by hanging other stuff on it like it was just going to the market. They took the school kids and had them pull the trailer right out there in the battlefield. Now what do we do? We couldn't go around shooting all the fourth and fifth graders. The enemy used all the techniques, so we had to use common sense. If you're the nervous type or over-cautious, you are going to make more mistakes than if you take your time about it and try to work through it. We had to be careful what we did and tell ourselves to stay afoot. We had to use our own experiences. Maybe it was good that I came from a big family. In the school incident, it was better to do nothing than do the wrong thing. I was very cautious about shooting at anybody who was carrying the stars and stripes. I found out later that all the old man was trying to do was congratulate us. It was a strange feeling. He was on my side. He was one of ours. On Sept 30th Seoul was secure and by about October 5th, South Korea civilian rule took over albeit a heavily damaged city.
After we liberated Seoul, we headed west/southwest back to Inchon. The enemy was going north. Outside of Seoul near a rest area, we had a little time off. We played a short game of “touch” football. Someone elbowed me in the jaw and cracked my two front teeth. I got an infection and could hardly bite down. We then had to find the marine dentist/medical building. They removed the remainder of the two teeth. I got some numbing stuff to deaden the pain. I'm guessing they gave me some penicillin. I had trouble eating for a few days.
On October 23, 1950, Bob Hope gave a USO show in Seoul, and I got to see it. It was the only USO show that I saw while in Korea. Hope told jokes and sang. He had two other singers with him, but I don't recall who they were. Another thing that I recall is that sometime before we moved up to North Korea, a single engine spot plane crashed just about 400 yards from us. It was one of those low-speed planes that came in to drop delayed bombs. It sounded like it was having engine trouble after being shot by the enemy. It couldn't keep altitude so the pilot had to find a smooth spot to do a crash landing. Men from my unit went to check on the pilot. Thankfully, he was able to get out.
Once we arrived back at Inchon, we were destined for Wonsan, North Korea. We got to rest a little before boarding a large LST, but I don't recall for how long.
The decision to cross over the 38th parallel was made. From October 26 to December 13, 1950, members of the 1st Marine Division participated in the Wonsan-Hungnam-Chosin campaign on foot, trucks, Jeeps, and tanks. Some Marines were flown into Hagaru-ri because they didn't want to wait for more ships to arrive.
From Inchon we traveled about eleven days on the water to Wonsan, located on the east coast of North Korea. The LST held tanks and Jeeps and personnel. We had no duty on the ship. I don't recall that we had any further training. We didn't do anything. We just rode along until we got to Wonsan. The navy had arrived first with big guns to clear the beaches of the enemy that was there, then the navy brought in minesweepers and cleared the mines so we could go ashore. We had orders to assault Wonsan and surrounding area just below Hungnam. Once we got there we had to walk through water to get to the beach. Our landing was uncontested by the enemy, although North Korean units had started to filter north from central to South Korea attempting to regroup. We got ready to bed down somehow somewhere. At that time the weather was sunny, not cold, but a little cool.
The town of Majon-ni was a major road intersection the North Korean tried to use. Our Battalion was assigned a defensive mission to cut off all “gooks” as they were called. We patrolled all roads and set up outposts. The area became known as “Ambush Alley.” Several of our outposts were overrun. Radio communications were bad because of the hilly terrain.
Just outside of Wonsan on November 2, 1950, I got sick with laryngitis and a cold. I was to do a daylight patrol, but my buddy filled in for me. While on a motorized patrol south of the city Bill (Barks) got badly shot up when they were ambushed. He had fourteen holes in his abdomen. We had to send a rescue team in and recover bodies and collect the wounded. I was on that team and I felt guilty that my buddy had received multiple wounds. Bill received medical attention and was sent to a hospital. Later I wrote letters to his father trying to find out if he survived or not. I didn't hear for a while, but he did write back to tell me that Bill survived. [See Addendum – Letter from the Barks.] Stateside newspapers carried news articles about Bill's injury. See also, Addendum – Obituary William Richard Barks.]
Pfc. William Barks of the United States Marine Corp was awarded the Bronze Star. He was given the award by the commanding officer of the U.S. Naval Hospital where he was a patient recovering from his wounds. On the Bronze Star ribbon he is entitled to wear the combat “V” which stands for valor. Barks was wounded in Korea on November 2, 1950 while on patrol duty near Wonson. He had volunteered for duty in the place of a buddy who was ill. The patrol was ambushed by the Chinese Reds in a mountain pass and they then blew up the bridge behind the patrol. Now they were trapped and completely surrounded from above by the enemy. After Barks, who was a forward observer-radio operator, had the antenna shot from the radio he was carrying, he attempted to reach another radio, in order to summon help for the patrol. In doing so he had to make a dash in the open through enemy gunfire. He was severely wounded across his abdomen by fourteen machine gun bullets.
A young U.S. Marine Corps forward observer radio operator, twenty year old Pfc. William R. Barks from Zanesville, wounded in action near Wonson, Korea received the thrill of his lifetime. Barks who was convalescing from surgery to repair his abdomen and remove fourteen bullets from a Russian made machine gun at the U.S. Naval hospital in Yokosuka, Japan on Thanksgiving day, when a kindly, balding man in a business suit stopped at his bed with a navy photographer. Before he realized what was happening, Barks found himself the center of attention as Navy Secretary, Francis P. Matthews personally presented him with the Purple Heart Award to the “pop” of flashbulbs. (Information taken in part from article in Zanesville newspaper, written by Larry Murphy, News Service Editor)
Cpl. William Barks, with the U.S. Marine Corps has sailed from Norfolk, Va., with the 2nd Marine Division to take part in the naval maneuver in the Caribbean area. He will serve as radio operator with a naval gun fire team. Wounded in Korea in November of last year, Barks was discharged from the Philadelphia Naval Hospital in July of this year (1951), promoted to Corporal. While doing light duty at the Naval Ammunitions Depot in Indiana, he was reassigned to the Chineoteague, Virginia., Navy Air Station. From there he was called to take part in the Caribbean Cruise. (Information taken in part from a local newspaper clipping)
William R. Barks, of the U.S. Marine Corps, has been promoted to sergeant according to a letter received by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frank H. Barks of 1933 Maple Avenue. Sergeant Barks enlisted in the Marine Corp. in 1948 and at the present time is in Cuba for naval gun fire training. Wounded in Korea on Nov. 2, 1950, he was hospitalized for two months in the Philadelphia Naval Hospital, before returning to active duty. He has served as forward observer-radio operator for nearly 4 years. Barks was awarded the Bronze Star with V for valor, the Purple Heart, good conduct, sharp shooter and other medals in the past three years. He has served as forward observer-radio operator for nearly 4 years. (Taken in part from a local newspaper clipping)
After our battalion was relieved at Majon-ni, we were sent north toward Hungnam and up to Koto-ri. From there we hiked some twelve miles up a winding mountain road (which was to be our main supply route) to Hagaru-ri, at the south end of the Chosin Reservoir. (We named it “Frozen-Chosin.”) The gravel roads were frozen, but not covered with snow when we got there. Some areas were mountainous, rocky, and steep. Around Koto-ri and Hagaru-ri there were some flat areas. There were mountainous streams. The temperature in North Korea started to drop with the cold air currents and the mountainous areas. As we went up in elevation the temperature dropped to about 40 degrees to 20 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes.
We were on the main supply route, and as we headed north we had sporadic enemy resistance. Howe Company was ordered to position its troops south of Hagaru and east of the airstrip. Our job was to fight off the enemy that was attacking us from all sides. We had somebody stay back with the extra gear and the rest of us went on to meet the enemy. I remember that while we were packing someone said that we had better have a little chow down before we left because we didn't know if we would be able to stop and eat again for another four or five hours.
It was now early November. General MacArthur and staff in Japan had reasoned that the early Chinese Communist threats made to the United Nations and to the United States was a bluff. But even the top brass made errors in judgment, for the Chinese armies had amassed on the Yalu River at the northern border of North Korea. Hagaru was some 4,000 feet above sea level. Two Marine regiments (the 5th and 7th) were to press on toward the Yalu River while two of our battalions set up defensive positions around Hagaru-ri. One of our battalions was left at the base of the main supply route at Koto-ri. Our division headquarters engineers, heavy equipment, and some tanks moved into the city. Immediately a landing strip was begun by the engineers. There was a lot of activity for three or four days. Even a company of British Royal Marines came up to assist our division.
I was in Korea for thirteen months, so I probably had two Thanksgivings in Korea. I don't remember the details,
but I do remember that we had turkey. For me, the best part of the Thanksgiving meal was the bread. It seemed
like Thanksgiving. Christmas was the same. The military supplied all the troops with fresh bread, butter, and
jelly for the holidays. It was a nice thought. We went through a loaf of bread two or three times in December
and January. We spent all day eating loaves of bread. There were all these troops (two companies was like 100
men) with bread under their arms, heading back to their holes in the ground to eat fresh bread and jelly. Certain
guys were kind of like runners. They had to go to where the bakeries were unloading on the ships with fresh
bread baked in Japan and brought over to Korea. When we didn't have fresh bread, especially around a holiday,
it just didn't seem like Christmas. The people back home made an effort to bake bread and other food items.
I probably got care packages from my mother, but I can't remember what. Usually it was just flat bread with
a little frosting on it. The guys at the Message Center were always involved in distributing things that came
off the ships and planes for the troops, but I especially remember the fresh bread. It came
in standard loaves, not skinny or small like French bread. They were actually loaves.
There are so many tanks going through the mountains in North Korea and so many dead bodies on the side of
the road that they didn't stop and pick them up to clear the roadway. They checked for ID's and filed a report,
but kept moving. If you wanted to get shot, you stopped, so if we were following some tanks, when the tanks
moved, we moved. We didn't have time to put two and two together. We were following a tank when we came to an
area that was kind of an intersection near Hagaru-ri. I remember that there was a dead body in the middle of
the gravel roadway. I was shocked. He was a North Korean or Chinese enemy that had been flattened on the road,
having been run over and over by tanks and other vehicles. He was only about six
inches thick at this point and looked to be about eight feet tall. He was just like almost make-believe and something that I never expected. Flat. He had been run over so many times by tanks that his body was like a pancake, and there we were walking right over on top of him. I could have picked him up with my bayonet or with one hand, but he was part of the ground.
It was the first time I had been that close to a body that had been
run over by a tank. I knew he was dead, but still it affected me. He was probably a father and had kids at home.
You don't get over that very easily. I had to just close my eyes, push it out of my mind, and keep going. You
can't imagine how that is when you haven't been exposed to something like that. I still can't get that image
out of my mind. I remember thinking that anybody who thinks war is good has something wrong in the head—I don't
care what outfit he's with. All that could be done with the dead bodies was to get them out of the way by pushing
them off the side of the road and down in the gullies. I also thought, “That's going to stink in the springtime
when their bodies start
Winter weather set in by the tenth of November, and clothing-wise we were little prepared for the sudden cold blustery snowing conditions we began to endure. I was now assigned to our battalion headquarters—radio op for Major Joseph Trompeter (the S3 Operation Officer.) This was my good luck as we had tents with oil heat units and had a stove to heat our C-rations on. The reservoir and city was surrounded by hills which had to be manned by infantry companies 24 hours a day. Frost had set in and the suffering infantry troops had to scrape out fox holes for shelter. In many cases, hand grenades were necessary to break through the frost.
We finally got some heavy coats (parkas, gloves, wool socks and snow pac boots.) In some respect, the heavy clothing made for less and slower mobility. We were instructed to change our socks at least twice a day or our feet could freeze inside the boots from perspiration build-up. Many men developed frozen toes and feet and had to be evacuated. Can you imagine changing wet woolen socks in zero and below temperatures—putting the wet ones under your tee-shirt next to the skin to dry out as much as was possible before you changed them again. Pretty soon we adjusted to the smell. We all smelled alike—we stunk.
Eventually the temperature got below minus 40 degrees. We were cold, but because we were moving all the time we didn't always feel the cold, even if it was twenty below zero. We adapted to it. We wore four and five layers of clothes, but many still got frozen limbs or feet. When we weren't in battle we had time to kill, so what could we do to warm ourselves up? We just waited it out.
We couldn't oil our weapons as the oil gelled from the cold and the weapons wouldn't fire. When batteries in the Jeeps and trucks quit working they got one started and then used jumper cables to start others. Our sense of touch was lessened from being cold, but our sense of hearing and smell was heightened as we were looking out for the enemy. There was snow and at times it was windy. We kept one pair of socks against our chest to dry out and we tried to find time to switch them out as often as we could. We were all concerned about getting frostbite. We kept our feet dry and changed our socks often to try to prevent that. On occasion we got to go into a warming tent, but we couldn't stay in there very long. A warming tent was a heavy-duty tent that had a little burner that used fuel to heat up the tent.
Our normal meals were food rations that came in cans. Everything froze, and if we put food next to our body it still remained partially frozen. I remember that I preferred lima beans over spaghetti, so I traded my spaghetti with another guy for his lima beans. (When you're hungry, you eat anything.) When we had C-rations we could cut the top off and hang it by a wire near a fire to warm them. On our utility knife there was a tool for taking the lid off of a can. Our rations included things to drink such as Kool-Aid and little chocolate bars that we could mix with hot water to make hot cocoa.
They brought in a water tanker. Occasionally, we could take a
cold shower then. If the tank couldn't get through we got our water from streams. We had pills (Halazone tablets)
to sanitize the water. The guys who had been in the jungles of the South Pacific during World War II recalled
that a lot of the water was polluted, so we knew that we had to be careful what we drank. They didn't bring
up vehicles with fresh water all the time, so when we had water we didn't gulp it down. Near the large lakes
and fast moving streams, we had to be careful, especially if we were setting up with the knowledge that we were
going to be there for a
while. We had to have access to water and roads. Usually those areas were flat.
The farthest point north that my unit reached before the withdrawal began was south of Hagaru. I think the Marine unit that was further north than mine was the 7th Marines at East Hill. There were some civilians heading south as we were traveling north, but I didn't see many. We were on the eastern side of the reservoir area, and I don't recall if we saw army troops. There was some air support—mostly dropping supplies. Most of our supplies were airlifted—some by parachute and some by plane at Hagaru-ri. They always arrived in a timely fashion. Airdrops were constant from our “supply line in the sky.”
The good thing was that the North Koreans didn't tend to have an air force capable of doing much damage. As to the Chinese, we weren't sure if there were Chinese troops in the area. It was a rather large area. The Chinese enemy were good fighters. We didn't try to be objective as to how good they were. We were always concerned about how to keep our guys together in a mountainous area. When the Chinese attacked it could be either daytime or nighttime. If there was a group and the enemy broke through, they shot anything that moved. I recall the Chinese came in under the cover of darkness and bayoneted our men who were in their foxholes trying to get some sleep. They didn't all die, but some were seriously wounded.
I personally was not involved in hand (close-in) combat because I was a radio guy to Captain Corley. I did not participate in evacuation of the wounded for the same reason. Of course, I saw things that were tragic. People got shot, killed, and wounded. I was blown off my feet a few times by mortars. One time a mortar went off and blew me down a hill. I had to scramble back up and work to get communications going again. I had a large piece of shrapnel imbedded in my spare radio battery, which I believe saved my life. I believe I sustained a concussion, but did not seek medical attention. I have had back issues since. My Christian faith certainly entered my mind. I did a lot of praying—for a successful outcome and to keep us safe.
The adequacy of our officers was good. When we were moving around a lot we didn't have a set plan. They had to make sure we were getting supplies and ammunition. I don't know if the marines had advantages or disadvantages in the Chosin area. They did what they did to survive.
Capt. Clarence Corley was married and had two daughters. He was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. His duties were that of a Captain of Howe Company. He led the company. He gave orders. I learned that he was a fair and honest guy who looked out for his company. He was a down-to-earth kind of guy and didn't brag or boast. He had his daughters on his mind a lot, I'm sure, so he played it cautious. He didn't try to get some special medal. He did what he had to do. Captain Corley received two Silver Star medals during the Korean War. His first one was a Silver Star for his actions in the Chosin Reservoir campaign. The citation reads:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Captain Clarence E. Corley, Jr. (MCSN: 0–20003), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Commanding Officer of Company H, Third Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in the vicinity of Hagaru-ri, Korea, on 28 and 29 November 1950. When a vastly out-numbering hostile force attacked his company's position and penetrated the center of the lines, Captain Corley fearlessly moved through intense small arms, mortar, artillery and machine gun fire while deploying his men and directing their fire to contain the breakthrough until reinforcements arrived from the battalion command post. Integrating the reinforcing troops with his own, he led a brilliantly executed counterattack against the aggressors and, although painfully wounded during the initial stages of the action, staunchly refused to be evacuated and remained to lead his men in a bitterly fought battle to rout the enemy and repulse the onslaught. His daring and aggressive leadership, indomitable fighting spirit and superb tactics in the face of heavy odds served as an inspiration to all who observed him and reflect the highest credit upon Captain Corley and the United States Naval Service.
I was with the company commander most of the time because I had the radio transmitting messages, calling for medics, and calling for some outside units to come in to help if they were close by. I remember one incident when Captain Corley told his commanding officer, “They're running all over our whole front.” Howe Company's headquarters were on a hillside and there were about twenty or thirty men there. Everybody else in the company (sixty or seventy guys) was spread out with one or two guys here and one or two guys over there. We didn't know how many men the enemy had.
When the enemy broke through our lines we were on flat ground and there were tents to keep us out of the elements. Captain Corley probably felt a little foolish that his company was being overrun by the enemy. The major replied, “What're you doing about it? Sitting there watching them? You organize your own attack groups. You attack the ones in your area; you drive them out of there.” He told him, “Get a couple of your lieutenants. Get some of your men. Make a sweep through your area. You might be going 200 yards one way and 200 yards another, but you've got to get in there and wipe those guys out in there.” He was upset that Captain Corley hesitated about sending more troops into the enemy's bivouac area to clean out some of the enemy that was still there. (A bivouac area was where they were staying. Where their foxholes were. Where their machine guns were.) The major told Captain Corley, “You've got to work with whoever is in your headquarters area right now. I don't care what their MOS is—radio operators, those picking up the wounded, etc. You clean the area out to get the enemy out instead of saying, ‘What are we going to do?' You can't just sit back behind the hill. You've got to do something.” He chewed Captain Corley up pretty bad on the radio. He blasted him for not moving his men where the captain wanted them to be moved.
Captain Corley was a laid-back individual who was cautious about sending his men against the enemy. I felt bad that he got yelled at, but those things are going to happen with different personalities. Some people are affected differently in certain situations and are afraid to take a risk because they might lose more men. But you can't look at it that way. You have to look at it overall. The major was right. There is a time when you don't sit down and make nicey-nicey. You've got to do what has to be done—sweep through the area and capture or kill all the enemy you see. You can't just sit back and they, “They've got us covered.” You've got to keep finding the enemy. You can't say, “Maybe if we just hide they'll go away.” The thing is, sometimes you have to risk something to gain something. Engage the enemy if there is any enemy there. When a company is overrun, a lot of people get shot that shouldn't get shot. Lines of perimeters for each unit might be only half a block away, but when the enemy breaks through company lines and overruns it, they could wipe out the company commander and everybody else. We had to get rid of those guys who were roaming around. We always had a feeling that the enemy was getting behind us, even though we wanted the enemy in front of us.
After chewing Captain Corley out, the major then said, “Don't worry about it. Get them out of there. You can't operate with them running around your whole front area there.” He knew that Captain Corley shouldn't just sit there, because his men would get picked off if they sat there too long. Captain Corley had to take some second lieutenants and some other staff and put together a little group to go back through the area where the enemy was bivouacked in order to get them back on the firing line. Sometimes it was necessary to attack just to show the enemy that we were going to resist.
[KWE Note: Capt. Clarence Eugene Corley Jr. continued in the Marine Corps after the Korean War and attained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. See the Addendum of this memoir for his obituary listing on the Arlington National Cemetery website. Also in the Addendum is the citation for his second Silver Star, received for action in Korea in 1951.]
When the Chinese hordes attacked our division and we were in serious trouble being strung out over some twenty-five miles along the only supply route, our regiment and division headquarters at Hagaru came under heavy attacks--always at night. Causalities mounted and the most serious were flown out from the air strip. The strip also came under attack and the engineers became infantry troops. No matter where we went we found bodies, machinery, Jeeps, and stuff like that down in the culverts. They had gotten blown off the road because the United States Air Force had to get in there to clean the enemy out so we could pass through. We were up in the mountains and hills, and there weren't many trees.
We usually followed a tank. I felt eerie about that because the enemy wired bombs up and put them on the side of the roads to knock the tracks off the tanks. We always watched where we were walking and tried to see signs that they might have planted a couple of charges across the sides of the roads to block traffic from moving. When I look back over it, it was like a nasty dream. We always had to keep moving. The worst thing we could do was stop and take it easy.
We went through similar situations at certain junctions near the North Korean headquarters. The roads up there
were just gravel roads, and many times following the tanks the walking military guys said, “Don't stray too
far off from the road.” The tanks and trucks usually cleared out any bombs or traps that were set, but we were
always at risk of getting too far off the road and setting off a charge that the enemy had set in the road or
off to the side. The tanks were wider than the other vehicles, so we probably stayed within three or four feet
off the actual road. We were on the side, like a trail. We never spread out. We just followed the guy in front
of us hoping he wouldn't set off a charge in the road. We couldn't see the charge because it was buried.
We were always on pins and needles as to which way we should go, but we had to follow our leaders and what they told us.
We always looking for signs that the enemy had recently dug up the road with their equipment. (The
roads were gravel, not cement.) We couldn't go off on our own because we would be in more trouble if we did.
Depending on how they set their charges, we might walk right over a detonation device, a grenade, or something
else. The enemy figured we were no good for them. If they shot someone they just left him on the roadside. We
became fatalists. What will be will be. We started telling ourselves that we couldn't do a thing about it if
we stepped on a charge that was planted on the roadside. Usually the people who were walking
didn't get hit as much as a Jeep or a tank. When treads of a vehicle were blown off, we just had to walk around it.
The higher up in elevation we went, the colder it got. In November-December 1950, it was record cold—lower
than minus 20, 30, 40, 50 below. That wasn't wind chill; that was temperatures. We could bathe in mountain streams,
but they were ice cold. When battle conditions kind of calmed down, we had an open-air shower. We ran into the
water and then got out and dried off as fast as we could, otherwise the skin would freeze on our fingers and
toes. If a unit was going to stay in one spot for one, two or three weeks, a shower or bath facility could be
set up. Tanker units could carry warm water out to the front lines, but we didn't go into a building some place
to take a bath. We were usually outside. We heated water in a big tub with charcoal bricks underneath as firewood.
Even though the water was heated, it was really cold. Once out of the water I wanted to get back in because
even though the water was cold, it was warmer in the tub than out there where the wind was blowing. We hurried
up and rinsed off, dried down fast with a towel, and then got our clothes back on. Once in a while we found
a couple of farmers that had bath units in garage-type buildings. It was a nice change, but we usually couldn't
dilly-dally because so many were trying to take a bath. Sometimes we could get a loaf of bread and a little
tin of jelly and then we could take a bath. I got to take a bath about
once a month.
I remember that we were up in the foothills of the mountains in maybe December. It was cold
and we were trying our best to stay dry. Someone had made arrangements with a farmer to use his barn. It was
a pretty nice barn and the farmer had set up a little place for Americans who wanted to take a warm bath inside
instead of going out in an ice cold stream someplace to wash some of the crud off. He had a round, wooden bathtub
about the size of a kitchen table or a little wider. We gave him what we could afford to give him and he got
some American cash to use as he wanted. We got to take a bath, but we didn't want to get our clothes wet or
soapy. How were we going to dry them? We couldn't when it was already thirty or forty degrees outside. We kept
our socks dry by changing them two or three times a day. We had to because our feet perspired in our
boots. If we didn't change into dry socks, how would we get our frozen feet inside of boots? Our laundry had to be done by hand and usually we just had time to wash our underwear while we took a bath.
Messages were dispersed verbally via telephone from the communications officer to the captain or major or officer for the other units and mortar units. If they didn't want the enemy to know what they were doing, they had coded messages that could be sent by radio. For instance, if we were moving up the road about two miles, they communicated that verbally. If the change was going to happen right then, it wasn't necessary to sit and code a message so the enemy couldn't read it. In that situation the communications people didn't really care who heard them. The plan wasn't going to change and the plan needed to be communicated right away. It was the same thing for feedback regarding the need for more mortar rounds or the need for more troops going on patrol or something. It was strictly an operator who knew the basics in the field that was working with a higher-up—a captain or major.
I only had one episode in all my tour in Korea where I was on duty when I got a message that came in code. We were in The Chosin campaign and I was on radio standby. There was a system we had to use to pick up that message, and hopefully the enemy wasn't listening in. Only twice did I sit down at midnight to send a message by the code system. Only once did I have to stay up for the midnight watch. In the field we weren't hooked up to electrical lines. I had to transmit and receive messages over a system that had fifteen or twenty other operators located in a two-mile radius listening in at the same time. Messages such as, “Been under attack. We have several dead and wounded in such and such location” were communicated. If the enemy had infiltrated our particular zone and had caused a lot of casualties, the message might be, “We need some medics up here or a Jeep.” Flags were used to coordinate locations with other units who might or might not be in the same combat zone.
Hagaru-ri was some 4,000 feet above sea level. Two Marine regiments (the 5th and 7th) were to press on toward the Yalu River while two of our battalions set up defensive positions around Hagaru-ri. One of our battalions was left at the base of the main supply route at Koto-ri. Our division headquarters engineers, heavy equipment, and some tanks moved into the city. Immediately a landing strip was begun by the engineers. There was a lot of activity for three or four days. Even a company of British Royal Marines came up to assist our division.
When our perimeter was made secure, we were told to pull the division back. The pull-out began on December 6 and 7. All good equipment, the dead and wounded were trucked down the mountain while flanker troops cleared the adjacent hills with lots of air support help. The 5th and 7th regiments had to fight their way back to Hagaru. The mountain road out of Hagaru was cut off by the Chinese in several places and they held some of the hilltops. This meant we had to fight our way back down the mountain to Koto-ri and eventually to Hungnam on the eastern coast.
When we withdrew from The Chosin reservoir area, we walked south and southeast. At the time I was not aware of how long the distance was. Since then I think I read that it was about seventy-eight miles. The wounded who could walk, did. We walked behind tanks for a short period of time. Those tanks were wonderful, but we lost nine of them the first night of the withdrawal. When Jeeps and trucks slid off the icy roads, they got a bunch of guys and pushed them back on the roads. Marines don't leave their equipment behind.
On our way out of the
Chosin at the Funchillin Pass, the bridge was blown out. They had to put in an order for bridge sections to
be dropped by parachute to repair the bridge so we could move on. There wasn't too much sniper/guerilla activity
because we kept moving. We followed orders, going from Point A to Point B. I was mainly thinking, “What's next?”
After arriving at Hungnam we took a ship to Pusan. I don't recall the name of the ship or how long it took.
It was hard to train on it, so we probably just rested and took a shower on the ship. I
can't answer why I survived The Chosin Reservoir campaign when so many others did not, but I do know that The Chosin Reservoir was like a turning point. Up to that point the Chinese and the North Koreans pretty well controlled everything in that area. That ended as it got toward spring.
By December 12th, 1950, we were loaded on cargo supply ships and redeployed to Mason, South Korea. Once back in South Korea we regrouped and then headed north to Wonju via train. We set up in an area and planned to be there for a week or two while they brought in equipment, Jeeps, and whatever would be needed. We spent two weeks or so resting up from the ordeal up north. We received medical attention. Through a non-combat injury I had my front teeth removed, but we carried on, got re-supplied, and finally could take some showers so we could feel human again—to a point. We were sent back north to the central eastern section of South Korea for special objectives, as the 10th Corps was realigned. This was between January and August 1951.
One day I had to go to Fox Company to fill in as a radio operator. I was in a big, open farm field in the middle of nowhere when suddenly I saw Chesty Puller coming toward me. I thought to myself, “What's he doing here?” We crossed paths, but we didn't speak and I didn't salute. When you're in combat you don't salute an officer; the enemy could be watching. They were always looking for the leader. Saluting gave away someone's rank. We tried not to leave a lot of marks of what we might be up to or which way we were going from Point A to Point B. Maybe he was going to meet with Col. Homer Litzenberg, one of the battalion leaders of Fox Company, where I was going as a fill-in.
Half the time we were sitting around waiting for further orders. If the guys who were supposed to bring up the orders at 9:00 a.m. didn't show up until 10:30 or 11:00 a.m. that pretty much killed the day. We were always trying to find time to thoroughly rest. There was no shelter for us. We could relax a little, but we didn't want to build a fire. After engaging the enemy we might have six hours before we were supposed to be at our next point of destination. That was a good time to get scrubbed up a little.
We were in the Wonju/Chunchon area from February to May 1951. We had to sometimes settle down for five or ten days in a place in the middle of nowhere, but not too far from the airfield. We got to see some of the civilians at that time. A hunt for stray guerillas (some North Korean and Chinese units) was underway. We ran into things we never expected we would see. People were getting shot and they were picking bodies up and taking them to wherever they took them. Some people bragged about the fighting they did, and most of it was true, but usually we didn't make a big deal about it because tomorrow might be worse than yesterday.
We had trouble moving heavy vehicles and tanks in the springtime. The ground was frozen through the wintertime, but in the spring our heavy equipment would sink down in the ground. The local roads weren't very good. When the ground was hard and frozen, we didn't have to worry much about it. But in the springtime when the ground thawed, we had to be very careful because there were a lot of explosives in the ground.
We had very little contact with the enemy except for mortars. They were constantly going off. Being in mortar fire was like standing next to Fourth of July fireworks. Every time a mortar came in it was like a city block was being blown up.
On June 26, 1951, I was a radio operator at an observation post in the Yang-Gu, Korea area when it came under a heavy enemy barrage. All communications were disrupted. I was blown off my feet and stunned by the blast, but I recovered and spent the next twenty-six hours operating my radio until the wire communications were repaired. I received a Letter of Commendation for this action.
[KWE Note: The text of Robert's first of two commendations (both with V device for valor) is located in the Appendix of this memoir. The full text of his second Letter of Commendation has not yet been located, but his discharge papers indicate he received two such commendations. Robert's second award was received for repeatedly exposing himself to enemy fire to insure that vital radio facilities would be available to the company commander at all times.]
I continued as a radio operator with Howe Company until I rotated back to the States in early August 1951. After nearly twelve months in Korea, most Marines who came in at Inchon were relieved and sent back to the states via San Francisco, California.
I don't recall the name of the ship on which I returned to the States, but I remember that the mood on the ship was that everyone was happy to be going home. We disembarked at a port in San Francisco. I was glad to be home. I was not outwardly emotional, but inwardly I was. I don't recall any cheering from the shore as we got off the ship. We had to fill out forms and then we were given liberty to go home before our next assignment.
After a leave home for two weeks, I reported to a Marine detachment, U.S. Naval Retraining Command in Norfolk, Virginia. I had made staff sergeant and became an overseer at the base. It was good duty for the last year of my enlistment. I got to play basketball on the base team that winter and in the spring/summer help to coach their baseball team. I had brought my 1949 Chevy convertible down to the base that summer so I could transport all my stuff home in September. When I left for home on September 12, I found myself scared and very nervous.
My next and final duty station was Camp Allen, Norfolk, Virginia. I was a staff sergeant at this point. I had to assign duty to guys who had trouble in the military who needed to be retrained. They had to take special classes and I had to make sure they attended. I was also coach of the Camp Allen baseball team. We played the local high school teams. It was at Camp Allen where I received the Letter of Commendation associated with my time in Korea. Col. R.W. Rickert, USMC, officer in charge of the retraining command at Camp Allen, made the presentation.
I received my discharge after four years service in the Marine Corps on March 1, 1952. I thought about re-enlisting, but decided not to do so. I really wanted to get out and go home. I wanted to have a family, but not a military family. I had saved all my money to purchase a new convertible (which my brother bought on my behalf), and I was ready to have some fun. I went home on leave after returning from Korea, drove the car back to Virginia, and then drove the convertible to Illinois from Virginia. On the way home I got tired and pulled over for some shut-eye. A police officer knocked on my window to ask me if I was okay.
Returning to civilian life was a trying adjustment. While I loved being home with family, I felt somewhat lost and lonely. What now?? My first job after I returned to the States was working at Dad's shop. I was then able to go to work at the National Tea store in LaGrange, Illinois. Brother Art was Assistant Manager and wanted me to work nights from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., mostly stocking shelves and pricing the food products. They were long, lonely nights, but it paid well.
After my discharge from the Marine Corps I think I had one class of night school that the military paid for. I can't remember the class. I did not do any formal education. Eventually I got a job from Norm Anderson and I went to work for Reliance Insurance Company as an Office Manager. I stayed with the company for forty years. I was promoted to Vice President and Treasurer. The name of the insurance company changed to US Life Credit Life. I retired in 1992.
n October of 1952, sister Betty and brother-in-law Howard introduced me to a beautiful young chick from the Austin area by the name of Marijean Dahlborn. our very first date was a blind one on Halloween at a progressive dinner with Betty’s and Howard’s Bible study group from Austin. We both wore clown costumes with make-up. We even dunked for apples together and I feared my prostheses would float out of my mouth. (Jean didn’t know that my front teeth were false until our honeymoon. Was this grounds for an annulment??) Marines tend to work fast, so by Christmas I had popped the question to Jean and she shocked me by saying “yes.” Her mother felt we were rushing it when we set May 16, 1953 as our wedding day. As of this writing (October 2007) we have been married 54 years and are the parents of four children: Daniel, James, Janice, and Sharon. It’s been wonderful, even with the usual ups and downs. I wouldn’t change a thing.
In 1956, at age twenty-six, just after our son Daniel was born, I came to believe and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and to live for Him and to learn more of God’s love, grace, and mercy through reading and searching the scriptures, all with the Holy Spirit’s help. I yielded my being to Him, worshiped Him, and resolved to honor Him in my life. I found peace for my soul and a richer, fulfilling purposeful life. I sought and received His mercy and grace. It’s my hope and prayer that all who read this will seek a fuller, joyous life in Christ
After my retirement I did a little traveling to Massachusetts, Missouri, and Atlanta. (I went to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta and I saw the South Koreans play Japan in baseball. I gladly rooted for the South Koreans.)Marijean and I spent some time at our farmhouse—a log home that I built myself in a remote area of Wisconsin.
I don't think that going to Korea changed me and I didn't hear from anybody about changes in me. I have never revisited Korea and have no desire to go back. Even if they opened up North Korea for visitors now, I have no desire to go back there. I can describe my time in Korea in a nutshell: It was cold. I do think that the United States should have sent troops to Korea in the first place because North Korea attaches to South Korea and we needed to keep communism from spreading.
Announcer – S/Sgt. R.M. Crab, Leonard, TX
Arena Director – 1st Lt. A.B. Culver, Jr., Dallas, TX
Judge – 1st Lt. R.J. O'Leary, Timber Lake, SD
Judge – M/Sgt. T.W. Hopkins, Stamford, TX
Timer – Capt. A. Ebel, Seguine, TX
Timer – M/Sgt. H.E. Hartley, La Jolla, CA
Secretary – Major B.T. Kafka, Antigo, WI
Pick Up Man – T/Sgt. A.S. Duncan, Pendleton, OR
Clown – Pfc. V.S. Henderson, All Around, TX
Clown – B. Risley, Cheyenne, WY
“I left Hungnam, Korea, the day before yesterday after a 10-day visit to inspect the air and ground elements of the Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. Much has been said of their actions and exploits during the past three weeks and I shall not attempt to review all of the details. There are certain things, however, which I feel are badly in need of saying with reference to the Marines in Korea and their recent experiences.”
Signed by Maj. Gen. G.C. Thomas, the commendation (with combat “V” device for valor) reads
“For excellent service in the line of his profession while serving with a Marine infantry battalion
during operations against the enemy near Yang-Gu, Korea on 26 June 1951. Sergeant Extrom, serving as radio operator
for an observation post, displayed outstanding skill, courage and confidence in the performance of
his duties. During a heavy enemy barrage on the observation post all communications were disrupted with the battalion command post and a company that was in the process of establishing a petrol base well forward of friendly lines. Although blown off his feet and severely stunned by the blast he quickly reestablished communications and without regard for his own personal safety or fatigue continued to operate his radio throughout the next twenty-six hours until wire communications could be repaired. His tireless devotion to duty and coolness under fire were an inspiration to all who observed him and contributed materially to the success of the battalion. Sergeant Extrom's conduct throughout was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service. Commendation Ribbon with Combat “V” authorized”
Letter from Fannie Extrom to Bob Extrom dated Friday July 20, 1950
Don has written a letter to you to go in the mail today, so I'll start this and finish it tomorrow. It has been nice and cool here the past few days, it is supposed to rain Sunday though. Hope the news reports tonight are better and both sides agree. We heard that yesterday the Chicago Tribune stated that many thousands of Marines and Army men would be home by August; also that the National Guard Units in Japan may be sent to Korea to relieve for rotation. The Mississippi River is flooding its banks. By Sunday its crest will be reached. The highest for 100 years.
It looks like rain. There were tornados in Minneapolis and St. Paul last night. Done a lot of damage. It is windy. Hope we don't get any. Hope we hear from you today. The Truce meeting is postponed until Wednesday. You know I'll go along with you, Bob, about your car. Don has written you, only will you please don't get careless, like so many do. Try to be careful and serious-minded is all I ask. I know I couldn't stand it if you don't. There are so many wonderful things in the world to see and do. I haven't heard from Mrs. Gasper yet, wonder if Mike is home. I hope you are well and safe. Time goes by so slow, doesn't it? I must get this in the mail. - Love from all - Mom
Letter from Bob to home dated 9/22/50
All is fine and well with me. I could stand a shave and bath and could throw in a haircut, but otherwise I'm still healthy and fit. You know the story by now, and I would appreciate some clippings on invasions. We're about a mile or so out of Seoul this date and moving fast. Not giving the foe any time to think. We hit ‘em hard and so fast that they've been on the run and don't have time to stop. Mom, Mike Gasper, Chandlerville got wounded in the back—he is alright. Would you write her and let her know that Mike is alright. I believe if you address it – Mrs. ML Gasper – Chandlerville, IL that will be sufficient. Actually, it's been easy going, not much resistance. This thing ought to be over soon. Hope they don't keep us over for occupational duty. Mail is coming tonight, hope I hear from you. Know I will. Presently I'm sitting in my foxhole (just dug) hoping to get this finished before it gets dark. The terrain is rough and we're all worn out from traveling so far in so few days (24 miles round about) Can't think of anything I need. Supplies are now coming through since we took the Kimpo Airfield.
Just received your letter of Sept 12. Glad to hear that everything is fine. It's getting dark so will have to end this. I will write again as soon as possible. - All my love and affection, Bob
Letter dated 9/28/50. Seoul, Korea
Dear Mom and Dad, Received your letter of the 16th yesterday. We are now 3/4 of Seoul secured. Our Regiment/1st Marine had the privilege and hard task of going through the heart of the city and it was hard with
resistance heavy. Our casualties were not too bad though. Yesterday and last night our Battalion was given a rest, much needed. As ROK forces came into Seoul to relieve us for a spell. Sept. 25th almost spelled doom for this company I'm with company. We made a big push the 24th and our flank companies were pinned down by the enemy. Only our H Company could advance. We lost communication with everyone and got lost behind enemy lines and Emplacements. For 16 hours straight we were seeing heavy fire from every side. Believe me we
prayed a lot and someone else must have been praying hard too. For with God's will did we finally gained communication and fought our way out of the trap back to our lines. But it's over with now and with yesterday's rest we're ready to take the rest of the city. It's much harder in a city than out in the hills and mountains. We receive very little, if any, news at all pertaining to the armies down south. But we do believe
it won't be long before this is over. I believe I've lost close to 25 lbs so far. But some good meats (not rations) and some sleep would put that back on. Hope you write often. You don't know how good it is to receive mail over here especially after the past two weeks. I wish I had time to write to everyone individually but that's impossible. Hope they write though. The days are warm and the nights very cold. Sure hope we don't have to fight during the winter months. In another week or so we should be taken off the line and return to a rest camp known as de lousing camp. It sure will be good and get new clothes. If you'd like to send a box, I could use some heavy socks and a muffler. You could add some goodies. Thinking of you mother and dad and everyone. God bless you all. All my love, Bob.
Letter dated 9/30/50
Dear Mom and Dad - Just finished washing my hair in a nearby well and changed socks for the 3rd time since we left Japan. It makes me feel like a human being again. Yesterday we left Seoul and are now approx 3 miles S.E. of the city. General McArthur and Pres Rhee of S Korea came into Seoul before we left for our present location. There is little fighting at all now in this sector. I don't believe the gooks can last more than a week.
Latest report we received was that the southern armies are moving up this way. I wonder if we'll have to cross the 38° P and fight into N Korea. As far as our Division is concerned, we are to be relieved from the front in a week. I have no late word as to how Mike Gasper is getting along. Last reports were – he was doing fine. Sure wish we could get some late newspaper. The Stars & Stripes is always 2 or 3 weeks old. Tell Donny to drop me a line and let me know how he's doing in football. I did hear that Joe Louis got beat in his comeback try. Some good scuttlebutt is being passed from our higher officers – that being the 1st Marine Div should be back in the States by Thanksgiving. Hmm ... I wonder! All for now. Just wanted to let you know all's well and I'm fine. Thinking of you ... all my love,Bob
[KWE Note: Robert's wife and daughters have seen the effects that the Korean War had on her husband and their father. The following is what they observed through the years.]
Daughter Janice's Thoughts
Our dad thinks about the war all the time. He has a lot of survivor's guilt. It's always in the back of his mind. He constantly talks about the marines. From the time we were little his conversations were peppered with military jargon (“Spit-shine those shoes,” “Use some elbow grease,” “Quit crying. You got nothing to cry about.”) and things like, “When you're in the military you learn to obey orders.” Etcetera. My mom always said he was married to the U.S. Marines. He has dreams where he is yelling and fighting, but he just doesn't remember them. He is really detached from his experiences and feelings. Early on when he returned, Dad's memories from the Korean War were triggered by backfiring cars. He would “hit the deck” so to speak. Even when he was out in public memories returned. He was triggered by the Fourth of July fireworks. He always spent that night hidden in the basement. He never took us to a fireworks show. As a kid, I remember he wasn't home much. I think he numbed out by working a lot of hours. I think he couldn't take the rambunctiousness of his four kids. I remember once when I was still a teen, he told me that while he was in the marines he was surrounded by the Chinese. I couldn't conceive what that meant. He began talking about Korean children in the war. I asked him if he had to shoot children. He said, “It was us or them.” He told me they had guns and bombs. That was the end of the conversation. I know he felt incredibly guilty over that. He is very reticent about speaking about the war. I always knew something deeply troubled him but couldn't put a name to the PTSD that he was suffering from. He is naturally a taciturn quiet man but he truly needed peace and quiet and plenty of alone time. He used to let me wear his USMC utility shirt when we went camping. I have a picture of that. He also brought home his entrenching tool or what I called his foxhole shovel. We still have that. He hated to fly. He said it was from his experiences in the war.
We had heard the Tootsie Roll story—how they had contributed to the war effort by dropping Tootsie Rolls to our men. One story was that a radio man called in for a Tootsie Roll drop and that was code for something but someone messed up. (My sister Sharon said that it was code for 60mm mortars). Our dad didn't remember anything about Tootsie Rolls and the Chosin, but we kidded him that he was probably the guy who called it in. At the time he didn't have his two front teeth because they'd been knocked out in a football game (in Korea) and we joked that he probably had a lisp and was easily misunderstood. Who knows. Ha Ha. Well, my sister wrote to Tootsie Roll to thank them and Tootsie Roll wrote back and sent a HUGE Tootsie Roll care package. Their letter reads as follows:
"Thank you for contacting us in regards to your father who served in the 1st Marine Division at the Chosin Reservoir. Tootsie Roll has been involved in military operations of our country since World War I through GI rations, MRE's and thousands of care packages sent to faraway places. The Tootsie Roll treats provided “quick energy” for the American troops. There has never been an
involvement of which we were more proud than the role we played in the heroic battle of The Chosin Few.
We are happy to enclose “Tootsie Roll Salutes The Chosin Few” on CD. Voice of America found the story of The Chosin Reservoir so compelling they told it to 130 million listeners around the world. The Chosin Few chapter of our country's history is a matter of pride for all Americans and it is gratifying to be able to share it with you and your father. We have enclosed some handpicked treats for your father. We hope that he enjoys them with our compliments.
Sincerely, Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc.
Ellen R. Gordon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Something has been troubling my sister and me for the past several weeks. We noticed that Dad has blocked out the time after The Chosin. He does not remember leaving on a ship in Hungnam to Masan or the guerrilla hunt or heading back to Japan. He only remembers arriving back in San Francisco, as that's where he got his two front teeth. Never ever did he talk about his last eight months in Korea, and does not remember from January 1951 to August 1951. Dad has no memory of the guerilla hunt (or is not willing to talk about it). He doesn't know how much the 1st Marines got involved with the guerrilla hunt. My sister and I are members of several Facebook groups that deal with the Korean War: Children of Korean War Vets, Korean War Veterans, The Chosin Reservoir, etc. We've learned a lot. Even though I don't know these people personally, I feel connected to them, especially the children of Korean War Vets since I don't remember any of my friend's fathers being combat vets.
Daughter Sharon's Thoughts - Growing Up As a Daughter of a Marine...
I don't remember when I first learned that he was actually in a war. I did know he was in the service and that probably wasn't until I was in high school. It was never talked about and I never overheard any conversations. I came across some letters that Dad had written home and referred to the Chinese and North Koreans as “bastards.” This came as quite a shock to me because I had never ever heard my dad curse! Only then did I start asking questions. Some he answered and some he didn't.
When I was a sophomore (maybe a freshman) my brother Jim went into the marines and he was in Parris Island for boot camp. My mom and dad and my sister and I went to his graduation. We drove down as this is Dad's preferred way of traveling. I believe Dad was inwardly proud that my brother followed in his footsteps—of course he was as he wanted to attend the graduation. I got to see a lot of guys marching. I thought it was amazing being able to stay in step with one another.
Another memory I have is that I used to joke that my dad survived a war without getting shot, but had more accidents at home. Like cutting his calf in half width-wise with a chainsaw when I was around seven. He nicked a bone and missed the artery. He got lucky!! I remember seeing his leg wrapped in a sheet and the blood soaking through. Another incident was up at our farm house. He was using a table saw without the safety on and sawed his thumb in half lengthwise. He once took a tumble down the stairs; he went to light the furnace and flames shot up at him; he went to turn on the electricity on the large utility pole outside and got jolted. (Apparently the electrician put a nail through a wire.) When he was eighty-six he took a tumble down the stairs at home and his foot got hung up in the banister. I believe that prevented him from hitting his head on the cement floor! He had quite a few bumps and bruises, but was okay otherwise. I joked that he still had his marine body. He's tough!
Growing up I always said Dad was quietly strict. We were not allowed to wear bikinis or show our bellies or cleavage. We had to cover up. Being the last child, I got away with a little more. We couldn't see a lot of movies that our friends could go see. We couldn't date until we were sixteen.
In 1970 Dad decided to buy some land. He (and Mom) purchased 90 acres near Richland Center, Wisconsin. We went up on weekends and camped at the top of our hill. Dad loved the outdoors and country living. Later in the 70s he decided to build a log home. He purchased a kit, but nothing was put together. Everything was numbered. He hired a contractor to lay the foundation, but everything else he did himself with the help of family and friends. He built a log house into the side of our hill. Once the logs and roof were in place, I went up there on weekends with him and helped him with drywall, taping, painting, and stuffing insulation between the logs. I always enjoyed our one-on-one work sessions, including having burping contests or joking around. I think they sold the house in 2000 because it got to be too much work with two homes. He was sad to let it go, but also relieved.
I think I must have been in my late thirties or forties before I knew what his role was in Korea and started learning a little more. Every now and then a little story came out. I remember asking him if he ever killed anyone and his response was, “I don't know. Bullets were flying everywhere!” I recall asking Dad about why he didn't use the VA for medical purposes. His response was, “Other veterans need it more than me.” He would rather the money be spent on someone who “really” suffers. My mom and dad were strolling along Michigan Avenue when someone lit an M80 (firecracker) and Dad hit the ground. And one time they were sleeping in bed when a truck drove by and backfired. Dad hit the ground.
Last year I saw an advertisement for the Arlington Heights Hearts of Gold. They had eleven categories, one of them being Heroic. I sent an e-mail nominating Dad for his time spent in Korea and told a small story. Well, he won! I had to come up with a biography for him in 250 words or less. With help from my sister I think we did a pretty good job. I also had to take him to a photo shoot. Of course, I had to get him groomed and dressed nicely and brought along his Korean War Veteran hat. His picture and bio were posted in the paper. This past February they held a banquet for all the winners. We had twenty-four people from our own group of family,
cousins, and a friend. The total number of people in attendance was about 240. Our commissioner was an old family friend and he got up and gave a very nice introduction for my dad. My brother got up and said a nice thank you on behalf of Dad, as it would have been difficult to get him up on stage. Dad got a huge standing ovation as he stood up at our table. I was sitting next to him holding back my tears and placing a hand on his back so he wouldn't fall backwards. After the banquet so many people came by and thanked him for his service, including our state representative David Harris. I could kick myself for not taking a picture of this. About a week later he got a letter and a certificate from Representative Harris congratulating him.
Dad told us once many, many years ago that he didn't talk about his Korean War experiences because he didn't want to glorify war. He is, however, very proud of his service and being a marine. He doesn't remember telling us any stores—about having to kill children especially.
When Mom was young, and before she met my dad, she went to the USO and met people. I think she liked the idea of men in uniform. Prior to this, Mom, against her mother's wishes, attended modeling school after winning a scholarship. She did a few small jobs, but realized this was not for her. She got a job with the Board of Education, but her boss, who only wanted to hire good-looking females, was a little handsy. She left. She wanted to go to college, but her parents only saved money for her brother. Mom was groomed to be a housewife, and I think she resented that. Years later, at the age of 50, she got her degree in psychology.
Many times I've heard her say, “I married a marine.” I think she was proud of him. Dad was anal about certain things, like starching his shorts and handkerchiefs and keeping the house in order. Now Mom suffers from Alzheimer's. She's in the later stages. Dad suffers from Parkinson's with Lewy Body dementia. He's in the early stages. I am their caregiver and it gets quite challenging most of the time.
Son Jim's Thoughts
Dad did not share any stories with me about Korea. When I joined the military I first tried the air force because my friend was in the air force, but they never responded. I walked into the Marine recruiter's office and joined the USMC. Dad didn't know I was signing up. The advice I got from Dad was, “Do what they tell you to do.”
The following appears on the Arlington National Cemetery website:
Clarence E. Corley of the Kittatinny Lake section of Sandyston Township, Branchville, New Jersey, died Monday, November 5, 2007, at home. A chapel service and interment will be held at 9 a.m. December 27, 2007, at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, with full military honors.
Born in Alexandria, Louisiana, Colonel Corley was raised in Pineville, Louisiana, and graduated from Louisiana College there. In college, he was o-captain of the football team. Upon graduation, Corley joined the United States Marine Corps and was given the opportunity to attend the Marine Corps Officers Training School. Following the completion of this program, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.
He served in World War II in the South Pacific as an Air Intelligence officer. In the Korean War, he was an infantry company commander and received the nation's third highest combat award, the Silver Star meda,l twice. He was also awarded the Bronze Star with a combat V, the Purple Heart medal, and his unit received five Presidential Unit Citations, the Korean Presidential Citation and a Navy Unit Commendation. He also received nine battle stars. He retired from the Marine Corps in 1965 as a Lieutenant Colonel, having served at many military bases in the United States and overseas.
After retiring from the military, he relocated to Staten Island, New York, and launched another career in the health care industry. In 1965, he began a career as assistant personnel director at Queens Hospital, Queens, New York. In 1968, he accepted a position at Elizabeth General Medical Center in Elizabeth as director of personnel. Three years later, he was promoted to director of personnel administration. Colonel Corley accepted a position in 1973 as assistant executive director of Christ Hospital. During the following years, he was appointed Vice President, Senior Vice President, and Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, the position he held until his retirement in 1991.
Colonel Corley and his family relocated from Staten Island to Sandyston Township. In addition to numerous career-related responsibilities, Corley was also active in many civic organizations. He served as president of the Staten Island Artificial Kidney Foundation, president of the Christ Hospital Diabetes Association, president of the Staten Island National Management Club and chairman of a New York City Community Planning Board No. 1 of Staten Island. He was a member of the Health Planning Committee of Staten Island and the Masonic Lodge. He also served as chairman of the board of trustees of Park Baptist Church on Staten Island.
Colonel Corley was a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an honorary commandant of H-3-1, Korea (an infantry company he commanded), and a member of the Athletic Hall of Fame (football) of Louisiana College. The son of the late Clarence E. Corley Sr. and Pearl Smith Corley, he is survived by his wife, Mildred Thompson Corley; one daughter, Carol Samsel of Millburn; one granddaughter, Lauren Samsel, and a sister, Dorothy Heard of Arlington, Texas.
Memorial donations may be made to the Blue Ridge Rescue Squad, P.O. Box 232, Branchville, New Jersey 07826.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting a Gold Star in lieu of a Second Award of the Silver Star to Captain Clarence E. Corley, Jr. (MCSN: 0-20003), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as Commanding Officer of Company H, Third Battalion, First Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea on 2 March 1951. When his company was pinned down by intense enemy automatic weapons, mortar and small arms fire during an attempt to seize a strategic hostile strong point in the vicinity of Hoengsong, Captain Corley unhesitatingly made his way to the foremost position of the action to appraise the tactical situation. Learning that one of his assault platoon commanders had been wounded and evacuated, he elected to follow the assault unit and, during the bitterly contested seizure of the intermediate objective, skillfully directed the fire of a rocket launcher which neutralized a well-defended enemy emplacement. Undeterred by the intense hostile mortar fire, he bravely led his company in the attack on the main objective and succeeded in seizing the enemy strong point with minimum casualties to his unit. By his inspiring leadership, marked courage and unswerving devotion to duty, Captain Corley contributed materially to the success achieved by his battalion and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Zanesville, Ohio, October 13, 1951
Dear Sgt. - Throw all your fears overboard my boy - everything is okay with Bill. Your very kind letter arrived this morning. Was sure glad to hear from you and of course, I know who you are - I certainly heard enough about you from Bill--both in his letters from overseas and after he got home. And both Mrs. Barks and myself hope to meet you sometime. We really feel as if we know you. And listen lad, we worried a lot about you too for after Bill came back from Korea, we often talked about you and wondered where you were and what happened to you. It's fine to know you are back in the States and safe and sound. You don't say in your letter--were you wounded? Write again and tell us more about yourself.
Now about Bill. As you know, he was hit on Nov. 2nd and taken to the "Consolation" where they kept him for a couple of weeks. He had fourteen holes in his intestines which they had to patch and it was a week before they got thru with him and sewed him together again. From the hospital ship to Japan for two more weeks. Then via Honolulu -- one day there--to a hospital in Oakland, California--another couple of weeks or so there and then to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Philadelphia. He told them he felt alright and they sent him home on leave. He arrived home December 28th. He was tired and didn't look good but was in good spirits.
On New Years he got sick and we put him to bed. Thought he had a cold at first and called our family doctor in. But he didn't get better and stayed in bed. On Sunday the 7th of January he turned yellow as a ------- Red. Called our family doctor again and of course Bill had yellow jaundice. So we notified the Philadelphia hospital and on Wednesday January 10th the Navy sent a big hospital plane in from Columbus, O. It landed in the snow at the airport. We loaded Bill aboard and they took him back to Philly and slapped him in bed. About two months later or around Easter he was home for a 30 day leave--and in fine shape but had to be careful about lifting anything heavy or throwing a ball or the like. He was released finally from the Philadelphia hospital about June 27th, had 10 days leave and was assigned to duty at the Naval Station at Chincoteague, Virginia.
In September he was recalled to Camp Lejeune and given a job as radio man with a naval gun fire spotter team. He informed them he was not able to lug that heavy gear around so they sent him to the doctor. After a consultation decided to leave him at Camp Lejeune instead of taking him to Cuba for maneuvers as intended. Then they changed their minds again and gave him a job driving a jeep and running the radio and nothing else. His C.O. told him that was all he had to do and if anyone gave him any trouble to let him know. Before leaving the hospital he was awarded the "Bronze Star" and was also promoted to Cpl. I believe he said he also got the good conduct medal. He has been writing a lot to Larry Graske's sister. Larry was killed in Korea or did you know him? They got the word about that the day before Christmas. Don't know how serious this Graske affair is. So now at the moment Bill is either on his way or is in the vicinity of Viequies P.R. on maneuvers. His last letter was written aboard the USS Randall. He'll sure be glad to hear about you. Here is his address: CPL William R. Barks 661293, ANGLICO - NGF 8th Regt., 2nd Signal Bn, 2nd Marine Div., Camp LeJeune, N.C. They will forward the mail I suppose. So thanks loads for writing to us. Hope this letter will make you feel good and write again soon. Best regards from Bill's mother and myself. - F.H. Barks.
ZANESVILLE: William Richard Barks, 87 went to be with the Lord, Thursday, August 10, 2017 at Cedar Hill Care Center. He was born July 2, 1930 in Zanesville, Ohio to the late Frank and Mildred Yocum Barks.
William graduated with a Bachelor's Degree from Muskingum College. He was an insurance agent and adjustor. He then retired working security at PCC Airfoils in Crooksville. He served our country and protected our freedom as a Sergeant in the Infantry with the United States Marine Corps where he was a highly decorated Purple Heart recipient and he suffered extensive injuries in Korea. William was a former mayor of Gratiot, a local director of Mt. Carmel Association and a member of the Central Association of Miraculous Medal, V.F.W., American Legion and the D.A.V.
He is survived by his wife Ellen Barks; three sons: William (Pam) Barks, James (Jeanette) Cronin and Jon (Lisa) Cronin; one daughter: Rebecca (Bob) Sayre; a sister Judy (Bob) Wahl; ten grandchildren; eleven great grandchildren and three great great grandchildren. In addition to his parents he was preceded in death by a brother Francis "Hank" Barks and a sister Patricia Hupp.
Memorial contributions may be made to St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, 144 N. Fifth St., Zanesville, OH 43701.
William R. Belter, 79, of Springfield, Illinois, passed away at 7:05 a.m. on Sunday, July 11, 2010 at Capitol Care Center. William was born November 19, 1930 in Chicago, the son of William and Lucille Counts Belter. He married Delores Vikan on November 20, 1954 in Macomb.
He served his country in the Marines during the Korean War. After graduating from Western Illinois University, William went on to have a distinguished career with the Federal government. He was a member of VFW Post #755. He enjoyed playing golf, was an avid Chicago Cubs and Bears fan and loved to watch the news.
He was preceded in death by his parents and his son, William Belter. He is survived by his wife, Delores of Springfield; one daughter, Carol (husband, Terry) Gilbert of Akron, OH; three grandchildren, Ryan, Erin (husband, Zack) Ford and Katy; several nieces and nephews.
Cremation was accorded by Butler Cremation Tribute Center. A private graveside ceremony will be held at Oak Ridge Cemetery.
The family of William R. Belter is being served by Kirlin-Egan & Butler Funeral Home, 900 S. 6th St., Springfield, IL 62703. Memorial contributions may be made to the Animal Protective League, 1001 Taintor Rd., Springfield, IL 62702.
Robert Lee Extrom, a resident of Arlington Heights, Illinois,l for almost 60 years, moved to Heaven on March 12, 2020. Robert Extrom was born April 6, 1930 in Congress Park, Ilinois, the youngest of ten children of Harry and Frances Extrom. He had four brothers and five sisters. Visitation will be Friday, March 20, 2020 from 4 PM to 8 PM at Glueckert Funeral Home, 1520 N. Arlington Heights Road, Arlington Heights, Illinois 60004. Funeral services will he held Saturday, March 21, 2020 at 10 AM at the funeral home. Interment will be private.
Robert was a U.S. Marine and proudly served during the Korean War with the 1st Marine Division as a radio operator. He first embarked on the Inchon Landing and helped to liberate Seoul, South Korea. He also fought at the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea where the temperatures fell to 30-50 degrees below zero. He also fought in South and Central Korea. He was awarded two commendations for bravery under fire. He was almost mortally-wounded during battle but was saved when the large radio on his back absorbed shrapnel from a mortar that exploded nearby. In 2018, he received a Hearts of Gold Hero Award from the Arlington Heights Special Events Commission for his wartime service.
After the war, he worked at US Life/Credit Life Insurance Company for 40 years, retiring as Vice-President/Treasurer. He loved his family and enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren. He also built a log cabin in Wisconsin and spent many days hiking, skiing and playing with grandchildren and dogs.
He is survived by his loving wife, Marijean, and in May 2020 they would have celebrated their 67th wedding anniversary. He is also survived by his children: Daniel Extrom (Jean Greco), James Extrom, Janice Sheridan (Richard Sheridan), and Sharon Extrom. He is also survived by his grandchildren: Matthew Chinski, Michael Chinski, Kacie Sheridan Sanchez, Kylie Sheridan Rack, Jake Sheridan, Kristen Extrom, Lauren Extrom and Brendon Slattery. He is the proud great-grandfather of Wesley Chinski and Jacob Chinski. In lieu of flowers, memorials to Alzheimer's Foundation of Greater Chicago (alz.org.) and Journey Care (journeycare.org) appreciated.
(Click a picture for a larger view)
Letters from Bob Extrom to his family (PDF File)
Letter from Fannie to Bob July 20 1950 (PDF File)
Defensive Perimeter at Hagaru
Ship Diary Jan 3 - Jan 8 1950
Ship Diary Jan 9 - Jan 14 1950
Ship Diary Jan 15 - Jan 20 1950
Ship Diary Jan 22 - Jan 27 1950
Ship Diary Jan 27 - Feb 2 1950
Ship Diary Feb 3 - Feb 8 1950
Ship Diary Feb 9 - Feb 14 1950
Ship Diary Feb 15 - Feb 20 1950
Ship Diary Feb 27 - March 4 1950
Ship Diary March 5 - March 10 1950
Ship Diary March 11 - March 16 1950
Ship Diary March 17 - March 22 1950
Ship Diary March 23 - March 28 1950
Ship Diary March 29 - April 3 1950
Ship Diary April 4 - April 9 1950
Ship Diary April 10 - April 15 1950
Ship Diary April 22 - April 27 1950
Ship Diary April 28 - May 3 1950
Ship Diary May 4 - May 9 1950
Ship Diary May 10 - May 15 1950
Field Manual Cover - Radio Operators Manual
Field Manual Cover - Soldiers Handbook
Field Manual Cover - Signal Orders Records and Reports
Field Manual Cover - Basic Field Manual
Tootsie Roll - Letter
Tootsie Roll - Extrom 1
Tootsie Roll - Extrom 2
Tootsie Roll - Extrom 3
Letter from Bill Bark's Father 1
Letter from Bill Bark's Father 2
Commendation Ribbon Combat V
Newspaper clipping (place and date are wrong)
Father's Day Greeting letter
Father's Day Greeting map
Camp Pendleton Marines Rodeo Program 1
Camp Pendleton Marines Rodeo Program 2
Camp Pendleton Marines Rodeo Program 3
Letter from Robert Extrom's Mom page 1
Letter from Robert Extrom's Mom page 2
Postcard from Robert Extrom to his Mom
Robert Extrom's cigarette lighter
Robert Extrom's Platoon
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