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Donald Eugene Oschwald Sr.

Versailles, Kentucky-
Korean War Veteran of the United States Army

"The Army taught me self discipline and gave me order in my life.  I saw other cultures and a lower standard of living, but I also saw them happy.  I saw Americans at their best and worst.  I learned that there is something more to life than possessions.  I experienced God's protection."

- Don Oschwald Sr.


[The following memoir is the result of an online interview between Don Oschwald Sr. and Lynnita (Sommer) Brown in 2000-01.  Don died peacefully at his home surrounded by his children and family on January 17, 2010.  His obituary is posted on the Death Notices page of the KWE.]

Memoir Contents:

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My name is Donald Eugene Oschwald Sr.  I was born January 21, 1929 in Springfield, Illinois, a son of Martin Herman August and Hermina Fannie Reinders Oschwald.  I have a brother, Glenn Martin Oschwald who is three years younger and served two years at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, during the Korean War.  I also have a sister, Delores Eileen Oschwald Fowler, who is four years younger than me.

We grew up in Andrew, eight miles north of Springfield and two miles west of Sherman, Illinois.  I attended a small, one-room schoolhouse named Dunlap School, which was one mile north of Andrew.  Enrollment was 25 or 30 pupils.  The school building burned down during a school day when I was in the eighth grade.  I attended high school at Williamsville Township High School in Williamsville, graduating in the Class of 1947.  While I was attending that school, I worked one summer for Canterbury Seed Corn, detasseling corn.  I then worked one summer on the C&IM Railroad on a section gang maintaining road bed.  I also worked at Allis Chalmers Manufacturing in Springfield.

I attended school during World War II.  No one in my family except cousins served in the war.  Our high school collected old tires, scrap metal, cooking grease, toothpaste tubes, and milkweed pods.  I was in athletics and farmers drove us to away games since they only got enough gasoline to do this.  We students bought savings bond stamps until we had enough for a bond.  Our family income was not enough to buy bonds outright.

I was attending an electronics school in Chicago when I received my first physical notice from the draft board.  I wrote requesting to have my physical in Chicago.  That was granted, but before it was scheduled, I finished my school.  I again explained what the situation was and was put on a list for Springfield once again.  I tried to enlist in the Air Force with a buddy, but by then I had been accepted by the Army.

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Basic/Advanced Training

I was inducted into the Army on February 14, 1951, in St. Louis, Missouri, along with three high school classmates.  They were Richard Dye, Melvin McVickers, and Joe Bennett.  We traveled from Springfield to St. Louis and on to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, by train. Once we got there, we were given a battery of tests to find where we fit in the Army.  We received uniforms, but they could not get me a complete winter outfit.  I had a wool Ike jacket, but my pants were summer and lighter colored.  I had to carry papers to show that the problem of me being out of uniform was not of my doing.

I got split off from the rest because I scored high on electronics.  I was sent to Signal Corps basic in Camp Gordon, Georgia.  No one that I knew traveled with me from Camp Breckenridge to Camp Gordon.  We waited a long time at the railroad station in Evansville, Indiana.  I was told to stay in the station, but I was tired of sitting and wanted to go out on the street, see the town, and find some refreshments.  I did not get far before the MPs stopped me and took me back to the station.  My papers cleared me, but it was their job to get me off the street.

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Basic Training

I left the cold of Kentucky in mid-February and arrived in Augusta, Georgia to see GI's playing ball in shorts and T-shirts.  I thought, "This is going to be great."  Camp Gordon had two-story wooden barracks and buildings.  The soil was sandy and weather was hot and humid in the summer.  I don't remember insects being a problem at the camp, but we did run into rattlesnakes out in the field and were warned about them.

Soon after arriving at Camp Gordon, I met a classmate from DeForrest Training, Inc. (now DeVry Electronics School).  I never saw him again after that.  I wound up in a basic company commanded by a World War II veteran who was probably in the Reserves.  He was a New York City policeman named Captain Nadar.   He had a jaw that got my attention.  He looked like a tough boxer.  I really appreciated Captain Nadar and respected him.  He hiked with us and was hard to keep up with.  Most of the cadre were green at the job and it showed.  The First Sergeant was a long-time soldier.  He was there to help us learn and make us ready for whatever we experienced later.

My platoon was made up of guys who had training/experience in electronics.  Our basic was twelve weeks long, covering telephone equipment and how to connect it and operate it.  We had the usual weapons training, but not as involved as infantry basic.  I enjoyed firing some of the weapons.  I had been a shooter for some time and to get to fire machine guns and rockets was great.  There were calisthenics, long marches, discipline, rules of conduct, and training on what to do if captured.  Most were taught outside the classroom, usually in the field after a march.  One educational film shown in classroom sticks out in my mind.  It was on wounds.  I got sick during the stomach wound film.  I had had hot chocolate for breakfast.  During the showing I got "wheezy" and put my head between my knees.  I could still hear, so I put my fingers in my ears.

We were awakened by a tape of a bugle playing the "wake up" selection, and it was always before it was light outside.  We had time to shave and be ready for inspection outside at the sound of a whistle.  The first of the three barracks of the company to get into formation got to eat first. I am not a finicky eater, so I cannot remember much about the meals they served.  I remember no bad food in basic.  On weekends we got cold cut sandwiches.  I would rather have had a cooked meal.  We never had any C or K rations in basic.  After breakfast we got our bunk and clothes in order for inspection.  Then we did whatever was planned for the day.  At the end of the day, "lights out" was announced--again by canned bugle music over a PA system.  I cannot remember ever being awakened in the middle of the night.

The instructors were stricter than anything I was used to, but not as strict as what I expected.  Our punishment for goofing up was doing pushups while everyone looked on.  I was punished once.  The guys in our barracks were given the task of cleaning a theater on the base.  We thought we shouldn't have to do it because we had been the first to assemble that morning.  We were told to double-time (run instead of march) to the theater.  We got strung out right in front of Headquarters.  Those in front were given pushups after the cadre got us stopped.  The Captain wanted everyone in the group to see him later.  I understood the Sergeant to say we would be confined for a while, and to go to the PX and get what we would need for a week.  While there, the Captain called for us.  I arrived late and got a week of KP duty.  I was not one of the ones who caused the group to get stretched out during our double time, and felt I was one of the few who admitted to being in the group.  Many did not show up in front of the Captain.  The Mess Sergeant thought I was wrongly punished because of my work habits in his mess.  It was a good experience for me.  I had no more punishment.  Except for this one time, all punishment that I remember was individual.  There was only one troublemaker in the group.  We had one guy who talked when we were at attention.  I always thought that he was trying to get out of the Army on a section eight--like Max Klinger in the television series M.A.S.H.  I believe that the one case where we all had to go before the Captain was to show us that the action of one could affect the complete squad.

I only remember one injury in basic.  One GI collided with another on a false call out one morning.  When it was realized that it was not for us, those out already turned and ran back in.  Some were still coming out and two guys collided.  One suffered a head injury and went to the hospital.  He was later released on a medical discharge.

Church was offered and encouraged.  There were all three types offered.  We were not forced to attend or monitored once we got there.  Around one half of the guys in the barracks attended some service.

At the completion of basic, we had to take graduation tests, but there was no ceremony or celebration.  On one of the tests, I missed a POW point.  The question was, "If your captor wanted to notify your parents through the Red Cross, would you give them the names?"  I said yes, forgetting name, rank, and serial number only was all we were to give.

I was never sorry to be in the Army.  I felt it was expected and "everyone" was doing it.  The hardest thing about basic for me was the way it strung out.  I thought that we did not seem to accomplish what we might have with better planning.  I was ready to go on to the more technical phase and study radios or radar.  I didn't, however, feel that basic prepared me for combat.  As time went on and I saw more, I was convinced of that.  We had so much Signal Corps training, the fighting preparation had been neglected.  I was always happy that I did not have to get into "shooting" in Korea because of the preparation I had had.  Movies just do not do the job of preparing one for combat.  I was better prepared--but not ready for combat, after basic.  Basic gave me a broad view of all Signal Corps operations.

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Advanced Training

I did not go home after basic, but went right into Advanced Training, learning about Army radios.  I was still at Camp Gordon, having just moved to a different barracks not far away from my first one.  At the advanced training barracks, several companies were grouped together and men going to different schools were housed together.  Eleven of us were to study electronics--the different radio receivers, so we were put in a room with all the manuals.  We were to study them until we knew the radio enough to take a test on it.  We had to glean what we could about how to maintain and repair the equipment out of the reference material.   Learning the equipment could have come about by sitting in class under the tutelage of a senior instructor,  However, at Camp Gordon there were no lectures, nor was there an instructor to ask about anything we might not understand.  There was a cadre on site to maintain order and keep us supplied with material, but not to teach us.  I have since come to the conclusion that manuals are good for review, but are very little good to learn the device.  We may have picked up more than we realized from the way we studied these radios, but we got no grades back to know how we did.  We did not have a final test.  We just tested when we felt like we had studied a particular radio enough.  Most of the radios I studied were the type that were installed in tanks or on Jeeps, and they were mostly semi-portable.  They were used in the field to communicate from headquarters to field personnel or to call in air and/or artillery support.  The nomenclature escapes me right now.

Our schedule was pretty much 8 to 5 Monday through Friday.  We went back to our Company for a lunch break.  We marched to and from our class.  There was a large area--the Parade Ground, that we marched across to get from our barracks to our school room.  The only passes we were given were for just the weekend, and that was mostly to go into Augusta to shop, get pictures made, or go to a church service of our denomination instead of just a Protestant service.  A carload of us went to Savannah Beach one weekend.

The school was called Southeastern Signal School.  The problem at this school was that there were instructors who knew the subject, but could not teach it.  We were expected to become instructors there at Camp Gordon.  We felt that we were in an impossible situation because we also did not know the equipment and might not be cut out to be instructing in it.  Ten of us became so disenchanted with the teaching method at the school that we refused the assignment.  We knew that we would get no medals for doing so, and that we would probably get an overseas assignment to the Far East (Korea) for refusing it.  The one man who accepted the instructor job had just been married and he could have his wife join him there.

I turned down the instructor's job for several reasons.  The thought of standing in front of a class of draftees to explain the workings of a radio did not appeal to me.  I was terrified of standing up and speaking to others.  Like the others trainees, I was dissatisfied with the way we were prepared for the job.  As I remember it these fifty years later, we were not informed at the beginning that we had been identified as future instructors.  I was still looking for excitement at that time.  Staying there teaching while others saw excitement/action was revolting to me.  I did not really want to go to Korea, but I did want to go overseas.  My three high school classmates went to Germany.  All four of my grandparents had migrated to the United States from Germany, so I really wished to go to Europe, as many others did.  I knew that I might be sent to Korea, but in my foolish way of seeing things at that time, I saw no danger in what I had been trained for.  I probably felt I was bullet proof.

My advanced training was probably no longer than three months--June, July, and August 1951.  From then on until around the second week of October, we waited for further orders.  One of the guys got close to the First Sergeant.  He let us know if our orders had come down to our company.  We spent most of those days at the swimming pool, dodging work details near the end of our wait.  We had picked up so many cigarette butts and did so much KP duty that we learned to stay out of sight.  Finally I received orders to report to Seattle at the end of October.  My orders were for the Far East Command, which included Japan and Korea.  I knew that Korea was my probable destination.

I was given ten days leave time and went home until time to report.  A guy in our barracks had his car and was driving to Chicago, so I rode with him.  I wore my uniform a lot while on leave.  My brother had taken over my clothes and he was rough on them.  One of my mother's friends wanted to sew my first stripes on my uniform for me.  I really thought that was great of her.  Dad figured it all out and asked me if my orders for the Far East Command meant Korea.  I told him, probably.  Mom never asked, but Dad probably had a conversation with her.  There was no big display of emotion over the probability.  I felt, and told anyone who asked, that except if there was a big push by the communists, I would not see any shooting.

I cannot remember keeping informed about what was happening in Korea.  There were news shorts before movies started that I watched.  None of it scared me (ignorance is bliss).  At Camp Gordon, we were given some instruction on what the enemy was like, but much of it put down the ability of our opponents.  Propaganda, I guess.  I began to feel that I did not have enough training to fight a front line war from our "bull sessions" and watching some war movies, so I started to think what it could be like to be shot at and to shoot back.  We had only trained with carbines.  Although they were easier to lug around, they did not really have stopping power.  I may have been in Korea for a while before much of my lacking in the use of firearms got my attention.

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Shipping Out

To get as much time home as I could, I took a plane out from Springfield, Illinois to Chicago when my leave was over.  I then continued the trip to Seattle from Chicago.  There was a mix-up on my flight to Seattle, so I got an excuse from the airline to present when I arrived at Ft. Lewis late.  I didn't need it.  We were several weeks in Seattle waiting to ship out.  I saw two University of Washington football games free.  One of the games was against the University of Illinois.  The locals were very good to us, which surprised me.  Guys could get rowdy just before going overseas, and I was afraid we would only be tolerated.  I did not frequent saloons, but was told that GIs could drink all night long--free.

Our ship left Seattle on Halloween night 1951.  The name of the ship was the USS Marine Lynx.  It was one of the Kaiser-built ships for troop transport.  I do not know how many people it could hold.  All were Army personnel and that is all I remember seeing on board.  There were cargo holds and the arms to lift cargo out and into the hold, but if there was any cargo, it must have been loaded on board prior to our boarding and was off-loaded after we left the ship.

I had never been on a large ship before, but did not get sea sick either going over to Korea or coming back.  I had my sea legs after about four days and did not get sick unless I was down in the crowded berth area where the stench of sickness was present.  Consequently, I stayed out on the deck all I could.  I do not get air sick doing aerobatics either.  This indicates inner ear problems.  I understand that the inner ear problems prevent me from having motion sickness.  Others were sea sick, but this cleared up after four or five days for most.  We had rough seas the last day when we could see Mt. Fuji on the horizon.  Ropes were strung on deck to aid us in walking when we were on deck.  The ship rolled dramatically during a storm.  Most of the trip was warm and the days were the type where we could sit out and take in the sun.

I had no close buddies on the ship, but one day I saw the guys who had given me a ride from Camp Gordon to my home in Springfield.  I had KP duty on board ship every third day.  We helped prepare food, like running potatoes through the machine that roughed the peelings off.  Later we cleaned the tables and floor after all had eaten.  We had trays to clean and run through the dishwasher.

Musical instruments were available on the ship for musicians, and they got together on deck and played.  I enjoyed looking over the rail and watching flying fish and the different blues of the sea.  The bow of the ship churned up the water, causing it to look different shades of blue.  At night, luminous animals in the water glowed like fireflies.  They always appeared in the disturbed water near the bow.  The colors of blue in our wake were a color display.  I also remember that we stopped dead in the water one day and saw a submarine off about a mile and blinking lights between the two ships.

The trip to Japan was approximately three weeks long.  We stopped in Yokohama, Japan for three days while having our equipment checked and to get re-supplied with fuel and food.  Our clothes were checked once again for the proper outfit for the Korean theater, then we boarded the Marine Lynx again for the trip to Korea.

We left Yokohama and sailed south around the tip of Japan in shallow waters.  The deeper the water, the bluer the sea, and then it got lighter in shallow water.  The sea changed hues drastically.  We sailed around the southern tip of Korea, came up the west side, and sailed through some islands.  Finally we saw solid land.  This was Inchon.  We sailed through the islands after daybreak and dropped anchor in the mid-morning.  Several landing craft came up next to the ship and troops were offloaded down the gang plank into the crafts.  I did not offload until late in the day.  I watched others until my time was called.  Several small Korean boys rowed out to our ships and looked for food to be tossed to them.  Some despicable GI threw potatoes at them, driving them off out of throwing range.

Inchon harbor has a big difference in high and low tide.  It was not a deep water port so we had to anchor out a long way because the harbor bottom was thick mud.  From the ship I could see many straw thatched roofs, but also some tile roofs on more permanent buildings.  There were also signs of the fighting that had taken place during the Inchon Landing.  There were buildings in piles of rubble.

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304th Signal Operations Battalion


I am not certain of the date I arrived in Korea, but I know that it was in November.  My first impression of Korea was that it was a poor country, but I was convinced that it was a country worth fighting for.  It had been invaded most recently by Japan and stripped of its natural resources and freedom.  We were told that the first typewriter was invented by a Korean, but we never hear of this.  They were primitive, hard-working people who would not bother any other nation.  I was sold on stopping the Communist drive to take over countries then and there.

I was well aware that I was in a war zone.  Sentries were around with slung rifles.  We marched to an area with temporary tents, and that is where we stayed overnight.  The coldest night I have ever spent was there in Inchon.  It was close to the sea and that November it was damp.  I got out of the bunk to get more clothes and wound up with every warm piece of clothing I could put on--and it was still cold.  I know now that it was mostly fear that caused me to be so cold.

After that cold night in Inchon, names were called out to board trains to continue on.  If I had been assigned to an outfit at that time, I cannot remember it.  I was put on a train for an overnight trip south to another stop.  Several were picked out to carry M-1 rifles and stand guard at the end of each car.  We were told that guerillas could barricade the tracks, force the train to stop, and then fire on it.  This unnerved us and I decided not to sit right by the window.  I climbed up on the metal baggage rack overhead with clothes beneath me for padding and spent the night there.  The next morning when I awoke, many had slept on the baggage racks.  The seats were wooden benches with almost straight backs, so the luggage racks were not that much harder to sleep on.  I was hoping that if we were fired upon, they would shoot at windows and I would be safe up there.  Nothing happened on our trip.

I remember passing many natives while traveling past them on the train.  Most of them were walking.  Some women had their babies strapped to their back by blankets--sometimes Army OD blankets.  There were ox-drawn carts and, very rarely, horse-drawn carts.  Natives squatted in front of their shops--some around charcoal burners.  Some read the newspaper.  They squatted rather than sat on a stool or chair.  It seemed they lived outside much of the time, regardless of the temperature.

At Teague I was met by a driver who drove me to my assigned outfit, the 304th Signal Operations Battalion.  I knew no one in the outfit.  Groups who worked together or had common interests had already formed, so it took some time to get into their circles.  My first meal (noon) in my outfit was Thanksgiving Day dinner 1951.  I was there no more than 24 hours when I was put back on a train to go to Seoul.  There I was picked up and taken to the 304th billets in north Seoul.  I was assigned to the Wire Company of the 304th, even though I was trained on the radio.  I did not know what I would be doing in this company.  I found out that the 304th had the job of providing communications from Eighth Army Headquarters down to Corps level in the field.

It was winter when I arrived in Korea and vehicles were not equipped with heaters.  The tops of the cabs were canvass, so they would have been hard to heat.  I discovered that the best way to stay warm was to keep moving while outside.  Thankfully our work was mostly inside buildings. My first job was to learn the equipment I was to work on.  I was assigned to a maintenance job on "Carrier Equipment" used to allow four telephone conversations over one circuit simultaneously--or three conversations and four teletype channels simultaneously.  I was disappointed in this assignment.  It was not radio, but electronics, and I had hopes of adding to my radio knowledge.  It was not even of the very latest technology.  My training in the States had been on radio repair.  There was a Radio Company in the 304th Signal Operations Battalion, but that company must not have needed my MOS.  Therefore, I was assigned to the Wire Company, which was mainly telephone operations.

I do not know if I replaced anyone.  A corporal who was trained on the equipment helped me understand the operation and workings of the equipment.  This equipment had hardly any failures and so I really never got tested as to my understanding and ability to maintain it.  Mostly I learned company life and rules of order, and how to conduct myself in a combat zone.

I was relatively safe in Seoul.  Only once was I aware that I might have been a target.  It was more likely a GI doing some careless target practice.  I was out for a walk and stepped through a gate in the wall.  I was taking in the scene when I heard a "crack" and then heard a bullet hit the wall nearby me.  I saw debris fall from the pock on the wall.  I hurried back to the other side of the wall.

I was in Seoul for about six months before I moved to another assignment.  Seoul was the 8th Army Headquarters where battle plans were formulated--in other words, the boss.  Corps level was the next level down.  It covered a sector of the front where the Headquarters instructions/plans were carried out.  From Corps level it went down to Division, then Regiment, Company, Platoon, and Squad.

We lived on the northeast edge of Seoul in a brick, two-story former high school.  Mountains rose just on the other side of the wall around the city.  Snow was on their mountain tops before we got it where we were in Seoul.  Eighth Army Headquarters was nearby and our outfit provided communication links to Corps level in the field.  As a newcomer to Korea, emotionally I was doing real good.  I was way back of the front lines most of the time.  I never saw a dead enemy in all my time in Korea, nor a dead American.

I do not recall the name of the company CO now.  I did not see him often.  Our sergeant was named Johnson.  He was from somewhere in the South and was a career man.  He knew his business and was firm and fair.  Both the CO and the Sergeant expected us to do our jobs and if we did, they gave us no flack.  The sergeant stands out in my mind yet today.  He was a no-nonsense leader.  Some of our officers and noncoms must have been World War II veterans, but I do not know how and where they served.

Today I have a cap that reads, "Signal Corps: Messenger of Battle."  It has the flags that are waved to a code used in signal flags.  I spent the six months in Seoul repairing some ailing "Carrier" equipment, but most of the time I worked the three shifts at the Communications Center being available to correct problems and learning how the equipment operated.  I was also put on "gate guard" to check IDs and Vehicle Trip Tickets.  Once a 2 1/2 ton truck went out and did not return.  I was called before the Captain several times to disclose what I could remember.  I was told that I might have to pay for it, but I didn't.  Other trucks disappeared, too.  A false trip ticket was made out to an operator named "White."  I remembered the truck, but saw nothing wrong with the paperwork and allowed the truck and passengers out.

It was while I was at Seoul that I had my first sighting of the enemy.  I had become good friends with Joe Hollearn, a sergeant from Kentucky.  He invited me into his room.  The rest of us were housed in a big room in the former school building.  He asked me to ride shotgun on some deliveries toward the front and some local deliveries.  On one of these trips, there was a prisoner of war work party on road construction.  I was riding shotgun, delivering carrier equipment to a northern installation.  In the Signal Corps we trained with .30 caliber carbines, and that is what I was carrying, along with two .30 round clips with the butts taped together, giving us 60 rounds.  Our weapons were semi-automatic, while some carbines fired automatically.  On the trip, we were stopped by a flagman and we noticed the different uniforms and POW stenciled on the back of their jackets. We also got lost and darkness came upon us.  We drove up to a campfire and were challenged by foot soldiers who told us to turn out our lights before we brought out artillery on them.  We got turned around and got out of there as quickly as we could without lights.  That was scary for this pilgrim.  Joe, by the way, prompted me to write to his cousin back in Kentucky and I wound up marrying her.  Joe died some years ago of a rare disease that his mother feels he contracted in Korea.

The Red Cross came through our work area while I was in Seoul and passed out small corn cob pipes of a souvenir type.  They could not be smoked.  I guess they wanted us to know they were there.  That was okay.  The guys up on the lines needed them much more than we did.

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Later toward summer of 1952, I helped equip a trailer to be sent north near Panmunjom to provide communications for correspondents covering the peace talks.  When the trailer was in place near Panmunjom, I was sent as one to operate and maintain the equipment.  It was located at a destroyed village named Munsan-ni, north of Seoul on the west side of Korea.  A nearby river showed the results of the Yellow Sea tides, which are some of the highest in the world.  The sunsets from the high humidity were the most brilliant I have ever witnessed.

The Munsan-ni location was a memorable experience for me.  The village was destroyed--burned to the ground.  We found napalm cases in the village.  I stepped into the ash of a house and it was still knee deep, possibly having been burned a year before.  A layer of rice straw was added each year.

Correspondents formed a Jeep convoy each morning for the trip to Panmunjom to gather news.  The correspondents lived in a train on a rail siding next to where our equipment trailer was parked.  Female war correspondent Marguerite Higgins made a short appearance there. She, as well as women correspondents staying on the train at Munsan-ni, were the only American women I saw in Korea.  They were there to cover the peace talks.  I never personally met any important people in Korea.  The war correspondents were probably the closest celebrities that I saw there.  We were near the camp where Gen. William K. Harrison lifted off each day on his helicopter trip to the "talks."

From a nearby hill north of us, we used binoculars to see the peace camp and its balloon markers.  Along the rail tracks at Munsan-ni were some destroyed rail cars.  One metal box car had holes throughout.  It had carried ammunition and had been set on fire.  The resulting explosions had punched holes in the metal of the car.  Some big shells still lay on the ground.

Munsan--ni was the site of the 187th RCT paratroopers' drop, one of a few made during the Korean War.  During one of our exploring walks, another guy and I got out in front of some Marine defenses and took pictures of Marines cleaning out trenches and bunkers.  We were informed that we were in a mine field.  We looked for our tracks and went back out in them.  That was probably the time in Korea when I was in the most danger.  At the time, my concern was to find where I had stepped and reuse my footprints carefully.  I was not frightened at the time, but I was later!

I remember that a trainload of Marines offloaded at the rail siding once.  They were some of the few drafted Marines.  Artillery was firing a few miles north where they were going.  A sergeant was being an ass and telling them horror stories to try to scare the wadding out of them.  There were some artillery bangs and he poured on the fear.  Maybe that was the way to do it, but I didn't like it.

While at Munsan-ni, I saw some wounded being evacuated.  I was discouraged about the conduct of the war because we were limited to bombing and staying below the 38th parallel.  That was a stupid way to conduct a war.  The enemy has to be hit wherever they are and make continuing costly to him.  My strongest memories of Korea are of the short time at Munsan-ni near the peace talks.

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I was summoned back to Seoul to go to Japan for a school and after completing it, I was sent to Wonju to operate this new equipment that I had trained on.  I received some congratulations for coming out on top at the school, and I still cherish those letters.  I spent the remainder of my time in Korea at Wonju.  There I was the ranking noncom of the 304th.  I attended a unit reunion in 1999 and was given the history of my unit.  The 304th is still in Korea and headquartered at Wonju.

While in Wonju, we took a Korean to train on our equipment.  We were given the impression, but never actually told, that we would be leaving the equipment with the Koreans when the war ended.  This man did not stay long.  I was later told that he was on his own as far as food, clothing, and shelter was concerned, and he couldn't survive with those conditions.

I remember that after a movie one time, I went back to the equipment room where I found a cot behind the equipment and a "local" girl there.  Saathoff and I had to bust up the party.  Prostitutes did not solicit on the streets that I saw, but  young boys had a line something like, "Want my sister?"  In Japan, things were different.  The "ladies of the night" were right outside the gate of our installations and soliciting openly.

Our laundry and cleaning personnel were natives and we were friendly with them.  Our cabin boy was a bright, friendly boy.  He worked hard and efficient.  A collection was taken to order a denim cap, jacket, and pants for him from Sears.  I have a picture of him showing off his proud outfit.

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Daily Life in Korea

As I said earlier, I was not in the shooting part of the war and never met an enemy.  We had no casualties in our outfit.  I was never wounded by the enemy, but I was sent to the hospital for three days when a stove blew up in my face.  It was a stupid mistake on my part.  Our room heaters were designed to burn kerosene, but we did not have anything but diesel and gasoline.  We were instructed to burn diesel in the stoves.  Diesel did not burn clean and soon the stove pipe was choked up with oily soot.  We found that if we mixed gasoline with diesel, we could go much longer between cleaning stove pipes.  Too much gasoline was going into the stoves, so we got orders to stop this practice.  We reduced the amount of gasoline, but did not stop completely.  My stove went cold one day and I figured that the pipe was clogged.  I opened the front of the stove to see if the fire was out.  It wasn't.  When the oxygen got to the glowing embers, the gas fumes exploded while my face was still in the doorway of the stove.  My eyes were open at the time.  They filled with soot and were burned, as was my hair and eye lashes.  I was taken to the hospital and treated for burns.  I could not see for two days and wondered what would become of my vision.  I regained it.  I could not shave for two weeks and my beard finally lifted the scab off my face.  The explosion cleaned out the stove pipe and also filled the room with oily soot.  Other than this incident, I was never ill while in Korea.

Korea was very cold and damp.  Temperature changes affected the operation of the copper wire we used for communication, and adjustments had to be made as the temperature changed.  My clothing was not adequate for outside, but our equipment was in heated buildings and I was not outside much.  Our leather boots were not warm enough for constant outside activity and were not waterproof.  Summers were hot, but no hotter than Illinois as I remember.  We wore fatigue clothes in the summer and I had no problem with them.

I was fortunate to be behind the lines and in a more "civilized" area of Korea.  In Seoul and Wonju, we had showers.  In winter we did not shower every day.  In summer we showered more often, though not always daily.  In Wonju, we played volley ball several hours a day and then we showered often, daily.  In Munsan-ni, things had been more primitive.  I cannot remember if we were allowed to use the facilities on the correspondents' train.  Clothes were changed on as "as needed" basis, and each decided when this was needed.

I am not a finicky eater so food was never a problem for me.  We did get a lot of turkey, and I am not fond of turkey today as a result.  We had a well-balanced diet, I feel.  The only beverage served was powdered milk or coffee.  I learned to drink strong coffee and still take it black and unsweetened today.  I never tried the native food in Korea.  It sounded too foreign to me and we were warned about eating uncooked vegetables because of the way the Koreans fertilized the crops.  "Honey wagons" were prevalent in villages and cities.  These ox-drawn carts made their way along the streets, collecting human waste to be taken to the crops to fertilize them.  The food in our mess halls was very basic.  I felt the need for something else in Seoul and went to our small PX.  The only item that caught my eye was ripe olives.  I was not accustomed to them and had to learn to like them.  After finishing that bottle, I went back and got the remaining few.  I still like them.  I missed my mother's roast more than anything.  She used to seer it and then cook it with carrots, potatoes, and onion.

Our life was not so serious, being in the rear and out of constant danger.  We kidded a lot and teased.  I visited with Joe Hollearn in beer halls, but I was not fond of beer.  I had many Baptist friends, and maybe that influenced me to go easy on it.  The guys gave a lot of laughs in the beer hall after having a few.  Many got mean and belligerent after drinking, but one guy was as gentle as a lamb and could be led around and talked into doing anything after he had had too many.  He was a rare exception.

At Wonju I became close to Merlyn Satthoff, a corporal who was in charge of the telephone switchboard.  He was a very moral person and we came from the same church background.  We learned of each other's background and conversed some.  I felt I knew him well.  I stopped to see him in Nebraska on one of my post-Korea vacation trips.  He came to see me last September.

I received a lot of mail from home.  I wrote a lot also to keep the mail coming.  A cousin who I grew up with wrote a lot and so did one of her girlfriends that I went out with some.  I sent her a few things from Japan and the last time I saw her, she told me that she had it hanging on her wall.  It was a hand-painted picture of a kitten painted on silk.  The girl I married was also a prolific writer.  Some of my mail from her smelled good and the mailman would take a sniff before handing it to me.  My mother and father were very good about writing.  I took many 35MM slide pictures and sent them home.  A neighbor visited my folks one night while they were projecting them on the only screen they had--a window shade.  The window faced the highway.  The neighbors asked my folks why cars were stopped and parked on the edge of the road.  They were watching the slide show.

I received packages of cookies from Mom and some of the girls I had dated.  These were always shared with others.  We all did this.  One gal sent me packages but there was a note in them addressed to some other GI who was also serving in Korea.  Without his address, the only thing I could do was to enjoy the cookies.  Was she sending me a signal??  I asked for something from the States, but now I cannot remember what that was.  We were able to get almost everything we wanted in our PX's.  (Up at the front, this would have been a different story.)  Mail always arrived in good condition and so did the packages.  While in Seoul, one of the guys received a 45rpm record player and five records.  He played one so often (Jo Stafford's "Shrimp Boat") that we were ready to break the record.

There were opportunities to attend church in Korea.  I had always attended church with my parents, so I attended church whenever I could while in the service.  Occasionally a Lutheran service was offered by a Lutheran chaplain, but most of our services were a combined Protestant type.  The Chaplain could be from any denomination and had to be prepared to serve all.  I had no objection to these services.  I was able to look around and find out who were the "religious types."  I felt closer to these men.

I witnessed no prejudice in the Army.  We had a great black sergeant in our outfit.  I did witness prejudice against Koreans in words and, in a few cases, in actions.  They were considered stupid because they could not operate our technology, but we could not have survived in farming over there.  I looked out a window one day to see an Army truck going down the street with a Korean man hanging onto the door and a GI beating on his hands with the blades of an ice skate.  Telephone operators connected two lines together that were used by Koreans.  The low-ranking personnel shut up and then the lines returned to normal.

I was in Korea for two Christmases.  On the last one, we worked together to bring orphans in for chocolate milk and cookies and a movie.  Our intentions were good, but those poor kids needed something nourishing and something they could appreciate.  I don't know how much they got from our efforts.  Our New Year's Day was also big for them.  The kids were dressed up in very colorful outfits--bright red, yellow, blue, green, and other colors.  They all became one year older that day, as was Korean custom.  When we asked their age, we got both ages.  They knew what the real date was and the one they celebrated on New Year's Day.  I had two birthdays away from home--one while in Seoul and the next in Pusan while getting ready to board the ship for Japan and on to the States.  My birthday is January 21 and the ship sailed on the 23rd.

I have always been naturally curious, so I investigated the country of Korea and tried to learn about the culture and its people.  I liked airplanes and visited air bases when I could.  I passed many native homes on my various trips in Korea and got a small idea how the people lived.  Many houses had no heat except a charcoal burner.  Some houses, I was told, had an interesting heating system.  A fire was built below the floor line and the smoke passed through tubes under the floor to the other side before going up a chimney.  Koreans sat, ate, and slept on the floor, so they were right there at the heat.  The children appeared happy, looked well-fed, and some were well-dressed.  Some wore winter clothing made from OD Army blankets.  For small children, the pants were not sewn in the crotch for toilet reasons.

I saw no USO shows in Korea.  We had some Korean entertainers though.  They juggled, tumbled, and gave strength demonstrations.  I got two nails twisted together from the strong man, and have them yet today on my library shelf.  I did accumulate enough points to go on R&R.  We flew from Seoul in a C-119 to Kokura, Japan.  There we were given a Class A uniform and a great meal of milk, steak, and vegetables.  Then we were released to do what we wanted.  I traveled south to Kumamoto to see an ancient castle and then on to a volcanic mountain and GI rest camp that was built for winter Olympics that were interrupted by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.  The food there was great and there were many things to do.  Mt. Aso Konko was steaming sulfur smoke and erupted the following April, killing some.  The crater was huge with an outside crater of I guess about five miles.  A cone then developed on the inside that was the steaming part of the volcano.  The outside crater filled with water at one time and the wall broke.  That was where our train traveled to enter the crater.  It had to make a switch back to make the grade.  Fog hung in the valley in the morning making a great scene.  From there I traveled to Beppu and saw the Buddha of Beppu and the sacred monkeys that invaded the fruit stands and helped themselves.  I enjoyed this trip immensely.

I drank some 3.2 beer, but was not fond of it and had a troubled conscious doing so.  I went to the beer hall with others, especially Joe, just to be with them.  I took up the pipe and bought several ornamental pipes made over there.  Pipe smoke is always enjoyed more when someone else is smoking it.  I continued the pipe after the service for a while, but eventually gave it up.  I was not a smoker or beer drinker before going into the service.  I was not a coffee drinker before going in, either.  I was cured of gambling while in basic training when we visited a carnival in Augusta, Georgia, and I gambled and lost a month's pay.

I met my cousin's husband while in Korea.  I did not know him well before going into the Army.  He served on the front lines and had a few days off so he came to Seoul to say hello.  He had some scary stories to relate.  After getting out of the service, Doris and I lived across the street from him and his wife, and our kids played together.  One of Joe's relatives visited him and I was introduced to him.  Later we became related through Doris.

The hardest thing about being in Korea was that I felt that a lot of things were passing me by.  I had doubts that much of what I was experiencing would be of value back home.  Girls I had dated were getting married, and I wondered if there would be any singles left at home.

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Going Home

I was stationed approximately 60 miles from 304th Headquarters when they sent a replacement for me so I could go home.  My enlistment was about a month from ending and I knew that something would have to start happening if I was to get out on time.  I served three days beyond the two years.  I was promoted to Sergeant in the summer of 1952 and still held that rank when I left Korea.  I had behaved myself and not lost the rank.  My training had not served me well in Korea, but the service can be very mixed up and confusing at times.  I do not believe my case was typical by any measurement.  It just worked out that way for me.

Nothing big happened during my last days with the unit.  I took pictures of the gang, but there were no parties.  When I arrived in Seoul to further my preparations, the men I was familiar with had gone home, so I knew few.  I was happy to be going home and eager to get moving.  I left Seoul--in the northwest part of Korea, and traveled by train to Pusan--in the southeast part of Korea, to board a ship.  I traveled to Yokohama for more processing before continuing on to the States.  Our barracks bags were checked for proper uniform and contraband, papers and shots were checked, and the ship was probably stocked with food and fuel.

I returned home on the USS General Hershey.  Although I did not save a ship's newspaper from every day of the three-week trip, I did save the paper dated January 23, 1953.  There was no one on the ship that I knew before boarding her.  The mood on the ship was anticipating going home and getting out of uniform and back to civilian life, our careers, and our lives.  We had movies, and musical groups played out on the deck.  Church services were held.  There was a ship's library and a PX.  I was put on KP again.  This time I was to oversee a work group every third day.  I did not know the men and had no roster.  I just trusted them to show up.  Most did, but then they disappeared during the day.  The ones who stayed had to do the work of those who left.  I was not a people manager and did not have that command ability.  I paid for it during the days I had this duty.

We sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco and docked with a military band playing.  Seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and then getting to sail under it and look up at it was a real thrill for this mid-western country guy.  It all meant that I had made it back and that things looked good with promise. In 1992 I had a chance to drive across the Golden Gate.  My family did not know--and I didn't either, when I would dock.  Besides, California was a long way from Illinois.  We offloaded and went up river by boat to Camp Stoneman.  We had numbers, as I remember, and left the ship according to our number.

We then spent several days processing at Camp Stoneman.  From there some of us boarded a train that traveled through a beautiful canyon called "Feather River Canyon."  It was snowing there and as the train snaked through it, we could see the front of the train at times.  We also went through the Utah Salt Flats and Salt Lake City where the train stopped for a short period.  I got off and went in to the depot.  Later on we traveled down the Royal Gorge and looked high above us at the famous bridge.  We got off at Colorado Springs and were taken to Fort Carson where we were processed out.  I did not go on a wild spree when I got back to the States.  I went to a dance or two in downtown Colorado Springs and was invited to the home of a girl I danced with, but I was committed to my future wife by then and it was an innocent and civil meeting.

I was one of many returning GIs who were asked if we would extend as cadre.  But that was one of my weaknesses.  I had had enough of trying to get unhappy GIs to do something.  On February 19, 1953, I was out of the service except for several years of reserve time.  I stayed at Colorado Springs for a day sightseeing.  Being winter, there were things I could not see.  Then I made the bus trip back to Illinois.  This took several days and I had a layover in St. Louis before getting to Springfield.  I was eager to get home, but was intent on seeing the area I passed through also.

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When I became a civilian again, I thought that I would go back to school so I took some tests to see where I could begin my schooling in electronics.  I had had a concentrated year of it before entering the military, and then some more in the service.  While testing to go back for more electronics school, I worked some for farmers in the area.  Eventually I got tired of doing nothing and missed working in electronics.  While I did not have a problem adjusting to civilian life, I did take too much time making a decision on whether I should get further schooling or get a job.  I wish I had made a quicker decision there.

I got a job with Bell Telephone, thinking I could use my experience in the service.  Not so.  I had to start at the bottom with Bell Telephone and learn how to install phones and the associated wiring.  One day I passed an IBM office, walked in, and talked to them about a job.  I took tests, was accepted, and went to work with IBM on December 1, 1953.  I had four months of basic school in Endicott, New York, and there were many other schools on advanced machines that occurred almost yearly after that.  My oldest daughter feels that I was away at these schools for most of her birthdays.

I got married just before going to work for IBM.  I married Doris Martin from Winchester, Kentucky--cousin of Joe Holleran, the sergeant from my company in Seoul, Korea--on November 22, 1953.  We have four children: Deborah, born October 8, 1954; Donald Jr., born October 8, 1955; Dean, born February 16, 1958; and Dawn, born January 2, 1963.

I retired on February 1, 1991, with 37 years and two months service with IBM.  Doris and I have done a lot of traveling and sightseeing in retirement.  We have traveled all 50 states, the Holy Land, and 11 countries in Europe.  We have taken many bus trips that were guided around the States.  I do volunteer work and have a wood workshop.  I enjoy turning wooden bowls and making bird houses and bird feeders.  I have expanded porches on the house and I do a lot of gardening.  I planted 60-plus different trees to observe their growth and habits.  I have a spring-fed creek in back of the house that I keep clean.  I made stone walls to outline it.  They enable me to keep the grass cut right up to the water's edge.  I make boats for kids to pull through the water by using a piece of bamboo (that I grow) and string to the boat.

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Final Reflections

The military, and to a great extent Korea, changed me, although I received no comments as to how I had changed.  I had seen another world, but I liked where I was in the United States and appreciated my culture much more.  I had seen the primitive life of the Korean people.  (I have since told my children and others how poor Korea was and that we could get along with much less.)  I was ready to settle down and contribute to society and try to make my mark on this earth.

As I mentioned earlier in this memoir, I was for sending troops to Korea.  In hindsight, however, I believe we were used badly.  I was for stopping aggression, especially by Communism.  But I do not like "police action" for the military or having limits on land that can be taken.  I was for going beyond the 38th parallel at the time, but believe that MacArthur was wrong to disobey the President.  I liked Truman, but I am not sure he was correct when he ordered MacArthur to stop at the 38th.  Nuclear weapons may have been introduced, but our arsenal was bigger and that could have been a deterrent to the Chinese.  The Chinese were wrong to enter the conflict and I was for punishing them.  We should have used anything in our arsenal on the Chinese to get them out of the conflict and to show them what happens when they send their troops across the borders of another country.

I have never revisited Korea, but I watched the Olympics on television to look for familiar landmarks.  It has changed drastically since I was there.  I have been back to Japan and found it much changed, too.  They are arrogant again.  South Korea is industrialized and progressive, but look at North Korea--backward and bankrupt and Communist.  I am not sure how much US troops in the area are contributing to the stability of the area.  If the area would be peaceful without them, I would like to see our troops come home.

I feel the Korean War is known as "The Forgotten War" because we had just had a long war (World War II).  We were tired of war and wanted to put all that behind us.  We went to Korea to send a message to aggressive Communist countries that we will not stand by while they invade other nations.

Korea was two years in my life that treated me to something I would not have otherwise experienced.  It was a great lesson for me personally.  World War II and its veterans get more emphasis, but I believe it should be that way.  I do not resent this.  The Army taught me self discipline and gave me order in my life.  I saw other cultures and a lower standard of living, but I also saw them happy.  I saw Americans at their best and worst.  I learned that there is something more to life than possessions.  I experienced God's protection.

The members of the press are "bleeding hearts" looking for victims when news is scarce.  They made a big thing out of what they termed a so-called "massacre" at Nogun-ri, Korea during the war.  It is bad to kill civilians or other innocents, but war is confusing and not processed cleanly.  Those who reported this had never experienced combat and were in no position to judge what should have happened there.  They did not walk in the shoes of someone who had been shot at.

I would like for all of the Missing in Action to be located.  But again, war is not clean, and in the confusion of combat, things get misplaced, forgotten, buried, and destroyed.  Some will always be missing, and we can't count on the enemy to assist us in locating them.

I do not think I have much of a story to tell in comparison to those who faced danger and death routinely in Korea.  I did not pick my experiences, and tackled those given to me as best I could.  Life is so much like a card game.  You work with the hand you have been dealt.  Some are sure winners and some are losers that will turn out to be nothing good.  Play what you have been dealt and try to cut your losses.  I tried to serve honorably and do my job as best as I could, but I did not have the exciting experiences that some had.  But then, I was not hurt or killed either.



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