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George W. Gatliff
Little Rock, AR
"I did not serve with anyone whom I considered to be a 'war hero.' To me, a 'war hero' is someone who is only doing their job, but after the fact it turns out that 'doing their job' was a critical turning point in a situation, or caused the situation to change directions in favor of his side. I don't think anyone purposely becomes a 'war hero.' They don't say to themselves: 'Today I'm going to do something spectacular and become a war hero.' Circumstances let it happen. David Hackworth has been quoted as saying, 'Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid.'"
- George W. Gatliff
Some of the town names I mention in the following memoir may be misspelled, their names changed, or may no longer exist. There are several of them that I cannot find on a modern Korea highway map. I have also found that the human mind has a process that will let one forget unpleasant things if one will let it. It will also help change the memory of things that one cannot forget to help make them easier to accept. This will happen though, only if it is permitted. If one dwells on these unpleasant things, it will be burned into the psyche, will never go away, and only get bigger.
My name is George W. Gatliff, and I was born 13 August 1930 in Pike County, Arkansas, the son of L. M. (Slim) and Dahlia Trout Gatliff. Dad was an Arkansas and Arizona working cowboy and ranch foreman for several years, then became a state/federal livestock and brand inspector in Arizona. Mother was mostly a housewife, but often worked as a store sales clerk, and small business owner. I have one half sister, Jeri Lambert Goodner, who is nine years younger than I am.
I attended several grade and high schools, but graduated from Mena (Arkansas) High School in 1949. While in school, I worked in the log woods as a skidder and swamper. I grew up during World War II, a time when we kids all helped the war effort by collecting scrap metal. Mena was a very patriotic community of about 5,000 residents. When a guy "looked" 17, he joined the Arkansas Army National Guard. I joined on 5 November 1947, becoming a part of Battery A, 937th Field Artillery Battalion. Mother was not happy about it, but she signed the permit anyway. There was no pressure and no recruiting. It was recognized as the thing to do. We had several members as young as 15 years of age. Another one received a Battlefield Commission when he was 18. The records showed him to be 21, but he wasn’t.
In those days National Guard troops did not get basic training. That did not start until the late 1960s. However, part of the requirement for being in the National Guard was to attend summer camp as training. We were at summer camp in June/July 1950 when we were placed on standby for mobilization. When we returned home from camp, we started drilling more frequently and were officially mobilized on 21 August 1950. At that time, we started living at the armory until we shipped to Camp Hood, Texas, in September.
When we mobilized, parents scrambled to get their children out of the Guard. A directive came out that anyone under 18, with proof of age, was to be discharged. Some were discharged while still in Mena, some after we got to Camp Hood, and some after we got to Korea. One member of the battalion, Fred Rose, Jr., was 16 years old, I think. I don’t know why he was not discharged earlier, but after we got to Korea, the Battery Commander told Rose to write home for his birth certificate. He said he didn’t want to go home; he wanted to stay with us. One night in late June of early July, his Sergeant sat down with him and made him write a letter home requesting his birth certificate. Several days later (perhaps a few weeks later), Rose and Walter Brummett were killed by snipers. When they gathered up Rose’s personal effects to send home, they found the un-mailed letter. Rose was determined to stay with us.
When it was time to leave for Camp Hood, the majority of the troops boarded a passenger train at Mena. I volunteered to be guard on our equipment train that loaded at Camp Robinson, Arkansas. Camp Hood was located on level land with flat-topped mountains. There was sand, gravel, sparse grass, and cedar scrub. A lot different than our Arkansas Ouachita Mountains. When we got there, we started unloading equipment. All of the battery leaders and the majority of the troops were already there and had everything set up for us. All the instructors were our own leaders who were World War II vets, although there really was no "instruction" as we now think of it. It was mostly on-the-job training in the jobs we had already been doing on drills and summer camp. There were a few specialized jobs that required classroom training. One I can think of was artillery survey.
My days at this camp were too long ago and so insignificant that they didn’t "save." The best I remember we didn’t get up any earlier than I had been getting up at home. The 1st Sergeant woke us by blowing his whistle in our barracks. We had plenty of shower and "potty" time. We then trained all day either in our jobs or doing close order drill. They were pretty liberal with free time. We had a specific time to get the barracks ready. We had stand-by and rank inspections (maybe on Saturdays). Lights out was later than my bedtime at home. (When I worked in the log woods, I went to bed EARLY.)
We did not have the harassment BS that basic trainees usually go through. If we did our job, they left us alone. Again, there was no harassment for the sake of harassment. We were not the "average" group of trainees. We all wanted to do right. The nearest I ever came to getting into trouble was one night when I was C.Q. at Camp Hood. One of our troops was causing a disturbance in the barracks. He was a muscle-bound bully, even in his brain. I tried to get him to behave, but he wouldn’t, so I whipped his ass. The next morning, the 1st Sergeant came and took me to the Battery Commander. The B.C. told me that the incident had been reported to him (it was also on my log book) and wanted to know what happened. I told him and he then "tore me a new one." After he got through chewing on me, he dismissed me. After I saluted and turned to leave, he said, "By the way. Someone should have done that long ago." We didn’t have any more trouble out of him after I got his attention. He did tell me that night that I would never make it back from Korea (we were on standby for shipping out when that happened). I came home and he almost didn’t.
I honestly do not remember any disciplinary action. You may not believe it because of all the "horror" stories that are told about basic training, but we didn’t have any problems. We also didn’t have any problems with the food. I remember that we were well fed. The only specific food that I remember is the chicken, and that’s because they never did learn how to cook it done.
Church was offered and I think transportation was available for those who wanted to go. I never did go and I don’t remember anyone who did. If we had gone, the instructors would not have been "breathing down our neck." We frequently had three-day passes and went home. We also got a week at Christmas. At that time, the uniform was required to be worn while on leave. Everyone at home knew the situation.
The only proficiency test that I remember having to take was on small arms marksmanship. I fired Expert with the rifle. In the classroom, I only remember training films. The First Aid and VD films stand out. The First Aid films showed what we should do, and the VD films showed what we should not do! Some of the guys didn’t learn anything from the VD films though.
When we completed our training, we were totally prepared for combat. Just before we shipped out, we were given a Battery Test, then a Battalion Test (today they would be called a proficiency test) and scored one of the highest scores that had been achieved at that time. We left Camp Hood and traveled by train to Camp Stoneman, California.
Trip to Korea
On 12 January 1951, we boarded the USNS General C. G. Morton for Korea. It was a Merchant Marine troop ship. I don’t know its capacity, but there were two artillery battalions on it and no other passengers. I don’t know if there was any cargo. I do know that our equipment was shipped on another ship that arrived several days after we did.
Although I had never been on a large ship before, I only got sick once. Lots of the others got sick, however. Some were severely sick. The only time I got sick was when we were lined up for chow inside. Normally we lined up out on the deck, then down the ladders to where we ate. This particular day, there was a bad storm, so they wouldn’t let us out on the deck. It was supposed to have been one of the most severe storms they had had that season. (Don’t they all say that?!) As the ship pitched, there was a tremendous vibration as though it was coming apart. Someone later said that it was caused by the propellers coming out of the water and speeding up.
As we slowly moved up the ladder, I got into a corner of a landing. The stink of those sweaty, sick troops was too much. I started getting sick, so I blasted my way up the ladder way to the hatch. They had a guard on the hatch to keep us from going out on deck. When he saw the look on my face, he let me through. As soon as the cold wind and spray hit me, I was okay. I then went back into the line and everything was okay from then on.
It took 18 days to get to Korea. For entertainment, we played black jack and they showed a few movies. One time I had to sweep the deck, but other than that, I had no duties. The ship did not make a stop in Japan or anywhere else along the way (although we later learned we were scheduled to go to Japan, but our orders were changed). It made a straight shot to Korea, where we landed at Pusan in the afternoon of 10 February 1951. While waiting to be unloaded, I was looking over the rail at the activity going on down on the dock. I saw a truck backing up to a warehouse. A man jumped out the left side of the truck and stood there watching it roll back. I called to some of the other soldiers, telling them that the man was letting the truck get away from him. The truck gently rolled up to the loading dock and stopped. Then, to our surprise, a man jumped out the right side of the truck and the two of them went up into the warehouse. That was our first time to see a vehicle with the steering wheel on the right side. We got a good laugh out of it after we realized what had happened.
After leaving the ship, we were loaded onto trucks and taken to some place nearby. We were housed in tents with wooden floors and walls, but no heat. It was extremely cold and we did not have any cold weather clothes. We had come from Camp Hood, Texas, where it seldom got down to freezing. We were given army cots to sleep on, but that made it even worse. When sleeping on a cot, one needed as much bedding underneath as needed on top. We had two army blankets and summer sleeping bags. I thought I would freeze to death. I think it was the next day that we were issued cold weather clothes and cold weather sleeping bags.
We stayed there a few days, and when our equipment started arriving, we moved to the banks of the Naktong River somewhere near Pusan. At that time I was Battery Scout. My job was to drive the Executive Officer’s jeep and to go with him when he went out to scout a new position for us to move into. I made sure we had the best equipped jeep in the battery. Mine had extra equipment that the others didn’t have. About the time I got it to my satisfaction, they moved me to the position of Battery Recorder. My duties there were to keep records of all artillery ammunition received and fired and where they were fired, operate the fire direction radio and telephone, and drive the fire direction truck. We stayed there preparing our equipment for combat until 3 March, when we went back to Pusan, loaded on landing ships (LSTs), and headed for Inchon.
We landed at Inchon on 6 March and the next day started for Suwon, our first combat position. I have remembered all these years that we passed by Kimpo Airport, but now, looking at the maps, I’m not sure that we did. While on the way to Suwon, we went into a position after dark. During the night on the way to and from our outposts, we kept bumping into high mounds of something. After daylight, we found that we had moved into a cemetery and the "something" was graves. We then received orders to go to an area near Songson-ni instead of going on up to the line. We were to have additional training and have our equipment rechecked. It was a boring time, but the weather was warming up and the area looked a lot like central Texas west of Fort Worth.
While we were in this area, I remember that there were civilians living in our training area. Children came into our position and sold us eggs and nuts. They all seemed clean and healthy. Throughout my tour of duty in Korea, my unit didn't have enough contact with the Koreans to have much prejudice arise, but I'm sure there was some. Within the American units themselves, some of the first Black soldiers arrived in Korea as replacements due to the Army's new program to integrate at that time. Although my unit was from a "lilly white" Arkansas mountain town, I don't remember any particular problems.
On 31 March we moved to Yongdung-po and prepared for combat. We then crossed the Han River on a floating (pontoon) bridge at Seoul. Our guns were so big that we had to get special permission to cross, and even then were not sure the bridge would support us. It was frightening. I did not know how deep the river was. I remember with great sorrow the destruction in Seoul. It looked like it had been a beautiful city. I think I remember the street we traveled was four or six lanes wide with grass and small trees as a divider. The book, "Seoul: Her History and Culture" states that during the war "… nearly 100,000 non-combatants were killed, massacred, kidnapped, or lost. More than 40% of the houses in Seoul were burned down or completely destroyed."
Special & Unique Unit
On 2 April we moved into position near Uijongbu, and the next day headed toward Kumhwa, stopping near Changgo-ri. On that day, 3 April, we fired our first combat round at the Chinese. The next day we moved to near Changgpbu to support the 25th Infantry Division. On 5 April Gen. Matthew Ridgway, Eighth Army Commander, visited us to tell us of a special mission he had planned for us. It had been kept a secret that our guns had far greater range (about 18 miles) than anything in Korea at that time. The mission was for us to move out after dark to a forward position and fire on Chorwon, where there was a concentration of Chinese soldiers and supplies. It was hoped that if the Chinese saw us, they would only think we were a new, strange-looking tank. We started preparing and training for that mission and on 7 April we moved to a position astride the 38th parallel. On the night of 8 April, one gun moved forward and successfully completed our special mission. The next day the air observers told us that our gun and the air strikes had destroyed the city.
Since we were a special and unique unit, we had a lot of dignitaries visiting us. On 10 April, General of the Army Omar Bradley visited because we were the first of our type of artillery to go into combat in Korea, and on 11 April, Secretary of the Army Frank Pace Jr. (an Arkansas native) visited. We learned later that, while Pace was visiting us, President Truman was looking for him to have him officially tell General MacArthur that he (MacArthur) had been fired. As we now know, MacArthur received the word through the news before the official word got to him. When Pace returned to the States, he wrote to Arkansas Governor Sid McMath that we were "highly proficient" and carried out our duties in a manner highly commendable, that "their condition in battle was a credit to the State of Arkansas and to the armed forces."
On 15 April we moved to a position near Yami-ri, about three miles south of Unchon-ni. On 20 April about 0300, we moved on a little closer to Unchon-ni. Two days later, the Chinese hit us hard. We were on a hill on the south side of a valley and could see the tracers on the south side of the mountain that was north of us. We could see that the battle line was moving toward us and knew we were in trouble. I had been up late watching the "fire fight" on the mountain, then went to bed to read a new book I had just received. Not long after I finally went to sleep, we were alerted to prepare to move. It was several days before I had the opportunity to sleep again.
Some weeks before, I had found a farmer’s "A-frame" and had made me a bamboo walking stick. The First Sergeant (Gene Reeves) never did like for me to have them, but had no reason to make me discard them. While preparing to move, we were burning some documents. I went out to add more to the fire and found what was left of my walking stick in the fire. I asked who had done that and someone told me the First Sergeant did it and threw my "A-frame" off down the side of the hill.
About 3:00 a.m., we received the word to move south after the Chinese got so close that we could no longer fire on them with our big guns. We moved about four miles, still on the Uijongbu-Kumhwa road, and set up and started firing again. Later that morning we moved south again, setting up near Changgo-ri. We sent all of our soldiers and equipment, except the gun sections, on south to Seoul. We moved the guns to a position one mile northeast of Uijongbu.
Our type of battalion had three firing batteries and each battery had four guns. Normally, each battery was assigned a sector of the line of battle and all four guns were aimed the same direction. In this case, however, we were covering such a wide sector that each gun was aimed in a different direction. During the first night we ran out of ammunition and since the main Chinese assault was headed for our battery, the other batteries brought all their ammunition to us. We took several prisoners here that were trying to infiltrate through with the civilians that were running from the battle. This was on 24 April. On 25 April, we found that we had been forgotten--or abandoned--by the 25th Infantry Division, the unit we were supporting. We loaded up and moved out, barely making it out. We were told later by our air observers that the Chinese moved into our positions shortly after we had moved out. They also told us that a medical unit that was near us did not make it out and was destroyed.
We moved twelve miles south of Uijongbu for a short time to get settled back down, then moved to a school in northern Seoul to get reorganized, re-supplied, and ready to start again. I remember a sad thing. We moved some of our equipment into a family’s garden. Their vegetables were just beginning to come up and our equipment destroyed them. It was not intentional. It was one of the few places that had enough open space for us. The man came out and ranted and raved, but it could not be prevented. He was one of the many, many innocent victims of the war.
Although I don't remember the exact date, one night in April we moved into a new position that appeared to have been abandoned by a supply unit. The spot where some of the other soldiers and I were positioned had several 55 gallon drums of Prestone Antifreeze that had been left behind. It was very cold and we could not have fires. One of the soldiers said that he had been told that antifreeze would burn with a blue flame that could not be seen very far. We rolled one of the drums over behind a bank. We knocked a small hole in it so the antifreeze would only trickle out, and with great difficulty finally got it burning. It did burn with a low blue flame that could only be seen for a few yards, and it was warm. We were on the south side of the bank so we didn’t have to worry about the Chinese seeing us. We probably were the only warm soldiers there that night.
On 27 April we moved to a position behind a levee two miles east of the center of Seoul. On the morning of 1 May, at one minute past midnight, every gun in Korea fired two rounds onto the Chinese to help them "celebrate" May Day. As far as we could see, east to west, there was fire. On 2 May, some of our guns moved north, fired on Uijongbu, and returned. On 4 May we started moving north again, moving two and one half miles north of Seoul. I remember we moved into what had been a textile mill grounds. Of course, it had been destroyed with only the walls standing, and a tall smokestack. We found the vault where the silk was stored. It was in loose rolls that we called "hanks", so some of us took sacks of the silk to sleep on so the ground would not be so hard. Very few combat soldiers ever had a silk bed.
From this date, 11 May, I will only be writing about my battery because we were detached from the rest of our battalion and sent east to support the 1st Marine Division, and attached to the 96th Field Artillery Battalion. I will also state that at this point, we (my battery) were mostly forgotten. There is very little in the records to show where we were and what we did.
Both of our Battery Commanders, Detail Sergeant and Chief of Firing Battery, were "old men" who were maybe ten years older than me, and were World War II vets. I had great respect for all of them, not only because of their age and rank, but also because of their knowledge and leadership ability. We also had a few "fillers" who were from World War II. Master Sergeant Junior Hensley was our Chief of Firing Battery. He had been a gun sergeant in World War II and knew artillery. He had the same position in our National Guard Battery before mobilization. He helped raise me when I was young and green. I still see him occasionally.
For several weeks I had been trying to get the Battery Commander (Captain Louis Waters) to move me to the gun section. I wanted to get to where the action was. He finally agreed. He assigned me as Assistant Gunner and Assistant Gun Driver on Number 2 gun. It was raining the day I moved out to the gun. Fire Direction had always had a nice dry tent to work and sleep in. The gun section had a tarp tied to the side of the gun to sleep under. It would come loose about every time the gun fired. Everyone in the section and everything they had was wet. This was not the type of "action" I had in mind. I never regretted it, though. It was the correct choice. I got an empty hand grenade box to keep my personal stuff in. It was "almost" water tight. We moved about 60 miles east to a position about six miles northwest of Hongchon. This was when I received my driver’s training. The assigned driver (A. J. "PeeWee" Quinn) and I alternated driving. Whichever one was not driving rode by the hatch by the driver’s head. We became very close friends. The gun motor made so much noise that it was impossible to hear. "PeeWee" and I learned to communicate with each other in sign language so we didn’t need to talk.
During the night of 15 May, a large combined force of Chinese and North Koreans hit hard again. This was about the first time in several months that the North Korean Army had shown itself as an organized force. They had been almost wiped out, but had been reorganized, resupplied, and prepared for reentry into combat. They broke through and on the 17th we were moved over with the 1st Marine Division and the 2nd Infantry Division to help hold the west side of the Republic of Korea I Corps sector. I don’t remember many details. Part of the infantry was surrounded but got out. I don’t remember if we were with them or were part of the rescue force. This may have been where we left Charles Rowton’s gun behind to help hold rear guard while the rest of the battery moved south.
My memory is really fuzzy about that time, but as I remember it, the combined force was hitting us hard. It seems the Marines were in front of us and doing a good job of holding them back. We were running out of ammo for the guns, but the Marines still needed support. (I seem to think there was a dock workers strike going on back in the States) We gave Rowton's gun all the ammo from the other guns, a case of white phosphorus grenades (or some kind) that they could roll down the gun tube to seal the breach, and burn the motor, in case they got over-run. We took the rest of the battery south and left them there to support the Marines. I don't remember many details, but I DO remember looking back as we drove off and seeing Rowton standing there. They later joined us after they completed their mission.
We supported the 96th FAB in the Punch Bowl, at Bloody Ridge, and Heartbreak Ridge in the Hwachon Reservoir area from May through September.
On 20 May we started north again. We moved about 12 miles up the road toward Inje and on to Pupyong’ni and to Chang-ni. On 31 May we were still with the Marines and were north of Yanggu and Inje. I remember that we went through Inje. I think that was the town where nothing was left except a bank vault. During the month of June we were in the same area supporting both the Marines and infantry, which were alternating on the line.
During July we had moved to a position about eight miles northwest of Yanggu, in support of the infantry. Rain and mud in July, especially late July, was very bad. We had lots of trouble moving. The peace talks had started on the 10th, so things had slowed down. We had stolen some cots to sleep on and some tarpaulins to sleep under. That helped some, but it seemed we were wet for days at a time.
We were on the side of a hill in a rice paddy. Early one morning someone (Robert Jones) woke me up screaming "get up, get up." I thought we were being over-run, so I jumped off my cot and hit water about halfway to my knees. We weren’t being over-run, we were being flooded out. While we were trying to get our things up out of the water, I started looking for my grenade box. It was gone! I looked around and saw it floating off down the side of the hill. I took off after it and saved it. Mosquitoes were eating us alive, and little green frogs were everywhere. We dug our foxholes and they almost immediate got dozens of frogs in them. One position had a small stream through it. We dug out a "bath tub" to bathe in. When we tried to use it, we first had to dip out the frogs.
Punch Bowl Area
In late July and August, and on into September, we were ordered to take some key areas. One was the mountains around a deep round valley about 20 miles northeast of Hwachon Reservoir that we called the Punchbowl. Another was a ridge about two miles southwest of the Punchbowl that we called Bloody Ridge. The Mundung-ni Valley was on the west side and the Satae-ri Valley was on the east side. The ridge had three peaks. The middle and highest one became known as Heartbreak Ridge. During this time we had moved to several positions around Yanggu. This was hard fighting with each side winning and losing. It should be noted here that the coastal mountains east of Inje and Yanggu are now resort areas with golf courses, ski slopes, and beaches. What a change!
I don’t remember much about this time, except in late September we were told to take one of our guns forward as we did when we fired on Chorwon. This time, however, we were firing directly into the enemy, dug into the side of a mountain. We were with the Marines and slipped forward after dark with some of the Marine tanks. My gun was selected. I was the driver and we departed before dark because we had to cross a big mountain on the way. We waited on the south side of the mountain for the south-bound traffic to clear the narrow road. After the road cleared, we moved out. It was a slow climb to the top, so we were running late. When I finally got to the top, I started driving as fast as I could to make up for lost time.
The road was very steep and very crooked. As I was coming up on one of the curves, I saw that I was going too fast, so I started slowing down. About the time I got the gun under control, it hit some large rocks in the road and slid off the road, damaging the tracks on one side. We were stranded there and were unable to go on to complete our mission. The Chief of Firing Battery (Master Sergeant Junior Hensley) who was with us in a jeep, left us there and went back to get mechanics to come and repair the tracks. While we were waiting, they started hauling dead Marines from the area where we were supposed to go to. We found out later that they had been over-run by the enemy and almost wiped out. There has never been any doubt that God was watching over me. I also worry though. If I had not wrecked the gun, would I have been killed with the Marines, or, if I had not wrecked the gun and we had completed our mission, perhaps the Marines would not have been over-run. I will never know.
The mechanics came, got the track patched up, and we finally got it back to the battery position later that night. After I parked the gun and climbed out, PeeWee came running up to me. He started hugging me and crying his heart out. He had heard only that I had had a wreck and had run the gun off the side of a mountain. He thought I had been killed. He said, "I taught you to run that son-of-a-bitch wide open and I knew that is what you were doing." The next day I drove the gun south to a repair shop to be properly repaired. My Assistant Section Sergeant (Jimmy Lemon) went with me. We got lost! We were crossing a wide stream meeting a jeep. The passenger in the jeep started waving at us and we waved back and kept going. Lemon looked back and saw why they were waving. We didn’t realize it, but my gun was pushing a huge wave ahead of it and the wave almost turned the jeep over. They weren’t waving, they were trying to get us to slow down!
Later we were crossing a mountain on a very narrow road. A road crew was repairing the road where it had been blown up and had a truck parked near the high bank. It was several hundred feet from the shoulder of the road to the bottom of the mountain. I had to drive the gun between the truck and that steep drop-off. Lemon climbed down onto the ground to guide me. About the time I got even with the truck, he signaled for me to speed up. I did, then he signaled for me to stop and get out, which I did. We walked back to where I had passed the truck. The shoulder of the road had caved off under my outside track. That was why he wanted me to speed up. He didn’t want me to slide off down the side of another mountain.
Still later, we were going down a river bank to cross. Again, I was driving fast. I never learned. From where Lemon was sitting, he could see there was a big drop-off into the water. He signaled for me to slow down, but it was too late. When I hit the water, a wave went all the way over the gun. It almost washed Lemon off and got both of us soaking wet. Although it was September, it was already cool, and after we finally found our destination, after dark, we were cold and had no dry clothes. We survived though.
While staying there, they let us sleep in the medic’s tent. One night an officer came in and he and one of the medics got into a loud argument. After the officer left I asked the medic what that was about. He said that he had suspected the officer of drinking the medical PGA (Pure Grain Alcohol—more about that later), and replacing it with water. The medic decided that as soon as a new shipment of PGA came in, he (the medic) would pour it into other containers, hide them so the PGA could be used as it was supposed to be, and put water in the PGA cans. The officer had gone for his frequent "nip", found the water, and was accusing the medic of stealing the PGA. During the argument, the medic suggested that he and the officer go to the commander. That is when the officer left. A few days later, we returned with the gun to our battery.
Through the years, I have thought about various things that happened to me and my unit during my tour of duty in Korea. I can't always remember when or where these things happened, so I have put these thoughts together and named this section of my memoir "Random Memories."
Cache of Swords
Bumps in the Night
Victims or Infiltrators?
Drag Racing Steel
Teetering on the Brink
There are numerous differences between artillery and infantry units. The infantry had rifles, pistols, machine guns, and mortars. Artillery had rifles, pistols, and machine guns as defensive weapons, but they also had howitzers and cannon with explosive projectiles from 4.5 inches to 8 inches in diameter that were our offensive weapons. Infantry was up there eyeball to eyeball with the enemy and constantly under enemy attack. Artillery was relatively safe. Light artillery was a mile or two back. Heavy artillery was five to ten miles back. We were subject to enemy artillery fire and guerilla snipers. If the enemy made a big breakthrough, we could be overrun and would have to fight like infantry. In special missions, the artillery could be right up there with the infantry. This was for only a few hours at a time and for very special missions. Comparing the effectiveness of infantry to artillery would be like comparing apples and oranges. Infantry shot individuals and groups of people. Artillery shot at large concentrations of people, as well as convoys, bridges, trains, supply dumps, etc.
Infantry lived in foxholes and later, bunkers. Their meals were C-rations with occasional hot meals during lulls in action. Artillery lived in tents and shelters made from tarpaulins. We had hot meals. Infantry walked unless they were making a long move from point A to point B. When they got to point B, they then walked to their objective. Their walking could be along roads, but usually was cross country over hills and through dells. Artillery rode everywhere and stayed on the roads and trails. Comparing the speed of the artillery to the infantry would be like comparing apples and oranges. If they were going from A to B, they might have to wait for trucks to come and pick them up. If they were moving toward an objective, they didn’t always want speed. Artillery had its own transportation. We could shut down our present gun position and be loaded up ready to move in minutes, then move to our next position and be ready to fire in minutes.
In warm weather we bathed in the streams. In winter we used our steel posts as wash basins. We bathed a couple times per week in warm weather and maybe weekly in cold weather. We shaved every several days. Clean clothes were hard to come by, so we didn’t change very often. Uniforms were hard to get, especially my size (tall and skinny). I wore a pair of boots for several weeks that half of the foot had rotted off. Thankfully it was summer time. After things slowed down, engineers set up shower units in the area. We were sent back a truckload at a time to shower and exchange our dirty, worn out clothes for clean worn out clothes. They let a group of men get into the shower tent, then turned the water on for five minutes. We had to wet down, soap up, and rinse off during that time. If we were still soaped up when the time ran out--TS. We had to wipe the soap off.
Our battery was never in reserve. We had hot food prepared in the battery. World War II had its Spam. We had our corned beef hash. Our Mess Sergeant was an American Indian. I don’t remember his name. He did everything possible to fix the stuff in different ways to help us be able to eat it. I remember it was used to make chili, meat loaf, stew, and other things.
I missed milk more than any other stateside food. We had powdered milk. Additionally, we had powdered eggs, canned bacon, and canned vegetables. We also had hotcakes with butter and syrup. Sometimes we had fresh bread, but it usually was sliced bread. Our Mess Sergeant (that was before they became "food service sergeants") was very innovative. He took items that we had in excess or that we were tired of eating, and visited other units in the area to exchange them for something else. One time we found a field of corn that was just right for cooking. He and his men gathered some of it and served us corn on the cob. It was great. He and his cooks were always making "raisin-jack" for their personal consumption. The fermentation of one batch got out of control and it blew up. We could smell alcohol for a great distance from their kitchen.
Several times we were in the area where a South Korean Army kitchen was set up. It seemed that every time I was near their kitchen they were boiling something that looked like dried fish and green garlic leaves. The smell was very strong. I never had the nerve to try it.
I had three best buddies in Korea. Together, A. J. "Pee Wee" Quinn, Glendell (Sky Juice) Rainwater, and Charles (Rube) Rowton and I were the Four Musketeers. I met Quinn in the National Guard before mobilization. He fit right in with our group. He now lives in Oregon and has visited me here. My wife and I visited him and his wife a couple of years ago. We still exchange letters. Rainwater and I went to high school together. After the war we worked in the same place in Wichita, Kansas, and roomed together. Later we both came back to Arkansas to go to different schools, and rejoined the National Guard. He took a job in Oklahoma, but visited me when he came back on vacation. We communicated by letter and telephone for several years. Rowton’s uncle (his mother’s brother) was my step dad. We grew up as brothers and went to high school together. He and Rainwater went to Wichita, Kansas, together and I quit my job and went to join them. He roomed with Rainwater and me. He worked at a different place than we did and when we came back to Arkansas, he stayed with his job there in Wichita. He and his wife were best man and matron of honor at my wedding. We never corresponded, but my family and I went to Wichita to visit him and his family a few years later. I tried to maintain contact, but he never responded. I finally got to talk to him on the phone just a few months before he died from brain cancer.
This may not sound right, but my work in Korea was "just another job" with good and bad times. A guy named James (Duck) Donasaldi (sp?) could talk like Donald Duck and always had a line of BS going. He was a funny guy. I also remember a humorous happening that took place one day when Jimmy Lemon and I were "volunteered" to go to the rear as part of an honor guard for an awards ceremony. They hauled us back to some rear echelon headquarters and told us to report to a certain tent. We started toward the tent with our rifles at sling arms when someone shouted for us to stop. We stopped and a sergeant came up to us and chewed us out for carrying a loaded weapon. We told him that was "kinda expected" where we came from. We unloaded our carbines and went on to the tent. They exchanged new uniforms for our rags, then fed us a meal of real food. We went to the ceremony, then they told us to report back to the first tent. They took back the new uniforms and gave us back our rags! We were then loaded back on the truck and taken back to the battery. It was hot and dusty. We were dry and in a bad mood from the treatment we had just experienced. One of us remembered that there was one can of beer left in the spring where we had been keeping it. As soon as the truck got to the battery, before it even stopped, we both bailed off with the same thought in mind. That cool beer! I could outrun Jim any day, so he tripped me. I fell on my face and he got the beer. I don’t remember if he shared it with me, but I’m sure he did because everyone always tried to help each other. I received mail regularly from my mother, my maternal grandparents, and my future wife. Mother and a former girlfriend sent cookies in packages, and once my mother sent a Coke with "Mena, Arkansas" on the bottom of it. I asked Mother to send an air mattress to me, which she did. I received it in good condition. The only thing in particular that I remember others receiving was several men received .45 caliber pistols from home. Darrell Nations received word that his father was terminally ill. They sent him home. He was our National Guard First Sergeant and full time employee of our National Guard Battery when I joined. He loaned me the money for my enlistment physical. He became a Warrant Officer just before we mobilized.
There were opportunities for religious and non-religious activities while we were in Korea. We had a battalion chaplain who held services at Battalion Headquarters. We were provided transportation if we wanted to go, and sometimes I went. In contrast to that religious opportunity, when we were on the Naktong River, a farmhouse nearby had prostitutes for those who wanted secular pleasures. It was a busy place at night, but quiet in the daytime. One of our men could always find a prostitute—it made no difference where we were. He made the statement that he had caught "the clap" from all over the world, but said that the case he caught in Korea was the most painful he had ever had.
I was in Korea for the 4th of July, but I don’t remember anything special about the day. I was 21 on 13 August 1951, but that, too, was just another day. There were USO shows in Korea, but I never got the day off to see any of them. I didn’t get to go on R&R either.
I drank and smoked very little in Korea. Each month we were issued PX rations which consisted of candy, gum, chewing tobacco, cigarettes, and sometimes cigars. We got two cans of beer per man and one fifth of whiskey per X number of men. The non-drinkers and non-smokers could make some extra money by selling their rations to others. I usually traded my beer and cigarettes for candy, gum, and cigars. I did not drink or smoke before Korea, and very little after the war. I never had the smoking habit, but I did enjoy a good cigar and chew from time to time.
A few days after the PGA incident that I mentioned earlier in this memoir, I received word from the 1st Sergeant that I would be leaving on a certain day. My enlistment had run out and I was to be discharged from the Army. Melvin Kramer and I were returning to the USA together. We were to go to Battery Headquarters where we were to meet the Battery Messenger and pick up our packets. The only specific thing I remember about my last hours with the unit was that one of the soldiers came by, handed me a Pepsi Cola, and told me that it was in celebration of my rotation. I started to drink it, but he knocked it from my hand. It was gasoline, not Pepsi. He was playing a trick on me, but he thought I would smell the gasoline and not take a drink. When he realized that I was about to "chug-a-lug" it, he stopped me by knocking away the bottle.
I don't remember any particular emotion brought on by the fact that I was leaving, but I remember that I wasn't ready to leave. It's kind of hard to explain. All my friends were there in Korea. They were people I had grown up with, and I really didn't have that much to look forward to back home. I was happy to be going home because my enlistment was running out, but it had not been too bad. I would not have been unhappy if my time had been longer. I guess I just accepted it as another chapter in my life. I have never been one to "make things happen." I have always played the cards that are dealt to me, and I have been quite successful with it. Looking back from my "senior years," I now see that God has always taken care of me and I am confident He will continue to do so.
We were taken to Battalion Headquarters, and then on to Inchon, in the Battery Messenger's Jeep. The Jeep driver’s last name was Anderson. He made daily trips between our battery and battalion headquarters. He was famous for carrying a .45 caliber pistol on his hip and a "grease gun" (.45 caliber machinegun) in his lap. There was always the possibility of being ambushed by Chinese, North Koreans, or unhappy civilians. I remember passing Hwachon Reservoir. We stopped above the dam and took pictures. I do not remember Seoul. Perhaps the road took us south of the city.
We were taken to a two or three-story schoolhouse in Inchon where we stayed for a day or two while we got more papers, had those we already had checked, and further processed to return to the States. I don't remember where I had my final physical. We were then loaded onto a ship, and went to Sasebo, Japan for a few days. There they checked our papers again, and then Melvin and I were loaded onto the ship the USNS General Black, and departed for the U.S.A. and San Francisco, California. The passengers on the ship were people rotating to the States from Korea and Japan. The only one I knew was Melvin, with whom I had been since we left our battery in Korea. At the time of my departure from Korea, I held the rank of Corporal.
I don't remember when I left Korea, but it must have been not later than mid-September, because I arrived at Camp Stoneman on 12 October 1951. The ocean voyage home was boring, but we were happy to be on the way home. There wasn't much sea sickness on the return trip to the States. I didn't get sick this time either, and occasionally had duty sweeping down the deck. I also saw a couple of movies.
I think we disembarked at San Francisco, where only processing personnel and a few families of some of the men were waiting for us. My family wasn't among those at the dock. We just walked off the ship, lined up on the dock by packet number. While lining up, some of us were talking. In those younger days, I was about 6 feet, three inches tall. A short WAC Sergeant not over 5 feet, three inches came up to me and shouted "SHUT UP AND GET IN LINE!" She was so short she had to tilt her head back to look at me. I almost slugged her, but thought, "Not this late in the game."
From the docks we went to Camp Stoneman where we turned in everything "G.I." that we had and drew new uniforms. They checked my papers again and put me on a plane to Camp Chaffee, Arkansas. Personnel at Chaffee checked my papers again, and then issued my final pay and my discharge to me.
I was discharged from my first tour on 4 November 1951. While some guys go wild upon returning from a war zone, I did not. All of my friends were still in Korea, so I started looking for a job. As I have written earlier, for me, Korea was just another job. When I got back home I merely picked up where I had left off and went with it. I was not around anyone who knew me prior to Korea, so there was nobody to compare whether or not Korea had changed me in any way. I'm sure I had matured because I was 19 when I left and I was 21 when I returned. I had lost some buddies in the Korean War, but I don't look up their families. Why should I do that? I think "heroes", movies, and TV have over-dramatized that point. If a family member were to contact me and ask me questions, I would respond and help any way possible. But to look them up -- no!
I worked as a logger while in high school, and after high school until we mobilized for Korea. After Korea I worked as a chainman on a civil engineer survey party. Another man and I were troubleshooters. I was also a blueprint machine operator in the aircraft industry, X-ray Technician, salesman, National Guard Federal Civil Service Command Training Assistant and Command Administrative Assistant, with short tours of National Guard active duty mixed in. After the CAA job I went back on National Guard active duty with five years as a recruiter and five years as Assistant Inspector General.
After I got home, I took malaria and spent a month in the VA Hospital. They put me in for disability and it was approved. I drew it for several years. Otherwise, I have no permanent disabilities associated with the Korean War. In July of 1953, I married a girl who was one year behind me in our high school. She had written to me while I was in Korea. We have two children. Our son Marty was born in September of 1954 and our daughter Cathy was born in December of 1957.
Starting in 1954, I went to X-ray Technician School. My bride, Bonnie, was a new Registered Nurse and our neighbor was a doctor and his wife was an X-ray Technician, so we decided that would be a good, secure field. All the men in my class were prior service and the women didn't seem to have any particular opinions or attitudes. We all kind of accepted each other "as is" and didn't tell many "war stories." After I finished school, the main job that I settled in to was X-ray Technician. I did that longer than any other job (off and on for about 15 years). I earned the "handle" of El Gitano. It is masculine for "The Gypsie." I chose it because in the community of Arivaca, Arizona, near where my Dad retired, is the oldest continually operated bar in Arizona which at one time was called La Gitana (feminine). It fit my lifestyle because I get bored and don't like to stay in one place very long. Even though we lived at the home we just left for over 40 years, I was always on the move. The longest I ever stayed on one job was 12 years.
I did not even think about reenlisting in 1951, but three years later I reenlisted in the National Guard and served another 36 years. I needed the extra money. But my military life after the war also gave me good leadership and management skills which served me well throughout my life. During the 36 years that followed my reenlistment, I held a variety of duty assignments, including: Gun Section Chief, received a direct commission and was Assistant Battery Executive Officer, back on Active Duty for a little Central High School duty (Central High School, Little Rock Arkansas - the National Guard was mobilized by the state to stop the integration of the school. Then the President mobilized us and shipped in the Airborne Division to force integration.), Forward Observer, Fixed Wing Flight training, Radio Officer, Company Commander, Battalion Motor Officer, Battalion Operations and Intelligence Officer, Hospital Registrar, Operations Officer, and Executive Officer. I then resigned my commission and went back on active duty as a recruiter, and my last tour was Assistant Inspector General. I resigned my commission in 1981 and went back on active duty as a Sergeant First Class. I got tired of the BS and politics in the Officers Corps. I never did "go along to get along". My troops came first and that caused some friction in specific areas. I decided life was too short, so I bailed. I was retired from military service on 31 August 1990.
My favorite position in the National Guard was as Company Commander--the greatest duty position in the Army. You are with the troops, you are taking care of the troops, and they are taking care of you. I enjoyed I. G., but it was very frustrating. I inspected military records and investigated soldier complaints. It was a good feeling when a complaint was resolved in a positive manner, but, it was frustrating when I saw a soldier was getting screwed, and the one doing it was just inside regulations and I couldn't do anything about it. I could however, give the "screwer" a little fatherly advice and tell him/her that I would nail their private parts to the wall if they ever did that again.
After I retired from the military, I got a wild hair to get back into the medical field, so I went to medical ultrasound school. It didn't take me long to remember why I got out of it earlier. I completely retired in October of 1991. In my "final retirement", I am totally involved in volunteer archeology work. I am a Certified Archeology Technician. I have one step to go to become a Certified Field Archeologist. I must develop, conduct, analyze, write, and publish an archeology project. I have approval from the Certifying authority to pursue a specific project. I have always been an "outside" person. I had been reading about archeology as long as I can remember and after I retired and got bored, I remembered that the Arkansas Archeology Society had a training program. I decided I would participate (1993). It is a volunteer, occasional, part time program. It usually takes 10 years to meet the requirements for Certified Archeology Technician. I did it in five because I was given the opportunity to do more, and more often. It is similar to what it takes to get a Masters degree in archeology, except we concentrate on field work where they concentrate on book work. We locate and some times excavate archeology sites, which can be anything over 50 years old. Mostly though it will be prehistoric (Indian), or 19th century pioneer home sites. The only time we excavate is when the site is being damaged or destroyed, or at risk. It AIN'T Indiana Jones!! It is hard, dirty work. And we DON'T excavate burials!!! My big thing at the moment is locating lost/abandoned pioneer graves/cemeteries in a specific part of Arkansas. When we find them we map, photograph, geolocate (GPS), and document.
My strongest memories of Korea are of the smells--dead people, dead animals, honey wells, rice paddies, burning buildings, and gun powder. "Flashback" became a well used word with the Vietnam combat veterans. We Korean War veterans have flashbacks, too, but most of us have accepted them as part of the experience and don’t think anything of it. I have always proudly compared the Korean War combat veteran with the World War II combat veteran. We went, we did our job to the best of our personal ability, we came home and took up, the best we could, where he left off. Some things that will cause a "flashback" are: odors, certain sounds, sudden loud noise, sudden/unexpected bright light.
The question as to whether or not the United States should have sent troops to Korea in the first place is a subjective one that can now be looked at with 20/20 vision. At the time, I didn't give it any thought one way or another. Looking back now, I think it was appropriate. The North Koreans were trying to take over (with Russian and Chinese encouragement) that half of their country they had lost at the end of World War II. At the end of World War II when the winners were dividing the spoils of war, there was a difference of opinion about whether Korea was to be communist or democratic. There was supposed to be an open election to decide. The communist leadership blocked that election and the final agreement was that north of the 38th Parallel would be communist and south would be democratic. The Korean people themselves had no voice in the matter. The early Koreans were Chinese descendents, but no one really knows how the election would have turned out. Neither the communist leaders nor the U.S. leaders would risk losing the vote.
The North Koreans (again, with Russian and Chinese encouragement and material support) invaded the south to get it under control of the communist government. The United States saw this as an opportunity (excuse?) to take the north and get it under democratic control. We were under the UN banner, but it was a USA show.
The mistake that was made in the Korean War was the United States leadership--both military and political--who did not take the war seriously at the beginning. We were going to "whip those gooks' ass and be home by Christmas." The military leadership did not believe the military intelligence they were being provided. We were already in over our heads before our leadership decided we needed more troops on the line. Even when we were taking Chinese prisoners, the leadership (including MacArthur) were saying they were only a few volunteers. Then, in November 1950, when we looked out across the Yalu River valley and it looked like the snow was moving and we realized it was wall-to-wall Chinese in white uniforms, the "oh shit!" was heard all the way to Washington. Almost all the books I have read about the Korean War talk about the military action in Korea up until about January 1951. From that point on, most of them spend more ink on the political aspects of it rather than the military.
I have not revisited Korea. I would like to, but haven't taken the initiative to do it. I would like to see how it has been rebuilt. A few years ago I had a young Korean high school girl as a pen pal. She was too young to know anything about the war except that the communists killed her grandfather during the Pusan Perimeter because he was an anti-communist community leader. She told me about the growth of Korea and I asked her specific questions, which she answered. It is unbelievable how South Korea recovered. South Korea is now industrialized, and it is a strong member of the world's industrialized nations.
It is a hard call, but I guess that the United States should still have troops in Korea. They are adding stability to the South. I think that if we didn't have troops there, the North would have invaded long ago. As I write, North Korea is massing not only their ground troops, but also their Air Force, close to the DMZ. It isn't just for training.
I think that the media and disgruntled Korean War vets are causing the Korean War to carry the nickname, "The Forgotten War." About the end of the war, the Cold War was really heating up. The media shifted its full attention to that. The war was over and they had something new to use for headlines. Many vets resented the lack of attention and made an issue of it. We didn't solve or resolve anything in the Korean War, but it kept the communists form taking another little spot of the earth. I'm not sure I buy the "domino effect" that our political leaders often used during the Vietnam War, but I do think it does have some merit.
In recent months, an Associated Press story was published about a civilian massacre at Nogun-ri. It was bad and sad and should not have happened. People must keep things in proper perspective though. During that time, and even later, civilians killed lots of soldiers. A line of refugees could be walking along the road and a child could pull a grenade from his clothing and toss it into a group of soldiers. Refugees would mill around a unit and suddenly artillery or mortars started coming in. Some of the civilians were calling in the fire and acting as forward observers. It got to the point where no civilian was trusted. I personally believe civilians killed Rose and Brummitt. They were a couple of guys in our battery. One of them had just received a new .45 pistol from home and they went down to a creek below our battery position to target practice. They never came back. We looked for them but got a move-out order and had to leave. After we moved into our next position, the Battery Commander sent a squad to look again. They were found and evidence indicated they had been running from someone and had been shot in the back several times. There were infiltrators, guerillas, and hostile civilians in the area.
As I understand it from the media, at Nogun-ri, once someone fired for whatever reason or which direction, then mob reaction took over. It must also be kept in mind the veracity of the vets that are telling the story. It has already been proven that one of the most outspoken was not even in that part of the country when it supposedly happened. Fifty years also does a lot to one's memory. I know from personal experience.
I don't think our government is doing a sufficient job in its efforts to locate and return Missing in Action personnel from the Korean War to the United States. Vietnam got all the attention because those vets were more vocal. Most of our vets were like me: "I did my job. Leave it alone." For example, I think I have read that Vietnam had something less than 2,000 MIA after about ten years of war. Korea had over 8,000 after only three years, one month, and two days! We have the names of over 300 that we know were POWs who have never been accounted for. Another thing is the fact that North Korea is charging exorbitant prices for each body returned, even though some of them are not ours.
I think that it is true that World War II veterans are treated with more respect and appreciation than Korean War veterans. It should be that way. They, too, did their job, came home, and took up where they left off. That is one thing of which I am proud. I think I also did that. The whole nation was a part of World War II, what with rationing and probably every family in the country with one member in service. The media was also a very active part of World War II. They had reporters "on the line" and it got "good press." There are several things that the general public does not know about World War II. For instance, the National Guard was mobilized in 1940! Just in the past few months a memorial has been authorized for World War II--a war that ended over 55 years ago.
This interview has been very difficult for me. For years I have tried to be the "silent majority" because "war stories,"--true, exaggerated, or completely untrue--turn me off. Due to that, I have purposely forgotten a lot of the things that happened during my tour of duty in Korea. As I wrote in my first memoir, "Facts and Memories," there were times when documentation did not support my memories. That was very disturbing. When my son first started talking to me about my travels in Korea, he got out a Korea map and wanted me to show him where I had traveled. I got up to a point, but then drew a blank. I didn't know where we went or when. I decided at that time that I needed to get it on paper for him and my Korean pen pal. I updated it as things came to mind that fit in with what I wanted to write. When the writing was completed, I was very depressed. "Facts and Memories" was published in the Mountain Signal in Mena, Arkansas, in February of 2001.
I read "war books" with a critical eye because there are so many interviewees who really get off by relating blood and gore stories which quite often are exaggerated or completely false. The writers end up looking bad when they did their best to get factual information, but got suckered by some "hero." I did not serve with anyone whom I considered to be a "war hero." To me, a "war hero" is someone who is only doing their job, but after the fact it turns out that "doing their job" was a critical turning point in a situation, or caused the situation to change directions in favor of his side. I don't think anyone purposely becomes a "war hero." They don't say to themselves: "Today I'm going to do something spectacular and become a war hero." Circumstances let it happen. David Hackworth has been quoted as saying, "Bravery is being the only one who knows you're afraid."