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Roland J. "Rolly" Kohen
Miami Beach, Florida-
" I never was able to stay aloof from the many men I was required to care for at battalion aid. I always felt that we were brothers, but one does one's duty. I had emotional problems, and when it got a very heavy burden, I went behind the aid station, fell to the ground, and cried for about 15 minutes--and then went back to my duties. The crying was cathartic."
- Rolly Kohen
My name is Roland J. "Rolly" Kohen. I was born in Cleveland, Ohio on December 14, 1924, son of Herman E. and Beatrice Leavitt Kohen. Father was a lawyer. Mother was mostly a housewife, though at one time during World War II, she managed a hotel. I have two sisters, one older and one younger than me.
I went to grade school and junior high in Cleveland, and graduated from Miami Beach Senior High School in 1942. My family moved from Ohio to Florida due to financial reverses, but they did well here in Florida. I worked only one summer, acting as a bellhop in a local Miami Beach hotel. During my teenage years I was a golfer, but I was not a sportsman and was never on a team.
I was interested in every subject in high school, but especially English literature because I loved to read. I knew that for a life career, I had better concentrate on sciences. I wanted to be a doctor. I was young and very socially aware that I could help mankind. My God, I was so sophomoric and young. But in a way, I still feel that way, and am proud to say that I felt that way even in Korea with all the horror of war. Since I was in high school, I had no medical experience when I decided I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted a profession, but I did not want to be a lawyer like my father. Law seemed to me to be defending evil at times and just did not seem to be right for me.
When World War II broke out, my family listened to the radio, saw the newsreels, and read the papers like most others at home. Also like everyone else, we reacted with fear, hope, and prayer. Many young men were gung ho to go to war. I was one of them, especially since all of my friends were in the Army or the Navy. I felt ashamed that I was not going with them, but I was grateful to be in school knowing that there would be a day of paying back. I knew that when I got out of school, I would be drafted.
Through a school bulletin I was recruited into the Navy's V-12 program. To enter it, one had to make an application and then go for a rigorous medical exam. My parents almost ordered me to take the qualification test. They felt that if I passed I would be in school during the war, my education would not be interrupted, and I would be safe for a time. We were a close family and, being a dutiful son, I took the test and scored high on it. I do not recall my score, but I do remember that I was the 12th highest in the State of Florida. The test was inclusive of everything--English, math, chemistry, physics, current events, etc.
Part of the required commitment to the Navy once I enlisted in the V-12 program was to join the Navy and serve in active service for at least two years after leaving school. I enlisted directly from high school in June of 1943. Three of my classmates from high school joined for the same reason. My folks were happy for me, but that was prior to the Korean conflict. When I was called back later to go to Korea, they were rightfully frightened and let me know that. I never had any regrets about signing up for the program. I wanted to be a doctor and the V12 gave me that opportunity in time of war. The government funded my studies 100 percent, including books, lodging, tuition, and food. Those of us in the program were considered to be in the Navy and subjected to the Navy in every way.
If World War II had not broken out, I would have gone to an Ivy League school. I had already been accepted by Harvard, Amherst, and Dartmouth, but when I entered the V-12 program, I had no say so in what college I would attend. They did ask me what I wanted to study and I said medicine. They said okay and I was sent to the nearest college, which was the University of Miami. All the universities had similar programs as a way of getting officer material and as a way of keeping the universities open and assisting the war effort. At UM, I enrolled in mainly pre-med courses such as chemistry, physics, zoology, botany, and math. My electives were English literature and German. They also insisted on giving us basic naval history and other naval information. The use of weapons and calisthenics, running, physical education, etc., were added to the rest of our studies. There were naval officers adept at training. We had classes in officer behavior, etc. Some of the officers who gave us courses were those close to retirement or who had returned from overseas duties.
Not all enrollees made it through the program. There were fallouts because of bad grades and those who by behavior were considered unfit to be officers. To me, I don't think the V-12 program was as hard as regular college would have been. I really loved to study, learn and read. It was almost a way of life for me. My biggest challenge was higher math (I still find that hard). I got A's in every subject, but got B's in math. We were on an accelerated course, which meant that we had no summers off. Our schedules were more than full so that we could finish a four-year study in two and a half years. We rarely left the campus except on some weekends. They crowded as much study as they could and as much as we could absorb. Following my study at the University of Miami, I was sent to the Naval Hospital in Key West for the three months prior to the beginning of my first year in med school. I was sent to the lab where I learned blood and urine analysis, etc. I was taught how to draw blood, how to get medical specimens, etc.
Med school was different from college in that it was a post graduate school attached to a university, and it was under a university administration. For the first two years I learned the fundamentals--anatomy, histology, physiology, pharmacology, and all things related to the human body. The second two years were clinical studies such as diagnosis, X-ray, surgery, obstetrics, gynecology, urology, neurology, psychiatry, orthopedics, etc. We had lectures, but spent more time in clinics and on the ward of the hospitals with professors, etc. There were many texts, many lectures, and much hands on experiences. It was intense and we worked day and night. Our instructors were professional teachers and clinicians. During those final years of World War II, I did not have to participate in any formal training or attend any sort of regular meetings in the Navy reserve. I was required only to let the naval reserve office know of my whereabouts. I had, as any young man would have, many girlfriends and lovers while I was in school. But since I knew that I still had a long road ahead, I never fell in true love at that time.
While I was in Key West at the Naval hospital, yelling, bells ringing, and cheers went up all around at the news that World War II was over. Everyone started to drink and celebrate. (I could never drink much and always got sick before I could get drunk.) I was glad the war was over, but at the same time ashamed that I had spent the time mainly in school, especially since all my close friends were overseas and my best friend was killed at the Battle of the Bulge. His name was Bob Blumenthal. We were high school best friends and just hit it off from the first time we met. He was killed by a mortar shell instantly. I heard about it from a friend of his parents. We were all devastated and grieved. He was very popular in the community. There was no funeral since his body was buried in Belgium and not brought home until after the war. My grief at the time was compounded by shame that, while he was fighting, I was safe at home in school. I felt that I owed something to him and to America.
At the time I finished my college studies and became an intern in Cleveland, Ohio, my goal was to become a specialist in surgery. That changed later on to urology. After finishing med school, the internship lasted one year. Every doctor had to take at least one year in order to get a license. I rotated through every ward in the hospital, including obstetrics, surgery, pediatrics, etc--a different specialty every month. A residency was three to five years, with one specialty leading up to becoming a specialist such as a surgeon internist, etc. Between the end of World War II and the start of the Korean War, I finished med school, completed my internship, and was starting my first year of surgical residency when I suddenly received a notice to report to an induction center within five days. They needed doctors in Korea as soon as possible.
I was called back in 1950 soon after the Chinese involvement, so that must have been in November. I eagerly wanted to see action since I was ashamed at having not seen any in World War II. I followed the news of the war very closely by reading the newspapers. When I got my orders, I called my parents to tell them that I had been called to active duty. My father was politically connected (he had been in politics in Cleveland, Ohio, and knew some important people close to the Truman administration) and wanted to intervene, but I told him that if he lifted a finger to keep me from my duty, I would never forgive him or ever come home. As I recall, my mother cried. At the time, the only thing that I knew about Korea was that it had been part of the Japanese empire prior to World War II and it was divided into North and South after the war. Since I always have read the papers, I thought it was common knowledge. I felt that the United Nations was doing the right thing and that the war in Korea would be over very soon.
I did not want to go home to more tears before I left, but I did go to see a sister who was living in Tulsa. I gave her my good watch to hold for me. It was a valuable watch that had been given to me on my graduation from med school by my parents. After giving it to her, she cried and hugged me, and begged me to take care of myself. I had a car in Cleveland that an uncle sold for me. My other personal effects in Cleveland (records, clothes, books, etc.) were stored by my family there. I made no other arrangements for my medical career. I was sent by airplane to San Antonio for the briefest of orientation. We only received uniforms plus our orders in writing. I was told that I was to be sent to Asia, with the likelihood that I would wind up in Korea. I then proceeded to San Francisco to await my flight to Asia. I received almost no training during this time period. I was just re-inducted into the armed forces. By then I was a full-fledged doctor and was licensed to practice. (After I completed my internship, I had taken my state board licensing exam.) I reported to an Air Force base outside of San Francisco and was then flown to Hawaii, Wake Island, and then to Tokyo.
I had flown many times. We were flown on a transport Air Force plane, the type of which I do not recall. We landed in Hawaii, where we were told we had ten hours. Some of us took off to Waikiki Beach. We rented a room at the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, bought swimming suits, rented surf boards, and had a ball surfing for the first time. We then flew to Wake Island where we were taken off the plane while it refueled. We were given breakfast in a huge Quonset hut. On the plane were about thirty doctors being sent to Asia Naval M.D. Most of us had orders transferring us to the Army. Once in Japan, we were taken by bus to Camp Drake outside Tokyo and given Army cold weather clothes. At first they were not sure where to take us--to the Naval base or to the Army camp. After some confusion, we wound up at Camp Drake.
We were told that the Commies did not follow the Geneva convention rules, and that we would have to carry a gun for our own protection, so I carried it. I was given a .45 gun, and taught how to clean and fire it. I had never touched a gun before, and although they taught me how to use it, I knew that I would not be able to aim it at another human being. I am a doctor. I save lives. I do not, nor ever could I, take lives. Did that make me a conscientious objector? I just felt that I could serve my country as a doctor who saved lives rather than took them.
The veterans who had already been in Korea gave us some orientation on the nature of the Korean conflict, Korean history, and the Korean people, but told us nothing regarding combat. They did say that the North Koreans were excellent at mortar fire and could aim a mortar at a lit cigarette. They said they used bugles at night and took few prisoners. They explained to us that the South Koreans wanted democracy and we were saving their way of life.
This was my first trip to the Orient. My impression of the Japanese was that they were extremely polite. The women were beautiful, petite, charming, and exotic. As to the country itself, I was only there for about ten days. I saw only Tokyo, where I purchased and sent presents home such as pearls for the women in my family and an Ivory chess set for my father. I saw much more of Japan after I was sent there from Korea prior to being sent home. Tokyo had cleaned up most of the devastation of World War II. Although some could still be seen, mainly there was rebuilding going on.
When it was time to head out to Korea, we were placed on a bus, taken to Yokohama, put on a Naval transport troop carrier, and sailed the Yellow Sea to Inchon. As I recall, the trip took about seven days. I had never been on an ocean liner before, but had been on many smaller vessels. I handled the trip well with Dramamine, but others with us were very sea sick and hardly left their bunks. I was the only naval medical person onboard. The Army lacked doctors only, so the Navy loaned only its doctors to them. There were Army medics, but no naval corpsmen were ever sent. En route to Korea, we knew that we had already been attached to the Army.
When we landed, it was evening at low tide and we had to climb rope ladders with our packs on our backs. It was not too bad for me since I was thin and in good shape, but for others who were overweight and not in good shape, it was scary. They wanted us to get off immediately since they desperately needed doctors with the units. We were given our assignments almost immediately. I was put on a bus, then a Jeep, and finally delivered to the 23rd Regiment to be sent to the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Infantry Division. I was frightened but okay. I wanted to serve my country and take care of the shame I felt for being in school during World War II.
Army Medical Personnel
Before I continue with my memoir, I want to explain the breakdown and duties of Army medical personnel. Medical companies included commissioned officers, NCOs, medics, and litter bearers (about three sets of them) and ambulance drivers. Litter bearers and ambulance drivers did not treat patients. These personnel were then distributed to various regiments and then to companies within the regiments. I was also assigned a radio operator, who was also my Jeep driver. I was the only surgeon and doctor when I arrived to the 23rd Regiment. Most of them were older than I was and were veterans of many previous battles.
Commissioned officers included medical doctors and Medical Service Corps personnel. MSC officers were not doctors. They saw to the nitty gritty things that had to do with daily operations and supplies, but did not tend patients. Non-commissioned officers included a 1st Sergeant who was over all 240 medics in a regimental medical company, and a Sergeant who was in charge of all aid stations. There were three aid stations per regiment. There were 240 medics in a regimental medical company. There were three regiments per division and three companies in an infantry regiment. Each company in a regiment had four medics or one medic per 15-man platoon.
The order of care of wounded from the battle site to the hospital was as follows:
There were two types of training for Army medical personnel. One was in-country at the Medical Field Service School (MFSS) at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. The other was out-of-country at the Medical Department Technician School (MDTS) at Osaka, Japan. Both offered the following courses:
The above courses included classroom training and field training, and took place after basic training was completed.
The battalion surgeon was the boss of the medical company and the medical service officer was his assistant to handle the ordering of supplies, etc. The battalion commander was always in charge of all men in the battalion, followed by the executive officer. I was further under the regimental medical officer who could re-assign me and who I worked with and met with often.
Duties in the 23rd Regiment
When we first arrived in Korea, we could immediately tell we were in a war zone by the devastation and the evidence of recent fighting. The bus took us from Inchon to Seoul, and there we saw the bombed and destroyed buildings. The mountains around Seoul were beautiful, but Seoul itself was in ruins. The 23rd Regiment was only about an hour away from Seoul to the north. On the way to the regiment, my biggest impression was the refugees streaming on the side of the road with children--young and old, animals, carts, and seeming to be running for their lives. It was extremely sad for me. There seemed to be thousands of them for as far as the eye could see.
I knew no one at the unit when I got there, but those who had arrived before me gave me advice. I had to be told never to light a cigarette in the dark, never to stray off by myself, where to sleep (I didn't know if I was to sleep in the aid tent or with the officers), who my men were, and how to behave as a medic in war time. I knew how to be a doctor and how to care for wounded, but I knew nothing about how to behave under fire. I was 25 years old and had little experience in life, let alone war, but I was determined to be the best battalion surgeon possible. I was a complete innocent. I had to be told to keep my steel helmet on, to stay in the foxhole until needed, etc. I put my sleeping bag in the aid tent so that I could always be there if needed.
My commanding officer was Colonel Chiles, the executive officer was Major Jensen, and the regimental medical officer was Captain Robert Hall. Through the months I was in Korea, we conferred very often and prior to each action I was called into the command tent and was told what to expect as far as casualties and what the action was to be. I'm not sure how they knew what to expect as far as casualties, but the commanding officer did by experience. He related the problems we might have in getting to the wounded, etc. During a battle I had a radio man with me and was always in touch with battalion headquarters so that I would know where to send a litter team, etc. I was in touch with Captain Hall on almost a daily basis. My battalion commanding officers were the same while I was there, but our regimental commander, Colonel Freeman, was wounded at Chipyong-ni and was replaced. Our officers were outstanding except for one who we soon got rid of. He was a West Point man and totally lacked in courage. He was found hiding during combat. The battalion commander asked me to write a report stating that he was psychologically unsuitable and he was sent back to be a graves registration officer. I formed a close bond with all the officers and felt that we were a "band of brothers." I learned from their leadership abilities. They were all veterans of combat.
We came under fire one week or so after I arrived in Korea. There was a attack and we had to go into our foxhole. I was told to get down on the ground and that we were to spread out so that we were not clustered together. Then I recall hearing artillery fire and assumed that it was our outgoing. Suddenly the sound changed slightly and my men said, "incoming fire -- get down." I soon knew the difference. There was a hit on one of our trucks from mortar and there were casualties. Small arms fire came later. When under fire, everyone had a job of their own to do--the radio men stuck to their radio, the medics did their care, the infantry did their assignments, etc. Everyone had a position when in combat. Two corpsmen and I ran to the hit vehicles and immediately gave care. I saw my first dead American in this attack. It affected me as any sight of seeing a young man in the bloom of life dead, but I realized that this was war and must be expected. I had mixed emotion about seeing my first dead enemy. I felt, "What a shame," yet if it had not been him then it could have been one of us. Sadly, that is what war is all about. When I had nothing to do except stay in my foxhole during an attack, I kind of shook. But as soon as a casualty needed care, I stopped hearing the fire, got out of the hole, cared for the men, and did my duty. Having something to do was the best way to overcome fear.
The location of the medical company of the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Regiment, 2nd Division in relation to the front line troops varied depending on individual circumstances caused by the terrain or the battle at the time. At different times we could be anywhere from 500 yards to three-fourths of a mile to a half a mile within eyesight of them. When we were that close, we had to dig our own foxholes and tried to be situated out of the line of fire most of the time. When I first arrived at the 23rd Regiment, however, we were in reserve. As soon as I settled in, I was met by my medical company and welcomed by the officers of the battalion, although they were somewhat doubtful of such a green young man. I also may have been the first Jew that they had ever had a close association with. They looked at me with much doubt but hoped that I would measure up since they had lost their previous medic, who they all liked. I do not remember his name, but the men were fond of him. I think he was wounded and sent back. A month later the men stated that I was the better doc and they were glad to have me even though at first they resented me. (I heard them say, "No Jew jokes" since they knew I was Jewish.) I held sick call the first morning I was there and right from the first noted the sick Koreans. I wondered what I could do to help them.
I also bonded with the Padre, Father Frank. He had been spotted along the road among thousands of refugees fleeing the Communists. Because of his red hair and blue eyes, he stood out from among the Asian faces. When he was asked who he was, he said that the Communists were killing all the missionaries and that he had joined his flock in flight from them. He was invited to board one of our Jeeps and stay with the unit. He was given US Army clothes and became part of our group. He was especially valuable to us because he could speak and read Korean, Japanese, and a smattering of Chinese. Father Frank was Irish and had been in Korea for years as a missionary. He was, of course, Catholic. He was in his forties. He worked with me under combat conditions, giving comfort to the wounded while I treated them. He gave Last Rites, and was under fire many times and never failed his duties. With a great capacity for humanity, he worked with me first of all to care for our men, and then gave equal care to the wounded of the enemy. He also took care of the villagers in the district. He gave succor as I gave medical care to all who needed it. I was young and with no experience of this kind of situation. For the first time in my life I found myself inspired to do something for mankind in the midst of the horror of war.
As soon as we were in reserve, I let the villagers know that I would have sick call for them. Since the Padre spoke Korean, he served as my interpreter. When we were at a rest area out of combat, I had Army sick call while the Padre checked the village people to see if anyone there needed a doctor. I dispensed whatever medication that I could spare to the villagers, and did several minor procedures such as lancing an abscess on a baby. With his translating abilities and my medical efforts, we soon had lines of Korean villagers waiting for us. We even made house calls together, going into huts on our hands and knees to examine and treat those who was too sick to come to me.
One time the Padre came to me saying, "Doc, there is a village over the hills where there is an epidemic. There is no doctor, people are dying, and there is no road to get to them." He and I put a pack on our backs and trudged over to the village to care for its people. There was a smallpox epidemic and I used the antibiotics I had as best as I could. Both Father Frank and I had been vaccinated. In another village, the elders gave us a feast to thank us for liberating them. It was memorable. They had women serving each of us and offered the village prostitutes after the feast. They also sang songs to us and had dancing Korean style. I also remember that there were times when we had a group of Chinese or North Korean soldiers trapped. They could either surrender or be killed. Padre pleaded that they surrender to avoid more bloodshed. There was one time when they fired on him, pinning him down. We had trouble getting him out alive. Colonel Chiles, the battalion commander, forbade him to ever do that again. He gave solace and comfort to all religions, along with regularly conducting the Catholic Mass. The troops thought so much of him that they took up a collection to purchase a very dear Belgian hunting rifle as a gift for him. He loved hunting and was grateful for it.
The medical service officer of the 23rd was supposed to handle the men, order supplies, handle the problems of transport, make sure everything was up to army regulations, handle the reports, and everything else except medical care so that I would be free to do that. My medical service officer was at first useful, but then took to drinking and later, after Chipyong-ni, had to be evacuated as a basket case. He was totally unable to do anything. I was left with no replacement for some time and took over his duties as well, which I quickly grew into and did better than he did. He taught me a lot the first week or so, and I was grateful to him for that. One of the duties of the MSO was to discipline the men. I was reluctant to do so since I was so young and inexperienced, but after a few weeks grew into being a senior officer. There were always reasons to discipline the men, ranging from drinking to fights, to not obeying orders, to fluffing off, to young men misbehaving in general. The men called me "the old man" behind my back--and even in front of me. It started as a joke since I was the youngest man in the company and yet in charge. "The Old Man" was the nickname of all company commanders, but they used it as a term of affection for me. I became very close to my men and felt that they were almost my children. The enlisted men were diverse, with some Latinos, some native Americans, some career ANGLOS, and all dedicated.
Back in the States, I had spent time in an emergency room. Caring for war wounded was much the same only more so. It was just an expansion of what I already knew. The reality of war was pretty much what I expected, but I did not imagine that I would bond with so much emotion and true affection with my men and my battalion as I did. I felt that they needed me and that I was there for them no matter what. I also felt the awful responsibility of command that comes from ordering a man or a group of men to a task such as sending a litter team to bring in a wounded man and having them wounded or killed themselves while doing it. What responsibility for a 25-year old. It weighed heavily, but one must rise to it.
When I first got there, the enlisted men were indifferent to the plight of the natives, but when I started to treat them also, my men got into the spirit. They were proud to help these civilians and brought them to me. I even made sure that we took good care of the wounded prisoners. The native Koreans were refugees with all the horror that that implies. They were young and they were old. There were babies. What few possessions they had were on their backs. They had some animals with them as well. There were streams of them running with such fear in their eyes that it was painful to see. When I could, I helped. When we were out of the fighting and in reserve, I opened the sick call to them as well as to the villagers. The Padre always helped me.
My medical company was totally different than the MASH units which were way behind the lines and had the luxury for the most part of being out of range of artillery fire and the ability to do regular surgery, etc., complete with nurses, anesthesia, etc. At a battalion aid station, we did the emergency stopping of hemorrhage and emergency saving of life while under fire. We tried to be out of the range of small arms fire, but did not always manage to do that. We were in range of artillery and mortar. I could give morphine for pain, do emergency aid, and prepare the wounded to be sent to the regiment collecting station--by Jeep or litter carrier when they were in the field, then evacuate them by ambulance or helicopter to a MASH unit. For the most part the helicopters landed at the collection station. They were in danger and had to wait until there was a lull in the fighting. When we were out of combat--and even when we were in combat--I held sick call every day for all the troops in the Battalion. When out of combat, I handled everything from sore throats to venereal disease to stomach complaints, and all that young men are subjected to. They got venereal disease both when they went to where the women were and when the women came to where the men were. One never knows where young men pick their sexual partners, but they do and did.
As mentioned briefly in the previous section about Army medical personnel, there was a standard procedure to follow for the care of a soldier wounded on the battlefield. When a man was wounded, there was a call for the medic. The medic assigned to that unit put a tourniquet on if needed or did something simple to assist the wounded, then called on the radio for a litter team. I sent the team and the man was brought to me, where I did emergency work patching up as well as I could working on the ground. Sometimes I gave plasma for loss of blood and shock. Sometimes I put on a splint for fractures and gave something for pain so the wounded man could be transported to the collection center.
There were a few times when they could not bring the wounded to me because of being fired on. (In order to bring a man on a litter, one had to be standing and not crawling. One could not stand if one was being shot at.) During those times, I crawled out to him with a pack on my back. The pack had bandages, morphine, plasma, tourniquets, etc. There were many times I stopped hemorrhages, two times I had to do an emergency amputation to save a life, and several other things that one was forced to do. Once I had to sew up an abdomen and stuff the bowel back into the belly in order to be able to transfer a wounded man to collecting. We had to give plasma on too many incidences to count. I was grateful to have been able to do anything.
It was very important for the men to know that if they could not be carried out to the doctor, the doctor (battalion surgeon) would get to them, no matter what. I came to feel that the most important thing a doctor could do in time of combat was to give the men the feeling that if they were wounded, their doc would be there and he would get to them if they could not be brought to him. When you get down to it, what we could do in an aid station could probably be taught to an aid man. But the psychology of their doctor being there for them was most important. They all knew me and expressed their fondness of me, called me by name, and showed their true affection for me when I was later recalled back. I am proud to say that they told me that I was the best battalion surgeon they ever had. Likewise, I very much bonded and had great affinity and tremendous respect for my army unit. As a surgeon I did very little surgery other than the simplest. For me the hardest part of my job was just letting the men know that I was always there for them.
I lost many of my own company in Korea. Their names escape me right now, but as I said earlier, when they were killed following my orders it was the heaviest burden that one could have. Such was the problem of command. I never was able to stay aloof from the many men I was required to care for at battalion aid. I always felt that we were brothers, but one does one's duty. I had emotional problems, and when it got to be a very heavy burden, I went behind the aid station, fell to the ground, and cried for about 15 minutes--and then went back to my duties. The crying was cathartic. I think the men always saw me and let me be by myself for those few minutes and never talked about it after. I cried several times.
At the aid station, there were some things that I could not do because we were only equipped to be an aid station--but I did all I could. At Chipyong-ni we had to "make do" with what we had, but for the most part if anything complicated or something that required more than we had came up at the aid station, we evacuated the wounded man. I may have given antibiotics and not had a lab giving me the lab results I needed to be sure it was the correct one or be able to get a blood count, etc., but I think we did pretty well for where we were. If a man was slightly wounded and could continue his duty, I cared for his wound with a dressing or a few sutures and sent him back to his outfit. We saw everything--wounds to every part of the body, including head, chest abdomen, extremities, genitalia--from scratch and surface to life threatening from small arms, mortar, artillery, land mines, and grenades. I frankly felt that although care was not what we would give in a hospital emergency room, under the circumstances, I could do as good as anyone around. When the wounded came in in great numbers, of course, we sometimes felt overwhelmed--but carried on. I am sure that I treated some hand-to-hand bayonet wounds and it may have happened more than once, but I cannot recall when or where.
The battalion aid station had different appearances, depending on where we were at the time. If there was a small structure such as a Korean house or small school, we took it over. If not, we just set up a tent. We carried a tent on a half-ton truck assigned to the medic company, along with all of our supplies such as litters, splints, plasma, bandages, etc. We used only one tent and one building if we used one. Our Jeep was equipped for litters so we could transport the wounded to the regimental collection station. When traveling from front to front, I also traveled in it. When the Jeep was not in use, my driver (Gunn) served as my radio operator.
Ambulances did not come to the front lines, but many times they took wounded from the collecting station. They had the luxury of being heated and that was wonderful during that freezing winter. I rode in one only once to escort a man that I wanted to be sure made it with his bleeding. We had just pulled out of combat and I was not needed at the aid station for about an hour. The ambulances were effective, I guess, but not as good at getting a wounded man to a MASH unit as fast as the helicopter. I am not aware of any accidents that happened on the way. The vehicles were olive drab, had a large red cross on the top and sides, and the interior had space for about four stretchers and a bench along the side. It was so difficult to get the wounded out and to a place where they could get emergency treatment better than we could do in the field. I wish that fewer of the helicopters at the collection station had not been fired upon.
We had good artillery behind us and it gave us much support. We had a mortar company too, and had some air support that, to me at least, seemed less effective. On three occasions that I remember, friendly fire caused tragedies in our company. Once the fire came from our own tanks. Once the Air Force dropped a napalm on us by mistake. On another occasion, artillery fell short. When dealing with humans, there are always mistakes. All I could do was continue my care and let the infantry officers do the screaming complaints. They happened at various intervals. If one reads the papers for events of today, he or she can see that friendly fire occurs even now in Afghanistan.
Retreat & Chipyong-ni
As to where I was in Korea, I remember that first trip north to join my company. Soon after we were ordered to head south in retreat. In the routine meetings at the battalion command, we heard something about other units being hit hard in the Chosin Reservoir area, but we knew very few particulars. Our retreat was hurried but systematic. We leap-frogged over each other. I had a Jeep, the medic had a half-ton truck, and there were two Jeep litter carriers. We traveled at good speed. I do not recall any specific casualties we had. What wounded we had were already evacuated before we began to move out. I stayed with my Jeep with medical equipment until the last company was in the rear and then I joined the others.
The refugees on the road were in streams and they were chaotic. They were running for their lives in fear, holding and carrying their babies and their old. It was pitiful to see. I remember one or two incidences of refugees almost pleading for help during the retreat. We were going so fast that we were unable to stop. I had to steel myself to ignore them. I still see it in my mind and am haunted by it. When we stopped and the refugees were there I did what I could, but not when I was in my Jeep and traveling.
On Christmas Day of 1950 we had a feast of turkey and did not have to eat C-rations for that day. The Padre conducted a mass. (No one, including me, even thought about Hanukah. I was and still am very secular. I am atheist, but still a Jew). From that day until February 10, 1951, we continued traveling up and down Korea--taking a stand, getting into fire combat, being pulled back into reserve, having inspections, and undergoing further training for the troops as soon as we were in reserve for a few days. By the time I left Korea, we were above the 38th parallel. I remember being in Wonju during that battle but I especially remember the battle of Chipyong-ni.
It is difficult to recall what happened at each location that our unit was sent. I remember once we were on the edge of battle and two companies were to trudge overland and the rest of the battalion were to go around a mountain. They were to meet on the underside since action and possible wounded were expected in the overland. I insisted on going with them and meeting the rest on the other side. I recall the whole battalion trudging over a mountain to a reservoir and the motorized section meeting us much later. That was the most difficult hike in my life. since we had to carry a pack on our backs.
We were at the "Battle of the Twin Tunnels" and took care of wounded there. But Chipyong-ni was the worst battle that we were in and there are many articles and books still being written about it. It is the battle that stands out the most because the whole regiment, along with the French battalion, was surrounded for three days and pounded. At dawn the Chinese pretty much ceased their heavy assault and only light fire continued through the day until darkness--then it started all over again. I was able to get some rest at dawn, but then had to have sick call and prepare for the night, so I got very little sleep.
We were told at the time that we had to engage the enemy at Chipyong-ni in order to get the Chinese forces to concentrate at a spot so that they could be a target for attack. Others said that although it was just a small village, Chipyong-ni was at an important road intersection. There was a school, several Korean clay-type homes, and mainly just a handful of buildings. The homes had a kitchen alongside and a chimney going under the floor to give warmth. We knew going into Chipyong-ni that we would be in some sort of a trap and would be surrounded. We also knew that we were in grave danger of not getting out. The villagers had all ran away before we got there. The hill overlooking the village was taken by the enemy and had to be recovered or we would be totally lost. Captain Ramsburg was ordered to take a quad 50 half track that we had with us with his company and retake the hill at all costs. Medically we had to keep up with the wounded and care for them. When we could, we transferred them to regimental collecting.
At Chipyong-ni, we almost had a feeling of doom and that if we got out alive, we would be lucky. At Wonju, we never had that. We had casualties that I recall--and many, but I always felt in control and that the situation was under control. There we were sure of success. At Chipyong-ni, I wanted to write a farewell letter to my family to tell them how much I loved them and say goodbye, but then I realized I could never get the letter out (kind of a silly thought). Even after the battle was over, I never let my family know of the danger I had been through until I got home. Then they still never knew until Captain Hall wrote to them and told them about how they should be proud of me. I found the letter and a second letter from Captain Hall in my father's desk after he died.
Click HERE to view a copy of the letters (PDF File)
The medical company was located in the center of the 2nd battalion perimeter while the battle of Chipyong-ni was being waged. We tried to evacuate the wounded by helicopter, but the copters were fired on. We ran out of everything--arms, bullets, etc., and my medical company ran out of medical supplies. We ran out of, or were short of plasma, splints, bandage, and pain killers, but we somehow made do. We did not have any blood, but there might have been some at the regimental collecting station. On the third day we had a much-needed drop that helped sustain us.
We lost almost half of our men and could not get our wounded out. We could not call in helicopters. They had to wait until there was a lull in the fighting, and after dawn at Chipyong-ni. Even then we could not call them in and had no way to evacuate our wounded. A tank task force from the 2nd Cavalry was finally able to get to us, relieve the siege, and save us. The French were decimated. They lost their own medic at Chipyong-ni and I took care of their wounded. They were brought to me and with my high school French I helped them. Care in another language was no problem, especially since a wound on anyone of any nationality looks the same. The French were fierce and brave fighters and most of them were lost at that battle. That is where I received a Purple Heart and I was put in for a Silver Star that was reduced to a Bronze Star with a V. On the second day, a mortar exploded alongside the aid station. I heard the explosion while caring for a man, saw holes in the wall of the aid station, and then felt a pain in my arm and saw some blood. I ignored it until later, when I cleaned it up myself and had one of my men put a dressing on it. I had received a superficial wound that only required cleaning up and a bandage. At the time, I felt momentary pride. I felt a similar sense of pride when I was later put in for the Silver Star by the battalion commanding officer. But we all did acts of bravery just getting through without giving up and doing one's duty. We received a Presidential Unit Citation for Chipyong-ni, as well as the Korean Presidential Unit Citation.
One post-Korean War magazine article that I read stated that there were three regimental infantry battalions, a French battalion, the 1st Ranger Company, a combat engineer company, heavy mortars, a battalion of 105mm Howitzers, a battery of 155s, a company of 14 tanks, and ten anti-aircraft Quad 50s at Chipyong-ni. With regards to medical team personnel, I remember that there was one battalion surgeon for each of the three battalions and one French battalion surgeon. The regimental collecting station had two, plus a commanding medical officer (Captain Hall). I do not recall that the Rangers, the engineers, or any of the others had a doctor, but I may be mistaken.
In the immediate hours prior to the arrival of the 7th Cavalry task force, we were holding on doing as best as we could while getting mortar and small arms fire. We had been told by radio that the task force was on its way. We knew that they had arrived when we heard the deafening sound of tank fire. As soon as we knew that it was our tanks coming in to save us, we almost cheered. The enemy ran in panic. The hill was almost covered with the running Chinese. Several of the tank men who were wounded were brought to me for care. We hugged them and expressed our thanks to them for saving us. We prepared our wounded for evacuation, sent them to the collecting station by litter Jeep, and then I cared for the enemy prisoners and prepared them for evacuation. As I recall, we stayed at Chipyong-ni only one day and night after the 7th Cav arrived.
When the siege was over, I felt extreme gratitude to the 7th Cavalry task force that had rescued us, and was grateful that I was able to do what was expected of me and do it well. I remember the Battle of Chipyong-ni because of the fear I felt, the casualties, the men I lost, the responsibility of command (ordering men to do something and having them wounded or killed). I had about 30 men at the start and only about 15 men at the end of the battle. At least one account I read about this battle said there were no neuro-psychiatric casualties from Chipyong-ni. However, I do not entirely believe that to be true. My own MSC officer had to be evacuated because he was completely unable to carry out his duties after Chipyong-ni. He could only curl up in a ball and cry. The most difficult moments for me personally during the battle for Chipyong-ni were hearing the shells landing all around me and trying to ignore them so that I could do what I was there to do. I was soon able to ignore the gunfire and the shells and concentrate on the wounded.
After Chipyong-ni, the whole battalion was moved to the rear for rest and we, of course, went with them. We were just one company in the battalion. We still had daily sick call, etc. While in reserve we got replacements. I got new medics, supplies, equipment, etc. The aid station was brought up to full supply of bandages, splints, plasma, antibiotics, etc. I had no MSC officer for a time and then eventually got a replacement. We stayed in reserve for about five to seven days.
Forty years later, I do not recall specifically where or when we went back on the firing line. I do remember having to do treks on foot several times and going to a reservoir, but the names escape me. In the weeks that followed we were involved in heavy fighting in many areas of combat. Many were wounded.
Life in a Combat Zone
Korea was very mountainous and when I arrived in the country it was during the terrible winter of 1950. The temperature during that freezing winter was below zero and there was snow and ice. I have never before or ever since been that cold. Sleeping on the ground with the only shelter being a tent and a kerosene stove was torture, but we had to try to keep from freezing and endure it. As a native of Florida, I never knew one could get that cold. I had to learn to live with it and care for the troops with all their cold problems, particularly frostbite. I did get some advice about sleeping in the cold. I was taught that it was better to put one's sleeping bag on the ground than on a cot since the wind couldn't get under. I was also taught to change into dry socks often because of foot perspiration in order to keep from getting frostbite.
When we found a suitable structure such as a Korean house or school, we moved in. If none was available, we pitched a tent. We always dug a foxhole alongside. Bunkers were the rice paddies--useful for forward observers, but not for the aid station. Spring was very welcome and relieved the awful freeze. I was sent back at the end of Spring. I remember that the winter affected how I cared for the wounded only in so far as having to remove my gloves in order to care for the men. But during that time we had terrible frostbite and that became a major problem with all the infantry. I spent time in damp foxholes and dry aid stations. I remember one time when I was in my sleeping bag, a rat climbed into the bag with me and scared the hell out of me.
It was so cold that nothing we wore as cold weather gear seemed adequate. On our head we had a woolen hood with ear muffs and a hood of a parka over that. Then we wore our helmet liner and steel helmet, as well as a muffler to cover our face, just allowing our eyes to be exposed. However, frost from the moisture in our breath formed on our muffler, especially when we slept. I wore a cotton undershirt, woolen long johns, a woolen Army shirt, a pile jacket, and a parka. I had woolen gloves and over that, leather gloves. I wore woolen pants over the long johns. We had heavy woolen socks and special shoes that kept our feet warm, but caused problems since our feet perspired. Moisture stayed in the shoes and then formed a sheet of ice when we rested for any period, giving many incapacitating frostbite. In late spring, I wore cotton underwear, the Army issue woolen shirt and pants, and shoes of Army issue. The enemy wore something that looked like our pile jacket, but it seemed to be quilted. In the spring they wore lighter clothes much like ours.
While we were on the front, our meals for the most part were C rations. We ate B rations in Reserve and A rations (turkey, beef, etc.) on festive occasions. On occasion I wandered into the village and ate at a Korean eatery when we were in Reserve. I had no problem with eating the native food but others sometimes had parasite problems and a few cases of hepatitis. I do not recall the names of the food, but I remember the kimchee with fish, chicken, and rice. I have always loved exotic food, but when we got A rations, it was really a treat. The stateside food I missed the most was a good steak. When I turned 25 years old, the cooks knew it and celebrated by baking a chocolate cake as a surprise to me. That truly touched me. They saved up the ingredients to make it and were so proud to have done it. Another surprise while I was in Korea was an unexpected visit from Dr. Ellis Sparks. He was a good friend from med school who was stationed with the First Marines in Korea. He found out where I was and visited me. I took a Jeep to visit him once as well.
My parents and a few friends in the States sent mail from home. I received mail as regularly as was possible, but there were times when we had no mail for days and then whole bunches caught up with us. My parents sent food and goodies such as maple syrup to replace the dreadful corn syrup they had for pancakes. I asked my parents to send an air mattress that I could blow up and they sent that. For the most part the packages arrived in good condition. Occasionally someone got a letter from home with bad news. I recall one man who was in enough grief to request leave.
I was only temporarily ill a few times in Korea. Once I had a back sprain, once I had strep throat, and once I had a superficial wound. As to the men in my battalion, the cold that I mentioned earlier did not affect them physically per se, but there were a few who could not cope mentally with the fear and killing week after week. Several men gave themselves self-inflicted wounds to get sent back.
There were several people who I became close to while in Korea. It's hard to say why. I suppose mainly because we could talk on a more intellectual level. So many of the men still stand out in my mind after all these years--Bob Hall, J.D. Curie, John Ramsburg, John Emerson, Father Frank. Robert Hall and I forged a great bond. We were both doctors with a deep commitment to medicine. We liked each other. He almost looked after me as a father and worried about me more than I would have wished. He felt that I was taking too many chances, such as going with a scouting party so that I would be there if they needed me. Eventually he ordered me from the battalion to the Regimental Collecting Station. He wanted me to stop taking those chances and felt that he could watch me better there. I bitterly complained that I did not want to leave my men, and I told him that anyone that replaced me would not care for them as I would. I pleaded with him (to no avail) that my men needed me.
Years after the Korean War, a television series called M*A*S*H went on the air here in the States. I guess the series was good for what it was trying to show--a unit that was out of firing, had nurses, anesthesia, and was, indeed, a mobile hospital. I visited one once that was far back from where I was stationed in Korea. It was the only time I ever saw an American woman in Korea. The television series showed the rigors of units like that, but not the reality of the horror of combat and being under fire, etc. There were lighter moments among the medical personnel in Korea, it's true. In my battalion aid station, we always joked and laughed when we could to take the stress off and we made up scenarios that were silly but made us roar with laughter, especially with the men in the aid tent. I usually instigated it. It kept my sanity and the others got into the act.
In my leisure time, I read. I have always been a big reader and read everything I could get my hands on. As I recall, I read detective stories and other books that we somehow got in the front--mainly light stuff. I remember going to a USO show given by a Korean troop once. It was so amateurish that it was almost funny, but they were trying so hard to please us, we had to applaud. I played a few games of bridge and gin rummy with the men in my company, but never for money. I never could drink more than a minimal and as a doctor would never let the smell of alcohol be on my breath, but I did smoke about a half pack of cigarettes a day. Cigarettes were included in our C-rations.
I was able to see how the Koreans lived and to be around them on a number of occasions. We had a Korean boy who attached himself to us and became almost an orderly around the aid station. We all became fond of him and he almost worshipped me to an embarrassment. His name was Charlie. He gave me his picture and made me promise to write. I tried, but I doubt if he ever got a letter. What address could I use? We had a liaison officer who was South Korean military, but we could hardly ever trust the South Korean soldiers to stand their ground. There were a few crack outfits that were wonderful, but there were some who ran at the first gunfire and it was difficult to know who was on our flank. Our unit was never harmed by a civilian in Korea, but we all heard of others who were injured or killed by explosives carried in by them. I only recall once in the middle of the night being fired upon by an unknown civilian who then ran away and was not caught. I visited the Korean homes many times. They lived in homes made of clay with clay floors. The houses had thatched roofs and kitchens outside with the chimneys under the house to give off warmth. The houses had no windows. The children were as any other children--some poorly dressed and with not enough to cover to keep out the cold. Others were running with their families, frightened. At one time I had a very sick Korean boy that I brought to the MASH unit because I did not know how to care for him and needed consultation. I never found out what was wrong with him and the medics at the MASH unit were also perplexed. He probably had a parasitic infestation that was mainly seen in the Orient and thus was foreign to us.
Our own men called all Asians "Gooks." Father Frank and I tried to discourage this around us, but it went on anyway. There was one time I had to prevent my men from harassing our wounded prisoners. This was after we were rescued at Chipyong-ni. The men were exhausted and emotional. They pointed their guns at the helpless prisoners and pretended that they were going to kill them. I stopped it. The country of Korea was beautiful but its people were poor then, wanting the joys of democracy. I had the feeling that they had been so pushed back and forth that by the time I left they just wanted to be left alone, no matter who won the war. They wanted the fighting to cease. Six years ago I went back for a visit to Korea and those I met were grateful for the fruits of democracy that we gave them.
We were close enough to see the enemy several times--and very close at Chipyong-ni. They appeared to be mainly young. The Chinese were excellent fighters. The North Koreans were much less so except for a few crack outfits. The Chinese liked fighting at night with bugles blowing, making much noise. The noise encouraged them and scared us. It was frightening to hear the bugles and frightening to do most of the fighting at night. We liked to fight in the daytime. The enemy had small arms equal to ours and mortar that was equal or even superior. Their artillery was there and we were under that fire, but I do not think it was as effective as ours. I remember only one MIG air attack. There were several times that I cared for wounded enemy. They were brought to me and I took as good and as kindly care of them as I could and made sure that they were kept from harm by our own men who were understandably emotional. (Remember that I am a doctor and my function is to care for the wounded, period.) I was never afraid for my own safety when I cared for enemy wounded. They were grateful to be taken care of. They were frightened that we would execute them, and in their way thanked me for caring for them. I recall one prisoner kissing my hand in gratitude.
Back to the Navy
We were involved in other major battles after Chipyong-ni, but I am hazy as to what and where. As I mentioned earlier, I was removed from front line action when Captain Hall sent me back to the Regimental Collecting Station. When the day came for me to leave, the officers and men called me to the mess tent and the commanding officer gave me his combat infantry badge. For an army man--from a private to a general--the combat infantry badge is the most coveted award. It is given only to those who have been under fire at the front. I was not eligible for it since I was in the Navy. The officers and men wanted to show their affection for me as a parting gesture. The officer took his off and pinned it on me with everyone around applauding. It brought me to tears and was one of the proudest days of my life. I will never forget it and had it mounted on a silver mount.
The Regimental Collecting Station was larger than the battalion aid station and had more supplies. We either used a large building or a much larger tent than what we had used at the aid station. There were about four doctors at the Collecting Station and the station was close to regimental headquarters. All personnel there were male. (Nurses were only at a MASH unit and behind the lines.) There were more aid men, more vehicles, a higher level in rank, and the frequency of having an ambulance was greater. There was more equipment, more drugs, more splints, more plasma, etc. In our living space, we slept on cots instead of on the ground and there was perhaps a little more space since the tent was bigger.
My job there was to receive the wounded from the aid station, review their diagnosis and treatment, and send them back to a MASH unit if needed. I sometimes also decided to keep them for a few days, treat them, and send them back to their units. We could send them to the rear by ambulance and helicopter. I realize that the men who came into the Regimental Collecting Station also needed me, but I had taken a personal commitment to my own men and battalion and felt that no one would be there for them as I would be. I felt that no one would go out on a limb for them as I would, and no one would have that band of brotherhood and love for them that I did. Some of the men from my outfit were brought to the collecting station after being sent from the aid station by the doctor who had replaced me. Some were severely wounded. Others not so. I reacted with a hug and expression of affection to those I knew from battalion. When the battalion was in Reserve and I had no pressing duties at the Collecting Station, I traveled to see the men I had served with before being sent back to collecting. As I recall, I remained at the Collecting Station for about three or four weeks. By then the Army was able to replace their doctors and the Navy wanted us back. I did not have a chance to get back to the front before I was sent back, but prior to my being sent back to the rear and the flight to Japan, I found Father Frank and gave him a hug and a kiss in farewell.
During my months in Korea, I had never found war "exciting." But I was proud that I had done my job as best that could be done. I was proud that I had received the affection of the men and that I knew I could be as brave as the next man. I was proud that I had served the USA and tremendously proud of the Combat Infantry Badge pinned on me by my battalion when I was forced to leave. I knew that I was changed and my character was steeled. Thereafter I could do anything demanded of me. I do not think that was exciting, but it was very satisfying to my ego. Arriving in Korea, I had been a young, unsure person who had doubts of whether I was up to the tasks that I was about to be assigned. Would I be a coward? Would I be able to command? Would I be able to treat with skill under fire? Would I grow to be a man and not just a school boy? Coming out of Korea, I could answer all those questions with Y-E-S, and could leave with the knowledge that I could do anything that was asked of me. The change was brought about by just doing my duty.
When it was time to leave Korea, a Jeep came from corps headquarters with a driver who delivered orders that I was to return to corps and be ready to be reassigned. When I left the regimental collecting station, Bob Hall and I said goodbye with much affection. I guess I was happy to leave. If I could not be with my battalion, I might as well return to the Navy. Once in the rear, I stayed there overnight and was then flown to Tokyo. I left Korea in late Spring or early June of 1951 with the rank of Lieutenant Junior Grade. I was sent back to Camp Drake in Japan where I met again many of the naval doctors who were now being sent back from the Army. We had about two weeks at leisure in Japan, where I did some shopping and then some sightseeing in Tokyo. I bought jade cufflinks for my father and silver trays and handmade linens for my mother, along with brocaded fabric. I had a silk tuxedo shirt made for me and purchased an ivory chess set for myself. Then I took a train to Odawara and to Lake Hakone and stayed at a wonderful Japanese hotel for several days doing all the things I had dreamed of doing while I was in Korea.
I had only seen the Korean people in a war-like atmosphere, but the Japanese were re-establishing their culture. After being in the foxholes and seeing the ravages of war in Korea, the petite, gorgeous, sweet-smelling, exotic Japanese women were appealing in every way. The entire population was very polite and the customs of the people were very different from the West. As a result, I wanted to have a taste of the exotic. I liked all of it from the art, the Kabuki theater, the Noh theater, the gorgeous gardens, the baths and their ritual of the bath, their tea ceremony, their crafts, their food, etc. All my suppressed desires came to the fore and, frankly, I went fairly wild.
In the meantime, I experienced no difficulty in the transition from being a doctor attached to the Army to a doctor in the Navy. A doctor is a doctor. The only change was the uniform and the fact that in the Army one was addressed by his rank (ergo I was called Lieutenant), while in the Navy I was called Doctor. Prior to leaving Japan, we had to change our army uniforms for naval uniforms and leave them at Camp Drake. We also returned our .45, but nothing much else had to be done to process out. We were all overjoyed to have survived and to be going home.
I left Japan on the General Freeman. It took two weeks to be transported back to the States. Nothing significant happened on the journey except that I remember seeing a pretty dismal amateur performance by the crew and whoever of the passengers that wanted to perform. I also saw whales for the first time. We disembarked in Seattle. No one was waiting for me on the dock, but there were some wives waiting on the dock for some of the married men. I was taken off to a naval unit for a brief examination and then put into a local hotel. I was given orders for a one-month leave and received orders to my next assignment. I called home and arranged my flight to Miami. After that, everyone went for a good dinner except me. I went to bed because I had a severe migraine-type headache.
My next duty station was Bethesda Naval Hospital, and then I was sent on to the Naval Bureau of Medicine (BUMED) in downtown Washington. At BUMED, I was assigned to sitting at a desk and reviewing X-rays. I hated it--the only time in my life that I hated what I was doing. I had an interesting encounter while I was there, though. All doctors were called to the auditorium to hear a lecture by a naval man just back from Korea who had done an experiment. He had devised a bullet proof vest and wanted to try it out in combat. The Marines were in Reserve and he had to go to the Army, who all refused to try the vests except one group who said yes because they had had a Naval doctor who they still missed. After the lecture, I went up to the podium and asked if it was my old outfit. He turned to me and said, "You must be Koehn. They still talk about you, and you were the reason they let me experiment on them."
From BUMED I was sent to cover an outbreak of streptococcal infection followed by nephritis at Bainbridge boot camp. It was very serious and affected several hundred men at the camp. A research team from the Rockefeller Institute came to study the outbreak of this particular disease. They had to pick a ward to study only those patients, and it happened to be mine. Since they were all research men, they knew precious little about clinical medicine. Since I did, I became very valuable to them. They were able to be very esoteric, but the nitty gritty of the common was somewhat distant for them, such as treating a common cold. We liked each other and made a great team. I had no previous experience with heavy research and really no qualification except that I was practical and learned on the job. The Navy then assigned me to stay with the research and we eventually brought the sickest back to Bethesda Hospital. The research was written up and won a Lasker award--a very prestigious award for the most important research of the year. I had to be called back into the service as a civilian consultant to finish the research. It was published in the Annals of Medicine (the green journal) and given at the American College of Medicine in Atlantic City.
At Bethesda I was assigned to Urology, which appealed to me. I made it my specialty. I remained at Bethesda for about a year. When I was sent to the Washington area, my father, who I mentioned earlier was involved in politics, asked a friend to invite me over for a home-cooked meal. But a meal there included people like the Solicitor General, the Secretary of the Navy, Margaret Truman, Howard Rusk, etc. We hit it off and I became a frequent guest. When it was time for me to be discharged, the captain at Bethesda talked to me saying that with the decorations that I had, and since I was in Washington and had made some connections with important people (Eleanor Roosevelt, the Secretary of the Navy, Howard Rusk, and others who I had met at Washington dinner parties), I could have a good future in the Navy. But it was not for me--I was a civilian at heart. Sometime in November of 1953 I was discharged.
After I was discharged, I was asked to be on the board of the all-volunteer American Korean Foundation. I served from 1953 to 1956. The mission was started by Howard Rusk as an effort to help the Koreans reconstruct. My special expertise was that, since I knew Korea, and since I was a doctor in training and they were bringing young Korean doctors to the USA for training, I would be useful. While on the board I met the Korean ambassador and was invited to the White House for lunch with President Eisenhower. The pharmaceutical company Pfizer wanted to donate $1,000,000 to the foundation and the President had a luncheon with the Korean ambassador to accept it in a ceremony with about 20 of the board members. It was a thrill to have an invitation, be greeted in the Blue Room, introduced to the President, and eat in the State Dining Room. I had the invitation sent to my father, who framed it. After he died, I gave it to one of my children and it hangs in her library.
I finished my year of general surgery, then had three years of Urology at the Bronx Veterans Hospital and Columbia Hospital of Physicians and Surgeons. Meanwhile, I fell in love with Helen Lichtman in 1955. I was in New York around the end of my residency. She had just graduated from Smith College and was working as a fashion coordinator at Bloomingdales. We married in 1956 at the end of my residency program. I then went into private practice in Miami and remained there until I was 71 years old. Helen was mostly interested in art history, took a masters in that, and became the art critic for the Miami Herald. We had three daughters. Amy graduated from Connecticut College and then Yale. She has two children. Jane went to Carleton and then Northwestern. She had three children. Two years ago she died of ovarian cancer. (Our grief is deep and never ending.) Our youngest daughter is Elizabeth. She went to Bates College and has two children.
After I left the service I developed testicular cancer (the same one that Lance Armstrong has). The Navy gave me compensation (which I still receive). I had no trouble getting it. They almost thrust it on me. I never believed that the service caused it, but they did.
When I retired we traveled a great deal. I also read and listened to music. Then I realized that as much as I loved reading and music, it was not enough for me. I got myself on eight community boards. I became chairman of the board of WPBT public television. I was also on the boards for Lighthouse for the Blind, Mount Sinai Hospital, Miami Beach Cultural Art Council, the Holocaust Archive, the Drannoff Double Piano Competition, Florida International University Honors College (as chairman of the board), and Brickel Literary Society with the Northern Trust Bank. This keeps me busy and using my mind. I have no other hobbies except reading and listening to Mozart. I am unable to play tennis anymore, and I hate golf. We still travel and have made about eight trips to the Orient, numerous trips to Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, but now in my old age we are planning on just London from now on. My wife is an archivist. She retired from the Miami Herald and got a grant to archive the Visual Arts in South Florida since World War II. She has an office at the central library and does that in her retirement.
Thinking back on Korea, my strongest memories of it are war, death, refugees, suffering, friendship bonding of men in a brotherhood and all mixed together, bravery, and some cowardness. I can talk about Korea and Chipyong-ni, but what frankly bothers me and what I now hate to think about is that a couple of times I wanted to help with more of the refugees and couldn't. As I mentioned earlier in my memoir, when I first arrived with my unit the men were immune to the natives and their suffering. But after I, with Father Frank, started caring for them, the men took pride in that and their entire attitude changed.
Probably the biggest mistake that the United Nations made in Korea was not realizing that the Chinese would come in once we got to the Yalu. Still, I was never resentful that America agreed to enter the war in Korea, that young men were dying it, and that I was in the thick of it all. I am, and always have been, very chauvinistic on the USA. As a Jew I have always been aware of what the USA has given to us. My grandfather came from Russia where he was not allowed to get an education. He had his property taken away and lived with fear. He came here and pushed a push cart through the streets of Cleveland so that he could make enough money to send my father to law school--who sent me to medical school--who sent my three children to Ivy League schools. I am very up on America and the United Nations and the whole concept of the UN. If our government and the UN ordered us to Korea, I felt that it must be worth it. I especially believed this after revisiting Korea six years ago. I saw the result of bringing democracy to South Korea. What a wonderful, vibrant country it is now. When returning veterans mention that they were in the Korean War, the Koreans fall over themselves in giving thanks. For all of its faults, democracy is still the best form of government and gives the greatest happiness and freedom. As long as North Korea has not come to peace, I think that we should still keep troops in South Korea.
I made great friends with the officers and the enlisted men while I was in Korea, some of whom corresponded with me and I still hear from now and then. I also got visits from some of them later when I was stationed in Washington. I remember Captain John Emerson, Captain John Ramsburg, Lieutenants J.D. Currie and Curtis, and my Sergeants--Blackwell and many others. A lot of my men continued to send wedding announcements, etc. I also recently received a letter from a widow telling me that her husband continually talked about his service with me, how it changed his life, and what it meant to him. I further recall Captain Hopkins, Sergeant Novased, Captain Scott, Captain Hall, Sergeant Foley, Captain Tinkel, and Captain Hanson. I often think of my medics Bock, Saltman, Ennis, Harrer, and several others whose pictures I have, but I had to go back to my old album to get their names.
Thanks to the Padre showing me the way, I truly learned about humanity. He impressed me so much that I offered myself to his church (I was and am a secular Jew). I told him that I would convert at the end of the war and would then be ready to spend the rest of my life in his mission. He looked me square in the eyes, placed his hands on my shoulders, and said, "Doc, I wouldn't touch your soul." Soon after, I was called back into the Navy from the Army and was sent back to the States. I tried to keep in touch, but we lost contact. I heard from others that he received a Medal of Freedom (given to non-citizens) for what he did for mankind in Korea. He went back to Ireland for leave and then returned to Korea and continued his missionary work there until he died. Father Frank was extremely important in my life. It's he who still guides me to do my best for others. I told my children about how he changed my life, and now I tell my grandchildren. When I think of all the hate and conflict in the world and how hopeless it seems, I also know there is a balance because there was a Father Frank Woods. Father Frank was in Korea when I joined in November of 1950 and he was there when I left in May of 1951. He must have received his medal in 1953 in Washington after the Korean War was over.
The Korean War is called "The Forgotten War" for a reason. World War II was their father's war and the Vietnam War was painful and controversial. Korea gets lost in between. By reading this memoir I hope the next generation will understand that the United States tried its best to give the fruits of democracy to other less fortunate countries like South Korea was in 1950. I've told my grandsons about Korea because they asked, and then I only told them that I was a doctor, that I never had to point a gun and kill, and that I have no regrets for any action. I also told them of Father Frank Woods. I guess I never told my own children because as their father, I was more than a soldier--and they never asked.
Serving in Korea was a proud period in my life where I served my country, got rid of my guilt for not being in action in World War II, and steeled my character. I went to see the memorial in Washington DC, but that is about it. I really have no interest in attending company/regimental reunions. For some reason I have no nostalgia. I was president of my high school class, yet never went to a reunion. I was president of the university student body and never attended a reunion. I was president of my class in med school and went to the 20th reunion, but no other. I think it is because I do a task to the best of my abilities, finish it, and look forward to the next challenge. Quoting Tennyson, "Find another world to strive to seek and not to yield." Also, my time in the service does not fully or even in part describe me. I have had a full life after the Navy--great marriage, loving, beautiful, brilliant wife, three wonderful, beautiful children, a very successful medical career, much community service (I marched for civil rights in the Sixties when that was not popular in the South), great travel with wonderful events (had a private audience with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican), and the happiest of life. That changed when we lost our middle daughter to cancer two years ago. That has left us devastated and my wife and two daughters have never gotten over our deep grief. We clutch each other and cry almost daily. What describes me is much more than two years of my life spent in the military.
My grandchildren have pushed me for stories. I have had interviews with Coleman for his book, "Wonju and Chipyong-ni: The American Gettysburg." Briar Lee Mitchel interviewed me regarding a movie script on Chipyong-ni. I've had a query from the family of Father Frank. I've been interviewed for this memoir for the Korean War Educator. At the age of 77, for the first time I have looked back. To be frank, I have enjoyed it. At the time I received the Bronze Star, there was a ceremony and someone read the citation. But I really went on with my life and stopped even thinking about Korea until recently with my grandchildren and getting older and looking backwards. Strange that in all the years I have not even thought of the events I witnessed and the people I met in Korea. However, recently my grandchildren wanted to see my medals. I never even showed them to my own children, but when one has grandchildren, it all changes. Now I find myself in Shakespeare's words, "When to that session of sweet silent thought..."
Shakespeare's Sonnet 30
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
Obituary - Dr. Roland Kohen