|Back to "Memoirs" Index page|
Joshua Maurice Duncan
"For me personally, the hardest thing about being in Korea was the unbelievable heat of the southern part of Korea, then being in cold weather that I could never imagine. In both cases there was no relief to be had. I physically suffered from both. My feet, hands, and face were frozen. I still suffer from this, plus my never-ending imaginings (now called flashbacks)."
- Joshua Duncan
My name is Joshua Maurice Duncan. I am 70 years young and will have to rely on some of the documents that somehow were saved over the years by my mother, God rest her soul, in order to write this memoir. I was born September 12, 1929 at home on Wason Street, Whistler, Alabama. I am one of twins, a boy and girl, born to Harvard Austin and Mamie Lou Hammond Duncan. I was the oldest by being born first by five minutes. Father was born June 20, 1907 and Mother was born October 8, 1908.
At the time of my birth, my father was trading anything he could to feed the family, i.e., farm equipment, animals, and garden produce. My mother did not work outside the house for wages, but did take in washing and ironing. My twin sister was Joyce Clarice Duncan. My sister Mary Ella Duncan, born March 2, 1932, was the last child in the family.
When we became of school age, we lived into a house built by my father and his brothers, they being well skilled. I attended grade school in Prichard, Alabama, and high school in Mobile, Alabama. I attended Murphy High and McGill Institute for Boys. For a short time I was a Boy Scout in Whistler. I only attained Second Class, but did attend Scout Camp twice. My scoutmaster was Mr. Lee Hammond, an uncle to my mother.
My school attendance during the war (except from early 1945) was attended by accelerated history and geography, and going out door-to-door selling war bonds under the guidance of the school. I did not graduate high school due to leaving school during World War II to join the merchant marine. This has in recent years been accepted as service time for all but pay purposes. Two of my uncles served the full time of the war. James Warren Duncan joined the Marines in 1938 and stayed until retirement. Douglas Gay Duncan joined the Navy in 1945 for the duration. My father was too old for active service, so he joined the Alabama State Guard for the duration.
Mobile was a major seaport in World War II, and as men were drafted for the armed forces, I felt that I was needed to fill a vacant space. I never dreamed that it would be the end of my formal education, although I did get a two-year college education later. When I joined the merchant marine, my folks felt as I felt. World War II was a very meaningful occasion in the lives of people at that time in our history. People today could not possibly consider sacrificing anything for their country, but for my parents and others, we loved--and still love this country. I best say no more on this.
The only document still in the material my mother had is not the first seaman's papers of mine. This has the words, "U.S. Mariners Document," under which are the words, "issued by the United States Coast Guard." It is dated 10 December 1945. I was an active seaman until joining the Marine Corps, and as far as I am aware, am still a seaman. This thought would not get far since not paying union dues for 50 years would not stand me in good stead.
The Maritime Service (merchant marine) in World War II was the most important part of the supply line to our troops, both in Europe and the Pacific. We also supplied our allies with food and equipment. I sailed on ships whose names are no longer in my memory, but most will be registered in the custom house in Mobile, Alabama. The few I do remember are ones on which I spent the most time. They were the SS Henry M. Rice and the SS Alcoa Pioneer. I was on the Rice for approximately a year, and went to India through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. It was the only ship on which I collected a hazardous duty bonus. We carried mixed cargo going over, making stops in Spain, Italy and Egypt, before reaching India. We returned with Manganese ore and American soldiers on their way home. The only stop we made coming back I believe was in Gibraltar, but this could be doubtful.
I was never sea sick, probably because we worked when awake and slept tired. I sailed as an ordinary seaman and able bodied seaman. The pay I do not remember, but it was far greater than that of the sailors (navy) that were our gun crew.
Friendships were very temporary at sea. We came from some strange places, and other than being a part of a well-functioning crew, had little in common. There were many nationalities, backgrounds, and languages on every ship I sailed. There is only one picture of me with the watch on the Rice and none on the Pioneer.
The time spent aboard ship was an adventure and a wonderful education. I learned many useful things that were included in duties, as well as the meeting of a host of people so wonderfully different, in places that were truly amazing. From my rural upbringing almost everything was new--a different way of life that only began with duties aboard ship. I experienced new discipline, food, tools, ranking of crew members, feelings of really being useful in an important way, getting up close to different cultures and learning their ways, and finding real endearing qualities in things I never dreamed existed. The experience had an effect on the rest of my life.
The training I received was hands on. The person responsible for my conduct and abilities was the Boson. He was a hardened old (to me) seaman that was chief of all deck hands. He, at times, used an able bodied seaman on my watch to follow up and be sure I understood. I never had problems learning my duties. There was always plenty of time to refresh our abilities. The only drawback was being union. This meant that I could only work with the men on my watch. I feel this also contributed to not becoming close as real friends, for we were on a different crew with every change of ship.
The changes in me resulting from my work as a merchant marine were profound and lasting. Theretofore, my association with people was limited to primarily the members of my family and other strict southern Baptists. From being in the merchant marine, I became very worldly. I learned that there were all different types of people, cultures, religions, and ways of doing things which gave different, but not necessarily inferior, results. While in Karachi, India (now Pakistan), I became a Muslim. Since leaving home I have always had a better understanding of the people here and around the world. I have been accepted at home and in all other places I have been fortunate enough to visit. While a merchant man I visited areas of Europe, Africa, India, South America, the Indies and the Guyanas, stopping in several ports in all of them.
There were many events that were seemingly exotic to me as a young man. Now only three seem almost unbelievable. A few hours after leaving Galveston, Texas, in 1946 (?), a ship there loaded with fertilizer blew apart the port. The Rice ran into a storm just after clearing Gibraltar and began to break up forward of the house, and we held it together with large turnbuckles and cables until we could get to Mobile, even though we were originally headed to New York. In the port of New Orleans, a cook was arrested and taken off the ship (name not remembered) for throwing a meat cleaver at a man on deck and killing him.
I did not drop out of the merchant marine. That organization is civilian, even though during the war it was under the auspices of first the Navy, then the Coast Guard. Actually, I am still a seaman and have the document that makes me such in my possession. I mentioned it a bit earlier.
Joining the Marine Corps
I was not a Marine Corps Reserve member, nor was I drafted. I enlisted to get away from a sharecropping farm. My mother and father divorced while I was in India. The war was over and seamen of my youth and rank (ordinary seaman) could not find work. I moved onto a sharecropping farm with my mother and her husband, Marvin James Holloman. Not being happy, I joined the Marine Corps on August 2, 1948 in Mobile, Alabama, and was taken by train to Birmingham to be sworn in. From there I traveled by train to boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. The only reason for joining the Marine Corps over some other branch of the service was because I was very proud of my Uncle James Duncan, who had been a Marine during World War II.
My folks understood my revulsion to the farm and knew nothing of the then peacetime service, so they wished me well. No friends joined with me, but I did meet some other enlistees when I was sworn in at Birmingham. Their names are no longer clear in my mind. After leaving for the Marine Corps, I never returned home except to visit.
We detrained and boarded a bus for the ride onto Parris Island. The island is connected by bridge to Beaufort, South Carolina, a small east coast community. For practical geography it is part of the mainland. There are fairly high tides that make its access more formidable to the novice. This small island is primarily sand. There were mosquitoes, black flies, cockroaches, sand fleas, and fiddler crabs in abundance.
Upon arriving on the island, we were stripped of all clothing and turned in all personal belongings to be sent home. Next the barber shaved our heads. We were showered and deloused and issued all the clothing and equipment, including mattresses and linen, that we would need for about two weeks. We were arranged in formation according to height, front to back. I was near the rear. We marched to the barracks and were instructed in proper bunk making, clothes storage and wearing, barracks maintenance, and care of all facets of hygiene. After scrubbing the barracks floor with issue brushes and another shower, we were put to bed--by the numbers. This took a bit of time, for all had to get into bed in the proper manner and time. End of first day.
I was assigned to Platoon 163, August 1948. Our drill instructors (DIs) were: SSgt. G.A. Wickman (senior), Sgt. M.B. Gardner (junior), and Cpl. E.A. Black (junior). To my knowledge none were combat vets as evidenced by the fact that they never wore ribbons, which would have been required. They were well above average in deportment and knowledge of common information. I came to appreciate the long hours put in by our DIs and their handling of gross ignorance, but I did not then and do not now like my DIs, although I have great respect for them.
There were no black recruits or other black personnel on Parris Island when I went through boot camp to my knowledge. There was prejudice in the form of one Southern recruit that would not believe there was any redeeming qualities in a Yankee. He may have died in Korea still believing this. He was from Abbeville, Alabama.
Boot camp was either eight or twelve weeks at the time. We started slow and worked our way through all the courses that made us Marines, i.e., proper hygiene, close and extended order marching (drill), care and handling of our rifles and other armaments, gas mask, hand grenades, field equipment and demonstrations of crew weapons (mortars, anti-tank rifles, etc.), combat formations, scouting and patrolling, and hand to hand combat with bayonets and knives. We had an obstacle course with amphibious landing exercises from towers with the rope netting used on board ships. We had to swim with gear and flotation devices from our clothing and packs. We learned conservation of equipment and supplies (especially water), proper etiquette toward other Marines of all ranks, and deportment expected when among civilians. There was much more that I have long forgotten.
Classroom instruction covered field stripping and cleaning of equipment, especially weapons. There were films that gave graphic details of things not feasible to practice in full in a peace time situation, i.e., "The Use of the Bayonet", a film made in France about hand to hand bayonet fighting in World War I and "The Late Company B" about a company whose men did not take training seriously and were wiped out in World War II because of lessons unlearned in training. There were other subjects, but I cannot recall all of them. Remember--I attended boot camp over 50 years ago.
Our time was regimented 24 hours a day. We were awakened by the duty DI at 5:30 a.m. by his shouting, "Reveille. All hit the deck," at which we bolted from the sack and formed at the foot of same. We were instructed to shower, shave and dress, make our sacks, stow gear properly, and fall out in formation in front of the barracks by 6:00 a.m.
At least one of the other DIs was present at the formation. We jogged around the parade field, plus did calisthenics until our turn in the chow line. This happened for every meal. We marched in formation into the mess hall and stood to attention until all were in position, and then we were ordered to sit in unison. We ate by the numbers for the first week or so, after which things eased up unless there was an infraction by one or more men. The food was very good. Breakfast was an assortment of dry or hot cereals, SOS (creamed beef on toast), eggs (fixed one way one day and different for other days), with some meat, coffee, milk, and juice of some kind. Lunch was good, but I can't remember individual dishes. Drinks were usually the same at all meals. Evening meals found us so tired that, remembering it, I can only say no one missed a meal.
The rest of the day was full of training on various subjects according to a lesson plan that had to be completed to stay up with the class requirements for graduation. Free time consisted of the smoking lamp being lit (permission to smoke a cigarette). This was not a requirement to my knowledge. Personal hygiene was practiced before each meal and prior to lights out at 10:00 p.m. We were awakened at night for various reasons: fire drill, nocturnal floor scrubbing, sack making, and other drills.
The DIs were very strict about everything we were taught, and would re-instruct on the spot when a lesson was not performed well. This applied to major and minor subjects from improper position of body, rifle, clothing, or 782 gear, to not throwing a hand grenade properly or missing a target completely.
Corporal punishment was not used to my knowledge. Some recruits were sent to the CO, and at least one did not return to the platoon. The only hands-on instruction was to correct improper body, weapon, or 782 gear stance or alignment. Punishment for infractions on bad performance was laps on the parade field, standing at attention for periods of time, holding weapons in awkward positions, and standing guard duty over an inanimate object such as the clothes line.
I was disciplined on many occasions in boot camp. At times I was ridiculed for my southern accent. Most of the causes for disciplining me were bunk unsatisfactory, clothing, cap, tie, 782 gear not worn properly, clothes and equipment not properly displayed for inspection, something not done in a military manner, or improper position on the rifle range. Punishments were cleaning the floor near my bunk by scrubbing with a tooth brush (not one I used for teeth), running laps, oddball guard duty, pushups or other calisthenics, etc. I often (daily) saw other recruits receive the same type of punishment for the same type offenses.
There were times when some infractions led to punishment for the whole platoon. It seemed this was used when it might benefit the reinforcement of a lesson most of us needed. The punishment most often was running the parade ground in full field gear, scrubbing floors after hours, or unscheduled hikes, etc. There were no real hard core troublemakers, but there was enough ignorance in some that they caused all a bit of grief before being dropped back to another platoon. Also, at times there was only one DI on duty in the evening and he had to include all, for there was no leaving anyone unattended.
There were some that did not graduate with us, but may have been set back to another platoon. I remember only one that was sent home as unsuitable. Others were deficient in attaining the required proficiency in enough subjects, so were set back. We picked up a couple set back from platoons ahead of us. I seem to remember that we started with 75 members and graduated with 72.
As mentioned earlier, Parris Island had a variety of insects. The most effect on recruits were the sand fleas and black flies. The cockroaches and mosquitoes were kept in check by regular spraying. The crabs only affected people that had never seen them, for they came out at dusk by the millions. One of my peers thought they were large spiders and really panicked.
Proficiency is the hallmark of the Marines. We were required to show proficiency in many subjects: marching, use of all infantry weapons--domestic and foreign, obstacle courses, camouflage, silent movement through varying terrain, signaling by a number of methods, i.e., Morse semaphore, combat orders, scouting and patrolling. There were many more that do not come to mind at the moment.
I cannot remember anyone going to church, nor do I remember a church call. This could be because at the time I was not interested in any church and it just slipped by me. There was some fun in boot camp for a few of us. The process of learning the required subjects was often fun in which to participate. Before graduation we participated in intramural sports with other platoons and battalions. A few days before graduation we were taken to the Base Exchange and allowed to purchase many items for ourselves and loved ones.
I never had regrets about joining the Marines. Remember, I had been around the world taking serious orders before joining the Corps. My physical condition was good, and this helped ease the strain experienced by some recruits. The hardest thing for me in boot camp was putting up with some of the ignorance (not dumb or stupid, but just lack of knowledge) of some of the recruits. They came from areas and homes where they were not exposed to things I felt were universal. Some were unbelievably uncoordinated. They could not run, keep a cadence, swim, do calisthenics, or understand instructions plainly given. Most of them did overcome these things and Platoon 163 became the honor platoon at graduation.
Graduation day was a very big celebration. We were at that moment "Marines"! It was like a new life style. Recruits saluted us and we only saluted commissioned officers. Friends and families were allowed to join us after the ceremonies. Most were introduced to our DIs. I did--and still do, feel 100 percent Marine, even though I have served in the US Air Force and US Army since my leaving the Corps in 1958. As a Marine (which I will always be), I have the confidence and the ability to accomplish anything I care to try. When I left Parris Island, there was no more confident man anywhere. I still have not found anything I won't give a try, although not always completed to my satisfaction.
From Parris Island I went home standing tall. I spent most of my 30-day or so leave visiting with family and friends. A lot of honky-tonking was accomplished and I left feeling proud. In those days all Marines wore nothing but uniforms. Civilian clothing was not allowed at all.
War Breaks Out
After boot leave I went by troop train across country to Camp Pendleton, California. There was no advanced training as such in those days. I was assigned to "A" Company, 6th Marines--a regular infantry unit, and we trained as a combat unit. I had all the privileges a Marine of my PFC rank, including liberty to leave the base and do anything that was legal or did not reflect adversely on the Marine Corps.
After this training I was transferred to the Marine barracks at Mare Island Naval Ship Yard in northern California. I was a guard for all the functions the Marines were charged with security--gates, liberty boat landings, brig, and any other duties deemed useful by the detachment commander. I feel that it was in the later half of 1949 that I was transferred from Camp Pendleton. I was at Mare Island until the early part of July 1950, when I was recalled to Camp Pendleton after the Korean War broke out.
The mobilization for war was such a rapid procedure that Korea was actually a rumor to us. I remember that I was on liberty in Vallejo, the city outside of Camp Pendleton, when I was called back to Mare Island where I learned of my orders to Korea. Most of the men that were chosen to go felt it was to do something we were trained to do and were jubilant. The only drawback was that we could not leave the base to say goodbye. Some of the men had wives or cars off base. I had a very expensive pair of roller skates at the Vallejo skating rink that had to be left behind. I remember that at the barracks, no one but me had ever heard the name "Korea", and I was not familiar enough with it to know the country was divided into a north and south. We actually did not know where we were going other than to Pendleton.
The news of my orders to Korea was very well accepted. Guard duty was not my idea of what a Marine with an infantry MOS should be doing. We were not allowed to make much in the way of personal preparations. Wives were said goodbye to by phone. Cars were trusted to Marines that were not going, with a handwritten set of instructions on what to do. The skating rink said that they would send my skates to my home, but did not. We piled all clothes and personal belongings that were not authorized to go with us on the floor in the middle of the barracks. Within a very few hours we were on busses headed for Pendleton, some 600 miles south of Mare Island.
I was assigned to Dog Company, 5th Marines. Later (September 15, 1950), we became the 5th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. D-5-1 was part of one of three under strength battalions making up the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade (reinforced). We were assigned to platoons and squads. I was 1st squad, 1st platoon with SSgt. T. Albert Crowson (a World War II vet), Squad leader; Lt. Arthur A. Oakley, Platoon leader; Captain John Finn Jr. (World War II vet), Company Commander; Lt. Col. Harold S. Roise, Battalion Commander; Lt. Col. Raymond L. Murray, Regiment CO; and Brig. Gen. Edward A. Craig as the Brigade Commander. Once in Korea, my immediate commanders changed often. We lost Lieutenant Oakley on August 8, 1950 and Captain Finn on September 8, 1950. Lieutenant Oakley was a good, brave platoon leader. Captain Finn (a decorated World War II officer) is until this day an extraordinary person, Marine, and retired Marine. I never even formally met my Battalion Commander or any one his senior.
After being assigned to our respective companies, we drew weapons and equipment and went to the field firing range to test fire and sign in for accuracy. Unfortunately, there was no cold weather training before we went to Korea. We sailed from San Diego on July 14, 1950 aboard the USS George S. Clymer APA. It was an old World War II troop transport. Troop transports were cargo ships that used cargo space by modifying it to be fitted with four-high bunks or hammocks. There were three or four decks below the weather deck, and some were below the waterline when fully loaded with troops and equipment. The ship was manned by Naval personnel. Among the Marines were Navy corpsmen and medical staff. There are no medical facilities in the Corps. This service is performed by Marine-trained sailors who are the most respected by all combat Marines. The Marines were accompanied by all the necessary supplies and munitions we would need in our initial landing phase of operations. The number aboard the Clymer was probably a bit less than 2,000 persons.
Many Marines were sea sick from day one through landing at Pusan. This made for an almost untenable situation in the lower decks. I was fortunate because my experience aboard ships allowed me to take advantage of positions that kept the deck accessible to me. Motion sickness is a common malady among people that are not used to the rocking and rolling that is natural to a ship in the open ocean. We did not run into any rough weather during the voyage. It was smooth sailing all the way. We were at sea for 19 days before docking in Pusan, South Korea.
Most activity aboard ship would not be considered entertainment, but there were card games, jigsaw puzzles, books, and organized training that at times was entertaining. We trained in infantry tactics and tested our weaponry off the fantail (rear of ship). There always was time needed for cleaning equipment, especially in the salt atmosphere at sea. There were many duties assigned to all aboard ship, including guard duty for all decks and portions of decks, ammunition lockers, weapons and ammunition storage areas. Lookouts were posted forward-aft-port and starboard, and there was mess duty of various types and carrying out plans for the day.
For me there was nothing exciting during the trip. Other men were very excited with sighting flying fish, porpoise whales, turtles and other sea life. One unusual situation was a war time like security which limited the number of men on deck at a given time during daylight hours. The orders for going on deck at night was without any lights or smoking. These things did not help the situations below decks, day or night. I became familiar with some personnel other than my squad and associated company members. These included the chief cook, armorer, boatswain, chips (ship's carpenter), and quarterdeck watch.
We did not go in a direct line to Pusan. We actually were bound for Japan. However, during our time at sea, things became so bad in Korea that we were diverted at sea to a change in destination. We did not stop between San Diego and Pusan. We immediately disembarked on tying up to the dock in Pusan. We were needed at the perimeter as soon as possible. The port of Pusan was much like many I had seen before. The cargo handling equipment was scarce and outdated. Most of the handling was done by manual labor and the cargo booms of our ship.
My impression of a war in progress did not exist. The activity on the dock and ship was confusing to some, but all units knew what was expected of them and there seemed to be very few foul-ups. We had been assigned to units while at Camp Pendleton. When we boarded ship in San Diego we were ready for anything. We could make an amphibious landing or, as happened, a dock landing, ready to fight. Second Battalion was short one company--"F" Company, and the 5th Marines was short three companies--"C, F, and I." Our regiment was together on the trip over. We were on two ships, the USS George S. Clymer APA 27 (the flagship) and the USS Pickaway APA 222, supported by ships USS Alshain AKA 55, USS Badoeng Strait CVE 116, USS Whiteside AKA 909l, USS Horace A. Bass APD 124, USS Achernar AKA 53, and the USS A.E. Anderson AP 111.
Soon after landing at Pusan, we boarded trucks and trains to proceed to a bivouac outside the town of Masan. From Pusan to Masan we saw civilians near the tracks, mostly young children. Adult Koreans were very scarce wherever we were because the areas we were in could be extremely dangerous. My unit was on trains that seemed to be from 1885, and went through many tunnels that choked us with the heavy smoke from their coal-burning engines. Once there, we practiced combat tactics and weapons accuracy.
We were always with our unit. Some Marines I can still remember are Capt. John Finn Jr., CO; Lt. Robert T. Hanifin, Ex O; Lt. Arthur A. Oakley, platoon leaders; SSgt. T. Albert Crowson, platoon sergeant; Alex Diaz, fire team leader; Bernard Dombroski; Okey J. Douglas, 2.35 bazooka man; Frank L. James, Lenerd M. Mateo, George T. Mayo, Sgt. Soterios Nicholson (2nd squad leader), Albert E. Pacheco, Donald E. Shawn, Glen W. Skaggs, and Lindell Skinner. I was a Browning Automatic Rifleman. My first duty at Masan (also known as the Bean Patch) was guard duty.
The "Bean Patch" is well remembered by any who fought as Marines in the Pusan Perimeter. The two times my unit was there it was just a large flat plain that had been a farm. The only buildings were farm houses. The supply troops and some officers had tents of varying sizes. We used ponchos to keep the hot sun off us. When we arrived in South Korea it was deadly hot. The heat had a real bad effect on our troops. During engagements we were often short of water and heat exhaustion was a big factor. However, once the men received water and were re-hydrated, they returned to their firing positions. This happened in every firefight or battle.
There was no sign of concern about the North Koreans our first night in the Bean Patch. We were not in ear shot of anything (if there was anything) going on. There often was a lull in the action at night with the exception of artillery and mortars. My understanding is that when we arrived, the Army had already lost all or most of its artillery. The U.S. Army had been in Korea, short-handed in every way--men, weapons, ammunition, and leadership.
The ones we relieved on many occasions were battle weary and at times were not able to hold until we relieved them. I personally detected no derogatory actions or remarks. This may have been because they were first Americans, then soldiers. Our contact seemed to be only with remnants of the 24th and 25 Army Divisions. We felt bad that lost ground had to be retaken with loss of more Marine lives, but did not hold animosity toward the Army. As soldiers passed through our lines we asked questions and wishes them well.
I was armed with the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). There were situations where there was a shortage of ammunition, water and rations. Then we used other weapons, even North Korean weapons, rifles, and automatic weapons (burp guns). These proved to be very ineffective, so by scrounging for ammunition left by soldiers or Marines who no longer needed them, we made do--successfully, I might add. We never saw the enemy that we did not engage. The exception was when we were on patrol to gain information. At such times we avoided contact if possible.
My memory tells me that my first fire fight was on August 6, 1950. The first sizable battle was on the 7th. We lost (dead, wounded, accident, or heat exhaustion) two officers, one staff NCO, and seven men. We were relieving a unit of the Army and ran into heavy fire from machine guns and mortars on Hill 342 near Chindong-ni. Total losses were 8 KIA and 28 wounded. The enemy was identified as the 13th and 15th regiments of the 6th Division North Korean Peoples Army (NKPA). Their losses were estimated as 250 KIA. Death was not new to me. I had seen a lot of dead in India while I was in the merchant marine. There were rebel groups there trying to separate from Britain and many starved people littered the sidewalks (their homes) every morning.
The 7th of August 1950 provided dead Marines, Army, and NKPA in numbers. We had landed at Pusan August 2nd, so I had been there six days. The effect on me was tremendous. Up to then I was John Wayne. After August 7, I was a very serious fighting man, taking care to only fire when a target presented itself. I remained this way until leaving Korea the following December.
The 11th of August near Kosong we had a turkey shoot. The 1/11 Artillery flushed an NKPA light mechanized battalion of the 83rd Motorcycle Regiment. It had many vehicles. Our air support (Marine Corsairs) kept them occupied while we cleaned their clock. We lost two airplanes and no troops. The NKPA had nowhere to hide so, along with help from the Corsairs, we wiped them out. Many NKPA were killed in action and the survivors were taken prisoners. As to the motorcycles, we not only saw them, some of our men rode the ones with sidecars having room for another man to ride as shotgun. There also were Russian jeeps that had Ford written in Russian on the front and had a model "A" motor with a modified carburetor.
The first Naktong River battle began on the 17th. My platoon was sent into a position flanked by two hills of NKPA with many machine guns. Although some of us were able to account for ourselves well, the way we were pinned down cost us (Dog and Easy Companies) 23 dead and 119 wounded. The Brigade lost 66 dead and 278 wounded. On September 3, 1950, we attacked Hill 117 near Myong-ni. Dog Company had 18 dead and 77 wounded. In return, the Brigade accounted for thousands of dead and wounded members of the NKPA's 9th Division when it collapsed and left men and equipment abandoned on the battlefield. The second Naktong River battle was the 8th through the 10th of September. I saw the Naktong River and had an advantage of high ground which I made use of. This was the last battle of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade. After that the Brigade deactivated at 0001 hours, September 13, 1950.
Both sides used tanks and artillery, but only we had air power. The NKPA used Russian T34 tanks that outnumbered our M26 tanks for a while. Ours were far superior to the T34's. Their artillery also outnumbered our 105s, but their guns were no match for our air power. There were more casualties to the NKPA from Marine Corsair aircraft than anything else. The NKPA had troops on our side of the river that we nearly wiped out. They radioed for help and two regiments came to their aid. Unfortunately for them, the retreating men met their aid men in the middle of the river. This had them in the open and sitting ducks for the Corsairs.
I watched a number of tank battles and the T34 was helpless against our M26's, as well as our superior 3.5 bazooka. Tank battles were fought within our area on a number of occasions. We were doing house to house fighting when as I came to the corner of a hut, there was an M26 tank that fired and knocked me about five feet to land flat on my back. He was firing at T34's on a ridge. They were not firing in our direction. At another time, we were set up on the curve of a road when three T34's approached our position, firing machine guns and 88mm guns. When they rounded the curve, there sat M26's. The first of our tanks fired a high velocity round completely through the lead T34 and also crippled the second. Our 75 recoilless rifles killed the third tank. When we were on the Naktong, each time there was artillery and tank counter fire. Our capability was superior to theirs because we had the air power and better tanks.
The two times we left the battlefield we were sent back to the staging area in the Bean Patch. There we re-supplied personnel and equipment, plus trained new men and traded our old weapons for new. On August 30, we even had platoon and company pictures taken.
The unit I was with never went to a place where there were civilians, and I do not recall seeing any natives between the ages of 6 to approximately 66 among the refugees we did encounter. The NKPA was made up of troops comparable to us. They were good fighters with inferior equipment not too well cared for. The tactics they used were very different from ours to the point that they seemed disorganized. The NKPA did not have a diversity of people with different backgrounds as we did. When they lost an officer they had no leadership. We were trained to follow the next in line even if it was a Private instead of an Officer or senior NCP. We also had men that were capable of Rube Goldberging anything. We had past gang members that could jury-rig a zip gun if needed. A lot of our men were raised in times that food was often hunted, and as a result, weapons training just sharpened their skills. In short, we could think for ourselves, and this made us superior to not only the NKPA, but to any country's fighting men.
When actions did not proceed as the North Koreans had been instructed, they became confused. Up until we entered the conflict they had been winning big time. They had plenty of heavy weapons, tanks, artillery, heavy mortars, and .50 caliber rifles that seemed to be in the hands of expert riflemen. (I received a wound from an NKPA mortar while on a mission to get much needed water for my platoon. I received a bandage from the aid station and completed my mission.)
I was a member of the large cast in the John Wayne movie, Sands of Iwo Jima, filmed in California using Marines from Camp Pendleton. The war in Korea at no time reminded of a movie. My feelings about movies and actual combat are based on "how" they are in fact. A movie has to complete a week long battle in two hours. These hours are rehearsed according to a script written by a person that has never been shot at, or is advised either by a person that usually was rear echelon in a combat outfit or based their advice on books written about other combat situations that were not fought by the writer. A soldier that has been in combat for one fire fight, and a soldier that has actually fought battles against comparative sized and equipped foes, and one that has along with the above had the experience of being greatly outnumbered by a superior force (and survived) on more than one occasion will see movies and combat very differently. To my experience the heroes throughout history have mostly been at the right place at the wrong time along with someone that has the authority to witness to the action. Many of the men I actually fought with were worthy of being called heroes even though no officer or other person with authority was present to apply for any recognition of that person. Although this may sound improper, any soldier that participates in the actual combat fought by a unit over a period of many skirmishes is to me a real hero.
In Korea there were a number of times that after a fire fight all officers were either dead or wounded, and even when this was not the case some officers could not be aware of an individual's actions. I never had any idea or dream of what war should be like. At the time, I felt I knew what war was like and till this day I have no way of understanding why I am still here alive and not disabled. Real war is Hell. War in the movies is entertainment. I feel that most warriors do not attend war movies. I do not believe I can explain combat to a non-combatant, and maybe not even to most combatants, because it is different for each of us. I was fortunate in having World War II combat Marines as fire team leaders, squad leaders and platoon sergeants in the company. I listened and learned well.
Inchon & Beyond
From being deactivated as the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade on September 13, 1950, we became the 5th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division that landed at Inchon two days later. We left Pusan on the USS Henrico for the trip to Inchon. We were briefed on the trip from Pusan and prior to the actual landing. Although we could see landmarks from the ship, our actual landing point was dependent upon how well our Navy boatswain understood his orders. He did well. We (2nd Battalion, 5th Marines) were to attack on Red Beach with our primary objective being "the southern half of Observatory Hill."
The Navy ships and aircraft, along with the Air Force heavier planes, pounded the harbor area for hours. There were rocket ships (LSTs) that made the area prior to landing seem like fireworks on the Charles River on the 4th of July. There were at least three destroyers, five troop carriers, and possibly the battleship Missouri farther out. Besides fighting ships, some merchantmen were on hand with food and equipment for later needs. My guess is that there were more than 30 ships within eyesight, maybe more. The landing force was all Marines. Some of the ships could have been from other U.N. countries. The tide at Inchon was so fast and high that only General MacArthur felt such a landing could be made with well trained Marines. He realistically bet his career on the Marines. We did not let him down. The noise was so bad that hand signals were in some cases relied upon. The Henrico and other troop ships did not go in close. We used landing nets to small troop carrying LSVs, LSTs, and other small, fast Navy landing boats.
We debarked from the ship in full battle gear, down rope nets, and into small boats a few miles from the beach. My company was in the first wave to hit Red Beach, with my platoon in the point. We landed in the morning at high tide. The weather was good. Enemy resistance was very light, possibly because our 3rd battalion hit an island in the harbor (Wolmi-do) the preceding day. This may have given the NKPA an opportunity to slip away.
I prepared myself for landing over wooden ladders we had built to scale a sea wall. Where we landed there was no wall so I kept very alert in case of major resistance, which did not come. There was sporadic fire, of which I returned with good results. This operation is what we were trained for and had practiced many times, so there was no confusion upon landing. We took our objective and deployed on the forward slope with platoons on line and dug in for the night. All travel was walking or running, whichever seemed prudent at the time. I, as well as most of my company, was very battle hardened on the Pusan Perimeter. We had a few replacements that were well instructed aboard ship to Inchon. We went through Inchon in less than an hour. We saw no civilians and few live NKPA soldiers. My platoon did not get an opportunity to take prisoners, but the company did.
To my knowledge we had no battle casualties. There were casualties in other units, some from friendly Navy fire. This happened because hitting light resistance allowed advancing a bit ahead of schedule. The ships thought we were NKPA's fleeing the area. This error was corrected immediately.
In two weeks we were in Seoul. We fought our way there on foot, fighting the entire way and capturing some very important objectives first--the highway to Seoul, Kimpo Airfield, and strong points whose purpose was to keep us from getting to Seoul. First we attacked and took ASCOM City on the outskirts of Inchon. Second, with continuing sporadic fire fights, we surprised and wiped out a convoy of six T34 tanks and approximately 200 NKPA troops early in the morning of September 18. Dog Company had the high ground, which gave advantage of position. The NKPA unit was all killed or captured.
Interesting sidelight--soon after the battle ended and before noon, none other than General MacArthur, along with other Generals, Admirals, and a host of news people, arrived on the spot where most of the NKPA dead still lay. When informed of where they were, there was an immediate departure of brass. Discovered minutes after their leaving were eight or more enemy soldiers, found under the small bridge where the General's jeep had stopped. They were well armed, but immediately surrendered.
We fought our way to Kimpo, arriving just at dusk. Dog Company set up a night perimeter with tanks of "A" Company in support. At daylight we continued the attack, which cleared Kimpo of all resistance. This was the fourth day after landing at Inchon. On the airfield there were hangars for small aircraft and office type buildings. I was aware of only one runway, and our night perimeter mentioned earlier was on the south end of that runway. The only enemy planes I saw were Russian YAKs. They were the type we called "Washing Machine Charlie" when we were in the Pusan Perimeter. U.N. (Marine Corsairs) planes began landing before we finished mopping up. I do not remember noticing any vehicles at Kimpo. The fighting at the airfield was moderate and lasted only a short time. My guess is that by that time (early morning), there was only a company size unit left to defend the airfield. The NKPA was always well armed and usually had good supporting arms, but there was plenty of American M26 tank support at Kimpo.
We continuously engaged the enemy from Kimpo to Seoul. We fought day and night, with afternoon and evening being the heaviest. This is because we needed to get our objective before dark, or maybe have to fall back to high ground we had already paid the price for. This we did not like to do, so we seldom did. There was no guerilla activity, for we were fighting the best trained troops in the NKPA trying to keep Seoul from us. There was always sniper fire it seemed, but we handled it well. We were the old salts at this point, and my newness that might have been was long gone. Refugees were gone when we arrived.
The NKPA was doing all in its power to retain hold of Seoul. In one battle against the NKPA main line of resistance near the Han River on September 23, 1950, we attacked Hill 56, the main line of resistance on the way to Seoul. This day cost us and the enemy dearly. We attacked platoons in column. My platoon lost Lt. Ray Heck, killed in action, and SSgt. T. Albert Crowson, who lost his leg to .50 caliber fire. I put a tourniquet on the stump and left him for the corpsman. In only a few minutes half the platoon were casualties. The other platoons and support units suffered the same. The CO, Lt. H.J. Smith, took all remaining men and formed a night perimeter. The next morning, September 24, 1950, found only 44 of the 209 men in fighting condition, some with minor wounds (including myself--it was the second of three wounds I received in Korea). We attacked again with all members of the company totaling 44. We took the hill and found that the enemy had also suffered heavy casualties on the 23rd. After securing the hill we found that Lieutenant Smith was dead and there were only 26 of us left. Over 1750 NKPA troops were counted KIA.
We continued the capture and securing of Seoul as a unit in reserve. From then on we re-supplied, received replacements, and patrolled the area until ordered back to Inchon on October 5, 1950. We found the enemy in all parts of the city, but my platoon entered only a small part of town and as a reserve unit. We successfully achieved our objectives against great odds. (My platoon took well over 100 percent casualties between Inchon and Seoul.) As reserves we had front row seats to what was happening in Seoul. There was tank, artillery, air, and U.S. Army support. Resistance was strong, but only for a short time. The enemy was routed after leaving the city proper. We had no problem with civilians. In fact, there seemed to be few of them. We had no part in taking prisoners. I saw no South Korean troops, although some were in on the capture of Seoul.
When Not Fighting
There were never bunkers. The primary use of bunkers was for defense from artillery, mortar, or air attack. From my leaving Korea in 1950 until the end of the war in 1953, many things changed. In the early months of the war, the Brigade either were moving while fighting or in foxholes for defense. Other than that, we were in the Bean Patch or aboard ship. While the Brigade was in Korea, there was no time off for liberty. From August 2, 1950, until whenever I was flown to Japan, I can remember breaks aboard ship, the Bean Patch, docks at Inchon, Pusan, and the Thanksgiving meal prior to heading for the reservoir. Not a lot of time was spent in the foxhole, it being a temporary expedient against high angle fire such as mortar or artillery.
Staying clean was almost limited to shaving daily. We were required to shave daily when an opportunity occurred. This was necessary in case of a facial wound. Hair is highly infectious when in a wound. You will seldom see a picture taken by a war correspondent in those days of a Marine with a beard.
I can only remember one time on the Pusan Perimeter when used dungarees (field uniforms) were issued to us. We had to take what was available, often with the wrong rank insignia (all markings were stenciled in black), and there were few that fitted. When we went aboard ship for Inchon, we received new dungarees and, of course, had plenty of baths with salt water, and even one with fresh water. From landing at Inchon until securing Seoul, we kept the same clothes, but took baths from our helmets. From Inchon to Wonsan there were regular showers and fresh dungarees. From the celebration of Thanksgiving until arriving at the hospital in Japan (to be discussed later in my memoir), I don't remember anything but helmet washing, especially socks, for in below freezing temperatures, clean dry socks were only secondary to clean dry weapons.
Food during hot weather was "C" rations. These were good in my opinion. At the Bean Patch, we were served from a field kitchen using our standard issue mess gear. This was the same for the few times I can remember not eating "C" rations, including Thanksgiving. For that the field kitchen had turkey with all the trimmings. At that time we thought the war was over.
The only native food I ate is a story unto itself. Two of us were on a forward listening post in a foxhole. We watched an old Korean woman coming up the hill. We did not feel she was armed, so made no report. When she reached us she held out a big container of hot rice. We were very hungry for hot food, so we took it and thanked her. Before we could eat very much, a Major (I believe he was a new company CO) came to us. He also had seen the old lady coming up. On seeing what she had left, he ordered us to get rid of it, for it could be poisoned. He left and I took it over the brow of the hill, sat down, and ate every crumb of it. That was the only native food for me, and it was delicious. The aforementioned Thanksgiving meal was by far the best meal I ate in Korea, although the shipboard meals were as good, but without the celebration atmosphere. The stateside food I missed the most was fresh eggs.
I saw many Korean towns of mud huts with straw roofs, and did see some children among refugees. These were mostly leaving North Korea, and were dressed for winter. I had no contact with any of the Korean people except the old lady with the hot rice.
None of my companions in Korea were with me long enough to become good friends. It seemed that friends that came with me originally from the states were the first to be wounded or killed. This, I feel, caused me to just be a Marine and keep only my own counsel. This has been so, even through my service in the Air Force and Army in Vietnam, until I decided to write this memoir. Here I am now writing what my actions and feelings were for the first time. I have also become a part of a Korean War group that receives counseling in a group. I have not told them that I am writing this memoir.
One particular Marine stands out in my mind even today. He was "Sergeant Nick the Greek" or Soterios Nicholson. I do not remember why, but for some reason when we were on a long march, I seemed to be behind him. The movement of his feet hypnotized me to the point that I never could take my eyes from them, nor did I ever seem to tire. Real weird. He was not in my squad, so he must have been in the rear of his squad while I was lead in mine. Who will ever know.
I did, and do, take combat very seriously, maybe even too much so. There had to be some lighter moments when I was in Korea, but they are not in my memory or dreams (day or night). What humor I have is strictly civilian. Of dead, wounded, and the casualties that I personally inflicted, I am haunted by this specter even now.
I received very little mail, and what I received was from a girl I met at the skating rink in Vallejo just before leaving for Camp Pendleton. I received no packages that I can remember. I never asked for anything because it was all I could do to carry my required equipment. I may have had pictures, but do not remember. The mail was for the most part received in good time and condition, except for an occasion I heard about coming out of the reservoir. The Chinese destroyed one of the mail trucks or train cars. This, I was told, was loaded with packages for Christmas. Other Marines received and shared goodies such as cookies, candy, cakes (even a birthday cake) that came through without a scratch. We actually shared everything, even though I don't remember having anything to share. We did not share news openly, but all news good or bad made the rounds. There were births of children, anniversaries, family losses, and Dear Johns. We received Red Cross packages of bulk items that were passed out to us, but not often.
Religion has always been my mainstay. There were open celebrations of prayers of thanksgiving for surviving, celebrations of the lives of men killed or wounded, and with me almost continuous prayers of thanks for what did not happen. This is still my prayer.
I saw the correspondent Maggie Higgins. When we were fighting our way to Kimpo airfield, she passed me in a jeep driven by a French correspondent. I was the point at the time and she only got 100 yards past when a machine gun opened up on her jeep. They bailed out and when I reached her, she was in a ditch and not hurt. Nor was her companion. I saw no other American women. While I was in Korea there were no Korean women in a position to have the company of any of my unit. We were a fighting unit from arrival until after my departure.
I believe that Labor Day, Columbus Day, Marine Corps Birthday (November 10), Armistice Day (Veterans Day), and Thanksgiving Day were the holidays that came and went while I was in Korea. We had no celebration on November 10, 1950, but we did talk about it being our birthday. I was 21 years old on September 12, 1950. I was at the docks in Pusan preparing to board the Henrico. There was no celebration, although I believe there was a two-can beer ration that day.
The so-called "old salts" or World War II Marines were leaders. All I met were of such deportment that I would have followed them to Hell. The only one I was close to was SSgt. T. Albert Crowson. He was my squad leader until just before winning the overlook to the Han River. There he lost a leg and I cried like a baby. After I did all I could do for him, he was taken to an aid station and I never saw him again. He was from California, as far as I understand.
Wonsan to Chosin
The two days in Inchon before we boarded the George S. Clymer (the same troop ship on which we had left San Diego in July) for a ride to Wonsan were without entertainment or free time. Our time was spent preparing to board ship, which we did on October 8, 1950. We were not told where we were going until we boarded the Clymer and were shown the layout of Wonsan in briefings.
The journey from Inchon to Wonsan took 18 days. The actual time en route was only three days. When approaching Wonsan, however, we were told that the harbor was heavily mined. The extra days were spent sailing north for a certain period and reversing to sail south for a period. I have no information on how far we sailed in any direction. There was no bad weather that affected the ships or troops.
We had more crew contact on this trip due to the extra days at sea that were not planned. The ship's features had changed only in that it was very filthy. It had been used to ferry Korean civilians to safety in other parts of the country. They having never had the sanitary facilities they found aboard ship, had no idea what they were for or how to use them. I will leave the results to the readers' imagination. We, of course, cleaned and repainted every nook and cranny on the ship. Other than that, the ship was as we found it on leaving San Diego in July.
We were a part of a fairly large convoy. We were well separated by distances where all ships were not in visual eye range. My knowledge of convoys would have me believe that there were at least six troop and equipment ships, four destroyers, two missile (LSTs), one cruiser, and possibly one battleship. This is all speculation on my part.
The food was good and plentiful. We were fed meals that were comparable to any good stateside mess hall. It was well-prepared and balanced. That is one of the nice parts of being aboard any ship. There is room to carry plenty of food supplies. I volunteered when possible for duty in the galley. This gave me a pass allowing me to spend more time on deck than most.
Many of the men played made up games. Most played cards. I read books which were available in the ship's library. We also had training sessions and weapons drill, and even small unit close order drill (marching). There were training sessions in all phases of close combat, directing fire, and on the subjects that the Marine Corps expects all its troops to be at least familiar with.
For our administrative landing, we were told that the Coast Guard cleared the mines from the harbor. There were rumors that a couple of mine sweepers were damaged. The town of Wonsan was secured when we arrived. I was told that the area was cleared by the 18th ROK Regiment and U.S. Army troops that had come up the east coast while we were sailing back and forth on what was known as "Operation Yo Yo"--the journey from Inchon to Wonsan.
When we made the administrative landing at Wonsan on October 26, we were told that Bob Hope was doing a show there. We didn't make it. There were no shows that my unit saw while I was in Korea. We moved from Wonsan to Hamhung by train, attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Regiment, 1st Marine Division. From Hamhung we walked into the our northern-most movement--the Chosin Reservoir. We were returned to the command of the 5th Regiment on November 2, 1950. I remember the weather at this time to be fall like.
The 7th U.S. Army Division went to the Yalu River. On a night patrol on November 8, Dog Company had a fire fight with Chinese of the 126th Division of the CCF and captured one of their soldiers. To my knowledge this was my first contact with the Chinese. After reaching Koto-ri, we were ordered to take the towns of Kyolmul-li, Toksil-li, and Tuan-ji. These were on the east side of the reservoir.
Traveling north we saw refugees any time we happened to be on the road. They were of all ages and physical conditions. We went around the lower end of the reservoir and passed through the 7th Marine Regiment west of the town of Yudam-ni. From there we were ordered to go west to make contact with units of the 8th U.S. Army.
Temperatures dropped to zero with high wind chill factors. We attacked November 27 along the Main Supply Line (Capt. Samuel S. Smith was CO). We became involved in a major battle with the CCF 79th and 89th Divisions in fortified positions (some bunkers). The Regiment sustained heavy casualties with E and F Companies taking the brunt. Within two hours the CCF mounted a vicious attack. We stopped them, inflicting heavy casualties. The numbers were about 12 or 15 to one, maybe more. The uniforms of the Chinese were quilted cotton and they were wearing tennis shoes. They were armed with an odd assortment of weapons: pack howitzers, mortars, hand grenades, land mines, and Russian, Chinese, and World War II American small arms, etc.
We were ordered to abandon the strike west. In the move westward there were very small groups of houses (the village names unknown). The terrain was all hills and small, low areas not big enough to be called valleys. There were signs of the CCF all the way up and back. We were told that there were ten or twelve CCF Divisions involved all along our only route in or out. I believe them.
We were relieved of our advance along the east side of the reservoir by the 7th U.S. Army Division. A few Marines went to their location when the 7th was attacked by the Chinese to help the Army soldiers bring out their dead and wounded, but Dog Company was not a part of that operation. The soldiers who were left in fighting condition joined us later. Again, I was not personally involved with them, but understand that they were issued Marine dungarees and acquitted themselves well.
The weather seemed to turn cold fast, but this was because we gained a lot of altitude. The temperature was below zero for the entire time at the reservoir and for the trip down. We were told that the wind chill never was above minus 20 degrees. There were heavy, blinding snows which, with the wind, at times had visibility down to as little as ten feet. I remember it as being dry, but it also was the first snow that I had ever experienced being in in my life. I have lived in Massachusetts for over 40 years and am using the winters here as a memory crutch. Deep snow! BARs and carbines would freeze easily if they were oiled. M1's and machine guns were more reliable. All food was frozen very hard, with no way to thaw it. I only ate rations that had no juice--i.e., candy and crackers. There was one exception. Canned fruit was fairly easy to break up and put in our mouth to slowly thaw. Only a little of that was possible because too much would be dangerous.
I honestly feel that if we had not been continuously in a state of high alert, our bodies would have frozen. I only froze my feet, hands, and face. This would not have happened were it not for being unable to change socks often enough and for not being able to fire a weapon accurate with gloves on. My memory is that I was in misery and tried to always move my extremities even in small ways, even when under attack. I remember being almost in a daze, and often very frightened. There were some mental gymnastics that were used to concentrate on whatever physical ease or stress that held the moment. Being able to concentrate on the proper use of which weapon I might be using at the time undoubtedly got me through alive, along with the help of God.
To me, all the Marines near me were like "unidentifiable zombies." This, I feel, is because we were all covered completely with heavy clothing and seemed to move in a slow, unnatural manner. The parkas we had did not have our name exposed like most of our uniforms were required to have, nor did they have rank insignia in some cases. This gave the affect of low morale, even though this was definitely not the case.
The weather did not adversely affect our close air support. The weather for us at times was a white out because of blowing snow, but undoubtedly from above visibility was no real problem on most days. I cannot explain why. The F4U's and F7F's gave us a big advantage with the ordnance they were able to bring into play. Other aircraft dropped supplies to us, but I was never close enough to an airdrop to be other than a base of fire.
The only method of avoiding the wind, which was the nemesis, was to scratch out snow holes. One item that most of us did not abandon was the entrenching tool. It could be used for many purposes, including as a very good weapon. This changed as we progressed down the pass. When we reached the 1st Marines at Koto-ri, there were tents for warming between skirmishes. Again, this only got us out of the wind. The availability of wood allowed limited warming of some foods. These things were available because the 1st Marines supported headquarters and an airstrip for supplies and evacuation of wounded. We had only limited access to these things.
I was aware of our tanks being in support most of the time, but have no idea of their direct support of Dog Company. My memory may be a bit lacking on this, for coming down to Koto-ri we passed tanks that were not operable for reasons I don't know. They may have been very active in the withdrawal in a big way.
I do not remember the company or platoon being designated flank guard. After leaving our forward-most positions, we did attack to our flank. I only remember that in doing this was to taken an objective. We were held up at times by what was reported as a roadblock. These never seemed to be immediately in front of us, however we took defensive positions and often drew fire at these times.
The CCF had and used tactics designed for day or night. We defended against both. The counter attack we used was normally at dawn. There were, however, occasions at night when we pursued the CCF for limited distance if we had an advantage. My memory is that at such times we returned to our original defensive positions. In the pass there were high ridges on the left and steep drops on the right. This was like being pinned in with great effort being required to attack left or right. There seemed to be continual sniper type fire. There was no guerilla activity as I understand the term. The CCF were regulars.
I personally was involved in hand-to-hand combat with the CCF soldiers. I used everything in my reach at these times. My BAR did not have a bayonet lug, but I had and used my entrenching tool. As a finishing weapon, I used my K-Bar knife. In one skirmish I seemed to be losing when a Marine to my right shot my opponent. This occurred on East Hill coming out of the area of Yudam-ni, if my memory is not playing tricks as to the place. We were overrun before getting to Yudam-ni and after. The name East Hill just sticks in my every flashback.
The officers were outstanding, but I never got to know them. I seldom knew who was platoon leader or company commander. We seemed to lose a lot of officers. After we got into the pass for Koto-ri and thereafter, we seemed to be fighting as a single organization with the unit designations unknown to me. This was so right up until we reached the train at the bottom. I don't remember the airfield from which I flew to Japan. The officers that were responsible for our tactics that allowed us to survive I know nothing about. The officers that I was close enough to see were not giving direct directions to me. I feel that we had the best officers that have participated in any battles the Marine Corps has ever fought.
I believe that from our position when we halted our westward effort to the bottom of the pass was approximately 40 miles. The Marines evacuated their dead and wounded in any way available on the journey south--from the fire fight, by litter or by hand carrying them. From the aid stations, they were usually transported by vehicle until we reached Koto-ri. From there, helicopters and I believe C-130s further evacuated them.
I personally saw many men I feel were not only heroes, but were directly responsible for my survival. In an earlier part of this memoir, I expressed my feelings of what a real hero is. My feeling has not changed. For sure it is not the man in the place where awarding a medal is the thing to do. If in your reading there were times a ranking officer was in the near vicinity of a skirmish, everyone from the CO to the clerk typist was awarded a medal on the spot. These are not heroes. I have read accounts of the first time we were overrun that our Regimental CO received a Silver Star or above. Also I have read that at Koto-ri the Army area CO flew in and awarded Colonel Puller and his staff awards. To me this makes those awards meaningless. No men under the cover of an entire regiment in their headquarters tent or building can earn a medal. I do not personally know of any of the fighting men in the many skirmishes and battles we were in from Pusan to after the reservoir who received a medal or promotion unless there was a top brass type nearby, i.e., a really deserved medal was given to Okey Douglas for killing a T34 tank with a 2.36 rocket launcher. On this occasion none less than General MacArthur happened upon the scene. Enough said.
I did not get to Hungnam, but also did not hear of any celebrations once the Marines arrived there. There could have been some. I was evacuated primarily for frost bite, but I also had minor wounds. One wound was received when I was attacked by a Chinese soldier with a weapon that would not fire. I was taken to an airfield and flown to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka. I was told that my unit went directly aboard ship to Pusan and returned to the Bean Patch. By that time it had grown into a major installation, not the bare, sun-baked field it was when the 1st Brigade used it.
I was in the hospital ward about ten days and I believe at Yokosuka for about two months. I had frozen feet, lower legs, hands and face. The treatment was primarily just staying in bed with meals served there. I do not believe we could walk, even to the rest room. The minor wounds (mostly abrasions) were bandages. The blow to my back was not even X-rayed, and that was an area of some pain. In my ward, we all seemed to be very quiet, even though we were very glad to be warm and clean. All the U.S. services were represented. I don't recall other U.N. troops being in that ward.
It was after going to the holding barracks that men with various wounds were together. The wounds were all of a non-debilitating nature. I understood that serious wounds went to Hawaii or stateside. We had regular visits by brass--Generals and Admirals. A General presented me with the Purple Heart while still on the ward. This never showed in my discharge later, nor did my service on the Pusan Perimeter with the Brigade.
I was approved to return to Korea, but I was informed that all the men who went to Korea with the 1st Brigade were being sent back to the States. It was true, and I went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, instead of returning to Dog Company, which was still in Korea. My original assignment at Camp Lejeune was at the rifle and pistol ranges. I reported in there around the middle of April 1951.
I did not go wild after returning from Korea. I was then and am now able to live within the boundaries of conduct expected of rational people. I do have feelings and beliefs that are not normal in the age in which I live. Thank God my wife understands my inner self.
When my tour of duty should have been up on August 2, 1951, we were under a mandatory extension until the end of the war. The only time military men or women can be extended is during a war. That is why it was so wrong to call the Korean War a "police action." When my enlistment was up, I decided to re-enlist. Remember, I was from a poor family and sent most of my pay home. The idea of getting a large sum of money to re-enlist was a strong incentive. I seem to remember that we received $300.00 for staying six years. I re-enlisted for six years and sent the money home.
I will try to stay within reasonable limits in recounting my assignments after re-enlisting. First I was assigned as a drill instructor at Parris Island, South Carolina, from the 3rd Marines after they asked if anyone was interested in such an assignment. I felt that I was highly qualified for the position. My attending boot camp left me with the idea that I would be a good DI. I held that job from the later part of 1951 through the early part of 1953.
In the time I was a drill instructor, we were assigned to a recruit platoon with two Marines that were senior to us and well experienced. It was on the job training with the side job of reading and absorbing many, many books of regulations pertaining not only to recruit training, but covering the Marine Corps history and most of its current regulations.
Drill instructors that do the job well in training young men to fight and kill are not very likeable. It seems to me that most senior civilians and a few high military people do not understand that the purpose of the military is to kill and break things. The better one is taught this, the better his or her chances are of protecting their fellow soldiers and surviving unbelievable hardships and situations that to the improperly trained cannot be survived. I still do not like my drill instructors. I hope my recruits that went to Parris Island when I was a senior instructor can respect me, not like me.
I have never given a thought to the comparison of myself and my DIs. They were World War II veterans with different arms and tactics. I also would not feel qualified to be a DI today. Knowing what is needed to make a good Marine at a particular time gives a DI the ability to sort out those that may need extra help in becoming a Marine. We are able to pull most young men up to standard, but not always. Most are good material to work with, but some fail to respond to all efforts.
The job is actually a 24-hour a day responsibility. The recruits seldom are aware of the time spent making lesson plans or checking to assure the next day's training is in the proper environment for the subject to be taught. Like most professionals, there are ways of doing things that seem to the recruits rather extraordinary. I will give one example that makes things easier even when the instructor is doing the same grueling thing as the recruits. When running laps on the parade ground, the instructor never seems to tire. To enable the DI to see all the men all the time, the DI runs on the inside of the circle all the time. The further the men run, the more the DI inclines toward the center. This has the DI covering at times only half the distance, which the recruits do not realize. This type of thing gives the impression of superior ability and incentive to the men to become better.
I have met recruits that were in my platoons at Parris Island. Most went out of their way to express thanks for the lessons learned. Some were veterans of Korea. One particular thing I will not forget is when a good friend of mine that had moved from Springfield, Massachusetts, died a few years ago. His widow called from Florida to let us know that she would bring him back here for the funeral and burial. She had a reception after the services at the home of their son. After being there a while, the son came over and told me that he was one of my recruits, but that he never liked me. He was pleased that we (my wife and I) were giving his mother so much help, and hoped to feel better about me afterwards.
While with a platoon, drill instructors had no personal life. Between platoons they tried to crowd a lot of personal things into their lives. Married Marine DIs had it especially rough. I was not married while a drill instructor. I usually went home for short visits between platoons. There were times when I went from a platoon before graduation to platoon behind due to disciplinary actions. Then I was without relief until that platoon graduated. I believe I was demoted twice during my tour at Parris Island. I still left there as a Sergeant. Not bad.
After my duty as a drill instructor, I was assigned to Clarksville Base, Tennessee, as a Sergeant of the Guard until some time during the year of 1955, when I was assigned to the 3rd Marines at Middle Camp Fuji in Japan. The 3rd Marines were moved to Okinawa after we made a move against the possible Russian push through the Middle East along the Persian Gulf. During this time I was assigned to the S-2 (Intelligence). I was again assigned to Camp Lejeune as a member of the 1st Battalion, 1st Infantry Training Regiment, as a company Gunny Sergeant. This was my last assignment in the USMC. I was discharged from the Marine Corps on August 2, 1957, but I was never in civilian life from going into the Marine Corps in 1948 until retiring from the Army in 1968.
When I was with the S-2 in the 3rd Marines, the idea of having an MOS in that field instead of the infantry intrigued me. I applied for NIS immediately on return to Lejeune. I was turned down because I was a Staff NCO with nine years service. The feeling in those days was that a Marine with my credentials would stay in the Corps. I looked around the other service's recruiting stations, and the Air Force (in writing) agreed to send me to Intelligence School at Shepard Air Force Base in Texas. When I was due to re-enlist in the Marine Corps, the Battalion CO called me into his office and said they would send me to NIS. When I asked for that in writing, I was told it could not be done.
On August 3, 1957, I became a Sergeant in the United States Air Force and was so employed through the Bay of Pigs in 1960. I went directly to Shepard Field for Intelligence training. I did not have Air Force boot camp. My training was not in the particular field that I was interested in at the time, but it grew on me. I was trained in what was at that time called Photo Interpretation.
From Shepard AFB I was stationed with the 8th Air Force Recognizance Technical Squadron at Westover Air Force Base at Chicopee, Massachusetts, until 31 October 1963. During the Bay of Pigs operation, I was assigned to gathering aerial intelligence 24 hours a day. During this time I had to live on base, with the telephone being my only contact with my wife. We were married in 1959 in Springfield, Massachusetts.
The difference in the normal move from one service to another was that I was not required to fulfill my enlistment in the Air Force. The orders received to report to Fort Carson, Colorado, came while there was still approximately two years left on my enlistment. I was discharged from the USAF by order of the Pentagon and re-assigned as a Warrant Officer in the U.S. Army on November 1, 1963. The Air Force could have contested my move if they offered me the same rank, but it had done away with Warrant Officers a few years earlier.
My original assignment was with the 5th M.I. Detachment that was attached to the 5th Mechanized Division at Fort Carson, Colorado. This assignment was due to a need the Army had for tactical aerial intelligence in Vietnam. My duties were such as any other officer in respect to needs of the detachment--i.e., motor pool, officer of the day and other similar duties. My main assignment was training the what was then known as Imagery Interpretation Unit, gathering intelligence for the division through use of various image producing methods. I also spent much time going to other divisions in the west to train their I.T.s. The detachment participated in Operation Desert Fox, a field exercise in the New Mexico-Arizona desert. Back at Fort Carson, I was sent with five enlisted men to Vietnam (1965) to set up an aerial intelligence presence at Tan San Nhut Air Field. This was my first trip to Vietnam.
The second trip, I was assigned to the 25th M.I. Detachment, attached to the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. We left for Vietnam within a couple of weeks for Cu Chi for a year. It was a static division headquarters and there were bunkers for everyone. There we also had a commissary and PX, along with regular USO shows and other entertainment, including Bob Hope. I was able to see him and learn that he fought Golden Gloves under the name of Packy East.
In January 1968 I was assigned to Headquarters CICV. I was assigned outside my MOS. To my thinking, this was not a proper way to accomplish any useful purpose. After a concerted effort to be assigned within my field (with no luck), I decided against my own desires to stay in the military to retire. I was very bitter. Though I will never be interested in writing in detail about it, the differences were major and in every aspect of the Korean War and the Vietnam War. I remember quite well the U.N., the American civilians, the high American officers, the collusions with the Vietnamese civilians, not allowing units to fight as they had been trained, the undermining of the intelligence capability, the favoritism shown to U.N. troops of other nations. There is much more that I have not mentioned, too.
I had three assignments to inform loved ones of the death of service men. There were other than Army dependents involved. I was assigned as the Commander of the 502nd M.I. Detachment, attached to the 2nd Armored Division at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1967. I was one of the men in uniform to go to the home of a mother, wife, or next of kin and deliver from the Defense Department notification of death of a loved one. For each visit I received notice and individual instructions. One of the hardest for me was that under no situation in sympathizing with the aggrieved could they be touched. I did not handle the detail (inside) well, but remained very professional outwardly.
As I mentioned, I did not stay in the military as long as I had intended. I was and still am military in my thoughts and some of my actions. My Warrant was a reserve position. I was not a part of the active reserves. Being on hip pocket orders from 1968 until 1992 encouraged me to stay in a physical condition for duty in most areas other than infantry, but I received no advancement or compensation for my inactive reserve status. I retired as a CW2 and am that today.
After retirement I returned to my home in Chicopee, Massachusetts. It was one that we had purchased in 1961. I bought and operated a dry cleaning and alteration business. This lasted not more than a year. I could not understand how to deal with customers. Anxious to give it up, I gave it away. I went to work as a letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. This lasted for approximately 15 years. I was given three ways I could leave the job. There was never a reason given, but I was not given a hearing and therefore not able to express my beliefs for being summarily asked to leave. When starting work I obtained a copy of the postal regulations with the idea that I would be a better employee if I knew what should be the proper way to work. I had a hard time learning that the regulations only applied at the discretion of the postal authorities and the labor union. I had joined the labor union for the soul purpose of not being called a scab. This worked only to a certain extent. I had trouble with my reactions to being called a double dipper. On the street delivering mail, my job was a very good and pleasant occupation. Not so in the office. Of the choices, I took leaving with no further connection to the service or the federal employees retirement possibilities.
My wife and I traveled for a few years and I went to work for the Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company in the underwriting department. After three years, I transferred to Life and Health Benefits branch of the company for a better position. I was there for five years when Life and Health was sold to the Well Point Company of California. Rather than leave with the group, I retired with eight years of service in 1996. My time with the company was a very pleasing experience, and I was given a very big, all-day retirement party with gifts, food, party favors, and an invitation for my wife to join the festivities. I decided it was time to retire permanently. I have all the privileges of the company as a fringe benefit. Now my wife and I spend a lot of time as volunteers for nonprofit organizations, i.e., soup kitchens, United Cerebral Palsy, manning polling places for elections, and setting up the federal census.
Serving in the merchant marine, United States Marine Corps, United States Air Force, and United States Army has defined who I am in this post-military life. Although I have spent more of my life as a civilian than I actually spent in the services, most of the civilian time has seemed to be in an uncivilized society. I started young, traveled to many parts of the world, met people of all persuasions under most pleasant and civil situations. The time after the services has been a very big disappointment in our so-called humanity. I consider myself well versed in all of human history, beginning with the discoveries of Leaky's Africa to the present. I consider most of the educated people in this country to be ignorant. I do not write well, but do understand all the versions of what I read. What has been taught to my children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren is for the most part without any history or geography. Political correctness is an abomination and an insult to any intelligent being.
I feel that Korea was a big education for me. There was no lying, malfeasance, or "one upmanship" among the ground forces I was with. There also were no drugs or alcoholism on the front lines. Everything was done in a military manner, and those who knew were the leaders. It made me a better, more outspoken, honest person. It is possible that Korea was where patriotism became big in my life. This may have been noticed by those around me.
My opinion is that General Douglas MacArthur was the only citizen of the United States at that time who knew anything about the Oriental military thinking. I feel that had he bombed the build-up of Chinese forces before they came into Korea, there would have been no Chosin Reservoir--or any of the battles after our reaching the Yalu River in 1950. I felt then as I do now that no one civilian should be able to change military (war time) plans. No less than a majority of Congress (our representatives) should have this power. Look at the coward we have for Commander in Chief now. He surely knows less than President Truman of what the military is for. He was an artilleryman during a war. We also were using the United Nations at that time, not them using us as is now the case. I am not for a world power at this time, although the time is coming soon.
The readers of this memoir may have a hard time understanding how wars and battles differ one from the other. They also may not understand that some of the battles fought by the Marines in Korea in 1950 were as brutal as any fought before or since in the history of the United States. I recommend reading The United States Marines in Korea, 1950-1953, especially the first three or five volumes. The first is of the Pusan Perimeter, second Inchon and Seoul, and the third the Chosin Reservoir. It was after this period that the situation became static for regular front line troops, and yet the Marines were still used as a fire brigade for hot spots. I have nothing but admiration for all who have served at any time. My heart is full of sympathy for all that have lost loved ones and had others come home less than whole.
There is no comparison between World War II and the Korean War. The declared global war followed by a UN conflict in a small unknown country is not mentally associated with the same idea of conflict. Again, the major battles of Korea were as big and deadly as any in World War II or any other conflict in the history of this country. There is no doubt in my mind of this. Yet the Korean War is forgotten because it was not considered a "war", plus we did not win yet. I still think of it as a big war. I have no doubt that defending South Korea was a proper thing to do and I never questioned why we, as Marines, were in Korea or any other place since. Korea was a country that had been overrun for no other reason than to subject it to a government its people did not want--which, by the way, is why refugees were streaming south from the north rather than from the south to the north. At the time, the South Korean army was a home guard, armed with sharpened bamboo spears. Korea now seems to have become part of the modern world. I feel this would not have been so without our input.
While a Brigade we received a Presidential Unit Citation from President Truman, Korean Presidential Unit Citation from President Sigmund Rhee, a Unit Commendation from the 8th U.S. Army, and a Unit Commendation from the U.S. 24th Division. As part of the 1st Marine Division, we received two Presidential Unit Citations from President Truman. I received no special recognition for being in Korea, this due to not having officers to request such. In all major battles we lost our officers and senior NCOs. To me this is no problem. I am proud of my deportment in all circumstances in a combat situation. I was issued a Purple Heart while in the hospital in Japan, but it was left off my records. I have a picture taken in Japan with me wearing that Purple Heart.
My reflections on my short time in Korea are of a cataclysm that swept me along with no mercy or relief. There was no time in my recollections that was of a restful or fun time. The few times we were aboard ship were as near to a lull than any other time. Even then we were kept busy preparing for the next encounter, never knowing what form it would take.
The most critical and dangerous times in my mind that happened to me in Korea were in the area near the Chosin Reservoir. We were completely overrun twice. The Chinese soldiers outnumbered us by at least 12-15 to 1. I was hit in the back by a Chinese with a rifle that undoubtedly would not fire. I was knocked down, but luckily landed on my back so that my rifle was in position to fire. We fought through the night and into early morning. I ran out of ammunition and used a .45 caliber Thompson sub machine gun (from the weapons captured by the Communists from the Nationalists in 1948) until that ammo ran out. I dispatched a soldier with an entrenching tool, after which I was able to get an M1 from a dead Marine who had a bandolier of ammo plus a full cartridge belt. After dawn the Chinese withdrew and left a lot of dead in my position. This scenario carried itself out more than once. We were told later that the Chinese had sent 10 or 12 divisions for the purpose of completely wiping out the 1st Marine Division. They nearly succeeded. While in Korea I never thought of our losing the war. I was in Japan when the news finally sunk in that we were going to quit. This was sad.
For me personally, the hardest thing about being in Korea was the unbelievable heat of the southern part of Korea, then being in cold weather that I could never imagine. In both cases there was no relief to be had. I physically suffered from both. My feet, hands, and face were frozen. I received minor wounds from the enemy on three occasions, plus scrapes and bruises associated with rough and tumble action. The VA rates me with 80 percent disabilities, 50 percent being PTSD related. (I still suffer from never-ending imaginings now called flashbacks.) I did not seek this disability rating myself. I have it as a result of the urging of doctors of the VA or their counselors and had no difficulties getting it.
One friend, Donald Shawn, looked me up around 1982 through the Leathernecks magazine. My wife and I visited him and his wife in Oklahoma. He was wounded bad enough in our first battle to be sent home. As for my own war-related health problems, I lost most of my hearing, composure, and ability to rely on most people in the Korean War. I also have frostbitten feet, hands, and face.
I hope that future generations will read this memoir and learn the truth about the Korean War. That is, North Korea, with the backing of China and the then Soviet Union, attacked an unarmed, small nation in a dastardly ambush. We as civilized people should not have stood by and done nothing. We should have completed the job by bombing North Korea back to the same point in time as South Korea (all military arms destroyed).
I told no one of my involvement in the Korean War for 40 years. I really didn't believe my dreams or flashbacks could be the truth. Soon after leaving the postal service, I was picked up on the street in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts, and locked up in the security ward of the VA hospital in North Hampton, Virginia. My wife was called, and for the first time she understood why I was such a straight arrow. When I was locked in the Section 8 ward at the VA in 1988, things began to change. In 1994, my wife wanted to visit a long lost cousin in California. We are of very modest means, so we used the excuse of attending the 5th Marine Brigade reunion in San Diego to cover the expense of the trip. There I met some of the members of Dog Company. I left with the knowledge that my horrible nightmares and flashbacks were based on fact. There was also a hint as to why I had problems with some people. Since then, my wife and I have attended reunions of Dog Company several times. I went into serious psychological evaluation with the VA and joined a weekly and monthly Korean War veterans group session.
I can now talk about my service life, but I still have only now told my story in this memoir after verifying the facts since 1994. (I still have not told my children or grandchildren.) I have also still not adjusted--and hope I never do.