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Robert Lee Hanson
San Diego, CA-
"For me personally, just being in Korea was the hardest thing for me. But I had a job to do and I did it. I found that war was either very intense for a short time or it was just hurry up and wait and just sitting around."
- Bob Hanson
My name is Robert Lee Hanson of San Diego, California. I was born on May 6, 1931 in Denver, Colorado, the son of Arthur H. and Olive S. Johnson Hanson. Mom was born in Wisconsin and followed her sister to California. Dad was born in Minnesota and after his parents sold their farm and moved to California, he followed them out there. I have a sister, Mary Lou Hanson, who is one year younger than me. A few months after I was born we moved (or maybe returned) to California. We grew up in Glendale, California, where my father was a mailman and then a postal clerk. Mother did not work outside the house.
I attended school in Glendale. I remember paper drives and metal collection to support the war effort when I was in school during World War II. I bought war bonds and stamps as well. My dad was in World War I, but he was too old for World War II. I had an uncle who was underage for World War I, but joined the United States Marine Corps anyway. When World War II came along he had to prove that he had lied about his age in World War I or else he would be "too old" for World War II. He served in the Pacific on Guadalcanal and Pelileu. When Korea came along he tried to get back into the USMC. He was told that he was too old to go to Korea, so he didn't join up again.
I graduated in June of 1949 from Glendale High School. I was a skinny kid, so I didn't go out for football until my junior year. I played end on the B team my last two years. While in high school, I joined the High School Army ROTC. The ROTC instructor was also an assistant football coach. If the ROTC squad did not have enough members he would be reassigned to another school and we would lose a football coach. So most of the football team signed up for ROTC to keep our coach. After school, weekends and summers I worked as a grocery clerk, dishwasher, and service station attendant. I was also in Boy Scouts and went as far as First Class Scout. When I joined the ROTC, I dropped out of the Boy Scouts. All healthy high school boys could join ROTC. It was a regular class period. We learned basic military instruction such as marching, small arms instruction, map reading, etc. Many of those things were taught in Army basic training. The ROTC training was restricted to the school year.
I was seventeen and a senior in High School when I joined a local California National Guard unit--Headquarters Battery, 625th Field Artillery Battalion, 40th Infantry Division--in Burbank, California in February of 1949. My main reason for enlisting was that I thought that, if I had to go to war, I wanted to go with friends and maybe go with a little rank. I did not want to be just an unknown grunt. With the end of World War II just a few years in the past and the Cold War going on, I figured that another war was in the future. Remember, it was just expected that if a war came we were to defend our country. Nobody would chicken out or run to Canada.
I joined the Army National Guard because it was the closest local unit. Two of my friends from work were in the same unit. Two of my friends from work were in the same unit. I was working part-time during school and full-time in the summer as a grocery clerk for the Shopping Bag Markets. Dale Breech and Bob Kinkead, who both worked with me, had joined the National Guard before I did, and talked me into joining. Later I brought two of my high school friends to join. My parents agreed with my decision to join. They seemed to think that it was just the right thing to do.
I started to attend Glendale Junior College (now Glendale City College) in September 1949. I was going to attend for two years and then transfer to the University of California at Davis for a degree in agriculture. Then, in June 1950, South Korea was attacked by North Korea and we were at war again. We all (at least in our unit) felt that we would be called to active duty for this war; not knowing that it would be a "police action" instead. So it was no surprise when we were activated on 1 September 1950.
Training in California
If one joined the Reserves--or in my case, the National Guard--one drilled at home (the local armory) one night a week, except for a two-week summer camp at some Army base. The weekly drill nights were a combination of classroom training and individual on-the-job training in how to use the radio, fix the jeep, etc. The field training took place at the two-week summer camp. There we worked together as a unit, learning those things that could not be taught or learned in classroom. Sometimes we had a weekend drill so that we could go to some firing range for small arms weapon qualification. Even though there was no war going on at the time, I took my training seriously. I wanted to do the best I could. By the time we were activated I was a sergeant and we were doing unit training. When our guard unit was activated, those of us in the unit did not go through basic training. Most of the things a soldier would learn in basic I had learned in high school ROTC or summer field training in the National Guard.
When the Korean War broke out I figured I would be in it. After all, that was what we had trained for. I wanted to be in it. I felt that I should serve my country when needed. I also felt that it was important to draw the line against Red aggression. I was living at home and going to junior college at the time the war started. My parents felt that answering the call to activate was the expected thing to do. I drove the lead Jeep in our convoy from Los Angeles to Camp Cooke (now Vandenberg Air Force Base) north of Santa Barbara, California, arriving there on 1 September 1950.
The only thing I knew about Korea at the time was that it was near Japan. From the time the war broke out until the time I shipped out, I didn't really follow the news about what was happening in Korea. There was no television or instant reporting and we were kept busy training. We had a short news brief weekly, but the "police action" at the beginning of the war was no big thing to the news media, which was much more interested in what Russia and Europe were doing.
When we got to the camp, I got out of the Jeep that I had driven all night, stretched, and looked around. Located just north of Santa Barbara, California in the coastal foothills, Camp Cooke was a World War II Army base that had been empty since 1946. Well, it was not entirely empty, for a maximum security Army Disciplinary Barracks stood in one remote corner of the camp. Passing through the main gate, the advanced party drove to the battalion's assigned area. Getting out of our vehicles, we stretched cramped legs and looked around. Standing in the middle of the battery street, we saw those ubiquitous two-story wooden barracks that have dotted American military bases for what seems like hundreds of years. (This is an excerpt from my book, "The Boys of Fifty," which tells the history of the 625th Field Artillery Battalion.) Our two-story World War II barracks had been neglected since the end of the war and left to the sun and the rain. We had to spend a lot of time cleaning and fixing up the barracks and the rest of the camp. The buildings had been without any upkeep the last five years since the end of World War II. The hot summer winds and the winter storms had wrecked havoc with the two-story buildings. Just think of a ghost town that had to be brought back to life quickly. There were fleas, rattlesnakes, and other vermin. If the barracks didn't pass Saturday morning inspection, no passes were issued. A weekend pass meant a fast 200-mile trip south to the Los Angeles area where most of the Guardsmen lived. A day pass meant a trip to the nearby town of Lompoc for a meal of anything we wanted in a restaurant. I could not have a beer because I was too young to legally drink.
Activated National Guard units not only had a Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) less than that of Regular Army units, but usually they were only at 50 to 75 percent of their TO&E. All equipment was World War II vintage and usually well worn. Weapons were in short supply. In fact, we didn't receive our full complement of howitzers until we were embarking for Japan.
At camp we received two types of fillers to bring our units up to full wartime strength. The draftees we received were those 24-25 year olds who had just missed being drafted in World War II. They were unhappy with being caught in this war. Those fillers from the inactive Army reserve were very unhappy, too, for they felt that members of the active Army reserve should have been called up first. But the Army wanted to keep the active Army reserve units intact in case Korea was just a prelude to a major Russian attack. In both cases, many of the fillers didn't like younger guys being NCOs over them. Physicals, hardship family cases, and underage were usually the reasons people were discharged.
Most of the senior NCOs and officers were World War II veterans. Lesson plans and field manuals were used to bring us up to speed in our training subjects. We had about six weeks before we were to receive recalled reservists and draftees, which we would have to train. We did not have basic training in the normal sense of the word as we were in the midst of unit training. Mornings were spent on basic training subjects (close order drill, weapons training, personal hygiene, etc.) and afternoons were spent in unit training (wire crews here, gun crews there, mechanics and drivers at the motor pool and cooks off to school to learn the army way to cook and bake. The day was regimented as follows: Meals. Personal hygiene. Training. Free time (for movies and horsing around). Taking care of the barracks. Lights out. Each trainee was also tested in rifle range proficiency before the training was over. Our food was based upon the Army menu. How good it was depended upon how good the cooks were. Church was available on Sunday and the Chaplain's office was open during the week.
Individual Training Program (ITP)
LYNNITA HAS EDITED TO HERE............
By October, the guardsmen had completed all the necessary pre-cycle training tasks. The eleven-week Individual Training Program began with the arrival of the first fillers. The purpose of ITP was the teaching of basic soldiering skills to untrained personnel. In addition, individuals received basic instruction in their assigned job or Military Occupation Specialty (MOS.)
A typical training day began well before the crack of dawn. The Charge of Quarters went through the dark barracks, stopping wherever a towel was draped over the end of a bunk. The towel identified those who had to get up for KP duty. After the KPs had dressed and headed for the mess hall, the barracks were quiet again. Soon however, the quiet was broken by a sergeant's loud, bull-like voice, "Hit the deck. Everybody up!." It was five o'clock and reveille. Sleepy-eyed, the troops headed toward the mess hall for breakfast and hot coffee. A quick meal and back to the barracks to s---, shower, and shave before falling out for Physical Training. Most mornings concentrated on general subjects (NBC, First Aid, Map Reading, Individual Weapon Training, etc.), with Close Order Drill squeezed in. After a break for lunch, the battalion scattered about the area for sectional training.
At the gun park, unwieldy canvas covers were removed from the howitzers and the gun crews gathered around. Words like bore sighting, direct laying, indirect laying, and minimum elevation flew through the air. By the numbers, each crew went through the steps necessary to fire the piece. Again and again these steps were repeated until they were second nature. The guns were cleaned and cared for as though they were a Southern California boy's custom hot rod.
The battalion and battery ammunition sections gathered in the Service Battery area. The battalion's primary weapon, the 105mm howitzer (M101A1) used several different types of semi-fixed ammunition. The ammo sections learned how to identify each type and its unique safety requirements. Practical work consisted of correctly handling, storing, and transporting ammunition. Advanced map reading, aerial photograph interpretation, target identification and acquisition, and the miscellaneous skill mix needed by the Forward Observation and Liaison Sections were practiced in and out of the classroom.
Fire Direction Center personnel learned the duties of the computer. The computer was not a machine but a person who calculated firing solution information required for the aiming of the guns. They used the M10 Plotting Board and Charge and Distance slide rules as they plotted ranges and azimuths on their firing charts. The results of these calculations were turned into firing commands for the firing batteries. Battalion and battery survey sections mixed classroom instruction about fire control instruments, taping, and survey computations with practical work. Outside with their instruments, rods, and chains, they measured everything in sight.
Down at the Communication shack, the Radio Section was installing, maintaining, and repairing SCR 608's or 610's. Operators practiced tuning BC 684 Transmitters or BC 683 Receivers. Proper Radio/Telephone procedures were practiced until the Phonetic Alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie, etc) was a piece of cake and communication the Army way was second nature. The Wire Section was all over the battalion area. Putting in phone lines, installing field phones and switchboards where needed provided on the job training. Field wiremen practiced wire splices over and over again, laid and picked up field wire, and learned pole climbing techniques. At the Motor Pool, mechanics and drivers worked long hours maintaining and keeping the few available vehicles operational.
Unit Training Program (UTP)
With the individual training cycle completed by the middle of January, the battalion began a thirteen-week Unit Training Program. The UTP cycle trained the separate parts of the batteries (wire and radio sections, gun crews, fire direction teams, etc.) to smoothly work together. These parts were then melded into a fully functioning field artillery battalion. By Saturday, February 25th, the battalion was halfway through its Unit Training Program cycle. That afternoon around 1500 hours, the quiet in the battalion orderly room was broken when the Duty Officer received alert orders for overseas movement to Japan. The battalion would have to complete their UTP in Japan. Rumors about going overseas had been common since January. Most of us thought the division, if it went anywhere, would be sent to Germany as part of NATO's buildup.
Although we had not completed unit training, we shipped out to Japan on 30 March 1951. We were to complete our training there. We knew our jobs, so we were prepared as well as we could be. We felt we were ready to go, so we thought, "Let's do it." We had seven days before shipping out. I just hung out with my friends and family. Whenever going someplace while I was on leave, I wore my uniform. I did nothing special to prepare to leave for overseas assignment. My car was at home, I said goodbye, and went back to camp.
With the receipt of orders to Prepare for Overseas Movement (POM), all training was suspended. The division turned to completing POM qualification courses (Day and Night Infiltration Course, Overhead Artillery Fire, Combat in Cities, etc.). Many other activities also had to be completed before personnel could be sent overseas, including pre-embarkation leave, records updated, and, of course, another round of medical shots. No one had ever processed weapons, vehicles, and other major items for overseas movement. It was a real "learn as you go" task. Estimating, obtaining and/or building the right number of containers, crates and boxes, and then packing them took the rest of the month. As packing and crating supplies arrived, cargo to accompany troops (TAT) was identified, sorted and packed. Ordnance processing of vehicles and crew-served weapons for movement by water began.
When General MacArthur sent the 3rd Infantry Division from Japan to Korea in November 1950, it was without prior approval of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). The movement of this division left the US XVI Corps charged with the defense of the Japanese home islands without any ground combat troops. The Russians began to increase their Far East military strength and commenced large scale maneuvers on Sakhlin Island, just twenty miles across the Soya Strait from Hokkaido, the northern most Japanese island. Early in December, MacArthur urgently requested that the four newly activated National Guard divisions (the 40th, 45th, 28th, and 43rd) be sent to Japan to complete their training. This would reassure the Japanese that the United States was still committed to the defense of their islands.
On the other hand, the JCS, concerned that Korea was just a prelude to other Russian maneuvers, remained chiefly focused on Europe. Their reply to MacArthur was that his chance of receiving the National Guard divisions was remote. MacArthur continued to insist that he could not assume responsibility for the security of Japan and keep the Eighth Army in Korea without additional divisions. Faced with the insistence of America's most famous five-star general, the JCS agreed that two partially trained National Guard divisions could be deployed to Japan. By the end of January, MacArthur was informed that the National Guard 40th and 45th Infantry Divisions would be ordered to Japan. They would reach his command sometime in April--the 40th Div to Northern Honshu and the 45th Div to Hokkaido. Upon completion of their unit training cycles, they would maintain maximum combat readiness for defense of the islands or deployment to Korea.
My guard unit left for Korea on 30 March 1951. We were transported by the USNS General M.C. Meigs. A General John Pope class transport, it was launched in March 1944 and was manned by a Coast Guard crew. The USS General M. C. Meigs served as a troop transport until it was decommissioned in March 1946. Struck from the Naval Register and custody, it was assigned to the American President Lines, where it sailed as the SS General M. C. Meigs. After the outbreak of Communist aggression in Korea, the Meigs was reacquired by the Navy on 21 July 1950 and assigned to the newly organized Military Sea Transport Service (MSTS). As the USNS General M. C. Meigs (T-AP-116), she was manned by a civilian crew, made 19 cruises to the Far East during the fighting in Korea, and carried thousands of American troops from the West Coast to ports in Japan and South Korea.
I had never been on a large ship before. I was probably too excited and busy to worry about getting sick. Very few of the others got seasick either because the trip was smooth sailing. Every morning the berthing compartments were cleaned, mopped, and inspected. All troops except the cleaning detail reported topside regardless of weather conditions. There we remained until the inspection was finished. Not much open space was available, so troops just milled about. Some found a secluded corner out of the wind where they could read a battered paperback from the ship's library. Others just smoked, staring out at the ever-moving surrounding sea. World War II veterans who had been on troop ships before--or those who were just lucky, got on special details (ship's library, PX, etc.). Special details usually meant exemption from mess duty and cleanup details, and they were allowed early chow. For the rest, chow usually meant long mess lines in which most of the troops spent an hour or so getting served. I volunteered to work in the ship's library, and that allowed me to eat chow early and avoid the long mess lines.
After a few days, shipboard routine settled down (get up, clean up, eat, go topside, some physical training--mostly jumping jacks and running in place), go below, bs, play cards, read, sleep, and hit the sack before lights out. Orientation and training films were shown topside, weather permitting. Officers and senior non-commission officers met daily, planning the 625th's future in Japan. Two days out of Yokohama, the convoy slowed down and circled for a day to avoid a typhoon that hit Japan ahead of us. It was a 14-day trip to Japan.
The USNS General M.C. Meigs traveled up Tokyo Bay to dock at the port of Yokohama at 1400 hours, 13 April 1951. The 625th Field Artillery Battalion lined the rails to catch this first sight of Japan as the strains of "California, Here I Come" filled the air. After watching the dockside activities for a while, the troops went below to prepare for debarkation. Borrowed naval items had to be returned or accounted for, living quarters policed and inspected, personal gear stuffed back into packs and duffle bags. Night had fallen and the band long since departed when at 2200 hours, the battalion began to file down the steep gangway onto the pier. Standing in formation, it was one head count after another until everyone was satisfied that nobody was left aboard.
The weary troops were then ordered to board a waiting train. It was after midnight before the train pulled away from the RTO (the Japanese railway station), heading northward on the final leg of this trip to a foreign shore. The end of the long day saw everyone settling down all over the cars. Some tried to sleep sitting up in the undersized seats, others stretched out in the aisles. A short few hours later, as the sky began to lighten, bodies stirred, stretched, and looked out the windows. Unable to smell the fragrance of the night soil [fertilizer] because of the closed windows, the passing rice paddies looked green and lush in the early morning light. Later the night soil fragrance would become a familiar odor. After a short time we were used to the smell (and smell it did), and paid it no attention. The rest of the morning was spent in dozing, staring at the passing scenery, playing a card game or two, and smoking. After twelve hours on the train, the battalion detrained at the Jinmachi railhead. The 625th had arrived at Camp Younghans.
Camp Younghans, a former Japanese army camp, was located outside the small village of Jinmachi, southwest of Sendi, the largest city north of Tokyo. Entering the main gate, we found that our battalion was not the only occupant of the camp. Other divisional units which had proceeded the battalion off the ship were busily moving in. The 981st Field Artillery Battalion (155mm), 40th Division Artillery Headquarters, and 1st Battalion, 223rd Infantry Regiment shared facilities with us. The battalion headed toward their side of the camp. Arriving in the battalion area, I entered single-story barracks which had stood empty since the previous November. A sense of sadness struck me as I paused to look at the rows of empty wall and footlockers bearing the names of those who left for Korea a few months before. Many had gone north to the Yalu and not returned.
Before hitting the sack that first night, we were informed that these wooden barracks were very susceptible to fire. They could and had been known to burn to the ground in sixty seconds. Therefore a fire watch would be maintained from taps to reveille. In each barracks, every two hours a sleepy GI would wake up another sleepy GI and tell him to get up and keep his eyes open. The battalion had no fire incidents, but other units did. In April, a kitchen and mess hall at Camp Schimmelpfennig were destroyed. At Camp Zama, seven barracks were burned to the ground in late December.
We learned how all sections worked together by going out into the field (the area outside the camp area--sort of like grownups "camping out"). We learned as we did in the States, mostly using our own personnel. We trained in camp and in the field for three months. We had amphibious training at sea, airborne training at the air base, and live firing at Ojo Haria. We learned how to get off of a ship by climbing down those big, unwieldy cargo nets which hung over the sides. Then we spent our time waterproofing our vehicles so they would run when they were driven through the surf from the landing craft. After that it was just a matter of driving aboard the landing craft and then driving off again at the beach. The airborne training was just to teach us how to load equipment and men onto C-119 cargo planes so that we could be quickly moved from one place to another. We were not trained to be airborne troops and jump out of planes. We loaded our equipment, took off and flew around for a little while, landed, and unloaded everything. "Live firing" was firing live ammunition on target ranges for smaller weapons and artillery practice ranges for larger weapons.
We underwent unit tests and then continued field training until alerted for shipment to Korea. An artillery battalion was first tested a battery at a time in the basic functions of loading and aiming the guns, communicating among the six guns, and everybody working together as a team. Once the battery tests were passed successfully, the three firing batteries, the service battery, and the headquarters battery worked together as a team to bring fire down upon the target. The tests were conducted by teams from a higher headquarters.
We had evening passes up to midnight, and sometimes a weekend pass or a rare seven days in Tokyo. We (the same buddies I had in the States and had worked with or gone to school with) wandered around, and generally had a drink or two. The closest communities to the camp only had a bar or two to offer for an evening out. When we went to Tokyo, I slept as late as I wanted to, went sightseeing, shopped, and ate good. The holidays Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas came and went with little notice except a day off and a special meal.
My traveling around the country of Japan was all duty connected. We did road reconnaissance trips in the back country of Japan. Washington remained concerned about possible Russian involvement in the Korean War, especially an invasion of the Japanese islands. This resulted in the Battalion Intelligence and Liaison personnel (which included me) making frequent reconnaissance trips into the back country. These road trips identified various areas where the battalion could be deployed, if it was necessary to fight on the Japanese homeland. Roads, bridges, tunnels and railroad lines were physically inspected for height, width, capacity and overhead clearances. The Japanese encountered in the scenic back country were very friendly. Some had never seen an American solider, even though we had occupied their country for the last five years.
We were in Japan from April of 1951 to December of 1951. During that time, we had the full range of seasons--spring, summer, fall, and winter. Our clothing was adequate for the various seasons, although some winter clothing was not available in odd sizes. In general the climate gave us no trouble. We just went with the flow. After all, we were young and took the weather in stride, accompanied by a few choice words. We had no cold weather training per se. Nothing could prepare us for the cold we were about to face in Korea. It seemed as if it was direct from the North Pole.
In December of 1951, the 24th Division changed places with the 40th Division. The 24th went to Japan and the 40th went to Korea. Also at this time, the 1st Cavalry Division changed places with the 45th Infantry Division. The 1st Cavalry went to Japan and the 45th went to Korea.
When it was time to leave Japan for Korea, I felt that we had been adequately trained. We had learned to work together as battalions with other units. Now it was time to get with it. We left Camp Youngans, our home for almost a year, and settled down for the fourteen-hour train trip to Yokohama. There we immediately boarded the USS Henrico (APA45) and began settling down for the trip to the "Land of the Morning Calm." Departing the harbor, the convoy headed southeast toward the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu. After clearing Kyushu, it headed northwest through the Yellow Sea toward the Korean port of Inchon. At sea, there were four days of nothing to do but play cards, sack out, and wonder about the future.
A little after midnight on 11 January 1952, APA 45 anchored in Inchon harbor, bringing the battalion from Japan. After breakfast we wandered topside to catch our first glimpse of Korea. As the day wore on and the temperature dropped, we all hustled below to search for more clothes to put on. Among the last to disembark, our battalion moved down the gangways onto two shallow-draft LCU's that transferred us to land. Although it was clear and bright, it was cold, cold, cold. Ashore at 1700, we were directed to a large tent where the Salvation Army welcomed us to Korea with hot coffee and doughnuts welcomed us to Korea. (The Salvation Army not only greeted us when we arrived in Korea, they were around when needed. The Red Cross was always looking for publicity while the Salvation Army did the work.) The coffee was too hot to drink, especially if we had a rolled-lip canteen, but the minute we stepped outside, it was too cold to drink and froze to our field overcoat if we spilled any.
Everything about the port of Inchon was run down, dirty, and used up. Buildings were shot up and wreckage was everywhere. Leaving the comfort of the tent, we boarded a waiting train for the next step in our journey to the front. The train was similar to the trains we had ridden in Japan, but they were war-weary and unheated. The seats were too small, so we stretched out everywhere. Nothing eventful happened on the train trip, except it was impossible to sleep very long because of the cold. Around midnight, we climbed down from the train and climbed up into trucks, where we huddled as much out of the wind as possible, enduring the cold, 35-mile drive to Tent City.
Arriving at 0430 on 12 January 1952, we were directed to large squad tents which had been erected on the frozen rice paddies. Stoves were lit and the troops put their sleeping bags on cots that were already set up. We then crawled into the sleeping bags for a couple hours of sleep. Tent City was a camp in the 24th Division rear area. We stayed there for a week or so while we prepared battalion positions up front in the 24th Division area, then we were sent to the mountains in front of the Kumwha Valley. We were in bunkers overlooking the enemy front lines. There were also foxholes for personnel, gun pits for the artillery pieces, and sandbags added when available. Further back we had tents that were dug in and protected with sandbags. The front for us was in the Kumsong area. The entire front lines were to remain almost the same for the rest of the war.
I was issued an M2 automatic carbine and also carried a .45 caliber pistol which I had bought from the sergeant I was replacing. Within a week after I got to Korea I observed enemy positions and troops. We received some incoming artillery rounds, but there were no casualties at that time. It was winter and very cold, and there was very little action. I just felt tired and cold. I put on extra clothes (long johns, wool shirt, wool pants, field jacket with hood, field pants, two pair of socks, shoe pacs--and an added parka with hood for colder weather), and then I tried to ignore the cold. Going from the cold into a heated area caused condensation on our individual weapons. Unless we wiped it down good, the condensation caused rust. Being cold in Korea was the coldest I have ever been, but the strange thing was that, if it wasn't actually snowing, the roads were dirty and dusty.
The 625th Field Artillery Battalion (105mm truck-drawn howitzer battalion) from Southern California consisted of a Headquarters and Headquarters Battery (HHB), three Firing Batteries (A, B, C), a Service Battery and a Medical Detachment. The normal battalion strength was 34 officers, two warrant officers, and 671 enlisted men. We arrived at the front lines as a unit and had trained and traveled together as the same unit. Our officers were the same ones we had throughout our training and we were used to them. Most of them had seen action in World War II and by now knew their jobs.
Our biggest initial problem was getting the equipment we took over from the 24th Division into proper shape for efficient use. We did not bring any of our equipment with us except our mess trucks and individual gear. We had to take over the equipment of the units we were relieving. Most of that equipment was in bad shape. These paragraphs from my book The Boys of Fifty explain it best.
I was a Liaison Sergeant and went forward with one of the infantry battalions our artillery battalion was supporting to provide contact between the infantry and artillery. The 625th Field Artillery Battalion was assigned to provide direct artillery support to the 223rd Infantry Regiment of the 40th Infantry Division. We also supported tanks when they went out to shoot up bunkers by providing covering fire for them.
When I got to the 625th FAB, the 223rd Infantry Regiment had just relieved the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division and was in static positions on the front lines. Since I served as a Liaison Sergeant, I stayed with the infantry battalion itself either at battalion headquarters or visiting the infantry companies on line. Generally the artillery batteries were in valleys with mountains in front of them so that usually we were able to move about more freely. We saw Korean labors and ROK soldiers here and there, but we did not see Korean civilians. Civilians were generally not allowed near the front for fear of guerrilla activity.
The infantry companies in the front lines each had a Forward Observer team (a Forward Observer who was a 1st or 2nd Lieutenant, a sergeant and a radio operator). These teams observed and directed artillery fire in support of the infantry. There was also a Liaison Team (Liaison Officer who was a captain, a sergeant, a radio operator, and a driver). This team located with the infantry battalion controlling the infantry companies to ensure the best use of available artillery fires. My specific job was to assist the Liaison Officer in his duties, and to train and direct the others in their duties. My job did not change during the time I was in Korea.
My time was usually spent at the operations section of the infantry battalion planning the night's activities (protective fires for the scheduled patrols and harassing and interdiction missions to keep the enemy on edge). At times we went to the forward observation posts for some daylight bunker busting. This involved bringing bigger artillery pieces up to the front lines and firing directly at hidden enemy bunkers in order to destroy them. During this time the veterans and recalled reservists began to rotate home and the replacements were generally just out of basic training. In many cases they had no artillery training at all, so we spent lots of time training them to become artillery men.
Generally, in Korea for the last two years of the war, the infantry units dug in near the top of the ridges with lots of sandbags, foxholes, and barbed wire. The artillery unit supporting them had a few men up with the infantry to direct artillery fire supporting the infantry. The artillery guns were a ways behind the infantry, generally in a valley behind the hills being defended. The artillery had it a little better since we were not often in direct contact with the enemy except when their artillery tried to hit us. In fact, I felt I was in the most personal danger in Korea when we were shelled while we were in the open and had no place to hide. We quickly moved out of there. The enemy tended to stay out of sight during the daylight to avoid drawing artillery fire. At night we fired on suspected enemy activity.
The last two years of the Korean War was a battle of the outposts on the hills facing each other. Units did not move around much. We stayed in the same hills for that time. Sometimes we supported South Korean infantry units, as they did not have a lot of artillery. In fact, when American divisions were relieved on the line by another division (US or ROK), the division's artillery units stayed on the line to continue fire support. The biggest problem if the unit was ROK was, of course, the language problem. But it was overcome by hard work.
Contact with South Korean non-military personnel was generally limited to the "houseboys" who laundered our clothes in nearby streams. Civilians were never a problem for our unit because they had all been removed back to what was called a no-farm line. They couldn't come north of that line. Military Police kept watch to make sure they stayed out of our area, but the farmers kept crossing it to plant crops, etc.
The first dead enemy I saw had been dead for a while and his body was revealed as the snow melted. I didn't think much about it. The first dead American was laid out near our bunker, having been brought back from a night patrol and laid out waiting to be picked up and taken to the rear. I felt sorry, and I was glad I didn't know him. The reality of war differed from the war stories that I had previously heard about throughout my lifetime in that we waited for something to happen. When it did, there were noises and smells to go along with it. Generally fighting initiated by us was in daylight hours, while fighting initiated by the NKVD or CCF troops was at night to avoid our air power.
Daily Life in Korea
For me personally, just being in Korea was the hardest thing for me. But I had a job to do and I did it. I found that war was either very intense for a short time or it was just hurry up and wait and just sitting around. Our living quarters were either tents dug into the ground with sandbags around them or bunkers dug into the side of a mountain.
That winter could be called 'uneventful' in that there were no major attempts by either side to gain ground. But there were frequent attempts to push one side or the other off important hills that gave good observation of the other side's positions. These usually involved lots of localized ground fighting. My unit, the 625th Field Artillery Battalion, was lucky as our area was mostly quiet except for some night shelling to keep the other side awake. The business of why we were in Korea was not generally a subject of discussion. We had just finished World War II and we were needed.
The weather warmed up and things melted, making everything a mass of mud. Then it froze up again. Things went back and forth like that for a while until it finally quit freezing. Springtime in Korea was cold and muddy. During a few days of spring floods, communication supplies (radio batteries, rations, and telephone wire) were dropped from our light observation planes because the springtime flooded the five batteries that made up our artillery battalion, isolating us by the swollen rivers and impassable roads. We also were cut off from units in the front and to the rear of us. Usually being cut off only lasted a few days before things were fixed up, bridges were repaired, or roads dried up enough to be passable. The telephone wire dropped to us was used to replace wire that had been washed away or torn loose by the flooding. Radio batteries replaced batteries used up since communication had to be by radio and not by phone. Sometimes C-rations were dropped to those that were cut off up on the hills. Most drops were done by our L-19's (like a Piper Cub) flying low and very slow.
Generally hot food was brought forward by Korean porters who were hired to carry food and supplies to the front lines. Usually if things were quiet this would be a hot meal similar to what we would have back at the rear. If they were not able to make it, we could make do with C- or B-rations. C-rations were individual one-man rations while B-rations were five-man rations. Food in the reserve areas was normal Army meals prepared in kitchens based on the army menu for the day. We never ate the native food. The stateside food I missed the most while I was in Korea was malts or milk shakes. The best thing I ever ate in Korea was a cheeseburger at the Post Exchange at the Replacement Depot on my way home.
Keeping clean was always a challenge. At the front we heated hot water on whatever stove was around, poured it into our steel helmets, and washed and shaved. Once in a while we went off the hill to a shower point where we could take a shower and exchange our clothes for not new, but at least clean clothes. Back down the hill, we usually had some Korean around who would wash our clothes in the river for very little money.
Generally the World War II veterans that I served with were older and upper-grade sergeants and officers. Many were mad about being called back to duty. Since my buddies were back with the artillery guns themselves while I was up with the infantry itself, I did not make any close friends. Any spare time was spent sleeping and playing cards. I also looked forward to mail from home sent to me by my folks and Grandma. Mailed items usually arrived in good condition and packages with food from home like cookies were usually shared with everyone. I turned 21 in Korea and on that day I was given a fifth of Vat 69 from one of my Sergeant friends since I was now of legal age to have a drink even though I had been old enough to fight for a long time. I was a smoker before going to Korea, but to look older when I made Sergeant, I started smoking cigars. I drank a little too--usually beer, which we got a supply of every month. as a smoker before going to Korea, when I was made a Sergeant, I started smoking cigars to look older. Drank a little, usually beer which we got a supply of every month.
National Guard units activated for the Korean War were originally called up for 21 months. Later this was extende4d to 24 months. Since there had been no declaration of war and Congress would not declare one, all National Guard personnel had to be discharged by their 24th month of active duty. But, the army could not take away those National Guard units fighting in Korea as they were needed to continue the war. So as the National Guard personnel were sent home and discharged before their 24 months were up, the National Guard units were filled up with replacements who had enlisted in the army or had been drafted. That way the units were kept at full strength. When I returned home from Korea, it was not because I had enough points to come home, but because my 24 months were up.
I knew it was my day to be rotated home from Korea when our First Sergeant told me to get back down off the hill and report to him. I turned in my equipment and signed papers. I was glad to be going home, but I wished we had finished the job. We moved by truck to the replacement center where we spent a couple of days until a ship was available to take us to Japan.
I left Korea around the last of May 1952 with the rank of Sergeant First Class. I don't remember the name of the ship, but we landed at Sasebo, Japan, which was the center for processing replacements for Korea as well as the center for troop movements back to the States. Here our records were brought up to date, new uniforms were issued, and the numerous papers were checked and signed.
On the return trip to the USA, there were about six or seven guys from my unit on the ship. I had gone overseas with them and we were all now returning. The general mood on the ship was relaxed and content. We played double-decked pinochle on the ship day and night. (I haven't played it since.) I had no duty so I just took it easy. Once we left Japan we sailed straight for the United States. It took about 14 days. Besides the pinochle games there were movies to watch and books to read.
We disembarked at the San Francisco dock where there was a US Army band waiting. It played for us as we came down the gangplank. After that we went directly on board an Army ferry for a two-hour trip along San Francisco Bay to Camp Stoneman for our final processing. When we arrived at Stoneman, we had a meal and spent the night. The next day I was paid up to date, given travel expenses to my home, and given my discharge from the army. Then I got on a bus and headed home. The date was June 19, 1952.
Following my discharge in June 1952, I rejoined the National Guard in September 1952 and served another ten years. Some guys go a little wild after returning from a war zone but I didn't. I felt that it was my duty to continue to serve and I enjoyed my time in the service. I was the Operations Sergeant for the battalion in the National Guard.
I got out of the Guard because I was still trying to finish college and it was taking too much of my time. (I went back to college to get my degree in Geology at UCLA.) While going to college I held various part-time jobs to help supplement my GI Bill income. My outlook on life differed than the other students. Most of them had no idea what the Korean War was about and could care less. Although I don't think others noticed a change in me, Korea had changed me. I left for Korea a teenager without a care in the world and returned an adult having seen many good and bad things.
After leaving college, I was trained to be a computer programmer for the Air Force. I then taught computer programming for ten years, followed by thirty years installing and testing multi-service air defense systems. I retired in 1999. In my retirement I write. My first book was The Boys of Fifty: The 625th Field Artillery Battalion, which is listed on the Korean War Educator website's General Store under non-fiction. I am presently working on a book about the field artillery in Korea.
I think the United States should have sent troops to Korea when the war broke out. It was important to stop actual Communist aggression against peaceful countries. I also think that MacArthur should have gone north of the 38th parallel. If we had just quit at the 38th, we would be back at the status quo and have to do it all over again in a few years. After the Inchon Invasion, the X Corps should have been attached to the Eighth Army and headed across the 38th immediately. Instead, the X Corps took almost two months until it was in action against the North Koreans in the northeast corner of North Korea.
World War I was "the war to end all wars." World War II was to save the world and we had big parades and still talk about it. The Korean War was to protect another country. We had no parades and nobody thought much about it. It was forgotten. The Vietnam War was to protect another country and everyone got spit on and cursed. Everyone took angry sides about it.
The Korean War was necessary to show the world that we would stand up where needed. It occurred in a time when most everyone thought it was their duty and obligation to serve their country. We had a patriotic duty to serve our country and it was necessary to stand up to Communism. I went to Korea in 1980 and was amazed how everything was so modern compared to 1950. We need to continue our support for South Korea or else the serving all would have been in vain.
As for serving in the Army, I would do it again for my country in a heartbeat.