|Back to "Memoirs" Index page
Helen Obertance Gann
Nashville, TN -
"I had to get it off my chest, so I wrote to his parents. I didn't tell them that he had cried just before he died. I just told them that I had taken care of him and that he had gone peacefully. I told them that they should be very proud of him. I had taken care of all of these young men and many had died, but this one was different. It was the tears that got to me. It was the tears. "
- Helen Gann
The publishing of this memoir was made possible by
My name is Helen Gann of Nashville, Tennessee. I was born in the small coalmining town of Wolfrum, Ohio, on September 28, 1925. My parents were Michael and Mary Sushan Obertance. Both of them were from Austria/Hungary, which after the First World War became Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and Austria.
I don't know what my father did in Europe, but my dad was a coalminer after my parents moved to Ohio. They lived in Wolfrum and Empire, Ohio, and later when I went to nursing school my dad moved to Charlton, Ohio. There were ten children in our family, with my oldest brother Steve the only one born before my parents immigrated to the USA. There are only three of us left now--my brother, my sister, and me.
During World War II I had five brothers that served in the war. My oldest brother Andy was drafted and the other four joined on their own. They all served in the Army except my brother Abraham (we called him Aby), who went into the Navy.
I went to grade school in Empire, Ohio after we moved there from Wolfrum. That’s where Mother died. She was 47 years old when she died from a stroke. I was only 12 years old at the time. My sister, who had graduated from high school but was still living at home and working, was eight years older than me. Two of my brothers were in Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps at the time, and the rest of the boys were still living at home. Our mother had long hair and she liked having it brushed. On December 7, 1938, my sister was brushing my mother's hair when Mother said to her, "I've got such a headache" and pointed to the back of her head. About 2:30 in the morning she had a stroke and died the next day on December 8, which was a holy day in the church. We went to St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Toronto, and December 8 was the date of the Immaculate Conception. That date meant something to us. We were all close to Mother, and that's why her death was so hard for me. It was hard on all of us. I blamed God. I kind of blamed the doctor, too, because she had been having these severe headaches. But in those there was nothing you could do about it except call the doctor, who told you to "take an aspirin, go to bed, and call me in the morning."
After Mother's death my dad was just wonderful. We kids all pitched in around the house and he managed okay. When I completed grade school in Empire, I went to high school in Toronto, Ohio. One day after my mother's death, I decided I was going to do something about helping sick people. There was nothing that we could do for Mother. At that time you didn't go to the hospital when you had a bad stroke. You stayed home and you died. After that, a nurse is all I ever wanted to be.
By the time I finished high school, World War II was really kind of running down. After graduating in 1944, I worked for a year in a war plant in Steubenville, Ohio. I worked a lathe on an assembly line making shells. My dad had been in a bad accident, so I went to work to help support the family. At that time one person had a car and everybody piled in it to car pool. That's how it was in the poor days. Dad wasn't driving--he was a passenger, and he was hurt in the wreck. He was in the hospital for a while and then when he came home he was unable to work after that so we kids all pitched in. When I got my paycheck I just took it home and gave it to my dad. It wasn't just me, it was the boys, too. We all divvied in. The plant workers bought war bonds, but it was our choice--they didn't just take it out of our paychecks. I worked at the war plant until 1945, and then I went into nursing school in 1946. My income was still needed, but I wanted to be a nurse.
I went to Ohio Valley Hospital in Steubenville, Ohio for my nursing degree. There was no fee attached to going to nursing school. The government had a program where they would pay my education if I gave my hospital one year after I graduated from nursing school. It didn't cost me a penny.
In those days when you went into nursing school, you went in and you stayed there. It’s not like now, where you go into two-year programs and you can hold a job and go to classes whenever you want. In those days, you got three weeks off in the summertime and that was it. It was more or less like a boarding school, but we were in an actual general hospital. We went to work at seven in the morning and we worked until eleven in the morning on the hospital wards. Then we went to lunch, and after that we had classes. It was half on the job and half classroom training. The first year we just gave baths and cleaned up messes and stuff like that. As we got on into the schooling, we learned to give shots and take blood pressures and all that stuff. The classes were intense, but there was never a point in time during my training that I ever thought, "Maybe I don’t want this," not even after cleaning up messes.
We took general nursing. We had Latin. We had patient care. We had chemistry books. It was just like being in college except it was connected with nursing. We studied Latin because at that time a lot of prescriptions were written in Latin. We had to have Latin in high school for about three months, and I thought, "I don't know if I can do this." Then I just decided that it was something that I had to do and so then I did just fine. After I got into nursing school, we didn't have that much Latin, but we still had to study a little bit of it. Chemistry was part of the curriculum in nursing school, and that was the hardest class for me. We mostly needed that to understand medications.
I graduated from nursing school in 1949. As a six-month senior, we got to pick our choice of what area of the hospital we wanted to serve our one year in after graduation. I chose labor and delivery. When I was a student, the first baby I saw delivered was a miracle. I’ll never forget. The delivering doctor was Dr. Press. I guess I pushed and moaned and groaned with the patient. When we got through and the patient was gone, the doctor said, “Well, what kind of baby did you have?” I looked at him so funny. I didn’t have sense enough to be embarrassed. Every time I had a delivery after that it was just like the first one. I loved it. It was a miracle every time.
Joining Up - Navy Nurse
I joined the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps around the 10th or 14th of July 1950. My youngest brother was in the Navy at the time, and that's why I chose that branch of service. Also, at that time I was bringing home $204 a month, which was what nurses were making back then. I found out that in the Navy I could make more than that. I don't remember how much more, but when I joined I was able to include my dad as a dependent. I paid so much a month and they supplemented it. Then Dad got that check and it helped him. After the car accident, he was never able to return to work.
I went to Great Lakes Naval Station for basics. You had to be a registered nurse to go into the service, and I entered as an Ensign. An Ensign was the lowest grade in the commissioned officers. You started as an Ensign, and then advanced to Lieutenant Junior Grade (jg), then Lieutenant, and on up. At that time, basics for women consisted of marching and going to class. There were no calisthenics. We learned rules and regulations in the Navy and we worked on the hospital wards. Our formal uniforms were dress blues. We wore grey khakis for marching and white uniforms to work in the hospital.
It wasn't a hospital per se. There were long wards for the patients. We got a lot of veterans who were still hurt from the Second World War. Then, of course, the Naval Training Station was there, and so we used to get a lot of the young sailors and such. It wasn’t a hospital like a hospital. It was long wards and we went from ward to ward. During the day we were assigned to a particular ward, but when we were on nights we covered most of the compound. The Navy corpsmen did most of the menial stuff and the nurses gave medicines or came when we were called if there were any problems. We saw the gamut.
St. Albans & New London
The Korean War had started just before I joined the Nurse's Corps, but I didn't start being aware of it until I was transferred to St. Albans Navy Hospital, Long Island, New York in November of 1950. I worked in the operating room there and we had a lot of Korean War boys there. They had arms and legs missing, as well as head injuries. I saw some severe casualties.
From St. Albans I went to the naval submarine base at New London, Connecticut. Never dreaming that I would get it, I had requested assignment there only because my brother was on a submarine tender there. I worked in the dispensary. We ran the family clinic and did just minor things like appendectomies, hernia surgeries, tonsillectomies, and stuff like that for the military. We had an OB clinic, but when our patients delivered we had to transport them to Newport. We didn’t do deliveries in the dispensary. We had one ward where we kept sailors for a day or two if they weren’t hurt badly, but most of our work there was family clinic. We saw the dependents on the base.
I stayed there until September of 1952, when I got orders for the USS Haven AH12, a hospital ship. I was pleased with the assignment but my family wasn't. They didn't want me to go out of the States, especially since there was a war going on. They flew me to Pearl Harbor and I caught the ship there. I was excited--I guess because I had never been too far away from home before. I must have been about 25 or 26 years old at the time.
USS Haven AH12
The USS Haven was a beautiful hospital ship. There were two crews--the hospital crew and the ship's crew. The ship’s crew took care of the maintenance of the ship and everything, and the hospital crew just did the hospital work. I was a Registered Nurse in a hospital crew of probably 120, and I worked in surgery. We had three dentists, three eye doctors, and several surgeons. We had five operating rooms. Most of our doctors were reservists, and they worked hard.
A surgery RN's job was to either scrub or circulate. If I scrubbed, I actually scrubbed down with the doctors and helped with the surgery. The circulating nurse got the supplies. If the doctors called for more sponges, the circulating RN got supplies for them and arranged the instruments on the table, making sure that all the instruments for that particular case were there.
After I boarded ship, the Haven left from Pearl Harbor and we went to Japan to pick up supplies. Being an "inland girl", I got seasick and stayed seasick for days. There were other women on the ship who were also sick, but I thought I was the sickest! I prayed to die: "Hello, God. Please let me die." I didn't become a patient myself, but I was so sick that I couldn't even keep crackers down. We hit the tail-end of a typhoon and the seas were really rough. I stayed seasick until we landed in Japan. If they had had Dramamine at the time and I had taken it, I probably would have died. I couldn't keep anything down. I just laid there wanting to die. I wondered what I was doing there. I said, "God, if you get me off this thing I'll never get back on it." But coming back, I had no problem. Nobody taught me how to get my sea legs or how not to be so sick. I think I just got so sick that I swore I wouldn't get sick the next time and that's what did it.
The ship eventually landed in Yokohama and we took on supplies of vegetables, fruits, and stuff like that. They called them "stores." I was able to get off the ship because we spent a few days in Japan. We went to the Officers' Club and we did some sightseeing. Then we boarded the ship again and went offshore Korea. I wasn't seasick anymore. When going from Japan to Korea we were not in the ocean. We were in a gulf and the water was not as rough.
Once we got to Korea, we docked out in the water at least a mile from Pusan. By that time it was September of 1952. If we went ashore, we had to go by boat. Also, sometimes when the helicopters came in to unload patients and they weren’t badly wounded patients, the helicopter pilots could take us into town, such as it was. I went there that way once.
Caring for Wounded
Triage took place on the deck of the ship as helicopters brought the casualties in. Since I was an operating room RN, I was never there for that. The doctors were on deck waiting for the casualties and they classified incoming wounded as "Able", "Baker", and "Charlie" patients. They checked to see which ones were the worst and they would say, "This one goes here and this one goes there." Able patients were not too bad. They were put in bed and got immediate care. The corpsmen and the nurses on the floors did that. Charlie patients were the real bad ones that we took care of in surgery right away.
I worked most of the time in orthopedics dealing with legs and arms. We didn't generally deal with frostbite. Our casualties were usually those who had been shot at and wounded. My duty hours varied depending on what was going on in the Korean War at the time. We took care of everyone who was brought onboard ship: Army, Navy, Marines, Koreans, Australians, Turks, etc. I don't really remember most of them. They were brought into the operating room, we fixed them up, and then they were sent upstairs to the wards. In surgery, a casualty was just a human being laying there. Most of the times we talked to them and told them that the anesthetist was there and that we were going to put them to sleep and take care of them. I didn't see many patients after they went upstairs. Oh, occasionally we checked on somebody, but very rarely did we have the time to go check on anybody who had been moved up to the wards. We had two decks: "A deck" and "B" deck. The operating rooms were on one deck and the wards were on another.
We nurses each had to serve three or four weeks of night duty and someone took our place in the operating room when we did. That’s when we really got to see and talk to the patients and help the corpsmen give them baths and change their bunks. That was another thing. I don’t know how any of them recovered sleeping on those bunks. It was just terrible. But we managed, and they did too.
If there was no fighting going on, we went to work at 7 a.m. and worked until everything got done. When the battle for Pork Chop Hill took place around Memorial Day 1953, our operating room did not close for 80 hours. That was terrible. Just terrible. We lost a lot of young boys. They came in with their legs blown off, their arms missing, and terrible head wounds they probably never recovered from. They lost their sight. They had terrific abdominal wounds. We just prayed that they had gotten them to us on time. The nurses worked six hours on and four hours off during those 80 hours, but the doctors went beyond the call of duty, working eight to ten hours without time off. They were effective. They had to be. We got casualties all the time, but nothing in such mass as during the battle for Pork Chop Hill. That was the biggest one. Casualties arrived by the hundreds.
We lost most of the head wound cases. When half of their brain got blown out, there wasn't much left. We patched them, but they usually didn’t survive. I don’t think I will ever forget one young boy who was from Ohio. He had a bad head injury, and for all practical purposes he was already dead from his injury when he arrived on the hospital ship. I was working nights at the time because things were kind of quiet. A corpsman and I were on duty the night he died. He was unconscious, but when I checked on him he had tears rolling down his face. I mean, they were just coming by the buckets full. I thought, “What can I do?” Of course, there was nothing that I could do. The surgeons had done everything they could, but he was dying. Then about ten minutes before he died, the tears were gone and he just went quietly. There was no struggle; there was no nothing. I called Nick, the corpsman, over and said, "The tears have stopped. It's over." And then I cried like a baby. Even Nick cried. We had a whole ward full of patients, but we both cried for that one boy. I'm sure those boys and the nurses on the halls (wards) cried many tears, but I had never seen anything like that happen before.
When he died I was also relieved. I knew that his life would be nothing if he had lived, and I knew that he had made his peace with God. That's why the tears had stopped. He was at peace. Believing that was the only thing that saved me. I had taken care of all of these young men and many had died, but this one was different. It was the tears that got to me. It was the tears. I kept thinking that he was making his amends to God and God was talking to him. I'm a Catholic and believe in God, but I'm not very, very devout. Still, when his tears stopped falling I really thought to myself that he had made his peace with God and that God had released him and said, "Okay, it’s time.” This happened well before Pork Chop Hill, but it has haunted me to this day.
I had to get it off my chest, so I wrote to his parents. I didn't tell them that he had cried just before he died. I just told them that I had taken care of him and that he had gone peacefully. I told them that they should be very proud of him. I never got a response from the family. If I had I would have kept it and probably framed it. His tears, and probably the fact that he was from Ohio and so was I at that time, really got to me.
A tragedy happened on the Haven that I will also never forget, because we knew the casualty. One day we were at lunch and they called, "Charlie patients!" When they called "Charlie patients", everybody got up and ran to their stations. When our doctor (Dr. Hall) was called, he ran up there on deck. At that time, the rotary blades of a helicopter were on the back of it. I don’t know what the doctor was thinking, God rest his soul, but he ran into the propeller blade. He was just careless.
He lived for about a half an hour in the operating room. He was from Ohio. He wasn't married, but I recall that he had an immediate family. He was a young man. I wasn't one of the people who took care of him in the operating room. The rest of us just huddled outside of the operating room and prayed for him. We all knew that he was going to die. All they did was do a tracheotomy on him and cover his face. There wasn't anything else they could do for him. He was the only hospital crew casualty while I was on the Haven, and because we knew him, his death was the biggest tragedy.
Two-Year Old Korean
There was a young Korean patient that I remember. I still have a picture of him and his tall and thin mother. He was only two years old when he was brought to the ship as a patient. It was terrible. His mother had thrown him in front of a train and both of his legs and one arm were cut off. She did it so she could sue the Americans. This was when the war was still going on, and I'm sure that someone told her that she could get some money or something if her son was injured. It happened right there in Pusan, and then they brought him to the Haven by boat. He was precious and the crews of the Haven kind of "adopted" him. Everybody gave him gifts. He healed nicely, but his legs and one arm were gone. When he left the Haven he was sent to an orphanage, which is sad because all of those orphanages over there were terrible.
Most of the Koreans--the soldiers, that we treated were accompanied to the ship by interpreters. The Korean soldiers were just full of worms and we had to de-worm them. The Koreans were a strange bunch. The soldiers were rough as nails. They had to be to live like that and then to fight for what they were fighting.
Life Goes On
None of the hospital staff was ever required to leave the ship and go ashore to take care of anything that happened on land. There was a MASH unit not far from us. A couple of the girls came aboard the hospital ship once and, of course, they thought we lived in a motel compared to what they had. When I was in nursing school I had done psychiatric nursing with a girl by the name of Betty Williams, and I knew that she had joined the Army. We kept in touch with each other for a while, but you know how things go. When these two nurses came aboard, out of the clear blue sky I said, “By any chance is there a Betty Williams over here in Korea?” Their mouths flew open and they said, “Why?” I told them that I had done my psychiatric nurse's training with a girl from Zanesville, Ohio whose name was Betty Williams. They said, “You’re not going to believe this, but she’s in our MASH unit.” I said, “For heaven’s sakes. Get her aboard here.” A couple of days later, there she came. The first thing she said was she wanted to take a shower. She took one and we had a real nice dinner and visit. Compared to what they were living in, the USS Haven was a Holiday Inn. I knew their living conditions had to be terrible because they had no hot water, and they patched the boys up that were probably much worse than some we saw, although the boys that came to us were brought right from the battlefield. We didn't get patients from the MASH units.
Most of our patients who had leg and arm injuries, and even the chest wounds, were usually conscious. Those medics with the Army or Marines, God love them, they really knew what they were doing. When we got the boys they were bandaged and the medics had already stopped the bleeding. Why, half of the people we got would have been dead when they got to us if it hadn’t been for the medics.
Years later, I watched the television series M*A*S*H. I watched the programs and re-runs of the programs and laughed as hard the fifth time as I did the first time I saw them. I’m sure that a lot of that garbage didn’t go on, you know, but I’m also sure that the hospital scenes and all that were just as bad as they were in reality. But that other garbage didn’t go on. They didn’t have time to horse around like that, I don’t think. I laughed at the show because I knew it was ridiculous. Maybe they did have fun during war, but I doubt it. As for me, I enjoyed my time on the Haven. I would never want to go back, but I learned a lot.
I learned that there is a God up there that saved a lot of those boys. I don't have anything to say to those who don't believe there is a God. You can't convince them. Who could convince them that He came here and stood in front of them and that without a God there would be nothing left from over there. None of our boys would have come back. I heard about some of the things that happened in Korea and I questioned it sometimes, too. But I know He had his reasons. He’d better have, you know what I mean? Like I said, I’m not a religious fanatic, but without God I couldn’t make it.
I never saw all of those casualties and thought, "What a waste." A couple of times I had the chance to go on land in Korea, and when I saw what they were fighting over there--the land, I did think that it was a waste. Some of us got off the Haven and went with the Catholic priest, Father O'Leary, to a leper colony there. He and the hospital crew asked our families to send clothing to us for the people in the colony. There were always plenty of volunteers who wanted to go. I guess it was just the humane thing to do. We left the ship by motor boat, went to shore, got on a bus, and took clean clothes, medicine and stuff like that to the colony.
I didn't think that Korea was a country worth fighting for. It was so filthy. So dirty. Not all of them, but many of the Koreans just grabbed what they could. We didn't dare leave anything laying on anything or it was gone. When we went to Seoul, the capital, there was a palace. It was pretty well damaged, but it had been beautiful ground at one time. I couldn't understand how some people could live like that, while so many other people out there didn't have shoes, didn't have clothes, lived in shacks, and didn't have bathrooms. It was nothing to be walking down the street and see some gentleman peeing in the ditch or kids squatting and just do whatever they did. That’s what really got to me. Some of the people were so wealthy, yet other people were starving. That bothered me more than anything.
There were lots of children, and when I saw them I saw heartache. Most of them didn't have shoes, they were filthy, and they wore ragged clothes. They were hungry, I'm sure. But life was going on for them. See, they weren't in the front lines. What was happening up where there was fighting, I don't know. But this is what was happening in the little towns that we went through between Pusan and Seoul.
I arrived on the Haven in September of 1952 and served on it for a year, but there were no big celebrations of holidays on the ship during that time. We had Christmas, but it was just like any other day, other than the fact that we had a Christmas dinner and we sang carols to the patients. What else could we do for them? Most of them were just glad to be alive.
Entertainment on the ship was limited. The ship's crew had movies, and I'm sure they had some in the hospital crew, but the officers of the ship and hospital crew were kept separate. About the only entertainment the rest of us had was to go out on deck and talk to other crew people. I never went to a USO show while I was in Korea. We never had that kind of entertainment. You don't think those people would come on board a hospital ship!
We did have one famous personality come onboard once, but that was because he had pneumonia. He was Ted Williams, the Boston Red Sox ballplayer who was recalled to the Marine Corps to be a flier during the Korean War. I knew he was on the ship, but I didn't go to see him. I'm sure everybody flocked around him. He was the only that we had that was "important". Well, everybody was important, but I mean the only one who came aboard ship who could be considered famous.
The people on the ship's hospital staff had to have a sense of humor. We mostly laughed at the food. I mean, you can only have chicken so many times and you can only have fish so many times and you can only have potatoes so many times--and none of that was fresh. It was fresh when we first got on the ship, but as time went by we started to eat canned stuff. It got tiresome. But as I said earlier, compared to what the MASH girls went through, we lived in a hotel. I can't imagine how they survived. I really can't. We had our ship's stores, and they carried toothpaste, toothbrush, and anything like that.
Drunk in Japan
We didn't have much fun on the hospital ship, but when we got a hospital ship full of patients, there was no other way to get them back to the Army hospital in Yokosuka so the ship would take them to Japan. After offloading the patients, we had about five days R&R in Japan. We shopped. We walked around town. We went to the Officers Club and got some good meals--something different than what we had on the ship all the time. We just visited.
The first time we went to Japan, we unloaded the ship and got the patients all off, cleaned the hospital wards, and cleaned up the operating room. The second night we were there we went to the Officers Club and we had a nice supper. All of the doctors and nurses just sat around talking and having fun and drinking champagne. I looked up, counted 18 bottles, and said, “I’ve got to go vomit.” I went to the bathroom and I was sssiiiccckk. Oh god, I was so sick. I wanted to die. One of my fellow nurses, Trudy Crist, took care of me and got me back to the ship. The corpsmen who watched us all come aboard gave me such a bad time. That was the one and only time that happened. I haven't been able to drink since. Trudy and I have kept in touch through the years and we have attended a couple of reunions of the USS Haven. At least 50 people usually attend. We were going to have a reunion last year, but the wife of Joe Macina, who kind of coordinated everything, died. He has also died since then.
Duty after the Haven
I left the Haven in April or May of 1954, got married in August of 1954, and was discharged from the US Navy Nurses Corps in February of 1955. Nurses were not like enlisted people. We didn't have a particular length of enlistment in the Navy. Nurses just stayed until they wanted to resign, and then they could get out by submitting their resignation.
I married a sailor named Robert Gann who I met at Great Lakes. He was a peacetime Navy Corpsman but he didn't go overseas during the Korean War. He had it easy. I was assigned to the USS Haven in September of 1952 and we corresponded while I was on the hospital ship. After I returned to the States and got married, I went back to St. Albans again. I stayed in the service and worked in the operating room there. I got pregnant and started having problems with my pregnancy. They thought that maybe the fact that I was in anesthesia was causing some of my pregnancy problems, and thought it would be best if I resigned from the Nurses Corps. I didn't want to get out, but rather than have more trouble with the baby, I did. I had my baby in June of 1955. We then lived in New York. My husband worked for Eastern Airlines at the time as a ticket agent.
We have three children. The oldest one is our daughter Mary Elizabeth. She is known as Missy, and she is also a nurse. One of my Navy nurse friends, Peggy, was Missy's godmother. We met in Great Lakes during basic and we were very close. Peggy was killed in a car crash en route back to Great Lakes where she was being stationed. Missy was 12 or 13 years old at the time. Our son Michael is the middle child and he is a metro policeman in Nashville. Our youngest son, David, is an engineer with the fire department in Nashville.
Sometimes I think back on my time in the hospital ship. Memories that don't go away or that come back frequently include the young boy with the tears and the death of Dr. Hall. Other than one time, I've never tried to get any benefits for being a Korean War veteran because I've never needed any. After the war, my sister saw in a newspaper that the State of Ohio was giving all Ohio Korean War veterans a bonus of $250. I was already living in Tennessee at the time, but since my home state was Ohio when I was in the service, I was eligible. My sister called the Veterans Administration and they sent me an application. I can't remember what I did with the $250 when I got it. I probably bought groceries or clothes for the kids or something.
I've never been acknowledged as a Korean War veteran in front of a Korean group here in the States, but being a Korean War veteran does mean something to me. It means that I did some good. It means that I did help. I never participated in Korean War veterans associations. For one thing, I had those three children and I was real busy. I didn’t work when the children were little, but when they got old enough I worked on my husband’s days off. I worked as an RN at St. Thomas Hospital. I didn’t work in the summertime and I didn’t work when the kids were not in school. I stayed home.
I haven't told my children much about the Korean War. For one thing, they never asked me and for another I guess I just protected them about the war. But I think they need to read about it. They need to study it. Two of my kids have looked through my album of the USS Haven and they’ve asked me questions. My sister had a decoupage made for me and in it there’s a picture of me in my seersucker uniform on the hospital ship. I remember that it was cooollddd that day and in the picture I'm all bundled up and have this hood on. My kids said, “Oh Mother. You didn’t look too good in this.” But I was warm. I haven't been back to Korea since, and I wouldn't want to. I enjoyed Japan, but I don't want to go back to Japan, either.
I don't know if others I served with got stressed out over what they were seeing when I was on the USS Haven. I didn't pay attention to anybody. I was just concerned about doing the best I could and then getting home. I don't know what the general public knew about the Korean War at the time it was happening either. I didn't write home about it, but my family heard the news and they understood. My brother Andy, God rest his soul, was in the Army during World War II and he was a prisoner of the Japanese. My brother John, rest his soul, was wounded real bad in the Battle of the Bulge. So war to us was terrible. My brother Andy never really got over it. He had malaria. And when he came back from war, my brother John had such nightmares.
At the time, people called the war in Korea a "conflict." I never called it one. I saw the casualties. It was a war. I don't know if we should have been in Korea, but it's just like Vietnam. I get so furious when I hear people complaining about it. Why are they complaining? It happened. Forget it. I don't mean the Americans who went there should forget it; those poor boys who were sent over there were treated badly. They wouldn't have gone over there unless they were sent. I'm talking about the people who say, "We shouldn't have been there." That could be true, but we were, we had casualties, and we have veterans to take care of as a result.
Although there is peace over there in Korea now, I don't know if anything else good at all came out of the Korean War. Apparently not, because we haven't learned our lesson. We went to Vietnam and we are now over in Kosovo. It makes me sick when I turn on the news and hear the President announcing that he is going to send in ground troops somewhere. Months ago my family was talking about the Korean War and I said to them, "Listen. They say war is Hell and believe me, it is. I’ve been there and done that. If there is anything that you can ever do to help stay out of a war or a conflict or whatever, please do it. We lost too many boys. Too many boys.” Part of the problem is that, because this generation is distanced from war (I grew up in World War II and then I served in Korea), the younger generation now has no concept of war because they haven’t been around it. This is sad to say, but I don't think young kids today care. I’m talking about kids 17, 18, 19 and 20. All they think about is having a good time and, "What’s in it for me?"