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"My strongest memories of Korea are of the bitter cold and trying to fire my rifle with numb fingers. The Marines that didn't make it. The sad and deplorable condition of the Korean people. The nights out under the stars attempting to sleep in all kinds of weather, snow, rain and mud."
- Richard Bohart
My name is Richard Cornelius Bohart, the only child of Richard Clegg and Mary Veronica Casey Bohart. I was born September 4, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois. My father was a livestock broker in the Chicago stockyards. My mother was a homemaker.
I attended grade school at St. Bride’s Catholic school and then attended two and a half years of high school at St. Leo’s High School in Chicago. I also attended one semester at Jesuit High School, Kansas City, Missouri. I finished my senior year in Chicago at an accelerated program offered by the University of Illinois. I did not graduate, but had enough credits to start school at Kansas State, Manhattan, Kansas. I was sixteen.
I was a Boy Scout for a short time while I was in grade school. While in high school in Chicago, I worked at the Railway Express hauling mailbags and packages. I received 75 cents an hour, which was big money in 1944. This was wartime, and while I was attending school, we bought war bonds, collected fat and grease to extract glycerin, collected metal such as pots and pans, tin and lead. We also prayed for our servicemen and the end of the war.
In Chicago, there was much excitement due to the war. Two of my friends went to Canada to join the Canadian Air Force. They were 15 years old. Many kids my age had older brothers that left for military service. It was an exciting time and we didn’t want to be left out. When I was 15 in 1944, I joined the Navy. I spent only 19 days at Great Lakes Naval Training before my folks caught me and I was discharged with an underage discharge.
I had just turned 18 and finished my first year of college when I found out that there wasn’t enough money to continue. This was an opportunity to be a Marine and obtain the G.I. Bill so when I got out of the Corps, I could go back to college and finish. I enlisted in the Marine Corps on November 8, 1946. None of my friends had joined the Marine Corps, and I didn’t know anyone who had been a Marine or who joined. Most everyone said that it was too tough a branch of service and the casualty rate was too high. To me, that meant a challenge. I wanted to be a Marine so I could be given the best and the toughest training. I had no friends join with me because I was new in Kansas City. Out of 15 men who took physicals that day, I was the only one that passed. My folks were very unhappy at my joining the Corps. I was their only child and they wanted me to stay home and finish college.
The other recruits and I got off the train after a two-day trip from Kansas City. It was about three in the morning when we arrived at the training base in California. We got to bed about 4:30 a.m. and we heard a bugle sounding reveille. A nasty Sergeant yelled at us to "hit the deck." It didn’t make any difference that we had just arrived and needed some sleep. We cleaned up the barracks and ourselves, then went to breakfast.
Going through the chow line with a large metal tray was an invitation for the mess men to load our trays with all they could. We found out why. There was a sign at the end of the chow line saying, "Take all you want to eat, but eat all you take." After eating, we still had food left on our trays. We tried to clean the trays and were told that whatever we took we had to eat. If we didn’t want that much food, take less the next time. We were fed very well in boot camp—roast beef, chicken, turkey—really, everything. When we finished our regular meal, there was a seconds table with different food. For example, if we had chicken, the seconds table might have pork chops.
Our drill instructors were all World War II veterans as this was 1946, one year after the war was over. I had 13 weeks of boot camp in Platoon Number 224. The reason for the extra week was that we were at the rifle range at Camp Pendleton during Christmas. The Marines were on holiday, but not the boots.
Our days and nights were very regimented. Roll call was at 5:30 a.m. We were awakened with a bugle blowing reveille. The bugle was used for all activities, such as raising and lowering the flag, chow call, and taps. Then we had to clean up the barracks, take care of our hygiene, and go on to breakfast. We had extensive marching every day, and various schools on kill or be killed tactics. Our free time was spent cleaning our rifles, our gear, and the barracks. We were awakened several times in the middle of the night during boot camp. We had to fall out and go on forced marches. We also had to clean the barracks in the middle of the night when the DI wasn’t satisfied with the way it looked.
Corporal punishment was used. An example of this was once we were standing outside the chow hall waiting in line to go in. The DI didn’t think that one boot was standing at attention the way that he should. The DI cracked him across the nose with his swagger stick and broke his nose. Another time the DI threw a flat iron at one of the boots and broke his collarbone. I got in trouble once, too. We were all standing at attention in front of our bunks and locker boxes. This was around midnight. The DI walked around the squad bay and stopped in front of me and yelled, "You blinked your eyes." With that, he hauled off and hit me with his fist. I fell over my locker box.
Others were disciplined in various other ways. One way was having the boot put his rifle over his head and run around the parade ground until he was told to stop. Another was holding our rifle out at arm’s length until we were told to stop or until we passed out. Sometimes the whole platoon was disciplined by making us put our 9 ½ pound rifle out at arm’s length. This was terminated when one or more of the recruits passed out and hit the deck. We were not allowed to help him or assist him in any way. We had troublemakers in the platoon, but as far as any real trouble, there wasn’t any. The discipline was so strict and everyone was in such fear, no one dared to do anything to get in trouble.
The ones that didn’t make it out of boot camp were those who couldn’t keep up physically or who had documents that were forged that didn’t tell the truth. One boot had received a bad conduct discharge from the Navy and omitted this information when he joined the Marine Corps. This put him in the brig and later caused him to receive a bad conduct discharge from the Marine Corps.
During our training, we had to qualify with written proficiency tests and physical tests. We were tested for tear gas by putting on our masks and entering a small barracks that was foggy with the tear gas. We had to remove our masks and sing the Marine Corps Hymn. On coming out of the barracks, we couldn’t see or breathe. Our eyes and throat burned.
I don’t remember having any fun while I was in boot camp. All we did was train and drill. Boot camp was located in Southern California 17 miles from Mexico. In the winter it was warm in the daytime and cold at night. I trained in winter, so we didn’t have any trouble with insects. I remember that church was offered, and we had no problem from the DI when we attended it. The hardest thing about boot camp was that we didn’t have any liberty for 12 weeks. We not only couldn’t go off the base, but we also couldn’t go to the base movie or the PX. We watched many films, but they were education in nature, with the one standing out the most in my memory being the film on venereal disease.
During these weeks of training, I was never sorry that I joined the Marine Corps because I knew that one day, boot camp would be over. At the time, I did not appreciate my DIs. We had a sadistic DI He was a gunnery sergeant who had been in combat in the Pacific. He later got thrown in the brig for mistreatment of recruits.
When training was over, we had almost no ceremony. We just marched on the parade ground and were told we had completed our recruit training and could now be called "Marines" and could wear the globe and anchor. I felt great knowing that my training as a recruit was over. I was different in that I had accepted a challenge to be a Marine and I was successful because I completed my training. I felt stronger and had made many new friends.
My training in the 12-week boot camp was very good training for Korea. It showed that we Marines work as a team and we could count on each other. In combat we knew that everyone would be where he should be. We didn't have to worry that the Marine on our left, right, or whether the one backing us up was in place. No one bugged out or ran off the lines. The training was rugged, but it taught strict discipline which is essential in combat.
Naval Training Station
I didn’t get leave for over a year. About three hours after I graduated from boot camp, a station wagon brought me to my first duty station. The trip lasted about ten minutes. Rather than go to advanced infantry training, I went to the Naval Training Station in San Diego. There were about 55 Marines stationed there. Our job was to train the Navy recruits, ship’s company, seamen guard, and officers on the use of various weapons.
This was just after World War II, so all the "old timers" had fought in the Pacific or had been prisoners of the Japs. We had one Marine we called Pop Harringer. He had fought and was captured on Wake Island. Two other Marines were in the Bataan Death March and a guest of the Japanese for the course of the war. We also had a Pima Indian called Ira Hays. He was the Indian who had raised the flag on Iwo Jima. I was just an 18-year old kid just out boot camp with all these old salts.
After a year, I got my first leave. I went by bus from San Diego to Kansas City. It took a week and I found out after I got home that my Marine buddy and I had switched luggage in Las Vegas. I had a 30-day leave, but almost half of it was spent in traveling. As mentioned earlier, I was new in Kansas City when I joined the Marine Corps, and since then my folks had moved again, so I didn’t know anyone. I wore my uniform while I was on leave about half the time. After my leave, I went back to NTC. All total, I was there almost two years.
It was during my first hitch in the Marine Corps in 1947 that I was in a bad accident. I was with a Marine buddy going back to NTC after a night on the town when we ran into a sailor we knew. He offered us a lift back to NTC. En route, we were crossing an intersection near NTC and just as we were crossing, the light changed from green to red. I saw bright lights on my left and that was all. The next thing I remembered was a woman saying, "That poor Marine is dead." As I started to move, they realized that I was alive. The car was a coupe. I sat in the middle. That is what saved me. Both of my friends were thrown out of the car on impact. The car that hit us had five people in it. One woman was pregnant and one person lost her life. Everyone was in real bad shape. My two friends lived, but they were in the hospital for months. As I got out of the car without any help from bystanders, a lady had a thick terrycloth towel that she held up to my face to help stem the flow of blood. My ear was badly cut from the flying glass and my legs were cut up from the impact, plus I had a few bumps on my head. I was lucky. I was the only one who walked away. They wanted to take me to the hospital with all the others, but I declined and went to NTC, which was only a block away. I went to sick bay and the Navy medical doctor patched me up.
Other Duty Stations
After my duty ended at NTC, I was transferred to Point Magu Naval Air Missile Test Center. The year was 1949. Our job was security. We were the military police and our job was to supervise all persons entering or leaving the base. We had a number of German scientists working on the missile project. No one could enter without proper authorization. We also maintained a very tight security at the launching site. We caught two Russians at the back gate. They were outside the base taking pictures. I also remember that one time a missile got off track and flew about 500 feet over Santa Barbara. When launchings were made, two airplanes tracked the missile and if it got loose, they shot it down. This one got away from the planes.
One of my jobs was to drive a radio pickup and go to all accidents to see if any military people were involved. This base was near Oxnard, California. One accident that stands out in my mind was when two cars had a head on collision on a three-lane highway on 101. I went to check on any military that might have been involved. One sailor was riding in one of the cars. When I got there just after the accident, a woman who had been driving had the steering wheel pushed up through her face. It was very gruesome. A baby was in the back seat. It didn't have a scratch on it, but it was dead. The sailor was the only one alive, but barely. I rushed him to the naval hospital in Port Hueneme. He was in such pain--his chest mostly. He was dead when I got to the hospital. He had been hitchhiking returning to his duty station. This was the worst accident that I had ever seen. It was very emotional for me.
My last duty station was the US Naval Training Station at Great Lakes, Illinois. The Marine Detachment there took care of the security and the brig. I was discharged there on November 7, 1949, and returned home. The war was over and there wasn’t any problem on the horizon, so I joined the inactive reserves.
I started my second year of college in January 1950 on the World War II G.I. Bill of Rights. I carried a full load in school and worked to augment my G.I. Bill. The summer of 1950 found the United States at war in Korea. I didn’t feel that I would have to go back in the Marine Corps. Heck, I had just gotten out and was going to school with the G.I. Bill. I was carrying a full load, going to summer school, and working 30 hours a week. I planned on going into the cattle and meat packing business the same as my father and grandfather.
I knew nothing about Korea when the war broke out. I had to look it up on the map. I sure did follow the news about it when it broke out. I was going to summer school when the Naval Air Station at Olathe, Kansas, was alerted. An air wing left for Korea in three days. Then I saw that the Marine Corps was mobilizing its active reserve units and Camp Pendleton was preparing to ship their First Marine Division at once. I felt safe as I was on an inactive status. This, of course, changed in two months.
When October of 1950 rolled around, I was in the fall semester of my college when I received nine sets of orders to report out to Camp Pendleton. I went to the V.A. representative on campus, but he said he couldn’t do anything about it and that I had better go or they would come after me. I had mixed feelings about returning to the Marine Corps. On the one hand, I liked the excitement of the recall. On the other hand, I was into the fall semester and would have to leave my new friends, check out of college, and worst of all I had to go home and tell my parents that I was returning to active duty. The problem with the recall was that I didn’t know when or if I would be back to finish my education.
I checked out of school, made the 150-mile trip home, packed up, and left for Camp Pendleton. My folks were even unhappier than they were the first time I went into the Marine Corps. They couldn’t understand why I would have to go back as I had served my time. I had 10 days to leave school, go home, pack, say my goodbyes, and get a train out to California. I didn’t have much time for much of anything.
On arriving at Camp Pendleton, I found that there were a lot of former Marines like me who had been recalled. I was sure that, with my spec number of weapons instructor, they would need me in that capacity. I was wrong. They changed my spec number to 0311 or infantry rifleman. I was very unhappy about having my spec number changed. I thought that I would be training the troops to go to Korea instead of being one of the troops.
I was sent to Tent Camp #2. This was an isolated part of Pendleton located 27 miles from the main gate. I wound up in a weapons company and trained as a machine gunner. I spent about 2 ½ months there. We had three days of cold weather training up in the mountains in Idlewild, California. We slept in pup tents (shelter halves). The weather was cold, damp, and miserable. We were harassed day and night, but blanks were used. The training was excellent at both Tent Camp 2 and the cold weather training. We all felt that we were well-trained for whatever may come. After the cold weather training, our time was up. We were picked up in trucks and transported to Del Mar. This was an amtrack and tank base. We thought we were going into tanks. Surprise! We got 30 days of mess duty.
We then returned to Camp Pendleton where 2,800 of us participated in a parade at 1st Marine Division Headquarters. Just after the parade broke up, a voice that I knew well called my name. It was Ira Hays. He was back in the Corps and looked like a boot with his new uniform without ribbons or chevrons. That was the last I saw of Ira. The last time I heard about him, he had died.
Ira Hays was the most modest Marine I have ever met. He not only did not consider himself famous, he wouldn’t even admit to having raised the flag. The first time I met him in the squad bay at NTC, I asked him, "Didn’t you raise the flag on Iwo Jima?" The answer was typical of him. He said, "Naw, there is someone else with a name like mine. He raised the flag." He always said that he wasn't a hero, and that all the heroes were buried on Iwo. I wasn’t in awe of him nor were any of the other Marines stationed with him. You couldn’t be.
I probably knew Ira as well or better than anyone at NTC. After a weekend with Ira in L.A., I was nursing a hangover. While we were cleaning up the head (the men’s washroom), he poked me while I was trying to clean the floor on my hands and knees. I told him that if he did it again, I would punch him out. Well, he did it again and I brought a punch up from the floor. I don’t think that I connected, but it took about four Marines to pull him off of me. He met me later that day and said that if I wanted to finish the fight, we could go out in the back later. I said, "No thanks," thinking that I didn’t have a death wish.
One time he was coming off liberty in San Diego after having too much to drink, and he stopped by the Wave barracks which was just inside the main gate. He took off his clothing and hung them on a tree. He dove through the screen window yelling and doing a war dance. The Navy shore patrol took him to the brig and locked him up. The next morning our C.O. went to the brig and got him out. Because of who he was, he wasn’t given a court martial. Ira was tough, but he was a very low-key Marine. He didn’t act like a tough guy. He didn’t have to prove himself. He was very comfortable in the Corps around Marines.
Far East Command
We left K Piers in San Diego for the Far East about February 5, 1951. There were 2,800 Marines aboard the USS General Randall, along with the sailors who ran the ship. I believe there was also some cargo. I had been on a large ship before. I was one of the very few that didn’t get seasick. Others were sick—even some of the sailors. Many were sick once we got out to sea. The sleeping quarters and the head smelled of vomit. I saw sailors and Marines getting their meals in their metal mess trays and then throwing up in them.
The sleeping quarters were even worse. We had five-tier bunks. The space was so limited that in order to turn over, one had to get out of the bunk. We could only sleep on our back or on our stomach. A Marine that had the top bunk had the best deal, as he wouldn’t get hit with someone’s vomit from an upper bunk. After we were out to sea for awhile, we got used to the smells. When we went out on deck and returned to our quarters, however, the odor was so strong it was almost unbearable.
We were out at sea about 16 days when we ran into a typhoon. A Dutch freighter was in trouble and about 50 miles from us. We went over to try and help, but all hands were lost by the time we got there. The weather was a lot more than rough. The ship went from side to side, up and down. When the stern was out of the water, the propellers were out and made a loud scary noise. The sea smashed against the side of the ship so hard we thought it was going to break apart. Many were very sick during this time, including some sailors. I was lucky as I didn’t have any seasickness. I did have a scary time during the typhoon.
It took about 23 days for the ship to get to Korea. During this time, our "entertainment" was standing in long lines for a long time to receive our meals. Some played poker and shot dice in the head. We had one fellow in our unit that played poker and almost every day he made out a money order for $1,000 to about $1,500. I didn’t indulge in gambling. We had movies a couple of times on the main deck, but other than that, there wasn’t much else to do. I didn’t know anybody else on the ship, and I didn’t have any duty.
Stop in Japan
I don’t know why, but the ship stopped in Kobe, Japan, for three days. I imagine it was to discharge some cargo or take some on. We had to get off the ship and stand at ease in formation without any warm clothes or winter gear for about four fours. Again, I do not know why. It was sub-zero weather and after freezing on the Kobe dock, we went back aboard ship, got squared away, and received information as to the day and time we would have liberty. Five of us had port liberty and went ashore to have our night on the town. We found a bar and proceeded to drink quart bottles of Sahi beer. After so many beers I had to find a head (restroom). As I proceeded to relieve myself, two girls in black dresses walked into the restroom and straddled a sand box. They were chatting away while they did what they came in for, and didn't pay any attention to me. This was my first time in a coed restroom.
Later on we left the bar and went looking for another bar or some form of entertainment. We found a rickshaw and driver and proceeded to borrow his rickshaw, using it to drive around Kobe. I didn't hear of anyone missing the sailing. There were no souvenirs to be bought. We were ashore only a few hours and not much of a chance to sightsee. When our liberty was up we went back to the ship on time. We spent very little money, as everything was very cheap. Our first impression of the Oriental society was very limited as we received our liberty in the evening and didn't spend much time ashore. The people we met were very nice and courteous.
We were very concerned about what was ahead of us in Korea. To me, it was the great unknown, never having been in combat before. I Knew it was not going to be anything like our training, though the Marine Corps did its very best to give us the best training ever so we could survive and win our battles. When we got to Korea, the five of us who had spent port liberty in Kobe all went to different companies and never saw each other again.
Arriving in Korea
I arrived at Pusan, Korea, in the afternoon on about the 27th of February 1951. We got off the ship as soon as possible, but before we disembarked, we had to fill out our graves registration cards. As we were leaving the ship, there were bodies being loaded aboard for shipment back to the USA. My first impression of Korea was that it stunk! We were a couple of miles out of Pusan at sea when we received this foul odor. When we got off the ship and went into the town the smell was worse, and the town was very dirty. It was obvious that we were in a war zone because we were warned that we might receive some sniper fire. We were issued two bandoliers of ammunition before disembarking.
I went over to Korea with many World War II salts. My group, like me, were recalled. We had served a hitch or two before. We were not assigned to our company until we got to division headquarters. By nightfall we were assigned to an old schoolhouse. There were a few bunks with straw mats, but most of us had to sleep on the floor. This was not too pleasant as we had rats running over us. We were taken to a train station about 2 a.m. and we boarded a train for the front. We had an uneventful trip except that it was bitterly cold and the windows were all broken or shot out. The restroom was unusable and filthy. Also, I saw the enemy for the first time from the train window when we were on our way up to the front. They were shooting at us.
We arrived someplace at night and boarded trucks. I had to sit in the back of the truck on top of mortar shells that were being sent to the front. We traveled through little villages in the dark and there were Koreans waving at us and saying things we couldn’t understand. We were freezing and were numb from the cold, but there was no way to get warm. Our cold weather gear was with our sea bags, wherever that was.
I saw my first dead enemy when we got to a village called Wonju. We got off the trucks and saw a couple of dead Chinese on the icy, muddy, dirt road. Our jeeps and tanks were running over them, flattening them to what looked like the thickness of a pancake. The little town was in a flat valley surrounded by very high mountains. I saw my first dead Marines in this valley before I joined Easy Company. They were in trucks, placed head to toe with their faces uncovered. I also saw them laid out on the ground by the trucks, with ponchos covering them. Seeing dead Chinese or North Koreans had no effect on me, but the dead Marines affected me emotionally. I felt tears welling up inside of me.
I felt Korea was worth fighting for as we needed to keep the commies curtailed so they wouldn't spread their venom any further. The Koreans needed help as they were in such a state of despair.
I was told at that time that the company that I would be joining was E-2-7. The company was halfway up the mountain when it was pointed out to me. I looked up and saw some movement. The men in the company looked smaller than ants way up on that mountain. After a very difficult climb up to the company, I met the 1st Sergeant. It was dusk--just about dark. He assigned positions to all of us. I joined the company as a rifleman in a fire team of a rifle squad. There were three fire teams in a squad with a squad leader. Each fire team had a BARman, an assistant BARman (he carried extra ammo), and two riflemen. I didn’t tell the 1st Sergeant that I was a machine gunner, as I didn’t want to lug the ammo boxes all over Korea. This was what a new man usually had to do when he joined a company. My job as a rifleman was fine with me as I had been trained as a rifleman and a machine gunner. Also, I had been a weapons instructor and had served in the military police.
I didn’t know anyone when I reached Easy Company. I thought the Marines there all looked crazy. They had beards, they were filthy, and they all had a wild look in their eyes. After about three or four days, they looked normal to me.
My first few days on the front line can best be explained by my first night in the lines. When I checked in with the 1st Sergeant, I was assigned to a small foxhole. It must have been a Chinese foxhole because of the small size. There was ice and snow all over the ground and it was turning dark. During the night some of the ice and snow melted, giving me a few inches of icy water in my foxhole. It was cold and miserable, and I shivered from the cold all night. Later on that night, we were attacked by a small force of Chinese. That was my "baptism of fire." It was snowing and all one could do was shoot at any shadow or form in front of us. When we got out of our holes, we were in our ski socks.
After that, we slept with our shoe packs (rubberized boots). Also, when we bedded down in our foxholes for the night, we left our sleeping bags unzipped so we wouldn’t be trapped in them in case of an attack. We kept our canteens between our legs in the sleeping bag, otherwise we would have ice instead of water. The cold was almost unbearable. Because of the clouds that night, we had searchlights hitting the clouds and bouncing off, giving us light in our front. In the morning there were several Chinese bodies around us. They had frozen in grotesque shapes. One in particular had the top of his head blown off, exposing his brains. We ate our C-rations in the morning looking at the dead Chinese.
I was in Operations Killer and Ripper, and the Spring Offensive while I was in Korea. Operation Killer was my first time in combat and trying to adjust to living outdoors 24 hours a day in the extreme cold winter of Korea. We set up new defensive positions every night.
Operation Killer was from February 21 to March 7, 1951. It was to reestablish the UN line east of Wonju. We pulled out of our position and headed north. Emotionally, I held up very well. I really didn’t have any moments of fear at the beginning, but I was apprehensive. The combat on the first night happened so fast that I didn’t have a chance to get scared until it was over. I was armed with a .32 pistol that had belonged to my grandfather. Captain Mathews was the Company Commander and Louis Buttell was my platoon leader. About a month later 1st Lt. Gil Westa took his place. Both were excellent leaders who were always out in front or right alongside us in a fire fight. Veteran Marines didn’t teach me the ropes. They felt I knew my job and acted accordingly. What I learned "on the job" was that there was a big difference between combat training and actual combat. In actual combat, there was the smell of death, the losing of good buddies, and the fear and terror that accompanied actual combat.
When I arrived in Korea, the weather was very cold with heavy snow. The terrain was frozen over with high mountains. We moved almost every day and dug in at night. Many nights we couldn’t dig in because the ground was frozen. To sleep, we propped our feet against a tree, a rock, or something so we wouldn’t slide down the mountain. We were never in a stationary position like bunkers or trenches because we were moving south every day. We were mostly in Central Korea back and forth across the 38th parallel. The Marine Corps was always supposed to be within naval gunfire, but this seemed to be an exception.
The weather conditions were terrible, especially the winter with its freezing temperatures and high mountains to climb. Winter in Korea brought ice, snow, and freezing weather. Our cold weather gear included a pair of shoe packs (rubberized boots). We also wore heavy ski socks and had to have two pairs so we could change into dry socks. On the move all the time during the first year, traveling either north or south and setting up in a different location each night, we sweated and our feet cooked and blistered in the boots. As soon as we stopped, the sweat froze and turned to ice. Almost everyone had frostbite, and many Marines got gangrene as a result of wearing this type of boot. We had a rubberized poncho that could be used as a shelter half or half of a pup tent. We had a good, warm, fleece-lined parka with attached hood. We also had a fleece-lined vest, wool shirt, web belt, water resistant trousers, warm mittens, a fur winterized hat, a steel helmet and helmet liner, and a down sleeping bag. The sleeping bag was great, but it didn’t always keep us warm because we couldn’t zip it up for safety reasons. When trying to sleep in the bitter cold, that portion of our shoulders, back, and butt that had the direct contact with the ground and the cold felt just like a knife was hitting us in those places. I don’t think there is any clothing that can keep one warm in those sub zero temperatures. We walked without feeling in our feet. They were just numb from the cold. When we stopped, we would stomp our feet to try and keep the circulation going.
The spring was terrible too because of the rainy season. In the rainy season we were wet for days. The cold rain dripped down the back of our helmets, running down the back of our necks. Our ponchos couldn't keep out of the rain. We were miserable, chilled with wet or damp clothes all night. We slept in the rocky mountains and in rice paddies that were frozen in the winter, and later slept in rice paddies that were wet and muddy. It wouldn’t have been so bad, but we could never get warm or dry. We were outdoors 24 hours a day.
Temperatures affected our weapons, too. In the winter we kept our rifle, along with our canteen, with us in our unzipped sleeping bag to keep them warm. We were up in the mountains so long that we couldn’t get any oil for our weapons. I remember going on the assault and having to stop every time to hit the receiver on my rifle with my boot so I could get another round in the chamber. As soon as a new man joined the platoon, we grabbed his oil tube out of the butt plate on his rifle.
In the summer we just wore our dungarees and field jacket with a pair of regular leather boots. In the winter the enemy wore heavy quilted jackets and trousers with a fur-lined cap, ski socks, and light tennis-type shoes. As one could imagine, their cases of frostbite were far worse than ours.
Operation Ripper was from 7 March to 4 April, 1951. The objective was to outflank Seoul and capture Chunchon.
It was after Operation Ripper, but during that April, that I saw one act of cowardice. A Marine by the name of Schindler couldn’t keep up with us and was always falling behind. One day he threw his sleeping bag away and said he would sleep in his parka. This lasted about two days. We were up in the mountains stopping for a short break. Schindler borrowed a carbine, put his foot up, and shot his foot. When he pulled his boot off, a small hole was found between his big toe and the second toe. He didn’t hit a bone and there was almost no blood. The sergeant yelled, "Who fired that shot?" Schindler was taken off the hill under guard. I don’t know what happened to him after that. I know he didn’t go through boot camp and he was from New Orleans.
Another time we were assaulting in the mud under a heavy rain when Barker stuck his rifle in the ground, sat down next to it, and said, "This is as far as I’m going." I understand that he got a job driving a truck behind the lines. He wasn’t a coward. He just snapped. He came over with the division, made the Inchon landing, Chosin, etc. He should have been taken off. He just had had enough.
The first CCF spring offense took place between April 22 and 29, 1951. This was a time when we hit the main force of the Chinese and we were pushed back. E-2-7 was holding rear guard action for the 1st Marine Division. We held this position for three days and didn’t get an order to pull out and rejoin the division. Our three radios were without juice in the batteries so we were unable to talk to division headquarters to get permission to pull out. We were the "lost company." This situation could have ended up as a tragedy. The Chinese were almost upon us, so we needed to rejoin the division and end our rear guard action, but we needed permission to do that. With no working radios, we were in trouble. In fact, we were almost wiped out.
On the third morning we greeted the day to find out that the 6th ROK division had pulled out on our flanks, leaving us all alone. They had abandoned their equipment and just ran out. This was serious for us as the Chinese were regrouping. We made one last try. Lieutenant Pollack from the 3rd platoon took Les Olson, the runner, to the highest point on the mountain, attempting to use the radio if there was any life left in it. Under a hail of fire, they reached Col. Ray Davis. The Division thought that we had been overrun and wiped out. We received permission to rejoin the division, which we did. There appeared to be about 20,000 Chinese getting ready to attack us. We slipped out as soon as it got dark.
We were on the move north and had no sleep for about three days. We had orders to maintain 100% watch. We dug in and promptly fell asleep. What awoke us was small arms fire and burp guns going off. A Chinese was standing over our foxhole firing a burst from his burp gun. It hit my buddy what looked like directly in the head. I shot the Chinese with the .32 pistol that I carried as a sidearm. His bullet penetrated my buddy's helmet and circled around inside, leaving a copper-colored ring on the inside of his helmet. My buddy was not wounded. He said that he was never going to part with his helmet. This period was April 23, 24, and 25th of 1951. I remember one night during this period being on the forward slope seeing flares, tracers from machine guns, artillery, mortars and small arms fire almost the whole night.
One of the more difficult battles around this time period that I remember vividly was one that took place on April 24th. In it, our corpsman was badly wounded. The casualties were heavy and we couldn’t spare many on the line to evacuate the wounded. The Chinese were on the offense and we were making a strategic withdrawal. Another Marine and I put our corpsman, Chris Keys, in a poncho and made the frightening trip down the mountain to the aid station. Chris was in much pain, his blood was dripping heavily out of the poncho, and he was calling for his mother. He had very bad torso wounds. I didn’t think that he would live long enough to get to the aid station. The Chinese were all around us and firing at us with rifles and machine guns as we carried our corpsman out. We zigzagged behind boulders, trees and gullies to keep from getting hit so we could get him treated. We finally made it and Chris was still alive. We put him in the good hands of the medical team.
The sight that greeted us at the aid station was dead Marines laid out all over the ground. Some had been processed and were laid out in even rows on the ground, and others were stacked up in open trucks. They, too, were stacked neatly. Their faces were dirty, bearded, and ready for the trip to the rear. I don’t know what the casualties were at this time, but from where I was, it looked very heavy. Lieutenant Pollack received a bullet in the leg when he went to the highest point on the mountain to try and get the radio to work. This was the same period when we were surrounded and were a lost company for three days.
Also in the Spring Offensive time frame, I was ill with dysentery, as were most of the troops. On one occasion we were assaulting a fortified mountain with the Chinese in trenches. We had two tanks behind us giving us supporting fire. As I worked my way up the mountain, with bullets flying all around cutting some of the trees and vegetation down, I had to stop and relieve myself. I also had serious headaches. The corpsman gave me codeine to help relieve this condition.
On the Front Line
My immediate commanding officer changed as we lost six platoon leaders while I was in Korea. For example, Lieutenant Westa was wounded three times. He returned to the platoon from the hospital twice. The third time, he was sent back to the States. All of our officers were outstanding. We would follow Lieutenant Westa at any time. He was always alongside of us or in front of us in battle.
We had various units alongside us from different countries. The ROK troops from South Korea were the worst. They ran off the lines, leaving equipment and wounded behind. Our contact with the South Korean military was mostly when they were on our flanks. I didn’t personally have much contact with them or with the Korean civilians. The Korean Marine Crops were tough and very good. It was a pleasure to fight with them. The Turks were very tough. They came over with two battalions and they lost so many men they had to be replaced within three months.
The Chinese and North Koreans were young, in their teens and early 20s mostly. The Chinese were not good fighters. They didn’t have the training or the equipment that we had. The North Koreans were much better, and they were fanatical. We once came to help an American army unit, but it was too late. The North Koreans had killed everyone by bayoneting them or taping their hands behind their backs and then killing them with a blow to the back of the head with what appeared to be an axe, or by shooting them.
My contact with the Korean natives was with the Korean Marine Corps and the ROK army units, as well as with some of the laborers who brought up ammunition and water. We had contacts in the villages. The people were poor and dirty, and they were all starving. We gave them some of our C-rations and what candy bars and other food that we could spare. I saw some of the native men with elephantitus. Their legs were swollen about three times their normal size and their testicles were about three times the size of a softball. Many of the Koreans had sores all over them.
We had some tragedies in our company that I still remember. Once we stopped for a break while running the ridges in North Korea. One of the Marines propped his BAR up against a tree. It wasn’t secured and didn’t have the safety on. It fell down, hit the ground, and two rounds went off, wounding two Marines in their legs. Another time a white phosphorus short round came in and wounded two Marines. Another time, we came over a ridge with such speed that another company of Marines thought we were the enemy and fired on us. My buddy had a bullet shatter the stock on his M1 rifle. There were no injuries as the other company was quick to note that we were one of them.
Fighting took place both day and night. We didn’t attack at night with few exceptions. The Chinese attacked at night when they had a small force of about 20 soldiers. They attacked in the daytime when they were en masse. We were on the move every day and attacked when the opportunity presented itself. The enemy was fighting differently than we were as they didn’t have the training or weapons that we had. They hit us at night, even when it was snowing, and usually they attacked in small groups. They had burp guns that were highly ineffective. This was an automatic weapon like a tommy gun. They fired on me at point blank range and yet I didn’t get hit. Their wooden grenades didn’t have the explosive power that our grenades had, either.
At various times we were flanked by U.S. Army troops. I didn’t see much of them as we had our own sector and howitzer unit. It seems that the enemy was infiltrating and causing casualties and damage at night. We set up a perimeter for a few days to protect a 1st Cavalry unit. We were on a 50% watch that night. When daylight broke, all we could think of was that wonderful smell. They had a field mess at their unit and were cooking eggs, bacon, and pancakes. We hadn’t had anything but rations for months. What a welcome sight that breakfast was. When we had contact with any Army units we had a good relationship. After all we were all in the same boat.
We didn’t receive much tank support, in fact, almost none. We were up in the mountains fighting and there was no place for a tank to support us. I mentioned earlier in this report of an instance where we had tank support. Another time, two squads were pulled off the line and we mounted two tanks. They brought us up to the highest point in a mountain where a dirt road was cut through. From this point we could look down and see the whole valley. It was huge. One squad dug in on one side of the road and the other squad dug in on the other side. We put our grenades and ammo where we could have easy availability to them. Looking down at the valley, it looked like the whole Chinese army was marching toward us. We only had two squads, and no machine guns or mortars. Then the tank commander informed me that he had orders only to bring us up here and drop us off. He had to return to base. It appeared that our little force was only to slow down this large force. Well, we wound up with a bird’s eye view as our planes came in, dropped napalm, and machine-gunned the enemy. Along with this was a well-coordinated artillery bombardment. The tanks came back at dusk and picked us up.
We received excellent support from artillery, ships offshore, and our own Corsairs. The only use of helicopters that I saw while I was in Korea was to bring out the wounded. I can’t recall any time that supplies were air-dropped to our unit.
Civilians were a problem for us because North Koreans infiltrated with the refugees. The refugees were afraid of them and wouldn’t inform us they were there. Still, no one was harmed by a civilian that I recall.
We believe R. Clifford was taken prisoner on May 27, 1951. There was great concern that we might be captured. That is one of the reasons that we didn’t zip up our sleeping bags. The enemy could slip up at night, grab the bottom of the bag, pull us down the mountain and kill us or take us prisoner. We were only concerned at night, not in the daytime when we were alert with our weapons at the ready. I saw what appeared to be several Korean nurses who had been raped and bayoneted. Once when we went to help an Army unit, we discovered that they had just been overrun when we got there. The soldiers had been bayoneted and shot, some had their hands tied behind their backs, and it looked like the North Koreans had taken an axe and chopped the soldiers in the back of the head. It was a terrible sight. After this incident, we didn't feel that we would be happy to take any prisoners.
Keeping clean was always a problem in Korea, as we were always running the ridges in the mountains. Water was at a premium. When we set up defensive positions for the night, we had water carried up to us in 5 gallon jerry cans by our own working parties and sometimes by Korean laborers. We didn't bath. I remember once we were pulled off the line and tents were set up with steam coming out of them. Hot showers were set up. Snow was on the ground, but it was hot inside and it was a great feeling to feel clean, if only for a short while. Some clean clothes were even available that day. We had gone almost two months without a shower. As we were on the move daily, we didn't have the luxury of carrying an extra set of clean clothes. We had to carry everything, so even an extra toothbrush was discarded.
We ate C-rations on the front line. After eating them for weeks, I found that the enzymes in my mouth wouldn't break down the beans. They wound up like sand and were very difficult to swallow. The very short time we were in reserve--about 18 hours--"ten in one" C-rations were dumped in a big vat, stirred, heated, and served. We were supposed to be in reserve longer, but some Army unit had trouble and we were called out to close up the gap and help them. I didn't eat any Korean food. Kimchi wasn't available to us, thank goodness! The best food that I ate was the hot breakfast I had in the rear area guarding the 105 howitzers of the Army. The stateside food that I missed the most was milk and steak. Because my father was in the cattle and meat packing business in Chicago, we had the best meats available at home.
A fellow Marine named Quinn was one of my good buddies in Korea. We shared a foxhole for many long nights. His parents came from the same section in Ireland that my maternal grandparents came from. He had a never ending amount of Irish songs that he sang. I heard that later on after I left that he got his foot, or part of it, blown off.
Religion was important to me. I am Catholic, and just before I left to go to Korea, my mother gave me a rosary. On the ship I put it around my neck and I never took it off all the time I was in Korea. It game me a great deal of comfort, even though the black coloring on the beads wore off during the monsoon season. I also went to Mass behind the lines a couple of times. Immediately behind the front lines, a Catholic priest set up and gave us communion. My parents received a card from the priest saying that I had gone to it, and I thought that was amazing. Also, I have never prayed so hard in my life as I did while I was in Korea.
The only time I saw American women in Korea was in the hospital in Taegu. They were nurses. The only time I saw any prostitutes was one night high up in the mountains. Two Korean girls were brought up just behind the front lines. I understand they were quite busy. Some enterprising Korean brought them up. I suspect they were part of a white slavery group, but I don't know. That was the only time I saw this in Korea. I wasn't in a rear area where prostitutes could be found in abundance.
The only American holidays I spent in Korea were Easter and July 4th. My Easter holiday was spent on the front lines. About 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning, we got orders to move out. We came off the ridgeline and down to a dirt road. It was pitch black and we had to maneuver our way over the terrain without falling down and breaking any bones. We had all our gear with us, of course. When we got down to the road there were several Marine trucks waiting for us. Guess what? They brought our Easter dinner! Well, we broke out our mess kits to enjoy this wonderful surprise. My only problem was that I didn't have a mess kit. I was even without any eating utensils. My backpack, which had my mess gear in it, was blown up the day before by a mortar shell. The only thing that I could do was to hold out my arm and they lined up ham, boiled potatoes, and a vegetable on the sleeve of my field jacket. After that, we moved to a new position. July 4th I was in the hospital and there was nothing special about the day.
I didn't see any racial prejudice among the Marines while I was in Korea. We only had one black Marine in my company. He was very nice. He came over with me. He was killed about two months after I left.
We didn't receive much information on how the war was going. We were mainly concerned over our daily movements. In our leisure time we dug our foxholes deeper, sharpened our knives and bayonets, and cleaned our rifles. For me, the hardest thing about being in Korea was being outdoors in all kinds of weather and trying to keep alive 24 hours a day. After putting in a tough day moving locations and setting up in a new position, after a firefight there was nothing to look forward to like going to a hot meal, a warm bed, a shower, and clean clothes. We had the next day with much of the same. When we were dug in for one day or several days, we set up a perimeter, and set out booby traps with trip wires. We also maintained at least a 50% alert watch; that is, in a two-man foxhole, one man was awake at all times.
One of the events I witnessed during my time in Korea stands out in my mind after all these years. It happened the early part of May 1951. We were on the move when we heard a funny sounding voice coming from behind some bushes. There were three Chinese coming toward us in single file. The lead Chinese had his hand on a branch directing the second Chinese. The second Chinese had a branch for the third Chinese. They were such a sorry sight. It appeared that they had been bombed by napalm. Their eyes were sightless. Their whole bodies were covered with blackened skin with red, open sores. They had maggots eating the raw flesh. I can't imagine how they were still alive. They were taken a few yards away, out of sight, and disposed of. This, of course, was the only humane thing to do.
One Particular Battle
On May 28, 1951, E-2-7 was in a battle that, for me, only lasted about 5 to 6 hours before I was wounded. It was still going on when I left the scene. This was in Central Korea in the Chunchon area. The weather conditions were ideal. The sun was shining, and the temperature was warm and comfortable. We were up in the mountains running along a ridgeline about 11:00 in the morning when a machine gun and some small arms fire opened up on us. Ron Lunsford was the first one hit and killed. He caught a bullet in the throat and died instantly. Ron was in the point. We were all moving in single file as the ridge was narrow. We set up a field of fire and returned fire. Then with great caution, we slowly advanced along a curving ridge. We had incoming mortars, machine gun and rifle fire.
The closer we got to the highest point of the mountain, the heavier the incoming shells and small weapons firing became. About 3:00 in the afternoon, we were pinned down but still advancing slowly. My platoon was still on the ridgeline. The other two platoons were on each side of us, inching forward below the ridge line. There was a saddle in the ridge that we moved toward. It was guarded by Chinese. One fired a burp gun at us and the other threw grenades. Two shots from the Marines dispatched them. Within a few minutes, I heard a tremendous roar, really earthshaking, and saw a Corsair about 50 feet overhead with machine guns rattling and napalm dropping. It was a very welcome sight. The Corsair made a couple of passes. After it left, we assaulted the Chinese fortifications. At the beginning of the assault, I had such terror grip me that my legs buckled under me and I fell down. I picked myself up and continued on the crest of the mountain and engaged in hand to hand with the remaining Chinese. I heard machine guns going off behind me. Our gunners were set up about 30 feet behind us to cover us, giving us overhead fire as we assaulted.
Then the Chinese started a mortar barrage. Lt. Westa, our platoon leader, was at my side. He was a leader we respected and could count on to make the right decision in the heat of battle or between battles. The mortars were dropping all around us. They felt like they were going to land in my back pocket. One almost did. I was knocked out for a few seconds, but as I came back to reality, I heard the mortars, machine guns and rifle fire. My legs had sharp pains like a hot poker was inserted in several places. I had some bleeding in my left eye from the concussion. I looked down to see if I still had my legs, and saw that my pants legs were full of blood. I moved my feet to see if I still had any movement and to see how extensive the damage was. Lieutenant Wista was hit with the same shell and another Marine had his hand blown off. Just at that time, two Marines grabbed me and helped me back out of the line of fire. Our corpsman treated me and tagged me, setting me up to go to battalion aid and there be evacuated to the 4th Army Field Hospital in Taegu. I was sent back to a holding area with other wounded. Casualties: 4 killed, 30 wounded.
We could hear the shells, machine guns and small arms fire still going on. It was dusk when I saw a friend of mine with the 5th named Callahan. We called him Bullet because he shaved his head. Elements of the 5th Marines were there in reserve to relieve us. Everyone in the 5th asked how it was up there. As one could still hear the firing, I told them, "Don’t go." But, as we were so badly depleted, the 5th Marines replaced Easy Company and continued the fight. I heard later on that Callahan was killed there that night.
The only ones involved in this action were the Chinese and Easy Company, followed by the 5th Marines who came out of reserve. We had run into the main Chinese force. They were part of the 124,000 Chinese in this area. I don’t know how long it lasted, but I believe it wasn’t secured until the next day. Enemy firepower was heavy. They had mortars, small arms (rifles and burp guns), and the ever popular machine gun. They knew how to use them, but they were lousy shots. The burp gun was very inaccurate even at close range. Our officers were excellent. In the heat of battle, they were right with us. All the medics also put themselves in danger to treat wounded Marines. I really couldn’t praise them enough. Evacuation of the wounded and dead was quick and efficient. Our corpsman, Chris Keyes, treated wounded Marines under fire and was put up for the Silver Star. He did an excellent job, and we were all very respectful of him and his expertise. I don’t know if he received it or not. We thought of him as Navy, not a Marine. But as far as we were concerned, he had the title of honorary Marine.
The battle on May 28, 1951 was one in which we were so involved and we seemed to be so isolated in this mountainous ridgeline that there was no one on the flanks of Easy Company. I realize that we hit the main force of the Chinese army, but with the sector that we were in, we couldn’t tell what we had run up against. I heard later that we were up against a battalion strength force that were well dug in. I can’t laud our Marine Corsair pilots enough. They gave us such close air support that it is hard to believe. The Corsairs were so close to us, we could see the pilots’ faces as they flew over us at not more than 50 feet. Other than the Corsairs, I didn’t see any troops outside of Easy Company until I was evacuated and saw the 5th Marines in Reserve ready to replace us.
After I was tagged and evacuated to the rear just behind the fighting, I moved my toes and foot to see if anything was broken. I had shrapnel in both legs, blast concussion, and as I found out later, I had lost the sight in my left eye due to the concussion, which caused bleeding in my left eye. In the heat of battle, all my attention had been on our objective and protecting and working with other Marines. They all fought with fervor and we looked out for each other. When the battle was over I felt depressed remembering the dead and maimed Marines. I wondered why I was allowed to continue my life in one piece.
After I was wounded, I was given a quarter of a grain of morphine before I got to the rear. I was evacuated in the dark to the battalion aid station. I was there about an hour when I got sick and nauseous and threw up. I was sent to Taegu, the fourth Army hospital, for treatment. After I was evacuated off the mountain top and bedded down in the battalion aid station and before I was sent to the 4th Army field Hospital in Taegu, I felt safe. But then I was awakened in the morning by an artillery barrage. It didn’t last long, but I found out that one didn’t have to be on the front lines to be wounded.
While in the hospital, I saw the Jack Benny show. He and his group did a great job. Everyone enjoyed every minute of it. I was there about a week and discharged. I was sent to see an Army 2nd Lieutenant in charge of supply and discharged patients. He said that in order to get checked out and leave the hospital, he had to issue me army clothing. I told him I wasn’t interested in any clothing that the army had. Well, the only way I could leave was to sign for and leave with two sea bags of army issue. That night I dragged the two sea bags of army gear over the rice paddies in pitch dark to a population center (village) and sold everything on the black market. I went to 1st Marine Division headquarters and they asked me what I needed to rejoin my company. What a difference.
When I left the hospital to go back to my unit, I also had some unsatisfactory contact with the Red Cross. I requested a pipe and some tobacco, plus a toothbrush and some paste, from them. They had plenty of this type of item, but said no to me.
Return to Combat
When I returned to combat, I felt strong enough and sufficiently recovered to handle combat again, although the shrapnel was not extracted from my legs. The doctors said it would heal and I wouldn't have any problem. I didn't realize at this time how bad my left eye was, as I could see fine with my right eye, which was the eye I needed for firing my rifle.
When I got to battalion, they were located in a valley that was surrounded by small hills. I was standing talking to another Marine when an artillery barrage came in on us. There was a small foxhole near us and we both jumped in. It was so small our butts were sticking out. We looked over at a 6x6 truck that had two Marines in the cabin. One of the shells landed next to the truck deflating all four tires. The Marines opened the cab doors to get out and they looked okay, but in a split second they were covered in blood and fell to the ground dead. Toward the end of the barrage it felt like one of the shells were going to land in our hole and join us. It landed just outside our hole so close that we could touch it. My friend and I were afraid to move for fear we would set it off. Then along came a Marine whistling with a supply of red flags under his arm. He stooped over and placed the flag under the unexploded shell. He sure wasn’t afraid of the unexploded shell, but we were.
It took me two days to catch up to Easy Company as they were still running the ridges. About four days later, on June 18, I received my second wound. This time, our squad was called on to recon an area and locate the Chinese forces. We were an under-strength squad of seven Marines. We were about a mile from our company when we saw a small village. We went in to check and see if there were any North Koreans or Chinese in the vicinity. When we got to the second house, the Chinese opened up on us. They were well-hidden and had been waiting for us. We returned fire and looked for some cover. One our marines was shot. I shot three Chinese and then ran out of ammo. I started to put another clip (eight rounds) in my rifle and the Chinese started to swarm all over us. It happened so fast and so close we didn't have a chance to reload. We also didn't have time to get frightened. When I tried to put the clip in, I saw that my left hand was full of blood. I had caught a burp gun slug in my left hand. It looked like a mess, but it didn't hurt at the time. I had to use my rifle butt, hitting two Chinese in the head, then I pulled out my K-Bar (a Marine-issued knife) to stick one in the gut. The other Marines were having the same troubles.
Lucky for us the Chinese were such rotten shots. Their burp guns even at close range were not accurate. I was now able to put another clip in my rifle. We finished mopping up and took no prisoners. Some of the enemy took off when they saw that they were not going to kill us. One of our Marines got a bullet in the chest; another got one in the leg, breaking it. Since we were out in front of the front lines, we had to make our way as best as we could to get back to safety and a corpsman. We managed to get a ride in a jeep part of the way to the aid station. There, I was happy to discover that the wounds were not any more serious than they were, but the corpsman again sent me to the 4th Army field hospital. I didn't like leaving Easy company and my buddies. I wished them well and good luck.
While I was being treated at the aid station before being sent back to the hospital, there was a Marine stretched out on the bed next to mine. His face had been blown off and parts of his legs were gone. I am sure he didn't live. When I was in the hospital, there was a Marine in the bed across from mine who just sat on the edge of his bed. He didn't say anything. He just sat there and had the shakes. He shook morning, noon, and night. Although this was my second injury, compared to these other two Marines, I was very lucky.
Back in the States, my mother and father were going out to a dinner party when they received a second telegram
stating that I had been wounded in action. My mother thought that it was a duplicate of the one that they
had received three weeks before. But my father said, "Look at the date and the signature." Both were
different than the one on the previous telegram, so they decided that I must have been wounded again. They
said they went to the party with a heavy heart but did not mention it to any one.
I didn't have any problem about my time to be rotated home. After treatments and healing at the 4th Army Hospital in Taegu, I was sent to Masan for processing to return to the States. I went by plane to Masan and remember how beautiful and peaceful Korea looked from the air. After processing, I left Korea on the 25th of August 1951, holding the rank of corporal.
I was flown to Itami, Japan, where there was a naval air station. I had cereal with powdered milk for breakfast. The milk was made from powdered milk, but it tasted great. I went from Itami to Otsu, Japan. This was a former Kamakasi base. I was made a runner for recuperation, which was considered light duty. I was sorry that I hadn't had the chance to say a better goodbye to all my buddies in Easy Company, but with the second wound, I was on my way for medical treatment and couldn't go back. My time at Otsu was very interesting. I bought a number of souvenirs since everything was very cheap. I went of Kyoto and saw the imperial palace. I also spent time in Osaka. The Japanese people were very nice, and we had no problems with any of them. On this trip to Japan, I found out what communal bathing was. I met a girl in Otsu and she showed me some of the sights. I met her mama-san and her little brother.
I left Japan for the States onboard the USS Munemori. This was a liberty ship that carried 800 ambulatory cases. A fellow named McArthy was on the ship with me. He was from Easy Company and had had a very bad stomach wound. We met up again at Otsu and shipped out to the States together. The general mood of the men on the ship was that we were grateful to be going home. Although we didn't know what lie ahead of us, we didn't have the uncertainty going home that we had had going over to Korea.
We left Kobe, Japan, and on Labor Day I was aboard ship heading back to San Diego. I celebrated my birthday, September 4th, out in the Pacific. I was 22 years old and heading home in one piece. This was something to celebrate on my birthday. We arrived in San Diego, California, after about 23 days at sea. I had no duty and there was no entertainment on the ship during this trip. The weather was wonderful, the ocean was calm, the food was very good, and there was plenty of it. I didn't even see any cases of seasickness.
There was no one waiting for me when we docked. We were coming in early in the morning, and the fog was so thick we couldn't see land until we docked. There was a big banner displayed saying, "WELCOME HOME!" When we got off the ship, there was coffee and doughnuts waiting for us. Stepping foot on American soil again was a very emotional time. It was so emotional that I lost my voice. I had a case of laryngitis that didn't clear up for three days. I sent my folks a wire saying that I had arrived in good health and would telephone them as soon as my laryngitis cleared up.
We got off the ship on September 16th at K Piers and entered buses that took us to Recruit Depot for processing. We got paid and I bought a carton of Camel cigarettes. I had boarded the ship in Kobe without any funds, so I didn't smoke during the ocean voyage. This would have been the time to quit smoking, but it took me until nine years later to break the habit. I had purchased my first pack of cigarettes and started smoking when I left Kansas City and was on a train going to San Diego and boot camp. I didn't smoke on the return voyage on the USS Monmori because my pay records were lost and I didn't have any money to buy them.
After we got our pay, we went to Tijuana to celebrate. I stayed at the Recruit Depot in San Diego until I was discharged on December 7, 1951. During that time, I underwent treatment for wounds received in Korea and helped as a drill instructor to train recruits.
I didn't go wild when I was discharged, as I wanted to return and finish my education at Kansas State University. I carried a full load each semester, worked part-time, and went to summer school for three summers, graduating in January of 1954. I had the G.I. Bill from World War II, which helped. I didn't reenlist as I had other goals. I didn't want to think of war and death. After my experience in the Korean War, I found that the other students were indifferent to what was happening in Korea. The war was a long way off, they were not affected by it, and they didn't have to worry about going to Korea. Life went on as if there was no war.
In my case, it was impossible not to think of my past experiences in Korea. And even though being in the Marine Corps affected my post military life in that I was and am much more disciplined than civilians, I had some problems adjusting to civilian life. I had nightmares and during the days, Korea never left me. It was as if I had left combat the day before. I could flare up quickly. I drank too much.
I married right after I graduated from Kansas State in February of 1954. I divorced in August of 1960, and went to work in chemical sales for Swift and Company. I traveled Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas. I had an offer from a competing company and moved to Florida, traveling that state. With that company, I had the opportunity to open up Latin America. I moved to Panama and traveled Central and South America and the Caribbean. I flew on Taca Airlines and kept seeing a special stewardess. We dated in Panama, Honduras, and other cities in Latin America when our paths crossed. After nine months, we married in September of 1965 in Guatemala. She was based in New Orleans and at the time we got married, I was being transferred to Lima, Peru.
I set up three operations--one each in Lima, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico. Then I had an offer I couldn't refuse from W.R. Grace Chemical in Guayaquil, Ecuador. I became the General Manager of their chemical operation, part of which was a large Glidden paint plant. After Ecuador, I started a manufacturer's agency and represented several large chemical companies to market their products in Latin America and the Far East. I traveled, promoting these products until I retired four years ago.
My wife and I will be celebrating our 36th anniversary this year. We have three children, two boys and a girl. There were no children from my previous marriage. Richard is 34, Tim is 33, and Katy is 32 years old. In retirement my wife and I make two, sometimes three, international trips a year. I grow orchids, anthurums, various hot peppers, and some vegetables. I jog four times a week. I revisited my clarinet and use it for an avocation.
Our unit in Korea received the Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) for extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea during the periods 21 to 26 April, 16 May to 30 June, and 11 to 25th September 1951. We also received the Korean Presidential Unit Citation. I received two Purple Hearts, the Combat Infantry Ribbon, and Good Conduct Medal. The medals mean much to me as they remind me of many of the Marines I knew, some of them that didn't make it home, and some that returned without limbs and with PTSD.
My strongest memories of Korea are of the bitter cold and trying to fire my rifle with numb fingers. The Marines that didn't make it. The sad and deplorable condition of the Korean people. The nights out under the stars attempting to sleep in all kinds of weather, snow, rain and mud. Because of Korea, I will always be conscious of the weather. Even today I look up at the sky and look for weather conditions. Will it snow, rain, or be sunny? It reminds me of Korea and dreading more snow or rain or Chinese.
Korea changed me in many ways, although I don't think others noticed much of a change because I covered up my feelings and didn't discuss the war. Ever since returning from Korea, I have looked at life and death with a different attitude than my civilian counterparts. Having been so close to death, seeing so much death and destruction, and feeling the terror of combat, I realized that nothing in the future would or could ever be that bad. If I get down or depressed, all I have to do is think back to Korea. Nothing could match the fear and the conditions that we fought in there.
I believe that the United States should have sent troops to Korea to help stop communism from taking over the world. For example, China was ready to attack and take over Formosa (Taiwan). They sent their troops to Korea instead of Formosa. And, yes, I think that MacArthur should have gone past the 38th parallel. The North Koreans and Chinese would have made another Dunkirk if we hadn't pushed them back north. They almost did at the Pusan Perimeter.
The biggest mistake that the United States made in the Korean War was that we had no strike force. The only troops that we could send at the beginning of the war were the soft troops we had stationed in Japan. All the other combat-ready troops were few and far between, as our military was pretty much dismantled after World War II. We should have had a strike force ready to deploy, such as we have today.
My wife and I visited Korea on a revisit trip paid for by the Korean government five years ago. It was unbelievable to see Korea today. I left a war-torn, poverty-stricken country in 1951, and found a modern country with new, beautiful buildings and bumper to bumper traffic when I revisited. When I left Korea in 1951, the Han River had only one pontoon bridge, as the main bridge had been blown. Now, there are 23 modern bridges like the Brooklyn Bridge. The Korean people, even the young people, came up to us on the street and wanted to shake our hands. They said, "You fought for us. Thank you." This return trip made us feel that it was well worth our effort to keep the Commies out of South Korea. The people are the good that came out of the war. South Koreas are friends of the United States, and we need all the friends we can get. Their country is a good trading partner. Korea is a stabilizing influence in the Far East. I believe that we certainly should have our troops stationed in South Korea. Our presence has stopped North Korea from attacking again in full force.
The name "Forgotten War" that is associated with the Korean War is a nickname well taken. Whenever wars are mentioned in the news, broadcasters and reporters start with World War II, then skip Korea and go to Vietnam, then to Desert Storm. Korea had over 8,000 MIAs, while Vietnam had 2,000 MIAs. One only hears about the 2,000 MIAs from Vietnam. When I came back from Korea, I wasn't allowed to join the VFW or American Legion as Korea wasn't considered a "war." This changed later on. In World War II, the whole country was at war. In Korea, very few Americans were involved in a war in a place that was almost unheard of by the general population. Thinking of the thousands of MIAs still missing from the Korean War, I believe that the government could do more to locate our MIAs. However, it is impossible to talk with the communist mind as we found out at Panmunjom.
Regarding recent stories about the 7th Cavalry at Nogun-ri and civilian casualties, this action is understandable, if it is true. The children sniped at our soldiers, and threw grenades into trucks full of soldiers. The commies donned civilian clothes and pretended to be part of the village. The local people were under constant fear of them.
If someone in the future should read a copy of this memoir, I would want them to know that we stopped the spread of world communism in the Korean War. I have never told my own children about my experiences in Korea. I think a good example is my daughter Katy. She was going with a boyfriend a few years ago and he found out that I was in Korea. He wanted me to tell him all about my experiences. Katy told him that I would never talk about it, and the only time he could hear anything was when I was with my buddies from E-2-7. Several years ago, I got into a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) program at the VA hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. This has helped me a lot. Since that time, I have been able to talk to my wife about some of my experiences. She has been very helpful and understanding. Even today my wife doesn't come up on me suddenly. She found that out on our honeymoon. She advises me when she is approaching.
I have permanent disabilities associated with my combat tour in Korea. I am legally blind in my left eye, I still have shrapnel in both legs, and I suffer from PTSD. Before I was discharged from the Marine Corps, I was told that all I had to do was go to the VA and they would take care of me. I tried that, and was told as soon as they had a bed they would call me and I would get treatment. I tried for over a year to get help and then gave up. That was in Kansas when I attended K-State University. About 15 years ago, I checked in at the VA Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida. They have taken care of me and I really can't praise them enough. They do an excellent job and I am very pleased to be taken care of by them.
I found my first war buddies at the First Marine Division Association reunion in San Diego in 1991. My wife and I have gone to most of the reunions since then. We have one coming up in Orlando next month. It is only a 2-hour drive from here. Our daughter lives there. We have about nine E-2-7 Marines and their wives joining us in Orlando. Most of us were out of the same platoon and we fought in the same battles. Most have from one to three Purple Hearts. All the wives get along very well and they compare notes. It seems they all have similar problems with us. Attending the division reunions is a healing process. It gives us a chance to discuss our experiences and problems with others who have been there and understand. I personally feel that a war hero is someone who does his job in combat and looks out for his buddies. He keeps a low profile. I served with a lot of Marines like that.
While serving with these and other Marines, I received the following awards: two Purple Hearts, Combat Action Ribbon, Good Conduct Medal, WW 2 Victory Medal, National Defense Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Korean Service Medal with 2 stars, Occupation of Japan Medal, Korean War Service Medal, Expert Rifleman, and Expert Pistol.
In spite of myself, it has been difficult through my post-Korea years not to think of war and death. Nightmares bring memories that are unpleasant. Sometimes during the day a certain smell, a noise, or something familiar like rain in a forest can trigger a memory of a time that I would prefer to forget. This interview has been difficult for the same reason. The questions caused me to relive many of my experiences again. My migraine headaches increased as did some of my nighttime memories. After all these years I can still remember battles and incidents like they happened yesterday. My wife can attest to the fact that I still have nightmares about combat action in Korea. She said that she could always tell when I was working on this interview. At times tears would come as I recalled various actions and Marine buddies who were involved. There has been such a variety of questions that I feel that my Korean experience has been very well covered. I felt that in doing this interview I would answer everything asked to the best of my ability. One of the biggest things that helped me was the PTSD program that I have been in at the VA hospital. I feel that my typing and organization of facts improved as I progressed through the various sets of interview questions, and though it was difficult, I enjoyed all the interviews.
Once a Marine always a Marine. After graduating from boot camp and receiving my globe and anchor, I felt a glow of pride in my accomplishment that has never left me. I have always been proud to have served in the Marine Corps. - Semper Fi