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William Burton Stedman
Hyde Park, New York -
"It has taken all these years to settle down, but memories sometimes are devastating and I must go and hide somewhere until the tears stop. So many things happened in Korea that when I think about some of them, the tears flow and I have a hard time stopping them.."
- Bill Stedman
The publishing of this memoir was made
My name is William Burton Stedman. I was born May 7, 1930 at "Jane's Hospital," a private midwife establishment located between Upper Red Hook and Germantown, New York, which are between Poughkeepsie and Hudson. My father was Ernest Lawrence Stedman and my mother was Grace Elizabeth Bathrick Stedman. Father was born in Syracuse, New York, and Mother was born in a home in Elizaville, New York, near Red Hook. I spent my childhood in the town of Poughkeepsie. There were Irish, German, English, French Canadians, Dutch and we lived in a good neighborhood. We moved to this town in 1934 and that is where I lived until I joined the Army.
Father was a station agent for the New York Central Railroad, but he was killed on May 13, 1937 in an automobile accident. I had just turned seven years old on May 7. On May 13, my dad and I went to Utica to get his mother (my grandmother) because my only sister Lorraine (who was two years older than me) was in the hospital with appendicitis. We were picking Grandmother up so she could visit with my sister. On the way home and a little south of Hudson, New York, a car driven by Mr. Scism pulled out in front of my dad and our car collided with his. We lost control and my dad was killed in the car. My grandmother was thrown out and was killed instantly. I was lying in the road covered with a sheet. The police thought I was dead until a passerby saw that my hand was moving, so she pulled me off the road. The police arrested her for "moving the body," but she was released when the ambulance came and the attendant verified that I was alive. I suffered a fractured skull and broken arms and legs. I was in a coma for seven days. Father's death was kept from me from the time I awoke from the coma until a few days before school started in September because the doctors thought the shock would hurt me somehow. I remember my dad. He always had time to be with us and he always took time to be with all the kids in the neighborhood. In the wintertime he got all the kids in the area to have fun in the snow and in the summertime he took us all swimming. I think of him all these years later.
Between 1937 and 1940, we were covered by insurance. The insurance also covered the cost of the house we lived in. When my father died, the insurance paid it off in full. So far as I know, we were not affected by the Great Depression. As I mentioned earlier, my dad worked for the New York Central Railroad. We had a car and a place to live and food, so we were not affected. My sister Lorraine lived with us until she married in 1949. I gave her away when she was married.
Mother's employment started in 1940 at Schatz Manufacturing, a ball-bearing manufacturing company. She earned $5.00 per day until the war started, then the wages went up. My sister and I took over the chores at the house when Mother went to work. I split wood in the fall for the furnace, and then I shoveled seven tons of coal during the winter. A neighbor, Mr. Bagnal, worked for the coal company and he brought us the coal which was put in the coal bin through a cellar window. To supplement the money, I raised chickens all year and made a big garden in the summer. Mom and I did a lot of canning for the winter. Mom worked at Schatz until 1959, then she remarried.
I think I was a well-behaved child since I had the responsibility of being the so-called "man of the house." I made the garden and repaired breakdowns around the house when I could. I raised the chickens, mowed the lawn, painted inside the house, hung the wallpaper, tended the furnace, etc. I had no time to be rowdy. With so much responsibility, I guess it was more of a full-time job. I had so much to do before I went to school and so much to do after school, the time to be close with the other members of my family was almost non-existent. I loved both my mom and sister, and I very much missed my dad. It's hard to explain. You had to be there.
I attended grade school at Fairview Heights from 1934 until the Violet Avenue school was built in 1939. Fairview Heights was in our neighborhood. Violet was about a mile or so up on Route 9G. I went there in the 5th and 6th grade and then to Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School where the grades were from 7th to 12th. I graduated from Roosevelt in 1948. They were all public schools. Although I liked history, I did not particularly like school because many teachers had pets and sometimes it seemed that some teachers displayed an obsequious attitude toward one or the other. Good teachers taught all students.
I played soccer (all positions) one year while in school. I was also in the "Technician's Club", which was the club responsible for running all school activities such as assembly, plays and band concerts. In shop class we built a state-of-the-art scoreboard for any in-house activities with other schools. I attended to learn and because friends were members.
I worked every day while I was in high school at the A&P in the produce department. I also was a pin boy at the local bowling alley. I earned $19.00 a week at the market and about $5.00 a day weekdays in the bowling alley and $15.00 a day on the weekends. Another job I had was working for the Wallace Company in the delivery department, the Lucky Platt Department in delivery and restocking, and the Poughkeepsie Trust Company building as an elevator operator. Each summer for several years I spent the summers working on a farm 30 miles from home.
I heard about World War II on the radio. I was 11 years old and knew what that meant. I was frightened because even then I knew that our country was not prepared for a war. The war affected my immediate family by allowing us to earn more money. My mother's earnings at Schatz went from $25.00 a week to $95.00 a week. In those days, we all worked for the war effort. While in school we had savings stamp drives and collected aluminum, paper, and scrap metal. I did all of these things. Today patriotism exists only in a few. I had a cousin in the Navy during the war. He was in the South Pacific and he came home okay. I don't recall any veteran coming to our school, but recruiters for ROTC came. I did not get to talk to any of them. I did not think about the military at that time.
VE Day was a great celebration. VJ Day was a bigger day. My friends and I all went to Poughkeepsie up and down Main Street from Arlington to the river. Although we were all under age for drinking, we were all served. We spent a lot of time at the Brown Derby in Poughkeepsie. Around 1:00 a.m., we walked home. No one got sick and no one got in any trouble.
In 1947 my mom dated a Master Sergeant at West Point. With the permission of Colonel Slone, I was able to attend classes on military history and light and heavy weapons. I got to know and was able to visit with many people there, including the cadets. I was taught the manual of arms, as well as all about the M-1 rifle, M-1 and M-2 carbine, the .30 and .50 caliber machine guns, close order drill, the Ten General Orders, etc. I was taught these and everything else because I showed interest. I wanted those at the Point to know I wanted to learn, otherwise I would not have been afforded the opportunity.
I graduated from high school in 1948. Because I was the only boy in the family, Mother asked me not to enlist. She was worried that I would never come back and she did not want to lose me to some stupid cause. I assured her that I had the military discipline that I had learned at West Point to be able to survive. She thought that that was so much bull and I guess she was right--but then, moms always are.
From 1948 to 1950 I worked at IBM, but I did not like it, so I quit. I guess it seemed to me that one had to display an attitude of obsequiousness to be promoted. I worked hard while there, but did not "brown nose" anyone. Pressure was put on me and I was too young to put up with that, so I quit. There was nothing wrong with the job I was doing for them, but they said there was. I worked at Schatz/Federal from April 1950 to November 1950, when I joined the Army on November 27, 1950. By then the Korean War was going on. I felt that the United States was again the savior of the world and I thought it would be a good idea to help. (I think a lot differently now that I am not young and foolish anymore.) At the time, however, I thought that this was the greatest country in the world and that what our leaders in Congress said was right. Now we all know better, but at the time I wanted to participate. I enlisted because I had been exposed to military life, regimentation, and discipline at West Point, although I was not a cadet.
I enlisted in the Army the day after Thanksgiving 1950. There were two recruiters who had been trying to get me to enlist since the Korean War started. I had been thinking about joining even before Korea. I was just two years out of high school and had a nowhere job. Starting pay was 85 cents an hour. It was in a ball bearing manufacturing plant. The only way you could make a decent wage was by piece-work. Then you could make only as much as the union said you could make. I got a good paying piece-work job and really hustled. I did not know that the union steward was watching. Even if I had, I wouldn't have known why. After an hour or two, he sauntered over to where I was working and told me to slow down. "You're making too much money and if you don't slow down, they, the company bosses, will cut the price on the job." Right then it was paying $2.50 a hundred. I could finish two hundred an hour. I was making $5.00 an hour. The steward said, "You're only supposed to make $1.75." I had to slow down, take more breaks. The idea here was for the production worker to make a dollar more than the hourly worker. To get a raise in your base pay was a laugh. One time the boss came around and gave me a nickel an hour more, like it was a big deal. My base rate of 85 cents gave me a take-home pay for 40 hours of about $26.00. The boss, Mr. Ackert, took a liking to me and gave me as much overtime as he could. I got every Saturday, but the jobs were shit jobs, cleaning the machines and changing the coolant. The smell was so bad that I almost threw up. Even with the five or six hours of overtime, my take-home pay was only $31.00 a week.
While I was still in high school, I had worked at the A&P, two department stores, Lucky Platt and the Wallace Company. On Saturdays I operated the elevator at the Poughkeepsie Trust Company Building. There was a time when I tried to work at the A&P and the Wallace Company at the same time. Within a week the floor manager at the Wallace Company saw me running out the side door up the street to the A&P. While there I would wait on customers in the produce department, bag a pound of beans and some tomatoes, then I would run back to the Wallace Company. The manager told me I could either work at the A&P or the Wallace Company. I went back to the A&P because there I could at least eat. Both managers at these places applauded me for my industriousness and agreed that there should be more like me.
West Point was just 20 miles south of where I lived, and I had met regular army people there. So the several years that on weekends and summer vacations I spent observing the military at West Point stood me well for what I was going to do now. While I was at the Point, I learned all about the M-1 rifle, the M-1 and M-2 Carbine, along with the .30 and .50 caliber machine guns and medium weapons, plus close order drill. Also, I learned the Army's ten general orders. My teachers were two master sergeants who lived at the Point. They were both combat veterans of World War II. Both had had duty in the islands fighting the Japs and also in Europe fighting the Nazis. A longtime friend who at the age of 16 had joined the Army just after the Second World War, also helped me with the M-1 rifle and the manual of arms, notwithstanding the able assistance that I had received at West Point. Mr. Kane, a civilian in charge of the small arms unit at the Point, repaired an old shotgun I had had since I was 13 years old. It was a 1912 Springfield 12-gauge that had a broken barrel release. He took it and repaired it. I still have it. I used to do a lot of hunting for deer and thought that maybe I'd take it up again.
Anyway, on November 27th, the two recruiters showed up at my house at 17 West Cedar Street at 7:30. They were all smiles and took me, my mother, and my sister to the Poughkeepsie train station, where we said our goodbyes. I boarded the train to Albany, New York, where I was to be sworn in. Along with that, a written test was given, which I damn near failed. One point lower and I would have failed. I think I did, but they kept me anyway.
After the swearing in and physical, we had one day before we would be going to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. I headed to Second Avenue where I had a girlfriend who lived with her mom and brother. I had met Carol a year before while vacationing in Maine at Old Orchard Beach. Carol's father had been killed during the Second World War. I spent the night at their home, and early the next morning I got the Second Avenue bus, which took me back to the building where we were sworn in. Before we parted, Carol had told me to be sure to write. She said she loved me. I felt the same way, but this was not the time. There just wasn't any. Busses were waiting to take us to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. There were about 200 in our group, most were enlistees. About two hours brought us to the gates of Fort Devens. It was at that point that I started to wonder what had I gotten myself into. Well, whatever, it was too late to back out now.
Our area at the fort was laid out in a huge square, with a parade ground in the center of the square. Guessing, I estimate it was a couple of football fields wide and maybe twice that long. A sergeant and a couple of corporals came in our barrack and instructed us on how to make a bed military style. They had us make the bed, tear it down, and re-make it until we could do it in our sleep. After that, we went out and they had us police up the area. To familiarize us on the wording, they said, "When we holler assholes and elbows, that's what we wanna see--you bending over picking up everything but the dirt, and if that's not clean, pick it up too." Just something to keep us from getting bored.
We were at Fort Devens for a little over a week. After we were settled, during that time a couple of us volunteered for everything when volunteers were asked for. The sergeant said he needed a volunteer for a painting detail. I had done some painting, so I volunteered. The job was to paint melted butter on toast on the morning chow line. Then, next a carpenter job. I volunteered. The job was to re-hang a kitchen cooler door. All that had to be done was to tighten a few bolts in the hinges. The next job I volunteered for was for redistributing the layout of topography. The job was sweeping and mopping the mess hall floor and rearranging the tables and chairs. After one day of this, we volunteers were put in charge of details. By volunteering we dispelled the time honored tradition, "Never volunteer for anything." It worked for us.
While at Fort Devens we seemed to have some extra time, so some others and I went around the different barracks looking for someone we perhaps knew. In the first barracks we came to, much to my surprise there was someone I had been in school with--Bob Hanson. He had graduated a year before me. Bob had been on the football and basketball team, and I guess the baseball team as well. Bob was well-liked and always the class clown. I asked him why he joined. He said, "You gotta be kidding. If I didn't join who would fight the war in Korea?" I later learned that he went to Germany.
We were told our destination was Washington. I called my mom from Fort Devens to let her know I was okay and to tell her where we were being sent. When I said Washington, she said, "That's good. Maybe you can home on weekends." Then I said, "No, Mom, the State of Washington. But don't worry. As soon as we get there, I'll write." That night Ralph Pettingill and I attended a church service. I prayed that I would be protected from harm. Ralph started the Twenty-third Psalm. I joined in.
The next morning we were told to gather up all our gear and assemble again. We were to board busses that took us to the train station for the trip to Washington and Fort Lewis. Fort Lewis was located between Seattle and Tacoma. That didn't make any sense to me. I didn't know where Seattle or Tacoma were except they were supposed to be in Washington State.
We were told that we could figure on a four or five-day trip. Each car had a car commander. Our commander was a corporal. He announced that we were all going to get along--or else! What a delightful jerk he was. "Get along or else." I would guess that everybody in the car was way ahead of this corporal when it came to brains. He should have kept his mouth shut. He reminded me of a quote from Confucius: "It is better to keep one's mouth closed and appear to be stupid than to open mouth and remove all doubt." That fit the corporal perfectly.
He said he had made up a song and wanted us to memorize it. I believe that his song displayed his level of intelligence. The song, if that's what you can call it, was:
I think it took all of a second to memorize it. The corporal was happy that we could remember his song so fast. Unbelievable. And the Army trusted him for this duty. Unbelievable. If this was any indication of what we had to look forward to, we were definitely in a lot of trouble. Not just us, but the whole country.
I guess it must have taken the powers that be half a day to decide how to make the train stay in motion. For hours it seemed we were being jerked around with one false start after another. I thought, "Well, get used to it. You got three more years!"
I had had a slight cold when I left Poughkeepsie. Our family physician, Doctor Christiansen, gave me a shot of penicillin, but because of time and the fact that I hadn't gone to see him soon enough, he could only give me one shot. Although he gave me a prescription for the cold, it didn't do much good, and it had gotten progressively worse. I had no fever, but did have a sore throat and cough.
In our car were two guys who sort of kept to themselves. Not to imply anything, but they did not seem to fit in. They appeared more reserved and somewhat more intelligent than the general population that was in our car. I started a conversation and after a while found that they were both pharmacists. They had turned down a commission because of the implication of future service. Jokingly, I asked if they had anything for a cold. They produced a large jar of capsules, which they gave to me and said I could keep because they had more. I felt better already and hadn't even taken one of the capsules yet. I guess just knowing that I had the cure made me feel better. Later I found that Chloromycetin caused all kinds of health problems, so much so that the pharmaceutical company that made it removed it and discontinued the production of the drug.
The train finally started moving, and right away our car commander gave us a lecture on our schedule for the next five days. The more he talked just upgraded proof of his ignorance. Time arrived for chow. It was five o'clock in the afternoon. We had been moving for perhaps three hours. The dining car, of which there was only one, could only seat so many. Typical army. There was a serving line and by the time we got our chow, we were out the door in fifteen minutes or less. At that rate, we could figure we would be finished by nine o'clock. Naturally, there was a rush to line up for first chow. The car commander seemed to funnel certain ones to the head of the line while holding others back. Threatening gestures were hurled by the car commander at anyone who complained.
By the time we had finished eating, it was late and we were ordered to hit the sack. The train commander, a full Bird Colonel, would be making his inspection. Lights out at ten. The rocking motion of the train, I guess, rocked us to sleep because all too soon the car commander was waking us. It was morning. The next day came fast. Half jokingly, I thought to myself, "If every day from now on comes that fast, we will be out of the army the next month." Breakfast was the usual confusion. Those who were favored the last evening were also first in line that morning. The corporal was there to see that his ass-kissers were first.
About 11 a.m. the train started slowing as if stopping. I asked our conductor if we were stopping and where we were. He told me, "Minneapolis/St. Paul." I asked him if he would get me a box of Hershey bars if he was getting off. I gave him $3.00. When he came back with the Hershey bars and change, I let him have the change and added a dollar. While we were stopped at the station, we had well-wishers come by and say such things as, "Good luck," "Be careful," "Give 'em hell." From the World War II vets, he heard, "Keep your head down. Don't be a hero. Heroes are all dead." Several pretty young girls came by, and they flirted and threw kisses. They knew they never had to supply anything. A couple of the guys started out the door to the platform where they were. When the girls saw them, they ran off screaming and laughing. Everybody got a thrill!
Up to now the train was comfortable and the company was amiable. I discovered that our car commander took 25 percent of each pot from all those who gambled, whether playing cards or shooting dice, including the favored ones from the chow line. Several of the professed gamblers had brought their own dice and cards when they got on the train. Our car commander, the corporal, would not allow them to use their dice or cards. He confiscated them and then sold new decks and dice to whoever wanted to gamble. Cards and dice sold for $10.00. The car commander also tried to induce everyone to gamble. Those like me who declined, he tried to intimidate one way or another. Whenever we stopped, he would get off and buy pints of whiskey, more cards and pairs of dice. He sold the whiskey for $25 a pint. Any special favors, like asking him to get anything for us that had to be purchased off the train, we had to pay him $25. He had made a plan and was stealing these guys blind.
Then he spotted my box of Hershey's, I thought he would have a fit. He nearly turned purple. He asked, "Where the hell did you get those?" He tried to intimidate me with his aggressive approach. I told him, "The porter got them for me at the last stop." I tried to give him the idea that I thought it was none of his business. I didn't look at him. That made him madder than hell, I guess. When I did look at him, his color grew darker. He immediately demanded $25.00. Now, remember, I had observed and studied the military at West Point for a good long time and knew that he could not legally do what he was doing and get away with it. So I came back at him with, "Who the hell do you think you're talking to?" I added, "If you do not want to be relieved of duty and face a court martial when we get to Fort Lewis, you better cut this shit out." Well, the bluff was good. The stupid bastard turned a darker purple but was unsure who I was and what he could do about it.
So as not to lose face with the other recruits, he ordered me to stand guard between our car and the car behind us after lights out that night. Lights out was at 10 p.m. He made sure I was at the assigned post, then he retired to his assigned berth. The train commander, the colonel, took his time on his nightly inspection--I guess to see if everyone was in his own bunk. About 10:45 the colonel came through the car door and confronted me. He asked, "What are you doing here? Why aren't you in bed?" I said, "Sir, I'm on guard, Sir." He wanted to know, "Who the hell put you on guard and why? There is no guard on this train." I said, "Sir, I'd rather my car commander tell you, Sir." Along with the colonel was a captain and a huge master sergeant. The colonel said, "Show me where your car commander is." I pointed out the lower berth where the corporal was.
The colonel told the sergeant to get him out, and by his tone he did not mean carefully. The sergeant stuck his big ham of a hand attached to what looked like a battering ram of an arm into the berth and grabbed the corporal. The corporal came out sputtering and cussing that the SOB would curse the day he was born. Then he spotted the colonel, turned purple again, either because he did not know what to say, because he had been caught, or because the sergeant was choking him.
In the meantime, the colonel laid him out with a blistering ass-chewing that was obviously new to our car commander. He looked like he was about to shit his pants. He tried to pull an innocent act, but statements from some of the other recruits who had been disturbed by the noise squashed that. The colonel threatened him with court martial, so my bluff wasn't too far off. Then the colonel said to the corporal, "If I get one more complaint from anybody, I will put you off the next time we stop and have you arrested, thrown in jail, and then report you AWOL." Now the corporal's purple face turned to a grayish white, sort of blotchy. The gutless bastard. With that the colonel turned to me, complimented me for staying at my post until I was properly relieved, and ordered me to bed.
The trip across the country was beautiful if a person took time to look. I preferred to keep to myself. As we rode past towns and cities, I wondered what life was like in those different parts of the country. The vast prairie stretched out to the horizon. I guess it was pretty obvious that I was a hick. I had never been outside of the town I lived in. How many like me were going in one of the services to be caught up in a UN conflict or later a war?
When we got to the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the diesel engines alone could not get us over the mountains by themselves. We waited over an hour for the railroad to move the diesels to the rear of the train and to hook two steam locomotives to the front before we were on our way again. We all wondered just how steep these Rocky Mountains were. Going through the mountains, some of the steep valleys right next to the tracks looked as if the drop seemed vertical all the way to the valley floor. From our vantage point so high up on the mountain, the tall Douglas fir trees looked like someone's lawn. I had never traveled any distance before, and these sights were beautiful. I tried to look like a world traveler, as did most everyone else on the train, but we soon found each other out. It was really funny. Someone referred to us as a real big joke. I think he said a comic book. It was funny how all of us put on the same act.
Some of the guys our car commander stole money from wanted to wait until lights out, get the corporal, and throw him off the train. No one would ever know. The great distance between what looked like maybe there was a cabin or perhaps a house where someone might be living was so far apart, we traveled for hours before we saw another house or cabin. No one, we thought, including any of us and especially this corporal, would ever survive the mountains, let alone the fall from the train. Naturally, one of his spies got the message back to him and he started losing back the money he stole to those he stole it from. When we reached Seattle, he was broke. He told everyone he was sorry and asked for some donations. He claimed that he had 20 days furlough coming. I have him a dollar and told him, "The colonel could not do to you what he threatened." A pat on his cheek and I was gone. Looking back, I saw he had turned purple again.
Fort Lewis in the winter was rain, rain, and more rain. Not a hard rain like we have on the east coast. Just a cold, damp rain. We were herded into several barracks, sort of like a holding area. After some time a sergeant appeared in the barracks that I was in and started calling out names. All who answered fell out to the street. This process kept up for several hours until all barracks were emptied and everyone was accounted for.
Fort Lewis was another huge fort. We were marched along a street for about ten blocks to the end of the street. We were to occupy the first barracks on the street. Most of us were regular army (RA). The outfit we were assigned to was National Guard--weekend warriors, and they all lived in Seattle or Tacoma. To make it worse, many of these National Guard members were related, which we found out later in advanced basic. I was in the First Platoon, Third Squad, second floor. It was Sunday, so we thought we would have the day off. No such luck. The First Platoon sergeant, Sergeant Cassel, along with Corporal Steward and one or two other corporals, had us fall in for inspection--haircuts, shoes polished, etc. We knew we were to police up the area when Corporal Stewart hollered, "Okay. Assholes and elbows." When we came back in, we were told to continue practicing making up our bunks. That lasted about two minutes. It seemed that these people had no idea what they were doing.
We were marched to a building to be issued our uniforms--Class (A), (B), (C), or (D). We wore Class (D) most of the time. Class (D) uniforms were fatigues. We were also issued foot lockers, wall lockers, boots, underwear, and towels. Then we were instructed on how to wear, wash, hang, make. Everything that we had learned at our mother's side was no longer applicable. My haircut passed. Before I left I had gotten one of the barbers at West Point to give me a shorter than usual military haircut. After that we had to clean the barracks, ceilings, walls, and floors until everything shined. There were a lot of complaints from the New York City boys. They were all draftees.
Monday Morning Reveille
I was up, bunk made, and standing at attention when Corporal Stewart flipped the lights on. The reason I was up? I used to raise chickens. Chickens had to be fed before I went to school. In the winter when there was a lot of snow, the fenced-in yard for the chickens had to be cleared, and the water jars had to be freed of ice and new water added. All of this was done before breakfast, so getting up early was nothing new to me.
After passing several inspections and my ability to have learned the ten general orders so quickly was seen, I was made squad leader of the Third Squad. During the first week of class work, our instructor asked who knew any of the general orders. No one raised his hand. I did and the instructor asked me which one I knew. I asked him which one he wanted to hear. With that, I recited all of them and in the sequence he asked for them. Several officers plus non-coms were in attendance. One of the officers wanted to know where I had learned them. I told him at West Point. No one asked if I was a cadet. I let them think what I hoped they were thinking. That one statement boosted my status in the platoon. None of the officers present had attended any military school.
Basic training was to acquaint us with military life, to teach responsibility for each other--the buddy system, and to bring us together as a team. In basic each recruit was responsible to all other recruits to make sure that not only his area was up to snuff, but also all other areas around him. That way no one failed. In my squad we had Recruit Golden. He not only refused to police his area, he would not communicate with others. We got back from the Army's infiltration course in the middle of the night. In the infiltration course, the Army had us crawl through mud and water under barbed wire with explosions going off all around while someone was firing a machine gun over our head.
When we got back to the barracks, everyone got boxes of laundry soap, went into the showers with clothes on--including boots, and just poured the soap on each other, in pockets and in hair. Everyone scrubbed everyone else, as well as themselves. When the shower was over, all clothes were clean and boots were dried out and polished. We worked all night and through the morning to be ready for whatever the Army had planned next. Too late we discovered that Golden had gone to bed with his muddy clothes and boots on. We yanked him out of bed and told him what we expected, but Golden wasn't listening. The rest of us took care that his area, foot locker and wall locker were always in top shape, hoping he would straighten up. We had done that for the last time. We changed sheets and pillow cases once each week. Golden refused to do that. Eventually he wouldn't even shower or wash his own clothes. His sheets were a muddy brown. He was filthy. We started not making inspections. The whole barracks were confined to quarters on weekends. It was my squad, so it was my decision. Golden was going to get a GI bath.
To this, every man in the barracks participated. Not only was his body washed fully clothed, but also his foot locker, wall locker, and all his private personal belongings. We used plenty of soap and scrub brushes. Golden was scrubbed raw. After the bath was over, Golden and all his possessions, including foot locker, wall locker, and everything he owned, were thrown out of the barracks. All of us were also soaking wet. Most though, had the good sense to strip down to shorts before the bath. Within hours, Recruit Golden was gone and not a word was ever said.
There was one other fellow in the outfit--Ralph Pettengill. I had first met Ralph at Fort Devens. He was from a farm family in Maine. I don't think he ever got out of high school. Ralph latched on to me for a friend. He really needed help with everything from making his bunk to standing at attention and having his feet at a 45 degree angle. I was assigned to work with him "until he got it." He was a good person. He had joined the army. I think his family was too poor to take care of him, so the army was the place. His teeth were bad and his physical makeup left a lot to be desired. I wonder how he passed the initial physical to even get out of the barracks fast enough when the sergeant blew the whistle.
We were getting out in under 50 seconds, but that wasn't fast enough for him. Then he made the mistake of telling us, "I want to see those doors fly off their hinges when this whistle blows." I got hold of the two squad leaders down on the first floor, told them to lock the doors, and when the whistle blew to hit the door on their side while I hit the door on my side. If we did that, the doors would fly off their hinges. One of the squad leaders was leery of the plan, but decided to go along. We waited. The whistle blew, both doors splintered and flew all the way across the courtyard to the mess hall, which was next to our barracks, about 15 feet. Well, Sergeant Chew was so happy I thought he'd piss his pants.
The post engineers came by and replaced the doors. The next morning when the whistle blew, both doors flew off again. The post engineers came by and replaced them, only this time they really bolted them to the siding and the door frame. It was a Sunday. The Post Commander, a brigadier general, was making his rounds, especially by our barracks because he wanted to know why the post engineers had to keep replacing the doors. Suddenly the whistle blew. One door made it to the mess hall while the door on my side, being bolted to the siding, just swung out with a half dozen eight foot long pieces of siding still attached to the splintered door waving back and forth. Sergeant Chew was happy that we had cleared 30 seconds. We had fun and the sergeant had established himself in our eyes as a leader. Someone we could count on. Someone who would back us. Needless to say, that was the last time the whistle blew. Even without knocking the doors down, we stayed with the 30-second fallout.
Our basic and advanced basic training lasted ten weeks. Much was learned, but not by all. Some wanted out. They were draftees and did not want to be there. During our so-called advanced basic was when we learned how everyone was related. Lieutenant Ebby was our platoon sergeant. He was Sergeant Key's cousin. Corporal Decker was a cousin to Sergeant Key. The Regimental Commander, Colonel Ditrick, was Captain Ditrick's brother. The colonel and captain were Lieutenant Ebby's cousins and they all went home every night except those who had duty--and then, as often as they could get away with it, they sometimes paid someone to take their duty.
Guard duty was two hours on, six hours off. I once went on guard duty at 6 p.m. Eight p.m. came and went with no relief. Ten o'clock came and went and no relief. I had to relieve myself. I called out to the Corporal of the Guard, Post Number One. This was standard operating procedure (S.O.P.). No one came. I called out twice more. By now it was 10:30 and I really had to go. I left my post, went to the nearest barracks, did what I had to do, and went back to my post. No one came all night. At six o'clock, reveille sounded. I could see people going to chow and at seven reporting for duty. At 8:30 I still had not been relieved. Lieutenant Schatz, a veteran of World War II, asked me what the hell I was doing. I said, "Sir, I am on guard." He said, "Guard has been over now for two and a half hours." I said, "I have not been properly relieved." He told me to report to the CP and that he would soon be there. The incident was reported, as well as the fact that I had been on guard all night, that no one came to relieve me, and that I had completed all other guards' duty--and that the Corporal of the Guard either was asleep or not at his post. The Sergeant of the Guard was also asleep at his post or not on duty because he did not respond to the guard on duty. Likewise for the Officer of the Day. I reported that no one made the mandatory inspection through the night. Those were the specifications being drawn up for a summary court. Nothing was ever done. How do you get one member of a family to court martial another member? I knew then that I had to get out of this NG outfit.
There was one other incident after this when I was on guard. All during the night the officer of the day, the Sergeant of the Guard, or someone checked on me to see if I was goofing off or sleeping. Early in the morning it had started to snow and by seven the next morning, the snow was knee deep. This NG outfit did not like the fact that they got caught off guard the last time. Still, I went the whole night with no relief. That's when I knew for sure I had to do something to get out of that outfit and into a regular army unit.
Corporal Chase, who was a regular in the National Guard unit, got the several platoons together and bullshitted the recruits, saying that he would start a collection--$5 from everyone in the four platoons, to buy a washing machine for each platoon. The washing machines would belong to the platoon members. Everyone had to contribute or, as Corporal Chase put it, he wouldn't be able to get the deal he was promised from whoever was going to furnish the machines. Sounded too good to be true! The head count in four platoons was about 160 people, so Corporal Chase netted himself $800. After the collection was made, Chase said the washing machines would arrive within the week. "And the best part of it is," he said, "When new people come in after graduation, you can sell the machines to them." Within the week Corporal Chase was transferred to another unit not in Seattle. No machines were delivered and no one got any money back. The whole thing was turned over to the post commander, but nothing was ever done. A lesson was learned. I think this group would have killed Corporal Chase if they ever got their hands on him.
After our ten weeks of basic and advanced, I was made cadre for a new group of recruits. Sergeant Peterson was the platoon sergeant, Private O'Hara, Private Halmor, and I were cadre for the first platoon. Lieutenant Schatz was our CO for the beginning of basic. It must have been obvious to the recruits that we had only been in the Army a very short time. While we were training these new people, it surprised us to see how much we had learned. Later, some of these recruits would be used as cadre for the next group of inductees.
I had made inquiries about going to Officers Candidate School (OCS). Later we heard that some were going to Fort Ord in California for Leaders School. I went on a 15-day leave home, and when I got back my orders were there to go to Fort Ord. The other fellows had left a day or two ahead of me.
Leadership School, Fort Ord
The army furnished me transportation from Union Station in Tacoma to Portland, Oregon, coach fare. Changing trains in Portland, I was given a first class Pullman. I had never traveled in such luxury before and was surprised that the army would do this. Perhaps it was in error and I would be handed a bill at the end of the trip. The train pulled into San Francisco the next evening, and I had to change trains again, this one to take me down the coast to Fort Ord. The fort was about seven miles from Monterey and Pacific Grove. Since I was not with the first group and my orders stated an arrival date, I was already two days late. Upon presenting my orders to the MPs at the Fort Ord gate, they wanted to arrest me for being AWOL and took me to the Provost Marshall. The Provo, upon examining my papers and realizing that I had been on furlough, pressed no charges. His comment was, "He's okay. He turned himself in." That statement still has me perplexed.
Fort Ord was so huge and sprawled out that I needed to ask directions twice before I could find the school. When I did, I found all the candidates for the school from my outfit were together in one barrack. My bunk was pre-assigned. Some of the cadre were there to meet all new students and immediately coach us on appearance and display of foot lockers and wall lockers. Not only the top compartment of the foot locker had to be in a specific order, but also the area beneath the top compartment, unlike regular basic. In the wall locker where uniforms were hung, all hangers had to be hung so the hook faced in toward the back of the locker and all hangers had to be exactly one inch apart. Boots and shoes were placed in the bottom of the locker, boots first and then low quarters. All bunks had to be lined up so that if the inspector was to sight down the first bunk, he would see only one. They even inspected the nails in the bottom of the boots for dirt. There could be no dirt anywhere. Corporal Bellamy was gigged for having rope under his bed. The "rope" was a bit of thread hanging from beneath his mattress.
During our stay at the school, all candidates would hear lectures and give lectures, be class leader and field leaders, and would also be called on to take charge of the class or other classes at a moment's notice. During lectures, arguments had to be pro or con and at a moment's notice. If we started out pro, the instructor would tell us to go con in the middle of the lecture. I guess it was to make us think. After each lecture the class would critique each candidate unmercifully.
Meals were square meals for the first week. Square meals involved marching to our assigned position at the table. We stood at attention until the senior instructor gave the command to sit. We were allowed to glance only once at our chair and at the table. The meal was served. We, although seated, remained at a rigid attention. Then the senior would issue the command to commence eating. We could not look at the plate or look for utensils. The food had to be brought to our mouth in a fashion indicating a square--the fork or spoon straight up from the plate to eye level, then directly in a straight line to our mouth, and then the fork or spoon's return trip to the plate in the same fashion. All the while cadre instructors were watching our every move. If someone was caught smiling or otherwise not adhering to the established policy, there was an immediate order for him to stop eating, vacate the premises, and remain outside at attention until the meal was concluded. To some it was a pain, but to all it was a trial to see if we had what it took.
No matter where we went as a group, we marched. The length of the stride or step was exactly 28 inches. I was once gigged (given a demerit) for not having a proper haircut. I had just gotten a haircut the evening before. I had to report to the post barber and get another haircut, then report to the post MPs for inspection. Our name was always somewhere when we got a gig.
On our days off, Corporal Bellamy and I went into Monterey--a beautiful place right on the ocean. I went in alone on a Saturday afternoon many times. Corporal Knapp and Private Criscolo asked where I usually went. My favorite place on the bay was a place called the KEG. It was a small bar with quiet atmosphere, and it was congenial. They said they would meet me there around 6:00. They did not arrive until 7:30. Knapp hauled me outside and pointed to the lettering on the door, which said, "The KEG" in frosted letters. Then he pulled me out into the middle of the street and pointed to the top of the building. In 12-foot high letters the whole length of the building, which took up the whole block, were the words, "The Elnido Club." I had been in one of the bars that made up the Club. There were high class dining rooms, rooms for gambling, several other bar rooms, plus a second floor. Knapp said, "If I hadn't looked at that doorway as I passed by, we never would have found you." I said, "Well, now you know where the KEG is. Don't be late the next time."
I discovered that one of the master sergeants that I had met at West Point was teaching Spanish at the Presidio of Monterey. He was a big Pollack by the name of Lucas Zukas. I found Luke in one of the many bars. He said, "Let me see all those stripes." I had two. He said, "That was fast. How long have you been in now?" I said, "Six months." We had a few beers. It was late and I hadn't made any reservations to stay in Monterey for the night, but Luke knew of a nice hotel right on the bay. He said, "Go there and see if you can get a room. If you can't, go up to the Presidio, ask for me, and come on up to my barracks. A couple of the guys are on leave. You can use their bunks." This could only be done when all else had been exhausted. I could still go back to the base--it was only seven miles. I thanked Luke, went to the hotel, and got a room. The next morning I ran into Luke again and asked who he was teaching Spanish to. He said, "Spaniards," and he meant it. I guess it had something to do with translating into English.
At graduation, several students were approached by the faculty--mostly West Point officers, to continue on to OCS. I was offered the opportunity, but I turned it down because I did not intend to make the service a career. It was a decision I later regretted, and regret to this day.
On the return trip back up the coast to Fort Lewis, I had coach reservations to get me from Fort Ord to San Francisco. When I left the train in San Francisco, I forgot and left my orders on the train. The train I had just got off was slowly starting to move. I jumped off the platform and ran like hell trying to catch it, but it started to move too fast. I was next to the third car and starting to lose ground when a porter appeared with my orders at the doorway between the second and third car. He bent down as far as he could, I put on one last burst of speed, and I just caught the edge of the papers. I stopped and saluted the porter. He brought his hand to his cap. I had ran almost a hundred yards and I was not running back. I don't recall how long we waited for the train to Tacoma, but I did not need any more problems.
After boarding the train to Tacoma, I met another soldier who was also a corporal. He appeared to have had a quantity of booze before he got on the train, because he was loud and boisterous. Others in the same car with him were disturbed by his action. Some of the passengers were elderly. Some thought he was funny, but others feared what he might do. I warned him once to be careful. The porter came by to make up berths for the night. I went to bed in an upper berth and went to sleep. Upon arising the next morning, the passengers told me that the train had made an unscheduled stop in the middle of the desert and they put the corporal off.
We had to stop later for something and while we were stopped two MPs came by and asked to see our orders. I could not find mine. What the hell happened? Although they saw that I was upset that I couldn't find the orders, they said, "You better have something to say where you've been and where you're going." With that I thought of my certificate from the Leaders School. What a hell of a leader, couldn't find his head if it wasn't attached. I produced the certificate. This satisfied them. As they left one said, "You're a hell of a leader!" I thought, "I just said that."
Hanford and New Orders
I returned to Fort Lewis and found that my outfit had gone to Hanford, Washington. Hanford, Kennewick, and Pasco, the tri-city area where plutonium was manufactured for the atomic bomb. Our job was to defend Hanford and the nuclear facility in the event of an attack. The manufacturing facility was about 40 miles out in the desert. Every morning and evening there would be hundreds of cars and trucks taking people out to work. It was strange because there was never an automobile, truck, or any person ever in sight of the plant, just as if everyone disappeared. Everything went underground. And then in the evening they would all reappear again, taking people back home.
It was July and this was the desert. Dale Berard--Dale was from Maine--and I were assigned to construct living quarters, which amounted to a frame construction and floor with a squad tent to fit over it. Until this was done, everyone except the officers slept on the ground. The officers were afforded house trailers.
At that time we were not aware, and the DoD never warned us, that radio nuclides from the manufacture of plutonium were radioactive and that we were being contaminated. Many years later this exposure manifested itself. Many, many families and their children suffered adverse health conditions and multiple birth defects in their children, which have carried on into the second generation so far.
Dale and I tried to make the place as pleasant as possible. While we were out in the field, I found the two five-gallon pails of paint the lieutenant said were there. One was a light blue color and one was white. My CO and several officers, including two Marine officers, were in the trailer. I needed an answer as to what to do with the paint. I knocked on the door and knew something was wrong right away. It looked like our CO was drunk. All the officers had a drink, but not like Lieutenant Ebby. I tried to back out with some lame excuse, but the lieutenant said, "What the hell do you want?", much to the amazement of the other officers. I said, "Sir, I have five gallons of white and five gallons of light blue paint. What do you want me to do with it and how do you want it used?" He said, "Stick it up your ass." I said, "Yes sir, thank you, sir," and backed out of the trailer. A few seconds later, one of the Marine Corps officers came out, stopped me, and asked, "Do you want to bring the Lieutenant up on charges?" I said, "No, the lieutenant was ill and didn't mean what he said." That satisfied the Marine officer, but I could clearly see that he was not really pleased with my answer. I think now that he wanted to hang the bastard. I think the Marines called it "Captain's Mass." In any event, in the Army an officer is supposed to be a gentleman. This officer was totally out of order and out of control. I did tell the Marine officer that he was a witness, as were the others present. If he could get them to testify to this type of behavior as they had witnessed it, then I would cooperate. Nothing more came of the incident.
We were in the field for two weeks and then at the base for two weeks while another outfit was in the field. Our barracks were not built as squad rooms, but for two-man rooms. The barracks were air-conditioned. Dale and I, being the same rank, took a room together. Instead of wall and foot lockers as was customary for the army, we had closets and dressers. The two of us agreed on a color, painted the room, put down a carpet, and hung curtains. It looked good. We were not supposed to change anything, and we got hell for it. I reasoned that this was our home and it should be comfortable. They allowed it as long as we took everything down when we left.
Because of the style of the accommodations, we had many inspections. Before one inspection, Dale and I smeared some peanut butter on one of the toilet seats. The inspector that day was a Bird Colonel, the area commander. Everything was okay. He inspected each man and each room. When he got to the latrine, he spotted the peanut butter. He said, "What the hell is that?", pointing at the toilet seat. "It looks like shit." Our First Sergeant, Sergeant Stonestreet, stepped forward, bent down, ran his finger through the peanut butter, stuck his finger in his mouth, and said, "Yes sir. You're right, Sir. It is shit." We had everything we could do to keep from bursting out laughing. The colonel, without blinking an eye, said, "Very good, sergeant. Proceed."
Sergeant Stonestreet was a highly decorated World War II veteran. He was a stickler for everything the army said. Fortunately, he had a great sense of humor. All of his humor had to be off duty. Everyone called him Sergeant Stonestreet. One day I referred to him as "Rocky." He said, "What's that supposed to mean?" I said, "That's your name, you know, Stone Street, Rocky Lane." I separated his last name into two distinct words. He came right back with, "I don't want you to take me for granite."
My stay at Hanford ended in October 1951. The army needed people in Korea. First Sergeant Bailey called from the base in Hanford. I was in the field at the time and he told me it would either be Dale or me and the decision would be made by flipping a coin. He told me to call it. I called heads. He said it was tails. I don't think he had a coin. I asked him if I could be relieved of duty and come in and pack and get ready to go. He said that he would send someone out. Within a day I was back at base. I packed everything and waited for the army to cut orders on me. This took the better part of a week. While waiting for orders, I really wasn't given anything to do. I played cards with the guys in our barracks. I really did not know how to play cards. I had never played poker before and never knew the value of any of the cards I held. I knew what the ace was and the face cards, but I did not know what a full house, a straight, or a flush was.
Once while playing, Al Stevens (sometimes Al, sometimes Steve,) put his cards down and exclaimed that he had won. I did not know what I had, so I laid my cards down face up. Abromowitz was sitting next to me. He said, "Wait a minute, he wins," referring to me. After looking at my cards, Al, who thought he had won, said, "Why the hell don't you say something?" Abromowitz said, "He doesn't have to. The cards speak for themselves." I learned something then. They thought I knew what I was doing and I let them think it. Abromowitz was from Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Someone wrote a book about the Amboy Dukes years back. I asked Abromowitz if he was an Amboy Duke. He said he was. I don't know if he was or was not, but he sure acted the part, and I know he enjoyed it.
Originally I had 38 days before I had to report to Camp Stoneman, California. The week of waiting brought it to 30. When my orders finally came, I tried to get one of the guys with a car to take me to the station. Nobody! Sergeant James Byer was going a little ways down the road and he offered to take me part way. The station was about two miles from the post. Sergeant Byer took me just halfway. I often wondered if it would have hurt to go that proverbial extra mile. I thanked him and hoofed it the rest of the way.
Train to Spokane, Washington
I got transportation to Spokane, Washington, where I would get a plane to New York. Spokane was all the way across the state, and it took all night. I tried to stay awake, but was having a hard time. The conductor came by, saw that I was having a time of trying to stay awake, and said, "You might as well try to sleep. We won't get in Spokane for another five hours." With that, I promptly dozed off. Later he came by to wake me up. He touched me on the shoulder and said, "We're coming in to Spokane. Time to wake up." He smiled and went on.
We arrived early in the morning. I got a cab and told the driver to take me to a particular hotel where I was told to stay. The cab driver told me, "That place is too expensive," and he said he knew of a better place a couple of blocks from the hotel where I could stay. A private home. It was about 3 a.m., but the people, an elderly gentleman and his wife, welcomed me and showed me to a second-floor room. Two windows were overlooking the street. There was a comfortable double bed and two chairs. One was sort of an easy chair, softly upholstered with a design of white flowers of some sort, and the other straight back, near a small writing desk. The floor was not carpeted, but there were several throw rugs.
I awoke early even though I had had only about three hours sleep. The fog was so thick that it looked like I could walk on it. I called the airline and was told that all flights were grounded, but to check back. I took a walk down to the hotel and asked a few questions, like where would the transportation be when we finally got the okay to fly. They said, "Don't worry. The bus will be right out front and the driver won't leave without you." They asked where I was staying. I told them and they said, "We know the place." As an after word, they said, "We know the couple. They're very nice."
I found a small cafe where I took my meals for the next three days. The fog stayed. Finally on the fourth day, the morning was clear. I said goodbye to my hosts of the past three days and hurried to the hotel where the bus to the airport waited. They were out looking for me because when they did glimpse me, one of them said, "There he is." I was carrying my duffel bag, a barracks bag, a suitcase, and a small personal bag. The driver said, "Here, let me help," as he went for the duffel. I said, "That's heavy." He said, "I know. I hauled one all over Europe in the last one."
When we got to the airport, I went to buy my ticket. The ticket agent said, "May I see a copy of your orders?" Well, I had 27 copies. They were tucked inside my shirt all buttoned up. I couldn't afford to lose them now. I unbuttoned my shirt, which drew some stares. But when I produced the orders, I also drew applause. The agent looked them over. I produced proof that I was who the orders said I was. The agent was satisfied and handed the orders back. "I have 26 more copies, you can keep them." He continued to hold them out to me and I thought of the last fiasco about orders coming back from Fort Ord. I took them and said, "Thanks."
My Leave Home
The leave home went by too fast. I saw my girl. I spent a lot of time with her. She wanted us to get married, but I thought, "If I should get wounded and disabled or killed and during our brief time together she should get pregnant, how would she get by?" I knew she would be okay. She was an Italian beauty and a model. She came from a large family and they were all very supportive, but I had to say no. "I'll be back in a year," I said. We talked long about it. She was adamant about it, but I had to say, "We better wait." I saw everyone I knew. Most of my friends were in one of the services, in training, or like me, being shipped to Korea. Many had gone to Europe. "Hey," I thought, "The war is in Korea." Of all those that went into one of the services at that time, only three others and I went to Korea from our area. I was Army. Ed, my future brother-in-law, was in the Marines, as were George Sutka and Richie DeCandio. Richie was killed in Korea. George suffered a massive heart attack several years after getting out.
The last few hours of my leave came. I had called a cab to take me to the station and I waited in our living room. My mom and sister were in the kitchen. My dad had been killed in an automobile accident in 1937. The cab came, and we said our tearful goodbyes. I said, "Don't worry. I'll be back in a year." I picked up my things and as the cab pulled away, I saw my mom and sister waving. I had told my mother that when I got to the west coast, I would call her around noon east coast time.
Our plane took off at ten in the evening from Idlewild Airport in New York. We flew into Chicago's O'Hare International--I guess for refueling. When it was time to board, I was told that I had been bumped by an Army major. I said, "I must get to Camp Stoneman on time. I am going overseas. Where is the major going?" I guess he had a better story than I did. He got the seat. A couple of hours later, I was able to board a plane to San Francisco. Having hours to wait, I hailed a cab just going off duty. I asked where the closest bar was and he said, "Get in." We both stopped for a few drinks. He was a World War II veteran and naturally had some tips for me. An hour went by and he said, "Come on. I'll take you back. The bar's closing."
We arrived in San Francisco at 7:30. By the time I got things straightened around, I still had an hour to call my mother. At about 9:00 in San Francisco, the day after I had left New York, I had the long distance operator put in a collect call to our house in New York. Mom picked it up on the second ring. She said that it rang as she was coming through the door. Our conversation was brief. "I love you. Don't worry and I'll write as soon as I get an address. Don't worry."
I stayed in San Francisco all day. We did not have to report until midnight. All the guys I was with got the bus and went on down the coast to Camp Stoneman. Later that evening I hailed a cab and asked how much to Camp Stoneman. The cabby said, "twenty-five." I knew he didn't mean a quarter once we were on the Oakland-Bay Bridge. On the way, we stopped to eat and had some drinks. The cabby paid. We also picked up other military personnel who needed a ride for a few miles. For every one he picked up, he got four or five dollars, depending on how far they had to go. Like New York City cabs, he charged by the mile on the way down, and I guess that he made a few extra bucks on the way back to San Francisco.
I arrived at Stoneman about midnight and judging from the crowds of soldiers, there must have been 10,000 people there. The cab driver said, "You have to pay me before we get to the gate or the MPs will yank you out of the car and I won't get paid." I did not believe what he was saying was the truth, but I paid him the $25. When we got to the gate, the MP looked in and asked the driver, "Did he pay you yet?" The driver nodded. We went through the gate and the driver said, "I don't know where to let you off." I said, "Neither do I. Right here will be fine." I thanked him and he said, "Good luck." He turned around and was gone. The brass at the camp was obviously not prepared for this influx of men. There was no place to house anyone. In a few hours all these people were going to want to eat.
There was a big building, almost like a hanger, which all 10,000 tried to get inside. Another corporal and I managed to slip inside. The privates got out of our way. What do they say? "Rank has its privileges." The corporal who came in with me found us a place to sit just by pushing others out of the way. He got his way mostly because he was big and burly. Probably in his earlier years, he was a bully to those smaller than him. The bullying attitude came along with his personality. Later when we got a chance to go to town, I got in an argument with some soldiers at a bar and my corporal friend turned out to be a lot of shit. He got away with a lot because of his big mouth, but when it came to where the bear shits in the buckwheat, he was a pussycat.
When morning came, they got us in some sort of order and by the numbers had us placed in barracks. Camp Stoneman was a huge place. By the looks of what was going on, I figured it must be used for the purpose of moving people around the world where they were needed. There were several mess halls and they were always full nearly 24 hours a day. This was where I found out that the army gave us a seven-day grace period to report. I guess many did not want to go to Korea--who did? But this was why we joined. Anyway, the army figured some would think like that and the extra seven days would give them time to reconsider. By coming in late, they would still not be AWOL. I wish I had known that. I could have spent another week with everyone, especially my girl. On second thought, she might have talked me into getting married.
Orders to Ship Out
The USS Gordon
We were at Stoneman about two weeks when we got the order to be ready to ship out. We were allowed one night on the town. We had to be back on base by midnight. The next morning we were taken to the docks and loaded on a small ship that took us across the bay to a waiting troop ship, the USS Gordon. Several trips had to be made to get us all aboard. There were 3300 on board when we finally finished. I was number 1200. As we loaded, our last name was called out and we had to supply our first name, middle initial, and the number in line that we were given. This method was a fail-safe for detecting someone not reporting. Once in a while some jackass would call out the wrong number to screw up the process. When we were finally boarded, those assholes were on shit details for the entire trip.
A net was positioned beneath the gangway while loading because of problems in the past from people falling overboard off the gangway. If anyone fell overboard by accident or on purpose, the net caught him. He would then be hauled to the deck, turned over to the SPs, and put in the brig or confined to quarters for the entire trip. In the past, some had intentionally fallen overboard in hopes that they would be taken to a hospital for observation, miss the ship, and maybe be considered unfit for duty.
The trip over to Japan was uneventful, thanks to what my future brother-in-law had told me. He was a World War II veteran, a combat medic. He told me to get a top bunk because if anyone got seasick, he couldn't throw up on me.
The galley on board the USS Gordon was four decks down. The tables where we ate were for standing. The top of the table was about a little lower than chest high for average height. I was doing good. The ocean and the rolling of the ship did not bother me. I had a fellow passenger, a former merchant marine, tell me to get my sea legs and I wouldn't get seasick. After several days out at noon meal, I was at the end of the table on the aisle when a sergeant brought his tray and stood opposite me. He looked terrible. I asked him if he had been eating. He just shook his head. I said, "If you don't try to get something in your stomach, you'll stay sick." At the end of each table there was a garbage pail for scraping off any remaining food. I was shoveling my food in and the sergeant was trying to get a spoonful in his mouth when someone from another table came to the garbage can at the end of our table and commenced vomiting. Within seconds another person came and vomited on top of the first man's head. With that, the sergeant across from me projectile-vomited right at me. I was able to get out of the way unscathed.
I hastily scraped my tray on top of the guys with their heads in the garbage pail and headed for the stairwell. I was used to grabbing both stair railings and pulling myself up the stairs. I did the usual. Someone had vomited down two or three decks and the stairwell and rails were full of vomit. As I slid my hands along the first rail, the vomit cascaded down both my arms and in my face. From the episode at the table and the garbage can, my stomach had started to turn. I vaulted up three decks to where the hatchway was supposed to be, only to find about 200 guys on their way down to the galley. I put both hands over my mouth and pretended to throw up. The vomit already appearing on my arms and face caused the double lines of men waiting to go down to the galley to panic. In their haste to avoid me and get out of the way, they climbed over each and scrambled out of the way of what they thought was going to be a disaster that they would at all costs avoid. A narrow passageway between the piles of bodies opened for me out to the deck and fresh air.
The old sergeant who stood across from me at the table was seasick for three days even after we got off the ship. He had been in the Army 33 years. After he felt better, it did not take him long to apply for a discharge. We never saw him again. You would think the powers that be would figure things out. Just some snotty son-of-a-bitch thinking it was funny. This guy had a home in the Army and wanted to stay, but some jackass couldn't leave it alone. They forced the old sergeant out.
The Last Portal - Yokohama, Japan
We arrived in Yokohama and there on the dock was a huge banner which read, "Through These Portals Pass the Best Damn Fighting Men in the World." I thought, "These slant-eyed bastards ought to know." On board the USS Gordon was a senator's or congressman's son or nephew. As we unloaded, he was immediately whisked out from our ranks and driven away. I guess the congressman or senator thought that their relatives were too good to fight. We thought they weren't good enough.
We were quartered in huge brick buildings that used to be barracks for Japanese military. Each building had room enough for 700 soldiers. Unfortunately, there were not enough beds for all. We got inside late and were three of the unfortunates. I had met Duane Edwards, Kimbrough, and Dave Ferris on the USS Gordon. Dave somehow got separated. Edwards, Kimbrough, and I found a pile of mattresses in one of the many hallways. We promptly laid three out on the floor, lay down on them, and pulled a second mattress over us like a blanket. It was pretty cold. The date was late in December, but the second mattress helped a little.
It seemed that we had just got settled for the night when we were awakened by officers and sergeants telling us to get up to go to chow. When we complained, they said we would be first in the chow line. So we got up and went out in the very cold dark night. Actually it was morning--4:00 a.m. We waited for what seemed an interminable time. The sky started to brighten, like first light in the morning. As it got brighter, we saw perhaps a thousand troops in line ahead of us. Typical army. Those people ahead of us must have been there all night. Finally, by nine o'clock we were entering the mess hall to find out that they had ran out of the SOS and hash that they were serving. Much to our delight, we were given bacon and eggs. For having to wait so long, there was extra of everything. The wait was worth it.
We were at Camp Drake in Japan for about a week when we learned that the brass had finally figured out what to do with us. We were sent back down to the harbor where we boarded the Marine Lynx, the ship to take us to the Inchon harbor in Korea. Three days later we were at the port of Inchon, unloading personnel, equipment, and all of our gear. While we came off the Marine Lynx as fresh troops, others who had done their tour of duty in Korea were loading onto the Marine Otter. We waved and saluted them. Remarks were passed both ways. One in their group hollered out, "You'll be sorry," only the "sorry" was drawn out. In the harbor was a United States hospital ship with a huge red cross painted on it. There were smaller boats going out to it with wounded. For some stupid reason a MiG came over in broad daylight and started his run on the hospital ship. That guy had to be nuts. We didn't see it, but there was a navy cruiser or destroyer lying out farther in the harbor. They must have had this slant-eyed son-of-a-bitch in their sights because when he started his run, the navy ship opened up on him. There was a black puff of smoke and such an explosion when they hit him that nothing fell out of the sky. A few seconds later, no one believed what we had just seen.
South Koreans and Desperation
As we marched up the street, little Korean boys and girls offered to carry our bags and any equipment that we had. They also offered their mothers and sisters for a good time. That's all we heard--"Hey GI, you take my sister. She cherry. My momma Number One. Come, GI, good for you. You stay, take mommason, then my sister. She Number One. Hey, GI, you wanna fuckie, fuckie my sister Number One?"
We had been forewarned, "Don't let them touch anything you own. If you do, you'll never see it again." The way they operated was one would take a bag or duffel and run off down a narrow alley that ran through the many huts where the people lived. As soon as the one who took your bag was in the area of the huts, he would hand your bag off to someone else, and then that person would take off. By the time you got around to chasing them, you would get lost. Even if you did catch the boy who took your bag, he would deny it and you could never recognize them anyway. Most of the people just stared at us, unblinking. I remember the looks on their faces, especially the older young people, girls 16 years old. They knew what was to happen to them. Their families would allow their daughters to be raped for some money to buy food. What a hell of a way for things to happen. Your country goes to war and these young girls end up lying on their backs for any GI who comes along. I wondered, "Should we be here? These people hate us. Is this civilization?"
Going up a hill on the main street in Inchon, we noticed that the engineers had a two-inch water hose running down the gutter at the top of the hill. At the water's source, a woman was washing clothes. A little ways away from her was another woman washing, and so on down the hill. At least twenty people were washing clothes. After the first washing going down the hill, the water just wasn't clean anymore. Their method of washing was to get the clothes wet and then pound them with a rock, constantly turning the garment. That method was the forerunner of the scrub board, and then the wringer washer. As far as I could see, these people were about 200 years behind.
We boarded a train just outside the city. As we moved along the countryside, we saw people in rice fields, some cultivating with their feet or toes, some stooping over, and some emptying "honey buckets." There was a good business for the "honey buckets" because most Army areas had dug latrines. These honey bucket people would climb right down into the shit and by using pulleys and pails take all the shit that they could and dump it on their rice paddies. Since then, a bowl of rice has looked more like maggots to me. Anyway, the same look was on their faces. They either hated us, or were tired of the war and people trying to kill them. I could not imagine.
The train moved at about 20 miles per hour, so it took time to get where we were going. We had to stop several times to take on fuel or water. At each stop, a gang of Korean children descended on the train, again both boys and girls. They begged for anything we had and also scrounged for chunks of coal. One small boy had several pieces of coal when a much larger boy came, kicked the smaller child, and took away his few pieces. I felt like getting off the train and kicking that son-of-a-bitch, but I would be gone in a few more minutes and it would start all over again. I guess they were used to this abuse. I was not. What desperation. "What the hell kind of a country is this," I wondered. "What the hell are we doing here? Nobody gives a shit. Could this happen in my own country? Maybe it already happens." I thought back to when I worked at the A&P, cleaning up after the store closed. In back of the store were garbage cans where, when the store had spoiled produce, it would be thrown out. At night the street people would come out from wherever and scrounge through the garbage cans, salvaging whatever they could that was halfway palatable.
This was very late in December 1951. It was very cold and although we were dressed warm for cold weather, there was a damp, biting cold that just seemed to go through all our clothes and get right into our bones. Maybe it was just me, but it seemed like I shivered and shook from this deathly cold all the time. I wondered, "Is this just the tip, or do the winters in Korea get colder?" I thought then, "Is this dread of the cold just that or is it a foreboding of what lies ahead?"
By January 1, 1952, we had been in Korea about two weeks and were just now being assigned to the 936th Armored Field Artillery HQ Battery. There was Dave Ferris, Duane Edwards--later known as Ed, Kimbrough, and me. Kimbrough was from Kentucky. Edwards from Mechanics Falls, Maine. Dave was from my home state of New York. I lived in Poughkeepsie and he was from Peekskill. I got the name "Pete" because I could imitate Peter Lorre pretty well.
One afternoon while at the replacement depot, they showed a movie. Great, we thought. Something to do to ease the boredom. The tent was full and we were waiting for the movie to start. Finally someone got the projector to run and the feature film was Alice in Wonderland. Some left, others booed. What the hell, it was something to watch. Someone in special services thought it would bring a laugh. Many of the sophisticated phonies in the group feigned outrage and insult to their maturity and intelligence. Some of those "sophisticates" could not spell their names correctly.
We were told to report to the CO. I was the last to report. It was so dark in the CP that I reported to the warrant officer instead of the CO. My mistake was pointed out by Mr. Baily. I was a corporal, as was Dave Ferris. The CO called First Sergeant Henderson in and told him to get someone to put up the new mess tent, nodding toward me. My first assignment. I got a crew together and had the job done forthwith. I was glad when the men I chose to do the job knew what they were doing, because I had no idea how to set up a squad tent. The first sergeant looked it over, then gave me a sideways glance. I had the remote feeling that we were not going to get along. I was from New York and he was a Texan, as the rebel flag above the CP attested to. Most of the Texans I had met so far were great people to work with and to be there when I needed help. If possible, they would not let me fail. Always helpful. But this person must have lived on the border of some other state, or was just a misfit who could not make it in the world.
All the while we were reporting and putting up tents, the firing batteries were busy. "A" Battery was forward of our position and to the right. Behind "A" was "B." The guns were all 155mm howitzers and since it was dark, the sky lit up with each explosion. "C" Battery was about 700 yards across the valley and protected by a series of hills. The other batteries were exposed. Ahead of our outfit and directly in front of our HQ Battery was a battery of eight-inch guns, almost twice as big as our 155s, and a lot noisier. When they went off, it reminded me of when we had gone hunting in the fall back in New York. One of the guys, Henry Seitz, had a big 10-gauge shotgun. Bob and I had 12s, George had a 16, and Eugene a 20. When the 10-gauge was fired, we knew who was shooting. It was nearly twice as loud as the rest of our shotguns. That's the way the eight-inch guns sounded. One day while we were hunting without any luck, someone suggested that we choose up sides and have a war of our own--Henry with the 10-gauge, and George and Eugene against Bob and me. Well, we shot at each other for a while. No one was hurt. I think we were out of range for shotguns. Besides, we were up behind a psychiatric center, and we could rely on the security guards at the hospital to call the sheriff. They were not brave enough to come looking for us themselves. So, as far as shooting at people, I had already done that.
The tent that we had that served as a mess tent (and to me, that's what it was--a mess) had a mud floor and icy slush. It was dark except for one 60-watt light bulb hanging over the serving line. Slabs of what looked like meat (the cooks called it "roast beast") were covered with a lumpy brown gravy. We got a quart of coffee, but there was no sugar or anything that resembled milk to go in it. It was then that it dawned on me why there was no light.
The firing batteries continued their bombardment. I wondered who slept around there. After chow, another replacement and I were assigned to the communication tent. There were several privates, a couple PFCs, and one master sergeant. They were all crowded around the master sergeant for a little ass-kissing. The sergeant was eating it up. For the most part they ignored us. I was a corporal, which did not sit too well with them. I was regular army and they made up part of the Arkansas National Guard. Also in the tent was a Korean boy whose name was Oli. At least that is what everyone called him. The other fellow with me was Puerto Rican and was promptly called Chico. He did not like it, but for the meantime he had no choice. To put up an argument would only make things worse. I'm sure that this clique of sons-of-bitches from Arkansas would have thought up something worse at the prompting of their sergeant. Chico's name was Andreis Diaz Diaz. With his permission, I called him Andy.
Chico and I bedded down in one corner of the tent. There were no extra cots, so we slept on the ground. The sleeping bags we had were summer bags--a blanket sewn into the shape of a sleeping bag and an extra blanket. We did not know any better and put the extra blanket over us instead of on the ground first. We learned in a hurry. The cold in Korea was unlike anything we had experienced in New York. Of course, we didn't sleep in tents in the middle of winter in New York either.
The firing batteries were busy most of the night. We didn't get much sleep with the cold and the noise. It's probably good that we did not sleep. It was so cold that we might have frozen to death. In the morning, the inside roof of the tent where we had attempted to sleep was covered with a half-inch of ice from our breathing. The next night, both Andy and I moved our blankets next to the oil stoves that used up about 50 gallons of fuel oil a day. Some oil company was getting rich. I wonder what Senate or House member was getting the payoff. Still sleep was hard to come by because of the noise of the batteries. The old-timers there said, "You'll get used to it. It takes about a month." They compared the noise of a round coming at us to that of a freight train or a bed sheet being ripped and amplified a thousand times. I thought that in a month I would be dead from lack of sleep.
I found out where we were. Outpost Kelly was to our immediate left and Little Gibraltar was south and west of us. Little Nori and Big Nori were north and west. Old Baldy, Pork Chop, and T-Bone were to the north. T-bone was the farthest, about three miles. Pork Chop was under two miles away, and the rest were within a mile. The village or town names were Chorwon and Yonch'on. Farther north up by Pork Chop was Mundung'ni. I think in February or early March we were directly across the Imjin river from the 15 Regiment, Third Infantry. They supported us and we supported their forward movement. Later they were sent down to Pusan to help out with the POW situation and then came back to across the river from us again.
To me it looked like we were all bunched up. They taught us back in infantry school, "Don't bunch." That was back at Fort Ord. Ford Ord, a beautiful place. Just seven miles down the road was Monterey and a little farther, Pacific Grove. Right on the beautiful blue Bay of Monterey. I was there about ten weeks in infantry school, but was now still assigned to artillery. My second job was to operate the switchboard--sometimes during the day and sometimes at night. "What a hell of a job," I thought. "I'll get another nowhere job when I get out." Remember, my first job was the tent.
HQ Battery was responsible for forward observers up on Hill 355. Sergeant Schmidt was up there most of the time. Sergeant Schmidt was a wiry little guy, tough as nails but easy to talk to. He knew his job and did it well. Schmidt was a career soldier. The senior officers listened when he talked. He was a staff sergeant. He should have had more rank than that. I heard he got busted a couple of times. The demotions and promotions along the line did not affect his performance; he was good. He could call fire right on his targets. Schmidt only came down maybe twice a month for a little rest and talk. He spent most of the time in Fire Direction Control (FDC), making appropriate changes according to what he had observed while on the hill. This had to be done because in future fire missions the map people in FDC might disagree with the FO. That was the reason for these updates.
Our CO was strictly stateside. All of our ammunition was housed in a small supply tent. All of our vehicles, jeeps, 3/4 tons, and two and a half ton trucks were all lined up in the motor pool. Likewise all of our fuel--same place, motor pool. I was only a corporal, but I asked First Sergeant Henderson, "Why aren't the vehicles dispersed throughout this layout? We're going to lose everything." Sergeant Henderson was no one to fool with or question. I was told to shut up because I didn't know what I was talking about. It looked to me like he had a nice thing going and did not want any asshole rocking the boat. He was so far up the CO's ass that he couldn't see anything, or did not want to see. I thought back to our first meeting when I was assigned to put up the mess tent. I was right. We were not going to get along.
From what I heard from the regulars around there, it had been pretty quiet except for our batteries with fire missions several times during the day and almost all night. How it worked was that the FO spotted a target, relayed the coordinates back to FDC, then waited to see if they would fire and what and when. The FDC people were looking at a huge raised map of what the FO looked at every day, just like they were there, but they were not.
The first round came in on an unoccupied hill. The regulars here said, "The ones you hear won't get you. It's the ones you don't hear that are the ones you worry about, but by that time it's too late to worry." Everyone made a joke of it. The next round came in a little close. One of the Korean house boys picked up a piece of the exploded shell and ran it to Major Banton. The major, a real hero, was disturbed by the house boy's excitement and said, "This could have come from 5,000 yards away." He was right. The Chinese and North Koreans were firing from five or six miles up the road. The next round came in right on top of the mess tent, and then the motor pool and the ammunition dump exploded. The major ran for cover. I swear I could see a line of shit following him. Some leader. He was taking care of his own ass. They had us bracketed. Sergeant Perez, the motor pool sergeant, was standing next to the ammo tent when it exploded. His head disappeared, his body stood for a moment, and then it collapsed. Perez had only a week to go to rotate. Captain Porter was being replaced by Captain Hogan. While attempting to direct the men in HQ Battery, Captain Porter was killed almost immediately. Captain Porter had only two days left to rotate.
The firing batteries were laying down a barrage. All guns fired so fast that it sounded like automatics. We could hear above the noise our guns were making, the eight inch guns ahead of us. Eight-inchers were almost twice the size of our 155s. The North Koreans had been laying out this attack for quite some time. That was why it had been so quiet. They kept us firing so that they could pinpoint our guns and our FDC. Plus, they had civilian spies in the area. This was my guess, but what the hell and why not? They were walking their guns yard by yard right down the valley. Batteries "A" and "B" were almost lined up--"A" first, then "B." "C" Battery was about 1000 yards directly across the valley, located in somewhat of a draw protected by a series of hills. The three exposed batteries were being hit hard. All their guns but one or two were still firing. The men left in "A" and "B" Batteries fell back.
Now the only firing battery was "C," but there was so much incoming that communications were being shot out. Without coordinates, the gun batteries were firing blindly. All of our vehicles were useless after our motor pool was hit and the fuel supply exploded and set everything on fire. The barrels of fuel oil lay in the fire from the gas, and when they exploded it was like more incoming artillery, only like Greek fire. The fire and heavy black acrid smoke were blinding and could be seen for miles. The exploding incoming artillery rounds smashing in our area sent out the screaming bits and pieces of shrapnel that tore into anyone in their way. Some were big enough to cut a man in half or rip off some part of his body, like one continuous roar. Rocks and all kinds of debris constantly fell on us or slammed against us hard enough sometimes to make us think we had been shot. Some of the guys were hit hard enough to suffer serious wounds. From the absolute terror in the eyes of some of the men and the tears on their faces, they were already in shock. "How could this be happening? We're going to be killed," I thought. "We hadn't been prepared for this. Basic training was a scam. Why didn't they tell it like it really is?"
I remember a brief indoctrination from a former POW who escaped. A master sergeant. He related his experience. While a prisoner, he and others were made to dig a long deep trench, and when it was finished they were told to stand in the trench. Their North Korean or Chinese captives commenced shooting them all with a machine gun. This sergeant fell quickly, not wounded, and pretended death. Then to make sure, the North Koreans checked out each captive to see that they were dead. If not, they were shot in the head. After this was done, the bodies were burned. The sergeant lay all day under the fresh dirt, not daring to move. He said that at night he slowly dug himself out and made it back to his own lines. While telling us this story, the sergeant broke down and cried recalling this. These things should be told to recruits in basic, then there would be no illusions of what this was really all about.
Just before this action started, a major from Corps had been in the area for an inspection. He was responsible for what our outfit looked like. He, along with some of the COs of the firing batteries, wanted the area to look stateside. They said that it was good for the men's morale, as if some of those officers really gave a shit. The major had the men line out pathways to the guns and other areas like the mess tent, the CP, motor pool, and ammo supply areas in each gun location. The pathways were made of gravel and stones that he wanted painted white. We were told to collect empty British twenty-pounder brass shell casings and arrange them to look like a picket fence on each side of the white painted stones. Not all the COs were willing to do this, but they were outranked. What a target! What a jerk. Many of these stateside officers had never been in a serious conflict.
When we got hit and lost communication and our vehicles, Sergeant Blacker commandeered the major's jeep, got a mile of wire, ran a pipe through the hole in the wire spool, and started with a crew of two, keeping communication in. In order to do this, he made a wide circle from what was left of HQ Battery to "C" Battery, back to HQ, and then back to "C." As fast as he got the phones working, the North Koreans blew them out again. The distance from HQ to "C" Battery was so great that Sergeant Blacker had to carry as many mile-long spools of commo wire as the jeep could hold. That meant that when one spool ran out, Sergeant Blacker had to splice the next spool all the time under heavy artillery fire.
We thought we were in an artillery duel and they were winning. What we did not know was that a battalion of Chinese or North Korean infantry had started down the valley under the cover of their artillery. The men in the forward two batteries had fallen back to the remaining battery in the valley. The incoming artillery was so intense that there was total chaos. No one realized immediately that the North Koreans or Chinese had penetrated the perimeter. Sergeant Blacker's jeep had been blown up, and he and his two-man crew had been overrun.
The pounding of the eight-inch howitzers started again. We thought they had been overrun by the North Korean infantry. Suddenly rounds were exploding in our area and in "C" Battery's position. We found out later that the North Koreans and Chinese had overrun the forward battery, turned the guns around, and were using our own guns against us. The air was full of acrid, choking smoke and people running all over the place. No one was prepared for this. Up to now it had been like a picnic. The picnic was now over. Most were without weapons. They got used to moving around without their side arms or carbines, and no one, not our CO or our First Sergeant, ever said or did anything about it. That's not what we were taught. I wondered what side of the conflict our commanders were on. The dirty stupid bastards should be shot, I thought. Maybe if they survive this, we will shoot the bastards. Many of these men were ready to surrender rather than be killed. From some of the atrocities we had heard about prisoners of these stinking slant-eyed bastards, I had made a pledge when I first got there that I would rather not be alive than to be a prisoner.
I was on the ground and for some reason I could not get up. I don't remember, but my left hand would not work. Everything was wrong. My right leg would not hold me up and my left leg looked as if I had put it on sideways. I know I thought, "That's funny. I know I put that on right this morning." I didn't know where I was or what was going on. I guess I just stared and tried to figure out what was going on. The right side of my helmet was bashed in and my head was warm and wet. Something kept getting in my eyes. I remember that our guns had been wiped out, but there was still a lot of artillery and it was behind me. I wondered what the hell was happening, but that's all I remember.
The ambulance ride was hard and dusty. The medics had a bandage around my head and tried to make the ride as comfortable as possible. There were several others in the ambulance, one more on a stretcher, and I heard two voices. The voices, I guess, were okay. They were sitting across from my stretcher. Both of these voices were bandaged. One was without a jacket or shirt. He was bandaged around his chest and all the way down one arm. They must have ran out of white bandages. His chest was all red. The other voice with him had his head and neck wrapped up with the red bandage. Then I must have fallen back to sleep. The next thing I knew, there were two people in white and one was asking me, "How long ago did you break your arm?" I remember that I had been in an automobile accident in 1937 when I was seven, so I told him 14 years ago. He said, "Well, you've broken it again." My left knee was painful, but only dislocated. They fixed that. My right leg had a hairline fracture two places in the fibula. My head was X-rayed and bandaged. There was a star fracture about two inches above my right ear.
The doctor came back a few hours later and asked how I felt. I told him, "Just fine. How long am I going to be here?" He said, "We are going to keep you at least overnight." Another doctor came by and asked if I had fractured my skull in the accident 14 years ago. I said I had. I guess for the record they wanted to report that it did not happen in the Army.
I was given a cot at one end of a long tent. It looked like a squad tent, but was full of beds and doctors and nurses all over the place. This was the 8055th MASH. It was laid out something like a big wheel--a center command area and an operating theater with squad tents extending out from the center, like an octopus. Most of the beds had people who were really hurt in them. I felt like a jerk. I could at least walk--well, almost! Some of these guys would never walk again, and many would never see where they were walking if they could.
One guy closest to me had the right side of his face bandaged, and it looked like he had been burned. I asked him where he was from. He thought I meant what outfit, because he said, "B Company, 15th Regiment, Third Infantry." I said, "No, no. I mean where in the States." He said, "I live in Westchester County, upstate New York." I told him, "I live in Dutchess County. Maybe we can see each other after this is over." He said, "Yeah." I did not ask him how he was or how he was doing. You know, you think of all those stupid questions, but you only think them. I found out his first name before I left the next day. One of the nurses told me it was Richard. So when I left, I stopped by his bed, took hold of his hand, and said, "See you later, Dick." He told me to take care and keep my head down.
While I was sitting there waiting for transportation south, I thought how lucky I was to be injured (but not as seriously as I could have been). I had been in Korea a short time and now I was going home, or at least back to the States. I had been at the 8055th MASH for a day and a half when I saw posted those listed to go to the 121st Evac Hospital in Pusan, and then I guess to Japan. My name was not on it. I figured that was only one list and I probably would be on the next list for those not too seriously wounded. I didn't consider myself wounded. Injured, yes. But wounded?
They had put my left knee back where it was supposed to be. It still hurt and was sore, but the doctor or his assistant put an ace bandage on it. My right leg was in a walking cast so that when I put my foot on the ground, the pressure was not on my foot but on my knee. This seemed to work well and I felt no pressure on my lower leg and the fibula. The fibula is the bone that gives the curve to the lower leg. The tibia is the long straight bone, the one called the shin bone. My left wrist was placed in a wire splint wrapped in another ace bandage. My head was bandaged because of the star fracture. The doctor told me that that was not too bad. He said, "You must have an extra hard head. You may experience soreness and probably headaches for a while, but your head wound is not serious. Don't worry about it." I guess he was trying to reassure me.
I went back to the waiting area where transportation would be available eventually. The doctor came back again and handed me a large envelope. "These are your X-rays of your knee, leg, wrist, and head. Give them to your doctor back at your outfit." What! I couldn't believe it. I was going back. I had been wounded. I was not supposed to go back. I was supposed to go home. What the hell was he talking about? I sat there another 15 minutes and a nurse came, asked me my name, looked at a paper she had with names on it, and told me I had been released for duty. She looked a little sad and tired. This was no nine-to-five job--more like 24 hours a day, and I think she felt sorry for me. I started to protest. Had they made a mistake? Was she sure? With that she said, "Can you see? Can you hear? Can you walk? That's why you have been sent back to duty." She was right. Thinking of those in the ward where I first was treated, I was lucky. At least I could walk out of there. I picked up my carbine, .45, and the little .32 caliber Beretta, and I started walking.
Return to Duty
There was no way to get in touch with my outfit, so I walked or hobbled out to the main line, turned left, and started north. It was dark and raining. I thought, "There won't be much left to this cast if I have to walk all the way." I had no idea how far away or where my outfit was. I thought, "Dear Mom, please don't worry." I guess I walked for maybe a half hour when I saw some dimmed lights off in a field. I went over to the lights to find a radio shack. I asked the operator on duty, "Could you try to raise my outfit?" He looked at me and said, "Are you sure you have to go back?" I nodded yes and he asked, "What is your outfit's call sign?" I told him, "Neon Light," and he went to work. He spoke into his mike, "Uijongbu, this is Uijongbu Switch. I'm trying to reach Neon Light." The reply came back, "For Neon Light I think you have to go through Blue Gown and then to Projectile. They're pretty far forward. I hear they got hit hard. I'll give it a try."
The next operator on the line said, "This is Blue Gown." My operator said, "This is Uijongbu Switch. We want to get Neon Light." Projectile said, "Wait one," then he said, "Projectile Airstrip, I got Uijongbu Switch on the line. Can you get Neon Light and tell them they got a man belongs to their outfit needs a ride." Then right after that I heard Barry on the line. That was Neon Light's radio switchboard. I grabbed the mike and said, "Barry, come and get me. I'll be walking. Look for me on the road." Barry came back with, "They'll probably send Hadden. What should he be looking for?" I said, "A bandaged head, and me limping, cast on right leg." Barry said, "Okay. I read you loud and clear."
Barry had gotten married before he left the States, and this is the story he related about his honeymoon. They left the reception, drove quite a while, and landed in this motel. Well, they got into bed and he proceeded to caress her as he did when they were courting. When he attempted to consummate the marriage, she said, "What are you doing?" Almost hysterical, she pushed him away and got out of bed. Barry said, "I tried to explain that this was part of being married." Well, Barry said that he had to drive back to her house and explain to her parents what happened. He said that the mother and father were either shy or bashful and had never explained to their daughter about anything. It's hard to believe, but that was Barry's story. He said that it took most of the night, but she finally came around.
Private Hadden showed up in a little under an hour. I asked him what was left of the outfit. He said, "We had to make a strategic withdrawal." I've often wondered what that meant. Why don't they just say, "We had to get the hell out of there." I guess what they said wouldn't worry the folks at home too much, them thinking that the military had everything under control. For some reason, our commanders and the Pentagon people did not want the taxpayers to know that we were getting our asses kicked. What an incompetent group of jackasses they were. They went around smiling, and during newscasts they double-talked the American people. It's what's called, "baffling them with your bullshit."
We got back in the outfit about 10:30 p.m. I reported in to the new CO, Captain DeSalvo. Sergeant Henderson looked like he was pissed off. I guess he thought all my bandaging was false and I was goofing off. He no doubt wanted to give me a shit detail. The only words I had for this jerk were "shit head." Before I went out of the CP, I asked him where he was during the battle. It turned out the bastard wasn't anywhere known, hiding someplace.
Our CO, Captain Hogan, cracked at the onset of the battle. He was one of the COs who wanted the place to look stateside with the white paths and picket fences. What an asshole. He was found in his bunker clawing at the back of it with his bare hands, crying great hysterical sobs. The medics tried to calm him down, but when they tried to get a hold of him, he flailed at them with one hand and kept digging with the other. His hands were all bloody. His fingernails were broken and ripped out of his fingers. He was no doubt oblivious to the pain that he must have felt. The best thing the medics could do was to leave him alone.
What saved our ass was that a battalion of Marine Corps artillery with their 105mm howitzers had moved in behind us just before this started. When they could fire, they were giving it to the North Korean battalion at almost point-blank range. When the guns fired, great swaths of North Koreans were disseminated. We learned that they were using grape shot. Unlike our outfit, caught almost by surprise, the Marines were able to size up the situation and handle it. Ed and Kimbrough met me later. Ed said, "Someone called in a couple of Sabers." Sabers were the new F-86 fighters that the Air Force was using. They had a swept wing and sort of a blunt nose. Ed said that two groups of three Sabers came in low and rocketed the hell out of the North Koreans. When they fired the rockets, it looked like the plane stopped. It was an illusion. The rockets were much faster than the jets. As the North Koreans were retreating, the Sabers went after them again and dropped their bombs on them. When they fired their wing guns, we could see little puffs of smoke from both wings. First, it was thought the plane had been hit, then we realized that the series of white puffs were from the machine guns. We didn't know if they had three or four guns on each wing. When the bombs exploded, they sounded like the proverbial "irresistible force running into the immovable object." There was such a shudder from everything. It could have been that we were much too close. One of the jet pilots wagged his wings. I found out later that the pilot was a friend I went to school with and lived near. Someone must have told him that I was somewhere in the area. Nice to know that a friend was there for me. Between the Marines' 105s and the Sabers, we didn't lose anything.
Now, as far as the major from Corps, his jeep, picket fences, and white pathways, he had somehow gotten down to Seoul or Uijongbu and came back with a contingent of MPs. The bastard wanted those who were involved in stealing his jeep arrested. Lieutenant General Michael had come up to assess the damage and to give encouragement to those of us who were left. The major was whining to the general about the "bastards" who stole his jeep. When I heard this story, I couldn't believe it, but then I couldn't believe a lot of the things that had happened so far. The major continued to berate us and complain that the general was not concerned that some of those people should receive harsh punishment. He said, "They don't belong in the Army." The general told the major that he would handle it, but the major kept the tirade going. The general finally said, "Captain, I will handle it," sounding like a warning. The major did not even realize he had been demoted one full rank. He still insisted that the general do something immediately. The general told the lieutenant, formerly major, to shut up. That was the first time the former major heard what the general said. He was about to say something to the general, but immediately he thought better of it and didn't say anything. They could have busted the son-of-a-bitch to private, then I would have been his boss.
The eight-inch batteries lost 70 men that afternoon, and most all their equipment. We lost Captain Porter and Sergeant Perez. The firing batteries lost 28 men. Many more were wounded.
We made a so-called strategic withdrawal about a mile south of where we were. We still had possession of 355, but at a hell of a cost. People were being killed so fast that replacements couldn't keep up. Thinking back to Sergeant Peterson, our sergeant in basic training, I recalled he said, "Keep your heads down. If you can last three days, you can probably make it." I thought about that. I had been there two weeks.
Our new area was on the right side of the valley and protected somewhat by several hills. The colonel's quarters and the CP were set up on what they termed the "military crest" of the hill. This was the area supposedly harder to hit with artillery. The radio and commo tent were set up just across the arroyo from the CP. The area between the two was like a gully, perhaps 200 feet from the entrance to the rear, which was up against a pretty good hill--a small mountain, and maybe 35 yards wide. The motor pool was located to the left of the entrance to the arroyo, and to the right was the communication and wire platoons and mess tent. Just above the mess tent there was Guard Post Three, manned with a .30 caliber machine gun. This was Post Two. At the entrance of the gully was a third .30 machine gun. Post One was a sandbagged bunker with a 180 degree field of fire. At the position we had just vacated, none of these defense mechanisms were available. The fact that we had a new CO said a lot.
Because of my injuries, I was given a job in supply. Ed Kosic was taking care of the supply tent. He was corporal. We did not have a supply sergeant. Ed was a short-timer and was to rotate in another week. He was from New York City. Ed's mother sent him ten pounds of popcorn. The way we first got it to pop was by using several candles under our steel pots, supported by a makeshift tripod. It took a lot of candles, and as the candles melted down we had to adjust the tripod to keep the helmet close to the heat. How to improve this? I got a couple of .50 caliber tracers, broke the business end off, and lit the phosphorus end. Sure enough, it burned with a vengeance. There was plenty of heat, it only took two tracers, and the corn popped furiously. Another problem solved. The only other problem was that we had to be careful because the fire from the tracer was so intense, it no doubt could eat a hole in our helmets.
The supply tent was set up between the CP and the radio tent. There was a hill in the middle of the arroyo where the old man wanted the supply tent. In order to put it there, we got Private Perkins and his bulldozer to cut into the hill and push the dirt around to both sides and the rear where the tent would be. This would give some protection against incoming artillery. When Perkins cut into the hill, there were five or six bodies that had been hastily buried there. The blade of the bulldozer sliced them nearly in two. The remains of the bodies were taken out of the area and reburied. It could not be determined if these were North or South Koreans. When the bodies were first discovered, looking at them the thought ran through our minds--at least it did mine--"Would this happen to me if I was killed and then listed as MIA?"
We had a .50 caliber machine gun set up on a small knoll to give us a 360 degree field of fire. Lately it seemed that the enemy came from any direction. Everyone in the battery spent a little time practicing firing the gun. Late one afternoon Edwards spotted a squad of what looked like Chinese patrolling along a ridge to the left of our location about 300 yards out. We called the Captain. He just said, "Keep an eye on them. Don't start anything unless you're sure. If you have to, warm them off with a few rounds. Don't fire the .50. Use your carbine. Don't let them know you have the .50." There were what looked like six or seven of them. They just stayed where they were, watching us watching them. After about a half hour, two or three of them moved down the ridge under the cover of small rises in the ridge. There were no trees for cover and only the small hills. It was Ed's opinion that they were becoming aggressive. Ed fired a burst from his carbine that didn't seem to bother them. They could see that there were only two of us. They moved along the ridge to a series of smaller hills that would bring them right down in our area. Ed fired another burst. With that, they opened up with automatic fire. We were surprised by their action, but then not surprised. They didn't know that we had the .50. I charged the .50 and, remembering what we were taught, short burst. The gun went off suddenly and the dirt and rocks around the Chinese flew. The .50 tore and ripped at the dirt where the Chinese were. Edwards was firing his carbine. I forgot all about short burst and blew the hell out of the area and everything else in sight where the Chinese were. They had stopped firing and had disappeared--we thought, withdrew--probably glad to be the hell out of there. That would teach those slant-eyed bastards.
I felt like a regular, even though we had been in Korea only four months. Most of the fellows who were there when we arrived had rotated. We could go home after a year or 36 points, whichever came first. I had taken my army issue .45 down to Uijongbu and had it chrome-plated. I also got a holster made of white canvas and a double row of cartridge loops in black leather. The belt was wide and had a double buckle. The holster was low so that when my arm hung at my side, my hand was on the butt of the .45. The holster was made to fit a thong that was used to tie down the holster. Naturally it was not issue, and several of the officers wanted me to hand it over to them. Well, most of them were new, and we had a reputation. They knew it. So I told them that if they wanted this gun, they would have to outdraw me. My holster was an open holster. Military holsters had a flap. Also, I had the .32 Beretta automatic in my shoulder holster and a razor sharp carbine bayonet strapped to my right leg. The officers tried, but they were not fast enough. I could outdraw them with any one of my three weapons. It became a game. They knew that I would have to give the .45 up and the fancy belt and holster when I left. I guess they thought that one of them would get it.
Sergeant Henderson, our Texas top, had been replaced by First Sergeant Anderson. Sergeant Anderson was a steelworker from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Both Captain Hogan and Sergeant Henderson had to be replaced promptly. General Michaels saw that those men who had survived the North Korean attack had lost all respect for both of these men. Some went so far as to refer to the captain as "Mrs. Hogan" or "Sister Hogan." And as much as Sergeant Henderson tried to command authority, it was impossible. Some of the men went so far as to threaten both of them. The major in FDC was also replaced because of his display of cowardice.
I'd always enjoyed a few beers with friends before I joined the army. After work, everyone met up at the Sunset Room on Route 19. A couple of beers, some pinball, some jokes, and the happenings of the day. One of the guys later would be my brother-in-law. After the Korean War, he worked for a printing outfit. I worked for a ball-bearing manufacturer, and I guess the rest worked for IBM, the telephone company, or the electric company. As I was saying, I had always had a few beers with friends, but after this real taste of someone trying to kill me, the drinking increased. Apparently it did not affect us, or we were affected and didn't know it. Edwards, Kimbrough, Dave and I stuck together. I guess because we came over together. There were several others besides us four who were exceptionally rowdy. When we weren't working, we raised hell all day and most of the night. The CO decided that instead of giving us hell, he would have our tent moved up the hill and away from the rest of the outfit. There he said we could do anything we wanted and no one would hear us. Zarvitch from the other group said, "Please tell the captain that we appreciate his efforts, but we think that this will interfere with our social life." I don't know if the captain was ever told.
The new tent was laid out. On the left was Zarvitch. He was Russian and had an array of knives and daggers that he claimed he had made. He told everyone, "Please do not touch my knives. They are very special to me. Ask me and I might let you touch them." Zarvitch was deadly serious, as we would later find out. I was next, then Edwards and Kimbrough. "Tank" was the last on the left side. On the right were Dutch Schultz, Pretty Boy Floyd and Dillinger. These names were not their real names. I never found out what their real names were. Next to them was Dave. Then there was an area where we kept our gear and booze.
Zarvitch had his knives displayed on his bunk. If one can call a knife beautiful, then these knives were truly beautiful. Some were straight blades similar to a stiletto. Others had carved blades. Handles were of brass, wood, stainless and ivory, and all were highly polished as if they just came out of a showcase. One of our members just walked over and picked up one of the blades. We thought Zarvitch was going to have a stroke. He stood up, picked up one of the curved blades, looked at the perpetrator, and said, "Put it down, or use it," referring to the knife. After that no one even looked at his knives or asked to see them. Zarvitch learned to keep them under cover.
We had not been bothered by the Chinese or North Koreans for a couple of weeks and things were pretty quiet. Tank, an appropriate name for this man, was over six feet tall and must have weighed close to 300 pounds. But for all this mass, Tank was in top shape and was willing to prove it to anyone, officers included. Every time we had a scare of incoming after our first encounter, we would run out to the nearest bunker for protection. Tank had a better idea. He dug a hole, trench-like, beneath his bunk. When we had incoming, he would roll out of his bunk into the hole.
There was always plenty to drink with this group of "misfits"--so called by some of the officers (not officers like Captain DeSalvo, who had seen action, but more like 2nd Lieutenants, newly commissioned, people who had just got out of college). I should add that this does not apply to West Point officers. These officers, such as we had as instructors at Leaders School in California, were and are top of the line. But the name "misfits" stuck. It turned out that each of us, though we were new at this, had a specialty. We already knew what Zarvitch's was. Dave took on land mines, detonators, and any explosive devices. Kimbrough, being from Kentucky, was a moon shiner's delight, always able to keep the misfits supplied. Kimbrough was tough and took chances to accomplish his mission. The few outside our group who wanted to try him found that he was no one to have as an enemy. Pretty Boy Floyd and Dillinger were dependable and had an uncanny ability to fake out the Chinese to the point where they would do something stupid. Dutch Schultz and I were the two to cause the greatest grief to the enemy.
One night while enjoying our favorite pastime, a 1st Lieutenant came into our tent hollering "attention." No one responded except Zarvitch. Zarvitch said, "What does that mean?" The lieutenant became somewhat panicky. Behind him came Lieutenant General Michaels and a couple of captains. Dutch Schultz had the bottle and promptly offered it to the general, who took a long pull on it and handed it back to Schultz. The lieutenant and the two captains were perplexed because we did not even consider the order to come to attention. The general put us at ease and said that he wanted our help. What he wanted was for us to penetrate the Chinese perimeter and raise some hell. He didn't care how we did it or what we did. Sounded like an experiment. He wanted us to get in close and get them while they were sleeping. Scare them so bad that they wouldn't want to sleep.
There was another outfit up on the line that used a loudspeaker into which someone would scream, moan, or cry all night. Just something to make the Chinese wonder what was going on. Another outfit used huge searchlights to keep the Chinese side of the line lit up like daylight all night. These lights were way behind the lines, but powerful enough to reach out and do the job. Our job was to locate their perimeter guards. That was Pretty Boy and Dillinger's job. Knock them out not kill them, just put them out of commission--Kimbrough. Cut a few throats--Zarvitch and Dutch Schultz. To find three or four sleeping close together was the best. Do one in that group and tomorrow no one sleeps. We often wondered what happened to the perimeter guards. The knives that we used were Zarvitch's, and he wanted them cleaned and not mistreated. We thought he was going to give us a class on how the knife should be used to be most effective.
I guessed we had moved along a ridge for about 400 or 500 yards. Pretty Boy was our point and had slowed down to a crawl. He signaled that we were close to the enemy line. Actually Pretty Boy was almost inside their lines. He almost crawled into a perimeter guard. The guard must have been dozing. Dillinger hit him so hard that I thought the noise would wake up everyone. We all lay deathly still for a long time. We couldn't wait too long--a relief might come along any minute. There was a slight scraping sound and then Zarvitch was back. Without saying a word, he made us know that we better get the hell out now. We wanted to run like hell. My heart was trying to get out of my chest. We managed to get out as quietly as we came in. After Dillinger had knocked the guard out, Zarvitch did not hesitate. He went in, found and dispatched his quarry, and returned before anyone knew he had moved. This was the first for the knife wielders. None of us had ever done anything like this before. We were not trained for it, and we didn't know how to deal with the effect it had on each of us. It took a few days to get over it, but I don't think we ever will.
Dave learned as much as he could about anti-personnel mines. He would set up these mines along known trails that had been cleared. When he found mines laid by the Chinese, he would disarm them, run ahead of the Chinese mine layers, and re-set their mines, getting them on the way back with their own mines.
Our area had been quiet for some time, and Tank, instead of using the latrine when the need arose, used the trench under his bunk--the trench that was supposed to be used for protection from incoming artillery. After using the trench, Tank would throw in a couple shovels full of lime to hold down the smell. Tank's latrine had been used now for a week or two and was ripe notwithstanding the lime. Tank was asleep on his cot when Dave came in with a mine detonator. He accidentally set it off. There was a hell of an explosion, sounding like incoming. Tank rolled right off his cot into his foxhole latrine. Dave said it was an accident. We all knew better. Dave knew more about those mines than anyone in the outfit. After this action, the misfits were separated and returned to their original platoons. Dutch Schultz, Zarvitch, Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd rotated back to the States. I was in supply. Edwards and Kimbrough were assigned to the wire platoons. Dave Ferris went up on 355 as a forward observer.
About two weeks after our move, Sergeant Blacker showed up ready for duty. When his jeep was blown up and the Chinese overran his position, Blacker and his two-man crew put up such a vicious fight that the Chinese infantry skirted them, figuring they could get them on the way back. The fighting was so close and fierce that Blacker, in firing his .45 one side and then the other, shot at one Chinese coming up on his left side and shot himself in the left arm. The bullet passed through his arm and into the Chinaman. That was not the only wound he received. Both of his crew were also hit, but all returned to duty. Sergeant Blacker was sent to Japan to receive care for his wounds. He was told that he could return to the States and was awarded the Purple Heart. Both of these he turned down because he said, "That's why I'm in the army--to fight for freedom in the world." That sounded kind of corny at the time. Sergeant Blacker was Hungarian and had seen a lot more than any of us in his own country.
In the past, with our former CO Captain Hogan and Mr. Baily, the tee-totaling warrant officer, we were allowed one case of beer and a fifth of hard booze once a month. That much, or little booze, would last about a day. We misfits had all we wanted while we were deemed misfits. Now we were back among the general population and had to go back to the old class six rations.
First Sergeant Anderson was a beer drinker and wanted to know where we kept the beer. I told him, "What beer? We only get one case a month." I thought he was going to have a stroke. He told me to get a crew to dig a hole 12 feet wide, 12 feet long, and 12 feet deep, and he would fill it with beer. I got the battery to fall in, all those who were not on duty, and told them what the new top wanted. The first responses were, "What the hell's the matter with him? Is he nuts?" Then I told them, "Top says he will fill it with beer." The detail fell out, not waiting for a command, and re-appeared with picks, shovels, dynamite, hand grenades, and went to work. As the hole got deeper, every once in a while we would hear, "Fire in the hole." Everyone would duck and a couple of sticks of dynamite would go off or a grenade would explode. A couple of the guys would jump back in the hole and the dirt and rocks would fly. The hole was completed in two days.
Sergeant Anderson got another six deuce and a half trucks and sent them down to Seoul. When they got back, three were filled with cases and cases of Budweiser beer in cans. The other three trucks were filled with ice. The detail went to work spreading in a layer of ice, then a layer of cases of beer, then ice and beer until the hole was full. The whole works was covered with an M-17 squad tent. After retreat Sergeant Anderson called me in the supply tent and said, "On your way over to the CP, stop and get a cold case," referring to a case of beer. I wasn't on my way over, but why not? Usually the first sergeant, the mess sergeant, Captain De Salvo, and I would knock off a case or two every night. No one ever drank so much that he could not function.
I remembered that, even before Sergeant Anderson arrived, the little beer that we did have was warm. One day I got hold of an aerosol can of DDT. Just fooling around, I sprayed a little on my finger. Frost from the aerosol formed immediately. I scrounged around and came up with a British 20-pounder shell box. I put my remaining cans of beer in the box and added water till the cans were covered. I took several cans of DDT and, with a beer can opener, I punctured a tiny hole in the aerosol can and put it in the water. After using up a half dozen cans of DDT, the water was ice cold. Frost formed on the outside of the metal shell box. I was enjoying my first cold beer in a long while when the CO came into the tent and spotted the box with the frost on it. He said, "What the hell is that?" I said, "Sir, that's cold beer. Have one." After discovering how I had accomplished this miracle, he told me to order as many cases of DDT as I thought I would need.
My wounds had healed. I was given the job of supply sergeant, but with no additional stripes. I had to thank our new Warrant Officer, Mr. Beale. Mr. Beale was from Amarillo, Texas, and he was also a World War II vet. A good guy. He wore a shoulder holster with a .45 automatic in it. Mr. Beale was also quite a knife thrower--knife or carbine bayonet. He could throw, blade first, flat-handed or handle first--it didn't make any difference. He could throw so accurately that he could place five bayonets in a board 20 feet away in the shape of the five dots on a dice or die. Later I found out that he knew my brother-in-law, my sister's husband. They were both in Italy and Germany in World War II.
We had been in this new area for about three weeks and everything was quiet. It almost seemed like we were stateside, except for the colonel's Korean houseboy and the two houseboys who kept the CP cleaned and occasionally worked for me. The two Koreans who worked for me said their first names were Johnny and Joe. These two worked like hell taking care of the captain and the CP. They wanted to work for me at the supply tent. Being naive and feeling sorry for them, I trusted them and they honored my trust. I didn't know that they were just building me up for a letdown later on.
Anyway, everything was quiet and there were no enemy problems, when suddenly a round came screaming overhead, reminding me of the freight train, the bed sheet, and the amplifiers. Everyone stood still as if saying to themselves, "What was that?" The next round went overhead again. I thought, "When you can hear 'em, they can't get you. I hope I hear them all. What am I saying? I wish I was home." Everyone ran like hell for cover. The next several rounds were short. Two came into "C" Battery's position, and one dropped directly on the road leading to our position. "C" Battery was almost directly across from us, but hidden toward the north by hills. It appeared to me that the Chinese were looking for us or just getting the range. The shooting was so accurate that it seemed that they had someone on the inside doing the spotting. Each time they fired it was close. The pattern was familiar. The area was being bracketed.
Even though I was the supply sergeant, I still had to pull guard. Simply, we couldn't get enough replacements to fill the ranks. Everyone did double duty. There were no unions in this outfit. I took Post One right down in front. Philpot took Post Two by the motor pool, and Edwards was on Post Three. A triangle. A good field of fire. Both Posts Two and Three were elevated and to the rear of Post One. My partner on Post One was a replacement who had been with us about a week. He had no idea how to fire a weapon. He looked like he had no basic training at all. He had no idea what to do with his weapon and did not even want to carry it. I thought, "God help us if this is any indication of what the replacements are like."
Someone's Inside the Perimeter
A little after midnight we heard a vehicle start up in the motor pool and proceed out past Post One. The driver could hardly be seen and did not stop when challenged. There was only a wave of the hand. I called the motor pool sergeant, Sergeant Deets, and asked him if anyone was authorized to take a 3/4 ton truck out. Sergeant Deets said no. Deets was a World War II vet, all business. When he had joined the outfit a week or two before, he brought his own carbine and would not let me enter it in his record. He said, "This is my personal weapon. I brought it in here when I got here, and when I leave, I'm taking it with me." I couldn't argue with that. I called the CP and told the CO what was going on. He double-checked with Sergeant Deets and then told me to stop the truck, "any way you can." I called Posts Two and Three and told them to stop the 3/4 ton truck. The road from our outfit out to the main line was about 500 yards. Although we could not clearly see the 3/4 ton, all three posts opened fire. I called Sergeant Rifenberg over in "C" Battery and told him to stop the truck coming out to the main line. "We think a Chinese has got it." Then I added, "Our CO says to stop it any way you can."
Our three .30s continued to fire in the general direction of the truck. If we were not hitting him, we must have been scaring the hell out of him. Suddenly from "C" Battery came a huge bright flash and then two explosions--one closely following the other. The first was the .75mm recoilless rifle being fired. The second was the truck exploding. Rifenberg called me and said, "Well, your CO said 'any way you can.'"
Our first experience on guard was our first position. That was before we made this strategic withdrawal. Then the guard post was on the side of a hill facing north. Post One was down in front and Post Two was halfway up a ridge. Post Three was up on top of the ridge. I was on Post Two with a John Wayne type. His last name was Krampits. He was nicknamed "Kombat Krampits," and that's the way he spelled it. The night was quiet. We had all checked in with each other and with the command post. There was a single shot up near Post Three that ricocheted off a rock close to Post Two. That's all it took. Kombat Krampits lifted the .30 off its mount, ran out of the bunker trailing the ammunition belt behind him, and started firing in the area of Post Three. In only seconds, Post Three responded, and they were firing a .50 caliber. Tracers were flying at us on Post Two and arching in the night sky.
Across the valley there were two companies of Marines. Some of the tracers reached their position and they joined the battle--or what looked like a battle. Everyone was firing blindly. This lasted only seconds and the firing stopped. What happened, and what started this was the crew on Post Three said they saw a deer and they shot at it. They missed. Kombat took up the challenge as if there had been one, and started the ball rolling. What really precipitated the whole mess was that both Post Two and Three lost communication. Wires to the phones were torn loose. Our 1st Sergeant at that time was Sergeant Henderson. He wanted us all court-marshaled. This guy was such an idiot. Whatever happened, he went by army regulations. He didn't give a shit who was winning or losing.
One other time we were on guard up on Post Three all the way up to the top of a northwesterly ridge on a very cold night. There was snow and ice all over the trail. I carried the barrel of the .50, and two others with me carried the tripod and ammo. We had a bunker that stood out like a sore thumb on the skyline. What a dumb location. We set the gun up for a good field of fire and settled down for our tour of duty that night. It was so cold that the crew before us had brought up a couple of dozen number ten cans with the tops and bottoms cut out. One of the cans still had the bottom on, and by filling that one with half gas and half fuel oil and then stacking the rest of the cans on top of each other to form a makeshift chimney that went right out the top of the bunker, we had a furnace. After we lit the gas at the bottom, the heat got the smoke stack glowing red hot. Great. The only thing that we forgot was that the cans sticking out of the top of the bunker were also red hot and looked like a beacon from a distance.
During our tour that night, a patrol of what looked like Chinese were north of us about a 100 yards away. We discussed the possibility of taking them with our .50 and carbines. I recalled then what I was told by one of the master sergeants that I knew at West Point. He said, "Don't go looking for trouble. Keep an eye on them. They probably see you too, and they don't want to fight either." This advice was from his own experience in the Pacific during the Second World War with the Japanese. When our relief came, we told them of the enemy patrol, but they had moved on.
I tried to work with the new replacement. He claimed that he had no training with a weapon. His records did not agree. I told him I would take him through each step and hold his hand if necessary. In a fire fight like the one we recently had, every man was needed. One man could make the difference. I went looking for him and some of the guys said, "He's in the latrine." He was in there for so long that I thought he was sick. I went in looking for him. He was there just sitting. I asked him if he was okay. He said yes, but he did not move. He seemed to be enjoying the smell. I found that when others were using the latrine, he would be there also. He spent too much time in there--probably the better part of the day. I reported his behavior to Captain DeSalvo and Sergeant Anderson. I think they thought I was kidding. Nevertheless, they called for a doctor from Corps and had him examined. Within a week he was transferred. To where? We never found out--or if the captain knew, he didn't say. I learned one thing. He was in love with Jane Froman, the singer.
The Infiltrator's Fiery End
About two weeks after the incident with the truck, there was what we thought was a South Korean in the area. Not one of the regular boys. We were not too concerned because sometimes our house boys had visitors from another outfit. The trouble started when this stranger went to our motor pool and was looking around our drums of fuel, gas, and fuel oil. We called the captain. He came to where we were and we all watched this Korean push the drums halfway over, and in some instances try to lift them. Not all of these drums were full. They held about 50 gallons when full. Finally he found one that could be easily moved. He squatted down, lifted the drum on top of another drum, and slid it onto his "A" frame. That was a device that was strapped over the shoulders and was used to carry heavy loads. Its shape allowed the drum to rest sideways on the "A" frame.
All the while, this stranger was oblivious to all those around him, just as if he worked with us and belonged there. He hefted the drum for comfort and proceeded to walk out of the area across a field that we had brush cut so we had a clear field of vision. The captain asked, "Do any of you know this guy?" Even the house boys did not know him. The CO knew I always carried .30 caliber tracers. He borrowed my carbine with a tracer in it, waited until the Korean with the "A" frame was a ways out, then shot the gas drum. The drum exploded, just about vaporizing the Korean.
I pulled guard another time when it was raining. The guard bunker was on a downhill slope. Water ran down the slope right into the bunker. I found a large piece of a squad tent before I went on guard. I spread this tarp out on top of the bunker and folded it over so that when it came my time to break while my partner was on watch, I could get in between the tent. Canvas covered the ground and I was under the canvas to protect myself from the rain. I had been under the tent for quite a while and I guess sleeping. It was warm and I was comfortable. When I moved, I found I was lying in about three or four inches of water. The tent canvas had holes in it that I had not seen before. Well, so much for trying to stay dry.
It was obvious that our area was being infiltrated. We couldn't tell if our house boys were North or South Koreans. Too many things were happening--like their artillery pinpointing our area, the 3/4 ton truck blown to pieces, and now the gas drum. A blind man could see a pattern developing.
Coming back from Seoul, I drove in the outfit and parked the truck. There, parked at the CP, were two military Chevys. The captain's orderly came out and told me to report to the CO right away. There were two men there in military dress, both officers. That shook me up. I wondered what was wrong. I was asked several questions concerning missing supplies. I guess I acted so dumb that they knew I had nothing to do with the alleged theft. It turned out that my two house boys, Johnny and Joe, were working with our mess sergeant. Shortly after the interview, two more cars came. My house boys begged me to protect them. I told them that I was there to fight for their country, not have them steal from me. They said that they would be killed. Johnny and Joe were taken away in one car and the mess sergeant and the first cook in another. Later we heard they got hard labor on Koji and a dishonorable discharge. My CO and the two CID officers had a laugh over the way I had acted. Captain DeSalvo told me that I was shaking like a dog shittin' bones when I came in the CP for questioning. Funny. I'm glad someone thought so.
The Korean Service Corps (KSC) was a work force for use by the U.S. Army. (At one time I had 50 working for me in Korea.) One of the members of the work force went to Seoul without permission from his commander. I was asked to come into the tent where the person was being questioned. The person at the makeshift desk was obviously an officer in the South Korean army. The one being questioned stood at rigid attention. Words flew back and forth between the officer and the member of the KSC. Suddenly the officer stood, pulled out a .45 automatic, and shot the person dead. The officer looked at me and marched out. I guess I was the witness. What the hell was that? How could he kill a man for taking a few hours to go to Seoul to see his wife and children? He was gone less than a half a day. What kind of a world was this where the people we were fighting for displayed so little respect for life? I wondered then about Johnny and Joe.
I had no doubt that when this bullshit war was over, some of us--I meant the UN forces--were going to be accused of murder. The powers that be had to have a scapegoat to salve their own indiscretions. These same powers that made the decisions had never been out of their own back yards. They were called experts and specialists. They should have been referred to as assholes.
One of the KSCs who I got to know over the past eight months told me that there had to be absolute discipline. I asked, "If this guy knew what was going to happen, why did he do it? It was certain death." He just shrugged his shoulders.
Dave had been up on the hill now for a couple of months. After the misfits broke up, he went up on 355. I didn't get to see him anymore. Sergeant Schmidt had rotated.
Since our outfit had been targeted, we promptly got orders to move out, relocate, and make a strategic withdrawal. Why didn't they say what it really was? We learned that there was a steel strike in the States, and we couldn't get the ammunition we needed for the 155s and 105s. What a stinking war. We wondered whose side the people in the States were on. I guess it was the unions. They wanted to make $300 a week while I was making $126 a month. The steel workers figured we weren't paying taxes. Well, they were right, but they weren't being shot at either. Anyway, someone made up a little song about it. I think any Korean veteran will remember. It went like this:
It was a taken on a Hank Snow song. Before, when we had plenty of ammo, the song went: "Here come ol' Joe Chink down the road, ball ammunition lock and load, we're movin' on," etc.
The winter was colder than I had ever experienced. A lot colder than it ever got where I lived in New York. I guess the temperature got down to 40 below zero, and with the wind chill factor, it was a lot colder. We had so many close calls (and some too close) that whatever happened at any time, I wanted to be prepared to move out on a moment's notice. Unfortunately, most of our vehicles were exposed to this fierce cold, so to be prepared to bug out, I got up every two hours through the night to start my vehicle, a two and a half ton truck. I found that I actually had to pump the gas pedal at least two minutes to get enough gas to the spark plugs. It seemed like even the gas was frozen. Attempting to put the truck in gear or move it was a difficult task. Everything was stiff and nearly frozen. I ran the engine for at least ten minutes. It still wasn't really warmed up, but the oil was warm and that's all I wanted. I may have been wasting my time, but I felt better knowing that at least I wouldn't have to run if something happened. The captain knew what I was doing and he commented, "If anything happens, I'm riding with you." He was kidding, but I knew he meant it.
Another Strategic Withdrawal
Our orders were to move within the week, but it was not soon enough. Our in-house spy had contacted the Chinese and relayed our plans. The first round came in and took out our commo tent, along with the operator, PFC Hamm. The next dozen rounds took out all the tents, including mine, the CP, and the colonel's tent. Those were supposed to be hard to hit. I wondered who the expert was who thought of that. The accuracy meant they knew exactly where we were. I was ready to kill anyone, including our house boys. I think they knew how we felt. They kept out of our way and kept their mouths shut.
All the firing batteries were laying down a hell of a barrage. The steady cadence of rounds being fired sounded like automatics. Let their infantry come! This time we were doing the walking. Again, a battalion of Marines had moved right into the middle of the valley. Their guns, coupled with our 155s, covered every inch of the valley. Again, we had done some damage, but the Chinese were using self-propelled guns. They fired and moved, fired and moved. We just had to hammer the hell out of the whole area. Dave caught a convoy of trucks, possibly with supplies, and called fire right on top of them. White phosphorus (WP) set the bastards on fire. HE meant high explosive and VT meant variable time. With VT we could set the time and distance that the round would explode, like an air burst.
The Battle for 355
Dave's bunker on 355 was hit hard. His partner, Private Colegrove, had never been this close to action, although he had been an FO with Sergeant Schmidt for several months. The possibility of being killed never entered his mind. He had joined the army when he was 16 and received his Good Conduct Medal in Korea, where he had re-upped for another tour. During one heavy shelling, Colegrove was outside the bunker hollering for Dave to come out. Colegrove said, "Where else could you see a show like this except in the movies?" An air burst went off right over his head. The concussion was so powerful that the pressure drove Colegrove to his knees. When he got up, he got in the jeep and drove off the hill through a field of flares. The flares were going off all over. It was a good thing it wasn't a field of land mines. The jeep was tangled in the wire and as Colegrove ploughed through the field, great snarled lengths of wire trailed out behind him. Colegrove was not injured. He never got a scratch. When the shell went off right over his head, pieces of shrapnel slammed into the ground around him. The dirt and rocks jumped and danced all around him. The experience scared him so badly that he did not stop until the MPs stopped him a little north of Uijongbu. The bunker on 355 took eight direct hits. We were told that Dave was dead. We lost our position on the hill temporarily. The Turks, Princess Pat's Canadian Light Infantry (referred to as the PPCLI or just Princess Pat's), and several others maintained their positions.
Early the next morning, Corps sent up six self-propelled 90s for protection and a string of deuce-and-a-half trucks to help us get the hell out of there. The captain had us work all night salvaging what we could of what was left. As the trucks came into the area, I directed them to the areas where they were most needed--motor pool, mess tent, Battalion CP and Battery CP. I directed several trucks to locations where there were piles of salvaged personal possessions that the platoons had gathered. There wasn't much left. The move took the best part of the morning. All the while the 90s were seeking targets with the help of the FOs still on 355. The Canadians and Turks still held positions.
There was a battalion of Ethiopians nearby. These were fierce fighters. They not only had conventional weapons, but also long knives that they called scimitars. They had a long curved blade, razor sharp on both sides of the blade. On their vehicles, which were British lorries, they had mounted human heads. This tribe was headhunters. Some of these huge people (some well over six feet tall and many seven feet) had human heads hanging from their belts. They went for long hair on their victims--easier to tie the heads with long hair. I'm glad they were on our side. They were absolutely fearless. These warriors wrapped their bodies--their arms, legs, and around their chests and abdomens with what appeared to be some sort of bandages or strips of material. These wrappings were fairly tight. We later found out that the reason for this procedure was that these bandages acted as a tourniquet. If the person was hit in a non-vital area, the blood flow from the wound was slowed and the soldier could continue with his attack. Imagine a seven-foot Ethiopian warrior brandishing a scimitar in one hand and a long bladed knife in the other, screaming and running at you, and you knowing that you had shot at this fighter and hit him and he was still coming. The only way to stop these people was to go for a head shot or a heart shot. They showed no mercy. They were out for heads and the more heads a warrior took, the greater warrior he was. The United Nations tried to stop this practice but when they did, the Ethiopians threatened to go home. The UN ruling did not hold up.
After everything was secure there, the captain had me get a jeep to drive him and our new major to the new area. I started out at 20 miles an hour. The major wanted me to slow down. He said that he did not want to get killed in a jeep accident. I thought then, "Here we have another stateside warrior." Our vehicle led off with deuce and a half trucks, followed by 3/4 ton trucks, with jeeps bringing up the rear. Our new location was west and south of where we were before, about a 1000 yards from O.P. Kelly.
The road we were on twisted up one of the many hills that made up this part of Korea. As we crested the topmost rise, down on the opposite side of where we were a fierce firefight was going on. As far as we knew, a company of 3rd Infantry Division was in the area. At the point where we were, we could not tell which was which and who was getting their ass kicked. Captain DeSalvo had me move down the mountain, and when we hit the main line we turned toward where the battle was going on. We moved to within 500 yards of the battle. Captain DeSalvo and Sergeant Anderson went on up to a command center. Shortly after, Sergeant Anderson came back and proceeded to form us up into squads. We double-timed it up to what was Able and Baker Companies.
The fighting all around us was fierce and maddening. There were explosions and machine gun fire so rapid that the noise was deafening. Across from where we were was another infantry company. I guess that would be our right flank. They had several .30 caliber machine guns and were pouring fire into what we later learned were Chinese. None of us had had any infantry training. We were artillery and were trained only in field and coast artillery. I had some infantry training while attending Fort Ord Leadership School in California, but even that seemed inadequate here.
Our job now was to support these two companies with this extra fire power, which amounted to another 120 guns. As before, there was so much noise with mortars and machine gun fire that I wondered why we were still alive. The battle broke off suddenly shortly after we arrived. I guess with us moving in the Chinese thought better and retreated down the valley. I hadn't realized until then that there were so many wounded in Baker Company. We assisted where we could, caring for the wounded and caring for the dead. Our vehicles were used as ambulances where the wounded were taken to the 8055th MASH and the dead to Graves Registration. Baker Company suffered 100 percent casualties.
Remembering the dead and wounded, I thought, "What the hell is this stupid war all about?" I thought that the powers that be had nothing exciting to do but to throw people to their deaths. I've often wondered why our Senators and Congress people weren't there. But of course, I already knew the answer to that.
Our new position was three miles to the east of where we had been. This time we were in a better area that could be protected because of the layout of hills, gulleys, and arroyos. We had been able to latch on to some 24 12x12s. We used them for bunker roofs and side walls. In constructing bunkers, we used Perkins's bulldozer to cut three-sided bunkers with dirt on both sides and on one end. The 12x12s were used for the roof, along with empty shell boxes filled with dirt. The communications tent was built with this configuration in mind. We got a load of 2x12s for other construction. Our Korean carpenter needed to drill holes in these but we didn't have a drill. I told the guys to get a block of wood and then I told the Korean carpenter to lay out where he wanted the holes. I laid the 2x12 on the block and, using my .45, I shot holes through the boards. The hole the .45 made was a little smaller than a half inch, and the holes needed to be five-eights of an inch, which was about one-eighth larger than the .45 could do. But the Korean carpenter was happy. With that much of a hole he could get the five-eighths bolt through.
The only thing open as far as sides and walls went in the commo tent was one end, and that was protected because the tent opening was on the downhill slope of the hill. We thought the layout was perfect. The CP, supply, and the medics were located against a hill that had been cut out in the shape of an "L." This was done again with Perkins's bulldozer. Perkins had rotated, but the bulldozer was named after him when he left.
Problem on the Road
We knew that the Chinese, and probably the North Koreans, had infiltrated our lines. Everyone looked alike. We had lost most of our equipment during the last shelling and had to go for supplies. Most of what we needed was brought up by Corps. But many items that we needed did not come, so they had to be requisitioned. I took a truck down to Seoul and loaded up with everything that we did not get.
Returning by way of Marilyn Monroe Stretch, so named for everyone's favorite pin-up and the fact that the road had so many curves, I was about a mile past Projectile Airstrip when the engine started sputtering like it was out of gas. I checked the gauge. It showed a little under half full, but the engine died. I pulled to the side of the road and sat there. I had no idea what the hell was wrong. I looked around for someone who could help me, then I spotted another vehicle across a field near a sparse tree line. The occupants were in the middle of the field about 100 yards away. They looked like South Korean civilians. The problem was that some of them were armed. I glimpsed a rifle. I thought that if one had a weapon, five would get ten there were more weapons than what was showing. As long as they stayed where they were, everything would be okay.
We were there perhaps ten minutes. When no other vehicles were coming down the road, they started over toward the truck. I got out and checked that my carbine was fully loaded. I had two 30-round clips taped together. When I ran out of ammo on one clip, all I had to do was turn the end around and I had another 30 rounds. Beside the carbine, I had a .32 Beretta automatic in a shoulder holster and a .45 automatic as my sidearm. They hesitated for a moment when I first got out, but then they continued toward me. I guess that they wanted to see if there was more than just me.
These men were not civilians. They were too heavily armed, as I saw when they got closer. My mind could not think fast enough. What the hell was I going to do if they started something? They came on, knowing they outnumbered me six to one. It reminded me of a movie I once saw--The Treasure of Sierra Madre with Humphrey Bogart. They killed Bogart with machetes. That memory scared the hell out of me. What the hell was I going to do? Before anything like this happens, you figure you will know what to do if it does. Think again. If I started shooting, it would be all over for me. I just prayed that someone else on my side would come along. I think that these people knew I was scared. I hoped that they couldn't see me shaking.
I backed away from the truck. A couple of them tried to get around behind me. One of them climbed into the back of the truck and started looking over what I had. When the one in the truck started handing out a box that was in the truck, I slammed a round in the chamber and held the carbine sideways (not straight up, because when the carbine was fired in an upright position--that is, with the sight on top, the recoil kicked the barrel up in the air). Sideways the recoil could still kick the barrel, but it would go sideways and I could still maintain a field of fire. I held the carbine in my left and the .45 in my right. I didn't know if I could hit anything, and apparently they didn't either, but they were not about to take a chance. I was so scared that I thought of my mother and my sister. What would they be doing when the telegram came? There was a stinking odor. I thought my bowels had let go.
A 3/4 ton truck came up over the hill and toward us. Thank God, I was not alone. PFC Hadden came to a sliding stop, jumped out of his truck with his carbine, and fired a half dozen rounds right in front of the Chinese. (We found out later that they were Chinese infiltrators.) Taken by surprise, they backed off. I felt that they could have taken us easily, but Hadden showing up and displaying such aggression unnerved them. They wanted the odds in their favor.
Hadden knew what was wrong with the truck. He said, "Keep an eye on these sons-a-bitches. If they so much as blink an eye, kill 'em." He lifted the hood of the truck, crossed the two center wires, and tried to start the truck. All that happened was backfiring through the carburetor, and that was what it took. He replaced the wires that were crossed. I kept an eye on the Chinese all the while. I changed my position to aggression. I brought the carbine up, sighted right down the barrel, and aimed right at the one I supposed was the boss. They started hollering, holding their hands up and waving them around. They acted scared. I thought to myself, "Just make one funny move toward your weapon and I'll blow your fucking head off." All they needed was for us to drop our guard. While I was watching them, I brought the Beretta out of the shoulder holster and stuck it in my belt. I don't know if that impressed them or not, but it made me feel better. Hadden came around the side of the truck and said, "Let's get the hell out of here. I'll be right behind you and don't stop at the bridge. The guys at the bridge have got twin .40s and .50s. If these bastards follow us, they'll chop 'em up."
I roared down the mountain as fast as I could. The road had two hairpin curves and then it straightened out at the bridge approach. From the last curve to the bridge was about a half mile. I just hoped that the truck didn't fail again. Hadden was blowing his horn, looking back. The Chinese were right behind us. I roared over the bridge with Hadden right on my tail. When Hadden cleared, I heard the .40s open up. The Chinese were in a U.S. military 3/4 ton that they had somehow gotten. I don't know if any of them were wounded or any damage was done at all. Later we were told that one of our .90mm self-propelled tanks caught up with the Chinese and the 3/4 ton truck and blew it and them all to hell. It seems that they tried to infiltrate another area and almost got away with it. The tank commander, I guess, wasn't satisfied that these Chinese were South Koreans. The commander's motto was, "When in doubt, kill 'em."
Army Combat Engineers
The Army Combat Engineers had built a bridge across the Imjin River where once there was a bridge. The North Koreans blew it when retreating north. This war was only supposed to last for a couple of weeks--so the politicians in the States had everyone believing. But when the North Koreans had pushed the Marines and Army back to Pusan and almost into the ocean, more Americans were needed to push back in order to keep supplies moving north to support UN armies. Bridges were vital.
The North Koreans and the Chinese could not get close enough to blow the bridges, so they came up with an ingenious plan. They cut trees, attached explosives to the trees, and floated them down the river. When the logs hit the bridge, they exploded, taking out sections of the bridge. The only way we could stop the logs was to bring up a self-propelled gun, and when the logs came down, the .90s blew them to pieces. Then they started to send down more logs than one .90 could handle, so we brought up another .90. Sometimes they could hit the explosive charge with their .50 caliber machine gun, and that did the trick.
This worked okay until the stinking Chinese started tying dead American soldiers and Marines, along with Canadians, onto the logs. The only thing the Combat Engineers could do then was to snag the logs upstream and get the bodies and explosives off. It was better to blow the logs instead of trying to manhandle the explosives. The Chinese were good at setting booby traps. Some of the bodies had been brutally butchered. Not only their faces were mostly gone, but their genitals had been amputated and stuffed in their mouths. Ultimately, the self-propelled guns had to be taken away and be replaced by sharpshooters--Gerald Counts from West Virginia, Judge, and myself. Judge was the only name I ever heard him called. Judge was from Idaho. Our records from basic showed that we were sharpshooters, so we got the duty.
Edwards, Kimbrough and I finally got to go on R&R (rest and recuperation) one week in Japan. When we got to Japan, the first thing we had to do was change our money to Japanese yen. The next thing was, we were honored at a beautiful dinner. I was first in line. That had never happened before and probably will never happen again. There was roast beef, fried chicken, ham, and all the trimmings that we could want. The thing that everyone wanted first and foremost was milk. We just couldn't get enough. We had a good time. There were plenty of girls, plenty of entertainment, relaxing, and trying to appreciate the Japanese culture. Unfortunately, it was difficult. Only five years earlier, the Japanese military had committed acts of brutality on anyone in their path, including the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the senseless brutality and butchery that we had seen in Korea, it was difficult to look at these people and not see the same. Fireworks were abundant in Japan.
I bought a string of firecrackers, lit the whole string, and threw them into a stand that was selling fireworks. I guess the whole damn place blew up. Perhaps it wasn't right to do that, but neither was Pearl Harbor. Also, we were ready to leave and get back to our outfits. I guess we ran out of money, too, and we could get nothing if we didn't have any money. We got a plane, which was a cargo plane. There were no seats--only a long bench on each side of the interior fuselage. We had sort of dozed off when we woke up and the interior of the cabin was filling with smoke. The overhead luggage rack had fallen down and hit us in the head. I said to Edwards, "Ed, are we dead?" At that moment the co-pilot came in and started giving us hell for starting a fire. This was a twin-engine plane. We could see that the starboard engine was on fire. That was where the smoke was coming from. The co-pilot disappeared, and the plane started making a turn back to Japan. We had a layover for a couple of hours. They fed us in a beautiful mess hall. Everything was so clean that we felt that we should go outside and sit on the ground. We would have felt more at home. We were able to pick up some things in their PX that we could not get where we were. We had to pool what funds we had to do it. Finally the plane was okayed and we were on our way back to Korea.
American casualties, both KIA and WIA, amounted to an average of 172 every day--over seven every hour, 24 hours a day, in Korea. This count does not include military forces from other countries. Rumors came down that in a North Korean POW camp, one of the slant-eyed little bastards went into the tents where the POWs were and machine gunned all the prisoners in several tents before one of the Chinese superiors stopped him. That gave us triple incentive to kill all those bastards, civilians included. To me, it always looked like these people thought this was a fucking joke. Well, the fucking joke was on them.
Our casualty count was so high that we were running out of command personnel and officers. Our commanders determined that they should establish an officers school in artillery, and it would be called the "I Corps Field Artillery School." I was interviewed as a prospective candidate for the school. I did not qualify. Simply, I did not answer the questions posed with answers that the presiding officers wanted to hear. One of the officers, a Bird Colonel, asked, "If you were ordered to take and hold a hill at all costs, knowing that this would result in certain death to you and your men, what would you do?" My answer was, "This is a bad order. I realize that this hill must be secured. Isn't there any artillery or air support? Does the hill have to be taken today? If the order is carried out, knowing that everyone will be dead, what's the point? There has to be an alternative." Well, that clinched it. I was not a candidate.
Upon graduation in seven weeks, all graduates would be promoted to Second Lieutenants. Even though I did not make the first class, I was assigned to Captain Norris, the commandant of the school, and First Lieutenant Lamb. My first task was to make a place for the several tents and classrooms that would be needed. From my former experience while setting up our last strategic withdrawal area, I got the use of a bulldozer and an operator. On the side of a hill where the school was to be located, the bulldozer operator cut a shelf in the shape of an "L" with the long part of the "L" toward the north and on the military crest of the hill. The area in the "L" for the tents was 50 feet deep and 200 feet long. In front of the tent area was a steep slope about 80 feet on the down slope and 200 feet wide. Captain Norris wanted this slope covered with rocks as big as we could handle.
We were able to get 50 KSCs and a couple of two and a half ton trucks. The KSCs loaded the rocks and the deuce and a halfs transported them. I was given PFC Elliot to take command of the work force. The problem with the KSCs was that they wanted to take a ten minute break every five minutes. Elliot solved that problem. He told them when they could take a break, and when the break was over, he fired his carbine close to where they were sitting. That got them back to work in a hurry. I told Elliot, "Be careful. Don't hit any of them." He said, "I am over here defending their country. If they don't want to help, the hell with them. I'll shoot the bastards." I couldn't argue with that.
While we were putting together the school classroom, constructing the tents, the tents were similar to those that Dale Berard and I had built back at Hanford. There was a frame to support the tent and floor. While we were attempting this, almost on a daily basis the North Koreans or Chinese sent over a MIG--not only to shoot at us, but to find out what the hell we were doing. Each time the MIG came over, we all ran for cover. After a couple of days of this, we started shooting at it with our carbines. The captain had the KSCs dig a trench in a 360 degree circle. In the earth that was left in the middle of the circle, he had a .50 caliber machine gun placed with aircraft handles attached. While standing in the trench, the operator of the .50 was protected. By pulling down the aircraft handles, he could fire at any air threat. On the surface, the handles were up and the regular trigger was used for surface work.
The candidates at the school were mostly army, but there were several Marine candidates. There was Marine Master Sergeant R.L. Choycj and two Marine corporals. We learned that even though they had graduated from the school, they could not look forward to being promoted to lieutenant. Their purpose for attending was to gain information and knowledge.
One raining and sleeting very cold Sunday, I watched a platoon of self-propelled guns roll into our area. They came in very early in the morning before it was light. They were about 200 yards from where I was. Looking at them, I saw a lone soldier standing all hunched over, his back toward the cold wind and rain. Something looked familiar. I got on my wet weather gear and headed down to where he was. When I got closer, I recognized Sergeant Peterson, one of my instructors in basic training. He did not see me coming, and when I got to him, I slapped him on the back a little too hard, or he was just off balance, because he fell. When he saw me, he and I both almost cried. I told him, "Pete, I'm so glad to see you. I did what you told me. I kept my head down. I made it through the first three days, and I'm still alive."
Sergeant Peterson fought in the desert against "the Desert Fox," Rommel, during the Second World War. He was a British soldier and was at one time in the Queens Guards. He came to the United States after World War II and became a U.S. citizen. Pete's outfit was those self-propelled guns, bigger than the .90s we were used to seeing. These were 120mm guns, just as big as those of the Coast artillery outfit I was in during basic. We had a few beers together, talked about what we would do when the war got over, and said that maybe we would see each other. It was late. Pete went down to his outfit and I said, "I'll see you tomorrow." The next morning, the guns were gone. They had moved on up the road during the night.
Another platoon of tanks stopped on the road just below our wall of rocks and spent the day. While they were there, the MIG came over to bother us. I guess he did not see the tanks at first. The tankers opened up on the MIG with their .50s. Almost immediately a curl of smoke spiraled out and then there was a flame, as if his engine had been hit. He headed north. We think he went down, but had no confirmation. This platoon of tanks was going north to catch up with the enemy. It seemed there was a problem that the infantry alone and stationary artillery could not solve. Later that day they moved out. The next day, a column of prime movers, better known as tank retrievers, went north and were now returning. The platoon of tanks we saw the day before had been destroyed. They must have rolled right into an ambush. I can only say that our intelligence left a lot to be desired.
During the seven weeks, there were many officer instructors at the school, each teaching his specialty. At the end of the period of seven weeks, these new 2nd Lieutenants would probably know more than their instructors. They were taught to go by their gut feelings, follow the manual and all they were learning, but depend on their good common sense.
Down in front of our rock wall, Captain Norris wanted us to paint the "I" Corps insignia or patch, which was a bull's eye. To accomplish this, we got a piece of rope nine feet long, determined where the center on the wall was, then laid the circle. We shortened up a foot or two and then again to complete the bull's eye. The outside ring was painted black. The next was painted white, and the innermost was black again. This could be seen for miles. I guess that was the captain's objective. When the helicopter came carrying the general and his staff, the captain wanted them to see the insignia as they rounded the mountain to the approach to the school. The bull's eye was 18 feet in diameter. When graduation day came, the helicopter was to land on a flat area below the school and just in front of the rock wall. The captain had told Lieutenant Lamb to get me to make the area look good for the general. I took several deuce and a halfs down to the Imjin and filled them with sand. We then spread the sand in a huge circle, and from the landing area to the steps that we had constructed that led up to the school, we made a path of sand. On the day of graduation, on the circle where the helicopter landed was another huge bull's eye. From there to the path and steps was painted red. I guess the captain wanted the red carpet treatment.
Graduation day came and the helicopter landed. All went well. The captain met the generals at the landing site and escorted them to the graduation area. A passing remark from a Major General was, "Who prepared all of this?" The captain said, "My school manager, Corporal Stedman." I thought, "Three cheers for Captain Norris." A week later, it was Major Norris. I called him at his quarters and congratulated him. Later I found out that he had written an excellent commendation for me.
For the second class at the artillery school, there would be a new commandant with all new officers and enlisted personnel. My replacement was Corporal Marcus, who was to manage the school and also take on supply. The job was easier now that everything was in place. Also a master sergeant was added to relieve the duties of the manager. I had done it all--now three would replace me and what I did. I guess that's typical for the Army.
Back to My Outfit
When I got back to my regular outfit, I learned that they had gotten hit again. No one was killed, but there was some damage. Going through my personal stuff that I left there when I went to the school, I found a box of popcorn. Ed and Kimbrough broke the business end off the tracers, set the phosphorus on fire with a match, set our helmets over the tracers and popped the corn, just like home. The popcorn was a gift from Ed Kosic's mother while he was there. We hadn't used it all, and I had forgotten about it.
This new place was crawling with mice and rats. They were in the latrines, in the cans, in the garbage. No matter how much lime and no matter how much poison we used, it didn't seem to faze them. They were under the floor--if we had one, or burrowing in the sleeping bags. Those rats caused hemorrhagic fever and 95 percent of those that contracted it died. That was when the captain ordered the DDT and we soaked the entire area to get rid of the rats. It seemed we were more afraid of the rats than we were of the Chinese. A carbine or .45 being fired was commonplace. Everyone shot at the rats the moment one appeared.
The Un-buried Dead
Mr. Beale, Edwards and I took a 3/4 ton truck back to our last location. This area had been cleaned out from anything we had left. Ed and I took a walk up on the ridge where we had the firefight with those half dozen Chinese the previous winter. As we topped the rise on the ridge where we had last seen them, they were still there. The winter had preserved their bodies and the bugs and animals had not gotten to them yet. They looked like wax figures at a house of wax. We were both dumbfounded. We thought that these five had ducked when we opened with the .50, and that they had gotten away. The .50 was such a powerful weapon that, when we fired, we had seen the dirt and rocks fly. The rounds we fired must have gone right through the side of the bank. Those five Chinese looked very young. I was 22, but they looked younger than that. We wondered then, and I still wonder, were their bodies ever recovered? Or are they still MIAs? Then I thought, what a waste. Those five were no longer the enemy. We reported this find to Mr. Beale. He just asked how we felt about it, and suggested that we get it out of our minds. I still think about it today.
The rats had pretty well been cleaned out of the area. We hadn't had any incoming. The area was still being fortified. Captain DeSalvo was having problems one day trying to get a detail of KSCs to do a job for him. The captain had not been in Korea long enough to pick up on the language. When he attempted to talk to them, they just chattered like a bunch of monkeys, smiled and laughed, and shook their heads yes. Nothing was being accomplished. I happened by and saw the problem. I talked with the captain and told him I would show him how to get those lazy bastards moving. The captain followed me into the bunker. I said, "Hi" to get their attention and then, "Hotchi bon papason etiwa, bally bally," all of which they understood. At the same time I was talking to them, I had my hand on my .45. They knew that I knew they had understood the captain, but they figured the captain did not know it. I told the captain to just pull his gun and they would get the idea in a hurry.
It was late 1952 and I had been in Korea nearly a year. Rumor had it that General Eisenhower was coming over for a visit. I guess he was going to run for President. The party figured that if he came over, his being the hero that he was, the war would come to an end and he would get the credit. To prepare for his visit, our battery, along with several others, was designated to form a guard. The general had to be protected from any enemy aggression. The general was to come in at Projectile Airstrip. Our battery had to climb a mountain to the north of the airstrip. Our line of defense extended from the road where I had the confrontation with the six Chinese when my truck broke down, up a slope, then to the top of the mountain--which was more like a steep hill. Some of the guys in the battery did not make the climb. The slope was very steep. In some places we had to find a foothold, pull ourselves up with our arms, and then repeat the process while carrying our weapon and all the gear we thought we would need for a prolonged stay. No one knew exactly when the general would be coming in. I got to the top of the hill. From that point I could see that our line continued several hundred yards to the west. This very steep hill arched around toward the west, sort of encircling the airstrip. A second battery from another battalion extended our line farther west. From what I could see, the airstrip was in sort of a huge bowl. The mountains to the north were higher, and then as the range went west and south, they diminished--but were still high enough. On the road leading to the landing area, there was a guard every ten feet on both sides. There was at least another battery or more. At the site where the general was to finally come to a stop, there were more guards.
First to arrive were twelve civilian Chevys painted the Army OD color. Next we heard the sound of propeller driven airplanes. As one came over the ridge from the south, another followed, then another and another until twelve identical planes were in the air and circling to land. As each plane landed, a Chevy drove up to it and a half dozen guards circled the door of the plane. This happened a dozen times--twelve airplanes, twelve Chevrolets, and 72 guards. At a predetermined time, the doors on the airplanes opened and a figure departed the plane. All those departing the plane looked alike. No one knew where General Eisenhower was, what plane or which car. All cars drove off together. After the general was gone, the guard batteries commenced their climb back down the slopes.
The new area had been quiet for some time, and we spent time just refortifying the place. The replacements did their best to act like veterans. The only problem with that was, they couldn't "phony up" anything about seeing people die or getting butchered. Eventually, there would be the possibility that they would have to pull the trigger on someone before he did it to them. The realization that you have to kill might make you hesitate. The question from many of the replacements was, "Supposing it's a civilian? Aren't all military supposed to wear uniforms?" We explain to them our motto: "When in doubt, do the right thing. Kill 'em." Military, civilian, or anybody they had doubts about. We explained to them, "You can't ask them if they're on our side. Just don't hesitate." Besides, what is a civilian doing in a war zone? If civilians were getting out of an area or fleeing from the Chinese, our military would know about it. Even then, Chinese would infiltrate these columns and force the real civilians to be walking bombs. They did what they were told; they were going to die anyway. We could not afford to let them walk right into our area. Too many times this had happened. A group of alleged civilians got in an area, blew themselves up, and killed many soldiers--Americans and others. Again, if we had doubts, we called artillery in on these so-called civilians. Sure enough, there were many secondary explosions. I had wondered since I had been in Korea at the fact that life was of little value there. If the Chinese didn't misuse the Koreans, the Koreans misused the Koreans.
I was getting close to my 36 points. Another couple of weeks and it would be my turn to go. I just hoped that they had a replacement for me. I had been after Mr. Beale to talk to the captain about a promotion. I was still a corporal doing the job of a sergeant. Mr. Beale said he couldn't talk to him. With that I said, "If you can't talk to him, I will." I started out the tent flap and ran into the captain, who said, "What do you want to talk about, Sergeant?" I asked him for a promotion to sergeant and then I heard what he had just said--"Sergeant." I asked him, "Why didn't I get the promotion sooner?" He said, "I was waiting for you to ask."
We had a garbage detail once a week in which two privates took a deuce and a half without the canvas top, picked up any and all garbage, and took it to a dump outside the area--just a hole in the ground made by our bulldozer--to dispose of it. The truck pulled up in front of the commo tent and just up the hill to where the commo tent garbage was. The driver set the brake and got out to get the garbage. The brake let loose and the truck started down the slope backwards right toward the tent. Someone hollered to get the hell out of the tent. The truck crashed into the entrance of the tent and ran right over our radio communications. Nearly everything was demolished. The driver was already a private, so he could not be demoted. The captain raised hell with everyone. "Any time when the driver must vacate the vehicle, when said vehicle is not on level ground, the wheels must be chocked." That was close to what the manual said. Who thought the manual had precedence there in Korea?
Edwards and I went to the top of the slope north of our battery. There we saw several civilians up in the hills and off the road. We thought of asking them what they were doing there, but if they were not civilians we would be in trouble. We went back down and reported to Sergeant Anderson. He put together a squad and back we went. They were still there. Sergeant Anderson got his interpreter to tell them to get the hell out of the area. They did not respond, so Anderson told them again and this time he brought up his sidearm. We were a little too far off for a .45, not that it wouldn't go that far, but it was not that accurate. With that, the civilians opened with automatic fire. The first volley took Sergeant Anderson out. He was hit, but not killed. There were a dozen of us and our fire power was accurate. One of the squad went back for help. Within minutes we had another 20 people. The civilian Chinese soldiers couldn't get away. They were now outnumbered. The only thing that they could do was surrender, and we were not about to let them do that. Captain DeSalvo never said a word about what we did.
It wasn't two days later when we took several rounds in the area. Those "civilians" had been out looking for us and had reported our location. The first rounds were wild, but it did not take long for them to zero in. There had to be an observer in the area someplace. The captain immediately got rid of our KSCs. They were the only ones who were with us constantly. It got to the point that, when civilians came by or wanted to come in our area, we drove them off with gunfire. If they persisted, "kill them" was the order.
The stateside powers that be were the glory boys who never were anywhere and the media who only knew what they read in books or what they were told--then added the embellishment. Those same warriors who had never been outside their country--and some who had never been outside their states or their own back yards, were always telling us we could have done something different. Yeah, we could vote them out of office the next time around or impeach the bastards right now! If he had to go in the service, that kind of son-of-a-bitch would go to another country to get out of it if he or she did not have enough influence or money to buy their way out. Like the Senator's nephew when we first got to Japan.
Sergeant Anderson was hit in the right arm and shoulder. It was serious and he was taken to Japan. My time was up. I had my 36 points and I could leave. The problem was, I had no replacement. So I stayed, taking care of the supply. I was also now the acting First Sergeant. Edwards and Kimbrough came over with me and they could have rotated without me, but they opted to stay, both saying that, "We came over together and we'll leave together." "That's kind of nuts," I said. "Remember what had happened to Perez and Captain Porter."
The next morning while I was giving the orders of the day to the battery, Captain DeSalvo came by and told me that from now on he wanted a 24-hour guard posted all around the perimeter. Sergeant Backer had the most men, so he gave me three. Post One would be by the radio shack, the highest point to the south. From this vantage point the guard could see in all directions. Post Two was above the "L" shelf where the CP, supply, and the medics were. Post Three was in the "V" on the ridge, overlooking the battery location. All three posts were to be manned 24 hours because of what happened when Sergeant Anderson got hit. The captain also gave standing orders. If a civilian, KSC, or the South Koreans came anywhere near us, we were to run them off. If anybody was supposed to be in the area, we would know about it. Anyone else could go to hell. That suited us just fine. If we killed all the bastards, they couldn't kill us.
January passed and we were into February. I had gotten there in December 1951, and now it was February 1953. Still no replacement. The CO had already asked me if I wanted to ship over for another tour. He explained that this would be over soon. He also wanted to know if I had given any thought to making the Army a career. To both questions the answer was no. I had been there too long. We had too many encounters with both North and South Koreans, Chinese, and now Russian pilots. I did not want to look for any more trouble. I just wanted to get the hell out of there before some slant-eye got me in his cross hairs.
Shortly after that, Staff Sergeant O'Brien showed up at my supply room and introduced himself as my replacement. I couldn't believe it. Finally I said, "Glad to meet you. Here it is, your new supply job. Good luck. Keep your head down. If a slant-eye shows up, kill 'em." I went on and on. I guess he thought I was nuts. When I said, "Keep your head down," it reminded me of the stop we had made on the train in Minneapolis-St. Paul back in the States. Seemed like a hundred years ago. I gave the Beretta to Sergeant O'Brien. Edwards and Kimbrough both went to the old man and requested that they rotate with me. All of us had more than enough time and points. I think we each had 42 points. We had been in Korea for 13 months, 11 days.
I worked with Sergeant O'Brien for a couple of days. He was a supply sergeant and knew the ropes. All he had to do was familiarize himself with my system. I told him about some of the guys in the outfit who were constantly foraging supplies for themselves. I told O'Brien to tell them to get the hell out. I said, "Do that first thing and they will leave you alone." We still did not have a First Sergeant. I still had to fill in as top kick, but Sergeant O'Brien coming in took a big load off. I still had to make out the morning report, assign duties, and give the battery the orders for the day.
The day before we were to go down to Seoul, I made out the regular guard roster. I had put Private Hadden on it, not realizing that he was also rotating with us. One of his buddies came to me and told me about it. I took him off. The problem was that we were regulars. We knew what to do. We were so short-handed that some who had pulled guard only the day before had to be right back on it and still do their own duties. Where the hell were the replacements? How could a handful of regulars defend a position and still look out for green replacements? God help them.
February was very cold. I knew that the trip to Seoul with just our field jackets on in the back of these 3/4 ton trucks would be freezing. I asked Sergeant O'Brien to let us have the parkas for the trip down. He said, "As long as you return them with the driver on the way back."
In Seoul there was a fenced-in area, barracks, mess hall. I wondered how long we would be there. All that some of the guys did was tell war stories. Others just reflected on the fact that they, like us, were going home. For our first meal at the compound, Ed, Kimbrough, and I had forgotten to bring our mess kits. They served fried chicken, mashed potatoes and bread. I just stuck my hands out. The guy on the serving line dumped the mashed potatoes in my left hand and the chicken and bread in my right. On the way out to eat, there were hundreds of little kids just outside the fence. I stuck both my hands through the fence and within seconds, my hands were wiped and licked clean. I still hadn't learned.
Leaving the Land of the Morning Calm
Two weeks went by before we were told to pack up. Our ship, the Marine Lynx again, was waiting down in Inchon harbor. Late in the afternoon we were trucked down to the docks, loaded on an LSU, and taken out to the ship. While waiting to board, some of the guys were drinking, drunk, and smoking. A loudspeaker voice came from the ship. "Put the cigarettes out on the LSU or we will cast you off." We did not know it, but the MIGs were coming down once in a while at night and raising hell at the docks and in the harbor. Well, one drunken bastard on the LSU shouted back, "Go screw yourself, you bald-headed chicken fucker." None of us knew that the person on the ship was the captain. From where the remark came on the LSU, they could pretty well tell where it was and what group was responsible. We filed on board. The compartments filled up. The compartment that I was supposed to go to spilled over to the next compartment, and that was the place the captain had determined that the big mouth was.
An army captain, red-faced and madder than hell, showed up in our compartment and told us to fall in to the galley. All lined up, he gave orders to everyone. "You clean sweep. You serve in the galley. You chip. You paint." And so on down the line. He gave me an order, but I did not move. After almost all were assigned and had left the area, I was still standing. He came back to me and said, "Did I give you a job?" I said, "Yes Sir. Dry stores." He said, "Get there." Dry stores was where all the non-perishable foodstuffs were. Wet stores was where all perishable goods were. Wet stores was cold, and I had had enough of cold. Instead of going to chow, we ate what we had available, and then got wet stores to send over what they had, such as vegetables. One guy in wet stores wanted some Fig Newtons. We had 14-pound boxes of cookies, so we sent him his cookies and he sent over a gallon of chocolate ice cream. All we had to do three times a day was send up to the galley whatever they called for.
In three days we were in Japan. After we disembarked from the Marine Lynx, we were assigned barracks and then brought to a pay line. Some had pay coming. When I got to the paymaster, a captain, he exclaimed, "Wow. You have $1400 coming. How the hell did that happen?" When I first knew I was going to Korea, I had made out a $50 allotment to be sent home to my mother. When I got to Japan, I knew I would not need much money over there, so I went to the Army's finance office and told one of the clerks to pull my pay record. I explained that I had a $50 allotment and I wanted to increase it to $75. Unfortunately, the clerk I was talking to was Japanese. She questioned me as to what I meant. Again, I explained that I wanted a $75 allotment, not a $50, so she should increase my allotment to $75 from $50--a $25 increase. I don't know how I could have been clearer. Well, again you'll have to excuse me, but this slant-eyed bitch added $75 to my $50 allotment, making it $125 a month. I was only being paid $126 as a corporal, so consequently, I was red-lined each month.
On the Way Home
After waiting two weeks in Japan, we boarded the USS Gordon for the trip back to the States. Again, there wasn't much to do on board ship. This was not a luxury cruise ship; it was a troop ship. Some of the guys on board had been professional entertainers back in the States, and they did their best to ease the boredom. We played cards and spent a lot of time on deck. There was not much else to do. One day over the ship's public address system came a notice that the ship's deck was off limits because of very rough seas. The deck was roped off for any crew member who had to be on deck. That sounded interesting and challenging. Edwards and I went out on deck. We told Kimbrough, "When you hear us pound on the door, open it." The ship was bobbing around like a cork. When the forward end of the ship was nearly all underwater, we could feel the shudder of the screws as they came out of the water. And when the prow was out of the water, we couldn't see the fantail. Each time this happened, Ed and I were completely underwater.
We were out for quite a long time, and we were ready to come in. We did not see the huge wave coming at the ship broadside. Ed and I pounded on the door. When Kimbrough opened it, the wave hit. There must have been a ton of water cascading down four decks, wiping out all the card players on each deck. It wasn't very long after that that the loudspeaker sounded off. "Now hear this. Now hear this. The person or persons responsible for opening a watertight door report to the bridge immediately." Well, naturally, we did not plan to report anywhere. Soon there was a contingent of Marine and naval officers questioning everyone in sight. "Where were you?" or "What were you doing when the door opened?" Our stock answer was, "Sitting here, playing cards." They tried to scare us, but they forgot we were all combat veterans. Once we had faced death as many times as we had, nothing scared us anymore.
We did a lot of card playing on the ship. Ed, Kimbrough, and I got into a pinochle game--a game which I knew nothing about. I had never played pinochle before. As the play went on, I had to keep asking Ed, "What do I have? What shall I play?" Apparently I wasn't playing fast enough to suit the fourth player, because when it came my turn to play, he said, "Come on, asshole. Hurry up, play a card," and things like, "For Christ's sake, you're stupid." Well, this went on for the first two games. When they dealt the third game, I said, "Don't deal me. I'm out." He then said, "What the hell's the matter with you now?" I said, "You, you liver-lipped son-of-a-bitch. One more word out of you and I'll stuff your pointed head right up your ass." He was shocked. He then said to Ed, "What did I do?" Like he was an angel. I then told him to shut up. "One more word out of you and it will be your last. Don't even blink your eyes. Get the hell out of here while you can still walk." Ed and Kimbrough both laughed. They thought that was hilarious. Kimbrough said, "We were wondering how long it was gonna take you to kick that guy's ass." That's the last we played cards.
Seattle and the USA
The rest of the trip was pleasant. The next day we were to dock in the port of Seattle. The morning was clear and we were about five miles out. Over the public address system on the ship, we were instructed to gather our gear, bring it topside, and be ready to disembark. When we got on deck, there were hundreds of cardboard boxes filled with confetti and streamers. At a given signal, we were told to throw the streamers over the side, likewise the confetti. Each person was to participate. As we came in to dock, there were several fireboats throwing out streams of water cascading in the air. At this moment we were told to throw the streamers and confetti. There were several planes in the air and many photographers, all taking pictures of returning Korean veterans. A lot of hype and PR. The papers made a big splash and the people ate it up, making everyone feel real patriotic. After we got off the USS Gordon, there were busses waiting to take us to Fort Lewis. There were several brief interviews about, "How does it feel being home?" Many replies were, "I'm here, but I left many of my buddies there. They're dead." Or, "They have been killed!" It's funny. Those doing the interviews did not want to hear that. Again, they just wanted to bullshit the people, like nobody on our side gets hurt in a war. What a lot of crap.
The Red Cross
When we got on the busses, the Red Cross showed up with coffee and doughnuts. Picture this if you can. The Red Cross ladies with a photographer came alongside the bus. There were arms outstretched out of each of the windows of the bus to receive the coffee and doughnuts. The Red Cross lady handed up one cup of coffee and one doughnut, the photographer took a picture, and that was all for the coffee and doughnuts. Naturally the papers showed what looked like coffee and doughnuts for everyone. (Don't forget to contribute to the Red Cross.)
Finally, we were at Fort Lewis and anxious to be on our way home. A notice went up within two days that all those living east of the Mississippi would fly, and those west of the Mississippi would go by bus or train. Naturally there were cheers from all of us on the east coast. The next day we were loaded on a DC-7 or DC-8 and on our way home. It had been nearly five weeks since we left our outfits. I had written my mother and said that we were on our way home, but I didn't know how long it would take.
We had a refueling stop at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, then we went on to New Jersey where we were taken to Fort Dix. We were put into barracks first, and then we filed in for short of an indoctrination. We had what the Army called "a flying payday" for those that didn't have any money. It was called "a flying ten." We lined up and double-timed past an officer who handed each of us a ten-dollar bill. After that we were interviewed. I was interviewed by a captain who wanted me to report immediately to Baker Company, Third Infantry Regiment, Fort Myer, Virginia. It was the Presidential Honor Guard. I told him thanks, but I hadn't been home in 15 months and I wanted a leave first. He was somewhat upset because I wouldn't report that day. He gave me my orders to report after my leave was up. I had a little over 40 days coming.
One of the guys who I was with lived right in New York City and had called his brother to come and get him. His brother showed up, and as many as could got in the car. He and his brother were good enough to drop me off at Grand Central Station. I boarded a train and in two hours I was home. The train got into Poughkeepsie on time. I hailed a cab and headed for home just a few miles away. I had the driver stop a few doors down the street. I went around to the back of the house and went in the back door. My mom came around to the kitchen and let out a cry that I was home. My sister and her little baby boy were there also. It was wonderful to be there, thinking about the many times that I was afraid that I would never be there again. Mom wanted to know if I was hungry. Two of the neighbors stopped in to greet me. Jimmy and his wife Dot lived next door. We talked about the past year. I guess I was a little restless with memories of the little children I had seen in Korea and the hardship they experienced and were still experiencing--the little 10 and 12-year old girls used as prostitutes. How could we ever justify what we had done? These are the things that civilians never see or hear about and don't believe anyway, so why discuss it?
I borrowed my brother-in-law's car and went to see friends. When I got to the local bar, it was like old home week. Mike was behind the bar. Bill was sitting in his usual place. Tommy was still gaining weight. Ed, my future brother-in-law, was on leave from the Marine Corps. He had been in Korea at Panmunjom, guarding the alleged peace talks and prisoner exchange.
Later that evening I called my fiancé. Her mother answered and knew my voice immediately. I went to see her and although I had been gone only a year, something had changed--either in me or in her. She said that she loved me, but without conviction. She wanted me to make love to her, but not really. As much as we both professed to still be in love, I think we were putting up a front so as not to hurt each other. Over the next few weeks, we drifted further and further apart.
My 30 days went fast and I was sort of glad to be going back to a regimented life. While I was home, I purchased a brand new 1953 Plymouth. I drove down to Virginia with several others who were also going to report in to the Third Infantry Regiment. We were stopped at the guard gate for identification. I told the guard that we were reporting in to Baker Company. He checked his roster and waved me through.
I found Baker Company by the sign of a bumblebee in front of the place. The barracks were actually brick buildings. I reported in to the First Sergeant, Sergeant Truss. He was a huge man, over 300 pounds, who reminded me of a tank. The Sergeant had me report to Lieutenant French. I handed him my orders and the lieutenant told Sergeant Truss to find me quarters. I went to the second floor and found a bunk. Everyone there was a private or a PFC. I was the only Staff Sergeant on the floor.
At reveille the next morning, I couldn't wake up. No one woke me up, and no one said anything. One of the PFCs told me that I was to report to the First Sergeant. I figured it was for not falling out with the rest of the platoon. Sergeant Truss just said that since I was the supply sergeant, I should have quarters in the supply room, which was in the basement. I gathered up my gear and headed downstairs to the supply room. These barracks, as I mentioned, were not run-of-the-mill buildings. They were huge brick buildings with roadways between each. "A" Company was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier guard. They pulled all tomb duty. "B" Company was responsible for burial detail in Arlington Cemetery. Companies "C" and "D" took care of post duties.
Fort Myer was also the home of some of the Army's generals. General Bradley was the only one who I had a chance to meet. This meeting came about when Master Sergeant Drummond happened to come in my supply room, just being assigned. He looked very down and I asked him what was wrong. Well, he told me that he had been in Germany for a hundred months, had gotten married, and had children. He was reassigned stateside, but he could not bring his wife and family. He also had no money.
Drummond and I went out that evening to Washington DC for dinner in a nice restaurant that I often frequented. I paid and also lent him some money. We talked about the post, and later back at the post we took a ride around Fort Myer. He asked who lived in those big houses. I remarked, "Generals." As we passed one of the houses, he noted General Bradley's name in front of the house and asked me to stop. He jumped out of the car, went to the general's house, and that is when I first met General Bradley.
It seemed that during the Second World War, General Bradley's jeep was in an accident in which it went off the road into a ditch filled with water. The general and his driver would have drowned had it not been for Sergeant Drummond coming along at that time and pulling him and his driver out. The general had told Sergeant Drummond, "If ever you need me or a favor, don't be afraid to get in touch." Within the week, Sergeant Drummond was on his way back to Germany and his family.
Well anyway, I found a door painted white with black letters: Baker Company Supply. I went in and met with Private Koshan. He introduced himself as supply clerk. I asked him if he lived down there and he said no, that his bunk was on the second floor. He told me that PFC Wellman and Corporal Lawrence lived down there, but there were three bunks. I took the end bunk behind several filing cabinets there for privacy. As I was making up my bunk, Corporal Richard Lawrence came in and introduced himself. I said, "Dick, we've already met. I was in the 8055th MASH the same time you were." It was nice to know that we were both alive. I noticed the scar on his right cheek where the shrapnel had gone through. That immediately brought back my first seeing him with his face bandaged at the 8055th.
In the remaining months of my enlistment, I made many friends. One in particular was Private Durling who, when assigned guard duty, always came in the supply room at the end of his tour of guard and tried to surprise me when turning his weapon in by saying, "Bang, I got ya." Well, I had a .22 caliber blank cartridge pistol. The only thing it could fire was blanks. One day I had the pistol lying on the pull-out tray on my desk, cocked and ready to fire. Private Durling came in at the regular time. As he came in the supply room door, I fired the pistol. Being inside, it made a hell of a bang, almost like an explosion. Durling dropped his weapon and ran out of the room. He then went up to the First Sergeant and told him that I had shot him. I had clued the First Sergeant in prior to this. He didn't pay any attention and just told Durling that he needed a day off. That was the last time he came in the supply room hollering, "Bang, I got you."
Being the supply sergeant, I was responsible for a tremendous amount of property. When there was parade duty, burial details or any extra duties, Master Sergeant Thompson, who stood in for First Sergeant Truss, insisted that I be on many of these details. He made it a point to get me on these details. I could not attend to my duties as supply sergeant and also do the duties of the regular platoon. I complained to First Lieutenant Robert Lynd who had replaced First Lieutenant French, but to no avail. I always believed in going to the top when all else failed. I went to Colonel Toronto, our battalion commander, explained my circumstance, and left it in his hands.
The next day at evening chow at the NCO table, Sergeant Truss said in a very loud voice, "Sergeant, you piss me off." The other NCOs at the table abruptly got up and left the table. I said, "Sergeant Truss, do you think that you are the only one in the Army that gets pissed off?" Nothing more was said. Lieutenant Lynd was still at the officers table, and I know that he was angry that I had gone over his head. Later I met with Sergeant Truss who said, "I had to give you hell. That's what the Lieutenant wanted."
Somewhere along the line I got sick either because of old wounds or it was just psychological. I was checked out by the post doctor. He recommended that I be sent to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC or Fort Belvoir Hospital in Virginia. I ended up at Fort Belvoir. I was put in a ward where I knew two people, PFC McFadden and one of the people who was in our outfit in Korea. He was hit in the shoulder and lost his left arm almost to the shoulder. I remember the first thing he said right after he was hit and his arm was gone. He said, "Now where am I going to wear my watch?" His mind couldn't accept what happened and he was in the psych ward. I only saw him once. McFadden was there because he also had a hard time with what happened, but was not as bad. McFadden was in the Third Infantry in Korea. He had seen plenty of action, but never talked about it. Doctor Gill was assigned to me or I to him. He was very young and it made me wonder how much he knew. Doctor Gill was a First Lieutenant.
I had a hard time eating and keeping anything down. I had what they termed "cardio spasms." That diagnosis was made at West Point when I had checked in at Keller Army Hospital. Doctor Gill tried all kinds of diets. I ended up on a "Sippy Diet" of milk and almost-cooked eggs. Actually they were raw, so I mixed them with the milk. Our ward was invited out to a picnic at some very wealthy person's estate for food and fun. There were hamburgers, hot dogs, all kinds of cold cuts, pickles--anything one could want for a picnic. When I came to the front of the line, they looked at my name tag and I was given two raw eggs in a glass of milk. Gee, what fun.
While I was at the hospital (about two months), the Red Cross ladies came by each day with cigarettes, shaving gear, books, candy, and many other items that were needed by patients. I got a book every other day, cigarettes, and once in a while, shaving stuff. They wanted me to sign for what I got. That seemed odd. They were giving the stuff away, weren't they? The ladies explained that we had to sign so they could show where these items were going. They had to have a name and a serial number to verify it. Well, that seemed reasonable.
There was a girl we thought was a nurse. She was a captain and about the meanest bitch you could run across. I once told her if that she were not a girl and a captain, I'd kick her ass. She said, "Don't let these bars stop you. That's a weak excuse on your part." I believe she meant it. "As far as me being a woman," she said, "I'd make you look silly, anytime, anyplace. Just let me know." Needless to say, I shut up. I found out before I left the hospital that that was her job. She cared very much about all of us. She wanted to make it so hard for us with her daily insults that we would want to get the hell out of there. I talked to her after I was told I would be leaving. She looked at me a long time before answering. As much as she tried to be hard, she let me know that I had figured her out. I felt stupid remembering the things I said about her. I guess she knew what I was thinking and said, "Apology accepted." I said, "Thank you, Sir, M'am. One day I'll get it right." She said, "I doubt it." I got a ride back to my outfit via another ambulance that had just brought someone else to the hospital.
While at the hospital, I met PFC Gordon Fleming. I didn't know what outfit he was with, but I did find out that his home was in Nova Scotia. He said that he was a tugboat captain in Nova Scotia. He said that he had met a girl who had come to the hospital to just visit the troops with others. Since then he had been visiting her where she lived. It was quite a ways from the hospital. She lived out on Route 60, west of Richmond, Virginia. Gordon asked if we could drive down to see her. Gordon said, "I'm sure that she has a friend." We drove down via Gordon's directions, which were letter perfect. We met his girl, and then we drove to her girlfriend's house. I was introduced to Mary Ann Bass. Mary Ann lived with her grandmother, her grandfather, and her brother Bill. Their mom and dad took off and abandoned them while they were very young. I thought that the people in Korea were bad off, but this took the cake. There was no furniture in the house. All social activities took place in the kitchen. At least they had enough to eat. The grandfather raised chickens and pigs, and they had a big garden. Gordon's girl lived with her grandfather and sister. The same thing happened with their parents.
While we were there, the grandfather said that the well had caved in and that he had to dig it up. Well, Gordon and I spent the day putting the well to rights. He invited us in for supper. There was no furniture in this house either, and no paint or paper inside or out. There was one single light bulb hanging from a wire suspended from the ceiling. The old man unscrewed the bulb and brought it into the kitchen where he screwed it back in to another cord hanging from the ceiling. I almost cried, as did Gordon, when we saw what all they had to eat. There was Gordon and his girl, his girl's sister, the old man, and me. All they had was five small boiled potatoes. Like I said, I nearly cried. I couldn't believe this. The Koreans were better off. On my next visit, I bought several bags of non-perishable groceries for them. They just took the groceries without a word. I couldn't accept thanks. They offered me all they had with the potatoes. Our government should be responsible, but I'm sure they will never look upon these situations--just like the Red Cross coffee and doughnuts. Our congress and our president do not want to look too deeply into anything like this. I remember years later what President Johnson said. "There are no hungry people in the United States."
I had been gone from my unit for about two months. I checked in with the payroll department. Instead of receiving two month's pay, I got a little over one month. I said, "I haven't been paid in two months because I have been in the hospital." The clerk said, "Did you buy anything while there?" I told him the only things were cigarettes, shaving equipment once in a while, and maybe three or four books a week, but I had given them back when I finished reading them. He asked, "Did you sign for them and were they Red Cross?" I said, "Yes." He said, "You bought them. That's why they had you sign." So much for the Red Cross. That's the second time--once with coffee and doughnuts and now this. I hope they don't come around in the future looking for donations.
In March of 1953 I was the supply sergeant and platoon sergeant for the First Platoon. In September I was promoted to Sergeant First Class and in October I was offered Regimental Supply, with a promotion to master sergeant. I turned the promotion down because I was to be discharged in November.
I went to Dick's wedding that year. He was married before he was discharged. His discharge date was February or March 1954.
In 1970, Duane Edwards suffered a heart attack and died, leaving his wife and his children. Duane had moved from Maine and made his home in Troy, New York.
In 1992, the local newspaper started a series of interviews with Korean War veterans. The interviews were about our thoughts about the war. They were printed in the Poughkeepsie Journal. Several days later I received a call from Dave Ferris. Dave said that he had been buried alive up on 355. It took him two days to dig himself out. He refuses to join the VFW or the American Legion. He joined the KWVA, Korean War Veterans Association. Dave has a 50 percent disability. He walks now with a cane and has severe hearing loss.
The last time I saw Dick was on November 26, 1953. On November 11, 1999, Dick and I were brought together again by veteransearch.com after 46 years. We were honored at the Veterans Day parade on Fifth Avenue, New York City. Mayor Rudy Giuliani was on hand to greet and congratulate us. Since then we have kept in close contact. If anything good comes from a war, it comes because of the souls that were willing to give up their time, their possessions, and their lives to protect freedom. I looked up and watched as Captain Porter and Sergeant Perez led the souls from "A", "B" and "C" Batteries, followed by those from the 8-inch battery through a passageway in the clouds.
MIA/POW. As an American asked to serve, I was prepared to fight, to be wounded, to be captured, and even was prepared to die, but I was not prepared to be abandoned.
The Grief of War is higher than any mountain. The Pain of War is deeper than any Ocean. The Sorrow of War is longer than any river. "Nobody ever wins."
In three years I was promoted to Master Sergeant. That much progress in only three years was unheard of. My records show that all my marks from all past commanders were excellent except for one that was superior. I didn't think about it. I believed we were all superior. I should have re-enlisted, but I didn't. I was discharged November 27, 1953. I am sorry that I did not stay. I liked the Army and I had no problems, but at the time I just wanted to help my mom. The way things went, everything worked out.
I had no problems with anything related to the war. Korea was out of mind. But I found it difficult to listen to bullshit from people who had never been out of their own back yards, and that included Congressmen and women and Senators. I am in constant battle with these people. I also had a difficult time taking orders from assholes. That's why I had so many different jobs. In two cases, someone tried to run me down at my job. I picked them up bodily and threw them out the door or off the property. They told me I couldn't do that, so I quit. Also, I did not and do not like filthy cuss words, and try not to express myself that way. There was a lot of cussing going on when I was in Korea, but a Marine I met there told me that, "Anyone who cusses like that possesses a weak mind trying to express itself forcefully."
After I left the military, I married a high school girlfriend in 1954 and we had four children, all boys. Two boys died soon after they were born. Our first son was born with multiple birth defects. He spent 16 years in the hospital for crippled children. At the time of this writing (2000), he is 44 years old. Our second son survived a few days. Our third son had a debilitating illness for years. He is now 41 years of age and doing well. Our fourth son lasted a week. I blame it on radiation exposure. Only now after talking with thousands of people, including members of Congress, I am discovering things that, according to my computer, I should be denied access. I've written to Congress telling them I've uncovered something that I will do something about unless they start cooperating. My wife is an angel. She has always been supportive. We had some problems, but that was because I drank too much. She comforted me when I woke up from a nightmare or when she heard me crying somewhere. She just had the know-how to help. She cared.
I went back to my old job as a tool and die maker when I got out of the service. I had no particular job. I traveled around the country as a contractor for companies like the Boeing Airplane Company in Seattle, the Virginia Chemical Company out of Richmond and Dallas-Fort Worth, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the N.O.W. International Plastics, etc. I went to work for a woodworking company, quit that job, and managed a hardware store. I bettered myself and I retired in 1994. After I retired, I went to work driving a school bus.
In 1968 I went back to school at the University of Washington, while at the same time working full time at the Boeing Airplane Company. I studied American Law and Procedure and Business Administration. I relocated back to my native region of New York State from Seattle in 1970. I volunteered at a veterans hospital until my vision failed in December 1999.
It took several years to get hospital help with health care and for them to acknowledge that I had been in the Army. When they found my records, they were surprised that they hadn't successfully burned them up with thousands of other records when they had a fire in the archives in St. Louis. Even when they found out that I was in the service, they denied me help at a VA hospital. I tried to get in touch with Dick Lawrence to verify that I was wounded in Korea, but I could not find him. Not long ago, I logged onto a website regarding my outfit in Korea, and they had no record of me. What a laugh. This has occurred thousands of times. I've talked with veterans from many different outfits and they are still trying to prove that they were even in the service.
I'm still having troubles with the VA. In 1999, I had out-of-pocket expenses of over $6,000 between my wife and me. HMOs chose to deny assistance, so I no longer belong. When I finally got to go to the hospital, they had a means test where if a veteran has enough money to eat, he did not need help. They relaxed that for a year or two, and now they want us to pay again $50 for each time at the hospital--i.e., routine physical - $50, lab work - $50, optometrist - $50, shots like flu shots - $50, podiatrist - $50, EKG - $50. All of this can be done in one day, so that's $300. Now if I have to fill a prescription, there is a co-pay. I believe the object in this part of the country is to close the hospitals and send us to privatized clinics. The cost to us will have made the ceiling higher.
In 1968 I needed my first pair of glasses. In 1999 both eyes failed at the same time. I was diagnosed with macular degeneration. The VA said it was "age related." However, Doctor Pearlman at the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, said, "Of course your blindness was no doubt caused by your exposure to radiation. We have noted that the Veterans Administration likes to call it age related." Since then I have had laser surgery on my right eye and now can see nothing out of it. I won't let them do the same to my left eye. I spent five months at the VA Hospital in West Haven, Connecticut to learn how to manipulate in a sighted world. I studied at the Hadley School for the Blind and learned to type. I also am now taking Spanish lessons. I have a claim against the VA for my blindness. My last checkup at the VA for my left eye found that the retina is collapsing, so soon I will apply for a dog for eyes.
The computer I use is sort of special. Every letter I type, the computer speaks it to be sure I have not made an error. And since the only color I can see is red, the computer underlines any misspelled word. I still make mistakes. I type too fast to catch everything the computer says. ZOOM TEX can enlarge text to 18 times the regular size. My computer usually reads any mail coming in to me, but if something happens that it doesn't, I can put the mouse on the first word in the sentence, click on 'alt, power, and the letter A,' and the computer blocks each word as it reads it in the color red. If it is enlarged enough, I can almost see each word as it is read. I got the computer from the VA. It is the property of the U.S. government.
I am actively seeking those who were exposed to nuclear radiation and who are suffering adverse health problems. Presently I am in contact with approximately 41,000 people worldwide. I am fighting with Congress to give help to all of us who were exposed to nuclear radiation. I don't mean "atomic survivors." I mean the many thousands who were exposed otherwise. Naturally, Congress denies that radiation harms anyone. I've tried to get physicians to open up, but I believe that the government has told doctors what not to say. I wrote Secretary of State Allbright, asking her to put me in touch with nuclear physicians in other countries. I proposed that they have answers to questions that we in this country have not even thought about yet. Well, that did it. The next time I went into the computer requesting this type of information, I was denied access. The message said, "Unable to open. You do not have permission to open this item." And then in very big letters it said, "Forbidden. You are not permitted to access the remote system." The organization that I was forbidden to contact was a committee made up of people in other countries--USA, UK, Germany, France, Japan, Netherlands, China, etc.
After that I contacted the American Legion in California, where I have been working with Lt. Colonel R. Cassel (Ret.). His contact was Congressman Filner, who helped me. I got support from 365,000 Legionnaires in California and 350,000 in Pennsylvania. Suddenly I was contacted by the International Commission on Radiological Protection for "biological effects of radiation." Now I get calls from people all over this country asking for help that I cannot give them. I find out who their Senators and Congressmen and women are, and I contact them and tell them that one of their constituents has called me for help. I am called back and thanked. They tell me what their senator is doing to help. Things go on all the time. I believe at last count I have had inquiries from over 41,000 people, some in other countries--England, British Columbia, Japan, Egypt, and so on. I'm not going to win anything in my lifetime maybe, but perhaps it's a start.
I am a member of the American Legion, VFW, and the Disabled American Veterans, and I have been a commander of all of these organizations. I became involved with the VFW mostly because our small group saw an opportunity to help hospitalized vets. We got in touch with the Bell System and the CWA unions across the country and told them we wanted to install telephones at the bedside of every hospitalized veteran in the country. We accomplished this first at Castle Point, New York, and then Togus, Maine, White River Junction in Vermont, and then the rest of the VA hospitals in New York, Arizona, and Texas. We worked with the Congress and the presidents of all the labor unions. The Bell System donated all the equipment and the unions donated all the labor to install it. Now and for the past eight or ten years, we have set up computer labs in these hospitals. We are teaching the veterans to become computer literate. When they become proficient and they can go home, we send them home with all the necessaries. We get them jobs that they can work out of their homes. Then they have that feeling of worth again. They become contributors. Many do not leave the hospital, but they use the computers on a daily basis. I guess we have about 50 computers donated.
When I volunteered at the VA hospital, I saw all the Chinese and Korean and Indian doctors who I felt didn't give a damn, and I had trouble being around them. I can tell you stories (of which I have proof) that many of these Army and VA doctors are not licensed, and in some cases should not even be in medicine. One took the state and federal license boards 30 times and failed it 30 times. The other took them 14 times and failed them 14 times. Yet both work in a military hospital. My primary doctor at the VA hospital is Dr. Kim, a Korean. His wife is also a doctor. Then there is Dr. Sim and Chinese Dr. Quang. My legs have got holes in them and when the doctor asked what happened, I told him that it happened when he was a youngster and it happened in his country. It seems they think it's funny. Maybe it is just their way. I got a pair of glasses from the VA that I could not use and I explained it to them and gave them a good reason. The Korean, I think (or perhaps it was the Japanese doctor) gave me the prescription and told me to go buy my own glasses. He told me, "You only allowed one pair glasses year." I told him that if I couldn't wear them, then I did not get the first pair yet. He said, "You only allowed one pair glasses year." As he turned to leave, I told the son-of-a-bitch that he was lucky he was still standing. I don't like or trust the oriental mind. They have their own culture and will never change. The facts are that the Japanese think it's wonderful if someone fails or is hurt. They don't have the same compassion as we Americans do.
Korea was an experiment worth a million dollars, but I wouldn't take a million to do it over. As the result of serving in that war, I received three Bronze Stars, as well as the Purple Heart, American Defense, Commendation, Combat Action, and Korean Service medals. We were just doing the job, so the medals have no real significance to me now. I do not look for credit for killing people. Thinking about those soldiers who raped little children instead of helping whenever they could still brings up terrible memories, and I have a hard time thinking about it. I also cannot justify the war because of the loss of hundreds of thousands from both sides and the billions and billions of money spent. I guess the military big-wigs have to justify their existence. I do not see why the President just didn't let us push the Chinese the hell out of Korea. I guess it just wasn't politically expedient. The only thing good coming out of the Korean War is the fact that there still are souls that will give up everything for the ideals of freedom, even though most of the people we fight for are dictators who could care less about freedom for their people.
I think we should have stayed out of Korea. Unfortunately, the United States was almost forced by the United Nations doctrine about helping out when one country attacked another. I believe the Korean War was a set-up by China and Russia to test our staying power, and the assholes that ran this country were suckered. If we had stayed out of it, the so-called war would have fizzled. China was ill-prepared for war at the time, but their population alone would have overwhelmed the United Nations. Remember when Japan came into China years ago and offered to build dams and bridges for them and wanted the credit? China threw them out. When Japan threatened them, China told Japan that Japan could kill 500,000,000 Chinese and China would still have enough people to take over Japan. Don't forget there are over one billion Chinese.
The United States fought a world war in the Second World War and won it. The Korean War was a farce. No one could win that one, and to continue it would have been folly. Millions more would have been killed and nothing would have been accomplished but to decrease the surface population. The United Nations is a big front, in my opinion. They all should be kicked out. They remind me of little children. They're brainless and want only that which will benefit them, not the long haul which would benefit the whole population.
The United States' alleged leaders have always underestimated the enemy--sometimes I think purposely. The jackass Congress wouldn't know how to wipe their collective ass because simply put, most of the people in the Senate and the House are not veterans--I mean combat veterans. They're all mouth and they're all bull. Congress, or at least those who fight wars, should be more than book and history readers. What applies in basic and advanced basic training doesn't apply in combat. My training was not adequate. It helped me physically to stay in shape, but as I have said, all of a sudden I learned in one minute of combat what I was taught in basic in 10 or 12 weeks, and I realized that those who were my instructors did not know anything about what they were talking about.
Korea is the "forgotten war" because nobody wants to remember a war in which we got our ass kicked. The Congress screwed up, along with the military brass. The government went to great lengths to not mention the Korean War. I think I have found out more about MIAs than our government. They could care less. I talked with a Czech national who was in North Korea ten years after the war was over. He made a statement that while going through North Korea, he saw in a rice paddy several taller than Korean people with blond hair. When one was real close, he saw that he had blue eyes. These were Americans. Our government knows it and they don't give a shit. I'm really sick and tired of these lying bastards telling the American people they're doing all they can. The real problem is that the American people believe it--that is, all except the combat veteran. And that goes back to World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. There were MIAs from World War I that were not accounted for, as well as World War II. There were 8,100 not accounted for in Korea and 2,600 in Vietnam. The government didn't give a damn back in 1918. Why would anyone think they have changed?
I am still disgusted with happenings today. I don't know if you are aware, but back in President Kennedy's tenure, he signed a bill to disarm this country. To this day, each succeeding president is adhering to that doctrine. I think that in the future, when one people of the world's population wants to fight another (which means kill each other), they should be made acutely aware what war involves: unbridled brutality, inhumane torture and savagery, vicious hatred, rape, dismemberment, total and absolute annihilation, bodies blown to bits, disease, sickness, blindness, loss of hearing, loss of body parts, being driven crazy, being tortured to death, hideous experiments done on humans, being skinned alive, being burned alive, the rape and murder of innocent little babies, imaging the rape of a tiny infant or small girl, or the sodomy of little boys. The list goes on and on. The Japanese were experts on this. They could skin a man's head to the bone and still keep him alive. The Germans transfused human blood with animal blood just to see the hideous results. The people asked to fight--I mean the entire population--should be apprised of all of these possibilities. Then try to talk them out of it. The sorrow of killing innocents is incomprehensible. No, leaders will never tell you of this because they know nothing of it. They are hopeless, brainless, gutless, stupid wonders, and they wander around posing as Senators, members of Congress, and Presidents.
I never tried to look anyone up in 40 years after discharge from the military. Then I did. After 46 years, I found Sgt. Richard Lawrence with the help of a veterans organization. As I said in the Epilogue of my book, we were both honored at the Veterans Day parade on Fifth Avenue in New York City on November 11, 1999--I guess because of the search and the fact that when veterans work together, anything can be accomplished. It was a very tearful reunion. My wife came with me. New York's mayor was on hand to congratulate us.
I wrote a 142-page book about my experiences in Korea and the Army, finishing it December 20, 1999. That same day, I started to lose my eyesight and by 2001, I was in the VA hospital in West Haven, Connecticut. My boys helped me as I wrote the book by grilling me to pull out more information. The book's title is, "Korea: Tour of Duty and Beyond." It is about my tour in the Army from the date of enlistment November 27, 1950 to November 26, 1953. It includes all that I wrote in this memoir, plus the train ride, what I learned at West Point and how it helped me, when I got wounded, my time at the 8055th MASH, the R&R in Japan, the boat ride home, while I was in the Fort Belvoir Army Hospital in Virginia, my tour in the Presidential Honor Guard in Washington, DC, the jobs I quit, and memories of my mom and sister and when my dad was killed in an auto accident. Since I am self-published, the book can be purchased by check or money order for $22.00, including shipping to anywhere in the 50 states, even Alaska, Hawaii, or Puerto Rico. The order address is: William Stedman, 23 Mill Road, Hyde Park, New York 12538-2065.
It has taken all these years to settle down, but memories sometimes are devastating and I must go and hide somewhere until the tears stop. So many things happened in Korea that when I think about some of them, the tears flow and I have a hard time stopping them. There is a lot that I did not mention in this memoir. You want me to tell you that I made love (had sex) with some. I killed some. I did not help where I could have. I tried to ignore their poverty. I had almost a fatal confrontation with six Chinese infiltrators, and I watched my good friends hurt and killed.
In Korea, I learned things that I didn't know, but we learn every day. I'm glad that I was in the Army and Korea. The experience gave me respect for those that served. I don't mean stateside. I mean combat. Most all of the people I grew up with joined the service well after World War II was over. The rest went to Europe while I went to Korea. The only four that went to Korea that I grew up with were George Sitka, who later died of a massive heart attack; Richard DiCandio, a Marine who was killed in action; Ed Petty, a Marine who became my future brother-in-law; and Andy Parassi, a Marine who lives in Florida. Some went to Germany for one month and were brought back and discharged. One in our town never got out of Hyde Park. He drove a Major around Hyde Park and guarded the Roosevelt home.
In so many words, Jesus said, "I am not come to make things easier. It has been said, Thou shall not kill or thou shall not bear false witness or thou shall not steal, but I say unto you even if you thinkest, or you even think of doing any of these things, you have already committed the sin, crime, etc." I find it very hard when Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek," that I/we did not. I think that to lose my life for Jesus or in Jesus' name, I/we would all be better off. I don't recall Jesus saying, "I want you to fight for freedom." I pray every day that He will bring me closer to Him. I ask Him to let the holy spirit dwell in me, but nothing happens. I fear for myself. I've been told that Jesus forgives all sin. I believe that He does. My problem is that we break each of His commandments every day. "For if you can't keep one of my commandments, then you have not kept any." I'm reminded daily when I transgress. I've asked for help. Maybe this is His way of teaching me.
In this memoir I told about the time that my buddy Duane "Ed" Edwards and I set up a .50 caliber machine gun in what appeared to us a weak spot in our perimeter defense. While Ed and I were manning the gun, he spotted what appeared to be five or six Chinese up on a ridge about 100-150 yards out. We called the captain and he told us, "Keep an eye on them. Don't start anything. Don't let them know you have the .50. If you have to use it, okay." They knew that there were only two of us, and for a half hour they watched us watching them. Two started down the ridge using small hillocks and rises in the ridge for protection. All of a sudden they opened up on us with automatic weapons. That surprised the hell out of us. I charged the .50 and started firing. The .50 was a powerful weapon. I could see where the Chinese had been. Rocks, dirt, and small trees disintegrated under the .50s rounds, smashing into the ground and all around it. The Chinese disappeared. That was in the fall.
The next spring, I took a patrol up on the same ridge and there were five dead Chinese. I thought they had withdrawn. Looking at them, they looked younger than me. I was 22 years old. The winter had preserved them and the bugs and animals had not got to them yet. I wonder to this day, "Are they still listed as MIAs? Did anyone think or care to look for them?" I think, "That could have been me." I had never looked at anyone I had killed before. I knew I had killed, but never had I seen this after many months had gone by. I thought they had gotten away. Maybe if I had known right then during the firefight that they had been killed, I might not feel this way now. I don't know how we can ever be forgiven for what we have done. We are told, "Thou shall not kill," yet our government tells us, "It's okay. You're defending your country." They are liars and these same hypocrites go to church and are pillars of the community. God help us. We know better, but we don't, do we?
Obituary - William Burton Stedman
William Burton Stedman, “Bill or Buddy”, age 88 of Hyde Park, New York, went home to be with the Lord on the 3rd of November 2018 at Vassar Brothers Hospital after suffering illness since March of 2018.
Born May 7, 1930, the second child to Ernest and Grace Stedman and little brother to his two-year-old sister, Lorraine, he attended Violet Avenue School on Violet Avenue, Poughkeepsie, and graduated from F.D. Roosevelt High School on Haviland Road in Hyde Park in 1948. From 1948 until 1950, Bill was employed at Schatz Federal Bearing Co. in Poughkeepsie at a wage rate of .85 cents an hour.
The day after Thanksgiving, 1950, Bill enlisted in the U.S. Army and found himself in Korea in December 1951. In early 1952, his position was shelled by North Korean guns. He spent time at the 8055th MASH unit recuperating from a broken arm, leg and a fractured skull and returned to duty in short order. During his tour of duty, he was awarded the Purple Heart and three Bronze Star medals for meritorious service in combat. He also served in the Presidential Honor Guard and was proud of the precision and decorum. He was discharged from the Army in December 1953 at the rank of 1st Sergeant.
After discharge from the service, Bill returned to work at Schatz Federal Bearing Co. On September 11th, 1954, he married Janet Helen Petty. On August 27th 1955 their oldest son, William E. was born. On September 20th 1958, another son, Robert P. was born. Between William and Robert, a son was born that passed soon after birth, and after Robert another son was born. He also passed soon after birth.
In 1966, the family moved to the State of Washington where Bill
worked for the Boeing Aircraft Company planning and troubleshooting the
747 project in Everett Washington. After the first 747 rolled out of its
hanger and successfully flew, Bill was transferred to the SST, (Super
Sonic Transport) project, which was in pre-production stages at the
Auburn plant. In the end, however, Lockheed Martin was awarded the
In his later working years Bill enjoyed Golf, playing the piano and writing books, his first of two published works, “Korea Tour of Duty and Beyond”, and secondly, “Deception” which was based upon his experience as a juror on a high-profile murder trial. He also delighted in hidden talents as a landscape painter and created many beautiful scenes in oils. Throughout his life and right up to his final days he held onto his sardonic wit and much anticipated sense of humor.
On November 2nd, 2016 at 11:24 PM, his beloved wife Janet of 62 years, went home to be with the Lord. He missed her every day until he followed her on November 3rd, 2018, at 4:15 AM. A husband, father, friend, he is survived by his older sister, Lorraine Lashway; two sons, William and Robert; nephews, Ross and Mark Lashway and Edward and Tracy Petty; and niece, Kathy Petty. In keeping with his wishes, cremation has taken place. Burial of his ashes will be in the family plot in Red Hook.