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Leonard McGuffey

Newman, IL-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"I guess one word of why we fought over there would be "Communism." I think we could have won if they would have let MacArthur go on across the Yalu River. He would have taken the whole country. I do believe that. I would say it was a political war mainly, and I think that really and truly deep down in my heart, it was all unnecessary."

- Leonard McGuffey


Copyrighted by The Museum Association of Douglas County Korean War Project Interview conducted by Lynnita Brown with Leonard McGuffey of Newman, Illinois in 1996 at the Douglas County Museum in Tuscola Illinois. Edited by Chuck Knox August, 2003.

The Korean War broke out in 1950 and I was drafted. I still have my letter. I went to Fort Custer, Michigan for processing for 12 days along with Jack Allen and a guy from Tuscola named John Ross and twin brothers from Oakland, Illinois named Gray, Leon and Leroy Gray and then I was sent to Schofield Barracks, Hawaiian Islands. We flew from Battle Creek, Michigan to Travis Air Force Base, to Camp Stillman then rode a ship, the USS Houser, from Camp Stillman six days to Honolulu. We had 16 weeks infantry training.

Basic training there was essentially survival and combat. We covered all aspects of combat training. It was mainly killing, and most of it survival. I got there must have been the early part of February, 1951 and about approximately 6 months later I left there. After Basic Training we went on a plane to -an air force base in Japan, took the oath, went to Camp Drake. From there went up to First Calvary Division on the north island of Japan, Hokido. I was up there in Japan for three months for more advanced training. Then I went back to Camp Drake, then Tokyo, and then went on a ship to Inchon, Korea.

We got off there and I was in Inchon just a short time, a few hours, and then I went to 25th Division with the 14th Tank Company. We got there by half track trucks. . We went to Kemwa Valley, which was up farther North close to the 38th Parallel. I went directly on the line. First place we went to we were sleeping in tents. They were building a bunker, we were building one also, but we never did complete it. Not at that area because we moved from it. I was assistant gunner from the start, and then I advanced to become a gunner, and then I eventually became a tanker commander. Our tank was a Sherman World War II tank, and they used to have 75 mm cannons on them with a light turret. Mine had a heavy turret it had a 76 mm cannon. It was outdated, but it had a lot of fire power. If I had had a choice, I would have definitely taken a more modern one that was a Patton tank. It had a 90 mm gun in it, and they rode and drove a little easier.

They taught each of us to do each other’s job. We had five people in our tank. There was a driver, assistant driver, gunner, assistant gunner, and the tank commander. I was with most of those people for a good part of 8 months. My driver was James Willis from Mulberry Grove, Illinois. My assistant gunner was Crawford Harrison from New Jersey. My gunner, I had had his job before I became tank commander, was named Wright from Louisville, Kentucky. I don’t remember the assistant driver’s name, he was from Wisconsin.

When we got to the valley we were about 28 hundred yards from the enemy. We were in our Sherman tank. It would run 35 miles an hour on flat land, but you didn’t get to use that speed over there because you didn’t have that much dry country. The fighting came in intervals. Everybody took time out once in a while. Most generally you’d have two people standing guard on the tank day or night and while the other three ate and slept. Here we did have tents to sleep in. There were just two tanks there at that place. Now the whole company split up around different areas, but there were just two tanks there at my position. They were using them like artillery. They radioed into you and said we need some help and your tanks went up there and helped out. There were five tanks in the platoon. There were side tanks in the platoon and one in back up in case you had one out of commission for one reason or another.

One time we were at this one place, it was one of the last places I was at, and we were guarding a gun. It had two big searchlights and was called a search light cannon that was back about 600 yards behind us. That’s when we were out in front of the main line and they shot their searchlights on us. So I thought we’re much like a sitting duck. But I wasn’t long getting them off of us. I radioed in and told them if they didn’t move off of us, I was going to shoot them out. Very plain language. They immediately got them off of us. And I wasn’t kidding.

Mostly the incoming fire we were getting from there was mostly mortars. It would not do too much damage if you have all the turret hatches closed. It would be an accidental hit if they hurt you very much. Some parts of the armor are 6 inches thick, some four, and some a little bit lighter than that yet. Underneath it is a little bit lighter. I think we went to Chorwon next and then went from there to Kaeson Valley. I had Christmas Day there.

Sometimes the infantry was protecting us. Most of the time the infantry when we were in a stationary position being used for I call it death leg fire. Death leg, down over the hill where they can’t see you directly. Infantry was usually in front of us, but I had been in front of the infantry, and they didn’t like that.

We were living in bunkers here. A bunker is basically a room made out of sandbags, and wood, although you can find a lot of them with rocks on top of the roof to keep shrapnel from penetrating, but mostly sandbags, and a few rats. We ate C-rations. It was canned food, could have been chicken and vegetables, pork-n-beans, beans and weenies, hamburger and gravy, corn beef hash, I definitely want to forget that. The corn beef hash was really not good. We carried a little pot-bellied stove on the tank we definitely made sure we weren’t going to leave it. We heated ourselves with it and then cooked on it.

The 25th Division was involved in a lot of heavy fighting most every place I was. Especially Pantengard, the last place I was at, was the worst place I went. It was a 300 yard truce zone, no fighting in those 300 yards. But on either side there it was pretty rough. I was close as 800 yards to the enemy. I could see that they were people, but I couldn’t tell how old they were or what they really looked like.

The Infantry didn’t have that big of firepower, the biggest thing the infantry had was a 75-mm recoilless rifle. It’s a very effective weapon, but it’s not as good as tanks. I’m quite sure our tanks made a difference.

Land mines and rocket launchers were a problem for tanks. I never had trouble with the mines. When I got there most of the mine fields were marked so you knew where they were. I’ve seen a red fox run through a mine field and never got touched, and it only took 15 pounds to set one off. I don’t’ know how he did it.

Cold weather was a big problem in a tank. The tanks were all thick iron and got cold. In fact I had left part of a chin on one from that cold weather. Because when you touch cold metal, if you don’t have something to cover your skin, you’re going to leave it there because it would freeze to it. When the tank hit a bump, I hit my chin, I was that close down in the turret. We did have shock absorbers inside those tanks. There were shocks on the hood wheels on the tracks, but they weren’t all that good. It wasn’t quite like riding in a Lincoln Continental. There’s a gasoline heater in the tank but it was not very effective when you’re running, only when you’re sitting.

Occasionally the tank would break down. The tracks broke for various reasons. You have to immediately fix it because you’re in deep trouble. You either lost or broke a sensor guide most generally or the end pieces. We always carried some extra blocks with us so you had to take the broken parts off if they weren’t already completely off and put on some new bloc sometimes we had to call in a tank retriever. We had a man get a Silver Star for going out and towing one tank back. . He took a tanker retriever, which is a large wrecker, went out under enemy fire, hooked a cable on the tank and pulled it back off down in the defilade where they could get it. He was a Master Sergeant and head of the motor pool.

When we were driving the tank we had periscopes in each turret hatch. Most of the time you drive with the hatch open. If you’re under fire then you have to close the hatches and use the periscope. They are very similar to submarines. When we were going into battle our speed depended on the terrain. If you got a real flat terrain, why you can run right along. You can fire the gun, you can set the gun where it will stay, and you can set it on a level position. But that doesn’t happen very often. It did get stressful in the tank. I would compare it to a submarine. You’re living awful close with each other and being in a combat area, bathing wasn’t, I mean let’s face it, and you weren’t close to the shower. We tried to get one weekly. So body odors got a little rank, and of course at times everyone got on everyone’s nerves, no doubt about that. But you learned to control it. It worked out well for us.

We then went to the Kaesong area. It was basically the same as the rest of the places, the whole 38th parallel was basically the same, and everybody was dug in at that particular point. After MacArthur called off the advancement everybody dug in and there weren’t any advance attacks. Korea doesn’t look too big on a map but when you’re in the mountains, it looked awful big to me. I don’t know the particular square mileage of it, but I never covered much of it. I was only there 8 months.

I did go on R&R once. I went to Cure, Japan, on the south island. We had some good food, a shower, shave and haircut, just relaxation. Kure was a big town. Being young soldiers we went looking for girls. I wasn’t married then. I would guess they were prostitutes, I don’t know another way to say that. We’d check into hotel, and usually they were around the hotel. I guess they were looking for money, sex, and maybe husbands. When I went I went with my platoon sergeant. The lady friend that he had had married a GI from Kentucky. He had been killed in the early part of the war over there. She bought the hotel that we stayed at, and I would say she was more or less looking for a new husband, but she didn’t get him. I imagine that was what she was really looking for. She had a college education. She could speak English very well.

We went to Panmunjom and it was there that I was made a tank commander. The tank commander that I relieved on tank 33 was from Gunneson, Colorado, and his name was Sergeant Gould, and he rotated home. The executive officer, a First Lieutenant named Lieutenant Brantly, who had been in World War II in the Rangers, made me tank commander. I guess he thought I was next in line. A commander, basically, maintains the operations of the tank, keeping it mechanically sound, and makes decisions for the other four people, including the gunner. Anyone in the tank could take radio messages. You all have radiophones and ear phones on. If they are calling the tank commander, they use the word Able. In my tank, if they were calling me personally, it would be 33 Able, and if it was anyone in the tank, they would just call 33. But then they had passwords to go by. I remember one was Black Awanna, Black Awanna 33. That was, the whole company had that password and they’d change it about every 30 days.

I was in tank 33, the Sherman tank until I was made gunner in tank 34. I started as assistant gunner, became gunner, and then became tank commander. We switched tanks when people rotated and so they had to move the next one. If you were qualified for a particular spot you switched tanks.

There were times I was glad I wasn’t in the Infantry, especially when I saw them walking. We didn’t have many as riders since we were in a fixed position most of the time.

I guess the worst fighting I saw was at Panmunjom.  It’s right across the Memgang  River, on that map it says Merging, but the Koreans called it M Gen Gang. The truce line went through there. North of Panmunjom were the North Koreans. South of Panmunjom were the South Koreans and they all had troops, which is why there was so much fighting going on at Panmunjom. It was a hot spot. That truce zone, I think made the difference, because they had some prisoners there. We had some North Korean prisoners there.

My tank got hit while we were there. A mortar round hit the tank and ruined five road wheels. I had two 5 gallon gas cans to run the auxiliary generator. We called the auxiliary generator Little Joe; it was gasoline mixed with oil like you do for a Lawn Boy lawnmower. You ran that little auxiliary generator to keep your batteries charged up, when you’re not running the big engines. We were hit once by the North Koreans. We were running and they were firing at us. We were trying to get out and one round hit pretty close. It hit the side. It tore up those two gas cans and did some minor damage to the side of the tank.

I don’t think I ever developed a sense of fear for the enemy but I did have a healthy respect for them. I knew that they were just as mean as we were or worse. I don’t think they were quite as well trained, but they had some good equipment. They had mostly Russian and Chinese made equipment. They had T34 tanks, which weighed probably 60 tons, and had automatic weapons. Our tank was 37 ton combat loaded and our Patton tanks were heavier and they too, had automatic weapons. I don’t ever think I had that feeling they were really going to defeat us. I wouldn’t say that I wasn’t scared at times because that would be a damn lie. But I never had the feeling that I was really, really, really scared. I never wanted to run.

We did get packages from home, fruit cakes. We got fruit cakes, fruitcakes, fruitcakes.

From our friends and neighbors, girl friends. Fruitcake was better than nothing. Better than some of those C-rations. I got a box of cigars from home once from a friend of mine who bought my first American Legion’s card for me when I came home. Rudolph Dennis knew I liked cigars. I was pretty happy to get them. I shared them with the Second Lieutenant named Lieutenant Smith from the State of New York. He liked cigars also. They were King Edwards. When he went to Seoul he brought back a couple of boxes, and shared some with me, so it worked out just perfect.

 We received mail from home pretty well. I’ll give you a little funny anecdote on that. This colored man on my tank didn’t receive much mail, so we were at Panmunjom just before we both came home. I noticed he didn’t get much mail, so did the other boys. One day he said "Hey Guff One of these days I’m going to get some mail." Well I didn’t think anything about it, but one evening just before dusk the mail clerk came up in the jeep, handed Harrison a package of letters about 4 or 5 inches thick, all tied up in string. We were reading the mail and I was reading a letter from one of my girl friends, and Harrison started laughing, and slapped me on the leg, you know he was laughing big time. I said, "what’s the matter with you?" He said, "Read that." I said, "I don’t want to read your mail." He said "read that." Then it started out Dear Crawford, I’m 5 foot 2 and light skinned. I like baseball and horse back riding, and dancing. He wrote to a lonely-hearts club, and that was the mail he was getting.

At Christmas we got a special dinner from back behind the lines. I had turkey and all the trimmings Christmas Day. They brought us a lunch up on a litter jeep, and it was hot. Where they cooked it, I have no idea, but it was hot when it got there. Turkey, cranberry sauce, and dressing, the whole works. I sat down in snow about eight inches deep and ate it with a hooded parka on. We enjoyed it. We didn’t have a Christmas tree. They had some little old pine trees over there but there was a $50.00 fine if you cut one down because trees were very scarce at that time. I presume they are not now, but they were then.

We didn’t mingle with the native Koreans very much. They had a barber that was South Korean and our laundry boy, he wasn’t a boy, and he was 41 year old Korean that was the only civilians I knew. The laundry man’s name was Ta Hong Piel. I’m probably the only one in the existence of that company that remembers his name. He lived in Seoul. He came to me one day and he said, "Hey, McGuffey muvis schocie me sinada" which is Japanese for I’m leaving. In fact he taught me Japanese. He wanted to teach me Korean, but I didn’t want to mix the two of em, I had a hard enough time learning what Japanese I know. And I said "Where you going papa san?" He said "me retire." I said "retire?" I said "How much money, our money it takes for you to retire?" He said "Your money $1,100.00." He had made $1,100.00 doing laundry and saved it, so he quit. That was the end of him, I never saw him again.

I think my time in Korea changed me for the rest of my life. You still have memories and everybody had combat nerves I’m quite sure. Combat is not for everybody, it works on you. I think the main thing was the weather that bothered me the most and then lack of civilization. You didn’t run in to town like you do here. The little villages of the Koreans had been destroyed by the Chinese or us.

When I came back all my friends, classmates, and about everybody in town knew I was home. After all, it was only a town of a population of 1,100 people. I feel the Korean War veterans did not get the recognition they deserved. Recognition I think is the word I am looking for. I felt that way at first, but I kind of been use to it. It’s like the Vietnam War, those guys didn’t feel like that was a necessary war either, and then Desert Storms has been the same way. I guess one word of why we fought over there would be "Communism." I think we could have won if they would have let MacArthur go on across the Yalu River. He would have taken the whole country. I do believe that. I would say it was a political war mainly, and I think that really and truly deep down in my heart, it was all unnecessary. I’m not real mad about going to Korea, but I wouldn’t do it again. War hurts you. It works on you. I have trouble forgetting the things that I saw. I have trouble forgetting just the war in general. I mean it’s not like going to a baseball game. I’m not cutting the country down, but I just don’t think that we need to be somewhere else to fight somebody else’s troubles all the time.

I remember when we went under the Golden Gate Bridge and when we docked some Red Cross girls were over there. When I came down the gangplank this pretty blond asked me if I wanted a cup of coffee and a donut. I said I’d take the cup of coffee just as soon as I get in and kiss this girl. And I did, because we were home and home was where I wanted to be.


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