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Richard A. Olson
Arizona City, AZ-
"Recalling this hasn't been easy for me. I don't normally live with such memories. They have been buried deep in my subconscious for many, many years. Many of the things I have written here have never been discussed at length with anyone since I left Korea. Who would ever begin to comprehend."
- Richard A. Olson
My name is Richard A. Olson of Arizona City, Arizona. I was born July 25, 1930, in St. Paul, Minnesota, the son of Alex W. and Jane Culver Olson. I have one sister Janet, who is three years younger than me. Our father was a letter carrier for the US Postal Service.
I attended grade school at Randolph Heights school in St. Paul, Minnesota. I attended Central High in St. Paul, graduating in 1948. During my high school years (1944-48), I had a paper route working for the St. Paul Dispatch-Pioneer Press. In 1947-48, I worked in the mail room at the Farmers Union Credit Union in St. Paul.
I was a Cub Scout from 1940 to 1942 and in the Boy Scouts from 1942 to 1947. During World War II in 1943-45, our main scouting project was retrieving and saving paper, especially newspapers, for the war effort. We canvassed the neighborhoods collecting papers. I remember loading up my dad's 1936 Plymouth like it was a truck and he hauled the papers down to be turned in. I don't remember much school support of the war effort, although we had assemblies where war heroes came and talked. We were also encouraged to save change with which to buy stamps and war bonds.
None of my family members were in World War II. Dad had served in the Marine Corps in World War I. He was wounded twice serving with the 5th Regiment, the same regiment I was with when I was wounded 33 years later in Korea.
I was in the Naval Reserve only because my neighborhood buddies belonged, but as early as the fourth grade I had decided to follow in my dad's footsteps and be a Marine. I wanted to join not just because of my dad, but also because of the fact that they were by far and away the best. (It was kind of like a football player dreaming of playing for Notre Dame.) My mom cut down my dad's "greens" and I often wore them to school.
When the recruiting station was having a drive to get up a platoon from St. Paul, I decided to join. Although we were not all close friends, there were over 25 of us from St. Paul who went in at the same time. Twenty-five did not make up a full platoon. My parents were in favor of me joining. In fact, they had to sign for me as I was still 17 years old when I signed up. I joined on 22 July 1948 and I turned 18 on the three-day train ride to MCRD San Diego. Nobody I knew traveled with me to boot camp. They seemed like brothers after completing boot.
In the first moments at boot camp, we were braced at attention and hazed by a tiny (about 110 pounds) Corporal named Judy. It happened so suddenly, I think we were all shocked by the language and this little guy slapping the crap out of anybody stupid enough to question anything he said. During the first day, they more or less got our attention. We were issued dungarees and a few toilet articles. The recruit depot grounds and buildings were beautiful. There were Spanish tile roofs on the barracks. But we hardly had time to notice that when they were running our tails off.
Staff Sergeant Elmer Radmer was the senior DI. His assistant was Corporal Huffman. There were more, but none stayed with us the full ten weeks except Radmer and Huffman. Sergeant Radmer often loudly and harshly stated that we had better give our souls to God because our asses belonged to him. I honestly believed he could have murdered one of us and gotten away Scot free. He worked us hard, drilled us into the ground, and had our complete attention for ten whole weeks. After 51 years, I still remember the names of these two DIs. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what they did for me.
During those ten weeks, we learned a lot. Every day there were hours of close order drill and hours of classroom activity covering subjects from personal hygiene to map reading to history of the Marine Corps and on and on. We arose at 0400 and fell into a formation outside the barracks at about 0415. There was an inspection by the DI with much chewing out and sending deficient personnel double-timing around the formation singing out, "I'm a Shit Bird" over and over. Breakfast was at about 0500 and then it was back on the tarmac drilling by 0530. We drilled until 0900. From 0900 to 1145 we went to classes. Some training was in classrooms (there were a number of documentary films but it's been so long I don't remember much about them). Most of our training was in the field. Noon chow was 1145 to 1215. Then there were more classes from 1300 to about 1700, when evening chow went. The food was mediocre for taste, but more than adequate for nourishment. From 1800 to 2200 there was more drill. Lights out was at 2200.
We were allowed to go to church if we wished. Some went just to get away from the harshness of the routine, I suppose, but I think a lot went for spiritual reasons. The DIs didn't bother us in church. There was no time to have "fun" during boot camp. There was no free time at all, other than if we went to church. We were in a group from the day we entered boot until the day we graduated. There were no liberties like the Navy boots or passes as the Army called them.
There was corporal punishment every day. There isn't room here to write all of the incidents that I could tell. One incident might tell the story. It was about the sixth week. We were in front of the barracks for rifle inspection at 4 a.m. Radmer took the rifle of Jalutka, the fourth man in the first rank. There were four ranks. Jalutka's rifle had an ant crawling up the barrel. Sergeant Radmer slammed the butt of the rifle into Jalutka's gut, laying him out cold on the tarmac. Radmer then turned and continued down the line inspecting rifles. He completed the first rank, then the second, third, and fourth. All the while Jalutka was still out. There were probably a dozen guys whose rifles weren't perfectly clean circling the platoon singing the "I'm a Shit Bird" song. Radmer returned to the front and began chewing us out, looked down at Jalutka, and had the men adjacent to him help him to his feet. He then ordered Jalutka to circle the platoon. When Jalutka didn't run at a pace to please Radmer, Radmer turned and planted a kick right to Jalutka's rear end, laying him out again. An ambulance came from the dispensary and they hauled Jalutka off on a stretcher.
I was personally punished frequently for stupid mistakes. It would take a book to express each incident. I never got hit as hard as Jalutka was, but they had my attention all the way. Every day there were many incidents of punishment. Mostly the trend was toward teaching us to work together and avoid making mistakes that would cause everybody to face punishment. Individual punishment ranged from being punched to humiliation to work details. A favorite was to make a recruit water all the palm trees along the parade ground. The parade ground was more than a mile long with a palm tree about every 100 feet. The boot had to fill a bucket in the barracks, haul it to the first tree, and dump it. Then return and get one to the next tree. And then the next and the next, etc. It took an entire day of back and forth to water each tree. Again, the point was to teach us to work as a unit and it was a very effective way to make a unit out of us.
Collective discipline occurred regularly. Again, the point was to teach us to work together. When a few screwed up, we all paid for it. That way the resentment of the innocent became an inspiration for the guilty to square away. (As I was to learn later in combat, Marines can depend on each other.) Nobody would have dared to be defiant or a troublemaker. Most of the incidents involved stupid mistakes in response to the demands of the DIs. The number of incidents dissipated as we progressed on schedule and learned to work together. Those who were failing were set back on the schedule to repeat the area they were lax in. I don't know how many didn't finally make it.
There were no black recruits in our platoon. The Marine Corps integrated in 1950. But even then there were very few blacks. I don't recall seeing any in Korea. As for discrimination, Chesty Puller said it all when he stated, "There are no black Marines or white Marines. There are only green Marines."
We trained with our rifles on the rifle range and were expected to pass a proficiency test. Marines fired rifle qualifying from 200, 300, and 500 yards. The Army didn't go past 300 yards. I made sharpshooter, which was substantial at the time, because the NRA paid Marines $5 a month for qualifying as a sharpshooter. I would have gotten $10 if I had made expert. If I remember, my monthly pay from the Corps at the time was $35 a month.
Upon completion of boot camp, there was a formal parade and on that day we got to wear our dress blues for the first time. I definitely left boot camp feeling like a Marine. For me, the hardest thing about boot camp had been the physical endurance needed to get through. There were times when I had strong doubts about my decision to join the Marine Corps, but as boot camp progressed I got over it and was proud of my emblems when I earned them.
After boot camp ended, we were given a 10-day leave. Since we hadn't had occasion to spend any money during the ten weeks of boot, we had almost three month's pay accumulated. I purchased train tickets to return home during boot leave. After leave was over, I went back to San Diego and received orders to Marine Barracks, Naval Ammunition Depot, Hawthorne, Nevada. I remained there until I went to Korea in 1950.
Memories of Boot Camp - written in the year 2000 by Dick Olson
War Breaks Out
Hawthorne, Nevada had the world's largest naval ammunition depot. It covered 365 square miles of ammunition igloos, docks, and ammo production buildings. The base was in the process of demilling ammunition left over from the war in the Pacific. They steamed out the explosives and salvaged the metal shells for scrap. The scrap was then sold. The proceeds more than paid for the entire operating costs of the base. Our job was to provide security for the base.
The Marine Barracks was a guard company of approximately 130 men. During my time at Hawthorne, I served as a sentry in tower watches in the ammunition area, then as a sentry on the main gate, and then as a patrol driver providing security and enforcement of traffic laws in the Naval Housing area of the base. In April of 1950 I was promoted to Corporal and stood Corporal of the Guard watches in the three guard houses of the base.
The Korean War was about a month along when the base received a dispatch from Headquarters Marine Corps instructing that a percentage of the command be transferred immediately to Camp Pendleton for duty with the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. I was the Corporal of the Guard at Guard House #3 located in the ammunition area. The phone rang and I was informed that a Jeep was on the way to pick me up as I was being transferred. The US Army was failing badly in Korea and General MacArthur had requested that a division of Marines be sent immediately. Due to the cutbacks of the military after World War II, there was substantially less than a regiment available at Camp Pendleton and in order to form even a brigade, a percentage of every Marine command in the western states was dispatched to Pendleton, as we were. Consequently, there was a stream of Marines coming into Pendleton.
There was no time for leave or even contact with my folks. When I hung up the phone in the guard house the Jeep was already pulling up in front. I was hustled back to the barracks and about 25 of us were processed for transfer and on a bus to Camp Pendleton that very night. We took a bus to Las Vegas where we were transferred to a Greyhound bus for LA and Camp Pendleton.
We were split up and placed into various units of the 5th Marine Regiment. I was placed in "Able" Company. A good friend from Hawthorne--Sgt. Willie Lang--was one of the 25 who left Hawthorne with me when we joined the Brigade. He was in our sister company, Baker Company. Willie had joined the Marine Corps in 1938 and had gone to the Philippines, where he was captured by the Japanese when World War II broke out. He survived the Bataan Death March, and spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp in Japan. After the war he recuperated and went to the Marine Barracks in Hawthorne where I knew him as a sergeant of the guard. Now he was on his way to another war in the Pacific.
Another acquaintance from Hawthorne was named Spencer. He had gone through boot camp when I did, but with a different platoon. After boot leave, we were both among about 15 sent to Hawthorne. When we got to Hawthorne, Spence was assigned to the sergeant in charge of the PX. We weren't bosom buddies or anything, but I knew him and the girl he was talking about marrying. Her name was Betty Fraser. Spence was among the group I went to Camp Pendleton with, and there he and I and Koslowski were placed in the 3rd platoon of Able Company. The Marine Corps was very frugal and gave the taxpayer the biggest bang for his buck. At the end of World War II when the other services abandoned vehicles and equipment rather than ship them back to the States, the Marine Corps gathered up all it could and stored it at the supply depot in Barstow, California. On our arrival at Pendleton, we were issued weapons and cartridge belts that came from Barstow. They were World War II vintage and were preserved in cosmoline. We had to clean them completely. Spence was a BAR man and carried an oversized cartridge belt to accommodate the 30-round BAR magazines. He was also very meticulous. The magazines were packed in cosmoline and had red cellophane wrappers. When Spence cleaned the magazines he placed the cellophane wrappers back over them to act as dust covers. He was assigned to the same transport as I was for the trip to Korea. We were issued 782 gear--rifle, cartridge belt, canteen, etc. There was little time for training. We loaded on a troop ship within a week. I didn't have a girlfriend or wife at the time. I was 19 and unattached.
The Brigade Arrives
I'm not sure of the exact date we shipped out. Things were happening so fast it was like a whirlwind. I believe it was about the 5th of July. I was on a troop ship named the USS Henrico. The crew was swabbies (Navy) and all troops on board were Marines and Navy hospital corpsmen. We had a battalion aboard. I wasn't aware of any cargo other than food stock and so forth.
I had never been on a large ship before, but it didn't hit very rough weather so I never got seasick. It took about 30 days to get to Korea, but that is because we had to return to San Francisco for repairs and lost several days in transit. The first day out we turned north and put in to the shipyard at "Hunter's Point" in the bay area for repairs to the screws. We were there for about two days, then put back out to sea and caught up with the convoy we had left San Diego with just before it and we arrived in Korea.
The ship was like a cattle car. A number of my buddies from guard company in Hawthorne were aboard. Spencer, Koslowski, and I hung together for the ride over, even after I was switched from the third platoon to the first platoon. There were 150 men bunked in a space probably no larger than 40x40 feet. There were metal-framed canvass bunks from floor to ceiling. I weighed only 150 pounds and was very slim, but when I lay in my sack, my nose and feet were within inches of the bunk above me. Conditions were gross down there. Good hygiene wasn't practical and the place just stunk. There was nowhere to go on the ship where we could be alone. In order to eat we had to stand in line for hours. I had no duty on the ship. I just rode it all the way across the Pacific. We were tracked by a Russian sub for several days about halfway across, but nothing came of it. I spent my 20th birthday in July 1950 aboard the Henrico. It didn't amount to much of a celebration. A few friends pounded my arm 20 times.
Spence and I found a haven up on the fan tail of the ship behind the spud locker. We stayed up there and slept on the deck at night rather than suffer the stinking hold. We talked a lot on those many evenings and got very close. I remember one night we were talking about what might happen in the coming months and Spence expressed a thought that deeply impressed me because it was exactly how I myself was thinking. He said that he could expect that many friends among us might be about to be injured or even killed, but that somehow he didn't feel it would happen to him. Going to Hollywood movies where the hero always survived and won out in the end seemed to have programmed us to be very naive rather than being aware of our mortality.
We arrived in Korea on 2 August 1950 at the port of Pusan. It was late afternoon. We stayed on board until the following morning. My first impression of Korea was that it was beautiful. The hills behind Pusan were green with vegetation in red clay, which contrasted with an impressive effect. It was very similar to the area around St. George, Utah or Sedona, Arizona. We knew we were in a war zone, but it wasn't obvious because Pusan was about 20 miles from the front. I gave no thought as to whether or not Korea was a country worth fighting for--that kind of thought was for politicians. My objective was surviving and the respect of my buddies.
We got off the ships and formed up the regiment on the dock. I observed Korean dock workers on the docks, but had no contact with any of the natives. In the following days, we saw lots of refugees. They were mostly people walking toward the south--I presume to escape the fighting. Years later I talked with a Korean whose family had walked all the way from Seoul to Pusan. There were rumors of enemy infiltrators mixed in with the refugees, but I never saw any.
Before leaving the ship, I had been assigned to 2nd fire team, 2nd squad, 1st platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Brigade, Reinforced. I was the fire team leader. Fire teams consisted of four men--a Corporal in charge, one rifleman carrying an M1, an Assistant BAR man carrying an M-1 plus extra BAR ammunition, and a BAR man carrying a belt of BAR magazines. The BAR was an automatic weapon capable of rapidly firing 30 rounds from a magazine or, if the BAR man was good, he could squeeze off a single shot if that was all that was necessary. I personally carried an M1 rifle, bayonet, several bandoliers of ammo, and two hand grenades.
That first night ashore, of course we were nervous. There was artillery firing in the distance and we had no idea what to expect. We dug foxholes on high ground and set in for the night. Somebody in the area was shot during the night. He had moved out of his hole to relieve himself and was mistaken for enemy. I didn't know him.
The weather was very hot and very humid. We wore canvass dungarees and our sweating soaked through them. Then as we walked, trucks and tanks passing on the dirt roads kicked up a heavy layer of dust which settled on us and, mixing with our sweat, turned to mud. We looked like apparitions covered with mud when it hadn't rained since we had arrived.
At first we mostly heard rumors that the Army was generally fleeing in the face of the enemy. We referred to them as track stars because they tended to run a lot. I remember passing an artillery unit which had been overrun the night before. There were about five dead soldiers lying beside the road. It seems an infantry company in front of the artillery had bugged out without a word to the artillery. Only at my grandfather's funeral had I ever seen death before coming to Korea. I had never actually witnessed someone's death before Korea, either.
There was a lot of animosity between Army and Marine over gained/lost ground in the Pusan Perimeter. As far as I know, the animosity was strictly a verbal thing, but it was heartfelt. We lost casualties taking back ground the Army gave up. Our regimental commander, Lt.Col. Ray Murray, was to go on to the rank of Major General in the 1960s. Rumor had it that he was medically retired because he refused to play military politics and quit making derogatory comments about the performance of the Army in Korea. I cannot verify that that is true, but if it is, I can certainly understand his persistence on the subject.
I think it was the second night that we saw the enemy. We had climbed to the high ground to dig in for the night and on the skyline of a ridge several ridges away we could see enemy troops digging in. Within a few days of our arrival we were ordered to attack from Masan, with the objective of reaching a town called Chinju. It was the first "offensive" action by American troops in the Korean War. We rolled back a North Korean armored division. Actually, our Marine Corsair pilots caught the armored division climbing a mountain road in convoy. The planes bombed the head of the convoy--stopping its progress, then attacked the rear of the convoy, sealing off the whole convoy on that road. Then they bombed the convoy at will, decimating it. We came upon the convoy some hours later. No survivors were present. I remember a lot of Jeeps, blue in color. It was speculated that they were given the Jeeps, which were left over from World War II, by the Russians.
My only close encounter with our tanks was early during the Pusan Perimeter campaign. We were on a road winding over a hill and received fire from the hill. We had a tank with us and he turned his turret in that direction and fired a round. I was standing on the hill behind and above the tank. I didn't know that the muzzle blast on a tank was channeled around to the rear of it. I soon found out. I couldn't hear a thing for several minutes.
We never reached Chinju. When we reached the outskirts, we were suddenly pulled off the attack on orders of General MacArthur. The North Koreans had broken through the Army lines on the Naktong River and Pusan and actually the whole peninsula was in jeopardy. So MacArthur directed that we counterattack on the Naktong. I never actually saw the river. I saw a lot of enemy dead from the Corsair attack, and then I saw my first dead Marine when we went on the attack on the Naktong. I had what I guess you would call a morbid curiosity about the dead soldiers and the North Koreans. But the dead Marine--well, that infuriated me. I didn't know his name, but I recognized him as a Marine from Dog Company. They had made the initial assault. When we attacked we were pinned down momentarily by incoming mortars. He was lying about 10 feet up the hill in front of me. He had been shot square between the eyes.
I don't know about the ages of the enemy, but I do know that they were good tacticians and either brave or over-confident. It might have been their successes against the Army made them over-confident. We were the first to stop them cold and aggressively attack them. But I think they had to have had courage the way they aggressively counterattacked us on the Naktong. They were exceptional marksmen with mortars, but they weren't able to employ their mortars extensively against us because of their respect for our air cover from the Corsairs.
Although I didn't have that close a contact with them, I was aware that some ROK Marines were attached to us. We thought they were pretty unorganized. Many years later I heard that they became some of our sharpest allies in Vietnam. We also had Korean stretcher bearers attached to us to carry our wounded to the medical aid station. That's how I was carried off Obong-ni.
Prior to making the attack on Obong-ni Ridge, we spent two days in an area between Masan and Miryang. I believe that was the same place the whole division came to after the Reservoir. It came to be known as the "Bean Patch." On the 17th of August the 1st battalion passed through the 2nd battalion in assaulting Obong-ni ridge overlooking the Naktong River. The 2nd battalion had formed a skirmish line, valiantly assaulted the hill, and made the top. But their casualties were so heavy that we had to continue the assault. There were only 20 men still standing from 2nd battalion after they reached the top. I don't know how many were killed and how many wounded, but there were a lot of both. As we left the road and entered the rice paddy, we had to cross to get to the base of the hill. I came face to face with General Craig. He shook our hands and wished us well. Tears were streaming down his face. Obviously, the losses of the 2nd battalion weighed heavily on him, and now he was sending us to possibly the same fate. I was barely 20 years old. Up to this point any officer represented almost a form of deity to me. To meet a general under these conditions showing such compassion--I can tell you I developed an immediate admiration of that man which holds to this day.
We started up the hill and weren't halfway up when a machine gun opened up on us about 20 yards on our front. We all hit the deck. My fire team was in the second squad under Sergeant Miller. As I was holding my breath, Lt. Robert Sebilian, our platoon leader, motioned to Sergeant Forsythe and the first squad and he rose and led them in a charge on the gun. They overran it and knocked it out. I'm not sure of the exact casualties, but no more than three effectives in the first squad reached that gun. Everyone else was wounded, and all but Lieutenant Sebilian were hit below the knee. The Lieutenant was hit in the thigh--an ugly-looking wound that appeared to have penetrated his thigh bone. I helped Gunny Mac (Gunnery Sergeant Orville McMullen--our platoon sergeant) place him on a stretcher. He screamed in pain when we lifted him, and I have felt guilty about that all these years. In the year 2001, Bob Sebilian responded to a mailing of a company organ, stating, "Dick Olson saved my life when I got shot at Obong Ni, Pusan Perimeter, 17 August 1950." He recovered from his wounds enough to return to "limited duty" and retired as a Major. I have no knowledge of Lieutenant Sebilian being recommended for a medal for his action, but in my opinion it certainly warranted one. Plenty of medals have been awarded for far less.
The Brigade was infused with veterans of the World War II. Lt. Sebilian and Gunny Mac both had experience in the Pacific in the Second World War. Sebilian had been awarded a Silver Star at Bougainville, and Gunny Mac had been on Guadalcanal and every other battle of the 1st Marine Division in World War II. He was a very stabilizing influence for all of us in the platoon.
At that point Gunny took over the platoon and we continued the attack. We made the top of the hill without further resistance and dug in for the night. After a while three T-34 tanks came down the road on our right front. There was a junction at the base of the hill. One of the tanks turned right at the junction and came right toward us along the base of the hill. He stopped and sat rotating his turret and occasionally cranking off a round at us. None hit right among us, but he did have us pretty shook up for a while. The Corsairs were apparently back aboard the carrier refueling and reaming as some Air Force P-51st came in to attack the tank. They weren't very aggressive as they didn't seem to want to go below a thousand feet or so, and they made their runs perpendicular to our lines instead of parallel. After the third pass or so, one fired his machine guns right on up the hill and hit someone over in the third platoon's area. The P-51's were vehemently asked to leave the area. The tank finally backtracked to the junction and followed the first two tanks. I heard much later that a kid in weapons company named Alvarez knocked it out with a rocket launcher.
The close air support from our Marine Air Wing was fantastic. Those guys were so good they could lay ordnance within yards of us with enough discrimination to kill enemy and leave us untouched. The first time I saw their action in Korea, I was lying prone in a rice paddy. We were pinned down by a machine gun. All of a sudden I heard the damnedest roar and something flashed by above and to my right. It was a Corsair, so low he couldn't have put his wheels down--there just wasn't that much room between him and the ground. He pulled up without firing. He was making a dry run to show he was on target. I looked back and a second plane was coming in. He released what looked like a gas tank and pulled on up. The tank passed over us about 15 feet in the air. It was whirling end over end and making a loud whooshing noise. (I thought it was a gas tank because I had never seen napalm before.) It hit the ground and splattered into the machine gun nest. We then got up and walked away without a single casualty. In the months to come, I can say those guys saved my life on at least seven or more occasions.
I quickly discovered that being in combat was absolutely nothing like the movies. War is a total nightmare beyond imagination or comprehension. No phony Hollywood writer has ever come close to describing it. That includes the recent crap, "Saving Private Ryan."
That night we tied in with Baker Company on our right and what was left of the second platoon on our left. They were in a kind of saddle that went over to a knoll where the third platoon's line started. C. J. Reynolds and I were in a hole together and the machine gunner named Spino was set up in the hole next to us. We were in a 50 percent watch and I took the first watch until about midnight, when I woke C. J. and went to sleep. The next thing I knew C. J. was waking me and all hell was breaking loose on our front. The Koreans were coming up the hill in force right into the second platoon. Someone threw out a flare grenade of some kind and the hill lit up and showed a slew of them coming up the hill. We started firing into them until the flare went out. The Koreans burst right through the second platoon and Gunny passed the word for us to fall back and form a perimeter to protect Baker Company's flank.
There was no moon and it was pitch black. The Koreans were in front of us, behind us, and among us. They were throwing grenades and the grenade primers arched as they came toward us. In the black of night, each one looked like it was going to land right at our feet, even the ones that were actually a long way away. Obviously we were very excited, and like a couple of damn fools, we whispered as we approached Baker Company. They probably heard us and thought we were Koreans. Suddenly there was an explosion and a blinding flash in my face. C. J. and I were shoulder to shoulder and he screamed, "Ole, I'm hit." The kid from Baker Company who shot him started screaming, "I shot a Marine. My God. I shot a Marine."--or something like that. Again, it was so dark. I got down on my knees and found C. J.'s belt and worked my hands up to his neck where it turns out he was hit. By then he was gone. This was the time that I felt that I was in the most personal danger in Korea. C. J. and I were side by side in the dark on the Naktong. It could just as easily have been me who was killed.
Gunny got me calmed down and put me in a hole among Baker Company. It was starting to get light. There was a sergeant (I think his name was Licheski) from Baker in the hole just above me on the hill. The Koreans had turned one of our machine guns on us and Licheski and I started firing up into the area where the machine gun fire was coming from. I stayed there for I guess about an hour and Ski and I were doing pretty good. He'd come up and crank off a round and yell a target down to me and I'd come up and fire. We got a pretty good rhythm going and I'm sure we got a few hits. Then one of the officers yelled down for us to quit firing on that area as Able Company was going to be coming through there.
Actually, it was the third platoon coming through, but I thought gunny was taking off and had forgotten me, so I jumped up at high port like a big stupid gooney bird and started running to catch up. Next thing I knew I was on my back with a corpsman in my face telling me I wasn't going to die. Our corpsman on the Naktong was named McMinn or something similar to that. (We perceived the Navy corpsmen as Marines. They were sensational.) McMinn turned and told someone I wasn't to have morphine as I had been shot in the stomach. The wound wasn't painful at the time I received it. I suppose I was in shock. Actually, I was scared I was going to die. It didn't start hurting until much later, and even then it was only like a cut.
During the 1st battalion's assault on Obong-ni, we lost many. Most of our first squad were wounded. C. J. was killed, as were others, and I was among the wounded. Among the killed in action was also my Henrico shipmate, Spencer. When we went up on Obongni ridge right after Gunny Mac took over the platoon, we were pinned down briefly by a mortar attack. We were in good defilade at the time and didn't take any casualties from the mortars. But months later Koslowski told me what was going on in the third platoon at probably the same moments. They were moving up the hill when a mortar hit right amongst them. Ski was knocked to the ground, dazed by the concussion. When he got back up and got his bearings, he looked around to see if anyone was hit. One guy's back was all bloody. Ski asked him if he was all right and he answered yes. Turns out the blood wasn't his. The mortar must have been a direct hit on Spencer and blown him to pieces. There were bits of red cellophane scattered about. Apparently every magazine in his cartridge belt had exploded.
When I returned to Hawthorne, I never pursued this with Betty. I was afraid it would only shake her up. In fact, a PFC I supervised named Christensen took up with her and married her. He went to work for the telephone company in Hawthorne and stayed there. They are still married. Recalling this hasn't been easy for me. I don't normally live with such memories. They have been buried deep in my subconscious for many, many years. Many of the things I have written here have never been discussed at length with anyone since I left Korea. Who would ever begin to comprehend.
A major reason for the vehemence of the animosity towards MacArthur and the Army relates to the fact that the Army had been defending Obongni--with all the advantages--dug in on high ground overlooking the river, being able to watch the enemy cross the river and climb toward them, exposed to their fire. And yet, the Army fled. After we retook the ridge, it was turned back over to the Army and in less than two weeks the Brigade was called upon to attack Obongni Ridge again because the Army had bugged out a second time. I was not in Korea for the retaking of the ridge. I left when I was wounded and didn't return for several months. The Brigade went on to fight the second battle of the Naktong and was later integrated into the 1st Marine Division to participate in the Inchon landing. The Brigade received the Presidential Unit Citation and it was awarded again to the division for Inchon and the Reservoir.
Recovery and Return
At the battalion aid station, some Navy doctor said they wouldn't be able to do anything for me there, so I was put in a 4x4 ambulance with about six other guys. One of them died before we hardly got underway and shortly thereafter, I passed out. When I came to, an Army doctor was standing over me. He said I would recover okay, but he couldn't have put a scalpel where that bullet penetrated without doing major damage. There were no shattered bones involved. (Maybe that's why the pain wasn't severe.)
From the MASH unit we went on a train to Pusan. I needed to use the bathroom, so I got up off my stretcher and found one at the end of the car. Then I returned to my stretcher. When we got to Pusan, we were placed on our stretchers in rows in what I guess was the lobby of a large building. Gunny Hodge from our company had gotten up off his stretcher and circulated around looking for people he knew. He came upon me and asked if I could get up. I said I didn't know if I should or not, but that I had been up on the train. He said to get up and come with him, so I did. We left the building and went next door to where an Army unit had a mess hall. We went into their warehouse and grabbed armfuls of cans of Vienna sausage and pigged out. (We'd been on C-rations up until then.) We ate so much Vienna sausage that I can't stand the thought of it to this day. Though they originally thought I had a gut wound--I guess that's what that doctor meant about the scalpel--it must have been in my lower intestines or something, because all those Vienna sausages never even gave me heartburn.
The next day we boarded a hospital ship. It was British and its name was the HMS Main. Gunny and I walked up the gangplank. There were several British doctors sitting at a table there. One looked at my bandages and commented, "I say. Should you be walking?" I assured him I felt okay and we walked up the gangplank. It took all day to get to Osaka, Japan. I remember they fed us a meal in the evening on the ship. It was pretty sparse--a small boiled potato and a thin slice of beef about four inches in diameter. I faintly remember something about their serving a tea in the afternoon. They called it "Tiffin."
I don't remember the name of the hospital where I was hospitalized in Japan. It was an Army hospital in the middle of Osaka. It was so big I was placed in Annex 3 about a mile from the main building. The treatment was periodic cleaning and re-bandaging my wounds. I remember they poured lots of hydrogen peroxide in the wounds, and I also remember daily shots of penicillin. The doctors checked regularly. They were very good. We had the best treatment possible for the time. I was alert, walking around, and having a ball. I wrote my parents a letter from Osaka telling them that I was all right. They got my letter several days before the telegram came from the Marine Corps, so they didn't have to suffer that initial shock and wonder when the telegram came because my letter assured them that I was all right.
There was only one other Marine in the annex with me. His name was Crawford and he was from my company. I have a copy of the roster of the Brigade published at a reunion sometime in the eighties. It lists him as Pfc. Aubery R. Crawford (1079044). A Marine liaison sergeant in the main hospital issued us each a set of suntans and made up a special pay record, paying each of us $40.00. That was a fortune in Japan at that time. Crawford and I jumped the annex fence and went into Osaka on an illicit liberty. We stayed out for three days. When we came back, we walked up to the annex gate and were ushered before the Army colonel in charge. He chewed us out, but there wasn't much he could really do to us since all of our records were still in Korea.
A few days later we jumped the fence again. This time the Colonel took our suntans away from us and had us in bathrobes. So we made friends with some of the Army troops and borrowed uniforms from them. I went into town as a private one time and maybe a sergeant the next. That poor colonel got awfully frustrated. It all stopped when one night I went into town as an Army corporal. When I got to a bar I frequented, it was filled with Marines. The division was on its way over for the Inchon Landing and had been given a liberty in Kobe and Osaka. I had to head back quickly before I got in a fight. No way could I explain that I was really a Marine in an Army uniform. Also, the colonel had found an out. He had me and Crawford transferred to the Naval Hospital in Yokosuka. After we got to Yokosuka, I never saw Crawford again. I don't know whatever happened to him. I don't remember much about his wounds. They couldn't have been that serious as he was ambulatory. So was I.
I have too many memories of my time in the hospital in Japan to go into deeply. I remember the Japanese taxis. They ran on charcoal. They had like an oven in the trunk and couldn't do more than a mile or so without the driver having to get out and stoke up the fire in the trunk. I remember a huge PX building in downtown Osaka. It was probably six stories. It was a PX and Commissary, and on the roof was a beer garden with a wonderful view of the area. That was my favorite place. Also, I remember the food. The damned Army was fed like kings. They even had entrees in their daily menu. A USO show performed in the auditorium of the hospital one time. Al Jolson gave a great performance. Everyone expected his singing, of course, but his versatility in telling jokes was a popular surprise. This wasn't too long before his death, I believe.
An aside that is interesting is that my dad went to France with the 5th Marines in 1917. He was wounded twice--once at Chateau Theory and again at Belleau Wood. When I came home in 1951 wearing my greens with the Purple Heart ribbon, Dad wanted to know what I got it for. When I said it was for being wounded, his reaction was, "How come I never got one?" He wrote the Marine Corps and they sent him his Purple Heart. So even though he had been wounded some 33 years before me, he didn't receive his Purple Heart until after I had mine. Also, as history will show, Dad was serving with the 5th Marine Regiment which was part of the 2nd Army Division in World War I. I was serving with the 5th when I was wounded and we were working in conjunction with the 2nd Army Division.
I really don't recall how long I stayed at the Yokosuka Naval Hospital. It was not very long. My wounds were pretty much closed up and healed by the time I got there. Since my wounds were practically healed, there isn't too much to compare the medical care in the Army hospital with that in the Naval hospital. In any case, I had no complaints about the medical care I received in the military. It was superb.
I was declared fit for duty, released from the hospital, and sent to Camp Otsu back down by Osaka. I was also given five days liberty in Japan before I returned to Korea. I spent it in Kyoto chasing beautiful women and peace and quiet. I didn't really want to return to Korea. After all, there was a shooting war there and people were getting killed in it. I already knew how mortal I was. At the same time, I had friends there, and if I was to be ordered back, I intended to meet my responsibility and do my duty. My wounds had healed and there was no need for therapy of any kind. I was physically ready. Mentally, I was very anxious about it and reluctant, but as ready as I ever would be.
In the casual company in Otsu, Japan, I was reissued 782 gear (rifle, cartridge belt, canteen, first aid packet, etc.). I got hung up there for almost a month due to paperwork problems. There was lots of confusion there. Streams of replacement troops were being brought to Korea from the States--lots of reserve units called up, personnel stationed on the east coast, etc. Many of the reservists were under 18 years of age and couldn't be sent to Korea. They were shortstopped from the drafts and held at Otsu until they turned 18. If I remember right, there were three full barracks of them. We referred to them as the "diaper platoons."
Whey they finally got caught up on my paperwork, I was placed in a draft of about 150 men and we were transported to Kobe where we boarded a Navy ship. All the sailors grumbled about us coming aboard. Seems they were supposed to be headed back to the States and they weren't happy about the diversion to Korea. Well, about three hours later, we were assembled and marched back to the dock. Seems that ship was headed for the States. If the error hadn't been discovered, we would probably have gone back with it. We went back to Otsu. Several more weeks passed and finally I was placed on another draft. This time we boarded an Army ship, MSTS I think the Army system was called. The ship was manned by a Japanese civilian crew. It was named after an Army general, but I can't recall his name. It was late October 1950.
It took a long time--weeks (I don't know why) before I was assigned to a unit. We were transported, I think, in Army trucks to division. Then we were there for a long time before they decided to send us on. There was a lot of walking, more hiatus, etc. We were hung up at division. The regiments were dispersed deep in the Chosin Reservoir area and by the time we got up to that level, they had already fought their way out to Koto-ri. It was an unwritten rule that returning casualties would be reassigned to their former units whenever possible. So from division I was sent to the 5th Marines and then to the 1st Battalion. I was transported there kind of in stages. Battalion sent me to Able Company and I reported in to the company commander. Gunny Mac was there and asked that I be placed back in his platoon. So I was once again a fire team leader in the 1st platoon, this time in the 1st squad. This was probably about the middle of November 1950.
Things were hectic. The terrain was mountainous and snowy, the weather was colder than hell, and we were still engaging the enemy, so there wasn't time for socializing. Of course, I noticed many changes, obviously due to casualties. We had a new platoon leader, Lieutenant Trapnell. I didn't much care for him. I didn't seem to know anyone except Gunny. He was still going strong. Having been born and raised in Minnesota, I was used to cold and snow. At first it was about like Minnesota weather, but the difference was the permanent exposure. We didn't get to go inside a warm building and spend the night.
On the way to Koto-ri, I saw civilians heading south, but we didn't pay much attention to them. Some may have been farmers or just travelers for all I know. As to the number of enemy in our area, I can only guess. According to books such as The New Breed by Colonel Geer, there were over 200,000 of them. They must have been very brave. They were poorly dressed for the conditions and short on arms. They probed our lines in the early evening and tried to plot our defensive positions. Then much later, they infiltrated with buglers who went to the weak points in our lines and stood and blew bugles. The mass of troops then charged to the bugles in waves. The first wave was armed. They were followed by troops carrying grenades, and then by unarmed personnel. The unarmed personnel picked up the arms of the fallen troops of the first wave. Bud Kaylor, a guy from the reserve unit in Minneapolis, was captured by the enemy at Chosin. He escaped after a few days and made it back to division.
The "high" weather temperature was often zero and the low at night got to -30 degrees. The snow was deep and mostly dry because of the cold. Now and then it was windy. The cold weather had a lot of effect on our weapons. Operating parts became sluggish. The M-2 automatic carbine was especially affected by the cold. The M-1s were pretty good and so were the BARs. The weather also affected our food--again, a lot. We could eat the light rations all right. They included crackers and a disk of cocoa or chocolate. But the heavies were a problem. Heavies were cans containing a meal like ham and lima beans, hamburger patties, etc. They were frozen solid. We had to chip a piece off with a bayonet or knife and hold it in our mouth until it thawed. Eating a can was a long process. It is my understanding that supplies were dropped and distributed, but we were never at the point of the drop.
As to the cold weather affecting our bodily functions, can you imagine dropping one's pants in below zero weather--especially if there was wind? I didn't ride in any vehicles, but obviously there were problems with them associated with the cold weather. The air support was great when available, but the weather did affect it a lot. Also, it wasn't available at night. We had artillery support from the 11th Marines, the artillery regiment of the division. They were good, too.
We weren't able to get out of the cold temperature for short or long periods of time until we got to Hungnam. If anything, we were "overdressed" for the cold because we had these overshoes called shoepacks. They were like thermoses. During the day, our feet would sweat because of the walking. At night, our socks often froze. There were frozen noses, ears, hands, and feet. Luckily, mine wasn't severe. Many guys lost hands or feet to gangrene. The casualty rate for frostbite was probably as great as casualties from enemy fire. I have suffered ever since with a severe case of hemorrhoids which I apparently acquire from sitting on the frozen ground at night. And the weather affected our mental state. It was demoralizing and very hard to contend with. Gunny Mac had taught us way back on the Naktong to not feel sorry for ourselves. He said that if we looked around we could always find someone who had it tougher than we did--a machine gunner carrying much more weight or someone whose wound was much worse (like the guy who died in the 4x4 ambulance on the way to the Army MASH unit). That philosophy got us through and it is a philosophy that I rely on a lot even to this day. Coming out of the Chosin Reservoir, we weren't exactly partying, but we were coping.
We brought the dead out with us. They and the severely wounded were the only ones to ride. The dead were stacked on the beds of the 6x6s. Many of them were buried at Koto-ri, but I never knew about it until years later. Many of the wounded were evacuated by aircraft at Koto-ri.
The United States Army in Korea was an abomination. As mentioned earlier, we called them track stars because they ran so much. Consider that the Eighth Army consisted of nine divisions. The 3rd Corps consisted of two Army divisions and our division. When we were surrounded in the Chosin Reservoir, just what the hell happened to those nine Army divisions who were supposed to be on our left? They disappeared and were back down in Seoul while our division was still going forward. The 7th Army Division and 3rd Army Division on our right fled and were in Hungnam before we even started coming back, and they ran off and left a convoy of their wounded on the reservoir. My old boss from Hawthorne, Lt. Col. Olin L. Beall, won a Navy Cross for taking his motor transport personnel onto the ice and rescuing hundreds of wounded soldiers left by their fleeing unit.
We stayed in Hungnam for several days. There was a fleet of ships in the harbor and lots of refugees in the area. When we went aboard ship, we were then returned to the area called the "Bean Patch" near Masan. The division was set up there in a large tent city. We stayed there through the holidays and into January. We were issued five cans of beer per man for celebrating Christmas 1950 and New Year 1951. If I remember right, it was "Ballantines" beer. I had never drank that brand before. It was here that two prostitutes also came into our camp. They were not very pretty women. One collected money and the other did the dirty work. They started in the first tent and took on all comers. They worked right on down the line. For all I know those two may have done the whole division.
Then we boarded LSTs and went to Pohang where we went ashore and on to a town called "Sinnyong." The 1st Marines went to Andong and I'm not sure where the 7th was. This was the beginning of "Operation Killer." Our mission was to locate and pursue the North Korean units which had been trapped in South Korea by the Inchon landing. The North Korean army which had penetrated South Korea almost to Pusan was cut off from its supply sources. Many of these troops broke up into armed bands and harassed the population. Our job was to locate them and then aggressively attack them.
At Sinnyong, we lived in tents. We were there the better part of two months, I think. Squad-sized reconnaissance patrols were sent out into the countryside daily. They were given seven meals of C-rations and some Korean won. They went in for three days and two nights. The won was to rent a place to stay in villages each night and to pay for one Korean meal per night. I went on two of these patrols and rode shotgun one day on the convoy to Andong. On the way to Andong we dropped off new patrols. Coming back, we picked up squads completing their patrols.
Our leaders changed often. I think the most dangerous jobs in the Marine Corps are those of platoon leader (usually a 2nd Lieutenant) and Navy corpsman. As far as I'm concerned, we had sensational leadership all the way up the line. I admired all the Marines around me--especially our leaders.
In my observation of the enemy, I thought that some were good fighters and some weren't. Some were old, some were young. Most were good, experienced troops. I think most of us respected them. They carried burp guns. They were effective up close, but didn't seem to have much range. The Chinese seemed to have a hodgepodge of weapons--burp guns, Tommy guns, hand grenades--and many were unarmed, picking up the weapons of those who were hit in front of them. I heard things like the North Koreans had murdered everyone connected with the government in villages, even teachers and postal workers, but I didn't see any of it personally.
The enemy was suffering with the same weather conditions that we were, and they were probably just as scared as we were. An instance which stands out in my mind concerns two prisoners we took one morning, probably late in March. It was cold and raining and it was about 5 or 6 in the morning just before dawn. We shot two Koreans and brought them into our lines. Both appeared young--probably about 15. One had a superficial wound, but the other had a sucking chest wound (that's an awful thing to hear and you never forget that sound). He obviously wasn't going to live long. We turned them over to some rear echelon troops and they started playing games with the guy with the chest wound. One of them held a .45 pistol to the guy's head and pulled the trigger. It was unloaded. I guess they thought they were scaring him, but it was easy to tell that the Korean actually wanted them to kill him and end his pain. Those Americans don't know how close they came to being attacked by us. I guess you could say we felt some kind of a strange kinship to the Korean because he was experiencing the same trials that we were.
The weather conditions in Korea can best be described with the word "extreme." The cold in the reservoir had been the coldest I had ever seen (remember--I was born and raised in Minnesota). The summer was hotter than hell and very humid. I've seen hotter, though. In 1984 I worked in Diego Garcia on the Equator in the Indian Ocean. It was hotter and wetter than Korea, but again, there was the factor of exposure. In Diego Garcia, we had air conditioning.
Both at Chosin in November/December 1950 and during the winter months of 1951, we wore heavy fur-type parkas with hoods. We wore our dungarees under that. We had heavy gloves. On our feet were the ill-designed shoepacks. Inside of them we wore heavy socks. I think a lot of foot amputations were caused by those shoepacks. They were too warm and caused our feet to sweat when we walked. In the summer we just wore our canvass dungarees. It's hard to remember, but I recall that the Chinese wore heavy quilted overcoats and leather strapped caps. But I can't recall what the North Koreans wore. I guess it's because the encounters with them were at night in the dark.
The Korean Marines were attached to the division, but I never had any close contact with them. About all I remember about them was that they seemed to burn up a lot of tents when we were in the tent city near Masan after the reservoir. We were in large squad tents with straw scattered on the floors and an oil stove in the center with a metal vent stack through the top of the tent. The Koreans seemed to turn the carburetor setting to full on for warmth. Pretty soon the stove got so hot the vent stack turned cherry red and caught the tent afire. There would be a lot of unintelligible chattering in Korean, followed by a rapid evacuation of the tents by the Koreans.
During Operation Killer when we were going on patrols from Sinnyong, we spent a night in a Korean village in the hills. We had agreed on a price with the "Papa-san" in charge and got a whole house to spend the night in and a breakfast in the morning. It was January and freezing cold. We didn't expect too much, but got an education on foreign engineering. The Korean house had wooden floors. Outside was a pit to build a fire in. A flue had been dug horizontally under the house. It wound from the pit to the other side and back again, creating a heat channel under the floor. We posted a guard in the courtyard with instructions to keep the fire well fed. We went to sleep in our parkas on the floor inside. We soon were stripping clothes off as the room got warm. That heat system was efficient. Pretty soon the floor got warm to the touch and we had to back off feeding the fire and put our parkas on the floor to sleep on as the floor was getting hot. The next morning our breakfast was placed in the courtyard. Lots of rice and pail of slop with fish heads in it. The smell was enough to gag us. We ate some rice--which wasn't all that bad, but also wasn't all that filling. We passed on the fish and left in a hurry.
I usually saw the Korean children peripherally from a distance. I do remember the "A" frames. They were a wooden sling they used to carry wood from the hills. Even small children stacked wood higher than their heads and ran up and down the hills like deer. We didn't have close enough contact for there to be prejudice toward the other races, although most of us referred to the Koreans as "gooks." I didn't give it much thought at the time.
We always dug in on the highest ground in the area. I was in the best shape of my life from all the walking and climbing. It meant the enemy had to climb to attack us. The fighting at this point in time in Korea wasn't nearly as heavy as it had been in the Pusan Perimeter and Chosin.
While we were on the lines there wasn't much chance to keep clean. We got pretty grungy, in fact. I will always remember how awful was the taste in my mouth from not brushing my teeth for so long. Units were regularly rotated on and off the lines. A regiment had lots of personnel, so periodically we got our turn in the rear for a few days and we cleaned up by washing from our helmets or jumping in a nearby river. I got lice. Oh, what a terrible thing that was. The corpsman gave me powder which cured it, but I itched miserably for a time.
We ate C-rations on the lines and often in the rear, too. They came in unit boxes which contained a can of heavies, a can of lights, a thin can with peaches or a fruit, a small packet of cigarettes and matches, a packet of powdered coffee, a packet of cream, and one of sugar. There was also a sliver packet of salt and pepper. I don't remember all the heavies. Ham and lima beans was one. Another was hamburger patties. There were more, but I don't remember them. The cans of lights came with a small disk of jam, about four circular dry crackers, and either a disc of chocolate or a disk of powder to make cocoa. We carried a metal cup which fit around our canteen. It was handy for coffee or cocoa. Believe it or not, the best thing I ever ate in Korea was shredded beef. It was during a period when we were in reserve and a field mess was set up. The cooks served a meal of shredded beef. At the time, it tasted delicious. I don't remember missing stateside food all that much. Having been eating in Marine mess halls for several years where the food was nourishing but pretty bland, I guess I just didn't miss that enough to worry about it.
When we were in the perimeter, C. J. Reynolds was my buddy. After he was killed, I tried to stay aloof as much as possible. It just hurt too much to watch friends die. I still made friends, but I tried not to get too close. A few men stand out clearly in my mind even after all these years--General Craig, Lieutenant Sebilian, Gunny Mac, Gunny Hodge--I could go on and on. I was among real men.
I met up with lots of guys I had known back in the States. The 1st Marine Division was made up largely of reservists called to active duty. The unit from Minneapolis was called up and I met or knew of high school friends who were in Korea. Also, in 1949 and 1950 the Marine Corps had an enlistment program where a man could sign up for one year of active duty followed by six years in the reserves. I had signed up for three years in 1948 and these guys were coming out of boot camp with only a few months to go. In Hawthorne they used to chide us, "I'm a short timer, how are you doing?" Here I'd been in for two years and still had a year to go. Bunches of them ended up on active duty in Korea. I saw several I knew.
For me, war was very serious and I always seemed to be exhausted by it. It was very demanding physically, and even more demanding emotionally. But occasionally there were some lighter moments. For instance, the Korean Marines fleeing their burning tents seemed pretty hilarious at the time. There were so many casualties and so many replacements coming in that there really wasn't a lot of continuity. There were many personalities, but I can't think of any who were there long enough to be established as a company wit.
The mail was sporadic. Usually a wad of it came at one time. I received letters from family and friends back home, but I don't remember receiving any packages. I never asked for anyone back home to send me something in particular. I was more concerned about having enough rations, water, and ammo than a package of cookies or cake from home.
We didn't have any free time except maybe to rest. I smoked. Cigarettes came in C-rations and were fairly plentiful. I smoked heavily until I finally quit in 1989.
The second time I was wounded in Korea was to be my last wound there. It happened in April 1951 somewhere in the vicinity of Wonju. We had just entered the area from Sinnyong. We came there by truck convoy. I don't remember how long it took or how far it was in miles. This was still part of "Operation Killer." I'm not sure why we were moving or what our objectives were to be. That kind of information seldom filtered all the way down to the platoon level.
We were passing through a British Marine unit. They had been on point and we were taking over the point. As we came through, they were sitting on the ground eating rations. As I mentioned before, the light cans of rations usually had either a disk of chocolate or one of cocoa. As I passed this British sergeant, he had just pulled the disk of cocoa out. He looked up at me and in a very strong British accent he said, "Caacoa, eiven the blienkin King has no cacoa." It was one of the very few laughs I had in Korea. I think I was still chuckling ten minutes later when I got hit.
It happened so fast it seemed to come from out of nowhere. I was hit in the left hand by a sniper. I was stunned. I don't know where the sniper came from or who got him. I was busy with the medics getting treatment. The bullet shattered my left ring finger and splattered off my rifle. It knocked my rifle from my hand and I remember looking at my hand in awe and thinking, "Oh crap!" (Not the actual wording.) My finger was mangled, but not bleeding very much because it was still cold. I don't remember much of what was going on around me. The Doc (I don't remember his name--he hadn't been with us long) took me back to Battalion Aid where my hand was bandaged. I remember being more angry and frustrated than anything else. It was a crappy way to go out. Just a few days before, we had been informed that Gunny Mac and I and other original Brigade members were to be rotated back to the States within a few weeks. We had ridden trucks to the Wonju area, got off, and were more or less assembling. There was not a lot going on. We weren't in intense fighting or anything. And all of a sudden there I was looking at a shattered hand. Instead of going back with Gunny and the others, at that moment it seemed possible that I may not even be able to return to active duty. Rather, I might end up disabled with half a hand. Thanks to a doctor in Yokosuka Naval Hospital, that didn't happen. But at that point in time, I was just plain pissed off. (Please excuse my French.)
I ended up in an Army MASH unit. As I recall, I stayed there several days. I remember that one of the surgeons there indicated that they might have to amputate the last two fingers back to the heel of my hand. I thank the Lord that he decided to let it wait until I could be treated in Yokosuka, Japan.
For some reason I cannot remember the trip back to Yokosuka, but I sure as hell remember the treatment I got there. LTCDR Alexander was my doctor. When he heard about the potential surgery, he said, "No way. We have a better way." He put me in a cast for six weeks to let the shattered bones mend as well as possible. After six weeks he removed the cast and put me on a brand new therapy program called a whirlpool bath. For an hour in the morning and again in the afternoon, I sat with my hand in the swirling water. After the treatment I went to CMDR Alexander's office and he forcefully bent each joint on both of the affected fingers. The pain was excruciating and the treatments went on for weeks. My fingers went from not being able to more than hardly move to where I had full use of them by the time he got through. I owe that man a lot.
Unlike when I received my first injury, my parents got a telegram about my second wounding before I could reach them. I'm sure they were very concerned. However, I was able to talk with them by phone from the hospital and that allayed their fears. There wasn't really any more treatment necessary after CMDR Alexander's success, but this time I didn't have to return to combat in Korea. I was evacuated back to the States.
The trip back to the States was interesting. We left Tachikawa Air Force Base on a C-97 ambulance plane. We were to go through Wake Island. As the plane took off, I looked out the window and then rolled over and went to sleep. When I awoke, we were circling for landing. I asked a medic if we were over Wake. He said, "No. We are over Tokyo." Come to find out, the plane had a fuel leak and the pilot circled all night dumping fuel so we could re-land at Tachikawa. Two days later another plane took us to Hawaii, where we spent a night at Tripler Army Hospital. From there we came back to San Francisco on a contracted flight, "Flying Tiger Airlines" (a commercial airline formed by some of the Flying Tigers of World War II), landing at Travis Air Force Base. The flight took 16 hours.
We were then bussed to the Naval Hospital at Mare Island. As I was checking in there, I encountered a friend from Hawthorne, Sgt. Willie Lang. He had gone to Korea with us in the Brigade and was wounded during the landing at Inchon. Now recovered from his injury, he was checking out. He had been in the Marine Corps for 12 years and had spent all but four of those years overseas. Now he was on his way overseas again, back to Korea.
It was Marine Corps policy to send wounded troops to the hospital nearest their home. So after only a few days at Mare Island, I was flown to Chicago and entered the Naval Hospital at Great Lakes Naval Station. They immediately gave me a thirty-day convalescent leave (a gratis leave which didn't reduce the number of days of leave due me), which I spent back home in St. Paul.
When I was released from the hospital at Great Lakes, I went into casual company there. I was a few weeks away from completing my enlistment and fully intended to re-enlist and ask for duty with the 6th Marines who regularly went on six-month cruises to the Mediterranean. But Harry Truman extended all enlistments for one year. That left me with a year and a few weeks to go. The Marine Corps gave me a choice of any duty station I wanted (provided there was an opening), so I decided to ask to return to Hawthorne, Nevada. I figured I'd get to see old friends for a year and then re-enlist.
I had been promoted to Sergeant while I was in casual company at Great Lakes. So at first I pulled duty as Sergeant of the Guard. There were three active guard houses at the base. One was in the main base where the barracks, shops, and administrative type buildings were, and two were in the ammunition area. The base covered 360 square miles. The guard houses were about three miles apart. I rotated between all three. After about two months I got a sweet job. I was assigned as the traffic control NCO. My buddy Ray Fuller worked with the A platoon, and I worked with the B platoon. We supervised three roving patrols on the base, and saw to the posting of traffic control sentries for the morning and evening traffic entering and leaving the base. Then at night we patrolled the bars in Hawthorne to keep order among the troops on liberty.
Some guys go a little wild after returning from war, but I really didn't do that. I knew what mortality really was, and therefore wasn't adverse to a good time or two. We had a few mild drinking parties in the guard house now and then, but never got caught. I had gotten seriously interested in a local girl there, and she took up most of my attention.
As I said earlier, I fully intended to re-enlist, but you know that old saying, "The best laid plans of mice and men." Instead, I got married, got out of the Marine Corps on July 22, 1952, and went to work on the base fire department. In 1953 I tried to re-enlist. They gave me back my stripes and sent me to Treasure Island in San Francisco. There, a Navy doctor refused to pass me on my physical. His exact words were, "Are you trying to kill yourself?" I couldn't believe it. Here I was working as a firefighter, and he was claiming my wounds were too severe for me to go back on active duty. I petitioned the VA, figuring they would reject me for a disability compensation and that would be grounds to petition the Marine Corps to reconsider--but they gave me a 30% disability based on my wounds, stomach ulcers, and hemorrhoids I acquired sitting on the ice at night during the winter of 1950-51.
Instead of returning to the Marine Corps, I made a career in Federal Civil Service as a firefighter, which was a paramilitary environment. It wasn't such a big adjustment to go from military to civilian life. I started with the Navy and stayed until 1961, then was with the Army at Fort Huachuca, Arizona until 1967. I rose to the rank of Fire Chief and spent three years (1968-1971) as Fire Chief of the Marine Corps Air Station in Iwakuni, Japan, where I had the privilege of meeting and becoming good friends with a number of pilots who had flown over me in Korea. From there I went to George Air Force Base in Victorville, California until 1972, then went on to the Naval Air Station Moffett Field at Sunnyvale, California. (I was on the NASA payroll at Ames Research Laboratory there until 1975.) My next job was at the Naval Station in Yokosuka, Japan where I headed the largest fire department in the Department of Defense. It had 265 firefighters working out of 12 stations. We also had two fire boats there. In 1978 I went to Vandenberg Air Force Base, which was the west coast launching complex for NASA. I retired there in July 1980. During my career I worked for every branch of the armed services and was on NASA's payroll twice.
During my years in Federal Civil Service, I got lots of schooling--mostly in the form of seminars and schools relating to firefighting. Among the highlights, I was trained by the Forestry as a fire boss for wild land firefighting and I took the Atomic Energy Commission's course on nuclear weapons, radiation, and explosives hazards in firefighting. I also taught courses in fire science in a community college.
I married four times. My first marriage in 1952 ended in divorce in 1956. I married a second time in Tucson, Arizona in 1965 and was again divorced in 1967. My third marriage in Victorville, California in 1972 ended in divorce in 1989. My fourth wife is the woman I wish I had found first. I have two grown daughters, both married with children. Debbie is from my first marriage and Mary Jennifer is from my second marriage.
Since retiring, I play golf. My boss, General Gray, asked me at my retirement party what I intended to do. I told him I was going to play golf. He suggested that after three months I would be so sick and tired of golf that I'd be wanting to return to work. That was over twenty years ago, and I am still playing golf five or six days a week. I still love every minute of it.
I have lots of strong memories of Korea. It would be hard to pick which is strongest. Going to Korea changed me in so many ways. I'm sure it changed my perspective on life and mortality. Probably it was of great help to me in facing traumatic situations in firefighting.
I think that the United States should have sent troops to Korea when the war broke out. It was a UN effort and supporting the UN was justified in my opinion. But MacArthur should not have gone north of the 38th Parallel. He was an egotistical *******. And I think I am very qualified to have that opinion. He went against the President's orders. Determining what mistakes were or weren't made in Korea is not my area of expertise, but I really don't think any great strategic mistakes were made. Truman's idea was to parry the thrust of the communists, and that point was made when we entered the Korean War. The thrust was countered and that's why MacArthur was ordered not to go into China. I suspect Truman had it right and was proven so when Russia collapsed in the 1980s.
I'm not sure if we should have American troops stationed in Korea now. Actually we are there under the auspices of the United Nations rather than the United States. North Korea would probably attack without hesitation if we weren't there. At the same time, the South Korean military has improved so dramatically they may just be able to handle it even without us.
I revisited Korea in 1970. While I was at Iwakuni, Japan, I took a few weeks leave and visited Korea. A friend took his car and we went on an overnight ferry from Japan to Pusan. From Pusan we drove through Taegu and stayed two nights there. We tried to drive to Miryang and Obongni Ridge, the site where I was wounded, but couldn't because the area was under quarantine for cholera or something like that. We drove on up to Seoul and stayed at the BOQ at the 8th Army Headquarters there for a week. They had just completed a divided highway between Pusan and Seoul the month before. Many of the Korean people treated us like royalty. They seemed to sincerely appreciate what we had done for them in 1950. I remember one incident near Seoul where we stopped to fill up at a gas station and the owner wouldn't take any money from us. Lots of older people thanked us for having been there in the fifties. While we were in Seoul we drove out to the Wonju area, but I couldn't find anything which looked familiar there.
I hope that those of us who were participants in the Korean War prevented a lot of suffering for the people of South Korea. The North Koreans did occupy South Korea until they were cut off by the Inchon landing, and they revealed how harsh their rule was to be. I think that is why we were treated so well during the visit in 1970. But at the same time, I have reservations that an overriding aspect of the whole period 1950 to 1990 had a lot to do with the furtherance of commercial enterprise. The Vietnam War, for instance, made a lot of airlines and defense contractors very healthy financially. General Smedley Butler wrote a book about that back in the 1930s. He concluded that he had been somewhat naive to believe that in his military career he was patriotically protecting our nation. On reflection, he concluded that actually his service had been for the purpose of protecting the interests (as he put it) of Spreckles Sugar. And, of course, there was President Eisenhower's warning to beware the military-industrial complex.
As a result of my combat tour in Korea, I earned the Korean service medal, the UN service medal, the presidential unit citation with three stars, the Japanese occupation medal, and the Purple Heart. It would take a book to give all the reasons why I think the training I received in boot camp served me well in Korea. In a nutshell, Marines back up Marines. As long as there were Marines on our left and Marines on our right, we didn't worry about the people on the flank bugging out. When the Army was on our flank, we had cause for worry. Everything about boot camp reeked of cooperation and dependability.
I think that being in the Marine Corps did more for me than a college education might have, especially in today's environment where people are "socially" advanced in our education system and others scoring as low as 20% in exams are still given a passing grade. Not many students today are exposed to teachers the equal of a Marine DI.
I haven't told my daughters about my war-time experiences. Because of divorce when they were very young, I never had that much time with them and didn't want to contaminate what little time I had with them with something so negative. I hope that those who read this memoir about the Korean War will be impressed with the horror of it all and the need for a better way to resolve man's differences. It obviously won't go down as a very important war in world history, yet the Korean War was certainly a more intense war than Vietnam. It was harsh and horrible. Those who fought have scars.
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