|Back to "Memoirs" Index page|
Maurice R. "Bob" Slaney
Lost River, West Virginia-
"Every 20th of July I return to Billy's gravesite and place a wreath and flags there. I drag along a “boombox” and play a tape with taps and the National Anthem. Most of the time I’m alone there. I guess the ones who remember are all dead and gone now, so I have the whole cemetery to myself. When I’m dead and gone, there will be no one to remember how and why these men, along with all the others, died. No flowers or wreaths or flags."
- Bob Slaney
I was born Maurice Robert Slaney, son of Maurice and Eva Pike Slaney, on May 7, 1930 in Kings County, Brooklyn, New York. Both of my parents were from Newfoundland, but they met and were married in Brooklyn, New York. Like most Newfies, my father mostly fished when he lived there. Mother was first married to a Farrell from St. Lawrence, Newfoundland. I don't know a whole lot about my mother's family, but I know that I had two stepbrothers (Neal and Gerald) and two step sisters (Helen and Patricia). All of them were much older than me. I was 14 years younger than my youngest sister. My mother took nurses training. She then became a nurse, working mostly in private service out of a nursing registry. Later, Mother moved to the United States, and continued to practice nursing in Brooklyn. There was a small grouping of Newfoundlanders living around the 4th Avenue section of Brooklyn, and I guess that's where my mother met my father. When there was a boat needing an extra hand, Father signed on. Outside of that, he mostly worked in the Fulton Fish Market in New York. Mother and Father married and almost right away there was I coming along. I was only seven months old when my father died of cancer, so I have no recollection of him at all.
After my father's death, my mother again worked as a nurse, this time mostly in hospitals, but some private duty also. She worked at whatever nursing job brought in the cash, I guess. She worked 20-hour duty shifts at times. I guess that my youngest stepsister took care of me a lot. I also got passed around to a married sister and married brother, but only for short periods. My early childhood education was in different public schools in Brooklyn. Most of my schooling from second grade to eighth grade was done at a Catholic boarding/day school in New York I remember that when I was around 10 or so, I was sent up to St. Johns, New Brunswick, Canada, during the summer, where I was mostly farmed out.
When I was at the early elementary school age, my mother did some nursing work for the Catholic church in Brooklyn, taking care of priests and nuns in the rectory who were sick and most likely dying. That's where she got an in with the local bishop. I was sent to Saint Anns in New York somewhere around the 70s and Lexington Avenue. The first five years were boarding and the remaining three were day student style. I know that the school was run by the Marist Brothers and Sisters. It was a typical Catholic school with lots of punishment for not having lessons prepared or knowing answers.
The dining room (ha) of the boarding school was in the basement of the rectory. I can recall nothing about the food except that there wasn't that much of it and the taste wasn't memorable either. I guess that's why I didn't find the food in a military mess hall all that bad. After a play period in the early evening, there was study hall for about an hour and a half. Then we went up to the top floor of the other building, which was the dormitory. It had a typical arrangement of single beds with a bedside cabinet for clothing and toilet articles. They were reclaimed wooden ice boxes of the twenties and thirties. The top opened up to put a block of ice and the lower was for milk and food. They changed them so that the toilet articles were in the top and clothes in the bottom half.
The bathroom had a long water trough with maybe eight or ten cold water taps we used when washing and brushing our teeth. I can't remember if we had showers or a bath tub. Strange, so much of the memory of my younger days is gone completely. I recall that in the day student mode, I walked from the place we lived in just off Flatbush Avenue to the Independent Railway Transit (IRT) subway station. That was maybe eight blocks. Sometimes I went off in the other direction and took the Broadway Motor Transport (BMT) about an hour's ride to I think the 77th street stop. Then I walked the remaining few blocks to school. I changed trains at different stations depending on how I felt and just for the change. The fare in those days was a nickel.
When I was old enough for high school, I attended Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, from which I graduated in March or April of 1948. It was located at Flatbush and Church Avenues, right across from one of the older churches in Brooklyn--the Dutch Reform church. Erasmus was a good school. In fact, it was one of the better ones in Brooklyn. In those days the schools in New York and Brooklyn had excellent teachers. By a strange choice, most of the teachers were Jewish. I have no idea why, unless they got into the school system because it was civil service. In the Depression, a steady paycheck was something to be proud of. In some of the classes, I was ahead of the rest of my fellow students. I guess that the good Catholic teaching at the boarding school was of some use.
Despite the Andy Hardy movies out of Hollywood, I didn't get into too many school activities. Mostly I worked after school. I had a part-time job at a small cafe, and because it was in the neighborhood, I didn't have to travel far to get to it. The cafe served coffee and sandwiches. I think that it paid about 75 cents an hour. My job was to make sandwiches, sweep the floor, and do whatever else I was told to do. It was pocket money, and it helped pay for school supplies like pens and inks and paper, that sort of stuff.
Another of my part-time jobs included delivering groceries for a grocery store on Flatbush Avenue around Bedford Avenue or close by there. I delivered packages of groceries using a bike with a basket in front. If there was more than one order, I used the big wagon with big steel wheels. I pushed it along the street. In those days, I could leave the other groceries in the cart while delivering an order. Not today! My wages were tips only--mostly a nickel or dime. It was a big deal to get a quarter. Most orders were about two bags. A big order was put in cardboard boxes. I remember that they were a bitch to handle, and some of the snooty apartment house residents on Ocean Avenue made me take an order through the basement. They didn't want the peasants cluttering up the lobby, I guess. It didn't look all that nice.
The local Democratic Club was a few blocks from where I lived. We kids just hung around hoping to get a delivery or some kind of job out of it. They didn't hire us, we just got tips--mostly a dollar, but sometimes more. Come Thanksgiving, we went around helping give out turkeys and stuff like that. Anything for a buck. Remember, this was the 1930s and the Depression was still hanging on. Any money was welcome. Too bad the Mafia never lived in my area. The way things were then, I would have been in deep with them, I'll bet. I kept busy doing "gofer work" for the local Democratic ward boss, running errands and delivering messages.
I also worked in Lowe's movie chain theaters as an usher. New York City required that a 16-year old had to have working papers. I had to trudge to downtown Brooklyn and fill out forms and I think pay a fee. Anybody who employed a teen required a show of these working papers. I held the theater job in 1946 and 1947. It was weekend work mostly, but once in a while I was asked to work an evening during the week, too. My job was mostly ushering. An usher watched to see that the patrons were not disturbed by others. Feet on the back of seats and loud talking were not allowed. Smoking was also a no no on the ground level, but it was okay up in the lounge and balcony. Part of my job was to empty the cigarette sand traps and sweep the floor to get all the paper (which wasn't all that much).
The most important duty of this job on the weekend was to keep the patrons who were waiting to get into the next show behind the tape barriers so they wouldn't block exit doors. Even more important, I was to log any doctor who notified us of his name and where he was sitting in case of a medical call of some sort. Unlike today's movie theaters, the candy counter back then wasn't as big as it is now. Once in a while I had to fill in for the candy clerk on break. Same goes for the cashier in the ticket booth. Now and then someone asked to be led to a seat because it was too dark for them. That was just about the only time I used the flashlight provided to me. Another duty was closing up the theater after the show was completed.
No movie star type people ever showed up at Lowe's when I worked there. Brooklyn wasn't that big a deal, I guess. But we did have an organ. Now and then someone showed up to play classical selections or more likely music from MGM. The organ rose up from the pit and the pianist played while the patrons filed in for the Friday and Saturday main evening show around 8 p.m. This was when the television was starting to make a difference, but not too much yet. Lowe's chain pulled out the stops on a big movie to pull in the customers. This was all before the government forced all the studios in Hollywood to get rid of the theaters they owned. They were breaking up the "big bad wolves," I guess.
There were Boy Scout packs in the community where I grew up, but I did not belong. Instead, I was a member of the "Flatbush Boys Club." I don't recall what it was, but I think it was something along the lines of the YMCA. It had an indoor swimming pool, which was the big attraction for me. I loved to swim, and I was good at it. It cost a dime to enter the club each time. They had other sports like basketball and such, too. They even had some outings to different places in the city, as well as things like a trip up the Hudson to Rye, New York. The outings were too expensive for me, but it didn't matter. I was happier with the pool. The one thing that I didn't care for was that no bathing suits were allowed in the pool. Just bare bods. Years later I wondered about that. I wondered if it was a "meat market" for guys to check out the kids. Who knows? I was never bothered by anyone there, however.
While I was attending the boarding school and Erasmus Hall in Brooklyn, World War II was in progress. I was not involved with any active programs for the war effort because work after school took up most of my time. I can't recall any programs the school sponsored regarding World War II. I do remember that the neighborhood kids mostly collected scrap and rubber goods and took them to a central point. Years later I learned that none of the items that were dragged there were ever used in the war effort. Mostly it was plowed under. It was a program to make the civilians feel they were supporting the effort.
My step-brother was drafted for World War II and ended up in the 116th regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. That was a national guard unit made up of Virginia, Maryland, and New York people. It was called the Blue and Gray. As the family luck would have it, the 29th was one of the three divisions that landed in France on D-Day. And would you believe it, Jerry went all the way through the war in Europe without a scratch--and him in the recon unit of the 116th regiment. I didn't even last 20 days in Korea! Go figure! He must have used up all the family luck.
Bit of History
A bit of history of the time. The Iron Curtain was starting to come down in Europe. Tito was in Europe aiding
the communists in the civil war in Greece. Truman and Marshall were starting the Marshall Plan, aiding countries
after World War II. England was pulling out of Palestine and the UN approved the state of Israel. England was also
leaving India in 1947. The country was split into Muslims and Hindu lands. All Hindus living in the now Muslim
lands had to leave. Same for all the Muslims in Hindu lands. It started a religious civil war between Hindu and
Muslim. Even today no one has any idea of the number killed, but it was considered to be over two million.
I saw an article in the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper that a naval reserve submarine unit was starting up and looking for males over 17 to join. I had always had an interest in underwater activities, so I took the trolley down to the Brooklyn Navy Yard and signed up for the reserve that very day. There were two fleet type submarines tied up at the yard. One was the USS Gato and the other USS Plunger. I signed up that very day and became an "Apprentice Seaman" assigned to the Brooklyn Navy Yard reserve unit.
Every weekend I could, I was down at the unit. I spent as much time as I could at the navy yard going all over those boats. I can remember even today some of the details: 312 feet long, 16 foot keel depth, six torpedo tubes forward with bunks for crew. Next was the forward battery room/officers quarters with a head and shower. Next was the control room trim and dive planes, manifold for controlling the air into and out of the tanks. The conning tower above with the helm and TDC unit. Then the after battery room with crews quarters and mess as one. Then the two engine rooms with huge Fairbanks Morse diesels and the maneuvering room next and the after torpedo tubes and crew bunks there also. I spent all the free time I could there.
During that time I managed to get included on a few cruises on some of the active duty snorkel subs in service. I must have been a pest with all the questions I asked. I even got to spend two weeks at the New London sub base for training. I went up in the escape tower from the classroom escape hatch wearing the Monson Lung and said hello to "Winnie and Minnie," the mermaids painted on the walls. In the spring of 1948 I was notified that the submarine reserve unit was being deactivated and the personnel were to be transferred to the fleet reserve (destroyers). Not for me that life, so my ten months and 11 days of naval service was over.
Joining the Army
Congress passed a "Mandatory Military Training" law for all males 18 and up. Someone in Washington got smart and changed the title to Universal Military Training. It was the usual Washington hot air--different name, same effect. It was eight years (two active and six reserve) service, with monthly training and two weeks training in the summer. But there was a provision where one could enlist for three years of military service and at the completion of that be placed in the inactive reserve. No weekend training or duty was required. I figured that was for me, so I signed up for the Army, specifying training in radio operator school. The physical was in New York. At that time, if you were breathing, you were in! Bodies were needed and no one was too fussy. When the physical and the paper work were done, I got on a chartered bus and was off to Fort Dix, New Jersey. That was May of 1948.
At that time just about all of the recruits from the northern states ended up at Fort Dix. It was a huge post. I have no idea how big it was, but it was so big that they took a portion of it and established McGuire Air Base and still had loads of room for Army training on the remainder. There was the usual Army insanity. Rush around and then wait. Wait for another physical and this time shots. Then over to a big mess hall for lunch. Back for this and that. More waiting. Off to clothing issue late afternoon. OD uniforms, shirts socks, boots, low quarter shoes, ties, hat, underwear, hankies, undershirts, fatigues, field jackets and whatever else I can't recall. Stuff everything into a barracks bag and sling it over the shoulder and march off. After the usual moving around from one place to another and getting an issue of clothing, I was assigned to Company E, 39th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division.
We formed up into training platoons and were assigned to the World War II two-story wooden barracks. They were heated by coal in a furnace room attached to the building, as well as a hot water furnace. The latrine was in the lower level with six or eight sinks and five or so toilets. There was also a shower with perhaps six or eight heads. Living quarters for the squads were double-deckers with a somewhat thin mattress on the springs. There were footlockers and open shelves and wooden rods for hanging clothing. There was partial linoleum on the middle of the wooden floor. Each floor had a private room for the NCOs, and we were in the open spaces.
There was lots of yelling by the few NCOs and the usual chicken for inspections of the barracks and clothing. "Place your clothing in the foot lockers. Hang up the uniforms on a wooden rail with a shelve above it for the hats. Fall out to get bedding. Make your bunks hospital style." This had to be shown to all of us. I think it was about two or three in the morning before we were allowed to go to bed. It didn't take long to figure out it was all show and no blow at all.
Reveille was at 5 a.m., at which time we had to make bunks and then fall out in the new fatigues and boots. There was more yelling about being too slow and not getting into formation soon enough. It was yelling all the time it seemed. We were marched off to the mess hall where they grabbed about five recruits for kitchen duty. The remainder marched back to the barracks where there was more yelling, and then we went into training on how to get into formation, how to turn, how to stop, how to this and that. We had "GI parties" every Friday when we had to scrub the floor and make sure all of the clothing faced one way and the buttons were all done up.
I know now that the Army didn't have enough money to operate the new training requirements. Congress just didn't pass the money bill to provide for the training needs. The basic training was eight weeks, which was just about enough time to get our new issue clothing dirty and cleaned. The eight weeks training was mostly close order drill with some training films. We also learned how to strip and clean the M-1 Garand rifle, shine boots, and spend two days on the firing line. It was not what one would think of as basic training, but that's all they could do at that time, except for the yelling and screaming. The cadre I guess did what they could. I think there were two in the company who had been in World War II. One was the adjutant and I think the first sergeant had been, too. Everyone else was almost as new as we were.
Basic training was a joke. There were the usual details we had to do--KP and policing the area and such as that. We did some field hikes, but had no training that would have made soldiers out of us. There was no time or money to devote to training. Besides close order drill (and not too much else), we watched a few training films about the evil communists and some on field health such as how to dig and mark latrines. And, oh yes, we had tear gas training with and without the masks. So basic training was a farce all around.
Signal Training Regiment
With basic training completed, off I went to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. It was just down the road from Fort Dix. I was assigned to Company K STR (Signal Training Regiment). Fort Monmouth, as most posts after World War II, was mostly made up of the two-story wooden barracks with all the trainees there. The signal corps school was quite large both in area and the number undergoing training. They had radio, wire, and radar communications repair, and on and on. Crypto. Wire laying and switchboard training. No flags though.
We were fed in a company style mess. We got to sit at the table and the KPs brought the food to the table. Bowl empty? All we had to do was just hold it up in the air and the KPs took it back to refill it. After breakfast, we fell out in the morning and marched off to school in a "company mass." That was about eight or ten abreast--a large clump of troops. Most of the time, the commanding general stood at the headquarters as the troops marched by with the post band playing. And not to forget the three-legged drummer. He had to have an extra leg to mark that crazy beat on the bass drum. We marched across the highway to get to the school area. I think it was the main road going to Bordentown. I'm not certain if that was the name.
School was again in the two-story wooden barracks converted to school needs. Radio operators were assigned to two buildings, if I remember correctly. I was up on the beginning level, 2nd floor. Radio operators sat four in a row with head phones and a typewriter that was covered by a wooden hutch so we couldn't see the keyboard. I had a huge Underwood typewriter that printed capital letters only or upper case. We sat there with the headphones on and listened to Morse Code. "Dit Dah, Da Dit," and on and on. There was also room for earphones to plug into the connections. The instructors mostly kept an eye open for "goof off" types. The Morse Code was sent to all the positions from a code machine very much like the old reel to reel tape recorders. At set times in the day, there was a testing period. We were required to copy a minimum of eight out of ten code groups to pass on to the next higher speed. I believe it went from five words a minute to eight, then twelve WPM, then fifteen on to eighteen, which was the requirement for me as an intermediate speed radio operator.
Every two hours we had a break and went outside if the weather was nice. Everyone smoked then. But we had to make sure not to show a full pack or the vultures would gather begging one. In those days we could go to the orderly room and the first sergeant would give us a chit to buy stuff at the PX. A carton of cigarettes cost 50 cents then, but we were only getting paid $68, I think. Most of us bought Zig Zag cigarette papers and Bull Durham tobacco and rolled our own. There was even a rolling machine from either the Zig Zag company or maybe Bull Durham to roll cigarettes. Most of us would roll cigarettes in the barracks the night before and keep them in a case for the next day. Come pay day, the first sergeant would collect for all the chits outstanding.
The training on the equipment used at that time was mostly by demonstration. We were told that most of the equipment was of World War II type and that we would see and use the newer radios when we reached our units (BULLLLL). We did get some training on the HO van, which was a closed van placed on a 2 1/2 ton 6X6 truck. Most often it was a GMC model. It had the BC 610 transmitter, two receivers in sort of cubby holes, and a bench running down the middle of the van. Inside were the sections of antennas to be put up when the van reached its operating area. It was seldom used on the move, but it could be. There was additional stuff like antenna tuners, and an M209 code machine (which was very difficult to set up unless we paid very close attention to the code setting). It also had a PE 75 power unit that was towed behind. ( think that was the number.) It was a jeep engine hooked up to a generator to provide operating voltage for the van. These were units used mostly at higher headquarters like Divisions. They were seldom used at lower units. They were equipped with the SCR 193, which was a BC 191 transmitter and a 312 receiver and a power unit hooked to the 3/4 vehicle battery for operation without the engine needing to be run.
Far East Command
When I got up to 18 words a minute, the Army figured that was plenty. I was sent to Fort Lawton, Seattle, Washington, for assignment to Far East Command. Most orders were for Japan and some for Okinawa. I had asked for Europe, but then, so did everyone in the Army. Assignment to the Far East Command wasn't my dream, but the units in Japan were way under-strength. So after completion of communications school, off I went to Fort Lawton.
I think I took the Pennsylvania Railroad from Penn station on 34th street in New York. I changed in Chicago, but I don't recall the railroad I took. I went across the upper part of the country and lucked out with a lower bunk that I could look out at night. There wasn't all that much to see in 1948 except lots of open country with very few towns or even homes to be seen from the right of way. If I recall correctly, the trip took three days to get to Seattle from Chicago. The meals were something else. I had meal coupons supplied by the Army. They weren't greeted with any shouts of joy by the dining car staff. I can remember being told to please wait for my meals until the passengers had finished. Come in last. I remembered the old saying, "Dogs and soldiers not allowed or welcome" (and there is not that much difference these days either).
I was sent to the replacement company at Fort Lawton when I arrived. A replacement company was nothing but a large collection of bodies for details. I received a post graduate course in goofing off there. They had a habit of collecting dog tags when we were grabbed for a detail, so when taking a shower, we kept an eye out for someone who took his off and hung them on a hook. SWISH and they were gone, hidden in a towel. Another good one was when the morning formation was held. All those with permanent detail fell out. Lots of times we could get away with falling out. Sometimes they checked, but not often. The best one I had was to swipe a helmet liner and a clip board. I took down a bunch of notices off the bulletin board and put them on the clip board. In the morning I fell out with helmet liner and clip board, and when the permanent detail was called, I fell out. It worked every time. The only thing was to keep out of sight during the day.
At Fort Lawton it was wait, wait, wait. It turned out that the wait was to fill up an MSTS (Military Sea Transport Service) vessel that was operated by civilians. A week before Thanksgiving 1948 I was on shipment orders at last, as were quite a few others. Close to 500 men ended up boarding the General David C. Shanks at the pier. It took hours upon hours to get everyone onboard. I don't recall how long it took to get all the troops onboard, but I think it took most of the day at least.
The troops were berthed in the compartments that had once been holds for supplies and such. There were steel frames which had canvas stretched over the frames to make a bunk. There were five bunks top to bottom, with first in getting first choice. Barracks bags were slung over the frame to get some room in the bunk. It was like having a collection of punching bags hanging.
About the 20th of November, the mooring lines were thrown free from the dock and taken in. A tug helped to get the ship into the channel, and out of Seattle we went. We sailed up the inside passage heading for Anchorage, Alaska and Fort Richardson. Over a hundred troops disembarked for Fort Richardson. I know I was happy getting that many off the ship. It gave a bit more room in the troop compartments--not all that much, but any little bit was welcome. Then it was off to Japan via the North Pacific.
Once we hit the Pacific, seasick troops hung over the rails. "Feeding the fish", I believe was the phrase used. There were about 10 or 15 of us who were able to walk about making fun of the others. Thanksgiving dinner was attended by the small number of maybe 20 or so who were able to control sea sickness. We had a feast! With most of the troops not at all interested in food, there was no line and no limit on food. We could take all we wanted from the food line and go back for seconds--and even thirds--if we felt like it. There was turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, peas, lima beans, soup, rolls, and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. It was an orgy for us pigs. Then with a turkey leg in each hand, we went up to the deck to show the "fish feeders" what they were missing. It was a good thing that no one felt well enough to attack us. There would have been some troops who would not have reached Japan, that's for sure.
With nothing to do for all the troops and the Army being the Army, there had to be some sort of activity for the men. No way would the Army permit almost 400 men to lie on the bunks and do nothing. Nope! It was "make up something" time aboard the ship. There was close order drill, but that didn't do too well as most were still under the weather. Stupidity being the Army watch word, I was assigned duty at the bow of the ship to watch out for any floating mines. Even better, it was at night in the 1 a.m. to 4 a.m. period. The weather on the North Pacific wasn't all that bad, but it was mostly overcast with some wind--enough to cause the waves to have white caps on them. Can you imagine. I was a lookout at the bow of a ship in the North Pacific, watching for floating mines left over from World War II. There were no lights from the ship or starlight either to help illuminate the view, plus there was no telephone to call the bridge to tell them if I did see one. After being given the instructions for my duty, I was left alone to stand there like an idiot looking for floating mines. I told the ship's officer that the crew in the wheelhouse should keep an eye on me. If I was seen running like a bat out of hell toward the stern that was a good indication that there was a mine close by the bow. I was happy to learn that I didn't have to pull that duty again. There were too many troops onboard and not enough duties to pass among them, so it was back to the troop compartment to play cards. Poker, cribbage, and hearts were some of the games played.
After maybe five or six days, we arrived at Yokohama, Japan. Once again it was hurry up and wait. There were a lot of men to get off and onto the docks. We were formed up into platoons and marched off to load up on trains. Boy, were they old cars! They were wooden cars with bench seats. Those cars must have been used in the 1920s.
My first impression of Japan was gray and gloom. The surroundings were drab. There were wooden shops, wooden houses, and wooden business places. The buildings were all dark wood or wood stained with soot. It was a very gray looking scene. I was surprised that the buildings remained. (The fire raids by LeMay's 20th Air Force was said to burn out 80 percent of Tokyo and adjacent areas.) There was lots of activity going on. I saw A-frames for the first time and was astounded by the amount and size of the loads the natives carried on them. The Japanese men were small and thin (I don't recall seeing a fat person in Japan--male or female), and they impressed me with the loads they were able to carry on the A frames. The little guys bent over moving along under that load and just kept going. There was no looking around--they just got on with it. Everybody was working. I didn't see anyone sitting.
It was also the first time that I saw trucks and cars being powered by charcoal gas fumes. They couldn't drive too many miles, but at least it was wheels and transportation. Even the few taxis used the same set up. Bikes were all over the place. It was amazing just how much could be balanced on a bike and delivered to wherever it was going. There were regular two-wheel bikes and some three-wheeled ones with a cabin or trunk at the rear for a passenger or cargo. Some had big bags of charcoal fumes taking up half of the truck. Smaller cars and trucks had some kind of round contraption attached to the back of them with a small crank-type blower. I could see someone at the back cranking that handle for all they were worth, building up a draft to force the charcoal to burn hotter and produce fumes to power the cylinders.
We got to a stop after about an hour, then we all got out of the train and marched for maybe a mile or so to what was Camp Zama. I was told that it had been a training camp for the Japanese National Police. Someone else said that it was a military base for the Japanese Army. Like everything else, it was made up of wooden buildings. They were two-story with an entrance at each end and a long hallway down the side with rooms off the hallway. There were double-deck bunks in each room, six to a room. All the rooms were full. There was a small table in the middle, one chair, and the most useless heater ever created. It was a small, round contraption being fed by a 5-gallon diesel supply on a stand. That stupid thing could take more than an hour to get it fired up, and then it only put out enough heat for the guys right alongside it. There was no heat for anyone else. Boy, was it cold there. In fact, I was surprised how cold it was in Japan. I had no idea beforehand, but this was cold, damp right-to-the-bone weather. I had my woolen uniform on plus the overcoat, and I was still cold. We were lucky in that we only spent maybe a week there before about 30 or 40 of us got assigned to the 99th Field Artillery, 1st Cavalry Division (dismounted). We were loaded on 6x6 or 2 1/2-ton trucks for the ride out to Ota, Japan, where the unit was.
The battalion was composed of the headquarters battery and the 105mm Howitzers of batteries A, B, and C, plus service battery. All the units were not up to full strength, which I learned was common all throughout Japan with the occupation forces. It's somewhat strange to think, but the whole unit was supplied with war surplus equipment left from World War II. I don't think there was any new equipment anywhere, and what we had needed a lot of maintenance to keep it going. Trucks broke down often and the parts needed to get them back in service were not always available. It was weeks sometimes before the part needed arrived from the States.
Ota was located northwest of Tokyo, I think. Tokyo was about a two-hour drive from the camp. I was told that the station had once made Kawanishi float planes for the Japanese Navy. I never was able to confirm this. It could have been true, as the buildings we were in were all concrete and had two or three floors. Lower floors had the battalion offices, supply, and so forth. Upper floors were for barracks, bathrooms, showers, and such.
One unusual thing (for me anyway) was the arrangement of the bunks. Every bunk had a shelter half folded into a triangle and placed between the mattress and the metal spring of the bed. It was supposedly a sneeze shield to prevent colds or even flu from being passed around, which was dumb as colds, flu, and whatever are mostly passed by contact. But again, the Army way was the only way. We were issued two sets of field gear, pack, mess kit, tent poles and pegs, helmet liner, and steel helmet. The reason for that was for field and inspection. When a full field inspection was scheduled on Saturday mornings, everything was to be laid out on the bed following the instructions in a FM (Field Manual). The issue towel (green) was laid out as a base. On it was placed shaving gear--a plastic double edge razor with a package of Gillette blades in a red box, brushless shaving cream, shaving brush, steel mirror, face cloth (green), towel, Lifebuoy soap, tooth brush (red handled), and tooth powder. Along side of these items were the collapsed tent pole, metal fitting polished, tent rope scrubbed and bleached and tied. There were also tent pegs that were scrubbed and bleached with the first initial of our last name and the last four numbers of our Army serial number, put on with a rubber stamp. Everyone had a rubber stamp made up that way. We marked all of our clothing with the stamp.
On the other side was the issue weapon, which for me was the U.S. carbine, caliber .30 M2, and two 15-round
clips. A helmet and helmet liner was placed at the bottom of the display. All this was for inspection only, which
The entire camp had the divisional insignia displayed everywhere in sight. The insignia for the 1st Cavalry was a large long shield with a yellow background. In the right hand corner was a small black horse head. The patch was divided in half by a diagonal black stripe. The reason for it being black, I was told, was to mark the loss of the horses with which the unit had back in the late 1880s. Who knows if it was true or not. Some might have trouble believing this part of my memoir, but it is fact. There was a power station for heat and such and the smokestack was maybe 30 feet high. On it was a huge Divisional patch (the First Calvary Division dismounted). For those who were not in that unit during that time, it's hard to believe but true. The latrines had a 1st Cav decal on the wall. There were other patches here, there, and everywhere. All the vehicles had red (for artillery) painted radiator and gas caps. The wheel lugs were yellow for Cavalry and the wheel hubs red. To further add to the insane goings on, all the vehicles were waxed and polished. The fact that not all of them ran hadn't bothered anyone. We just had to be sure that they were nice and bright and shiny.
And that's not all. Getting ready for guard duty, we had all afternoon to fix up our ODs with all the insignia lined up just right. Our trousers were bloused (tucked inside the combat boots with a metal form inside the trousers that made the pants hang exactly right over the boots). A red scarf was worn under the "Ike" jacket so that it showed. (Here comes the best part....) I was armed with a carbine, as were all the men there. In order to clean and shine it, we took an electric drill, chucked a modified cleaning rod in it, and then ran it down the barrel of the carbine. Often a bit of steel wool was used first, then the bore cleaner. To top it off, very often a bit of "Blitz" cloth (a polishing cloth) was placed in the cleaning rod, and that was "buzzed" down the barrel until it was almost impossible to look down it. The fact that most of the carbines were well on the way to becoming smooth barrel muskets didn't cause any great fuss. And that's about how we spent all our time in that unit. The rest of the units in the 1st Cavalry were no doubt doing the same exact thing.
Our camp was in a farming area, so as far as passes went, there was no place to go. The Army didn't want the troops mixing with the Japanese. There were even special Allied Forces railroad cars for military and civilians to use so we wouldn't be forced to mix with the Japanese. That didn't last but a few years more before that changed. Passes for the unit were not often given out. For one thing there wasn't any place to go. Since our camp was in the farming area, Tokyo was too far by train. The local area was mostly off limits, too. I can't remember ever being given a 3-day pass to visit Tokyo. Most of our time was spent getting the unit up to operating standards.
And then there was sports. The entire Far East Command was sports insane. There were football teams, baseball teams, golf, basketball, archery, volley ball. If one could make a team out of something, it was encouraged. Wednesday afternoons were off for sports. We either had to be playing it or watching it or helping out somehow. I ended up as part of the 1st Cav swim team, which wasn't all that hard. If we could stay above water for five minutes, we were in. Once when I was out in the field for firing maneuvers, one of the artillery spotter planes--a Taylorcraft--was detached to pick me up from the field and fly me back to camp to get my stuff ready for a swim meet in Osaka. Boy, the first sergeant was hot about that. He had to find someone else to yell at with me gone. I ended up going for two weeks to a Red Cross life saving/water safety instructor class in Atami. I stayed in a lovely Japanese-style hotel with hot springs and outside pool. I lived like a king for two weeks while learning life saving and combat swimming techniques. The fact that some of the combat swim methods were just crazy didn't stop the classes. When in the Army, do it their way. We never were going to win a fight anyway, so relax. Again, sports was king.
Now a bit about my assignment. I was a radio operator with the communication section. I think we used the SCR 559, but I'm not sure of the designation. It was a two-piece unit. The lower piece held the battery pack and the upper was the transceiver. They both had luggage-type handle grips to make the carrying easier, I guess. The range was not all that great but it was to replace the field telephones in case they were damaged somehow. We were to go with the Forward Observer who directed the fire of the 105s and called the fire missions. I think the 99th was supporting the 8th Cavalry Regiment.
As I said earlier, all the equipment was left over from the Pacific fighting during World War II. A lot of it didn't work--or if it did, it wasn't always reliable. But we did what we could. My assignment with the 99th Field Artillery was from December 15, 1948 until May of 1949, when I was reassigned to the 24th Division, 24th Signal Company.
24th Signal Company
An aside about assignments. As I mentioned earlier, the units in Japan were very, very under-strength. Most of the assignments were for the ETO and Constabulary in Germany. As in World War II, the European area received priority in everything--men, equipment and supplies. The Pacific area received what was left--which often was very little.
I reached the 24th Signal Company on 11 May 1949. They were based at Kokura, Kyushu, the most southern of the islands of Japan. The area assigned for the Headquarters and attached units had been a Japanese weapons arsenal, and we were informed that Kokura had been the initial target selected for the drop of the first atomic bomb. It had been covered by overcast and the BE-29 passed it up for the alternate target, Hiroshima. This was a blessing for the American and other allied POWs who were imprisoned there. That fact was not known until the war's end.
The 24th Division and the adjoining 25th Division were assigned to I (pronounced "Eye") Corps. The 1st Cavalry and the 7th Division were assigned to another corps unit that I don't recall. The Division radio station was located in the upper floors of the Headquarters and was a 24-hour, 7 days a week operation. When I was there, we had the call sign of PB4, and corps was 2IQ. I've forgotten what the call sign was for the 25th.
Mostly our duty consisted of just hourly checks by the CW (Morse) Code. Very routine. We exchanged signal strength, readability, and if we had traffic, it was then sent. By then, CW was losing its place as the top means of sending traffic. Teletype was taking over. One could send 60 words per minute by teletype against 20 words per minute by CW. That was too big a difference to overcome. We got CW messages listing the arrival of dependents at Yokohama. I think it was done just to keep everyone on the CW net in practice. They came by teletype also just to make sure the "sponsor" got the word. In many cases that was enough time for the sponsor to pay off his "moose" (business girl) and get her away from the area so his family wouldn't know Dad was not suffering too badly over the separation.
Occupation duty wasn't all that bad. In fact, there was so little to do that the division was hard put to come up with things to keep the troops busy. In the case of the radio operators, we got in the 3/4 ton Dodge trucks, went to different locations, pretended to be other units of the division, and sent practice messages.
A word on those 3/4 ton Dodge trucks. Two of the six Dodges were the only ones to be depended on to start up in the mornings so they were parked in front of two others. We would start them up and tow the two 3/4s behind us until they got a clutch start. Then the four went back and pulled the others until all six were going. The HO van was mounted on a 2 1/2 GMC and that one started just fine. The HO van was the main Divisional radio unit. It kept contact with corps and with the regimental units. The 3/4 ton units were assigned to regimental units as radio contacts with division. That was the theory anyway. But that gives you some idea of just how the units operated on the cheap. All the other divisions were in the same boat as to replacements--men and machines. Parts to keep them going were not all that plentiful either. Many times vehicles were dead-lined because no parts had arrived to repair the units.
We were kept busy with make up things. Being the radio men, we operated out of the Dodge trucks, which saved our feet and backs. We used the SCR 193 radios. If I remember correctly, it was a BC 191 transmitter and a BC 348 radio receiver with a power inverter off the truck's battery to provide power for the radios. We often got a headlight or parking light off of a wrecked truck and wired it up so we had light to see in the dark. There were message pads and pencils and the M-209 code machine, which was a bitch to set up. One little mistake on the settings and the message was garbage (which often happened if we got the wrong signal operation instructions or SOI). It gave the frequencies to use and call signs and the settings for the M-209. If we got the right SOI for the right week it was easy. If not, we'd mooch around to get a valid copy.
I've been somewhat hard on the Army of that time. Most of the bull and chicken we had was just to keep the troops busy. Most of us were just waiting to get the three years over with so we could go back to the States. An example of the attitude of most of us was when there were six of us on extra duty for some minor crime of dirty shoes or whatever, we would fall out outside the quarters and most often it was close order drill for three hours. Or maybe we would be required to move some silly things from one place to another. The time I'm referring to, we decided to goof off without being caught. I was at that time a lordly PFC and I called the detail to attention and marched to the back gate at Kokura. We passed the MPs with no problem. I was calling cadence and kept it up until we were about 1/2 mile from the gate and close to "Mammasan's," where we fell out and spent the next two hours drinking beer and eating peanuts. Then we got back in formation and marched back through the back gate. This is an example of the sort of attitude we had at the time. Hell, it was peacetime, so why worry. A lot of men paid a high price for that way of thinking.
34th Infantry Regiment
In March of 1950, I was again reassigned out of the 24th Signal Company, 24th Division, this time to the 34th Infantry Regiment. Another radio operator named Brown (I think his Christian name was Roger, but I'm not sure) was reassigned at the same time, but he went to the Heavy Mortar Company. (You may notice the progressive downing of my assignments from higher to lower as my Army time progressed.) I was assigned to the Service Company of the 34th Infantry Regiment located at Sasebo, which was in Kyushu, the lower-most island of Japan. That came about because I knew the operation of the BD-72 telephone switchboard. Strange how one's fate depends on little things. I might have been in the Mortar Company rather than Brown but for that.
Service Company was located in downtown Sasebo, along with the postal unit. The rest of the regiment was outside the city of Camp Mower. Sasebo had been a port for the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II, and now the 34th was the occupying unit. Occupation in Japan at that time was quite strange, I thought. After the bitter war in the Pacific there seemed to be no hostile feelings toward the American Army of Occupation. The Japanese went about building the country up again and, except for the businesses that catered to the soldiers, they just ignored us. I know of no hostile actions taken against the GIs anywhere in Japan.
Occupation duty in Japan in 1950 was a soft touch. For one thing there were little or no military maneuvers held because there was no money to pay for damage caused by troops and vehicles doing training. So most of the training was close order drill and maybe films showing field sanitation and maybe VD films. Perhaps a third of the men at Camp Mower were permitted to go into Sasebo city on weekend pass. Most everything was off limits with the exception of the beer joints or halls. One was the Tacharsuka and the other was the Casaba. With little to do during the week, most of the men were bored, which led to fights most of the time in the beer halls. They were usually over nothing, except perhaps someone said something or someone came and tried to get the Japanese girls away from the table. They were there to keep the GI’s buying beer and very little else. Most of the time the MPs were kept busy. Perhaps if there had been training it might have cut down on the trouble the men got into, but there was no place to train or fire weapons. In fact, anything such as that had to be done over at the 19th regiment area. As I said, that kind of training cost the Army money they didn’t have. Nothing was free and the Army had to pay for shipping the men and vehicles and all the other items comprising a regiment. So drinking beer and fighting was about all there was to do. In the two years I was in Japan there was only one training maneuver, and I was told that it was a miserable failure on all counts.
The Far East Command being made up of Japan, Okinawa, and Korea was way far down on the list with the Pentagon for everything--men, vehicles, supplies, or whatever. Europe--France, Germany, Austria, Italy and so on--were the places to be. They were the glamour assignments. Just about anything needed was supplied right away. The latest equipment and anything needed was given. The Russians were considered the main enemy and Europe was to be the battlefield. The Far East or the Pacific was still low man, as it was in World War II. We had mostly left-behind vehicles and weapons. It could be considered the secondhand Army.
The divisions in Japan were the 7th Division, the 1st Calvary Division, the 25th Division, and the 24th Division. None were up to full strength. A division during World War II consisted of three regiments, and each regiment consisted of three battalions plus whatever supporting units were necessary--medical, supply, transportation, signal, field artillery, and so on. Thanks to Congress and the Defense Department, the divisions in Japan had three regiments, but each regiment only had two battalions rather than three. For the companies that made up the battalions, it was shortage of everything also--shortage of men and equipment and anything else you could think of. The Pentagon and the Defense Department had cut spending to the bone. The Far East was to exist on what could be spared, and that wasn’t all that much. I know this sounds like sour grapes. It provides a partial explanation of why the early fighting was so one-sided against the American Army in Korea, but there was much more that was wrong.
I was the whole signal unit in the Service Company--radio, telephone, switchboard (BD 72), EE-8 field telephone units, W-110 wire climbing spurs--the complete package. One guy when there should have been ten, according to the unit manning anyway. Again, this is an example of the shortage of men and supplies I've referred to previously. The Army just didn't have the money and the men to do the job it was expected to do.
After being in Service Company for two months I was still the only communications man, and I had a plate full. I think that my two-way radio was an SCR 623 which was to make up for the ANGRC-9 that we didn't have. The radio was a CW and voice. I had it mounted on the commander's jeep. That way it would work off the 12-volt Jeep battery. It also had a hand-cranked generator. The receiver of the unit used a BA 48 battery which provided the power for monitoring without the use of the generator. The transmitter was tuned by setting the neon bulb to maximum brilliance for operation. There were no meters or stuff like that. How I was supposed to operate the radio and crank the generator at the same time was left for future decision.
In addition to this equipment, there was a BD-72 telephone switchboard that I could operate as one man. But 24-hour operation with just me wasn't going to work too well either. There was the usual W110 field wire to hook up field telephones to the switch board. It had 10 or maybe 12 drops for connection of the field telephone EE-8s that worked off of D-type flashlight batteries. I think it took eight or ten of them to work the ringer and the lamps and that sort of stuff. Again, one man couldn't work all that alone. One man running the wire and doing the switchboard at the same time was slightly on the impossible side, but neither the Company Commander nor the First Sergeant were too concerned about that when I brought it to their attention. Sooner or later there would be more men assigned and I would get help.
As I mentioned, Sasebo was a port city. I was told that large components of the Japanese Navy had used that harbor as an anchorage. The port was sort of an hour glass with an outer bay and a narrow passage into the inner bay. Rumor was that the Japanese had placed two or three pipelines along the narrow portion should the American Navy invade that way. They would release the oil in the lines and set it on fire. Other methods of pre-invasion action had been done in hills behind the city. It was said that caves and pill boxes had been constructed that enabled the defenders to go from one end to the other without revealing anything at all. There were fortifications that had naval cannon installed to cover the complete bay and the shore too. Having heard of the defense of Iwo Jima, Saipan, and Okinawa in the Pacific, I had no reason to doubt the talk.
Like the rest of Japan, Sasebo was working hard at recovering from bomb damage. I have to say I saw men (and women, too) carrying immense loads of all sorts using an A frame. Bicycles were used as transport vehicles too. Either they carried a cargo compartment at the back or the load was strapped on the bike. Many years later one of the Viets used the same method to carry loads of supplies, the size of which one could never believe.
One thing I found so very strange was that there we were occupying Japan, and none of the Japanese seemed bothered about it. Just three years before the American Forces and the Japanese Forces had been at each others throats with no quarter given. It had been a nasty personal war--almost hand-to-hand in most cases. Yet there we were in plain view without any ammunition for the weapons we were carrying. We were ignored by the Japanese with the exception of the Japanese who were supplied by the government to repay the war debt and those shop owners who catered to the GIs. It was as if we were not there. I never heard of any type of attack against a GI the entire time I was there. The Emperor had said the war was over and that was it! Very strange to me. The actions of the Japanese men in killing themselves rather than being taken prisoner to me was something unbelievable. The mental outlook that the whole country had of the Emperor being a god and of following orders without question was something I just couldn't understand.
North Korean Invasion
On Sunday, June 25th, the talk was about what at first was thought to be a border fight between the North Korean and the South Korean armies. Then it became an invasion by the North into the South Korean territory and the South Korean Army was being pushed back on two separate locations--east and west. We heard garbled versions of stories, but nothing for certain.
A few days later, we were instructed to prepare to move out of the barracks we were in to make room for dependents returning from South Korea. We were told to prepare to set up tents for ourselves. Then that was changed a day later. We were told to prepare to go to South Korea to give its army assistance and provide a force to get between the two armies and halt the fighting. It was termed a "Police Action."
Here I must give some explanation as to the lack of details. I just don't remember very much. Like a slide show in my mind, I only remember some incidents. Even though the Veterans Administration doesn't go along with it, I think the head wound I later received in Korea caused memory loss on my part. I can recall nothing at all about the movement to Korea. That I was in Korea was evident, but how we got there is lost. I'm told we went over on a ferry from Sasebo. Another veteran told me it was an LST. I just don't recall. I do remember having to ride on the commander's Jeep on a flat car going north. It was raining and somehow cold, too. I have no idea why I was in the Jeep. I was guarding is all that I can figure, which was funny as I had not yet been given ammunition for the M2 carbine I had.
We reached a train station somewhere north of Taejon and unloaded. A convoy was made up of all sorts of vehicles. It reminded me of a gypsy caravan in the movies. No one had any idea what was going on, what we were to do, or even where to go. There were lots and lots of Koreans heading south--civilians and troops too. We looked at them and they at us. No one spoke Korean and our Japanese wasn't all that good. Besides, no one answered us anyway.
Somewhere south of a place called Chonan (I think the spelling is correct) the company took over a school and the yard along side it. I got on the radio, but since no one knew what was going on, I had no idea as to what frequency to set the radio. The company commander didn't want me to take the Jeep and go to regimental headquarters to find out what the signal procedures were to be or what call signs to use. I ended up "mooching" a ride on one of the 2 1/2 ton trucks heading north. I got to the 34th regimental headquarters up the road somewhere and spent hours trying to get information. There I began to hear that some of the line companies were in action against the North Koreans. That didn't jibe with what we had been told was our purpose being there. We were to act as a buffer to bring the fighting to a halt. But there was no doubt that some of the companies were under fire. Later on I learned it was mostly 120mm mortar fire, which was very very accurate. That was something larger than any weapons we had with us. Again, the information was just not available. Mostly it was just rumors or what someone had been told.
Now that I had gotten the signal information, I had to get back to the company. It was maybe five miles back. I got a ride once again on a 2 1/2 truck, but this time on the way there was some gunfire from the hill to the side of us. I couldn't see a thing as to who or where the firing was coming from. I just relied on the sound and fired back with my carbine. Now that was a complete waste. It was out of the range of the puny carbine .30 caliber ammunition. As the days passed, I began to feel the M2 carbine wasn't all that worth having. I ended up turning it into supply and getting an M-1 Garand, which I felt was the much better weapon. No one said anything at all about the switch. They were too busy trying to gather the ammunition for the line troops and for the artillery battalion 105s.
We didn't have all that much ammunition to take with us. The artillery ammunition was in short supply, along with the .30 caliber machinegun ammo in the metal boxes. There was ammo, but not a lot. I ended up on some of those supply runs, as the First Sergeant felt I would be a lot more use that way than operating the radio, and anyway the commander was busy with other things. I have to be honest now as to the training I received. It was just enough not to shoot myself with the M-1, but aside from that, the training the Army provided was just. Years later I began to understand that, with the limited funds provided by Congress, the Army just didn't have the funds for proper training. And as I said earlier, the Pacific existed on crumbs. There I was acting as guard for the driver of the 2 1/2 truck, and I had never seen the Browning .50 caliber before. I had to be shown how to feed the ammo belt into the receiver and how to cock the weapon. The blind leading the blind had nothing on us.
It was during this time that we became aware of the treatment by what we thought were the North Korean infiltrators behind the lines. There were two telephone wiremen who had be captured. Their hands were tied behind their backs with W110 commo wire, and they had been shot in the back of the head and most likely kicked off the road into a rice paddy. I remember thinking of the treatment of the men in the Bataan march by the Japanese. That sure made up my mind as to giving up. If I was to be killed, they would have to work at it. No way was I going without a fight.
News then came back that the Heavy Mortar Company had been overrun while the fighting went on in front of them, and soon the artillery was overrun too--so I was told anyway. That was one of the biggest problems. The North Koreans engaged the company on the line and kept them under fire while they had men go behind and around on all sides. Soon the companies had to pull back ("bug out" was the term used then) to prevent being overrun. To make matters worse, the Regimental Commander, Colonel Loveless, had been replaced. Word was that he had argued with Division that, being less than full strength and short of weapons that could halt the Russian supplied T-34 tanks, there was a limit to the abilities his regiment could provide.
Those T-34 tanks were an important factor in the advance of the North Korean Army. At that time we had nothing that could stop them. The artillery had no or very few 105 ammo rounds that could halt the advance of those tanks. Those T-34s had stood up to the Panzer tanks of the Germans in World War II, and had destroyed them in the hundreds. It was a well-designed tank with good armor and a smart design that make it a very hard tank to stop. We had nothing at all that could match it. There were some light tanks from the tank battalion, but they were of no use. Think armor and a low pressure 75mm main gun. I think they were T-47 General Chaffee models. They had no chance at all up against such a superior tank as the T-34. We had the old 2.36 bazooka, which wasn't worth anything. I found out later that the Army had the so-called 3.5 super bazooka, but none were in the Division.
We got a new regimental commander, Colonel Martin. The poor man lasted less than five hours. In an attempt to prove that the T-34s could be stopped with the 2.36 bazooka, he tried to destroy one. He was killed within a few minutes of the attempt. Who took over the regiment after that I have no idea.
Every day it was the same story. Set up a blocking line, and be engaged while the North Koreans tried to get in back and around the units. Then pull back again. Day after day this went on. None of us were happy about that. In fact, the morale was at the bottom. More and more men were being killed in what appeared to be a useless attempt to halt the North Koreans. The other regiments of the 24th, 19th, and 21st regiments were also being cut up as we were. If it hadn't been for some of the Air Force T-80s out of Japan, I don't think we would have been able to continue. They were able to strafe, and in some cases used napalm to halt the advance of the North Koreans south for a while.
I had become a "gofer" for the First Sergeant by then. The communications were just by telephone from regiment then, and I was used for whatever was needed--to bring food and ammo up to the line, bring back the wounded and dead where possible, and man the .50 caliber Browning on the truck's ring mount. Every day I expected to be told to report to one of the line companies as a replacement, but the confusion was so bad within the regiment that they hadn't even thought of that yet. I wouldn't have lasted ten minutes. I had never fired the .30 caliber light machinegun or the BAR. I had never even used a hand grenade. I got a few grenades and on the way to the line, I learned how to use them. There was none of that stupid Hollywood crap of pulling the safety pin with my teeth. I expect my technique wasn't what the Army would have liked, but at least I knew how to use them, correct way or not.
Back we continued to go until we reached Taejon. I am told that it was an important train junction and that three highways met there. On the night of the 19th of August, I was again on a supply duty. This time I was sent out to the ammo dump to try and save as much of the 105mm ammo as possible before the 3rd engineers had to blow it to keep it from the North Koreans. There were about eight of us loading that ammo onto the trucks and then waiting for the trucks to return for another load. We kept this up into the evening. Every now and then one of the North Korean machineguns fired into where they thought we were by the sound of the trucks going back and forth. The green tracer showed up on one side or the other, but never at us. Bad shooting? I doubt it. They had proven good enough in the weeks before. I think it was just harassing fire in the hopes of hitting something in the dark. We worked until after 10 p.m., when the last truck loaded us up to head back to Taejon. I never learned whether or not the ammo dump was then blown.
There were times when the company was close enough to a railroad station and then I was sent there to take any messages that came over the Korean railroad telephone lines. I took down the message and then headed back to the company and used the telephone line that went into S-3 to pass the message along to Regiment. I was back in the Civil War and World War I times. Running messages. But that was what had to be done. I only did that when we were close enough to the stations.
One trip almost got me killed except for a lucky break. It must have been around the 15th of August 1950. I was at the railroad station office and it was getting past 6:00 in the evening. The light was still good being summer. I headed back to the company wanting to get there before dark. For one thing I had no idea what the password was, so I wanted to be able to be seen for who I was. It was about a mile back from the station to the schoolyard where we were located. There were all dirt roads, with no signs or indications of where I was. I was hustling down the road and came to a bend and just kept going double-time. Two Koreans leaped out of the hillside. One was armed with a rifle and the other with the Russian burp gun. The one with the rifle fired and missed and the burp gunner didn't fire. Without any thought, I just let go with eight rounds from the M-1. Both went down. I quickly reloaded and fired a few more rounds for insurance. I picked up the rifle--an 1898 model Mosin Nagant carbine, most likely made during the World War II period. I didn't want to hang around, so I picked that up and the PPSh 41 model sub-machine or burp gun. The rifle was a .30 caliber like our M-1. The burp gun was the model with a 71-round drum magazine in .32 caliber (7.62mm). I scooted back to the unit.
Before it got dark, Ralph Stephens and I checked out the burp gun to see why it hadn't fired. It turned out that a round that had not been fed correctly from the drum magazine was cocked at an angle, stove-piped like. I told the first sergeant about the shooting and suggested we go back with a truck and pick up the bodies and see if there were any papers that they might be carrying. But he said, "No. Stay here." He took both the rifle and the burp gun. That was the only face to face action I had in Korea. Everything else was just replying to being shot at. I never knew for sure if I hit anyone with that .50 caliber Browning on the truck.
The next morning we were on the road south once again. I would say that most of us were not happy with that. For days and days we were kept going south, and it angered most of us. What were we doing there and where were the other troops? I know the men of the 19th and 21st regiments were no doubt thinking the same thing. We were the American army and there we were getting our butts kicked all over South Korea. We didn't have enough men. Ammunition was short. Food was also. I recall getting K-rations left over from World War II. It was the breakfast one. If we were hungry enough, we would eat it--and we did. No field kitchens were set up that I know of. The 3rd Engineers were busy mining the roads and such. They had a water point set up that we took the 500-gallon water tank to bring back to the company.
On the evening of the 19th of July there was fighting outside of Taejon where we were now located. Grife and I and Billy Joel were detailed to help recover the artillery ammunition from the ammo park outside of town. When we got everyone together and on the trucks it was dark, but the drivers knew the way. The artillery park was just an open space that had been bulldozed flat and dirt mounds set up around the area. We started loading the 105 stuff into the trucks. When they were full they took off and said other trucks would be along soon for more ammo and to take us back. We kept quiet and those with cigarettes kept behind the dirt mounds. We set up some guards around and sat down to wait.
A few hours later three 2 1/2 trucks showed up and we started loading again. This time we were in a hurry as it was past 12:00 already. I guess we were making a bit too much noise, as a Korean machine gun started firing in our direction. It fired weird looking green tracers in the night, although not close enough to worry about. We all got on the trucks and headed back to Taejon where we loaded what we had onto freight cars and then went back to the school compound.
Early the next morning on the 20th, we heard small arms firing all around us. During the night the Koreans had gotten around the 19th regiment and some of the 34th and they were in Taejon in what turned out to be a large force, proceeded by those damn T-34 Russian tanks. Again we started loading up the trucks, but then had to wait as no one had any idea of what regiment wanted us to do. Close to noon Ralph Stephens came over with one of the old type bazookas. Grife, Stephens, Bill Joel, Graham and I were to be a tank-hunting team with the old 2.36 inch bazooka. This was crazy as we knew it would not penetrate the armor of the T-34. Since we were right next to a bridge that crossed a river of sorts, we figured the T-34s had to cross the bridge and pass right by the schoolhouse where we could get a shot at the top of the tank where the armor was much thinner.
Ralph and Lee Grife took the bazooka and I ended up carrying the rocket rounds. I had maybe five or six rounds still in the cardboard containers and went upstairs with them like I was carrying firewood. We could see some T-34s at the far end of the bridge and we got ready to shoot them as they crossed. What we didn't know was that one of those tanks had crossed over before we set up and had seen us setting up. One 85mm tank shell came into the room and that was it.
At first I thought I had gotten in the way when they fired the bazooka. I was outside the room up against the
hallway wall. The explosion had blown me out of the room right through those Japanese-style paper doors into the
hallway. I couldn't see, as I had gotten a head wound and blood was pouring down and covering up my eyes. I took
my canteen and poured water down my face, which didn't help too much. One of the men from the compound came
upstairs and fixed a field bandage over my head to stop the bleeding. They helped me downstairs onto a stretcher,
but I still couldn't see. Somehow I was taken to an aid station. I remember standing with my back to
the wall in a hallway. I could feel myself starting to slide down the wall and I couldn't
How those medics treated me and got me out of Taejo, I just don't know. I owe my life to them. If I had been left behind for the North Koreans to take care of me, I would be dead now. That was July 20, 1950. It was July 25th before I woke up at Tokyo Army Hospital. I was in a bed and had no clothing at all. No wallet, no watch, and no ID except for the tag on my bed. I was in a room with three other men who were also wounded. I couldn't hear anything for the ringing in my ears. One of the corpsmen came in and gave me two shots--one of penicillin (bee's wax penicillin, we called it) and the other of streptomycin. The penicillin looked like a white candle in the tube--and it stung.
A doctor came by and, leaning close, he told me the extent of my wounds. I had a slight head wound on my left side. I also had shell fragments in both knees and some other shell fragments in the shoulder and ankle. The worst injury was my hearing. Both ear drums had been ruptured by the blast, but the doctor said that I would no doubt regain some hearing in the next few months. Months later I learned that all three men, Grife, Stephens, and Billy Joel Graham, had been killed instantly. My carrying the bazooka rounds across my chest like firewood had no doubt saved me from shell splinters into the chest area which would no doubt have made it four dead for one 85mm tank shell.
I was classified as Category 3 (no full field duty) and never went back to Korea, for which I still feel some guilt. It doesn't make good sense I know, but I still feel guilty for not going back. God knows I would have been no use at all since I could not hear anything except for ringing in the ears. I would have been a handicap for any unit I was assigned to. With more and more wounded coming into the Army hospital, I was sent off to the 35th station hospital in Kyoto on the 15th of August. Some hospital! It appeared that the Army had taken over a Japanese museum or something like that and equipped it with army canvas cots and some foot lockers. There was a large area with cots in rows on rows.
I had gotten a very bad infection in my ears and had to report to the clinic twice a day for penicillin and streptomycin shots every four hours to knock down the infection and keep the fluid from coming out. And wasn't that fun. It was weeks before the infection was knocked down, but my ears were still ringing. Slowly I began to gather up issue clothing to replace those lost in Korea. It took weeks, but there was a shortage and, being a hospital patient, I had to wait and accept what was available at the time.
There was nothing much to do in the hospital except play cards and read what was there. I did manage to get a pass for a few hours now and then. Since I now had a uniform, I could visit Kyoto, the old capital of Japan. The best came in the evening. We could hear the flute of the noodle seller about 9 or 10 at night. Some of us would creep out and buy a bowl of noodles for a few yen. Tasty they were. Made a nice change from Army rations and food. I said "we heard" the noodle man's flute. I didn’t hear him because of the infection in my ears, but I saw the guys going out and I tagged along. I knew where they were going and so was I.
Early in September one of the other patients came over and told me that the 34th regiment had been removed from the 24th Division and its flags retired. At the time there were 187 men remaining from what had been around 1500 men when we went over on July 2nd. Those men were parceled out between the 19th and 21st regiments. The 5th Regimental Combat Team from Hawaii had been moved to replace the 34th. The news bothered me for quite some time afterwards. Even today I still think of it. All those men killed--or wounded, as I was. I learned years later that many of those listed as KIA were actually MIAs that had not been recovered. The Army changed the designation from MIA to KIA (Missing in Action and Killed in Action).
Years later I also learned that two of the men with me when I was wounded had never been recovered and are now listed on the Tablets of Honor at the Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. I spent years trying to find out where they were buried. Not until the advent of the internet and the kind help of many people did I learn what happened to them. By chance Billy Graham is buried here in West Virginia in a VA Cemetery. Every 20th of July I return to Billy's gravesite and place a wreath and flags there. I drag along a “boombox” and play a tape with taps and the National Anthem. Most of the time I’m alone there. I guess the ones who remember are all dead and gone now, so I have the whole cemetery to myself. When I’m dead and gone, there will be no one to remember how and why these men, along with all the others, died. No flowers or wreaths or flags. I never did locate any of the families of these three men despite trying for years.
On the first of December 1950, I was reassigned to the 508th Signal Service Company in Yokohama. Fish out of water again. They had no use for a radio operator, so on 26 December I was again reassigned, this time to Kokura Signal Service Detachment. I was right back to where I had been with the 24th Signal Company--even in the same barracks and the same room on the second floor. Spooky, I thought.
My travel wasn’t finished. Early January 1951, I was assigned to Moji Port, 8156th Army Unit, a Transportation Corps unit. Moji was a port on the Kyushu side of the straits of Shimonoseki. It was a strange unit, assigned to Moji Port with the idea of acting as a small “Red Ball Express” as in World War II, handling equipment that was too heavy to fly into Korea or maybe too large to fit into the C-54s. They were unloaded at Moji. We had three or four Auxiliary Cargo Lighters (AKLs). These were MSTS ships, I guess, that had mostly Japanese civilian crews. As soon as they were loaded with whatever was needed in Pusan, off they went and then returned the next day. I guess it was about a 10-hour trip to Korea from Moji.
Again, as a radio operator I was a fish out of water. I didn’t know anything about using forklifts or dock mules or any of the other large equipment used by the unit. I then was assigned to the boat pool or "water taxis." We had a J-Boat made by the Higgins Company and a left-over Japanese Navy launch. It was the thinnest thing I had ever seen. Almost like a pencil. Another type in use was a Landing Craft, Vehicle Personnel (LCVP). It was a weird assortment of water taxis. Myself, I liked operating the LCVP. It had twin diesels and was like steering an ironing board. It had a flat bottom and bounced like crazy in any sort of weather.
Come the spring, the duties of the Moji Port Detachment changed to a very sad duty. Each Saturday all the men not working on the loading and unloading of ships wore the best OD’s they had with all brass shining. We marched to the docks where there were set up roller frames to move things from the rail yard to the docks for loading. Only this time, it was shipping home to the States the dead from Korea. Wearing our helmet liners, and Class A uniforms with white gloves, we lined both sides of the rollers and passed along the shipping containers that had the coffins inside. Ten containers were placed on a sling to be loaded onto the ship alongside the dock. When we started the loading, they played Taps over the loudspeaker system, followed by the National Anthem. Even today I can’t hear Taps without thinking of the men we passed along those days. Such a sad duty I never want again. This kept on until the freight cars were empty and the men were all aboard the ship for return to the States. Then we returned to the barracks to change out of Class A’s. But at this time there was not the usual GI horseplay. We were all affected by the duty. Each time it was the same. No play. No one talked loud. Just men in uniform quietly going to different places.
Back to the States
In September of 1951, I was released from the Moji Port unit and sent back to the States or, as we called it, the ZI (Zone of the Interior). When I returned in late 1951, the military was just in the process of getting troops trained and sent to Korea. I don't recall anyone asking me where I had been or what was going on in Korea. I didn't have anyone from the unit who knew me prior to Korea. Now I was just another stick in the pile.
I went to Camp Stoneman in California and then to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, right outside of Fort Smith of the famous Hanging Judge Parker. The camp was a basic training unit and once more I was a floater. Another man and I were transferred to Fort Bliss, El Paso, Texas, after a few weeks. He had a car, so we took turns driving and buying gas. That way, we collected travel pay. The Army didn’t pay that well in those days, so any extra money was more than welcome. I regret I don’t remember who I was with, but on arrival he was assigned to a unit within a few days. By now I was used to being the skunk at the picnic, so I knew it would be some time before I was assigned to a unit.
In February, I got an assignment to the 716th AAA Gun Battalion (90mm). I was thrilled to be able to make the skies safe for democracy. When I arrived, I learned that a radio operator was not needed there, either. Very old story by now. I could see the future didn’t have much use for radio operators except in far off places that no one wanted. I did get a radio job though. Every morning that a firing was scheduled at the Donna Ana firing range, I drove out there from Fort Bliss and entered the radio truck parked there. I started up the generator and warmed up the units. Then someone would deliver a form to me that had been prepared by the weather people and I would announce to all the world the information provided--height of clouds, winds aloft, winds on the surface, and direction of the winds for the morning. I have no idea if any of that information was used. I know they provided copies from the weather people to the units preparing to fire on the range that day. Well, at least I had a job. I wasn’t too proud by then to accept it. After 9 a.m. when the units started firing, I drove out to have breakfast at a diner on the main highway. That was it for me until the afternoon. If they continued firing, I provided another weather report on the changed conditions, if there were any. There was no firing in the afternoon. I then drove back to the base and turned the vehicle in. Most often it was a ¾-ton Dodge. That was my day and week at Fort Bliss.
In April 1951 the Army decided I was no longer needed for national defense and I was given a discharge. Three years, ten months and eleven days, and the Army and I were done. Neither one was broken up over the departure. Off I went back to Brooklyn, New York, where I started looking for work. I found very quickly that having only a high school education just didn’t count for much. At that time the GI Bill for World War II vets was not available to me or others like me who had served in Korea.
I first worked in a plastic factory at the far end of Brooklyn past Avenue U. The plant made all sorts of plastic products--bath curtains, mould injections, or whatever products were ordered. I stayed there for thee months. What drove me out was the ever-present fog of chemicals in the air. It could be seen when I entered the plant. Next I worked for Western Union, delivering telegrams to legal firms, courts and such in the Borough Hill downtown area of Brooklyn. That job didn’t last too long either. I gave up on doing that as they wished me to wear a uniform.
After almost 18 months I wasn’t getting too much done. Living at home was crowding out my mother and brother. I decided to see what I could get in the way of education from the Air Force. In those days there were few avenues open for funding a college education. Unlike today, it was difficult to get funds to attend college. Given the crowding at home and my lack of money, it seemed that the Air Force offered a better way to training. The drawback was it was a six-year enlistment. The fact that the Korean War was still going strong is what caused me to decide on the Air Force. There was less chance of being shot at once more.
I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in the fall of 1953 as an Airman 3rd (E-2) and basic training was waived. The choice of the Air Force was made with the understanding of a possible electronic school in the near future. I reported to Mitchell Field, Long Island, to the Headquarters of the 1st Air Force. As a radio operator, again I found I wasn’t useful and I ended up working in the base Western Office. After a few days there I went to the base communications officer and explained that I believed it was against regulations for the military to provide men to work a commercial facility. That didn’t make me too popular around there and I was soon on orders to an Air Force Reserve Training Unit. (In other words, I was thrown into the brier patch.) It was located at Floyd Bennett Field, a Navy base at the time. The Air Force shared the facilities with the Navy. The assignment to Mitchell Field and then to the Air Force reserve training unit at Floyd Bennett Naval Field in Brooklyn were initial unit assignments.
Since the training was conducted only on weekends, there was lots and lots of free time. In those days the Air Force was not as rigid concerning getting hops out of base operations to wherever the aircraft was going. Not so today. Today is like any other airline. My duties were to maintain contact with other reserve training units--one in Dover, Delaware, and the other in Massachusetts. I don’t recall the name of the base now, but I was again a CW radio operator. We used the Navy transmitters on the other side of the field and we had receivers in the building. (In the days of commercial use, it had belonged to Pan Am Airways.) We were set up in a lovely room. It even had a bathroom along with a tub, as well as a teletype machine. It was an M-19 model that allowed us to type out a tape and send that way rather than use the keyboard.
After a year I was on orders to Thule Air Base, Greenland. Lovely place! That’s where I kind of backed into telecommunications. I was assigned to the Technical Control facility in the communications center. What an eye-opener to me. It was a multiplex unit that had four teletype channels being sent over the same frequency I would have used for a CW signal. I began to learn an entirely new means of communications, and for the rest of my time in the Air Force I remained in that type of electronics. There were a few different assignments while in the Air Force, some of which were classified, so I will pass over them completely.
In the months prior to retirement from the Air Force, I took advantage of a program to search for civilian employment. Being at Andrews AFB outside of Washington D.C., I went for interviews with IBM and National Cash Register, which didn’t fit my skills--such as they were. I then took placement tests with AT&T and the local telephone company, C&P Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone. These both were much closer to my present duties in the Air Force Communications Systems. I elected to sign with C&P since they offered ten dollars a week more than AT&T. Also, the work site for AT&T was a much longer distance and with no public transportation available. As it turned out, the choice was very fortunate for me. AT&T closed the site in Maryland within a year.
I retired from the Air Force in 1969 as a Tech Sergeant (E-6). Retiring from the Air Force, I had a total of 22 years and 8 months service, counting the Naval reserve and the Army service.
The job with C&P was almost an identical match with what I had done in the military. About all that was necessary was for me to learn telephone numbers of the different telephone offices I would be working with and the equipment requirements. Before I left the telephone company I had gone from one telephone per wire line to multiplex equipment capable of 3,456 telephones on a wire pair and then came fiber optics. The strides in communications during the 20 years was almost magical--or maybe science fiction. But I had had enough and pulled the plug when I could. I retired from the telephone company, which by then was known as Verizon.
I now live in a very rural setting in West Virginia where the taxes are somewhat less than that in the Washington/Virginia area, plus there is no traffic to put up with. In fact, I live right up against a portion of the George Washington Forest, about 1200 feet up off the valley floor.
In my retirement I keep busy with the Internet, cutting up wood for the stove supply, and cleaning the place and me also. Plenty to do. I find in retirement I have more things to do than time to do them in. I don’t quite understand that.
Korea service made a huge change in my thinking from that point on. One change was that I paid attention to political matters and politicians as I tried to understand why the initial military intervention into Korea after the invasion was such a confused and inept action. Equipment was short and information was even less. The entire early weeks were a display of the American Army at its worst. I learned that Congress was as much to blame as the Pentagon. The lack of monies voted for military use led to a downsizing. Another facet was with no or little money for training, it was not considered important to provide much more training than how to drill. Now that was important and cheap today. I guess sending troops to Korea in 1950 was something that had to be done, but the results were catastrophic. The 24th Division was in no shape to fight a war of any type. The troops were not well trained. At times I thought I knew how the men on the Bataan felt--just chucked in to hold off until the government could get its head together and that men had to die because of poor planning. Well, that's what being in the Army is about. Everyone should have understood that the purpose of an Army was to fight--no matter what shape it was in at the time.
MacArthur's decision to go north of the 38th parallel was a military decision that the White House didn't approve. He was fighting or leading a military war and had military objectives in mind--the defeat of the enemy forces. But he forgot or didn't feel the political control was to interfere with his campaign. Truman was under pressure to keep this "police action" under control and to keep it from spreading. The UN and others who contributed troops to the Korean area kept pressure on the United States to try and keep the action confined to Korea and not spread to Asia or even Europe. It was a very real concern at the time. In so many ways Korea was a political war directed by the White House. (And we all know just how well the White House is able to direct military actions.)
MacArthur had the idea to use the Nationalist forces of Chiang Kai Shek in Korea. I think it was a brilliant idea. It would have had political and military gains. The reds in China were still bringing China under their control, and to have Chiang's troops supported and supplied by the Americans fighting once again almost on their doorstep would have caused the reds to pause and think. The idea just might have caused them to stay home. But since Stalin was supporting and urging them to come in on the side of the North, it may not have been of much use.
I have never returned to Korea. There have been a few tour packages promoted on the internet, but I still am undecided on returning. For one thing, with my poor memory I just don't know if I would be able to recognize any portions of the country. I have so little memory of the country and what I did during the 16 days I was there. I have no long term memory and I can just recall small snippets of days and actions there. Then also I doubt if I would even know where I had been. And, too, it is a sad place for me. Grife and Stephens are still there somewhere, part of the soil, I guess after 57 years. I don't care to relive the feeling of retreating southward every day. I understand the military necessity of doing it, but emotionally it was very hard to carry out. No, I wouldn't care to return to Korea, not even in a reunion.
I think keeping troops in Korea now is necessary to bolster the South Korean people as to American commitment. Given the few men there, it mostly stands as a symbol that America still finds it possible to keep its word to another people--something we haven't been known for too much lately in this world.
I believe that the Korean War was in some ways "forgotten" because it was not won. There was no surrender of the North Korean army or its government. It was just a bloody draw in which all those lives were lost for very little effect. Unless you were directly involved in the war or someone in your family was, the country didn't want to know about Korea--unlike World War II, where the attack on Pearl Harbor dragged us into the war and the complete country was involved. Korea was far away and involved but a few in the country. The Korean War is also forgotten because many guys don't care all that much to relive what was a mean and dirty war. They might get together at reunions and talk about guys that they knew and events that occurred, but aside from that, they mostly don't care to remember too much.
Stories in the press about war incidents that happened in Korea are just that. Stories. Maybe some things happened and maybe not. If you were not involved right then and there, then you have little right to second guess what was done or not. War isn't a nice occupation at all and bad things happen. I don't recall the press getting all upset about the early days when the North Koreans shot the prisoners they had taken. I myself saw those two men in a ditch with their hands tied behind their backs and a bullet in the back of the head.
I haven't spoken to anyone concerning Korea through the years afterward. I don't remember all that much about it. (That disturbed me quite a lot as I wrote this memoir.) I guess that 85mm shell blast rattled my brain in its cage and wiped out memories. I think that's what occurred anyway. There were too few men remaining from that time in Korea that I could contact about the early weeks in order to gain any information that I could use in writing my memoir, so I finally gave up.
My time in Korea was just 16 days total and during that time I felt both anger and despair. I landed July 2, 1950 at Pusan and was transported on a train north to an unknown station where I got out. From there I traveled by truck to small hamlets too small to even call them villages. I was shocked to find out that the American Army--or at least the 24th Division--was not able to halt the advance of the North Koreans. I felt anger in finding out that the training I had received was superficial at best. I felt even more anger on knowing that we were unable to halt the North Koreans. They were better trained and had better equipment at the time. I felt despair when it became clear that the officers had little more information and, in some cases, little more training than we had. Again I felt more anger on having to pull back, or to be plainer, to retreat from what were superior forces that were equipped with better weapons than we had. On two occasions I owe a vote of thanks to the pilots flying the F-80s who were able to halt the advance of those T-34s by dropping napalm. The shortage of ammunition for the 105s and the shortage of rations and small arms ammunition also angered me. It was just one large, confusing screw-up that cost the lives of thousands of men who were not prepared to fight a war and had not been equipped to be able to complete the mission on which they had been sent to Korea. I still feel that despite those conditions and lack of everything, those men did more than anyone could have expected--and I regret the lack of my abilities to be able to tell of those men and the early weeks of the war.
Chronology of Army Service Dates