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Wesley Frank Jaska
Barstow, CA -
"They called for the medic to come help me. He told them to place my head down hill in case of shock. Then I heard someone say something and the medic said, “I don’t think he’s going to make it.” I thought I was a goner."
- Nicholas Jaska
Blackie Cahill's E-mail
My story all started when I was sent an e-mail by a friend of my grandfather’s. In his letter he told me things I thought would only happen in someone else’s family. I had only seen these types of stories on the History Channel--men going to battle in far away places. So I set out to find more information on what my grandfather did in Korea. I found information on the Internet about Korea, but none on his group of Marines, called the Gilson Raiders, could be found.
The following letter is from John "Blackie" Cahill. This is the e-mail that helped me in writing this story:
Wes Jaska's Story
I was working at Potter’s Ranch when two Marines drove up. They asked us if we would like to join the service, and said that we could make more money than working on a hay farm. So, Stanley, Albin Dlabja, Joe Belha, and I said yes, we would. They told us to meet them at Ennis High School in the morning to take a test.
The next day Belha, Stanley, Belha, and I met at the school. We waited and waited, but the marines didn’t show up. The Army was also testing at the school. They told us that since the marines didn’t show, we could take their test and join the Army. We said, “Okay” and passed. They told us to show up in the morning to take a bus ride to boot camp.
We then went into town to have a soda. While we at the soda shop, we could see the marine officers driving around, so Joe Belhak went outside to tell them what had happen. They asked if we were sworn in and we told them no. They told us that we could still take the Marine test, so we went back to the school and passed that one. After that, we all were loaded into a jeep and sent to Dallas. They put us up in a hotel and fed us dinner.
The next morning we boarded a train headed to San Diego. When we arrived at El Paso, Texas, they moved our train car to a siding. We sat there for three days and two nights. It was so hot, we walked across the river to Mexico, where we played pool and had something cool to drink. The third day the train car was hooked back up and we were on our way to San Diego.
When we arrived at the station, we were moved to a bus for the ride to the boot camp. At the gate we had to wait, then we saw a marine coming toward us. When he was in front of us he said in a loud voice, “GET UP YOU BUNCH OF JAY BIRDS.” We looked at each other and said, “Is he talking to us?” Yes, he was. That was our drill instructor, better known as the DI.
He took us onto the base where we were told to remove all of our things and put them into a box. Then we were issued new military clothing called “dungarees” and a bucket. In this bucket we had soap, a toothbrush, blanket, and underclothes. Everything we needed was in that bucket. After that we, headed to the barracks.
When about seventy men had shown up, we were formed into the 69 platoon. We then met with our DI and started training. We marched for almost a week, until we were able to follow commands. After that, the training started from one classroom to another until we had that down also. In the sixth or seventh week we went to Camp Matthews for rifle range training, where we all had to qualify. Here, some of us made it to Sniper School.
After thirteen weeks of training, we all graduated and received our 10-day leave to go home. When we returned to San Diego we would find out where we would be stationed. The day we returned, I went up to a large bulletin board to find my name; however, I could not find my name. Stanley’s name was on the list--he was going to Guam. Alben was going to Barstow. Some of the guys were telling me that I had to go back through Boot Camp again. I said, “No way.” Then the Sergeant came up and asked what was wrong. I told him my name was not on the list. He told me to wait here and he would find out what happened. When he returned he said, “You are going to Barstow.” I asked him where was Barstow. He told me Barstow was located in California. I was told while we were in boot camp that if a fire was to break out in the San Bernardino Mountains, we were to go help put it out. So, I thought that Barstow was in the mountains. The Sergeant told me that Barstow was in San Bernardino County. I said, “That’s in the mountains.” He replied, “Yes, Barstow is in the mountains.” Then he smiled as he turned and walked away.
We loaded the bus heading to Los Angeles, then switched to a train to Barstow. When we arrived at Barstow, it was one o’clock in the morning. A military truck was waiting for us. It went through a small town on its way to the base. We were hoping there was a large town in the area, not just the small one we had passed through. They put us in building 30, on the second floor of a three-story building.
The next morning when we got up and went outside to look at the scenery, all I saw was desert, not a tree to be found. I thought to myself that there must have been a big fire that burned up all the trees. We’ all were given a tour of the area, so we knew where the chow hall was. Then we all lined up for duty assignments. Some of us went to guard duty, some to warehouse, some to motor pool. I was sent to the fire department with seven other guys. We were just fill-ins for the ones that had left.
About a month into the fire department, I was put into the driver's set. I knew how to drive a tractor, so they figured I could drive a fire truck. So, for about a year I trained as a fireman, worked 24 hours on, 24 off. About 40 guys worked in the fire department. When we were not on duty we would go to Barstow, Victorville, and sometimes to Los Angeles. My pay was $40 every two weeks.
War Breaks Out
On July 7, 1950 we were going on leave. This was a Friday when the Sergeant would come and inspect our quarters and equipment. We were all at attention. Then a message came around that all liberty was canceled. We were to get our things together because we were shipping out to Camp Pendleton.
First we headed to Nebo sick bay for medical checkups, then to personnel for paperwork, and finally back to Dagget to put all our personal things in bags. We were headed to Japan. While we were waiting, one of the guys made up a template with the words “Gilson Raiders” on it and spray-painted it on all of the bags. While we were having a group picture taken, all the civilian firefighters, along with the fire chief, came there to say goodbye. They knew that some of us were not going to return.
We boarded the bus heading to Camp Pendleton. When we arrived at Camp Pendleton we went straight into this barracks where there were four desks. Each man signed in. Had we known what was going on, we could have been in the same unit. Each desk was a different unit; one was Howe unit, the other was George unit, and so on. After we were done with the paperwork we went to the barracks to get some sleep. Sleep was only one and a half hours.
Once we were in our new units, we went to chow and then went to draw our weapons. While I was in the fire department we didn’t have weapons, so once we were fitted with all the equipment we needed, some of us were sent down to help load the ship. That’s where I met Lieutenant Cahill (Blackie).
After the rest of the unit arrived at the ship called USS Pickaway, we set sail for Japan. The ship had a flat bottom to it because it was a cargo hauling ship. Most of us had never been on a ship before, so we rode the USS Pickaway for 22 days. Lots of the guys were sick. We thought Japan was our destination. The North Koreans and Chinese were killing the Army, running them into the sea. Later we were diverted to Korea to help the Army.
We landed at Pusan Bay, Korea. It was daylight, so we all had to stay below deck so that the enemy didn’t see us. After nightfall, we left the ship to an area outside of town. There was no streetlights in this town. After being on a ship for 21 days, it was hard to walk straight. We were taken on the USS Pickaway to an area outside of town to wait.
The next morning we were put on a train. Trains in Korea were a narrow gauge with two seats on one side and a narrow walkway on the other side. While heading inland we went by a lake where we could see small bodies floating. It’s different here in Korea. They don’t remove their dead. Well, that evening we arrived at our area to unload. We were moved to the side of a hill where they told us what we had to do. We were shown maps showing where the enemy was. The first thing we did was dig in on the side of the mountain. The train track was below us, so we could see it go by. On the flat car there were two airplanes called Grasshoppers. The crew was putting the wing in place and then the train started to back up. We could hear the train coming back and we noticed that the plane engines were running. Then all of a sudden the planes lifted off of the flat car and headed up the valley. They were scout planes. A little while later they came back through, headed to Pusan.
The next day we met up with the Army in a small town. Some of the Army guys seemed not to like us. They said, “Did you bring your cameras so you can take pictures?” We informed them that we were there to help. Lieutenant Cahill told us to pay no mind to them and to just get our gear. We walked over to a building that looked like a college. We could see inside and the walls were covered with blood. They had found the enemy hiding inside, and that’s where they had killed them.
We then moved to a hill to the back side, where Lieutenant Cahill had us dig in. I was below the machine gun so if the enemy was coming we could help protect the machine gun nest. We could see the enemy up ahead going in and out of a building, but we could not shoot our guns because they were too far away. Mounted on a jeep was a recoilless rifle, so we fired a shot at them. It fell well short of them so we raised the barrel and fired again. We still could not reach them. Lieutenant Cahill told us to stop firing; they wouldn’t bother us anyway.
About midnight that evening the Army was in trouble. On Hill 108, the enemy was over-running them. Lieutenant Cahill called to 1st Platoon, "Gather over here by the school building. You will be the first platoon to go and help the Army." There were about thirty to forty men in the platoon. As we were walking alone on a path next to rice paddies, one of the men named Belto fell in. It was muddy and smelled. We laughed and told him to stay away from us because he smelled real bad. The enemy would also smell him.
As we walked it started to become daylight and we could hear someone coming our way. Lieutenant Cahill told us to scatter. We waited. We could see a person coming closer. It was an Army person, and as he came closer we could see he was carrying his arm. We had a medic who took care of him. His arm was almost blown off from gunfire. He was able to tell us information about the enemy location.
As we were making our way up to the Army position, they could see us coming. No one had told them we were coming. They opened fire on us; two men were hit by friendly fire. Word finally got to them that we were not the enemy. As we made our way up to the top of the hill, one of our sergeants was hit in the stomach area. The medic had him sit down and then had someone take him back down the hill to the aid station.
We finally made it to the top of the hill. It was so hot. It was August and the hottest part of the year in Korea. That afternoon we were low on water because we thought that the Army would have supplies for us. We passed by a reservoir where we could have gotten water, but that was way back down the hill. As the day went on and the hotter it got, the men were calling for water. Lieutenant Cahill sent three of us back down the hill to get water. We gathered all the canteens we could and started down the hill. We could see a small village as we came lower and thought that they would have a well. Once we made it to the village, there was no one there. We found the well on the outskirts of the village. We filled all the canteens up and headed back up the hill. As we were about to cross a clearing the enemy opened fire upon us.
With the weight of all these canteens, we dropped them and went for cover behind some rocks. A while later the guys started to yell at us to get the canteens if possible, so we decided to go back down to get the canteens. We crawled back down to them, then real fast we picked them up and ran as fast as we could. No one was firing at us then, so we made it back with the water and to safety. When the canteens were passed back out, it was hot water because the canteens didn’t have covers on them--just the metal, and they had been in the hot sun for about forty-five minutes. The guys drank it anyway. One of the sergeants was overcome by the heat and was trying to crawl under a bush. Some of the guys used their shirts to cool him off. In about twenty or thirty minutes he came around from the heatstroke.
As the day went on we were receiving more machinegun fire, so Lieutenant Cahill told the corporal and me to take a bazooka and go around the hill and fire at them. As we were moving about 300 yards away, the enemy spotted us and started to launch mortars our way. The first one was away from us. The second was closer. We figured that they were zeroing in on us, so we dropped the bazooka and started to run back. When I looked back where we dropped the bazooka, a mortar hit that spot and I could see the bazooka flying into the air. I told the corporal that I didn’t need to carry the bazooka rounds. He said, “No, just drop them.” When we got back to Lieutenant Cahill, we told him what had happened.
The next day we were getting short on supplies so we radioed in that we needed: water, ammo, medical supplies, and food. They told us that they would fly in supplies. When we saw the airplane coming, Lieutenant Cahill told us to lay down rifle fire at the enemy. In doing this the enemy would not be firing on the plane. The only problem we had was the airplane dropping the supplies to the enemy. They overshot the drop zone. Lieutenant Cahill heard from headquarters that small arms fire was coming from us. That’s why they overshot us. What they were getting was fire from the enemy.
The only happy people were the North Koreans. They got water, food, and ammo. We called headquarters and told them we needed water and ammo real bad. They sent a Piper Cub scout plane with three five-gallon water cans and ammo. It was dropped from the plane. Most of the metal water cans broke up when they hit the ground. The ammo boxes held up okay. One water can didn’t break and we scooped up what we could from the broken ones. Also, some boxes were dropped containing Bit-o-Honey candy in them. This made us even thirstier. The next day the Army showed up to relieve us so we could go back down the hill to meet up with our platoons. Out of the forty men we went up the hill with, only twenty were returning. On the way down we passed the sergeant that was shot in the stomach. He had died. The three days that he had sat in the sun dead turned his skin black.
Death All Around Us
Things around Korea happened so fast; death was all around us. As we walked back to meet up with the rest of the units, we passed a reservoir. One of the guys fell in and some of us jumped in to help get him out. All we really were doing was getting some water. The sergeants didn’t want us to drink the water because of bacteria in the water we used. We finally made it back to base camp. We were tired and hungry. They had set up a chow line where we could get something to eat. After we had eaten they were giving out Red Cross paper so we could write home. The North Koreans started to shell the area we were in. They were trying to zero in on the mess tent where all the guys were eating. Closer and closer they came to hitting it. Finally they did, sending metal trays into the air. The mess tent was totally destroyed.
We spent the night there and the next day we headed out. About three miles down the road we noticed two Corsairs coming down on us real fast. They opened fire and dropped bombs on the hill we were coming up on. We didn’t know it, but the North Koreans were waiting to ambush us and the Corsairs could see this from where they were. After the Corsairs left we went up the hill to check if there were any more North Koreans in the area. I could see Cahill pointing at a Korean in the rice field. He was hit in the leg. Cahill called our attention to him and then fired. This was the first time I had seen close up a person getting shot.
That night we dug in. I didn’t like the night. You didn’t know where they were. I was afraid to go to sleep. Some North Koreans had been captured and all they wanted to know was who were the men with the yellow stripes on their legs that never slept. Only the Marines wore them. They were called leggings.
Our next move was to meet up with some tanks. They were on one side of the valley and we were on the other. As we came over the ridge we could see three Soviet-made tanks coming up the road. We all hid so they wouldn’t see us. We radioed our tanks, letting them know that enemy tanks were in front of them. There was a bend in the road where our tanks could wait for them. As they came around the bend, our tanks opened fire on the second tank. That way the first tank couldn’t back up. Then we opened fire on the first tank. The third tank, back around the corner, turned and ran. We could hear it moving real fast.
A day or so later we came to a fork in the road. We could see a building and thought that the enemy could be in there, so Cahill told the man with the bazooka to shoot at that building. We all watched as he aimed and shot. We could all see the round hit the ground and bounce back up right into the building, blowing it up. We were getting sniper fire in the area so Cahill had me go to the other side. There was a machine gun over there he wanted. I cut through the open field to where they were. When I met up with them they told me that I was dumb to come that way. I asked them why. They said, “That area is full of North Koreans.” I said, “I didn’t see anyone out there.” I then left to return back to my unit. I returned the same way I came. When I came to the ditch, I started to come out and was getting shot at. I yelled at the guys to stop shooting at me. I turned and went down the ditch to another area and came up where I met no gunfire. When I finally made it to the unit, I asked them why they were shooting at me. That’s when they told me that a machine gun nest was way above us. We couldn’t see them and they couldn’t see us. The Sergeant told me I was lucky to make it back.
Once the area was safe to move around in, we headed up the road riding on the tank. Down the road we received a call to stop where we were. Lieutenant Cahill told us that they might need us again, so we waited. While we were digging in, Lieutenant Cahill told us to be careful because there was a sniper in the area. We got tired of the sniper so three of us went to look for him. While walking up a path, a shot rang out. The last guy on the path spotted the sniper in the trees. I thought he was on the ground, not in the tree. When we returned back, I was told to carry the radio because the radioman had got shot. I told Cahill that I had never worked a radio before. Lieutenant Cahill just said, “Jaska, just put the radio on and carry it until a new radioman shows up.” So I carried the radio.
Down the road we came upon about fifty to sixty jeeps and motorcycles. Cahill told me to try to get one of the motorcycles with a sidecar running so we could ride and not carry the heavy radio. I worked and worked but couldn’t get one running. Some of the jeeps were made with Ford engines. The call came in for us to return back to where the Army motor pool was. We rode on the tanks and some of the jeeps we had got running. When we arrived at the area where the tanks and jeeps couldn’t go, we set to walking back up the hill to the area where the motor pool was.
That night it started to rain and while I was in my foxhole it started to fill up with water. I was using my poncho to keep the water out. It was raining so much that finally the sides gave away and water ran in. The next morning Cahill told me to get the others ready to move out. When the guys saw me, I looked like an old man with my skin all shrunk up due to the water I was in.
After returning to the command post I heard something. I removed the radio and found a bullet hole in it. I was so close to getting shot but the radio stopped the bullet. I told Cahill what happened and he said, “Does it still work?” “Yes, it does sir, I replied.” The only good thing about carrying the radio was that at night the command post was in the middle of the unit, so if the enemy came in they would have to go through the guys first. They finally sent a radioman and I could get rid of carrying the radio.
After two weeks of fighting the North Koreans, I was looking around at all the guys who I started with. Only eight firemen out of forty were still alive. We moved off and found an Army mess hall. All we wanted was some hot coffee. As we walked up to get coffee, the Army guys told us, "No, this is not for Marines. It’s for Army only." Cahill tried to talk to them, but no way. So we left en route to the area where the enemy was. We could see Corsairs bombing the hill in front of us. It looked like ants going up that hill because the North Koreans were waiting for us, but the Corsairs saw them first.
Bullets and Shrapnel
When we started up that hill we didn’t see any bodies anywhere. They must have removed their wounded and dead. We started up the hill and had some enemy fire. We pushed them over to the other side. We finally made it to an area where a cemetery was. We knew they were in this area also. A sergeant and I crawled into a bomb hole so we could keep firing on the North Koreans. We could watch the Corsairs firing on them as they crossed the river. It must have been a blood river with the amount of North Koreans in the water. As I lay in a bomb hole with the sergeant, the word was given to pull back. We never received it. Then I heard something and turned to see North Koreans standing, their rifles pointed at us. The Sergeant turned to fire when the Koreans opened fire, shooting me in my leg and in my side. I opened my eyes and saw them running over the ridge. One stopped and threw a hand grenade. When it blew, a piece of it hit my stomach. I thought I was dead. I could hear the guys calling to us to get out of there because they were going to open fire soon. I reached down to my leg and could feel blood squirting out of it. I put my finger in the hole to stop the blood and I removed my belt and tighten it around my leg to stop the bleeding.
I left my gun and started for crawl to help. I crawled over a grave and fell onto someone. I didn’t know who it was, then realized that it was a Marine. He spoke to me saying, “I’m hit real bad.” He took my hand and placed it on the back of his neck where he had been shot. I said to him, “I’m shot in the leg and in my side.” I placed a dressing on his wound and told him that when he was ready to move, let me know. I must have passed out and when I woke up he was gone. I called for him, but he must have thought I had died, so I started to crawl toward help. I could hear them telling me to move faster. I said, “I can’t. I’m hit bad.” The next thing I knew, two guys grabbed my feet and dragged me down the hill. They called for the medic to come help me. He told them to place my head downhill in case of shock. Then I heard someone say something and the medic said, “I don’t think he’s going to make it.” I thought I was a goner.
That night the Marines were bombed and in the morning I was covered in dirt. When I woke, the first thing I could see was Koreans carrying me, I thought they got me, but later I found out that they were South Koreans. They carried me off the hill and down to a jeep ambulance where I was put on the bottom area below some other guys. Cahill was also hit in the arm. They drove us back down to the aid station. Before we got there we were being shelled again. They stopped the jeep and ran for cover, leaving us there in the back of the ambulance. Once the shelling stopped, we were on way to the aid station.
When we arrived, they put me on a stretcher with all the other wounded guys. Later, a nurse came over to check me out. When she rolled me over she found that I had a hole in my back where the bullets came out, so she bandaged me up. By this time Cahill and the other guys I came down with had gone. The last thing I can remember was a round light over me. When I woke up I was on a train. I was cold because my feet were sticking out the window. The trains were narrow, so our heads were inside and our feet outside. This, I think, was the train that brought us up here.
As I lay there I could tell that I was bandaged up real good. I tried to reach my hand down to see what was wrong with me. I stuck my hand under the dressing when all of a sudden I hit a wire that was used to sew me up. It hurt a lot. Then I just lay there until we arrived at Pusan. In Pusan we were moved from the train into ambulances for the ride to the USS Consolation hospital ship. While riding in the back of the ambulance, it started to get real hot. The guys in with me started to pound on the side, telling them to let some air inside. They open the doors so we got some air.
When we arrived at the ship they loaded us onto the ship using ropes. When I got to the ship I was dizzy from the spinning. They checked my ID tag and told someone where to put me. I was put into a small cube with side rails. A nurse came by and gave me a shot. That night another nurse came by to take my pulse. When she grabbed my arm, I was asleep and grabbed her around the neck, thinking the railing was my gun. When I woke up, I told her that I was sorry. She said, “I should have woke you up first.” They needed X-rays of my back. The doctor asked me if I could stand up for the X-rays. I said, “Yes.” They put me up to the machine and said, “Put your chin on the line.” When he went to take the picture, I fell to the cold metal floor. I was too weak to stand.
That night or the next day we went through the straits of Japan and a volcano was erupting. Some of the guys working in the ward asked if I wanted to see the volcano. I told them yes. They put me in a wheelchair and lifted me up the stairs to the deck where I could see it. When we arrived in Japan we were unloaded. Some of us were put into ambulances and some on buses. I took the bus, leaving the really bad-off guys the ambulance to ride in. When the bus stopped at the hospital, the nurses jumped all over me, telling me I was to be on an ambulance. I told them, “Well, I’m here.”
I was in Japan for about three months before being sent back home. We were put on a navy ship heading back to the States, switching to another ship because the navy ship was heading back to Korea. We stopped in Hawaii, next to the USS Arizona. We couldn’t get off the ship. The next stop was San Francisco. It was getting close to Christmas and we all were hoping to be home. The Navy guys in San Francisco told us that we would have to wait to get released because they wanted to get going so they would be home for Christmas. We all said, “Okay.” What else could we have said? The Admiral of the ship came by and asked if we were all going to be home for Christmas. We told him what the crew had said. He walked out of the room and told his crew that all leave was cancelled. No one would go home until all of the guys were processed to go home. The crew was mad at us, but we wanted to go home also.
I was given sixty dollars to get a bus ticket for the ride back to Texas. I had to occasionally not eat because I didn’t have the money. A Navy officer was asking me why I wasn’t eating. I told him I was not hungry. He then said,” You don’t have any money do you?” I said I was a little short, but I was okay. He said, “No way, you are going to eat and I’m going to buy it.” So he helped me get back home on a good meal.
After I was home for awhile I had to return to Barstow to finish about two more years in the service. I boarded the bus to Barstow and after arriving I waited around for another guy heading back to duty also. When we arrived at Nebo Base, they knew we were coming. We received a big welcome greeting. I finished my Marine service time as a fireman and after that two years I continued a career in the fire service. A few years back I retired after 32 years in the fire service."
Wesley Frank Jaska Obituary
Nicholas Jaska's Biography
Nicholas Jaska was born in Apple Valley, California, on July 3, 1988. An eighth grade student at St. Timothy's private school in Apple Valley, California when he documented his grandfather's Korean War story, Nicholas is the son of Wes and Joyce Jaska. Nicholas has one sister, Samantha. Nick, as his friends call him, enjoys everything about airplanes, history and geography. Nick hopes one day to be an attorney. His hobbies include travel, playing with his two dogs, and the cinema.