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"I think my time in the service made you more responsible, and you found out what other people go through just to live every day."
- Earl Gillmore
Copyrighted by The Museum Association of Douglas County Korean War Project
Interview conducted by Lynnita Brown on the 16th Day of September, 1996
I joined the Air Force in July of 1950. I didn’t know I’d go to war. You know I was just going to enlist in the Air Force. I was already in the Illinois National Guard in the 33rd Infantry Division I joined; I think it was in January of 1950 or somewhere in there. There was several of us boys enlisted in the National Guard. You make money. I think it was ten or $15 a month.
So I enlisted in the Air Force and was sent to Lackland Air Force Base at San Antonio, Texas for basic training; and then I was there about three weeks I guess it was and maybe four, and then they decided they had an overrun of you know enlistees in the Air Force; and they needed to open up some more Air Force bases.
So we went up to Sheppard Air Force Base at Wichita Falls, Texas and started basic training there along with other schools. And then I graduated from the basic training there and stayed at the Sheppard Air Force Base as a permanent party working on the radios on the flight line. When I got out of basics it was probably September sometime until I went overseas in May.
I reported to Camp Stoneman It’s close to San Francisco. Camp Stoneman is, well, it’s on the Oakland side. It’s around Oakland. I can’t remember the name of the town now that Camp Stoneman but it was in California. It was right there by the bay. From there you went to, well, we went to Okinawa at Naha Harbor; but we didn’t get off the boat. It was the General E. T. Collins. I never vomited; but I sure got, didn’t feel good for about three days. We unloaded everybody in Yokohama; and it was a strange thing you know. I thought maybe we were going to stay in Japan. I didn’t know. There were 350 Air Force people, and they handed out little cards TS cards I guess. And they handed out a card. It had your name on it and where you were to report to. Very few of the people on that ship of Air Force 350, very few of them stayed in Japan at Shyia Air Base at Tokyo. That’s where the majority of them went. But the rest of us was to report to Shyia, and air base at Shyia which was on the southern island of Honshu which you know we got on a train; and you went down through oh, all the cities and –And Hiroshima was one of them. And of course you know it was a troop train more or less. So we stopped you know. You couldn’t see anything. Part of the station was new. But that was about it. And of course then we got to Shyia. It was one of the three air bases that, in southern Japan that went to Korea. And they flew a lot of cargo and troops from Shyia, Brady Field and Etasuki which it was big. And they flew a lot of missions out of Etasuki you know fighter missions.
I was 18 then, but I knew there was one guy that was with us or two guys – they was in the Marine Corps during World War II, and they transferred over into the Air Force; and they were both Staff Sergeants. And you know they were probably what, you know, 21, you know, little older; but it kind of made you feel a little bit for them because they said you know they didn’t, no feeling at all about dropping no bomb on Hiroshima; and of course we didn’t either. And because they were both on a troop ship sitting out there waiting to hit the island of Japan. And certainly they’d been dead or close to it so they were with me, and this 6132nd is where we were to report to 6132nd AC and W (aircraft control and warning squadron). We were attached to the 502nd TCG group, tactical air control group; and they were always three squadrons, and we was the sixty – we eventually become the sixty-eighth, but they had the 606th and the 607th; and you always had to have three of them for a fix on an aircraft up there.
Now what the AC and Ws did, they operated a radar screen, you know an antenna. And of course we had radio contact with the aircraft. And whenever they would fly over they would clear themselves so that they wouldn’t get shot down. And they all had codes, you know, their names; and they would clear through, and they would clear like going up to the north to bomb or whatever they were doing, fighter bombers or fighters or whatever. And then when they come back why they’d always clear through coming back.
The planes would call the controller at our AC and W site and identify themselves as you know electric chair zero three, you know; and they were going back home.
When you get a fix on a plane it means an aircraft would get shot down or maybe he would go down, an engine quit or whatever; and so what they would do is in the aircraft you’d have one of your positions was the aircraft, and then they’d have two on the ground; and they called them direction finding. Or DF stations. And we operated one of those. And so when an aircraft would go down they would key their radio to D channel or dog channel we called it, and it would send out a continuous signal; and then you would home in on that with your little scope, and then you’d get a bearing and where this was coming from. And it took three of them, and then a controller would get all three of them together; and they could actually pinpoint where that aircraft was. Then they’d send a helicopter, or they’d know where the pilot was; and they’d go in and get him.
We disembarked at Taegu. It’s about the center of South Korea, south of center. It’s a little north of Pusan, and its south of Seoul; and it’s the Naktong River is right there by it. And I think when they made the, Koreans you know, Chinese entered the war. And they pushed south from Pyongyang from the Yalu. They came as far south as the Naktong River at Taegu, and that’s what stopped them. We went to K-2 Air Field at Taegu. They give each one of them a K number like Korean K-1, K-2 and K-6 was at Seoul. We had a compound located close by for our support for the mountain. Our compound would be where the vehicles and support group would be for the support of the people that was manning the radar and radio on a mountain. See these AC and Ws were always on a mountain.
We were at Taegu, and then somebody came in a truck and picked us up and took us to the compound, to the headquarters of our squadron. It was right at the outskirts of Taegu. We stayed there for a couple days. Then we went to the mountain site where our antennas were. We had trucks like van that you know like U-Haul has those types of vans. And in those would be your radio equipment. The equipment would be your radio receivers. And some of our vans would be transmitter and receivers. And in the van would be just like a pickup camper only it was bigger, and they’d be mounted on the wall you know on a rack; and the transmitter would be there. Some antennas were on the top of the vehicles but you didn’t get much distance when you had your antenna there. When you got your real distance is when you stopped; and you would string a wire, a long wire antenna you know from pole to pole and back to the transmitter. And these transmitters were strong enough and powerful enough to, you could – well, you could transmit around the world, halfway around the world. In fact, one guy when we were in Taegu CW, you can transmit a lot further than you can by voice. And he was, he liked to play with the code. And he was good at it. And he picked up somebody from Los Angeles one night, a ham operator; and he answered him. The guy wanted to know where he was at and what he was doing, and so he just told him. By codes, Morse code. And the next day they was somebody called up to the mountain and told them what time this happened and wanted it stopped because they didn’t want anything going out. Because see anybody could pick that up. But see from Los Angeles to there was quite a distance. These were powerful, very powerful. We had our radar antennas which was a great big, great big screen you know that turned. And they picked up the aircraft. It was automatically turned; and it would pick up the signal you know an aircraft or whatever was in the area; and on the scope that you’re looking at would be a center with a line going out from it, you know a bright line. And it would go around, and whenever it hit an object it would brighten. And that’s how they would know something was there, and then it would move.
We watched it all the time, operators; and then they had a big board that they would you know, they’d always call out what they, you know unidentified aircraft; or they called them bogies and at so many degrees. And somebody would plot it. Some guys would have a big board, and they’d plot it. Well, the controller, he watched the board to see where things were going. And then he’d listen, and the airplanes would call in you know; and they’d give their position, and then they’d mark them off. But if they didn’t have a plane that called in you know that said I was here whenever it got close enough they’d call him and identify the aircraft, identify yourself or be shot down. That’s just simple.
The aircraft that the US had were called F-51s which were a World War II plane with a single engine. F-51. They used to call them P. They were like a pursuit. They were a fighter, and they were fast; and they could come in and strafe something or drop a bomb, and they could be gone pretty fast. They could fly low. They were a single propeller right in front. They had those, and the ROK the South Korean Air Force flew those. And also Americans flew them too and some of your Australians and some of your other nations flew the same aircraft because we furnished them just like World War II.
They also had Corsairs. They were a single-engine plane that they used during World War II. And they sort of looked like a zero you know. They had the bent wing, but they were carriers. Some of them were carrier base planes off of aircraft carriers. I know the boxer was there. Later, they had some helicopters that moved in later on but not like the ones today. They were older. Then they had the F-80s, jets and F-82s and F-84s and F-86s to dog fight with the Migs. Migs they were Russian-made fighters that the North Koreans would have or the Chinese. Well, I don’t know whether the Chinese flew them or not, but I know North Koreans did. They were Russian made and of course we had B-26s. And they were an attack bomber. They were an old World War II airplane with twin engines. They dropped bombs; and they’d also use them for you know shoot and they lost a lot of those. They also had B-29s that would come from Japan or someplace else.
Air power was important. Without the planes you couldn’t bomb. So you had to clear, you had to have the air supremacy. Just like today you know in order to drop bombs where you want them to, you know to factories, military installations, you know kill people, put the equipment out of commission. They were bombing military installations. Anywhere they might be a, somebody making something. I don’t think they had too much of that.
Small airfields in Korea were made taking bulldozers and level off a place and put down metal, big metal strips that they used during World War II and make a runway. They would be manned all the time. They’d protect them with antiaircraft guns. We had, we had what they called fifty caliber machine guns that were manned by the Army. And they would, they’d set up by us right at out installation for air protection.
We were pretty safe, but we did have one guy that shot another guy accidentally. He was one of these types that was nervous, and he’d you know smoke cigarettes just one right after another; and we had so much snow. It was piled up on the mountain Kangnung.
Now we moved from Taegu by convoy you know. We took our trucks and everything and moved up to just south of the 38th Parallel on top of another mountain. We moved up to that mountain and set up around Thanksgiving. And when it snowed that day you didn’t see the ground no more. And the snow was real heavy; but the vans you know, we parked those vans and dug them in so they were level. And then the snow would pile up on one side. You couldn’t get in the regular door. We had another door on the other side like a double door that, it was a pretty high step. And so the guys would have to help each other in because we never put steps out there.
But that’s how the guy got shot. See the guy that was in the van that night. It was 12:00 o’clock when he was getting relieved. We worked six-hour shifts, and he had his gun loaded; and he had the safety off of it. He’s scared, scared somebody’s going to come in. Well, you know that’s the time they would.
And so whenever the guy come to relieve him you know he hit on the door, and he knew it was time to, you know, to be relieved. And so to help the guy up he handed him his gun, but you know the barrel first; and he had his hand on the trigger. And the guy down there didn’t notice it. And so whenever he pulled he pulled the trigger. He wounded him bad, because that night you know the maintenance guy – always had a maintenance person on duty at night – and he come right in or well, we heard the shot because it was right outside of our little tent. And they were about six of us in the tent. And we heard the shot. And boy, you know you just lay there you know, well, what’s going on. Well, here come this guy bursting in the door, one of us, and he said so and so’s been shot accidentally. And we got a helicopter coming in to pick him up and take him to Seoul to the hospital or to the hospital. And we need everybody out with flashlights to, so the guy will know where to land. So you had no regular landing place. They could land a helicopter by everybody you know shining the lights so he’ll know where to land. So we did that, and they took him by helicopter to the hospital; and I guess he lived. We never heard anything about it. We had another guy got killed; he shot himself. Accidentally. He was cleaning his gun inside the van one evening, and he accidentally shot himself. And he had the van doors locked from the inside. And he crawled over to the door, and he couldn’t get out because he had the doors locked. So they had to, you know they called several people; and they broke in the van, but blood was running out of the door. And he was right there at the door. And they had blood on the way up from down below.
Now this was in the summertime in Taegu, and they had an ambulance from the Force Field Army Hospital on the way up. But the blood that he needed and the plasma, you know the distilled water. And they broke the distilled water on the way up. They took him down the mountain without anything, and he died – loss of blood. And there was, he was type O negative. Well, there were a lot of us that had type O positive; and they said no, we can’t do it because it’s liable to kill him because they had run into this experience in World War II where you had to have the right type or the person could die.
Weather didn’t affect our aircraft too much. We probably some days they didn’t fly maybe because of some bad weather. But that happened in the summer or spring you know or in the fall. Because a lot of their flying was visual. They had to be able to see. It isn’t like today where they’ve got an instrument that pinpoints something you know. But they more or less had to see what was going on.
We stayed in tents. Six of us stayed in there. Now the other guys, the radar and some of the other radio people lived at the other end where the radar equipment was and the generators for our power, electricity; and they stayed in tents. And they would be oh, maybe twenty to a tent or something like that. And it was cold in there. They had these little potbellied stoves, but they’d be ice froze on the floor. When we first went to this Kangnung, you know to a mountain up at Kangnung we were the, with the bunch that went up to get it started. So we took the radio vans and dug in the radio vans, and we stayed in this janesway because it was quick. We had to have someplace to stay, so we put up one of these janesways as they called them; and that’s where we stayed.
And then we would go out and dig out and put these vans in. It took quite a bit of work. And when we were done that’s where we stayed because that was our, that was our area. And of course we had to you know run wires you know to, so the controller could key the mike and by remote control. We had the transmitters and receivers in the same van, you know. They were aircraft, for aircraft. The vans were warm. They had a heater. Staying clean was a problem. We didn’t have any provisions except a helmet. And you’d have to heat the water to; you know that’s how you took a bath. We would melt snow; or we had water wagons coming up the mountain. You know whenever they’d bring up supplies they’d bring up water wagons, and you had to get what you wanted then or it would freeze. In fact the wagon would probably only haul about half a load because it was freezing. And so normally we melted a lot of snow. We just made the best of what we had.
We had good food. We had a mess tent. We had cooks. It was good food. And warm food. We had good stuff.
We worked six hour shifts. We listened to the Voice of America. It had a lot of music. You see we’d take one of our transmitters and tune it – receivers – and tune it to Voice of America when we knew there weren’t any planes coming across there. And then we had intercoms; and we’d just punch an intercom so the whole, the whole hill could listen to that music. And then maybe the controller would call you, or you know some way he’d let you know by the telephone or – we had telephone – that better shut that off because we’ve got planes going to be coming in. And the reason they knew they had planes coming in was we had what they called FM, frequency modulator; and we had FM carrier bays. And that’s how we got our orders. And they would come in on FM which was line of sight.
And so the controller knew what was coming and how many and what their call signs were and everything. And some of them were the corsairs off of an aircraft carrier you know. And I forget what – I know the call signs you know, but I don’t know who they were.
The enemy got close one night. We were asleep one night; and it was after midnight, and it was cold. And there was a big bulge in the front line. It was dripping down. And it was just right north of where we were at. And we were south of 38th Parallel which is just a little ways. But the line was a little bit north of the 38th Parallel but boy, it was you know – let’s say a line would be straight, you know the front line. Well, this particular one was dipping down like so. Well, these guys got cold feet; and they were heading south. They were South Korean soldiers. Now the First Marine Division was stationed down at the air base right below us Kangnung K-18. It was the First Marine Division. And they were back on rest. And the ROK soldiers – they called them ROK, Republic of South Korea – they were there to maintain you know the front line while these guys were on rest.
Well, as the story goes, they got cold feet; and they’d been in Pusan by morning if somebody hadn’t stopped them. So that night the line was dipping down, and they, we have, always had an airplane in the air you know just in case you needed something right quick. And he was dispatched to, by our controller to find out what was going on you know because they get all these reports you know the line’s dropping.
And so he got up there and was looking, and he seen a convoy heading south. He says there’s a convoy heading south. And that’s whenever the maintenance guy that was on duty woke us all up because you know you might have to leave. And you’re no good without your radio equipment because they don’t care. They want that equipment you know, our government. Our government wants that equipment. They don’t care about you. You know they’ll get somebody else, but that equipment takes a little time to build it. So they weren’t going to come and get you unless you could take your equipment and drive it. That was the only way you was going to go. And so when worse come to worse you know, why we’re just going to cut the wires and go you know. We’ll get more wire. And so that was the way we was going to go. We got up thinking hey, we you know, we can leave everything. Your life is worth something. You know we don’t need our mess kit, or we don’t need that radio you know or personal things. We don’t need that.
But so we was listening to the report about the line heading south; and so the controller, why he dispatched several more aircraft. And what they did was they bombed and strafed that convoy to stop it. They wanted them stopped. Then the First Marine Division was already on its way by trucks and everything else going back up there to bolster the line. And you know it took several hours. But once those Marines got there then the line went back up. But that, that was pretty close. The South Koreans normally did not run. That was the only time I’d ever heard of it. Something was wrong. They were probably in a situation where maybe they were overpowered. And they needed more manpower. So maybe it wasn’t altogether their fault you see. It was that they needed more, they needed more help; and the help left.
Our area was protected by a black outfit. They didn’t like it because they were Army. And their tour of duty was 18 months, and ours was a year. So there’s friction right there. And now we had, now the people that maintained our road going up the mountain for supplies was a South Korean Engineering group. And they had bulldozers, and they took care of the keeping the road open and so on all winter long.
We sent a couple trucks or three trucks from the compound down the mountain. We’d send them down to Pusan. That’s where they brought a lot of stuff in by ship. And they’d bring beer and no hard liquor, but they’d bring beer and a lot of things you know candy and stuff like that in there, cigarettes; and all that was free. The Army guys didn’t have anything. They were just stuck up there, and people forgot them. We invited them to share with us. And boy, now that – see, that was really it. You know they could come and drink beer with us. You know give them cigarettes and candy; and boy, they, then they felt more like they were part of you, I guess.
I did get R & R in Fukioka, Japan. It was a town, and there were three air bases there. It was as big as Springfield, big city. In fact, it was, they were three air bases there you know close. That was Etasuki was right there right outside of town. And these guys that permanent party there well, it was really strange. One night we got into Etasuki and it was, oh, it was late at night.
Well, they stopped running the taxis and everything to town. So we had no place to stay. We were late leaving for some reason or other, aircraft maintenance, I don’t know what it was; but anyway we got into Etasuki, and we didn’t have any place to stay that night. So we stayed in the building right there by the gate. Couldn’t leave you know because it was off limits. And couldn’t, you know they wouldn’t let you out the gate.
So we stayed in what I thought was an administration building, but it was a dispensary, part of a dispensary; and so we just bedded down, laid down on the benches there and went to sleep and woke up the next morning with noise. And they was people streaming in there you know; and that place was, before we left, was packed. The dispensary was packed; and they were all there for VD, yeah. They weren’t there because they had a sore throat. When we finally got to town we were looking for girls. They were in any hotel. We had all been warned about them. That’s just what an American kid does. Now some of these places like in Tokyo, we was in Tokyo once. They have cabarets you know or night clubs, and they were for GIs. They had all kinds of things in Japan you know. They’d have an enlisted man’s club NCO Clubs and Officer’s Clubs, and these were high class joints. They had entertainment you know, musicians and all kinds of stuff, slot machines; and it was really nice. And the cabarets you know like the Tokyo Cabaret – I remember that – they played American music you know, Glenn Miller style music; and it was just full of girls. And now some of them were nice girls. Some of them weren’t so nice girls.
On the mountain, there wasn’t any entertainment, we just wrote letters and if it’s nice weather why, you might play you know volleyball. We had a volleyball place. One guy, he liked to hunt; and he killed a deer one time you know in the summer. And one of the best jobs that I had was in Taegu. You had a, you know somebody had to maintain that road; and it wasn’t ROK soldiers there. That was Korean civilians that they paid. And they’d have a boss. And so they always needed an American to drive the truck to haul cinders and gravel or cinders mostly, cinders on the mountain. And boy everybody wanted that job because they got off of the mountain. They got to go to town to Taegu. And while they were loading the truck you know or waiting to get loaded why they had a PX there. You could go to the PX, and you could buy stuff even though they give us free things you know, but you didn’t get what was in the PX. Well, all they give you was like candy and cigarettes. And you could get, and sometimes they give you soap. But some guys would want oh, deodorant and you know just toiletry you know, things like that. They weren’t watches or anything you know like you would have in the United States.
I did get some packages from home. From my mother and cousins. A lot of times they’d have cookies and cigarettes.
We did see some USO shows - we saw Jack Benny one time in Taegu. He had – no, they were always a girl or two you know that he had. But I could just remember him being there. They were probably somebody else, but I just don’t remember.
You know a couple weeks before you were going to be rotated home why, you know the communications chief would tell you, you know that you’re going to be next. So then we’d leave the mountain and go down below, and they had to do a little bit of paperwork you know for a day or two; and then we’d be on our way. The group I was with came back on a ship. It was a Navy Ship. The first one was a Coast Guard ship. And this one I don’t remember the name of it. We landed at Yerba Buena Island at Treasure Island. Yerba Buena is the only permanent island there. Treasure Island was made you know for the World’s Fair. Yerba Buena is owned by the Navy, and that’s where you came in. And then whenever I got processed back to the States and they told you where you were going to go and so I went to Mather Air Force Base at Sacramento a hundred miles away. I went home for 30 day leave and then back to California for 2 years. I was airborne radio mechanic and worked on the airplane radios.
When I was discharged I started to college at Southern Illinois. And then I decided I was just been too far gone out of high school to pick all this up. So I just came to USI out here and got a job. I was an operator then. I stayed for thirty-six years.
I think my time in the service made you more responsible, and you found out what other people go through just to live every day.