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Derold Allen "Mick" Olson
"Bill Harlow was one of the finest men and Marines that I ever had the pleasure to know and serve with. Even though he got me out of many a sound sleep with a well-aimed shoe to stop my snoring, Bill and I were very close and respectful of each other. I have a picture of him and me taken on one of the hills a couple of weeks before he died. I still think of him and the night he died very often, and I miss him terribly."
- Mick Olson
My name is Derold Allen Olson, but I am called Mick. I was born November 14, 1930 in Detroit, Michigan, a son of Frank R. and Ruth C. Nimitz Olson. I have brothers Ronald F. and Richard J. Olson. Our father owned and operated several small businesses. Mother was a homemaker.
I attended Winterhalter Grade School and Cooley High School, both in Detroit. During summer months, the family enjoyed our lake cottage. As I grew older, I spent most of the summer playing baseball. My older brother, Ron, served in the Marine Corps during the World War II period. A number of cousins and uncles participated in the war in various branches of the Armed Forces. I was in grade school during World War II. My homeroom class participated in a number of "drives" including war bonds and stamps, paper, rubber, metals, and other essential materials needed for the war effort.
I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to beat the draft. There were five of us who went to high school together and we remained close friends after graduation in 1949. I said to them on more than one occasion that I would not be drafted and go into the Army. We all agreed that if any one of us received his draft notice, we would all enlist together, as it was probably just a matter of time when we would all be drafted. I do not recall who got the notice first. I have to take the credit/blame for selling the Marine Corps to the other four. Bill Gale (University of Detroit), Ed St. Clair (Michigan State), and I (University of Michigan) were attending college, while Bill Sieloff and Bob Lesmeier were working. I was into my sophomore year majoring in physical education. I thought I wanted to coach football and other varsity sports at the high school level.
I remember we went downtown to the Federal Building to go "shopping" for a branch of service. Our fist stop was the Navy and then the Coast Guard recruiters. After lengthy visits with each of the recruiters, I told my friends that I had enough--I was going down the hall to join the Marines. After a few "what the hells", we walked into the USMC Recruiting Office. (To this day, they have never held it against me.) I believed then as I believe now--we have an obligation to serve our country.
Prior to my enlistment, my brother told me stories about the Corps and related some of his experiences. I am sure that prompted my interest in the Marines. Growing up during World War 11, I attended "all" the war movies, especially the Marine movies. That also sparked an interest in the Corps. I knew that I did not want to go into the army. I think I liked the uniform better too. The advice that my brother gave me was for boot camp at Paris Island. "Never be first, never be last and never volunteer" proved to be very good advice.
My parents understood that I had to do what I believed I had to do. My mother was very concerned that another one of her sons might be in harm's way in the future. The whole family was very aware that a war was being fought in someplace called Korea. The newspapers contained articles about the war and, of course, casualty lists. My dad just shook his head, smiled, and hugged me. My brothers and I were blessed with great parents. There was a lot of love and caring in our home.
We enlisted in the Marine Corps on 26 January 1951. After that I can't remember how many days we had before headed for "Paradise Island"--no, that's Parris Island, South Carolina by train. The five of us traveled together. We arrived by train in the early evening at a small town called Yamasee, South Carolina. There were perhaps eighty to a hundred guys on the train. Two Marine MPs boarded the train and entered our car. As I remember it, they were about fifteen feet tall and looked mean as hell. One of them walked to the rear of the car and stood there looking at us. The floor, soon to be known as the deck, had a few candy bar wrappers and other litter on it. All of a sudden the MP started screaming at us to police the area and get off the train and fall in. We grabbed our belongings and literally jumped off the train since the steps were not there. All the while the MPs were shouting and yelling at us to "Move, move, move!"
We assembled in the prescribed place and the guy next to me said that he left his belongings on the train. I don't know what happened to him. We boarded bus-like vehicles and headed for Parris Island. I lost all track of time, and dared not move to look at my watch, so I don't know when we arrived at the base. The vehicles stopped in front of a mess hall. We were ordered off and entered the mess hall for our first USMC meal. And yes, I do remember. We had fried chicken, mashed potatoes with gravy, peas, coffee or milk, bread and butter, and ice cream for dessert. It was about 7:30 p.m., soon to be known as 1930, and there was very little activity that we could see. We were the only people in the mess hall other than the staff and our chaperone. After dinner we were "marched" to a barracks, given linens, and were told to hit the sack.
The five of us were assigned to the same platoon. The next morning after we got up, many of us thought, "This ain't too bad." Then "He" came into the squad bay and it suddenly turned into not too good. He ordered us out and to fall in on the company street. We really moved. After walking up and down our ranks with a look of contempt on his face (scared the hell out of us), he stopped and said, "My name is Staff Sergeant Havens. I am your Drill Instructor. I am not your Staff Sergeant. I am not your DI. I am not your mother. I am not your father. I am your drill instructor. Is that clear?" After about ten "Yes Sirs," each one getting louder and louder, and after each "Yes Sir" and "I can't hear you," he then added that there were only two ways to get off the island--walk through the gate as Marines or go out in a box. The implication was very clear to me. Do not call the DI a DI. He was our Drill Instructor. S/Sgt. John Havens was a decorated World War II veteran of several campaigns in the Pacific and a damn good Marine. Our Junior Drill Instructors were Corporal Masi and Private First Class Yarnell, both of whom were not World War II veterans.
On a scale of one to ten, the DIs were a ten in strictness. We were required to start and end each sentence or question with "Sir"--e.g., "Sir, Private Olson requests permission to speak to the Drill Instructor, Sir." A boot was not allowed to talk to anyone in the presence of a DI unless he had permission. Again, we were really sure that he could do away with any of us at any time and without consequences. When he approached, we yelled, "Attention!" and did not move until he told us to or he left the area. I always tried to do what my parents told me to do, but I did what my DI told me to do.
Boot camp lasted eleven weeks, I believe. Simply put, we were learning to be Marines. A part of every day was devoted to close order drill. Classroom work included weapons, history and traditions of the Marine Corps, tactics, personal hygiene, how to wear the uniform, military courtesy, Uniform Code of Military Justice, discipline, team work, etc. These are obviously not in order of importance. We were also graded on close order drill, infantry arm and hand signals, field stripping our weapons, and a variety of subjects germane to the Marine Corps.
The days--no, our lives--were completely regimented. We woke up at the same time every day at the urging of our DI. In fact, everything we did was at the same time every day. Our DIs never bothered us while we were at chow. We could take all the food we wanted (seconds were available), but we had better eat all that we took. I think the food in boot camp was excellent. The menus were no different than university dining halls or any other facility serving large numbers of people. Trays were looked at after each meal. We ate the leftovers while standing at the garbage can. I think we had an hour for most meals. Time was also allotted each day for always keeping the barracks spotless and for other chores.
The first Sunday at Parris Island, our DI said that church service was that day and that if anyone wanted to go, it was okay. But if we didn't want to go, he (Havens) would think of something to keep us busy. The whole platoon went, and every Sunday thereafter. No one bothered us while we were at church. We might even sneak a cigarette while waiting for one of our DIs to march us back to our area.
To the best of my memory, our DIs never bothered us after Taps or lights out until reveille at 0500. Our DIs also never laid a hand on any of us. I am sure that S/Sgt. Havens did not believe in corporal punishment and consequently the Junior DIs followed his lead. To illustrate, one day we were in the barracks cleaning our rifles and the DIs were there supervising. Some of us became aware that Havens was watching two DIs (both corporals) outside putting their platoon through close order drill. When one of the boots screwed up, one of the DIs struck the boot across the head with his swagger stick. After two or three incidents, I heard Havens say, "Those bastards." Then he turned and left the barracks. We learned a couple of days later that the two DIs in question were reassigned and were no longer DIs. I do not want to imply that our DIs were easy--to the contrary, they were tough and in our face at the slightest infraction. But they were always fair.
I was never singled out for discipline. I followed my older brother's advice as he walked me to the train: "Never be first, never be last, and never volunteer!" I sneaked a cigarette once in a while, but I never got caught. A funny incident happened one night. Our platoon was at the rifle range, not firing but cleaning weapons. We spent the night in squad tents. I remember it was a cold night and we had the pot belly stove really going. I had just finished a cigarette, put the butt in the stove, and sat down on a cot when our Junior DI (Corporal Masi) walked in and put a finger to his lips in a shhh gesture. He then sat down next to the only guy still smoking a cigarette. The boot took a big puff, looked at Masi, did a double-take, turned white as a ghost, jumped to his feet, and shouted, "Attention!" Masi said, "Carry on, finish your cigarette." The boot said, "Sir, I am finished, Sr." Masi replied, "You sure are. Come with me." Smokey Joe as he was called from that day forward, was given a package of cigarettes. All 20 of them were put in his mouth, lighted, and he was told to puff. A bucket was placed over his head, followed by a blanket. He was told that since he liked to smoke so much, he could have another package when he finished the first pack. An occasional rap on the bucket told Joe that he still held the interest of the DIs. He smoked until he threw up. Another time, one of the five--Bob Lesmeier--had purchased a box of Milky Way candy bars. How he got them I don't know, because we were not allowed in the PX. Anyway, Bob hid the box in his laundry bag, only to be discovered by one of our DIs. He had to eat the remaining candy bars in one sitting. Another very sick puppy!
I do not recall any major discipline problems. There were no desertions, no thievery, no fights. Hell, we didn't want to incur the wrath of our DI. Perhaps our platoon was unusual in that regard. There were a number of minor incidents such as getting out of step in close order drill, turning the wrong way when given a facing command, not finishing our food, talking, etc. Our Senior DI had his own way of dealing with someone out of step or screwing up while we were marching. He would halt the platoon and give an order like, "Smith, kick that stupid jerk right in the ass!" (We had to give a good kick or the guy behind us was ordered to kick the one who was supposed to do the initial kicking.) Havens knew and used more cuss words than any man I have ever known. When he got in our face and started yelling, swearing, and calling us all sorts of names, it seemed like it went on forever. When I say, "in our face," I mean "in our face"--literally nose to nose. The discipline was usually on a group basis, but as I stated previously, there were no major infractions in Platoon 89. The major focus was always teamwork, learning to depend on other Marines, and learning to know ourselves.
Parris Island is located on the coast of South Carolina and is obviously surrounded by water. There are a lot of swamps and lagoons and boondocks that are infested with cottonmouth and rattlesnakes. We were told that the swamps also had an abundance of alligators. I can attest to the snakes, but I never saw a "gator." The insects and bugs were typical of most southern states. There were millions of mosquitoes, gnats, flies, and all the creepy crawlers, etc. Main side wasn't too bad in that there were insect control programs that were pretty effective, as I remember. The platoon went out in the boondocks in infantry training. If a boot slapped a gnat on his face, the DI would be right in his face shouting things like, "Congratulations, a--h--e, you just got a couple of Marines killed." "You gave away your position to the enemy." "You had your lunch, let him have his." "Pick up that gnat." After a few moments the boot would say that he found it (??). We would then have to place the gnat in a match box or something and the DI made us dig a hole--I swear, it was six feet deep--then place the box in the hole and cover it with dirt. As we scrambled around like a Chinese fire drill, the DIs sat under a tree smoking. One would look up and say, "Hey, a--h--e, was that gnat a female or male?" The boot replied, "Sir, I don't know, Sir." The DI would then say, "Well, a--h--e, guess you will just have to dig it up and find out." This exercise could repeat several times. The whole platoon was involved, not just the "slapper."
All Marines were required to qualify at the rifle range every year. This, of course, included boots. The Marine Corps--then and now--takes this very seriously. Consequently, there was very little contact with our DIs other than marching us to and from the range and to the mess hall for chow when we were learning how to fire our weapons. We were turned over to instructors who were charged with teaching us marksmanship the Marine Corps way. I think in some ways we city boys had an advantage over our country cousins in that most of us had never fired a rifle before. We did not have to unlearn bad habits and were more receptive to learning to their teaching. For the first week we aimed at aiming stakes and learned the proper positions--off-hand at 200 yards, kneeling and sitting at 300 yards, and prone at 500 yards. The kneeling position could hurt, especially when our instructor jumped on our backs and screamed at us to get down. The second week was devoted to firing live ammo at targets in those positions at the various yardages. The last day was qualifying day. I shot Expert and was happy and proud. All but one failed to qualify. He marched behind us with his clothes on backwards and a roll of toilet paper on a string around his neck indicating that he was a "shitbird". He had to return to the range and qualify.
I think I had fun at times during boot camp. In order to survive we had to laugh at others and ourselves. When a DI was chewing out someone else, the first reaction was relief that he didn't single us out, then it became humorous. No, we did not smile or chuckle out loud, but we "enjoyed" the moment--like the guy marching ten yards behind the platoon with his clothes on backwards, wearing a toilet paper necklace and chanting, "I am a shitbird!" We did feel sorry for him, but we laughed inside anyway. And Smokey Joe is still funny.
As graduation day neared, the DIs loosened up a little bit. We were standing in formation one evening waiting to go to chow. Havens was talking to us about something and we were standing at ease. When it was time to go he said, "Left face!" The nature of his talk was very pleasant and the platoon was loose. We were at ease and we could not make a facing movement from at ease. About half of the platoon turned left while the other half stood fast and shouted, "As you were, Sir." Recognizing his error, he called the platoon to attention and ordered left face. The platoon was now half facing left and the other half facing to the rear. Havens swore and commanded, "By the numbers face the shithouse. One! Two!" (I guess you had to be there!) Another time we were marching to the mess hall for evening meal and the Guideon took us through a big puddle. Havens halted the platoon and shouted, "What the hell is the matter with you stomping through that puddle? Guide around!" A couple of days later we marched around a puddle and Havens went ballistic for not marching in a straight line. Mind game?
I never had second thoughts about joining the Corps, even though it was a complete change from the happy-go-lucky days I enjoyed as a college student and athlete. Nor did I hear anything to that affect from my circle of close friends. One of the hardest adjustments for all of us, I think, was living so close to a lot of people--being responsible for washing and ironing our clothes, and in general taking care of ourselves, our equipment, and being part of a team. Knowing that people depended on us and we depended on them. I think I had a leg up on the team work aspect since I had played high school and college football, as well as other sports. As the days and weeks went by, my respect and admiration for S/Sgt. Havens grew and grew. The same was true on a lesser scale for Masi and Yarnell. Havens was with us maybe 90 percent of the time. I would have no problem going into combat with Havens.
One guy didn't make it out of boot camp. He was kind of a momma's boy who just couldn't take it. He cried a lot and complained all the time. The DIs were on him quite a bit, but after several visits to the Chaplain's office and talks with Havens and I don't know who else, he was gone. I understand that he was discharged as unfit for military service. I think the incident strengthened our resolve to make it through boot camp.
Graduation day was one of the proudest days of my life. Not only was I finally allowed to wear the Marine Corps emblem, but I was promoted to PFC. The graduating platoons passed in review with the post band playing Semper Fidelis and the Marine Corps Hymn. There was lots of military pomp and ceremony. It was great. I remember shaking hands and saying, "Goodbye, Sir" to Havens. He was very gracious and said not to call him Sir any more. I told him I wanted to one last time. I not only felt like a Marine, I was a Marine. I never felt better. When I enlisted I stood 6.0 feet tall and weighed 205 pounds. When I graduated I felt ten feet tall and I had gained six pounds.
After graduation from boot camp, the five of us, along with several others, flew home to Detroit. I got a great welcome from my family and Mom's cooking was super. I wore my uniform every time I went out. I was very proud being a Marine. My brother Ron just called me a damn boot. I know that he shared my pride, though. A couple of times former Marines hailed a "Semper Fi" at me and I returned it. I was cocky, felt I could lick the world, and cognizant that I belonged to the best military organization in the world. I still feel that way after 50-plus years.
The others who had joined the USMC with me were assigned to different outfits. I saw Ed St. Clair once while in Korea. He was in rockets and he visited me one afternoon. I remember how happy we were to see each other. I never saw the other three until we were out of the Corps.
Training at Lejeune
After boot leave, my parents and brothers drove me to Metropolitan Airport where I departed for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I arrived at the base late at night after Taps. I reported in and was escorted to a barracks by a Duty NCO. By flashlight he found a bunk for me. Being alone and in a strange environment I was very apprehensive, but I finally fell asleep. I'm sure the rest of the night was uneventful as I have no further recollection of it.
I was assigned to Easy Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force (FMF). I reported to the Company 1st Sergeant and he introduced me to my platoon sergeant. I was assigned to a squad and, being the new kid on the block, I got to carry the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). The BAR was heavy, the cartridge belt loaded with magazines was heavy, and it was awkward as hell to carry. But as I found out later, it was a great weapon in combat. The whole division was in constant training and readiness. Being in a rifle company, we were constantly trained in infantry tactics at the fire team, squad, platoon, and right up to division level. Our instructors were the Company NCOs and officers. Subjects included history and traditions of the Corps, map and compass reading, Uniform Code of Military Justice, amphibious warfare (we made lots of simulated assaults on Onslow Beach), close order drill, team work, team work, team work.
The 2nd Marine Division was not a training command. It was combat trained and ready to go anywhere it was ordered. There were a lot of people of all ranks and rates in the division who were combat veterans as well as a lot of Marines with varying infantry training from guys like me to guys with two or three or more years experience.
We had liberty almost every day after 1600 and every weekend--unless, of course, we had some kind of assigned duty. We did not have to be back until roll call at 0500 the next day or Monday, if on the weekend. I traveled to Washington DC, Allentown, Pennsylvania, and once to Detroit. The Detroit trip was rather stupid--over 900 miles one way. A buddy from Toledo, Ohio, was driving home over the weekend and asked if I wanted to ride along. My brother could pick me up in Toledo. Sounded like a good plan at the time. It was hectic. I wasn't AWOL, but it was close. I remember I was scared as hell that I would be late and get into all sorts of trouble. No more weekend trips to home. The other trips visiting with the families of my friends were super.
We had a number of trips aboard ships. We spent several days at sea and "invaded" Onslow Beach. Sometimes it was just our battalion. Other times it was 2nd Marines (regiment) with another regiment or two. We participated in several of these cruises. Once, off Cape Hatteras, we caught a good part of a hurricane. It was hard to believe how the ocean could toss a large ship around like it was a toy. I frankly enjoy the water and have never gotten seasick, no matter what the weather or how much we were bouncing around. The largest "invasion" that I participated in was in September 1951 when the entire division invaded the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. We were at sea for several days when we joined up with a number of ships of the line, including destroyers, a carrier, other navy ships, and enough troop ships to transport the division. We landed at daybreak and after a week or so we liberated the island from the "cruel aggressor force."
The worst part of being aboard ship was getting off. In full gear we disembarked by climbing down cargo nets into a landing craft. In a heavy sea the boat pitched and rolled. Some coxswains were better than others and kept the boat against the ship. One of our guys got his leg caught between the boat and ship. It was not a pretty sight. Coming down the net we were a foot from the deck of the boat and let go to step off. The boat would hit a wave or swell and the deck would suddenly be ten feet down. We landed pretty hard.
Volunteering for Korea
Along with a couple of buddies, I volunteered for Korea. I guess that after many months of training and being involved in many, many mock battles, the repetition got very boring to a 20-year old Marine. I kept hearing sea stories from World War II vets, and then the Korean War guys started to join our outfit. I was very interested in what they had to say when we could get them to talk about their experiences. It took a long time before some guys loosened up. Some never did. Some of the stories were hair-raising. Most were told with that hundred mile blank stare.
After all the training in jungle warfare and amphibious assault, I just wanted something else. I asked my 1st Sergeant to put me on the "list." (Not too smart, eh?) I think about six weeks or two months elapsed before I received orders to report to Camp Pendleton. My orders contained "delay en route," which meant that I could stop at home for a couple of weeks. I can't remember the time frame. I never told my parents that I was going to go to Korea, but my older Marine brother looked at me and said, "Ya gotta do what ya gotta do." My mother and brother drove me to the airport. We were there about a half an hour when my flight was announced. I said that I had to go. I can still see my mother standing there and as I turned to go, I still hear her, "Mickey, come back!"
In January 1952 I was transferred and reported to Camp Delmar, California, en route to Korea. I spent January and February at Camp Delmar and Pendleton. I believe in late January we boarded buses and were transported to Pickle Meadows in the mountains for winter training. We spent about ten days in the field learning to cope with the cold, snow, and terrain. After that experience, we were pronounced ready to go to Korea. On 27 February 1952, I boarded ship bound for the Orient.
The General Gordan was a military transport ship and I believe it was manned by merchant seamen. I do not recall contacts with naval personnel. The ship was very large and I am not sure if it carried any cargo. The configuration of the ship was not at all similar to the APAs and other troop transports that I sailed on while with the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The sleeping quarters were similar only in that they were six bunks high as other transports. As I remember, only Marines were aboard on their way to Korea, Japan, and possibly Okinawa as replacements. I am not sure if there was any other cargo on board. When we arrived at our destination, I did not have a chance to see if any materials were off-loaded.
I was fortunate that I never got sea sick. I suppose that's because as a child and young adult I spent many hours in boats of all sizes on several of the Great Lakes where at times it would really blow. Anyway, I guess I became immune to rough seas. Even to the hurricane that we sailed through off Cape Hatteras in the Atlantic Ocean left me breathless, but not sick. Some of us really enjoyed the rough sea in that the chow lines were much shorter.
I always tried to get a top rack in the hold. Although it was usually hotter than lower racks or bunks, it was always drier. Let me explain. When guys got sick at night and threw up, one did not want to be in a lower bunk. The vomit would splatter when it hit the deck and the guys in the first and second bunks caught the "spray" or worse. During the day, the railings were always occupied and we learned very fast to stand up-wind from the Marines making offerings to the sea gods.
We were aboard ship for about fifteen days and since we were "stragglers" and not assigned to a unit, there was not a daily routine. We were pretty much left to ourselves. On 7 March we crossed the International Date Line (180th Meridian) and we were inducted into the Mysteries of the Far East as a Trusty Golden Dragon. I don't recall much of the ceremony, but I do remember that we had a lot of fun that day. I'm sure that we suffered from a little boredom setting in after being at se, and anything was entertainment.
Just before I had left Camp Lejeune, I was given a series of shots--nine or eleven. While at Camp Pendleton, I was told to report to sick bay to get my shots. Evidently the shots had not been recorded in my medical file so I got 'em again. A couple of days out of San Diego, my name appeared on the list to once again report to sick bay. I protested to no avail and got all the shots again for a third time.
One evening as I was strolling down the deck, I saw a familiar face walking toward me. We looked at each other and the recognition set in. It was Corporal Masi, my junior drill instructor. We relived many Parris Island moments and had a lot of laughs. We were now both corporals. I never saw him again and often wondered what outfit he got assigned to and if he made it.
On 14 March 1952 we landed at Kobe and Osaka, Japan. We got our equipment and uniforms squared away and had a couple of nights of liberty and no shots. On 16 March we boarded an LST and landed at Pusan, Korea. I was assigned to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, and learned that the Battalion was on line on the east coast of Korea near the 38th. It was night when we disembarked from the LST that had brought us from Japan. We went ashore almost immediately after the ship docked. I am not sure what time it was, but I do remember that it was very dark. We were ushered to a staging area, waited until our names were called, then boarded the appropriate vehicle and went off to join our new outfit. F-2-7 was on line a little north of the 38th parallel. We said our goodbyes and good luck to the other Marines that we had met aboard ship or in Japan. I felt alone again, although there were a lot of other Marines around me.
guess my first impressions of Korea were that it was damn dark, and then as we moved along the roads I noticed how mountainous it became as we moved further and further north--not that it wasn't "hilly" all over the country. I do not recall seeing any civilians on the ride north. I was transported by truck to the front that night, and as we got closer to it, the artillery became louder and louder. As I looked around, I could see the horizon light up from the 155s and the 105s firing at the North Koreans and Chinese units that fronted the Marines. It was very much like the movies, but I knew it was for real. We stopped along the way to drop guys off, and then someone said that the Fox Company CP was "over there." I threw my gear off and jumped off the truck. I remember thinking, "This can't be too good the way the truck got the hell out of here as fast as it could." I thought the driver must know something that I would soon find for myself. I did.
As I walked to the CP, I remember thinking that I didn't want any responsibility for anything or anybody, and I silently prayed for God to watch over to me. I reported to the Company First Sergeant, who assigned me to the 2nd platoon. After meeting the Company CO, Executive Officer, Gunny, other Staff NCOs, and other Marines present, he had me escorted to the 2nd Platoon. I was assigned to the 2nd Squad as a Fire Team Leader because I was a corporal and the platoon was short of NCOs. Otherwise I'm sure that I would have been given a BAR. People were not friendly to a new guy. Just like in the movies, nobody talked to a replacement. They answered questions, showed me where to put my gear, where I was to sleep, and introduced me to my three-man fire team, etc. But they didn't trust me. I was not yet in the club. It was not that they would leave or ignore me in a fire fight--I was still a Marine. Trust and membership were earned and came with time.
As previously stated, I joined Fox Company on 16 March and within the first week I went out on my first patrol. The patrol was of squad strength--13 in a squad, and included a radio man, telephone sound power man, corpsman, and was reinforced by a light machine gun, crew of four. The mission was search and destroy and to set up an ambush at one of the trail junctures. We were out about 500 to 600 yards in front of our lines. We stayed in the ambush position for three or four hours and then slowly retraced our steps back to our lines. The evening was uneventful, but I was getting closer to being one of the boys. The only Korean that I came in contact with was a South Korean employed by us as a translator.
A day or two before we were to come off the line, the second squad went out on another patrol. At this time most all of the action was at night. I cannot remember a day patrol until months later, when I led two daylights--but that's later. Anyway, we were about at our second or third checkpoint when the gooks opened up on us. We hit the dirt, trying not to go too far off the trail because of the mines. Oh God, how I hated those damn mines. They were in front and alongside of us and a couple were behind us. We probably walked right past them. We returned their fire and I remember hearing my own voice shouting fire orders and crawling to the machine gun and directing its fire. (I had spotted some of the bad guys when they began to fire.) I don't know how long it lasted. Maybe up to 30 minutes, which is an eternity, no pun intended. The gooks broke it off after we called and received mortar and artillery support. As I remember, we sustained three WIAs all walking. As we began to move back to our lines, we saw two dead Chinese soldiers. Their comrades took their weapons, but obviously didn't have the time or manpower to take their dead.
At the de-briefing, we estimated that there were up to 20 Chinese that ambushed us. As we walked back, I kind of re-evaluated myself and I wanted to have the responsibility for a squad or platoon if the opportunity presented itself. It was not that I wasn't frightened, but I knew that if called on, I could do it. As we were leaving the Company CP, the First Sergeant looked at me and said, "The Skipper wants to see you." Now I was nervous. The Skipper said, "You made Sergeant on the ship coming over, but I didn't have time to give it to you." I said, "Yes Sir." He then said, "You earned it and your date of rank is 1 March. You are a squad leader. Now go get some sleep." A Marine Rifle Platoon during World War II and the Korean War was comprised of three rifle squads of thirteen men. In the squad we carried three Browning Automatic Rifles (BARs) and then M1 rifles. The platoon therefore had nine BARs and thirty M1s, the Platoon Leader and Sergeant carried carbines and the Platoon Guide, a Sergeant, was issued an M1. That's a hell of a lot of fire power. Later we appropriated other weapons, but I'll address that later.
When I got to the platoon bunker on my way to my bunker that night, Platoon Sergeant Bill Harlow (who later became my closest buddy) said, "Hey, Ole." ("Ole" he called me--that morning he wouldn't have said hello). "I heard you got a couple tonight. Wanna beer?" The platoon leader came over, sat next to me, bummed a cigarette, and we just talked almost the whole night or what was left of it. A couple of guys from "my" squad came into the bunker and said, "Hey, Sarge" (meaning me), "We were getting worried about you." I had become a full-fledged club member.
I joined Fox Company, 7th Marines in March on line on the east coast a little above the 38th parallel. I do not remember the names or elevation numbers of the hills and mountains that we operated in, around, and were on. I'm not sure I ever asked the question.
In late April the Division began to move to the west coast to protect the capitol city of Seoul. Scuttlebutt had it that the North Koreans and Chinese would mount a summer offensive directed at Seoul and as conquerors from the north beginning with Genghis Khan, come down the Chorwon Valley approach to Seoul. The 1st Marine Division would have first opportunity to stop them. Our battalion was flown by helicopter to an area on the Kimpo Peninsula--Camp Sharp and Camp Tripoli, where we readied ourselves to go back on line. The rest of the division arrived and were transported by truck later. I was part of the advance party and visited the area on line that my platoon would occupy. The army troops were happy to see us and knew that they would be relieved in a short time. As I walked through the trench and bunkers, the army lieutenant and his platoon sergeant explained and shared with me all of the pertinent information that they had. I can vividly remember that after they had shown me the machine gun emplacements, sentry positions, etc., one of them said words to the effect that they would now show me their "bug-out route." I said, "No thank you. We intend to stay." They looked at each other and mumbled, "Crazy damn Marines" or something like that. They were good guys and I enjoyed meeting them and their troops. After meeting the other Marines at the army CP, we returned to our outfits. We never saw an army guy again when we were on line.
Prior to moving up on line, we removed our leggings and other identifying emblems so the enemy would not know that they were facing Marines. A note about the leggings. The gooks called Marines "yellow legs" (among other things) because of the color of the leggings. We moved into our positions the night of 10 or 11 May and occupied our first real estate on the west coast (a very secret move). We were on line for just an hour or two when the Chinese loudspeakers announced, "Good evening officers and men of Fox Company, 7th Marines, and welcome to the Chorwon Valley." Some secret move. I bet they even knew our names.
I was a sergeant and squad leader at that time. Generally speaking, this tour on line was rather routine. We sent out nightly patrols of re-enforced squad size with the mission of search and destroy. At a pre-selected point, we set up in an ambush for several hours. We were fired upon several times with small arms, usually by Chinese burp guns which were automatic and had a very distinct sound. I cannot remember if any of my guys got hit during this tour. I don't think so. The company did have several WIAs and KIAs. An Easy Company patrol was ambushed one night and sustained a number of casualties. I took my squad out on a rescue mission to help. By the time we reached them the gooks had broken off the fire fight and left. We helped the Easy squad back to our lines and to Battalion Med. The rest of them headed back to their Company CP.
I can remember lots of incidents that happened to my platoon and company, but I do not remember on what hill or when the incident took place. I kept a small date book so I know when we were on line and when we were in reserve. I'm going to put it down as it comes to me using the Korean War Educator's outline as a guide.
During my almost 13 months with Fox, the second platoon had, I think, four platoon leaders. Three of the Second Lieutenants were very good. One was a real foul-up. I am happy to say that I was instrumental in getting the latter fired--or I should say, "reassigned". I think I will start with the foul-up. Lieutenant Betz, a good guy and a fine officer, was being transferred to another job at Battalion. We were on line at the time and I was platoon guide, having been "promoted" from squad leader. It was a good deal because squad leaders led patrols and the platoon leader, sergeant, and guide were not involved in commanding a patrol in front of the wire. I had been the platoon guide for a day or two when the order came down that, effective immediately, all platoon leaders, platoon sergeants, and platoon guides would alternate and command the nightly patrols. About every week or so I was back to taking a reinforced squad on patrol. I always took the second squad, my former squad.
Lieutenant Betz left and his replacement arrived. We knew that we were in trouble right away. He was a former enlisted sailor who went to OCS with an attitude. He made several excuses that he wanted to get "the lay-of-the-land and get to know the troops better," etc., so he passed up several turns as patrol commander. Well, the Skipper (Company Commander--he was a Captain but I can't think of his name) heard about his reluctance for taking a patrol out and ordered him to take that night's patrol. It was my turn and my squad, but when the Lieutenant returned to the platoon CP, he informed me that he was going to take my patrol that night. It was our practice to hold a briefing with all of the members of the patrol during the day to set the route, mission, order of march, etc. I called the second squad leader to assemble his squad and all others going on the evening's walk. I accompanied the Lieutenant to the briefing.
He said a lot of stupid things during the briefing and I can still see some of the faces looking at me as if to say, "Help" or "Is this guy for real?" When he came to the order of march, he said that right after the point he wanted the squad of machine guns followed by the other two fire teams and corpsman, radio, etc. I said, "Excuse me, Sir. I don't think you meant to put the guns that far up in the column where they would be exposed." He told me that if he wanted my advice, he would ask for it, and in the meantime to keep quiet and speak when I was spoken to. Not too popular with my old squad.
Sergeant Bob Sheets, machinegun squad leader, and I were old hands. He and his squad went with me on every patrol I took out. We were very close to each other and also close to his machinegunner, Cpl. Bill Penniman. Sheets said, "This guy is a real jerk." I told him to just be careful and do what he had to do. That evening at the gate, the patrol was about to start when the Lieutenant ordered all hands to take the safeties off their weapons. Not good! The Lieutenant glared at me. Highlights of the patrol are as follows:
They returned to our lines without further incident. Purple Heart? I don't know. The guy milked his "wound" for everything it was worth--no patrols, light duty, etc. for a bloodied hero. The man was really upsetting. I don't remember the timing, but I was to lead a patrol that night. I went to the Company CP for my briefing and the Skipper said to me, "What's wrong, Ole?" I told him, "Nothing, Sir." He looked at me and said that I had not been the same Sergeant that he knew and that the Gunny also noticed that I had a problem or something. Again, I said, "Nothing is wrong." The Skipper said, "Come with me." After we reached his area of the bunker, he said, "All right, damn it. What's going on with you?" I stammered a little and he said, "You've got no stripes and I have no bars." I unloaded on him, told him about the patrol, the Lieutenant's stupid orders, and that I was afraid that he was going to get someone killed. He looked at me and said, "Sergeant, you remember that he is an officer of the United States Marine Corps and you will treat him as such. Give me a couple of days and I'll get rid of the son of a bitch." Within the week, the "hero" was gone. I truly believe we averted a tragedy waiting to happen when the Skipper transferred our platoon leader "hero." I am very, very proud and thankful that no one under my command was wounded or killed by my actions or inactions.
The 2nd platoon got its new platoon leader a couple of days later. I think his name was Lt. Walter Sharp. I am really bad on some names. The roster that I kept was caught in one of the many "floods" we had in our bunker and I never did replace it. Anyway, Bill Harlow, staff sergeant and platoon sergeant, and I were summoned to the Company CP where we were introduced to our new Second Lieutenant. Interestingly, nobody mentioned our previous leader. There were just some knowing looks from the 1st Sergeant and Gunny. On the way back to our platoon CP, the Lieutenant said that he needed our help very much and that there would be no immediate changes. He asked that if he made a mistake or said something stupid to please not correct him in front of the troops. He added that he needed some time to become oriented. Both Harlow and I were happy to hear him say those things and we knew that he meant them. To borrow from Casablanca, "Louie, this was the beginning of a real friendship." He turned out to be a very good officer and friend. The other officers were fine, but the backbone of the Marine Corps will always be its sergeants.
While we were on line, we always had the Korean Marine Corps (KMC) on one flank and elements of the Commonwealth Division on the other. The Commonwealth Division was made up of troops from the British Empire, including Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, British Army regulars, and my two favorites, the Scottish Black Watch Regiment and Royal Marines. We got along extremely well with troops on either flank, but particularly with the Royal Marines and British regulars. Many a night was spent with them, either in our bunkers or theirs. The Brits had a great fondness for our cocoa, which we gladly traded to them in exchange for a portion of their whiskey ration. I have to laugh when I think of one Brit Sergeant who always explained, "Cocoa, why even Her Majesty drinks cocoa!" (Be sure to say this with your best British accent.)
The British soldiers were armed with the Enfield rifle, which, in my opinion, was one of the best weapons of the time. It was a bolt action and was an extremely accurate piece. On every occasion possible, when the cocoa and whiskey were flowing, we would attempt to "borrow" one of their rifles for our use. However, the closest we ever came was when one of my platoon made it almost out the door, only to hear in the background, "Hey, Yank. Bring back my rifle when you're through admiring it." I guess we really weren't thieves in the night.
One incident that I recall very vividly was when I was inspecting the line at dusk and was at the gate bunker (the entrance and exit to our lines in that area). Four Royal Marines came up from behind us on their way to a night reconnaissance patrol. We chatted for a few moments and I was told their route and mission for the evening. They were dressed in berets, no flak jackets or helmets, and armed only with side arms. I had to laugh because several nights prior to this, I had taken out a patrol on the same route and objective. My patrol consisted of a rifle squad (13 men including three BARs), a squad of guns (four men), a corpsman, radioman, sound power phone and wire man, my runner, and me. All 21 of us were armed to the teeth, wearing helmets and flak jackets, all kinds of communications gear, and in communication with our CP at all times. We were monitored during the patrol through the use of checkpoints so that if we got into trouble, we could immediately call for artillery and/or mortar support. The Brits called us "Chocolate Soldiers" which was not racial, but they heard our term "Pogey Bait Marines" and I guess they were never sure what pogey bait (candy) meant.
Just a quick note about the Korean Marine Corps (KMCs). They also were excellent combat troops and we had nothing but the highest regard and respect for their abilities. We were extremely proud to have them on one flank and the Commonwealth on the other side. One afternoon behind the hill (which meant we could not be observed by the enemy so we usually could move around quite freely), there were several wounded KMCs on the side of the road. One of their officers, a 2nd Lieutenant if I remember correctly, drove up in a Jeep. As he got out, we exchanged salutes and proceeded to the side of the road to see his wounded Marines. One of the wounded was hit very, very badly and suffered several terrible wounds to his right arm. When he saw his officer approaching, he got up, stood at attention, and saluted (you guessed it) with his right arm. Hell, if it were me, I wouldn't have gotten up for MacArthur!
Most of our contact with the enemy was at night and normally on a platoon or company-size engagement. That is to say, that close contact, in most cases, was at night and very difficult to see other than their outlines, which we shot at or we shot at flashes form their weapons without really seeing the soldier behind it. On several occasions, they charged at us screaming and blowing those damn bugles. (I can remember guys saying, "Hit the SOB with the horn!") On most every occasion, the Chinese prefaced their attack with green flares and those damn tinny bugles. A lot of shouting and screaming was the norm.
One evening we were approximately 500 yards in front of our line, dug in on a 360-degree perimeter and hoping that an enemy patrol would wander into our ambush. We had been out for about three hours or so when we were alerted that an enemy patrol of about 25 was walking right into us. Their point was three soldiers. One of our BARs was on slightly higher ground, actually head high. The first Chinese soldier came within two feet or so of the BAR muzzle when it opened up, nearly removing his head. The other two point soldiers were killed instantly as the rest of us opened fire. It was a very strange night. The enemy had actually penetrated our perimeter, so we had enemy troops in front and in back of us. When it was all over, we sustained not a single casualty. Remarkable! We counted 13 dead Chinese soldiers. During the firefight, our company CP continually asked if we wanted assistance in the form of artillery or a relief column. Because of the close proximity, I declined their offer.
The Chinese soldiers all looked very, very young. I would say that most of them were in their teens. The several that we captured were very young. One morning at daybreak, a Chinese soldier stood up by our wire with his hands up. We waved him in. At that time, a squad capturing a Chinese soldier was rewarded with several cases of beer and a day or two of R&R in Seoul. As the Chinese soldier came toward us, one of our guys took his helmet and flak jacket off and put it on the Chinese soldier saying, "Nothing's gonna happen to this guy! I want that case of beer!" The young soldier grinned from ear to ear as the flak jacket was zipped up. To this day, I believe he thought he was joining the Marines. It was rumored that some unscrupulous Marines would bring back a dead Chinese soldier and swear that he was alive when captured and brought in. Some people will do anything for a case of beer.
One of the good things about being a Marine, and especially a Marine in combat, is that everything is built around Marine infantry. We had support of everything from 60mm mortars to the Corsairs of the 1st Marine Air Wing. That's not to say that at times we didn't receive air support from our Navy, Air Force, and other United Nations allies. The boldest pilots were the Marine Corps pilots, as their training always included close air support to ground troops. When the occasion arose and air support was requested, most of us prayed and wished that the support would come from the Marine Air Wing. They came in very low and usually hit their target. We would often sit and watch air strikes and thank the Good Lord that we had air superiority, especially when they dropped napalm on the side of a hill and, as we watched, the whole hill was consumed in flames. I don't know if we would have been able to take that kind of punishment, but then again, we didn't have to! I think only in the USMC can a corporal or sergeant, or for that matter a PFC, call in and direct an air strike in support of his unit.
Our artillery support was always there when we needed it and they would continue a barrage it seemed for hours. That would include, of course, 105's and 155's. At one time we had an Army 8" gun in support and they were pretty good. (At least there were no short rounds.) The 81mm mortars and 225mm mortars, as well as 4.5 rockets, were in support also. We were always kind of leery of calling in 60mm mortar support. I guess maybe I was prejudiced, but I never knew where the hell the rounds would go. They were just a little erratic to call in for close support. I remember one evening we were involved in a small fire fight and somebody noticed that the enemy was trying to get in behind us. I asked for some fire support and Fox 6 (Company CP) replied that they could have our company mortars support us and drop a few in behind us. I told him to delay that as I thought we could obtain fire superiority and move without incident to the rear. I just didn't trust those 60's.
On 11 July 1952, we occupied what I believe was Hill 199. Out in front of us was a road at the foot of a hill called Gentry. The road was about 500-700 yards in front of our MLR. That night I was to take a patrol, go down the road observing the various checkpoints, and then set up in an ambush position at a specified location. We were about an hour into the patrol when we encountered concertina barbed wire strung across the road. To continue the patrol we had to go over the wire because going around and going off the road was extremely dangerous due to minefields and all kinds of booby traps. Some of the guys went over the wire and as I straddled it a flare and an explosion went off, followed by small arms fire. I didn't realize it at the time, but I was hit in the left knee. I dove and cleared the wire, face down in the road, and could "feel" rounds going up my back. I crawled to the ditch alongside the road. There were several other explosions from hand grenades and/or mines. A young PFC whose name was Smith was KIA and several others were WIA. The Chinese broke off after a few minutes. It is my belief that it was just a very small party of perhaps three or four enemy soldiers, because as I recall, I only heard three or four burp guns firing.
I reported to Fox 6 (I was Fox 2) that we had sustained casualties and were coming in. I was asked if any assistance was required and I responded in the negative. Our corpsman busied himself by patching up the wounded and then told me that my left leg was all bloody. I believe that's when I became cognizant that I had been hit. And then it started to hurt! We picked up our wounded and our KIA, along with all the weapons and equipment, and headed back to our lines where we were met at the gate by additional corpsmen to attend to our people. After the troops were attended to, I reported to the company CP for my debriefing. As I remember it, halfway through the report someone said to me, "It looks like you've been hit," and called a corpsman to dress my wound. I was then told that I should be taken to Battalion Med to have the wound looked at so I would be eligible for a Purple Heart. I told him "respectfully" that I did not want a telegram sent to my mother, and quite frankly, I could use a couple hours sleep more and that the wound was fine. He reluctantly agreed. Forty-one years later (November 1993) at a full dress ceremony, I was awarded the Purple Heart for the wound received in this action.
We had a number of wounded in action (WIAs) and killed in action (KIAs) during my tenure in Korea with Fox Company, 7th Marines. The person that I was closest to, a Marine with whom I had several adventures that I will detail later, was a Staff Sergeant and my platoon sergeant. S/Sgt. William H. Harlow was from Park Rapids, Minnesota. While leading a patrol on 10 September 1952, he was killed during a fire fight with the Chinese c communists. Bill had taken a patrol on the usual mission of search, destroy and ambush when they themselves were ambushed by a large number of the enemy. As related to me later, Bill got up to throw a white phosphorus grenade and was hit by a burst from a burp gun. He fell backwards and the grenade fell on his midsection and exploded. That incident was a long time ago, but in my mind I replay it very often. I can still see him lying on a stretcher after we returned and several of us were waiting for a vehicle to pick him up. A number of other KIAs occurred such as Private Smith, who I discussed in a preceding paragraph. There were also many, many WIAs while I was there. I feel almost ashamed that I cannot remember many of the names of the guys that fell. I can see faces, and in my mind still miss many of them.
One time in reserve, Harlow and I slipped out of the reserve area. We had heard a hot rumor that we could purchase a couple of cases of beer from some Army troops "down the road." We left the area with side arms borrowed from machine gunners and headed down the road in search of the treasure. We walked a long time until we found the Army area we were seeking, bought four cases of beer, and headed back. With a case of beer on each shoulder, we wandered for a long time and, frankly, I didn't know where the hell we were. We may in reality have been several hundred yards in front of our lines for all we knew. Suddenly, we heard the roar of a six-by truck coming down the road. We flagged down the driver and offered a case of beer if he would drive us back to our area.
We were moving down the road and for some reason slid off into a ditch and were stuck in the mud. The Lieutenant responded that he did not want to start up a tank engine at night because it would just invite artillery fire. I can still hear Bill saying to the Lieutenant, "You're afraid of a little incoming while we're taking supplies to one of our outposts that has been under attack for hours?" After a few moments the Lieutenant relented and told one of his sergeants to "help these Marines get their truck out of the mud." Bill said to me, "Let's grab our beer and get the hell outta here!" So off we went with the noise of the tank behind us, arriving back at our reserve area damn tired, with three cases of beer.
Another time, Bill and I, risking our stripes again, visited an Army field kitchen and successfully "borrowed" a case of fresh eggs and a Thompson submachine gun. I never thought I could eat a 12-egg omelet. Damn, it was good! While these two adventures (and there were others) may sound trite, Bill Harlow was one of the finest men and Marines that I ever had the pleasure to know and serve with. Even though he got me out of many a sound sleep with a well-aimed shoe to stop my snoring, Bill and I were very close and respectful of each other. I have a picture of him and me taken on one of the hills a couple of weeks before he died. I still think of him and the night he died very often, and I miss him terribly. Bill was married two weeks before shipping out for Korea. I think I have a guilt complex for not going to his hometown in Minnesota and spending some time with his family after I got home. It bothers me very much.
2nd Platoon Corpsmen
The Navy corpsmen that were assigned to Fox Company and, more specifically, the 2nd Platoon, were without exception extremely competent in performing their responsibilities. Let me tell you about one that really stands out in my mind--one which I always talk about when visiting with the several corpsmen who are members of the Badger Detachment, Marine Corps League. I can't remember his real name--I called him Elmer Fudd or Doc Fudd, depending on whether or not we wanted to be "formal." He was the most unimpressive serviceman I had ever met. He was short, probably just made the minimum height requirement, was on the chubby side, and spoke with a lisp, just like Elmer Fudd. He looked like Elmer Fudd! If one was to sit down and have an opportunity to select guys with whom you wanted to go out on patrol, he certainly would not have been one of them.
The first time I met him, we were going up on line and he was in the column marching right behind me. All he did was bitch and moan about how he joined the Navy to see the world and they "put him with these F-ing Marines, walking through this F-ing mud," while the guys he went to corpsman school with were sleeping in racks with clean sheets and eating on tablecloths. How the hell could he be so F-ing lucky to be assigned with these F-ing Marines who ate out of tin cans and slept in mud! A couple nights later, I got him as a corpsman on a patrol. During the patrol, we got into a minor (I use the word loosely) fire fight and sustained several slightly WIAs. "Doctor Fudd" it turned out, had a John Wayne complex. He not only patched up the WIAs, but also picked up a weapon and emptied several clips at the enemy. The guy was fantastic. Later, on subsequent patrols, he would come to me and ask if I was leading the patrol that night. When I said yes, he asked if he could come along. I said, "Sorry, Doc. We already have a corpsman assigned." He would say, "No, no. I want to go as a rifleman!" I normally took him along with the proviso that he carry his medical kit and that he could not, and I repeat, could not go on the point as he always volunteered to do. I always thought two corpsmen were better than one. He always carried a grease gun, a .45 caliber automatic weapon. The guy was an enigma. We came off the line and normally had to walk a mile or two before being picked up by trucks. As we marched, he went through the same speech as on the way up to the line, cursing the Marine Corps and his lot in life. My overall evaluation of him is off the charts. He was a great corpsman and a pretty good rifleman!
At one time, Doc Sommers was assigned to the 2nd Platoon and was also a good corpsman. In fact, as I said before and I want to repeat, they were all outstanding. One Sunday afternoon while on line, we were on the reverse side of the hill at the platoon CP. We had gotten some canned hamburgers and canned bread that, when sliced, resembled hamburger buns. We had beer in the cooler and the Bunsen burner cooking our burgers. A couple of the guys had their summer sleeping bags strung on posts and/or bushes to air them out in the sun. It was time for another round and although I was the senior of the group, I said I'd go get them. The beer was in a cooler about 15-20 yards away in the bunker. As I entered and was pulling out cans, an explosion rocked the area. I ran out of the bunker into what was almost a dream sequence in that a mortar shell had come in, struck one of the suspended sleeping bags, exploded, and sent up a cloud of feathers which looked like snow. It was very similar in appearance to a snow globe. Shell fragments killed Doc Sommers, wounded three others, and knocked out our sound power line. Because of the close proximity to other Marine bunkers, someone investigated and sent help in a short period of time. I have thought about the incident many times. What told me to volunteer to get the next round of beers?
A little lighter incident. When we got a corpsman replacement, he was fresh out of school and very eager to do a good job. Several of us came back to the bunker one afternoon and the new Doc was looking extremely pleased with himself. He proudly stated that he had cleaned the whole bunker and had taken it upon himself to scour the large #10 can we made coffee in. I remember the inside of the can was gleaming and completely ruined the taste of the coffee from that time on. He was told in no uncertain terms not to touch anything unless he was asked. That can was four or five months old and broken in just right. We boiled water in it and then threw in two handfuls of coffee grounds, brought it back to a boil, and then strained it through a handkerchief into our mess kit cups. I observed the same corpsman one day in the bunker, straightening one side of the pin on several hand grenades. I asked him what the hell he was doing. He replied that it would be easier to remove the pin if one side was straightened. I looked at him and told him to bend the (expletive deleted) pins back and not to screw around with them anymore. I told him that if we had to throw one, we would find the strength to pull the pin.
It seemed that the weather conditions in Korea were always at one extreme or the other. During the summer months the weather turned very hot and dry. Surprisingly, during some periods it was almost tropical in temperature. In fact, one of the things that I brought home with me was a severe case of malaria. We dressed generally in just our dungarees (old Corps, with a subtle herringbone design). When I first got to Korea, Marines still wore regular boondockers (high shoes) and yellow leggings. North Koreans called us "Yellow Legs." Sometime during the spring or summer, we were issued combat boots and the leggings were no more. We were issued summer sleeping bags along with an air mattress that never held the air. Summer months really had little effect on our weapons or equipment. However, one evening when the Chinese walked into our ambush, two of our BARs malfunctioned. We poured mosquito repellant in the chamber and other moving parts and that seemed to do the trick. While generally the weather was dry, we did experience heavy rains at times and several mornings woke up in our bunkers with a foot or two of water on the deck.
Obviously the winter months were extremely cold, with lots of snow and average temperatures below zero. It seemed like there was always a wind to make it feel a hell of a lot colder than it probably was. It was a good thing that wind chill hadn't been invented yet, but I bet if it had, the wind chill would have been 20 to 30 or more degrees below zero. We were issued a thermal boot which we called Mickey Mouse boots because we all looked like we had Mickey Mouse feet. They were very warm. In fact, when we removed our boots at night, our socks were soaking wet from sweat. We had to be very careful not to contract some kind of rot that comes from wet feet. Our corpsmen were required to perform a weekly foot inspection of all the line troops. We, of course, had long-johns, parkas, sweaters, and a "Mongolian pisscutter." This was the fur-lined cap with pull-down flaps to protect our ears. It tied underneath the chin. We never suffered from the cold, as our issued garments kept us quite warm. The Chinese winter uniform was a quilted jacket and trousers with a Mongolian pisscutter similar to ours. Their summer uniform was brown in color and they wore tennis shoes (I don't think they were Nikes!).
We felt the cold when we laid in the snow in an ambush position. I remember one incident where I had taken two tankers on a patrol to determine if the road in front of us was suitable for tanks. One of the Marines was an older Master Sergeant and infantry work was not his forte. While laying in an ambush, all of a sudden I heard the sound of someone running toward us. Naturally, all the safeties began to click off and a belt was loaded to make ready for the enemy. The noise suddenly stopped and as cold as it was, I could feel beads of sweat rolling down my spine. The noise started again and I asked, "What the hell was that?" as I crawled toward the sound which was behind me. It turned out that it was the Master Sergeant trying to keep warm by pounding his arms and legs on the ground. I told him to stop, which he did.
Normally when it was very cold, we left our weapons, particularly the M1's and carbines, outside of the bunker on a makeshift shelf covered with a poncho. We found that bringing the weapon into the bunker where it was warm sometimes caused condensation to form on the weapons, making them very difficult to operate. We, of course, had side arms and a couple of carbines that remained in the bunker should a weapon be required quickly. It was a strange phenomena that affected me personally and most of the other guys as well. We generally could sleep through an enemy artillery barrage (unless, of course, the round was so close it shook the bunker), but a small arms report would bring me right out of a sound sleep. Pistol and/or rifle shots had an entirely different meaning than artillery. It meant, of course, that the Chinese may have been in our trench line.
Most of the action was at night and normally at the squad or platoon size. At the outpost, we were never attacked during the day, although some of the fighting did not end until daylight. During the whole time in Korea, I took two daylight patrols, which were very uncommon and, if my memory serves me correctly, were the only daylight patrols that Fox company was involved in. The objective in both cases was to "visit" several caves that faced us. We believed that the caves housed snipers and the 76 recoilless rifle, which was similar to our .75. Since this weapon fired only on a level trajectory, the weapons had to be housed on the side of the hill facing us. We took satchel charges and threw them into several caves that we believed were or had been occupied by Chinese troops. We could see their tennis shoe footprints on the ground. They must have moved to another location during the night, because that ended the incoming from that 76.
During the winter months, on one occasion we were issued white snowsuits. The fabric was very lightweight, which we wore over our parkas and trousers. The reason we were issued them one night was that the Chinese during the last few patrols would sneak in behind a patrol and cut their sound power wire and later ambush them up the trail. The plan that night was that a patrol from Dog Company would leave the MLR and then approximately 20 minutes later, we would leave the wire and follow them with the 20-minute interval between us. We laughingly said, "Maybe we'll catch the Gook after he cuts the wire and is rolling it up, backing up into us."
After about an hour into the patrol, the point stopped us and we all hit the deck. I crawled up to the point where Cpl. William Harper (Birmingham, Alabama) pointed at the hill directly in front of us. A column of Chinese soldiers was coming over the hill toward us. Harper was a very experienced Marine and always took the point. He was damn good. That night, instead of opening fire, he waited a few minutes until I got up to him. As we watched, we could see the silhouettes of the figures coming over the hill. One of us said to the other (I can't remember who), "Those guys have helmets on." Chinese never wore helmets. These guys coming over the hill did not have "snowsuits" on. We knew that they were Marines, so I challenged them with the password or just in good Marine tradition, "What the F-are you guys doing?" The Dog Company patrol leader and I visited for a few minutes and he told me that they took the wrong trail and were doubling back to get on the correct one. That's why they were heading toward us. I asked him, "How come you're not wearing the white suits?" He said that just as they were going to leave the gate, they were ordered to remove the white snowsuits. And, of course, typically, the word was never passed. It could have been one hell of a mess with two Marine patrols engaged in a firefight with each other.
At times we were supported by a company or battalion of USMC tanks. We really did not enjoy their presence. For one thing, they invited big artillery in on us and, of course, they would then leave. The incoming would continue and continue, probably until they used their allotment of shells for the day. The reason they would come up was to hit the Chinese positions on the slope of the hill facing us. Luckily, they only came up a couple of times. I'm not down on tankers, though. We were damn happy to have them on our side.
We always had the advantage of air superiority, Marine artillery, and heavy mortars looking after us on every hill and every place we occupied. Generally speaking, they hit their target when we needed them after one or two adjustments. And as I said, when we were in front of the MLR on patrol, we had three or four checkpoints so that if we needed support, they would know our approximate position to lend us any support that we requested.
Most of the casualties that we suffered were the result of patrol action during night hours. However, we sustained casualties from enemy artillery, which was a daily and nightly occurrence. We got so when we heard the thump of an .83 mm mortar, we started subconsciously counting and then at the proper time, ducked because the round was there. It was often said that we would never hear the one that gets us, since it was coming directly at us and we could only hear those that were off to the side.
In one instance that I can remember, we were hit by a frontal attack of perhaps division size during the very early hours of the morning (3 a.m.). Most of the Chinese attacks were "announced" by green flares and those damn tinny bugles. One particular morning, while we were not overrun, all of our automatic weapons were firing their FPL's. That stands for Final Protective Line, which meant that the machine guns and other automatic weapons were firing with an interlocking band of fire to protect our line. What machine gunners did when they first occupied a hill was to place a stake in the ground to the left and right of the gun. When we fired FPL, we moved the gun barrel to the appropriate stake and left it there. If we were firing to the left, the gun on our left would be firing to the right and likewise down the line. The riflemen would "freelance." That fight lasted past daylight and as the Chinese moved back to their lines, Marine and Navy airplanes arrived and strafed and napalmed the retreating Chinese. We sat on the hill in the open and cheered.
Becoming a prisoner of war was very high on our worry list, but for most of us the worst thing would be to be maimed, such as losing a limb or our eyesight. Second was becoming a prisoner of war. I think being KIA was not something that most of us worried about. Granted, it was all relative, such as hating mines. I always feared them because if I stepped on one, I was sure to lose a foot or a leg. The gooks employed what we called a "shoebox mine", with the objective of hurting someone very badly and not necessarily killing them. Artillery wasn't too bad as long as it didn't hit the roof of our bunker squarely.
When the division moved from the east coast to the west coast, our battalion was moved by helicopter. The rest of the division moved by truck. We had a number of contacts with ambulance helicopters as they picked up our wounded and moved them to aid stations. The pilots were a brave lot that in my experience never hesitated to come in under fire and pick up a wounded Marine or two. I also saw a very strange thing happen one day. We were getting a lot of incoming and sustained a couple of very seriously wounded Marines. When the chopper arrived, the shelling stopped for several moments, the chopper landed, picked up the Marines and left, and then the shelling resumed. Strange but true, and I can't explain why.
Relating that incident reminded me of another incident. During the very early hours of the morning, the Chinese loudspeaker announced that they had a wounded Marine and they could not provide adequate medical treatment for him. If we would send a small party out to get him, they would not be fired upon and would be allowed to take the wounded Marine back to his own line for medical treatment. We thought long and hard about it as we watched three or four Chinese soldiers with what appeared to be a wounded Marine. As I remember, they gave us his name, rank and serial number and it was decided to go and get him. I was not personally involved, but the Marine was returned without incident.
Collage of Memories
After all this time I'm afraid that sometimes in telling or thinking of an incident I may combine two or even three incidents into one. As I discuss a certain fire fight, I may talk about incidents that happened in several and think that it occurred in a single patrol. I was involved in several fire fights during my tenure in Korea, but as I said before, my "one line diary" was destroyed in a flooded bunker. I did keep a record of when we went on line and came off and the names of some of the reserve area camps. I guess the one that is most on my mind is the night of 11 July 1952 at the foot of Gentry Hill. I have already talked about that. It was the patrol during which I was injured and PFC Smith was killed instantly. All hands performed like Marines and I was and remain very proud of them. All the officers and NCOs that I knew in Korea were very good with the exception of Lt. Jerk T. Foulup as discussed previously. What a nothing!
Now more incidents are creeping into my head. The first fire fight on or about 18 March 1952 will always stand out in my mind. I had only been in Fox Company for a few days when my squad was on patrol and we were ambushed. We sustained several WIAs and killed three or four gooks.
In the month of May, my squad was manning an outpost several hundred yards in front of the main line of resistance (MLR) on a very dark night. We began to receive a lot of incoming mortar and we realized that the gooks (Chinese) were within a hundred yards of us. The gooks were trying to locate our exact position(s) with burp guns, rifles, and mortars. We were under orders to hold our fire. I was reporting our situation to Fox CP, that the gooks were blowing whistles and bugles and yelling and we could see a lantern or two. The telephone line suddenly went dead. Several minutes later by radio I was told that support was on its way in the form of our company's 60mm mortars. After a short period of time the Chinese withdrew. My guess is that the phone line was cut by enemy mortar. We did not suffer any casualties.
In September or October we were on patrol and after we passed a couple of our check points and had alerted the CP via phone of our position, we set up in an ambush. Bob Steigerwald (now deceased) replaced Bill Harlow as Platoon Sergeant on a temporary basis. He was a China Marine and a goofy bastard. But nevertheless, he was a good guy and a good Marine. Since he was new and had not had the pleasure, he asked if he could join us on this stroll through gooksville. About midnight or so, two squads of Chinese walked right up to us. At about ten or fifteen yards, we opened up. We got a lot of them on the initial burst and then a fire fight ensued. About five or ten minutes into the fight, Steigerwald crawled over to me and said, "Ain't it just like the movies!" He passed gas and crawled back to his position. It was now confirmed. He was goofy! As the fight continued, the gooks started to gather their wounded and dead and soon left. The Chinese always, if possible, took their casualties with them. I am pretty sure that we hit at least eight or ten of them. We were lucky--there were only a couple of minor wounds to two Marines. Steigerwald always said, "It's not much of a war, but better than none at all." Perhaps he was right.
I'm not sure when this next incident occurred, but it was perhaps in December of 1952 or January of 1953. It was very cold with the ground covered with a blanket of snow. I took a reinforced squad of 21 men out on patrol. As I remember, some of the guys were: Sgt. Bob Sheets, machine gun squad leader; Cpl. Bill Pennimen, machine gunner; PFC Whitey Surrency, radioman; Col. Bill Harper, fire team leader; PFC H.T. Carter; Cpl. Jim Triana; and I am almost sure that the corpsman was "Elmer Fudd." If I think of any more names, I'll insert them.
We left the gate on the MLR early in the evening on a search and ambush patrol. It was snowing and the cold Manchurian wind from the north was blowing, making visibility difficult at best. It was very difficult to keep our heads up and take the wind and the snow in our face and eyes. My moustache was frozen and it actually had icicles hanging from it. We passed a couple of check-points and then we paid for squinting and protecting our eyes. The Chinese soldiers laying in ambush opened up on us. An instant before the first shot was fired I had turned and was calling for the sound powered telephone to let Fox 6 know that we were near to where we would set up in an ambush. As I turned I was hit with a couple of rounds from their burp guns. The rounds grazed my flak jacket but did not penetrate it. The Chinks really chewed us up for several minutes. It seemed like an eternity. Their initial burst ranked our column. They were on three sides--only our rear was clear. In the first several minutes I had two KIAs and seven or eight WIAs.
We organized our fire and took inventory. I contacted the CP and told them where we were and what was happening. I told them we were pinned down and that I couldn't move because most of the guys who were hit could not walk. We were not going anyplace without them or our KIAs. CP said that we should stay put and a rescue squad would be on its way as soon as possible. Moments later I was told that mortars were on the way and to adjust as appropriate, which I did.
One of the riflemen had been hit in the thigh and was bleeding profusely. Doc was doing his job, but he could not be everywhere. My gloves became soaked in blood and I really couldn't do anything for him with them on. I took the gloves off and used them as a compress while I tried to get a wrap-around bandage ready. This was interrupted several times so I could pick up my weapon and fire and direct the fire of others during the fire fight. I finally got most of the bleeding stopped and the bandage on when the corpsman crawled over and finished putting on the bandage. I think I said to Doc, "Where the hell have you been--just walking around?" I do remember he said, "F--- you, Sergeant." My fingers were damn near frozen before I got my gloves back on. I couldn't pull the trigger immediately because of my fingers. CP advised that a rescue squad was on the way.
If I remember correctly, Sgt. Joe Spanelli headed up the guys coming. About ten minutes later I was told that the Spanelli squad was ambushed and took on casualties. Our mortars and artillery were effective and began (I think) to take a heavy toll on the Chinks. It was a very strange feeling to be laying in the snow with below freezing temperatures and the wind howling and to have one's back soaked in sweat. The Chinese broke it off and left. After making sure that everyone was okay or as close to that as possible, I left Sergeant Sheets in charge and took a fire team (four) and started back down the trail to find and help Spanelli.
When we got to them, the Chinese were gone. As in other instances, the Chinese broke off the engagement without as much as a "by your leave." My opinion is that they started to gather their casualties while their firing diminished, and then just left. It was difficult to assess the situation immediately without moving a couple of our people to where the Chinks were. I didn't like to send anyone into a meat grinder. We went back, gathered up our Marines, and began to move back to our line. Both squads got back to the MLR without incident. I checked on my guys, made a report at the CP, went to the bunkers where the squad was, and spent some time with each. The adrenalin was still flowing. After smoking a pack of Luckies and having a couple of stiff drinks, I fell asleep.
This patrol gave me a few sleepless nights after the event sunk in, as well as some others. (I still think about it even today.) I don't think I dwell on it, but it is one of several incidents that I have dreamed about through the years and as recent as a couple of years ago. I am not really sure why this one stands out in my mind as much as it does. Perhaps it is because they were so close to us when they hit us and the damage they inflicted in such a short time--two KIAs and seven or eight WIAs. Sometimes I can "feel" and "hear" those rounds going by my head and chest and hitting one of my guys behind me. I was proud of the way we responded. I swear that some were returning fire as they were going down to the ground. The squad performed in a super manner. We established fire superiority even though we were outnumbered. Everyone that could was firing at the flashes and a few silhouettes. Our automatic weapons, three BARs, a machine gun and the Thompson that I carried, kept the gooks' heads down. I do not mean to diminish the effect that the M1s had. The riflemen did their job also. I believe that the situation was handled in a professional manner and no one got hurt because of a bad decision(s) by me or the CP. I don't know how or what would have changed the incident. I never kept score, or for that matter don't know if anybody else did. But I "know" that in spite of the initial firing, we inflicted heavy casualties on them.
I have kept in contact with several of the guys that were there. Bill Penniman, Bob Sheets, and Jim Triana have been pen pals and we have exchanged Christmas cards. Sheets disappeared several years ago and we have not heard from him for a long time.
Keeping clean was always a problem and a challenge in a combat zone. If I remember correctly, I had one shower while in Korea. That was while we were in reserve. S/Sgt. Bill Harlow and I, along with one or two others, decided to avail ourselves to cleanliness and make the four or five mile trip back to the showers. We walked and hitchhiked to our objective. The soap and water was a great morale booster and, coupled with the clean clothes--mostly used, we felt almost human again. We walked back to our area in the heat and dust and by the time we reached F-2-7, we were soaking wet from sweat, full of dirt and dust from the road and passing vehicles, almost as filthy as before, and damn tired. We decided that they could keep their showers. (I was on R&R in Kyoto, Japan, for a few days in January of 1953 and, of course, hit the shower and/or bath every day.) Once on line, we rarely changed uniforms. We changed our socks and skivvies every two weeks or so whether they needed changing or not. Most of the time you could say we were ripe.
The rule was that we had to shave every other day while on line, gooks permitting. We washed in "heated" water using our helmets as a wash basin and we shared our water with the other guys. After washing our hands and face and perhaps shaving as well, someone would ask if they could use the water when we were done. He might wash and shave, or maybe wash out a pair of socks. The water was black. But it was rare if the water was not used again and again. When we took what we referred to as a whore's bath or a douche, the only requests for the water was sock laundering. We used canned sterno or a Bunsen burner-type little "stove" to heat water and our C-rations.
While on line, C-rations were about the only source for all of our meals. The gourmet meals were beans and franks, ham and lima beans, and a couple of others that slip my mind. I cannot remember getting any canned fruit while on line. I suspect that the rear echelon boys took all of the cans of fruit and helped themselves to the better canned meals as well. I am sure that they ate a hell of a lot better than the line companies. The only time I had Korean food was while in Seoul, and even then only once. I stuck with American type chow--mostly steak and eggs in Japan. I was not very adventuresome food-wise when I was in my twenties. I think the best meal that I had in Korea was the big omelets we made that I referred to earlier. We missed out on the big feasts as our battalion was on line for all the holidays. I don't know why--just lucky, I guess. The food I missed the most was cheeseburgers and fries, and, of course, any meal prepared by my Mom. After I got home, my brother Ron and I went to his favorite watering hole one night and he kept buying me cheeseburgers. I think I ate three or four.
One evening we were on 100% alert, all hands manning their posts in the trench. Nobody remained in the bunkers. No smoking, fires, or lights of any kind. For some reason I had not eaten much or at all during the day. Somebody gave me a can of something, but it was too dark to read the label. I opened the can and reached into it to find an inch of grease on top. I dug out the grease with my fingers and flicked the stuff off and in front of me. (Maybe a gook would lose his footing on the grease and slide right to me.) Anyway, I had several cold pork sausage patties for dinner that night. No, I didn't enjoy my supper that night. A small force of Chinese infantry was given a warm welcome at our wire at about 2130. They withdrew after a couple of exchanges of fire. I was praying that we would not have to chase them. I was sure that they were waiting for us in an ambush down the trail. We stayed put that night.
My best buddies in Korea were Bill Harlow and Dan Ryan. We were all sergeants in the same platoon at the time and that contributed to our friendship. We shared common problems and challenges. We liked and trusted each other without reservation. I knew that if I needed either of them when the chips were down I could depend upon them, and I knew that they had the same feelings about me. I have already mentioned how much Bill Harlow meant and still means to me. It is difficult for me to stop talking about him, but I'll move on.
Sgt. Dan C. Ryan of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was a World War II Marine. I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with him on R&R in the capitol city of Seoul. Ryan and I became very good friends. During World War II he had participated in several landings on islands occupied by the Japanese. I was senior to him in that I had five days in rank--sergeant--on him. He called me a damn slick arm sergeant. That meant that I did not have four years of service and a hash mark. But he was a good Marine and we never had a problem. We still spend a lot of time talking about World War II and Korea. I remember asking him how the two compared and how much rougher World War II was than Korea. He told me that any time someone is shooting at somebody and shots are fired in anger, it's tough. It doesn't matter which war. They are all a bitch. In reserve one night, Dan asked me if I knew how to play pinochle. After I told him yes, he said, "Come on. We're going to challenge these two guys." It turned out that it was double deck pinochle. I had never played the game in my life (double deck, that is), but I had pretty good card sense. Ryan and I prevailed and our pinochle partnership was born. For some reason we could read each other and anticipate what the other was going to do. We played as often as we were able while in reserve. We rarely were beaten. Dan left Korea a month or two before me. When I reported to my new outfit at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, I walked into the sergeant's quarters and there was Ryan! We teamed up again in double deck pinochle and were invincible.
Our mail arrived on schedule most of the time while on line in Korea. We all looked forward to someone getting a package of goodies from home. The contents were always shared with our bunker mates and close buddies. One of the guys was Italian and his momma sent him a couple of salamis, which were very much appreciated. Others received sausages and other non-perishable items. My mom sent me chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies every couple of weeks. At Christmas we were on line for all the holidays. I asked Mom to send me a small artificial Christmas tree. It arrived a few days before Christmas, along with decorations and ornaments. The package also included a couple dozen of my mother's famous rum ball cookies. I remember we had guys standing in line. They came from miles to sample a rum ball cookie. (Okay--a little exaggeration.) My mother wrote on a regular basis. My brothers sent a letter once in a while, but most of the time they just added a short note in my mother's envelope. My "favorite" letter was received while on line and even after all this time I remember sitting outside of the bunker reading it. It began "Dear Mick," but it really meant "Dear John." I was crushed.
From time to time we had chaplains visit and they conducted church services. Once or twice a chaplain came up to the line and mixed with the troops. I do not recall a religious service while on line at Easter time, Christmas, Thanksgiving, etc. They were, however, available to talk to. I never availed myself to this privilege.
I did not see any American civilians during my tour in Korea. I believe Bob Hope and company, as well as other entertainers, put on USO shows. I saw the army troops enjoyed them, but my outfit never got close. I never saw a representative from the USO, Red Cross or Salvation Army while I was in Korea. This is not intended to be a slam at those organizations. I'm told that they do a damn fine job.
During time off line, the reserve areas were well secured. Korean civilians in those areas were few and far between. My platoon had a young Korean boy named Kim who we "adopted." We fed him and allowed him to sleep in one of our tents. He was a very nice kid. He taught me how to write my name in Korean. I was never sure that when I wrote my name in Korea that I wasn't calling myself, "Yankee Bastard." I never saw or heard of any Korean prostitutes in a reserve area. It was not like MASH. I was unaware of any "red light" districts, but I'm sure if there was a will, there was a way.
On the Marine Corps Birthday (November 10) in 1952, we were on line. As was our custom every holiday, we fired a lot of tracers from all of our weapons. The 60 and 80mm mortars and artillery helped us celebrate. The night of the 11th, the chinks and gooks hammered us. I swear we got two rounds for every one we fired on the 10th. Not a good idea. On my 22nd birthday, 14 November of that same year, we were on line. I remember the night very well. Earlier that day Outpost Detroit was overrun. Detroit Tigers was the password and counter. I was from Detroit and I was leading a search and ambush patrol that night. I had a very foreboding feeling, so much in fact, that it was the only time while in Korea that I took my ring off and asked one of my buddies to send it along with some other personal things to my mother if I didn't make it. The patrol hit all of our checkpoints on time and the ambush position. It was a walk down Main Street, only darker (and colder). I was a happy and grateful camper. I never experienced that kind of feeling again.
I do not recall anyone at any time questioning why we were fighting in defense of South Korea. We were there to do a job and in all but very isolated cases, we performed extremely well. I think most of us had a World War II mentality and that simply put was, we were there because the Corps sent us there. As corny as it sounds, we were also there to defend democracy and stop communism. We just never talked about it. I missed my family and friends and the variety of civilian life. Almost every day in Korea was like it was yesterday.
As I indicated previously, I was in the 18th draft of Marines and as such, I thought that I would be leaving Korea sometime in February 1953. The only thing that might extend my stay would be a big offensive by the Chinese/North Koreans, but that did not occur during my time span.
My battalion went on line on 21 December 1952 until 8 February 1953 and I was being called a "short-timer." I took my regular turn and led several night patrols that were uneventful. And yes, I was a little nervous each time I went through the wire. But I think the gooks were afraid of me (just kidding). I did catch a break, however. I was selected to go on R&R for a week in Kyoto, Japan. I had a great time--showers, clean skivvies, sit-down hot meals every day. While nobody in the Company CP said anything, I have always wanted to believe that it was kind of a reward and to get me off the line. I was very grateful, but damn I felt guilt. However, while I was away nothing happened to any of my guys. We were relieved on 8 February and moved to Camp Myers.
I was told that I would be leaving in a couple of days and to get my gear ready to pack. I had a non-issue side arm that I gave to one of the sergeants (that's how I got it). I had profound mixed emotions on leaving some damn fine people, some of whom I am still in contact with these fifty years later. But I was happy to be going home feeling that I had done the very best that I was capable of doing. Not to sound like a jerk, but no one got hurt or worse because of a bad decision or the lack of a decision that I had made. That felt good. I don't remember the exact date, but I said my goodbyes and headed south to a camp near Pusan.
Upon arriving, weapons and other combat-type equipment were turned in. A round of physicals and exams for worms, lice, and other predators occupied a day or two. We (Marines) boarded an LST and headed for Sasebo, Japan, on 22 February, arriving there on the 23rd. We left for the States on the 24th. I am not sure of the name of the ship. It was one of the old troop ships similar to the General Gordon that I came over on. I shared an area with other USMC sergeants.
All the services were represented aboard ship. There were perhaps a little over a hundred Marines and a couple hundred soldiers, sailors, and airmen also aboard. We Marines kept pretty much to ourselves. There were no organized units that I was aware of. As such, we traveled as individuals with very little supervision or military organization. There was one funny incident. Upon checking the bulletin board, we discovered that listed on the mess duty roster were the names of several USMC sergeants and corporals. Two other sergeants and I were standing there at the roster. We looked at each other and I think we all said "bull-shit" at the same time. The senior Marine officer was a Major. Accompanied by the other sergeants, I indicated that we wanted to see him. I asked him if he was aware that they were trying to put Marine Corps NCOs on mess duty and pointed out that there was an adequate number of privates and PFCs to perform that duty. He looked at us and said that he agreed and that he would remedy the situation. He did.
During the first couple of days at sea, I accompanied an assigned officer and inspected the sea bags and personal gear of the Marines aboard ship, looking for weapons and contraband. We found a couple of side arms (government issued), bayonets, and even two hand grenades! We confiscated them and threw the grenades overboard. Other than that duty, I had nothing to do but read, play cards, watch movies, etc. I think sea sickness was at a minimum since there were no storms or bad weather that I recall.
We arrived in San Francisco on 11 March 1953. I remember going under the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a great sight. As I remember, there was a Navy band and a USO wagon with coffee and doughnuts when we docked. We disembarked and were trucked to the base. I called home and said that I had made it and would be home in a couple of days. I went on liberty that night and enjoyed just being alive and healthy. I got back to the base and got ready to leave for Detroit.
I left San Francisco the morning of 13 March and headed home from the San Francisco airport. I landed at Detroit's Metro Airport approximately nine hours later. My sea bags were misplaced and I was told that they would be delivered to my home later in the evening. That really turned out to be a good deal since I had no luggage to carry around while I looked for a cab. I arrived at home about 1830. The front door was unlocked and I walked in. The family was having dinner and I called out, "What's for dinner?" It was a very happy homecoming. My luggage was delivered by the airline later that evening.
Life After Korea
After my leave I left Detroit for Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I was told while processing in California that I had my choice of duty stations. I selected Great Lakes Naval Station, Illinois and Glenview Naval Air Station, also in Illinois, but later I was advised that I was assigned to the 6th Marines, 2nd Marine Division because they needed sergeants to train the troops. So back to the "grunts." It was okay, but I was a little disappointed.
Most of the guys that I knew were "normal." I drank and smoked a little more than I did before I served, but didn't go crazy like some who return from combat. I felt that I had to get on with my life and did not have the time or the inclination to act like an idiot. Don't misunderstand--some guys just could not cope. We all had our bad dreams and recollections of some traumatic incidents. Some of us just handled it better than others. I believe that my adjustment period back to civilian life was very short. I attribute that to the thirty-day boat ride back to the states and enrolling back to college almost immediately. I was discharged in January and was in school in March. I didn't have time to go through a period like the guys who served in Vietnam or Korea. I did not dwell on my experiences in Korea or the Corps. I understand that some of the guys couldn't shake their military experience, although in many cases I believe that is "Bull." Guys are still wearing utilities and looking for something. I have nothing but contempt for the wannabes who never served but wear uniforms and/or wear combat awards.
I considered staying in and making the Marine Corps a career, particularly when I was told that I qualified--both by education and rank, for OCS. My company and battalion commanders recommended me and my previous evaluations were pretty good, but I was sure that I would return to Korea as a 2nd Lieutenant so I decided to turn their offer down. I was honorably discharged on 25 January 1954 and headed back to my home town of Detroit, Michigan. I was not sure what I wanted to do with my life, go back to college or back to the Corps. I gave it a great deal of thought. My family was pretty well connected with the Police Department and I had a couple of uncles who were judges and others who were politically active. I decided on the Detroit Police Department. I passed all the tests and was waiting for the next class at the Police Academy when another opportunity came along.
One night in mid-February, I was at a party with the four guys I had enlisted with and a number of other high school buddies. One of our buddies that we had played football with suggested that the three of us who had played high school football at Cooley High in Detroit visit him at Hillsdale College, meet the head coach, and consider enrolling and playing football again. Several days later, Ed St. Clair, Bill Gale and I drove to Hillsdale and met with the coach and athletic director, Frank "Muddy" Waters. After a very long conversation with the entire coaching staff and the athletic director, we were offered a free ride to attend Hillsdale. He offered the three of us full scholarships, including room and board. He wanted us to start school on March 1st so that we would be eligible for the upcoming 1954 football season. We agreed, even though classes had already begun. He made arrangements to get us into the required classes.
As might be imagined, we were the talk of the campus--all 750 students. We attended the same classes wearing USMC field jackets (the only winter jackets we had) and we were inseparable. There were a number of veterans on campus who sought us out to welcome us. I think our outlook on life did not differ much from other students. I think that we were all close to World War II years and I believe that a lot of students had family members who served in the war and still had a respect for the veterans. I spent most of my time with former Marines Ed St. Clair and Bill Gale and other veterans. We never experienced the spit-on-the-troops mentality that Vietnam vets did. We had a lot of respect from our fellow students, although I think some of them were frightened of us. There were no anti-war protestors on campus. Hillsdale was a very conservative school that has not, nor will it ever, accept any financial aid from the government. Thus, it is completely free in its approach to education.
My first half semester grades were disastrous. My best grade was a D-minus. I had several F-minuses. (You mean I have to study, not drink beer every night, not go home every weekend, and not cut Friday classes to leave early?) Well, it woke me up. I finished my first semester with a 3.5 average. My economics professor called it "the comeback of the year." He referred to it many times thereafter. I wound up with a 3.6 average at graduation. "If there is a will..." I got involved! I lettered three years in football and baseball and was student assistant coach for varsity basketball. I joined Delta Sigma Phi fraternity and was elected President of the chapter. I was co-founder of the Veterans Club on campus and helped organize and run blood drives and so on. Two years ago, Ed, Bill and I were inducted into the Hillsdale Football Hall of Fame.
While attending Hillsdale, I met and married Joanne Jones, who was also from Detroit. Both of us graduated in 1957. We adopted two great kids, Bradley Allen (born in 1963) and Kimberley Jo (born in 1966). Joanne and I have since divorced and I found a great lady to share the rest of my life with, Joyce. Kim has three children. Brad is still looking. I feel very fortunate, as I am closer to my children than I have ever been. I have three super grandchildren, and the love of a wonderful, super lady, Joyce.
I received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hillsdale, majoring in Economics and Human Relations. I was recruited by Ford Motor Company in 1957 as a graduate trainee for the Industrial Relations staff. I held several jobs while at Ford, including other staff jobs, and Personnel Administrator at Wayne Assembly plant and Ford Motor Credit Company. In 1964 I left Ford for a position as Senior Analyst in Salary Administration for the Michigan Consolidated Gas Company. My last assignment prior to leaving was Manager, Management and College Recruiting. I joined The Bank of the Commonwealth in 1967, located in downtown Detroit, as Personnel Director. In 1970 I moved to Chicago, accepting the position of Vice President, Personnel and Administration at the Pioneer Bank. I moved to Milwaukee in 1984, following my boss at Pioneer Bank to Universal Mortgage Company as Vice President, Administration.
I retired in 1994 and for the past five years have worked part-time at the Little Havana Cigar Shop. I work two days a week totaling 15 hours. The job pays for my golf and scotch, as well as good cigars. The place has become a gathering place for a lot of veterans--mostly Marines, and I enjoy it very much. Joyce says that the job was made in heaven for me. "Where else could you drink coffee all day, smoke expensive cigars, share sea stories with other jarheads, and get paid." I think she is correct!
Joyce and I have spent several weeks the last two years in Boise, Idaho as house guests of very close friends of ours. They have a place in the high desert at the foot of some mountains. Sitting on the patio with a Johnny Walker and a good cigar--a nightly occurrence, my friend Jim Albright and I exchange war stories. Jim is an Army veteran of Vietnam. Many times I have caught myself staring at the mountain pass in front of me. I can hear those damn tinny bugles, visualize their green flares, hear their yelling, and see them coming through the pass. But with a blink or two, they are gone and I am back enjoying my scotch and cigar with my buddy.
I think a year of combat changes anyone who has fired in anger, and that is equally true if the enemy has fired back in anger. I believe that I matured during this period and the experience also brought out any leadership skills that were "buried" within me. As I said, I did not want to be in charge and responsible for anybody but myself. However, I found myself seeking more responsibilities. I served as Squad Leader, Platoon Sergeant, Platoon Guide, and as an acting Platoon Leader. I was and am proud to state that no one got hurt for any decision or lack of a decision that I made in a combat situation. My older brother called me Marine. That made me believe that I had arrived. My parents treated me more like a man, but I was always one of their boys.
I believe that President Truman was justified in sending troops to Korea. I did then and I still believe that this action was correct. I think that it should be remembered that although I was on the tail end, I still was of the World War II generation and that may contribute to my opinion. I believe that our country should honor its treaties and commitments. Although I would like all of our troops out of harm's way, it is necessary as the world power to be present and fly our flag in many places in the world--and that includes Korea. If we do not learn from the past, history tends to repeat itself. The North Korean government and its desire for weapons of mass destruction is a threat to South Korea as well as to the rest of the free world. I don't think that the North Korean President plays with a full deck.
The MIA question is a very complex one. Depending on what you read or listen to, we are doing very little to locate our MIAs. On the other hand, it is said that we have spend a lot of time and effort in this endeavor. I don't what the truth is. Perhaps somewhere in between lies the truth.
Should "Dugout Doug" have gone north of the 38th? Interesting question. As a Marine fighting in Korea, my answer is, "Hell yes". We had the enemy in our sights and on the run and in a rapid retreat to the north. Stopping at the 38th would have only given the North Koreans time to reorganize and re-supply and then hit us again in a massive attack. I think the major mistake that was perpetrated by the USA was inadequately supplying the ROK army with armor and artillery. Perhaps more importantly was our State Department saying words to the effect that Korea was not important to us. Our participation in the Korean War told the communist world that we were willing to fight and honor our commitments to our allies. I believe that the domino theory of that time was a real threat. I believe that the war may not have happened if we had had a stronger foreign policy and had not said stupid things. We told the world that Korea was not important and not worth our involvement, thus leading to the North Korean invasion. I believe that a domino threat still exists. Only some of the players have changed. Instead of Communists it is Muslins/Islam terrorists that threaten the world. Unlike Korea, however, this war is not restricted to one location in the world.
A couple of years ago a friend and I attended a veterans' meeting in the Milwaukee area. During one presentation, the speaker talked about all of the conflicts that the USA had participated in and saluted the veterans of those conflicts. He skipped right over the Korean War and did not mention it. My friend and I, apparently the only Korean vets present, voiced our displeasure and left the meeting. I really don't know why the Korean War is the forgotten war. Perhaps because it occurred so close on the heels of World War II that people assume it was an extension of that war.
My tour in Korea was never a topic discussed at a family dinner. I may have had a few words with my brother Ron (USMC WWII), but not a lot of detail or combat or fire-fight situations. We rarely traded sea stories. I think we both subscripted to the saying, "If you were never there, I can't explain it, and if you were there, I don't have to." I'm not sure that my parents realized that I was in the front lines and in harm's way and that I heard shots fired in anger. I just did not want to talk about it.
I tried to contact my best friend's family after I got back. Bill Harlow (SSgt) was KIA in September 1953. I lost my address book and the only thing that I remembered was that he was from Minnesota. To this day I feel a profound sense of guilt that I did not pursue it and find his family. He was married shortly before leaving for Korea. There were, of course, others. But Harlow and I were very tight. On the other hand, I am still in contact with several guys that I served with in Korea. Bill Penniman, my machine gunner and former SSgt Joe Spinella (machine guns) are recently deceased. Gume Alvarado, Jim Tirana, and I are still in e-mail or telephone contact. About three years ago I got an e-mail from my former Company Commander, Captain Wilber Taylor. We became very close and communicated by e-mail and telephone almost on a weekly basis. Wilber, Major, USMC Ret passed away about a year ago.
Some fifty years later, memories of Korea are still with me. I think most often of the guys I served with. I still correspond with several of them. I truly miss a couple of them that did not make it, particularly Bill Harlow. And how could anyone forget the cold and the mountains? But I really have no desire to revisit Korea. Several of my friends have returned to Korea and stated that the trip was very rewarding. These former Marines told me that they were treated like kings and received gifts from the people and their gratitude. The Commandant of the Korean Marine Corps had a luncheon for them and awarded each of them with a medal and several gifts for their service. Before he left for a visit to Korea, I asked a friend of mine, Art Anich, also a member of the Wisconsin Chapter, 1st Marine Division Association, to look for my cigarette lighter that I lost on patrol one night. When Art returned he said that he looked but could not find the lighter, so he brought me a pair of chop sticks instead. Oh well, at the time it was kind of funny. (Ya had to be there.)
I met a lot of heroes--hell, I served with a lot of heroes in Korea. I never saw a Marine or corpsman who did not do his job under fire. Oh, I had to encourage a guy or two to start firing his weapon during a fire fight on one or more occasions, but after I "explained" things to him, he did his job. I had a radioman (won't mention his name) like that. Every time we went out on patrol, I stepped aside when we got to the gate to ensure that we had everybody. When the last man went through, I hustled to my position heading the column and behind the point and we moved out. When he approached me at the gate, this radioman would say, "Sarge, I can't make it. I'm sick." And more than once he would throw up. I cocked my weapon, shoved it in his stomach, and told him that if he didn't get his ass out the gate and catch up, I'd shoot him where he stood. He grimaced, mumbled something that I knew I didn't want to hear, and walked out of the gate. Once in front of the wire and if we engaged the gooks or not, he was a hell of a Marine. He was a good man. The heroes were those Marines who made the supreme sacrifice, but many Marines did heroic deeds. Every time we got into a fire fight, engaged the enemy at an outpost or in any manner, there were guys who stood up and were counted. And the corpsmen were always there for us when we needed them.
I think the training that Marines receive is the best of any military organization. I thought I was well prepared for a combat role. Even though most of my training was amphibious and jungle warfare, the basics were there. Teamwork, discipline, and depending on one's unit is the cornerstone of Marine Corps training. Even though "fighting" at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was a "little" different that the mountains and snow of Korea, the lessons taught were put to good use.
During my tenure with Fox-2-7, we were awarded two Presidential Unit Citations and a Naval Unit Citation. I have since lost the citation write-ups and cannot remember the actual dates or engagements. All I remember is the phrase, "against enemy forces," etc. As I indicated earlier, I received a Purple Heart, or as we referred to it, a "Chinese Sharp Shooter's Medal." I was told that I was written up for a Bronze or Silver Star, but evidently the paperwork fell between two chairs. Now, fifty years later, I am very proud of my service and of the recognition that I received. I enjoy putting on my Marine Corps League uniform and wearing the eleven ribbons that I am authorized to wear.
Defining my time in Korea is rather tough to answer. It was a traumatic experience, however there were some good times also. The time in reserve was generally acceptable. I was chosen to get a little R&R in Japan. I can't remember how many days I had on R&R, but it was a welcomed relief. And I did, almost, forget the line time. On line or manning an outpost was always hairy waiting for the enemy to come calling either with infantry or artillery, especially when I took my turn and took a patrol out. Usually it was a search and destroy mission or sitting up an ambush or a combination of the two. I remember one particular night (it was my birthday) Outpost Detroit was hit. Detroit Tigers was the password and countersign and I was from Detroit. I thought there were too many Detroits that day and that it would be the day that I was going to have a problem. But we made it with no contact that night.
For about fifteen years after being discharged I belonged to no veteran groups, primarily because I didn't know any Marine groups existed. I joined the American Legion while in college because they had a bar and the vets went there to party as it was frowned upon to drink in the town bars. When I moved to Milwaukee, I meet a couple of former Marines who sold me on joining the Marine Corps League. I served in several offices and am currently the immediate past Commandant of Badger Detachment, MCL. I am also currently the vice president and a board member of the Marine Corps Coordinating Council of Wisconsin, President Wisconsin Chapter, 1st Marine Division Association, Vice President, Military Order of Devil Dogs, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Fox 2/7 Association, VFW, and the American Legion. I am active in the Marine organizations. Joyce and I attend the 1st Mar Div reunions each year. This year we will be in Philadelphia.
It is true that once a Marine always a Marine. It starts in boot camp and lasts a life time. It is perpetuated through Marine veteran organizations. In ninety percent of situations when passing a Marine on the street or whatever, just say, "Semper Fi, Mac," and you will spend some talking to him and have a new buddy. Just before Christmas I was in a department store shopping for Joyce. I had a 2/7 cover on and a guy stopped me and said the magic words. He was Nam vet. We ended up with tears in our eyes talking about Marines who didn't make it. In parting I said, "Welcome home." He replied, "Stay warm."
I have received nothing but respect for my service--no more and no less than World War II veterans received. But one must remember that almost everyone in America had a relative serving in World War II. Also, our "Greatest Generation" served--in many cases spending three or four years in combat. While in Korea most of us fought for a year or a year and a half.
Should a student someday find this memoir and use it to write a term paper or whatever, I would hope that he or she would see that I am proud of my service in the Korean War. I would hope that the student would not spin my opinions and beliefs. The Korean War was righteous at the time and in my mind it was necessary. I still hold that opinion. To sum up the whole experience, I guess I would have to say, "I wouldn't do it again for a million dollars, but I wouldn't trade the experience for a million dollars either."