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John J. Kane Jr.
"I believe that it is impossible for anyone to imagine the reality of combat. This is especially true of the intense episodes where there are many enemy trying their best to kill, maim, or capture you and your buddies, and it looks like they actually will. Of course, when you destroy the enemy but lose Marines, the exhilaration and sadness one experiences are likewise impossible to describe.
- John J. Kane, Jr.
This history of my tour of duty in the United States Marine Corps, 1951-1954, is dedicated to my wife Marilyn and our four children: John J. lll, Patrick J., Maureen, and Susan. Marilyn prodded me to set my memories down on paper, then helped me with their completeness and transmission to the "Korean War Educator". More on this fine organization later.
I documented this important part of my life to enhance my children's understanding of their father, i.e. who I was and why I did what I did. I want them, their children, and coming generations to know why I volunteered to leave a rewarding job in battalion intelligence in August 1952 to fight in Korea as a Marine rifleman. On a broader level, I want to make my reminisces available to all for scholarly research and just plain entertainment.
Korea was the first major war within the 40-plus year cold war--the period from 1945 (end of World War II) until the wall (Berlin's iron curtain) fell in 1989. Stopping communist aggression there in the early 1950s set the stage for finally defeating the soviet union in the late 1980s. This freed hundreds of millions of human beings in the Warsaw pact alone from communist domination, and eventually billions world wide.
That both my sons followed me into the Marine Corps is a source of great satisfaction and enormous pride. They know this, but I doubt they realize its full extent. I want all my family and our descendents to share our proud Marine heritage. I hope this helps.
My thanks to Lynnita Jean Brown, founder of the Korean War Educator, without whom this memoir's quality would have been drastically reduced, if in fact it were even produced. Lynnita's skill, patience and dedication made this volume possible.
My name is John J. Kane Jr. of Littleton, Colorado. I was born February 7, 1932 in Jersey City, New Jersey, the only son of John J. and Helen C. Rogers Kane. My father started as a bank clerk and rose to Assistant Treasurer of Marine Midland Bank on the Battery at the southern tip of Manhattan in New York City. My mother was a telephone operator with Bell Telephone prior to marriage. I have two younger sisters, Kathleen and Elaine.
During the war years, I went to St. Joseph's Elementary School. While attending St. Joseph's, I was also a paperboy, delivering newspapers. I remember that my father's younger brother Vincent Kane, and my mother's older brother Chester Rogers, were in the service during World War II. My parents and aunts and uncles all corresponded with them during the war.
Later I attended William L. Dickenson High School. I dropped out of school at age 16 because of lack of motivation. The nuns in St. Joseph's elementary school advised my parents to send me to a good high school because I had potential, but I was head strong. I wanted to go to the school that my friends went to, and my parents didn't insist that I go somewhere else. As a result I went to William L. Dickinson, a school that didn't have a good academic reputation. I didn't think I was college material, so I enrolled in the high school's industrial program. It was mainly shop classes, along with some regular academic classes. I didn't do very well because I never took any books home to do homework. I enjoyed playing hooky, sneaking into the movies, and exploring New York City. My parents didn't give me any guidance to speak of, and were no doubt disgusted with their incorrigible son.
I had a part-time job when I was in high school. I worked at Arena Bowling Alley setting up pins. Before pin-setting machines came along in the early 1950s, it was necessary to reset bowling pins by hand once they had been knocked down. It was my job to put the bowling pins back in place and then jump up on the ledge behind the alley and leap onto the next alley to set the pins up. Once in a while I'd get hit by a flying pin. I worked there from the time I was about 11 until I was 14 or 15. I averaged 15 to 20 hours per week (evenings and weekends). It paid about $8 to $10 per week--so much a line, plus tips. I liked it to a certain extent because it got me out of the house. I bought my first two-wheeler, was able to bowl free, and had some money of my own. I was an altar boy at St. Joseph's Catholic Church and served at the 6:15 a.m. mass before school. It was hard to get up in the morning after coming home late from the bowling alley. After dropping out of high school, I had a variety of dead-end jobs. I was a truck driver's helper and also worked in a pickle factory stuffing jars. I scraped rust off of used bed springs and then painted them. Looking back, I think that the guy probably sold them as new. I worked as a floor boy in an electronic factory called Super Electric in Jersey City. My job was to deliver materials to the people running the machines.
One of the last jobs I had before I joined up was as a stevedore for the Lehigh Valley Railroad at Pier 66 in New York City. My Uncle Vincent was a foreman there and got me a job. It was very strenuous work and I became strong and bulked up. Sometimes we'd have to unload untreated animal hides. I used a tool that looked like a long hook and pulled the hides off the flatbed. I remember that the people on the train that I took to go home gave me lots of room. It was really smelly work. Other things that we unloaded included 250 pound bales of rubber and pallets of coffee from foreign countries. I met some interesting characters on the pier. Some were probably connected with the mob in New York, but they never bothered me. I didn't want to lose the job, so I minded my own business and did my work.
During the years of my childhood, I was away from home only once. The summer previous to my joining the Marine Corps, my Uncle Vincent took me for a motor trip to California from Jersey City. My uncle fell asleep at the wheel and we went off a cliff and down a steep embankment in Yellow Stone Park. He was thrown out near the top and was uninjured except for some bumps and bruises, but I flew his Olds Super Six almost down to a boulder at the bottom. I got thrown out a split second before the car hit the boulder and became "accordionized". After I made my way up the hill, a car came along the little-used road and gave us a ride to a tiny town called Moran. Because they didn't have an ambulance or hospital, they put us in a hearse and took us to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The good doctors at St. Joseph put my broken back in a body cast and stitched me up. My back was broken low on the spine, so it wasn't as serious as it could have been. Uncle Vincent was pretty good about visiting me in the hospital until I was released. Then we visited the "Cowboy Bar" and some others there in Jackson Hole. We were the toast of the town. Everyone had seen pictures of our car (now only a few feet long) and had read articles in the newspaper about our accident and how we came to the hospital in a hearse. That was my first trip out west. I found the people to be very warm and friendly to this kid with the funny accent. While I was in the hospital, the nurses used to kid around and ask me to say certain words like "turtle", "bottle", etc. A week later we made the trip back to New Jersey by commercial airline.
The first few months after the accident, I was in the body cast. Then I just had a back brace and was scheduled to wear it another month or two, but I took it off early to join the military. Because of the injury and being in the cast and brace, I was in terrible physical shape with a potbelly and no muscle. But I was young and I had been in great shape before the accident from my job on the pier in New York City. I was determined not to let it keep me out of the Marine Corps.
I was never in the reserves, nor was I drafted. Prior to the Korean War, I had tried to join all the other services, but a minor ear problem kept me out. My ear had been ruptured from a pre-teen fall (actually, I was tripped by a schoolmate named Bobby Nelson). We didn't have any money to go to the doctor. My ear ran intermittently, but it mostly healed itself. It didn't give me any trouble until I was in combat in Korea, which I will explain later.
To most people at the time, Korea was an unknown until the war started. When the Korean War broke out, I read about it in the newspapers. I began to follow the battle reports in the papers and on the radio. I was especially moved by the heroism and effectiveness of Marine units at the Pusan Perimeter, Inchon Landing, Battle of Seoul, and the Chosin Reservoir. One of my former elementary school classmates was killed early in the war. I felt like I should be over there doing my part.
Gus Wilkie, a friend of mine, came up with the idea that we should enlist. He told me that he was going down to the recruitment center to join and asked me if I wanted to go with him. When I was a younger teenager, I had an exaggerated view of the Marine Corps from the movies. I had always admired the United States Marine Corps, but didn't think I could make it as a Marine. I figured that "no way" was I a Randolph Scott, John Wayne, William Bendix, or Richard Widmark. (Okay, well maybe I was a good as Widmark!) Furthermore, as I have already explained, I had been turned down by other branches of the military before. I didn't think I had much of a chance of being accepted in the USMC, but Gus reminded me that there was now a war going on.
My joining was a combination of increased confidence and patriotism. My increased confidence was probably a function of age. By the time I had reached the age of almost 19, I realized that I could do what was necessary to be a Marine. My increased patriotism stemmed from pride in what my country was doing to save an ally and to beat the communists. I wanted to fight for my country. I joined the United States Marine Corps on January 19, 1951. As I recall, my mother didn't think much of the idea of my joining, but my father was very proud.
Gus and I went to Parris Island for boot camp training. His entry into the Marine Corps was delayed, however, because of a minor blood problem which he was able to correct and was then accepted. After we got our discharges from the Marine Corps, Gus and I hung around together for a while, but I guess by then we had developed different interests and went our separate ways. He did come to my wedding, but after that we lost contact.
I took the Manhattan subway (which we called the Tubes) from Jersey City to 90 Church Street in New York. From there I went by train to Yamasee, South Carolina, and then by bus to Parris Island. I don't really recall, but I'm sure I was anxious like everybody else before arriving at the entrance gate of boot camp. I was probably wondering if I could make it through. When I entered the boot receiving area at P.I., I remember a terrific din--screaming drill instructors--while receiving clothes. This was followed by haircuts (baldies), which made everyone look similar and comical. My boot platoon was assigned to a wooden barracks. I had a top rack and a guy named Kett had the bottom rack. The barracks consisted of two bays separated by rifle racks. I was on the second floor. The wooden barracks were located along a street with a parade field and mess hall nearby.
My platoon number was 53, and there were 74 recruits in my platoon. I didn't know any of them before entering boot camp. They hailed from the New York City metro area (59), Wisconsin (14), and New Orleans (1). I didn't learn much, if anything, about anyone's family background while at P.I. In that respect, we were worse off than the typical prisoner cohort as far as our ability to get to know one another. I remember quite a few of my fellow recruits. I didn't become friends with anybody in particular, so it's hard to pick one who stands out more than others. I do recall that Don Irwin, whom I found out was from my neighborhood in Jersey City, was a great guy. Unfortunately, I have no idea whatever happened to him.
Our head DI, Ruley, was a World War II veteran. The second D.I was LeBarge, and the third DI was Guessford. They were probably vets, but I'm not sure from which war. The DIs were extremely strict. Their commands were to be obeyed immediately, without question, and with exact precision the second they were issued. The oppression in our platoon was fairly complete, and we didn't leave the island until graduation day, although we would have been given permission to leave for a serious medical reason during our nine weeks of incarceration.
My back was still sore at times from the car accident, but I kept that to myself. I had problems when I had to get into the sitting cross-legged position at the rifle range. The DI/rifle instructor had to kneel on my shoulders to get me down into position. That hurt like hell, but I was not about to say anything because I was afraid of getting thrown out of the Corps. Years later, after I got out and took some cross country road trips, I had soreness. But over the years, it eventually went away. Today I have no problems at all with my back. In fact, I lift weights and play handball.
During boot camp every minute was scheduled for training except for one or two visits to church and one or two Sunday "Grab Ass" mornings. Reveille (5:30 a.m.) was the DI slamming the G.I. (trashcan) lid cover repeatedly on the G.I. can, accompanied by whistles and screams. We were concurrently running in place, stationary double time, with our bed clothes in our arms. After showering, dressing, and spit-shining our boots, we had to duck walk around the barracks, return inside, then fall out for breakfast and march down the street to the mess hall. The food was good, but we were always starving because of the huge energy output. I think the meals were well-balanced and tasty. Traditional foods were served. Preparation of lunch and dinner had a heavy emphasis on southern cooking. I was introduced to cornbread, apple butter, and S.O.S. (chipped beef and sauce on toast).
We were often awakened in the middle of the night for "field days," i.e., scrubbing our barracks floor with scrubbing brushes and even toothbrushes if we weren't doing a good enough job. In order to get any particle of anything that might be on the floor, we slid our bayonets between every board (only three inches wide). We were awakened for not just field days, but every sort of infraction--sometimes real, but usually imaginary. Field days and exercise sessions would then be enjoyed by all in the middle of the night. Prior to lights out, mid-evening exercise sessions consisted of doing half squats with our rifles across our forearms as we clenched and unclenched our fists. Several platoon members were also assigned fire watches of two hours duration every night, but they still had to get up for reveille at the usual time.
The classes we had to take were first aid for combat wounds of different types, small arms, manual of arms, formations, history and traditions, discipline, military courtesy, drill, hand grenades, mapping and compass, etcetera. We also had to memorize the ten general orders which were paramount for guard duty. In addition, we were responsible for knowing sections of the "Guidebook for Marines." Training further consisted of constant close order drill, disassembly of weapons (mainly the M1). Most subjects were learned first from DI lectures, class instructors, and the Marine Corps handbook. Just to take one example, the M1 rifle, our T.O., (tactical order) weapon, was taught in all those ways and included disassembly and assembly under a poncho to simulate complete darkness. We spent three weeks at the rifle range and were require to "qualify" (score a certain number of hits on a target) the last day. That day turned out to be windy and rainy, but I still was able to hit 207, just below sharpshooter.
Included in our training was watching training films of all kinds. "Sucking wounds" are pretty hard to forget. That's the one film I saw in boot camp that still sticks in my mind. We were also required to know how to swim and to know how to use a gas mask. The instructors had us do lap after lap in the swimming pool until they were convinced we could survive in water. I was a good swimmer for years because of New Jersey seashore breakers and various Jersey City pools, so I had no trouble with the swimming aspect of our training at P.I., especially since we averaged only one cigarette a day. My wind was phenomenal! Gas mask instruction consisted of entering a chamber, fastening the masks to our heads, then being enveloped in gas to test for adequate sealing. Once that was done, the USMC's loveable sense of humor came into play. They had us remove the masks and then when we got a signal, we had to put the mask on again. That was not too much fun because one could become panicky trying to hold his breath while fumbling with the straps. Most of us got the damn thing on without having to fall on the floor and be dragged out of the chamber. It taught us how much discomfort we could stand.
Physical punishment was rampant, but the actual striking of boots by the DIs was fairly infrequent. However, since our eyes were required to be straight ahead much of the time, witnessing blows to another boot by a DI was not easy. Once I lost my locker box key. I was ordered to find the key on a key ring with 73 other keys on it while balancing my locker box (about 40 pounds) on my shoulder without leaning on anything. Since I was right outside the DI's room, he was able to feel/hear me if I tried to lean it on his bulkhead. When that happened, he bolted from the room, pushed all the keys together, and I had to start all over again to find my key. I remember shaking like a leaf from exertion, soaked in sweat, until I finally--thank God--found my key.
Sneaking a smoke was punished by finishing the cigarette with a pail on one's head. For other infractions, sometimes there was individual discipline and other times the whole platoon was disciplined. The DI often used us collectively as a resource to apply peer pressure on one individual causing problems. He used mass discipline to do this. One example was crossing the parade ground with our newly issued, greasy rifles. We were required to carry them at "trail arms". Naturally somebody dropped his rifle and we all had to return to the armory and start all over again.
Trouble-making was not allowed. From Day One our indoctrination saw to that. There was one exception. I refused to rush my eating beyond a certain point. I always enjoyed good food and eating. Perhaps I resented being rushed because it was just about the only enjoyment we had. My refusal to rush through a meal was equal parts habit, defiance, and resentment of being pushed around, even at the table, on top of all the other personal abuse. I was usually one of the last ones out of the mess hall. I didn't notice much additional discipline. There were eight who were identified as depressives halfway through boot camp, but I believe they all made it through. There was one other recruit who was left back from a previous platoon and also left back from ours. I think he eventually got a medical discharge.
Church was offered once, possibly twice. The only time I ever got tears in my eyes in boot camp was when I was in church and they treated me nice. DIs probably resented church as an interruption in our discipline training, but they did not interfere with us in church. In their defense, training time was severely compressed at that time due to the fact that there was a war going on, and they had to make it up. In order to toughen us mentally and develop the discipline necessary to obey orders without hesitation, both to win battles and enhance our safety while crushing the enemy, the Marine Corps long ago created a "Baptism of Fire" on U.S. soil called Parris Island. That being said, imagine you've been consistently abused, tormented, subjected to unrelenting harshness, shorn of all dignity and respect, without mitigation by even one kind word for weeks. In church, all of a sudden you're treated with kindness. You become emotional with gratitude and happiness--they're tears of joy! In this instance, for a short while I was recognized as a human being, hence the tears. I guess you had to be there.
Sand fleas were a real problem at Parris Island, especially late in my tour while out at the rifle range (three weeks in late March, early April). Sand fleas are similar to gnats. Parris Island was infested with them, especially out in the boondocks where the rifle range was. They love hot, damp, recruit skin, especially in crevasses, orifices (nostrils, ear canals), and eyeballs. The problem was that when we were at "attention" (often), we couldn't even twitch to relieve the tortuous tickling/itching, let alone swat them. The DIs watched and waited for just one of us to move even slightly. If we did, they had us resume our marching in the soft sand. Their favorite command was, "to the rear, harch" (harch meaning march).
I never really had "fun" that I can recall while in boot camp. It's been too long ago. I suppose there were light moments when the "smoking lamp" was lit, but that's about it except for the one or two "Grab Ass's" referenced above. "Grab ass" was unstructured recreation--e.g., impromptu wrestling, running contests, tripping, all matter of physical attacks, boxing with and without gloves. It was just plain old goofing around, expending pent up energy in a good natured way by guys who were really just a bunch of 18-19 year old kids. Nobody was settling scores as far as I knew. The occasional grab ass was just in the morning, not all day.
Boot camp at Parris Island was mostly an ordeal with few light moments. If we were able to laugh at anything, it was probably during the three weeks at the range when things were a little more relaxed. The rifle range was in a separate area--my guess is about four or five miles from our home barracks. My recollection is that we lived at the range in Quonset huts under the control of rifle instructors during daylight hours and under our DIs after the day's firing was over. Non-qualifiers were probably held at the range until they did qualify, possibly joining a later platoon.
The hardest thing about boot camp for me was not being able to deck my DI when I was struck by him. Once he hit me between the shoulder blades. Evidently I didn't have my shoulders back far enough. Another time he slapped me across the face, perhaps for not having the proper expression. I began to bring my fist up (it could have been a court martial offense), but I stopped myself just in time. He saw it and stuck his face in mine and just smiled. Coming from the streets of Jersey City, it was difficult to let something like that go unanswered. I grew up in what they call "the inner city", and I guess you could call me a tough kid. I hung around with rough kids, and participated in many fist fights, individually and in groups. My close friends weren't really bad, but some in the larger group were. I definitely wasn't afraid of the DIs, however, I've always had the discipline to do the smart thing, not the easy thing. Plus, no matter how bad it got, I was thrilled to actually be in the Corps. Never before did I think I could achieve that, and I wouldn't do anything to jeopardize it. Later, I came to appreciate my DIs. I believe there is a good chance that the habit of immediate reaction saved my life--perhaps many times--after I got to Korea.
When boot camp was completed, we competed for--and my platoon won--Honor Platoon. Honor platoon competition against other platoons took place just before graduation on the Parris Island parade grounds. It was primarily close order drill under arms. It was a big deal, especially for the DIs who proved their drill sergeant mastery and leadership by scoring high against their peers. We (Platoon 53 with 74 members) were also proud of our accomplishment. I understand only one platoon out of seven attained honor platoon. You couldn't do it unless every recruit in your platoon was squared away (knew what he was doing with respect to appearance, manual of arms and precision close order drill, including timing, obvious assurance, etc.). Then we posed for a graduation picture with our EGAs (Eagle, Globe and Anchor) proudly worn.
When I left boot camp I absolutely felt like a Marine, although I didn't realize how much more would be involved in becoming a complete Marine. When I entered boot camp I had little confidence in myself and low self esteem. When I left, I had unremitting pride. I knew that I had handled boot camp well and that I was at least average as a Marine boot. Now I had the "eagle, globe & anchor" (EGA) and was officially a Marine, which to me was an exalted station in life! But most of us had little perception of the real Marine Corps--the Fleet Marine Force (FMF), where the fighting got done and which had compiled a most outstanding combat record over endless battles. The FMF of the USMC is the most elite, large force of warriors in the world and the envy of fighting organizations everywhere. This would soon be brought home to me after the infantry training battalion turned me into a full-fledged grunt for the 3rd Marines, and then a combat rifleman in the 7th Marines, Korea.
We were granted a ten-day boot leave, during which I spent time with relatives and friends. On my way home from boot camp by train with other Marines, some of which were black, we encountered some old southern prejudice. (There were four black recruits in my platoon, but I didn't notice any prejudice until this train ride.) Changing crews in North Carolina, the new conductors tried to send our black fellow Marines to the rear car. After an argument, we pulled the emergency cord and halted the train. That train didn't move until Joseph Lee and the other black guys were allowed to stay up front with us white guys.
While home on leave, I wore my dress and utility uniforms each a couple of times. I enjoyed driving my father's chartreuse Ford around the city and getting it up to 100 on the road to Nyack, New York. I met an acquaintance in Jersey City whom I knew from before boot camp. He remarked on my tan and my new build. I believe I recruited him into the Marine Corps. I imagine my physical appearance was strikingly different because I had been in terrible condition when I entered the Marine Corps, the result of recovering from a broken spine. I now had direction, a purpose, and quiet confidence. I was no longer just another guy. I wasn't a show-off, but I was constantly aware that the uniform I wore made me special, and I believed all knew it. The Marine Corps made me sure of myself and my abilities.
After my leave I went back to Parris Island, probably by train, pending a job opening in my MOS (0400 logistics). A 0400 logistics Marine's main job was to form "shore parties." They were the guys who organized and transported the gear, ammo, guns, food, etc. across the beach and up to the infantry. They also cleared landing zones for choppers and anything else they had to do to keep the line companies supplied with the essentials of war. After five weeks, I learned that there were no 0400 slots, and I was converted to an 0311 infantry MOS. I worked on forestry details, dive bombing (spearing litter on lawns and streets with a nail on the end of a pole). I had weekend liberty in Savannah, where I swam at local beaches. I remember that once I got swimmer's ear. The Navy doctor was going to give me a medical discharge, but I talked him out of it.
Six weeks later, I was on my way to Camp Pendleton, California by train via Macon, Georgia and El Paso, Texas. I was glad to depart Parris Island for Pendleton. En route in May of 1951, a lack of air conditioning meant that smokestack smoke came in through the open train windows for three days. I also remember that we ate standing in a mess car. The temperature in El Paso was 112 degrees in the shade. It was nice to see the orange groves in California.
When we arrived at Camp Pendleton, we were reminded by a Marine Sergeant standing on a platform in the middle of we Marines just out of boot camp (a few hundred) that all of us wouldn't make a pimple on a real Marine's ass. Then we were issued our rifles. These pieces had been packed in cosmoline since World War II and we were required to clean them. The cosmoline covering was like a rock and resisted hot water, kerosene, and even gasoline before we got the weapons free of it. Then we got our first fabulous liberty in La-La land. They gave us a pass to leave the base, and many of us jumped at the chance to experience Los Angeles, California, where I'm sure most of us wound up buying phony drinks (tea) for ravishing beautifies employed by crooked bar owners.
Post boot camp training was in Tent Camp 3, high in the mountains east of San Clemente, California. I was in Dog Company, 5th infantry training battalion. It was early May-June 23, 1951. We learned infantry subjects such as tactics (platoon, squad, fire team), compass, small arms and heavy weapons familiarization, bayonet, knife fighting, map reading, obstacle course (Raiders), amphibious assault, tank support, etcetera. We learned by lectures, hands-on training, and maneuvers. Our instructors were NCOs and our own officers.
The difference between training at boot camp and infantry training was that infantry training was more advanced and specific to combat. There was less emphasis on Marine Corps traditions, history, and drilling. Testing requirements were informal. NCOs and officers insured quality of training outcome. All of the infantry battalion training was on the base at Tent Camp 3. It is difficult to compare Parris Island to Pendleton, but I would say that Parris Island was tougher, especially emotionally. There, we were subhuman. At least at Pendleton we were Marines.
The biggest challenge of infantry training for me was climbing "Old Smokey." Ah yes, Old Smokey. Where do I begin? I was 15 pounds overweight and out of shape from loafing around at Parris Island in the Transient Company and from liberty in Savannah, Georgia & L.A., but liberty was less responsible for me becoming overweight than my being a chowhound on base. I enjoyed Marine Corps food at Parris Island and Pendleton, plus I had always been skinny as a kid and I think I reveled in my huskiness.
Our version of "Old Smokey" (tent camp 3), since it seems every tent camp had one, was a concave, medium-sized hill on which we became USMC (Uncle Sam's Mountain Climbers). Its concave characteristic was important because it got steeper the higher we went. We climbed the hill many dozen times while in the Infantry Training Battalion (I.T.B.). Typically we carried with us combat packs, and always our helmets, bayonets, rifles, web gear, first aid packets, and two full canteens. Classes were held on the summit. The Marine Corps made us climb Old Smokey for conditioning, maneuvers, and maybe even punishment.
We had both weekend and evening liberty during this period of training, as I recall. We were off almost every weekend from 12:00 noon Saturday to Monday a.m. Evening liberty--infrequently used because we were low on dollars and needed rest--typically was a trip to San Clemente. We might have a meal, a few drinks, etc. Weekend liberty meant traveling by bus or hitchhiking from areas ranging to T Town (Tijuana, Mexico) in the south to the LA northern suburbs of Van Nuys, Pasadena, etc. As earlier referenced, the lack of money and the need for rest were inhibiting factors with respect to liberty. Most of us realized the training came first, and we were able to juggle the two with ease.
I continued post boot camp training for about 7-8 weeks before graduation (I still have the picture) and assignment to the 3rd Marines. During that time, I didn't receive any cold weather training. I think I was on mess duty in H&S Company when that was offered. I also came down with a minor medical problem--a plantar wart on the bottom of my foot. It got to be so painful that I went to sick bay where they tried to burn it off electrically. They failed because of the wart's deep roots. Then they fashioned a bandage containing an acid capsule, replenished regularly, which I wore for a couple of weeks until the wart was complete burned out. Unfortunately, they didn't excuse me from marching during this time. Sometimes it felt like I was walking on hot coals.
This period of training was followed by assignment to Easy Company of the 3rd Marines, Fleet Marine Force (FMF) in the same place--Tent Camp 3. We were soon practicing amphibious landings off the California coast. We boarded APAs in San Diego and disembarked into LCVPs via rope nets for beach assaults. These events took approximately three to four days each, and I participated in at least three of them. As the 3rd Regiment grew into the 3rd Brigade, the training seemed to become more and more intense. It was certainly more encompassing, with full scale maneuvers, working with tanks, and additional familiarization with all kinds of weapons including bazookas, flame throwers, and heavy machine guns. We had a civilian instructor for knife fighting. We polished everything we had previously learned, especially tactics at night and forced marches. But we hadn't seen anything yet.
When Chesty Puller took over the Brigade, "the shit," as they say, "hit the fan." We were then expected to march 15 miles over rough terrain at high speed with no breaks with full combat gear, including two full canteens, then jog the last five miles. We ran full speed at night with combat gear (less ammo) over rough terrain, hour after hour. Despite only having boondockers with leggings, nobody sprained an ankle. Our Raiders obstacle course was in use day and night. (Two Marine Raider Battalions led by Carlson and Edson in World War II had performed commando raids on the unsuspecting Japanese. Typically they exacted a heavy toll, forcing the enemy to redeploy their forces to our advantage. The President's son, James Roosevelt, had been a member of one of the battalions during World War II.)
All of this tearing around the mountains of Camp Pendleton was done with strict water discipline. (Canteens weren't touched until the command was given.) This was interspersed with glorious trips to Hollywood, Pasadena, Laguna Beach, Oceanside, even T town. We would spend a week in the boonies and then get a three-day pass. Beer drinking was encouraged. Candy was not.
On New Year's Day 1952, another Marine (Jackman) and I were picked up on Hollywood Boulevard by a wonderful Pasadena couple who served us a marvelous meal just because we were serving our country. They even invited us back the coming Spring in the hopes that we might see one of their neighbors, Jane Russell, the movie star. Sadly it wasn't to be. We were otherwise occupied by then. Unfortunately, I don't remember the names of the people who picked us up that Christmas/New Year's Day in 1952. I think Jackman, the other Marine, had that information and I lost track of him. I guess they felt sorry for a couple of lonely Marines on the holidays and wanted us to have a home-cooked meal.
Around May 1952, I was selected for S-2, Battalion (Intelligence), and left the infantry. But not for long. One other Marine and I were selected after being tested along with a hundred plus other enlisted Marines. My title was "topographical draftsman," but I did everything but. There I enjoyed reconnoiter by chopper, doing aerial photo analysis, studying "orders of battle," tracking units for Division staff during maneuvers, etc. I was glad to be chosen for S2. The work was interesting and the 2nd Lieutenant who ran our S2 section planned to send me to Ft. Riley, Kansas, for CIC training. He said I would wind up serving (wearing civvies) in D.C. Heavy losses by the 1st Marine Division in Korea enabled me to finally go over and do my part, but I wonder from time to time where duty in counter-intelligence would have led me.
We lived in five-man pyramidal tents all the time I was at Pendleton (except when we were in Quonset huts in H&S Company). I fondly remember tent mates King from Staten Island, Kazuba from Indiana, and later on Vladimer Perry, Johnson from Upper "New Youk" State, Jackman from Maryland, and a few others.
I signed a monthly volunteer sheet for Korea and was delighted to be accepted finally to perform what I saw as my duty. When I was called to Korea, I gave up my S2 MOS (02XX) and returned to my infantry MOS (0311). I never regretted it.
I left for Korea mid-August 1952. This was between normal drafts, and was necessitated by large numbers of casualties on Bunker Hill. The call went out for 700 Marines--500 infantry and 200 other. I'd been volunteering every month and was selected as an infantryman.
I went over on the 23rd flying draft. We departed with full combat gear on a couple dozen Military Air Transport Service (MATS) aircraft. There were probably 25 to 30 Marines to a plane. It took us about three days to get to Korea by plane. I don't recall any rough weather on the plane. The flight was pretty smooth. Unlike those on troop transports in the water, we had no duty on the plane. (The pilots were pretty hardnosed about letting us fly their plane!) There was also no entertainment or further training on the plane. They pretty much left us alone. We landed at Hawaii (Barber's Point NAS, near Honolulu), Kwajalein and Guam on our way to Kimpo airport near Seoul, Korea. Interestingly, we were forced to remain aboard the plane on the Barber's Point ramp. That was because on earlier flights the Marines were let off the plane and they got rowdy and drunk and disorderly. The powers that be decided to tighten up security, thereby screwing us (those on my plane and others) out of a last fling in Honolulu.
I arrived in Korea in mid-August. We landed at Kimpo Airport, and I believe that it was daylight when we landed. The airport looked okay--nothing fancy. We probably got right off the plane and boarded trucks. I recall a fair amount of activity, but it was deceptively peaceful for a war zone. Infantry replacements deplaned first and went to the 5th Marine Regimental Reserve Camp for our orientation/training for four days. After that, those assigned to the 1st and 7th Marines went up to the line. That included me (7th). Before going up on line, we knew what units we'd be in. I remember some banter about the fate of those of us going to "Suicide Charlie" company, 7th Marines. I was definitely honored to be selected for this fabled line company, which was in the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marine Regiment. The First Marine Division was the USMC's only division in the Korean War. The name "Suicide Charlie" originated on Guadalcanal during World War II. It was based on the tremendous volume of casualties suffered in that line company. I understand we carried on the tradition in Korea. Fact: Charlie Company, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, is the only line company in the USMC that is allowed to fly its own flag--the Skull and Bones--in addition to the USMC Guidon (flag flown by a platoon in boot camp or Fleet Marine Force).
My first impression of Korea was that it was unbelievably damp--probably 95-100% humidity. Taking a deep breath reminded me of being underwater. It triggered our drown response. We could watch our rifles rusting and our 782 gear rotting right before our eyes. Then it was so hot that wearing our flak jackets became a real burden. On top of that, our quinine pills sapped our strength so much that at times we skipped them. It's lucky that I didn't get malaria. As I recall, the place didn't smell too good either, but that was nothing compared to what we'd be smelling later on in our tour.
We went by truck from the airport to regimental reserve (5th Marines). The 7th Marine Regiment was on the Jamestown line--a 35-mile trench on the Western Front. It was astride the ancient invasion route to Seoul, anchored on the western flank by Panmunjom. I didn't know anybody in my unit when I got there. I seem to remember South Korean workers at the camp. Later we'd see women, children, and old men in the towns and countryside and, of course, Korean Service Corps who brought up the ammo and food to the Marines on the line and brought down the bodies of the dead Marines and enemy.
I joined Charlie Company August 20-August 25 at "76 Alley," so called because the Chinese there fired large volumes of 76MM recoilless rifle anti-tank rounds at the Marines in this area. I got up there at night and was given a corner of a dirt-floored bunker to spend the night. I couldn't see where I was lying down, so I just circled the spot as a dog would, laid down, and fell asleep to the sound of rats scurrying through the food packets and cans on the shelves above my head. I was disappointed in the low level of action at "76 Alley," but would soon realize how lucky I was to have spent a couple of weeks there in relative quiet. Early in the game, our Company Commander was Captain Byrum. I'm not sure he was there in August, but he was there at least by the September/October time frame probably. I can't describe anything about him because we didn't have close contact with the higher ranks.
My first duty that was assigned to me was as a scout. Within a platoon there were three rifle squads, each one made up of three fire teams. Within a team were the scout, BAR man, assistant BAR man, and the fire team leader. The scout's duties included point man (walking up front) on patrols. As the newest addition to the team, I also helped out wherever I could. I was so grateful to finally get to Korea that even "scout" was fine with me. Being "point" on patrols was scary because I would be first to walk into an ambush, but I knew how important the job was. My T.O. (tactical order) weapon was an M1, but for patrols (always at night), we had access to Thomson submachine guns, carbines, shotguns, and my personal favorite--the M3 "grease gun." The "spray the area" weapon types were preferable for night fighting.
I'd have to say that I did pretty well emotionally. After all, I had some strong advantages. I'd undergone some of the most intense and sustained infantry training available anywhere. I was a volunteer, not only for the Marine Corps, but also for Korea. I was gung ho with fairly high confidence, and I knew I was a Marine who could count on the troops I was with. I don't recall any fear at 76 Alley, where we were on the main line of resistance (MLR) from late August until approximately mid-September. I think the combat vets did take some time to help us, mostly about our surroundings and duties. I remember having good feelings about the leadership of squad leaders named Dillon and Crusenbury. As I recall, Dillon and Crusenbury were admirably well-suited to their job as rifle squad leaders. They were calm, courageous, and knowledgeable at a task which personifies--for me--the Marine infantryman. At most times and in most places, Korea was a squad leader's war. It wouldn't be too strong a statement to say, "If you've got a good squad leader, you may live. Otherwise, you'll probably die."
I got to Korea during monsoon season, but I mostly ignored it, except for oiling my rifle twice a day to ward off rust. Also, our older web gear--probably from World War II--decomposed, but replacements were readily available. Many of our trenches were shallow from the recent rains in August and frequent barrages. The terrain varied from mountainous to practically flat. We'd be arranged along one east to west ridge line, and the Chinese were on another ridge line to our north. These ridge lines were typically about a mile apart with smaller hills and rice paddies in between which were infested with snipers and other bad neighbors. Very little vegetation remained, since this was trench warfare on a static battleground. Most of the ground had been repeatedly bombarded.
My entire tour in Korea was spent fighting from trenches (MLR and outposts) and on patrols. The patrols were conducted in squad strength almost every night on the line, usually one per platoon. They were of three types: (1) Recon - Checking where the enemy was (or wasn't), their numbers and how situated. A recon patrol was squad leader led. (2) Ambush - Set up on a likely enemy route in hopes they would use it. This patrol was for the purpose of destroying the enemy and possibly capturing a prisoner. It, too, was squad leader led. (3) Combat - Go north until you hit something (the enemy). A combat patrol was officer led.
When we weren't on patrol, we slept in bunkers both on the main line of resistance (MLR) and combat outposts (C.O.P.). I suppose one could call our listening posts foxholes. The listening posts were forward of the front lines, and were often populated by our scouts and other unlucky Marines. Compared to other posts, an LP was much smaller--two men typically--and of much shorter duration, usually overnight. Its purpose was to serve as a trigger to warn the larger group behind it should the enemy attack. Otherwise, an LP was utilized to listen and observe. On the MLR we also had a weapons bunker which was filled with automatic weapons for use on patrol (always nights). Our TO or tactical order weapons were mostly semi-automatic M1's that were less than ideal for night operations.
Engaging the Enemy
After we left 76 Alley, I was then in battalion reserve at Camp Rose, which was 1-1/2 miles back. Around this time, I spent a few days in the rear becoming the radio man for my platoon. Climbing telephone poles was fun, but splicing wire wasn't. I returned to my unit just as it left again for the MLR. I began my short-lived radio career by carrying a back pack loaded with coils of sound power radio wire. These coils, which I estimate were 30 pounds each and 10 inches thick, were arranged one behind the other. This was a lot of weight to have sticking straight out a couple of feet behind me. Climbing a hill, no matter how small, required diving forward, hoping the weight didn't yank me backwards for an embarrassing (and dangerous) tumble. My job was to run wire out to listening posts, outposts, and on patrols, or just through our MLR trenches. I was happy to graduate in a week or so to carrying the radio, allowing somebody else to run the wire. But very soon I was returned to a rifle squad (needs of the business).
Since the beginning in March of 1952, the 1st Marine Division had been deployed astride the ancient invasion route to Seoul, the Korean capital. Because of its strategic location, the vulnerability of its shape (narrow hook shape similar to a parrot's beak which allowed it to be easily surrounded), and the distance to its fall-back position (almost two miles), the Hook was critical to the defense of Seoul. Accordingly, its outposts were numerous (Warsaw, Seattle, Ronson, etc), and were required to be well out in front of the Hook. The northernmost post, Warsaw, was deep in Chinese territory and farthest out. As a result, it frequently changed hands.
My first serious action came on October 3, 1952 at the Hook. Before that date, I'd seen only limited action at 76 Alley. By limited I mean that we experienced no mortar/artillery barrages. There was just isolated incoming here and there, with occasional 76 MM anti-tank rounds and small arms fire, resulting in few casualties. On October 3, we were attempting, in daylight and under fire, to relieve Item Company, 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines on the Hook portion of the MLR. This would allow Item to attack Warsaw C.O.P.
We Charlie Company troops were bottled up in the access trenches trying to get to the Item Company MLR positions. Our mission, which we accomplished that day, was to occupy Item's positions while they attacked Warsaw in a daylight raid which unfortunately failed. I knew it was crucial that the positions be manned without delay. Also, I wanted to see if I could provide supporting fire for the attack. I jumped out of the access trench and ran right over the crest of the ridge directly toward the forward trench line. An enemy machine gunner began firing at me. I could see the bursts hitting the ground to my front left, each round closer than the last. A split second before he would have gotten me, I hit the deck holding my helmet (it was unfastened) and rifle. A fragment hit me in the right hand.
I knew right away that I was wounded, even though the pain was comparatively minor. The bleeding was heavy enough to cause other Marines to encourage me to check in with the corpsman. I also discovered that there was a deep dent front and center in my helmet. The corpsman removed the fragment, cleaned and bandaged the wound. He said the spiral-shaped sliver was from an exploding head round. I then went back with my company to battalion reserve for three days. During that time I probably reflected on the fact that I had broken a fundamental rule of infantry operations: never appear on the skyline because it's easy for the enemy to pick you off.
I was unaware that I had been awarded my first Purple Heart until we were called out in reserve at Camp Rose/Pengua for the presentation ceremonies. The whole company fell out (assembled in a cleared area) and individual award recipients (perhaps 30 or 40) were called forward for pinning by the regimental commander. I was extremely proud to be awarded the Purple Heart, but I never thought I would get out alive and be able to wear it on my uniform. Later I learned that my family was pretty upset when they got the telegram that I had been wounded. They didn't know right away whether or not I had been seriously wounded.
In this same area, we awaited further orders. Routine reserve activities, such as eating, sleeping, cleaning our gear (rifles, web gear, packs, etc) occupied our time, and every night we spent in trucks, anticipating that our lines would be breached. As it turns out, we also were waiting to attack Warsaw, although we didn't know it then.
My strongest memory of being in Korea is the battle of Warsaw COP on October 6, 1952, when 35 of us held off at least a reinforced Chinese Company (estimated). Even though partially overrun at times, and suffering 80 percent casualties (nine KIA), we succeeded in holding the hill while killing large numbers of CCF troops.
We got from the reserve area to the jump-off area for Warsaw by 6x6 trucks, probably one of the ones we were sitting in the previous couple of nights. If I recall correctly, a contingent of 35 men was handpicked out of a company of 200+ men for that mission. We didn't have our squad leaders with us. But whoever our NCOs were, I'm sure they warned us that Warsaw was heavily defended. I do recall being issued extra bandoliers and grenades, filing in and out of a bunker where our names were taken down, and being inspected for camouflage and noisy gear.
We departed for Warsaw early evening after dark, say between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., and arrived in the hill's trenches and bunkers in a half hour. Much to our delight, the hill had been abandoned by the Chinese--temporarily, as it turned out. During the next half hour, around six of us were celebrating our good fortune in taking an undefended hill with no casualties. We were standing in the CP bunker drinking coffee when the barrage hit and the battle began. The rest of our company was mostly on the MLR, I would say, while we were defending Warsaw.
The attack began around 10 p.m., I would guess. The Chinese came up under their own barrage, no doubt killing some of their own, but providing the element of surprise for their side. It allowed some of them to get into some of our trenches before we could get out of our rabbit holes. They were in both large and small groups--i.e., wherever they could penetrate our defenses. They came from the north, east, and south. In my own case, I was in the south trench and they were circling around behind us in large numbers (swarms) until we were able to cut them down. As I recall, estimated enemy strength was a reinforced Chinese army company (120 to 150 men). They built a field hospital east/southeast of Warsaw, which tells me that they were a pretty big unit. From my perspective, judging by the numbers I saw, felt, and heard from my position, the number of headgear they left out in front of the barbed wire, and judging by the size of their barrage, that many enemy sounds reasonable. Again, we didn't have our whole company up there. Just 35 Marines.
I recall that the weather was cool with no precipitation. During autumn of 1952, the weather was okay until late November when it began to be bitterly cold and windy. I associate this weather with the intense combat in October and November. To this day I experience greater PTSD problems with cold and dark weather.
Charley Company may have come close to being called upon to do the impossible when it was ordered to take Warsaw C.O.P. on October 6 and Seattle C.O.P. on October 7, while at the same time manning a wide stretch of MLR, including the Hook. All this was late in the replacement draft interval when we were severely under-strength. Those of us who assaulted, then defended Warsaw C.O.P. were individual infantrymen from all three of Charley Company's platoons, so most of us didn't even know one another. Our training, I feel, made the impossible--possible. By holding the hill and not surrendering (unacceptable), we avoided having close to a 100% casualty rate.
We had no air or tank support, but we had mortar and artillery support from both the Army and Marines (11th Regiment). Our 35 Marines had minimal cover, just shallow trenches made from rain and numerous barrages (the hill had changed hands many times). Bunkers existed, but they were badly damaged from barrages. We were outnumbered by the enemy and we had "friendly fire" from our own. We had mostly M1s, BARs and grenades. They worked fine, but we could have used machineguns and rockets. These were included in our reinforcements over the next week. Flame throwers would have been nice as well.
Our grenades had a seven second fuse. The proximity of enemy assault troops was such that at times I was forced to let the spoon fly--having pulled the pin--and delay four seconds before tossing the grenade into the attackers. This was done for two reasons: (1) to not allow time for them to catch and throw it back to me and (2) because the slope up which the enemy was running was steep enough that grenades hitting the ground would roll away from those who were closest (my immediate concern). Holding a grenade until only three seconds before it exploded was a compromise. The trade off, of course, was that if we held it too long, we would undoubtedly be killed by our own grenade. Not holding it long enough made it harmless to the enemy, who would be in our fighting hole in seconds as a result.
In addition to the many dozens of American grenades that I threw on Warsaw, I used British ones called "Centurians" which were also fragmentation grenades. Their distinguishing characteristic, and a very attractive one for me, was that they were threaded. They could be screwed on to one another and, having done that, permitted gripping one grenade as a handle thereby allowing greater distance (if needed, although this was not usually the case on Warsaw) and an enormous explosion for a hand-held device akin to a small (60mm) mortar. Having fewer than a dozen Centurians, I hoarded them for distant (over 30 yards) larger targets.
Our north trench was overrun early in the battle and we lost a few Marines there in hand to hand combat, including Tommy Heinzen. There may have been other breaches as well. Tommy's body was discovered surrounded by dead Chinese. He died beating off Chinese in a frontal assault on the north trench line. Tommy had to resort to an entrenching tool (small folding shovel carried by infantry) when his ammo ran out or his rifle jammed. Tommy should have gotten a medal for his ferocious defense, but I doubt that he did. Another Marine was awarded the Silver Star for moving his BAR up beyond the barbed wire on the north east knoll to intercept the Chinese trying to reach the south trenches. He made the volume of Chinese reaching my position much more manageable.
The Chinese assault was probably just as heavy coming around the east flank to surround and hit us from the rear. The track that most of them used streaming up the rear slope led directly to my position. Having commandeered a BAR from a dead Marine by this time, I put it to good use mowing down what I'm sure were dozens of Chinese before they could make it to the command bunker or the tank road, both to my immediate right. The value as a target of the command bunker is, of course, obvious. The tank road was a potential escape route/reinforcement access and had to be held.
One officer fought side-by-side with me in my fighting hole. I'm not sure there were any other officers. (Remember, we were a cobbled together assault team without the usual infantry structure.) Although he was initially confused on hand grenade preparations, he fought like a tiger with me with devastating effect on the enemy until leaving to lead other troops. Later in the battle, I heard he lost half his face and had to be evacuated.
During the barrage on Warsaw, one of our Marines--a guy by the name of Sanderlin--walked the trenches while the rest of us were cowering in our rabbit holes. I don't recall how I became aware of it. Maybe he stumbled on the part of my body that I couldn't stuff into the rabbit hole. The reason I couldn't fit into that rabbit hole was that another Marine, David Rabbie, beat me to it. I found this out during our reunion in Virginia Beach on our boat tour around the naval warships. David also told me at a later reunion (in Albuquerque, I think) that he was sharing the hole with a dead Chinese soldier before I showed up. That meant that we had a dead enemy soldier, as well as one and two-thirds Marines (I couldn't get my right buttock and leg in) in a rabbit hole designed for one. I believe I made out the best. I'd rather risk half an ass and leg than snuggle up to a dead Chinaman!
Late in the battle I became aware that the Chinese bombardment was lifting. Unfortunately, it was replaced by "friendly fire." Our own mortars and artillery--both the 11th Marine Regiment from the south and Army from the southeast--were just as devastating as the Chinese mortars and artillery. They thought that we were all dead so they were trying to kill whatever enemy was left. Looking over the mounds of bodies in front of my position, I knew there were no more Chinese on the attack. I jumped out of my fighting hole to check the command post bunker approximately 20 yards away. The Marine and Chinese wounded and dead that I ran through to get to the CP were a sad remembrance of the battle.
Nothing I can think of is more devastating than killing and maiming your own people. I knew the best way to help the living was to get the American barrage stopped. I ran through the dead, dying, and wounded Chinese and Marines back to the command bunker. It had taken a direct hit and was partially caved in, so obviously our radio had been knocked out. The remainder was gone--evidence of the terrible accuracy and power of the Chinese pounding we'd taken. But now we were being pounded by our own forces! The Marine and U.S. Army fires (artillery, mortars, machine gunners, tank cannons, etc.) were smacking our position with deadly effect. I had to find a way to stop our guns from finishing off the rest of us.
By the light of the shell bursts and tracers, I was able to spot a radio that had been blown into the concertina (spiral barbed wire) bordering the CP part of the outpost. No wonder our leaders, if any survived, were unable to communicate with the rear. I needed to get that radio while I was still able, since the roar of the explosions and their proximity told me that I had very little time to try to save the outpost. I dove into the concertina and retrieved the precious radio, praying that it could be made to work and knowing that it was the only thing that could save the couple dozen of us who were still alive. I proceeded to fix it while wrapping my body around it. I couldn't believe that I got it to work. The people back on the MLR were at the other end of the connection and I couldn't talk. I was either so rattled from the battle, scared to death from my precarious position out in the open on an outpost being pulverized by every mortar and gun the Army and Marines had in the vicinity, or I was just choking on the cordite and dirt from many hundreds of nearby blasts.
Until this point, I was completely alone--from my sprint to the CP, the dive into the wire, the successful repair job, and contacting the MLR. I felt a hand--a Marine officer's hand--on my shoulder. Since nobody knew of any officers on that hill at that time, to this day I can only think that it was my guardian angel helping me. All of our NCOs and officers had been WIA/KIA. Suddenly able to talk, I yelled, "We still hold Warsaw. Cease fire." As I remember, I also shouted a few well-chosen epithets their way. They stopped the barrage and we were able to evacuate 20 WIAs, 9 KIAs, and the bodies of those Chinese who penetrated the outpost. It was probably three or four a.m. when the Chinese finally gave up and began removing their dead and wounded soldiers to the field hospital they'd established southeast of our right flank. They didn't try to come all the way up to our positions, which was perhaps to within 20 yards. We let them take their dead. Not one Marine fired at them. I guess the battlefield chivalry (letting the enemy remove their dead) was unusual, as was the Chinese officer on the roof of my bunker. That shows how desperate they were to take the hill.
If I saw any dead enemy or Marines before that date, I've forgotten or blocked them out. I saw many live enemy on the evening of October 6. They were swarming up Warsaw toward me. On the morning of October 7, there were many dead enemy on the C.O.P. being recovered by Chinese rescue parties. I recall that the Chinese infantry troops who attempted to take Warsaw that night were wearing light blue caps because they left them all over the approaches to the hill. I especially remember the dead Chinese officer lying on top of what was left of my bunker right next to me on October 7 while I was eating my C ration breakfast. It didn't bother me enough to keep me from enjoying my C-rats. I was probably starved and somewhat in shock. There's a defense you develop in combat to keep from being too affected by all the death and killing, otherwise you can't do your job. I do remember that same morning seeing nine dead Marines laying on stretchers and covered by their ponchos. They were next to the tank road, waiting for their last ride home. I could see them from my bunker 20 yards away. This last memory has made me actually sob when I narrate it to my Marine buddies.
I believe that it is impossible for anyone to imagine the reality of combat. This is especially true of the intense episodes where there are many enemy trying their best to kill, maim, or capture you and your buddies, and it looks like they actually will. Of course, when you destroy the enemy but lose Marines, the exhilaration and sadness one experiences are likewise impossible to describe. The shocking nature of the noise from intense barrages and the inadvertent fear that they engender is also indescribable. I learned how valiant all (almost) Marines behave in combat, while whenever possible protecting each other from harm. "Whenever possible" means the mission comes first, and the objective must be achieved. I also learned how to run in an extreme crouch (better than Groucho!) position under fire--without tripping over communication wire. I also learned how expert the Chinese gunners were with artillery, mortars, and small arms.
We, the handful who survived the battle of Warsaw 10/6-10/7, remained on the hill for another week. Some of us were walking wounded. (Only five or six of us were not casualties of the battle of Warsaw.) I personally was not injured in that battle, but there was a total of 29 casualties, which was 80%. I only had scratches and bruises, plus the previous wound from October 3 had gotten infected. After the battle was over, we just manned our positions while being reinforced by other veteran Marines. I think I was surprised I had made it, and proud that we held the outpost against those odds. I also wished that we could get the hell off now that the battle was over, especially since we were probably going to get hit again the next night.
Evidently the higher echelons realized belatedly how fortunate we were to get Warsaw back and to successfully defend her 10/6-10/7. They were taking no chances with again losing such a valuable strategic asset, so they heavily reinforced Warsaw. The trouble was, they kept the five or six veterans of the 10/06-10/07 battle on the hill for an additional week while bringing in new troops, weapons (including rockets, heavy machine guns, etc) and construction teams for bunker and trench repair. Fortunately we had no attacks during that time and we five or six finally got off the hill and back to battalion reserve. The combat Marines who replaced us were obviously shocked to see the condition we were in (grimy, tattered, bloody) when we jumped off of the truck. Learning we were all that was left (six out of the original 35 that defended Warsaw 10/6-10/7), I think they were reconsidering their career options. The 25th draft guys may or may not have wound up on Warsaw eventually, but they weren't ready on 10/13/52 (approximately), when we left the hill.
The 10/6/52 Battle of Warsaw C.O.P. (combat outpost) stands out for me because of its intensity and my pride in the success we had against tremendous odds and the precariousness of our location--one and a half miles plus north of the MLR (the "Hook"), the farthest of all the Hook COPS. I'll probably be returning to thoughts of Warsaw until I die.
After the battle of Warsaw was over, we were trucked back to Camp Rose (battalion reserve), at least for a while. There, we got some rest, showers, clean utilities, real food, etc. No doubt we intermittently either went back on the line (most likely) or farther back to Camp Pengua (regimental reserve). During that time we were generally aware of what was taking place on the line, probably by word of mouth. We participated in patrols and probes near Panmunjom, as well as on Hedy near the MLR.
On October 26, I was on the left flank of the Hook, standing in the trench line behind my "fighting hole" (front of trench with a one-foot step). We knew the Chinese were preparing a major assault because of the heavy incoming, and by observing widespread movement of their troops and heavy weapons at the base of the hill just below our positions. They were also playing American music which was directed at our lines, and they sounded numerous bugles preceding their infantry assault.
On October 26, 1952, the Chinese swept all the outposts in front of the Hook, including Warsaw. Even the Hook was lost until the next day, when the Marines took back all one and a half miles they had lost. During the Chinese assault on the Hook, a 76mm recoilless rifle shell landed between me and another Marine approximately 15 yards to my left, impacting the back of the trench. He was hit in the right shoulder. I was hit with shrapnel under the right eye, suffered concussion, perforated and punctured ear drums, a broken tooth, flash burned eyes, and sand blast on my left neck. The other Marine who was hit was a husky guy with, I believe, reddish hair. I'm afraid I don't know anything else about him. That was not unusual since the Korean War was a "replacement draft" war. Because of that, most of us didn't know one another very well. Few of us had trained together in the states (this was especially true for those of us who had volunteered as individuals and were flown over in the 23rd flying draft). Also, heavy casualties kept us from achieving long term (or even short term) relationships. I didn't see the red-haired Marine on the hospital ship or in reserve when I later returned to Charley Company. He may have gone back to the States or have been sent to the rear when he healed.
After the shell exploded, two Marines (Luffy and Tyson) found me unconscious in the trench and carried me to a medical bunker to check me out. My wounds were relatively minor, but upon regaining consciousness, I believed my neck was wide open because the sand removed the upper layer of skin, causing severe pain. It wasn't pure sand, but the material from the top of the back of the trench, which the blast drove into the side of my neck. It was probably a combination of pulverized rock (e.g., limestone, sand, soil, etc.) mixed with cordite, gunpowder, and maybe even metal dust from the shell.
My second concern was my burned eyes, which I was unable to open. Luffy and Tyson led me (because I couldn't see) to a large medical bunker, from which I was evacuated to a MASH-type unit. I suppose it was a few miles back. With what little of my sight remained, I watched the Marine who was hit with the same shell as I had been receive surgery. The surgeons had a flap of skin hanging down which permitted them to remove dozens of fragments and drop them in a metal bowl. I was then put on a train to Inchon and from there taken on a dinghy for transport to a hospital ship. I don't remember knowing anyone on the train, but I'm sure there were nurses to care for us. I was ambulatory, just needing guidance to find my way around. Because of the concussion, I was spacey and out of it some of the time as well.
The USS Consolation hospital ship was mostly white, with a gigantic red cross on its sides and deck. Aboard the ship was also mostly white, and extremely clean. I don't remember where they put me, but as I recall, the doctors and nurses treated us well. They (male doctors and female nurses) cleaned and treated my eyes, neck, and shrapnel wound under my right eye and put drops in my ears. The culture shock of going from the front line to the hospital ship couldn't have been more profound. I went from the harsh living conditions of the front lines to the clean quarters and clothes, real food, real bathroom, gentle treatment, and best of all, the luxury of safety on the ship. It was a great respite from Korea.
I was confined to the rack for several days because of the concussion and blindness. I was somewhat dependent on help from other people because I couldn't see too well, but I remember standing by the rail and hearing the slap of the water against the hull. I chatted with the nurses and fellow Marines, and smoked cigarettes. I remember the food being great. It was "real food" compared to what we had to eat on line or even behind the lines. We ate the same food that the nurses and doctors ate.
The government (Defense Department, I guess) sent my parents a Wounded in Action notification by telegram similar to the first notification. I'm sure they were dismayed hearing of my second wounding in less than three weeks. The local newspaper came to their house and took a picture of them for a story about my injury.
I'd say I experienced a fast recovery, especially only the one week to heal burned eyeballs. They were very sensitive to light and were painful. Sunlight made them unbearable. Nevertheless, all too soon (about one week) my eyeballs healed up enough for me to see. It was a while before I grew my eyelashes and eyebrows back and no longer had to shield my eyes from light. For my second Purple heart (10/26/52), I probably knew beforehand that I was being awarded it, since I'd been on the hospital ship Consolation for a week when I received it. I remember that a Puerto Rican staying on the ship the same time as I was received the Silver Star, but I don't remember his name. When I received my second Purple Heart I was proud, but it probably reinforced my growing expectation that I'd never make it back home alive.
After my stay on the USS Consolation, I was returned in early November to my company, which fortunately was in regimental reserve at Camp Penqua. They were anxious to get us back to the line as fast as they could to replace the casualties. In all the time I was in Korea (11 1/2 months), I never wanted to leave until my job was finished. That's not to say, however, that it wasn't tough returning to my outfit, having gotten used to feeling human again on the ship. I already mentioned the culture shock of going from the front line to the ship. Going back to the front line from the ship was another culture shock, but this time in reverse. I still had problems with my hearing, but didn't think it would endanger me or my fellow troops. I don't recall being resentful about not having recovered enough. My vision was normal by the time I left the ship, except for sensitivity to light due to my so-far non-existent eyelashes and eyebrows and not-quite-healed eyeballs. I felt I was good to go.
When I got there, I discovered that the battalion had suffered many casualties on "The Hook," in the October 26-27 battle, but it was rapidly being reinforced. When I was wounded early at The Hook, I was evacuated and missed most of that major battle, including the hand-to-hand combat. The action there increased in intensity following my departure, so I missed quite a bit. Following the Hook battle of October 26, 1952, however, there were no other major battles that my company was involved in during my absence.
I suspect there must have been some POW incidents on the Hook, but my evacuation may have prevented my hearing about Americans captured through word of mouth. Again, overrun situations promote the probability of captures. I believe that we all dreaded capture by the enemy, but understood that the best preventative was to fight as effectively as possible and look out for our buddies. On patrols, which were always squad strength, we assigned a scout from one of the fire teams (three in a squad) as the "snatch man." He was the last man in formation in the patrol. Knowing that he would be the most likely to face a "snatch" attempt increased his alertness and hopefully enabled him to be able to fight the attempt off. The "snatch" man was always given an automatic weapon, but then again, most of us had automatics.
While at Camp Penqua, I was promoted to fire team leader under squad leader Sgt. Dick Huddleson. Pete Rendina was assigned to my fire team, along with Lacy Thomson and another Marine whose name may have been Richardson. I believe it was at this time in reserve that the Black Watch Drum and Pipe Corps entertained us while their infantry was in place on the Hook, having relieved the 7th Marines a short time before. The Black Watch was, and is, a famous Scottish infantry regiment which had a bagpipe band. I acquired a lifetime love of bagpipe music from this exposure, and have never forgotten the setting (surrounded by mountains), sounds (skirl of the pipes), nor the feelings (temporarily safe and proud).
Every few weeks we'd go back to battalion reserve for showers and real food, then return to a different spot on the line. Unless it was relatively nearby, we went back through Munsan-ni to pick up the road to our new positions. Sometime in November we went up on Bunker Hill combat outpost.
Bunker Hill combat outpost was the place where the horrific battles of mid-August 1952 caused the 1st Marine Division to call for an interim replacement draft (the 23rd flying draft) between the 23rd and 24th regular drafts. Outposts were set up to protect the MLR. Enemy troops had to get past the outposts to get to the MLR. Bunker Hill was no exception, but I think it was positioned in a particularly strategic location, as was the 1st Marine Division's entire front, on the ancient invasion route to Seoul.
As I mentioned in the previous section "Trip to Korea," the call went out for 500 infantry and 200 other to be sent immediately to Korea to plug gaping holes in many 1st Marine Division line companies and other units. At that time I was serving with the 3rd Marine Brigade, 3rd Marines, 2nd Battalion H&S Company battalion intelligence (S2) at Camp Pendleton, California in Tent Camp 3. This camp was located in the hills above San Clemente. During and before that time, I had been signing the monthly volunteer list for Korea. My offer was finally accepted and now, three months later, I found myself on the same battered hill--Bunker Hill C.O.P.--that had gotten me to Korea. I have been told that I was on this hill more than once, but at this point in my memoir, I'll only cover my first and most memorable visit to Bunker Hill.
Bunker Hill was a combat outpost situated on a hill that was actually a low-lying ridge between the Chinese and United Nation's MLRs. It was devoid of vegetation as a result of the continual pounding it had received since our lines became established in late 1951 or early 1952. It had trenches ringing the military crest, with bunkers every 50 to 75 feet, between which were fighting holes and rabbit holes similar to those on the MLR. It was platoon sized. That is to say, it was normally populated by 40 to 45 troops. It had listening posts on its flanks to keep an ear/eye on the inhabitants of the northern half of the hill and any of their friends who might join them in an assault on their southern neighbors (us).
My platoon (1st Platoon, Charlie Company, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division) moved up on the hill a half mile in front of the MLR about November 20, 1952. My fire team manned the right flank. Bunker Hill, as befitting its reputation of a few months earlier, was one of the most vulnerable and dangerous outposts in the U.N. Command. It was surrounded by hundreds of enemy troops, only a quarter of a mile from the Chinese MLR where thousands of the enemy had a bird's eye view of our positions. It was impossible to move outside of our bunkers/trenches in daylight. Furthermore, the enemy occupied the northern half of Bunker Hill.
We began losing people to enemy fire almost immediately, including one in my fire team (Richardson) who was KIA on November 23 or 24, 1952. Richardson's 26th draft had very recently arrived and we had been sent up to the front lines and immediately to the outpost. I didn't really know him, which was typical for a "replacement draft war." There was a frequent loss of life in infantry units, especially for those of us on outposts like Bunker Hill. Richardson was, no doubt, picked off by a sniper. As I recall, he was not replaced on Bunker Hill. I may have become acting squad leader before that fire team was reinforced.
Fire team members, from scout to BARman to assistant BARman, look to the fire team leader to answer all questions. This is especially true on the line, e.g., what bunker do I sleep in, what weapon should I take, what should my behavior be on patrol, how do I schedule my activities (eating, sleeping, etc,), what is my fire zone, and so forth. The fire team leader is also responsible for making sure his men are awake on watch, that they maintain silence and are cautious about lighting matches at night. He protects their interest, including evaluations with the squad and platoon leaders. I believe I was as conscientious as possible to the extent circumstances would allow. I remember putting myself in their shoes, especially with respect to their fears and to provide relative safety to those newly arrived on the line. However, mission always came first, safety second. I don't think I was ever disappointed in my performance, but it's been a long time. Ask Pete Rendina, my BARman. I know my squad leader was satisfied with my performance. Sergeant Huddleson is still alive and a close friend.
On November 24, 1952, a Marine (PFC Richard Riffenburg) from another fire team caught a sniper bullet in the groin. I was with him, along with several other Marines, in the reverse slope trench when he got hit. Not knowing one of us had been hit, we all took off for our bunkers. When I found out a minute or so later that we had a probable mortally wounded Marine (Corpsman Morrison said he would die shortly unless gotten to the rear for immediate surgery), I volunteered to evacuate Riff. I got another volunteer--PFC Pete Rendina, my BARman--for the other end of the stretcher. Gunny White and Morrison strapped Riff to the stretcher while 2nd Lieutenant Fisher called in supporting fires from the Command Post Bunker (CP). Pete and I scrambled over the side of the south trench and down the reverse slope toward the MLR. We ran through the same territory from which snipers had been firing, including the one who had picked off our stretcher passenger. We immediately began to receive enemy fire. I steered us back and forth so as not to make it too easy for them. Meanwhile, Riff howled with the pain caused by the jouncing, impacting his torn groin.
The path we were trying to follow was relatively free of mines and booby traps, but we were forced to snake our way on and off of it to make ourselves less of a target for the enemy gunners. Our smoke cover was ineffective due to the powerful Siberian blasts from the north. At one point, when we took a really close round, I dropped to a knee, looked up, and saw the smoke being whipped south above us--too high and too little. When we reached the valley between the outpost and MLR, I took every evasive tangent I could that promised any defilade at all. We skirted rice paddies, ran through shallow draws (typical ambush sites)--anything to throw off the aim of the Chinese soldiers. But by the time we finally got to the MLR ridge base and started up, our backs were completely exposed to the enemy's gun sights. Thankfully, some 3rd Platoon Marines rushed partway down the forward slope to give us a hand with the stretcher. That enabled us to cut down on the time spent in this precarious position. Riff was medivaced back and lived to be 68. Pete and I spent the day on the MLR and returned to Bunker Hill that night.
In recent years, our platoon leader (still alive--Richard L. Fisher) told us that at the time he couldn't believe that we had made it. When told by radio of our success by the weapons platoon officer (on the MLR), he put us in for the Silver Star, stating our rescue of Riffenburg had been a suicide mission. Fisher apologized for not following up, but the reason he did not was because he had been wounded immediately thereafter. The recommendation failed because his senior officer--the Charlie Company XO (1st Lt. Cumming)--claimed the rescue was merely what any Marine should do, so we were only "doing our job."
During the time I was in Korea, our commanding officers/leaders changed often. Most of them were forgettable from my perspective, but the few that stuck in my mind are listed here in chronological sequence with approximate dates and what I remember about them.
2nd Lieutenant Richard L. Fisher commanded on C.O.P. Bunker Hill during the second half of November 1952. As mentioned, he is the one who recommended Pete and me for the Silver Star. Fisher retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corps. He had the good judgment to recognize heroism and the integrity to reward it, but was unable to defend it against an antagonistic superior officer (Cumming). I have learned in recent years that Cumming was an irresponsible officer.
At the time of the rescue of Riffenburg from Bunker Hill by Pete and me, the Charlie Company Commander was Capt. Dolph Schwenk. He apparently supported his XO's decision on the Silver Star recommendation at the time, but later, when he became a Lieutenant General and learned what Cumming had done with regards to the Silver Star recommendation, he volunteered to sign the citation. Unfortunately, Fisher delayed resubmitting it. The General passed away last year. My association with the General in recent years was warm and cordial and I respected him very much. Still, I can't help thinking that in November of 1952, he should have thoroughly investigated the action for which the citation was recommended and he should have overruled his executive officer.
Although I didn't really know then Captain Schwenk in Korea, I'd like to share an account of kindness that he performed on Christmas Eve 1952 for me and my troops. My squad and I had returned from a recon patrol into the vicinity of the Chinese lines. As we entered the MLR "gate", I was told by the Marine on guard that the "old man" wanted to see me immediately. I brought the squad up to the command bunker, sat them down in the trench, and went in. The "old man"--probably in his late twenties or early thirties--greeted me with a hearty handshake (maybe even a ho, ho, ho). His bunker interior was gaily lit much more festive than any of his troops' bunkers, I'm afraid, and it was smoggy from the oil stove, which seemed to add a glow to the whole scene. Then he told me to hold my hands out. I did and he filled them up with enough miniature (airline size) bottles of booze for my entire squad and me. I remember his generosity with great fondness, especially because it was Christmas Eve and my troops and I had been far out in front of our lines. My sharing with the General of this story was the occasion of our friendship for five or six years before his death.
Our platoon gunny (Gunny White) was reputed to be a World War II veteran. He was a great guy--confident, calm, smart, good sense of humor. On COP Bunker Hill in November 1952, he was our strongest leader, guiding our green 2nd Lieutenant in many ways, including how to handle the Riffenburg incident. I heard Gunny got the Silver Star for The Hook.
My unit had no contact with the South Korean military. Our flanks were manned by other U.N. forces. We spent a lot of time fighting alongside regimental strength Commonwealth (Brits, Canadians and Scots) forces. From time to time they even relieved us or we them--most notably the Black Watch Regiment previously mentioned. Normally, however, the infantry regiments of the 1st Marine Division (1st, 5th, 7th) would just relieve one another. Typically we'd have two regiments up (on line) and one back (in reserve)--at least in theory. Our badly thinned ranks almost always mitigated against having a full regiment back.
I recall that we were relieved by the Turks (battalion strength) at least once. While these foreign troops fought alongside us, they weren't actually inside our units, so direct observation of them wasn't possible. We were also not normally privy to intelligence reports. However, whatever word of mouth we did receive was exclusively positive. Both fought hard and bravely, but the Turks were especially amazing. On patrols, for example, instead of receiving a distance to cover, a Turk patrol would just continue until they reached the enemy lines and had a fire fight. Then they would return and notch their rifle butts in accordance with numbers of enemy killed. Also, although unrelated to fighting prowess, they had fresh meat for chow, having brought their own animals (sheep/lambs) to Korea with them. All we had were C rations.
At times we were close enough to see, hear, and even smell the Chinese/North Korean enemy. Seeing them was sometimes difficult, however, because of the fires, smoke, need for cover, and darkness. The age of Chinese army infantry soldiers was, I suppose, similar to ours, e.g., 18-22 years. Their officers were a couple of years older. I had a good look at a dead one on Warsaw C.O.P. while he was laying on top of my bunker the morning of October 7, 1952 and while I ate breakfast alongside of him.
The Chinese had been good enough fighters to overrun us (although we prevailed) on Warsaw C.O.P. the day before, as well as overcome the other Hook C.O.P.s and the Hook itself on October 26. They did use a lot of people, sending them up the hill under their own "incoming" to do it. They also had enough loyalty, bravery, and leadership to remove their dead from right under our positions on Warsaw (we let them) and to capture one and a half miles beyond our MLR, south of the Hook on October 26. These enemy troops were armed mostly with burp guns. They were very effective due to their high rate of fire (900+ rounds per minute) in "spray the area" types of situations (e.g., close quarters at night), thus a large percentage of the action on my tour included close quarters at night.
I remember a dawn enemy visitor once, however. Standing in an MLR fighting hole at daybreak, I thought I saw an unusually large spot among the many other spots in front of my eyes. It rapidly got bigger and bigger, landing five to ten yards in front of me as I ducked. I called it in an a demolitions guy, armored like a medieval knight with a large padded sack, ran out and got it. On his way back he confirmed my suspicions. The "spot" was a 76 MM rocket dud that didn't quite reach its target. That's probably the only way that a shell can be seen coming in. You've got to be looking directly at its approach, and it must almost reach you.
Besides seeing the spot that proved to be far more than a spot, I remember hearing the sound of what I thought was bees. On patrol one moonlit night coming over the top of a hill, we were engulfed in what sounded like a swarm of hundreds of bees. The reports of burp guns clarified the situation. If it was an ambush, it was a flop. We took no casualties. Almost immediately we heard a bouncing Betty explode nearby with fatal results. This form of booby trap was a Chinese favorite.
All fighting between ground troop units was similar. I understand their Chinese reputation for mortar fires expertise was unexcelled, but the individual initiative of their infantry troops was inferior to ours. Our fire support consisted, at various times, of mortars (60 & 81 mm), artillery (105s, 155s), and fighters (napalm, 500 pound bombs) from Corsair and Skyraiders. We were too far from the coasts for naval gun fire support. Of course, we infantry troops always thought that we should get more support, but it usually was more or less appropriate to the situation--and very accurate. However, there were lapses, such as friendly fires and artillery and mortars we received on Warsaw C.O.P.
The fighting was almost exclusively nighttime during my tour, although there were exceptions. Incoming could, and did, arrive at any time, including during daylight. Tanks would also pop up behind us on the military crest, shine bright lights, and fire cannon and machine gun rounds at enemy lines. This included daylight hours. Snipers were out during daylight for targets of opportunity. Nighttime fighting was preferred because beginning in 1952 and the first half of 1953, it was a static, trench war in Korea, enabling both sides to zero in the entire battleground. It was suicide to expose ourselves when the sun came up.
The fact that we only operated at night made it dangerous for helicopters in the area, so we were never lucky enough to be able to use helicopters in tactical situations. This is partly because the technology and doctrine were not available at the time. Choppers were nowhere near as numerous or available as they would be in later wars, but in Korea they were used for logistics, ammo, rations, and fuel; construction of landing zones by "shore party" troops; the medivac of wounded from MLR to the rear, not usually from forward to MLR; and exploring the new "vertical envelopment" techniques to develop advanced combat doctrine. In connection with this last item, my unit and I were fortunate to be able to take part in this pioneering work from the USS Sicily (pocket/auxiliary carrier) off the coast of Korea. We disembarked the choppers in every way imaginable by planners to see what worked best. The new doctrine and tactics saved lives in later wars. By the way, a nice touch upon boarding the Sicily, the ship's band played the Marine Corps hymn as we ascended the gang plank.
I was acting squad leader (third squad, 1st platoon) twice in December of 1952 when our squad leader, Sgt. Dick Huddleson, went back to the rear for NCO school and because of wounds. In January of 1953, I made corporal and took over the first squad (1st platoon). I remember as a squad leader I was breaking in a new platoon leader. We were on a combat patrol, crawling close to the Chinese lines, when he reached for a potato masher (grenade) lying even closer to me than it was to him. Besides avoiding personnel mines and devices designed to alert the enemy forward of the MLR, we had to take care not to trigger booby traps. That grenade was a classic example of likely booby trap and it was less than two feet from my face. I came down on the lieutenant's arm with a rabbit punch made vicious by the speed required by its urgency. I explained as best I could (we were only a few yards from the Chinese), but I wasn't convinced I got through. I think I kept my distance from him until away from enemy lines.
Winter of 1952/53
The winter of 1952/53 in Korea had to be experienced to be believed. Temperatures of -30 degrees were not uncommon. Of course, we were spending a lot of time outdoors and couldn't keep our gloves on all the time because we had to clean our rifles or fire them. We sometimes had to lay on the frozen ground through the night on ambush patrol waiting for the enemy to show up. I also recall standing in my fighting hole, which was usually framed in sandbags, spitting on one and watching it crystallize in no more than two or three seconds before my eyes. All my finger tips became blackened and split wide open from the cold. We often wore all the clothes we had, plus a blanket and helmet which, including glove inserts and shells, would amount to a dozen layers. For winter clothing I wore skivvies (underwear), socks, long johns, a utility jacket and trousers, sweater, flak vest, field jacket, parka, blanket, utility cover (cap), helmet, parka hood, and mitten shells and inserts. I'll never forget as a new squad leader and corporal bringing my men up to the line to string barbed wire in sub-zero temps at night. They kept warm doing hard physical work. I froze my non-commissioned officer's butt off.
The cold also affected our weapons. Most affected in a negative way were the weapons with small parts, such as the carbine. Next was the Thomson sub-machine gun. Then came the M1 and BAR. The least affected and therefore the most dependable in cold weather was the M3 grease gun and I believe the Colt 45, another .45 caliber piece. I didn't use the shotgun often enough, but I think it would belong with the dependable ones. By the way, the above dependability sequence applied equally to the effects of dirt that got into the weapon's mechanism.
During the time following Warsaw and the injuries I received there, I had some other minor wounds. I did not report them because a third Purple Heart would have been cause for immediate removal from the front lines. I had become an infantry leader and would not leave my fire team or rifle squad until much later when my draft left for the states in July of 1953.
While I was serving as squad leader, a tragedy almost happened. I was leading a squad through one of our gates (entry and exit access to the MLR) to go on a patrol. I spotted a large number of people, most dressed in quilted clothing, approaching the gate. No one had told me of a returning patrol, but I was suspicious of who they were. The safest thing for me and my squad would have been to take cover and open fire. I gave orders to take cover only, and alerted the unit on the MLR right behind me by radio. I then identified them as a returning Korean Service Corps party with a couple of Marine honchos. (We used KSCs for bringing up ammo and food and bringing back bodies.) By my actions, I avoided heavy and unnecessary loss of life (KSCs and Marines), but risked allowing an enemy patrol into our lines, with what could have resulted in heavy losses. Even though I had alerted the nearby Marines and was ready to have my squad open fire, there would have been very little time for them to react and our casualties would have been heavy. I lucked out. I took a risk and my decision saved lives. You decide.
It was also in the winter of 1952-53 that another Marine who had survived the barrage on Warsaw on October 6 of 1952 wound up on my squad after I had made squad leader. That great Marine made the mistake of dozing off while guarding the gate I was to use when departing the MLR on a routine patrol. This was a major goof on his part which could technically have warranted a court martial. I could have communicated the infraction to an officer and had him locked up and sent to the rear instead of going with us on patrol. But he wasn't just any Marine. He was one of my own men. I decided to teach him a lesson he'd never forget. I pounced on his lanky 6'2" body while unsheathing my bayonet. I slid the bayonet tip under his chin while pulling his helmet back and screaming phony Chinese in his face. I then gave him a chewing out (in English), followed by a few minutes to calm down while I cautioned the squad not to discuss the incident. We then left the MLR with a chastened, but grateful Marine on point. He was still alive when I rotated back to the States the following July. With a little luck, he got the honorable discharge which he would not have gotten if I had had him arrested.
We were seldom in contact with South Korean civilians. We sometimes saw them farming their paddies and also came across them in a village or two. We saw them from our trains and trucks as we traversed towns on our way from one sector of the line to another. We were never harmed by a civilian to the best of my knowledge.
We really weren't able to keep clean. For the most part we remained in the same clothes week after week. We were on the front lines in a static (everything zeroed in) war, and there were no showers up there. When we got off the line one time after 3 1/2 weeks, we really reeked! Much of my hair came off in my helmet liner from constantly wearing and sweating in my helmet. About the only thing we could do under those conditions was to fill up our helmet with water, heat it on the bunker stove, and take a partial sponge bath. The trouble was, we never knew when the next attack would occur. So the tendency was to just put up with being cruddy. We got used to it.
We ate C-rations on the line and outposts, and mess hall food in the rear. There were differences--at least in battalion reserve, which was only a mile or two behind the line. For example, we got powdered eggs instead of real eggs. We always ate American chow. We were never near native populations anyway where we would be more likely to have access to indigenous food. As I recall, we had turkey and ham with most of the trimmings and cake for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Could't beat that unless they returned us to the USA for holidays! (Of course, R&R in Japan included some exceptional meals.) I was always a steak (porterhouse/T-bone) and potatoes man. The closest we came to that in Korea was, I guess, Swiss steak. Also, the potatoes were of the "instant" variety. Neither was as good as "real" food, but they were tasty nevertheless, and far superior to most C-ration meals.
I had a good friend in Korea. His name was Ivan (Ike) Kaylor. Our friendship went back to Camp Pendleton. We went on liberty together, but only seldom and not far. In Korea we met again when I got to Charlie Company. We were still friends, and even spent some time on R&R in Kyoto together. Eventually our friendship cooled. I still don't understand why. He survived the war and died just a couple of years ago. I had no relatives in Korea. Four of my younger cousins followed me into the Marine Corps and served several tours in Vietnam. I had no buddies who were that close. I was an individual replacement who went over with no one from my unit. Then in Korea, there was constant changing of personnel due to high casualties.
I know there were plenty of lighter moments in reserve, but I'm afraid they escape me. Even on line we had some, but they were few and far between. The only ones I can recall easily were ones which involved people being scared out of their wits, but I don't think they're funny anymore. One I do recall--I guess because it was so outrageous--was a trick played on one of the guys. Somebody had heard that if you submerged a person's hand and wrist in water while they're sleeping, they'll wet themselves. Well, the practical joker set it up and darned if it didn't work. Everybody in our squad tent was watching, and boy, was it embarrassing for the victim!
I received mail pretty regularly. My father usually did the writing, although my mother probably chipped in. I think it was her idea to send me that bottle of Mr. Boston, chosen for its thick bottle (which made it less likely to break en route). Of course it broke, but the fumes were great! As for asking for things to be sent to me from home, oddly enough the only thing I can remember asking for were candles, which always seemed to be in short supply. With them we could alleviate the gloom in the tent/bunker. I must have asked my mom and dad and got some, but frequently not enough. I don't recall what others got in the mail. Not too long ago, I learned that one of the few married guys was informed by his wife that she was leaving him. He must have bottled it up pretty well, because that was pretty big news and I don't recall it happening.
To try to help meet our religious needs, we were all given small prayer books and cord (so they wouldn't make noise while we were using them) rosary beads. It was a nice idea, but sadly I seldom, if ever, used mine. (I still have them.) I imagine that was true of most of us. Of course we all prayed silently and individually when things became terrifying or unbearable. I know I attended mass a few times in the rear. I don't recall mass ever being held on the line. I could be mistaken, but I don't recall ever seeing a chaplain on the line, either. I do remember that Cardinal Spellman visited around Christmas time, but I wasn't lucky enough to attend his services.
I can recall seeing women in Korea only once. It was halfway through my tour, and it was as we approached some camp in the rear. Why we were there, the size unit I was part of, and whether we entered the camp or just passed around it, I wish I knew. Maybe Pete was with me at the time and he will know. One thing I am sure of is that after not seeing any women for perhaps five or six months, they sure looked oddly soft--and this was from maybe 50-75 yards. I know some of us visited villages from reserve bases well into the rear in order to find prostitutes, but I thought that was a bad idea--high risk, low reward. They were unattractive and unclean. Once, early in my tour, a group of us were transported by truck back to Seoul for the sole purpose of checking out the local women. The trouble was, they were just girls--very young girls--and I didn't have the heart to associate with them. The environment could only be described as war-torn Seoul in 1952. I couldn't wait to get out of there. It was grim and sad. I'd like to think I tossed the girls some money (script), but I honestly don't recall. I also recall that one time we were patrolling a village in the rear and one of our Marines began to get rough with a Korean woman (middle age or older). I immediately came to port arms and slammed him hard in the chest with the side of my rifle and got ready for a strong response (he was a bad ass). None came. I bowed to the woman, uttered the word mama san--a Korean term of respect--and we left.
Prior to Korea I smoked and drank, but I was never a gambler in the States or Korea. I think we all smoked on the line. Free cigarettes, I'm sure, accounted for some of this, but I believe boredom and sometimes frayed nerves did their part. I drank at least my share in reserve. We received a beer ration of a six pack or two each week. As a squad leader, the last half year I had dibs on any tea-totaler's ration in my squad.
I spent Labor Day 1952, Halloween 1952, Christmas 1952, New Year's 1952 and 1953, Easter 1953, Memorial Day 1953, and July 4, 1953 in Korea. We had a big Easter meal brought up to us (as they did for Thanksgiving and Christmas). Besides American holidays, we celebrated a Chinese communist one--May Day--by pounding their positions all day to show our appreciation for their politics. I spent my 21st birthday (February 7, 1953) in Korea, but I think it was just another day. During Christmas, we were on the MLR (Jamestown Line, western front), from which we conducted nightly patrols. I recall getting the special hot meals on holidays on the front lines. I'm sure we reflected on how nice it would be at home for Christmas, but I usually overcame such thoughts with gratitude for the dual privilege of being a Marine and serving my country in combat.
In general, our entertainment on the line consisted of going back to our bunkers and grabbing a cocoa/coffee, having a smoke, eating some C-rations, playing cards, bs'ing with a buddy, cleaning our rifles, sleeping, etc. In reserve, we substituted a tent for a bunker and chow for rations, but we did similar things, plus write letters and read. I may have made a USO show or two when we were back in the rear, but I don't believe any were big stars. In any event, I don't recall any names.
There certainly was a special person, Sgt. Dick Huddleson (PA) who stands out in my mind very clearly. He was the best squad leader I ever had in Korea. He was smart, kind, courageous, and a good teacher--qualities not that common in combination, especially at so high a level. I was fortunate enough in later years to locate him with the help of Chuck Roan (PA), and we've been in touch ever since. Chuck was one of my fellow squad leaders from early 1953 until I went home with my draft.
Another important person was Pete Rendina. He was my BARman and we both volunteered in the rescue of Riffenberg, who was mortally wounded in the groin. The significance of this act, a daylight rescue in full view of hundreds of enemy soldiers, cannot be overstated. Neither Pete nor I expected to survive the mile run through mines and booby-trapped rice paddies with a screaming wounded Marine on the stretcher. When you share something like that, you have a special connection. Pete contacted me a few years ago. Pete and his wife Bobbi, and Marilyn and I have become good friends and have been guests in each other's homes several times.
Our homes in Korea were bunkers--both on the line (MLR) and the outposts (COPs). They were stoutly built of heavy wooden beams, partly above and partly below ground. The roofs were layered sand bags, interspersed with hard materials (metal, slate, etc.) in order to trigger the mortar/artillery shells before they reached the interior. Our bunks, two of them vertically, which were suspended either from the ceiling by wires or from vertical railings, were actually cots or stretchers. We'd throw an air mat on them, topped off by our sleeping bags. We had a pot-bellied oil stove with a smoke stack sticking out of the side of the bunker near the top. We all looked like miners who had spent too much time underground. We had shelves fastened to the interior top, near the ceiling. Rats used them as a runway. After we extinguished our candles, we could hear them scampering around through the sugar and cream packets and other detritus which accumulated up there. We had at least one blanket as a door, but usually it was two to create a vestibule. The whole idea was to retain heat in the winter and to block any light from escaping and attracting enemy fire. The door opening was always above the trench floor to discourage water entry. As I recall, our bunkers--those which were undamaged--were quite dry. A bunker was usually where we were the safest. They held up well except for a direct hit. Some of them could even withstand that, depending on their construction and the size of the high explosive shell hitting it. Some machine gun bunkers had apertures for firing. It wasn't a good idea to get too close to the openings because the enemy knew where we were and could zero in on them. Even these bunkers contained living quarters. I can recall laying in my rack in the bunker and sometimes being awakened in the middle of the night to the sound of heavy incoming--probably just a probe--somewhere down the line. I can remember one time that it really affected me. I was shaking life a leaf with pre-action jitters. As I recall, the noise stopped and I was okay.
Another time, about dusk on the MLR, there developed a dangerous fire on top of a large bunker. There were some Marines milling around (the enemy couldn't see us as well just before dark and caution sometimes became lax), but nobody was taking any action about the fire. They knew that they would be silhouetted against the flames, which would have drawn the enemy's interest by now. But I figured the fire would worsen, be more difficult, and therefore become more dangerous as time went by until we lost the whole damn bunker. I couldn't just stand around, although I was wishing someone else would put it out so I wouldn't have to. When nobody made a move to do so, I grabbed an entrenching tool, clawed my way up to the bunker roof, and was almost immediately joined by other Marines. We got it out in record time with no sniper fire or incoming. It was not a big deal, but funny what you remember.
The static nature of the war during my tour precluded the need for foxholes, which were used for movement across enemy territory. Trenches gave protection while engaged in lateral movement. Within the trench environment were bunkers and fighting holes used for firing and tossing hand grenades from. The final trench appendage was the rabbit hole, used for the most intense barrages which would kill a man standing in a fighting position. Rabbit holes were like small caves dug into the rear bottom of the trench.
We rolled through towns and villages occasionally, but we had no direct contact with people. Even while clearing a village or two (rare), our contacts were brief and except for having to restrain an unsympathetic Marine, nothing memorable. I suspect I'm still blocking out what little I saw of the children in Korea because their condition and prospects seemed so bleak at the time. We infrequently rode through villages in 6x6 trucks, and as much as our drivers tried to avoid them, we sometimes got caught behind a honey bucket cart, usually drawn by a horse. The stench, especially on a hot day, was indescribably putrid. The "honey" was human excrement to be used agriculturally.
I didn't see any prejudice myself that I can recall. I understand that prejudice against blacks may have precipitated an argument between white NCOs and a black BARman. It resulted in the intentional and unauthorized firing of a BAR in a tent I was responsible for. The aggrieved black (PFC Rummage) sprayed the inside of the tent without hitting anyone. I was absolved of any culpability because I had slept through it, but the two NCOs were busted to their next lower ranks.
I saw no atrocities on live enemy soldiers, but I heard of a Marine in my company (C-1-7) who on at least one occasion shattered a dead enemy's jaws with his butt plate before removing his fillings.
Any time we were in regimental or division reserve, we were subject to being hauled down to Inchon for amphibious training. We boarded an APA, an LST, or an Auxiliary/pocket aircraft carrier and headed out to sea. Each was its own experience. Amphibious Personnel Attack ships (APA's) were small attack troop ships. At sea we scrambled down nets that were attached to the side of the ship, and into an LCVP (landing craft vehicle personnel). Near the beach (Korean coast or nearby island), the ramp came down and we poured out of it to do battle with an array of sea gulls and crabs.
On a tank landing ship or LST, we slept on the main deck until a pre-dawn revile, when the swabbies would graciously serve up some beans, cornbread, and coffee. Then we went below, boarded landing vehicle tanks (LVT's) and we were squirted out underwater from the bow. Skirmish lines were formed to enable scores of LVT's to arrive at the beach together. Waiting in the line under a hot sun with the hatch closed above us, breathing carbon monoxide from the idling engine on a rough sea, sitting on our inverted helmet shoulder to shoulder could be fairly uncomfortable. I have it on personal experience, though, that it's even worse if the engine dies, at which point the tossing sea is aided and abetted by a terrible yawing swing left to right, right to left, until all but the most nautically sophisticated give up their beans and cornbread (with the coffee not far behind). It's at that time that the helmets can no longer be used just for sitting on, but must then be employed to spare your neighbors from having to share your recent breakfast.
As to the Auxiliary/Pocket Carriers, we were delighted to be welcomed on board the USS Sicily by a large Navy band playing the Marine hymn. Then we were treated to chopper flights for developing new USMC doctrine: "vertical envelopment." We weren't the first Marines to do it, I'm told, but we helped pioneer the new techniques. While standing in the first chow line since boarding the Sicily, I was disappointed that a swabby jumped the line right in front of me. I was in an extremely hungry state and I realized that crew on duty had the right to enter at the front of the line, but I was in the middle of the line and it looked to me like an arbitrary incursion. Not only that, but this intruder said nothing about duty, nor did he even offer an "excuse me." The fact that he was immediately propelled through the air was as surprising to me as it was to him. The fact that he made no further attempts or summoned a Navy officer to intervene tells me that he was not on duty and received the treatment that he deserved.
When we weren't at sea, being in reserve was a great place to find rear area delicacies such as -- eggs!! One time one of us stole a whole crate of 36 dozen eggs from the mess hall and scrambled eggs were had by all using our steel helmets and tent stoves. Booze was another rear area delicacy. The Commonwealth Forces supplied Seagram 7 and Canadian Club for $10 a bottle in military script.
R&R in Japan
A few words about my four and a half days of R&R in Japan in March 1953. Kaylor and I stayed at the Hotel Ryuko in Kyoto, Japan. It had a night club below where they had top Japanese entertainment--singers that sounded American singing pop songs from the USA and serving us the best booze at ridiculously low prices. I'm sure the rooms were beautiful, although I forget. But I haven't forgotten the food which was gourmet and served to us like we were rich patrons. I did breach table etiquette, however, believing the butter lumps in a bowl on the table were yellow candies (they were shaped like Christmas candies!). I picked one up in my bare hand before realizing it was butter. My buddies thought that was hilarious.
Not content to spend all that time in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, I also traveled to Osaka and Kobe where I sampled oriental delights most westerners can only imagine (such as the Japanese bath administered by a geisha wannabe named Mimi Yamamoto). My wife Marilyn knows about her, unfortunately, but Kobe was three years before we met in South Kearny, New Jersey.
My friend Kaylor was with me early on in Kyoto, but his preference was for a more sedate vacation from combat than mine. I leaned toward optimizing the opportunity (hell raiser), i.e., really getting around and doing everything (endless carousing) that I could squeeze in. I remember that Kaylor was the same at Pendleton. We were in the same pyramidal tent at Tent Camp 3. He stayed on base (saving his money to buy a tractor-trailer) most of the time.
When R&R was over, I returned to Korea in just my dress greens (no heavy clothes). It was March 1953 and Korea was still bitterly cold. I had to spend the night in an unheated tent. The following morning they finally got me some cold weather gear. This was all on top of having to return to a war zone after getting spoiled in occupied Japan. Going on R&R is similar to going on any vacation. It's necessary from time to time, and does you a lot of good, but it's tough to return from it. I don't know anybody who turned down R&R. Besides, the majority of our tour was over when we went.
When the season changed to early summer of 1953, the heat was bearable. We changed out of our winter clothing to summer clothing of skivvies, socks, utility jacket and trousers, flak vest, and utility cover and helmet. We had been moved way back to Corps reserve, maybe 20 miles behind the lines, so we were safe, relatively comfortable, and fed well. We stayed in reserve for my last month and a half in Korea. The trouble is, the Marine Corps can't stand having its troops too comfortable, so as the comfort rises, so does--if you'll pardon the expression--the "chicken shit." I remember reflecting on how I'd rather be leading my men in combat than promulgating the idiotic "C.S." administered in the rear--e.g., making my troops paint the rocks surrounding our tents white. Anyway, the weather was great when I left corps reserve for Ascom City.
I knew I would be rotated home because it was common knowledge. The whole 23rd replacement draft was going home at the same time--at least those of us who survived the year in Korea. We all knew we were getting out of there mid-July 1953. You would think the last hours in the company would be memorable, but I guess they weren't, at least not after 52+ years. I do remember feeling a mixture of sadness and relief. The sadness was for leaving my men and the knowledge that some of our 1st Marine Division units returning to the MLR from Corps reserve were taking heavy casualties. The relief was realizing that I was actually going to get out of there alive, something I often thought was not going to happen. I'd been in a rifle squad, in combat almost a year, and had beaten the odds!
We saw replacement troops arrive in our company every month as each draft came in. For me it was from the 24th draft in October 1952 through the 33rd draft in June 1953. (I left before the 34th got there.) New troops always asked the combat vets questions, who in turn did what they could to allay fears and impart tactical knowledge. Of course, there was give and take when relieving troops on the MLR/COP's, but it was predominately good natured and helpful.
When it was our time to rotate home, we went by truck to Ascom City, near Inchon, for processing out of the country. There we were deloused and checked for internal critters (like tape worm). I'm sure there was much paperwork processing and order stamping, too. Then we were off for the Port of Inchon where the USS General Pope awaited. The 23rd draft, those of us who were left, took aim at Treasure Island, Los Angeles, California around mid-July 1953. Whoopee!!
The final day (June 27, 1953) of the active war in Korea I was at sea, along with 1,200 to 1,500 other Marines who were also returning to the States. My feelings before that in Korea about the possibility of a truce were mixed. On the one hand I would have welcomed the end of the carnage. On the other, I resented our seeming inability to finish the war by force of arms, on our own terms, with an unconditional surrender by the Chinese/North Koreans. Since I was on my way home I was no longer directly affected, but I was glad to see it end. Too many lives had been lost in a war that in the end became driven by politics. The hardest thing for me about being in Korea had been the patrols, especially winter, ambush patrols. Another was sitting in a 6x (truck) all night in battalion reserve. We had to listen to the racket going on a mile or so north, knowing we could be thrown into the breech at any time. Standing in a trench for hours on watch wasn't much fun, either.
The general mood on the ship was upbeat. We realized how lucky we were, especially those of us who had been infantry. I think, however, that many of us were also experiencing the loss of those killed and the sad knowledge that the war still raged though we had been spared. I think my mood was one of disbelief about what I'd seen and done and that I was still around to think about it. I don't think any of us had any duties on the ship. I know I didn't. We didn't have any entertainment on the ship, just our own reading, playing cards, and some of us may have had a radio for music or news.
Our weather was good as I recall. There was no rain, high winds or fog. At times, however, the sea became a little rough. I was never seasick, but I did receive the mal de mere product of someone else's abdominal distress right in the face. I'd been enjoying the ride at the railing of the main deck when all of the sudden I heard and saw something to my upper right. I looked up just in time to catch a present from the next deck up. A fast wash and I was fine. I never forgot it, though.
It took about 13 to 15 days to get back to the states with no stopover. We went direct from Inchon to Treasure Island, California, where we disembarked. There was nobody there for me, but I was from New Jersey and it would have been too expensive for my parents to fly out to California. I'm sure that with over a thousand Marines, some friends and relatives would have made the docking. I still remember the sights and thrills of entering San Francisco harbor. Back in the states, finally! I, no doubt reflected on the fact that I'd probably get at least a month's leave before heading for my next duty station.
We were processed on the base at Treasure Island. We didn't get our orders for a few days, but we quickly received clothes (from our mildewed sea bags), some of our pay, and liberty for a day or two. After landing stateside, the first thing I did was get dressed in my moldy greens, put on my ribbons (medals) for the first time, and head for San Francisco's saloons to celebrate returning to the homeland. I was lucky. My group (4-6 Marines) wound up in a bar loaded with female office workers and other non-dangerous women. I had one of the best times of my life (pre-Marilyn, of course).
After I came back to the United States, I went to Lakehurst Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey from September 1953 to January 1954. I was a guard on the main gate and the brig. We also provided security for payroll runs to the Lakehurst Bank and the hanger where the officers (mostly air crews) were paid. I was discharged from the Marine Corps on January 18, 1954. I didn't consider re-enlisting until I was married a few years. By then (1963) it was too late. I was over 30 and the father of my first three kids. I didn't go back in the service.
While it's true that I probably did more drinking than I should have, even including a drunken brawl, I quickly got a job, started school, and settled into the civilian life. I was changed a lot. I had returned from Korea with the knowledge that I'd done the most important thing a young male can do, and I had done it well. I was mature and confident compared to my peers. I'd seen the world and defended my country. Without a doubt, I had trouble adjusting to civilian life. Between startle response, nightmares, the need to work menial jobs to make a living, a certain amount of cockiness, tendency to over drink, and entering school at the mid-high school level when I was 22, I'd say there was some difficulty easing back into civilian life.
I went back to the job that I had before enlisting, which was a freight hand at Block Drugs. They were very good to me and took me back with the increase in pay that I would have had if I hadn't gone into the Marine Corps. I then went to Western Electric where my aunt worked. She encouraged me to try to get a job and go back to school. I got a job at Western Electric in Kearney, New Jersey as a welder. My boss encouraged me to get into the office and go back to school on the GI Bill, which is what I did. I finished high school in an accelerated program at a school called Jersey Prep in Jersey City, New Jersey, which took me from 2 1/2 years of high school credit to four years in nine months. Then I attended Seton Hall University at night for five years for my BSBA degree in Marketing. In the early 1980s, I received my MSBA degree in management from the University of Northern Colorado. The other students (non-veterans) to this day, in and out of school, struck me as noticeably immature and less worthy of respect. I'm speaking in general and about males only.
I met Marilyn Whitaker in 1956 at Western Electric, where we both worked. We got married in 1958. We have four children: John III, 47 (who is a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who served seven months in Iraq), married and has five children; Patrick (who joined the Marine Corps and is now a Colorado State Trooper), Maureen, 43 (lives in Missouri and is married and has three children), and Susan, 41 (lives in Colorado and is married and has two children).
Western Electric became AT&T Technologies and transferred me to Littleton, Colorado. While I worked for AT&T, I also worked on the adjunct faculty at Regis University, teaching computer science courses at night. I retired in 1989 from AT&T and Regis University. Now I can enjoy my hobbies, which include playing handball twice a week, weight-lifting, reading, flying a light plane (I belong to a flying club which I helped start in 1974), gardening, and travel. I also belong to the All Veterans Honor Guard and the Marine Color Guard where we do military honors for deceased veterans at Fort Logan National Cemetery.
In Korea, explosions caused punctures and perforations in my ear. Years later, I went to an ear doctor and learned that I only had 15% of my eardrum and if I didn't get surgery, I could get a brain infection. After four operations--three in the VA hospital, I finally got a new eardrum, but had hearing loss from being in combat on the line for 11 months. I also have tinnitus, PTSD, and dry eyes from the burns I received on my face, as well as cold damage (minor frostbite) to my fingers.
I had quite a bit of difficulty receiving compensation for my PTSD. First, the VA assigned a screener who was ill-equipped to make a quality judgment in this area. Secondly, most service officers in veteran's service organizations (DAV, American Legion, etc.) in my experience, show little initiative in sharing information and pursuing a veteran's claims. This lack of motivation is a serious hindrance in wading through the VA maze. Proactive service officers are at a premium and worth their weight in gold.
I think we should have sent troops to Korea when North Korea invaded the South. It was a good cause strategically and from a humanitarian stand point, but our political leaders' irresponsibility allowed our numbers, equipment, weapons, and preparations/planning to suffer. Also, our State Department sent the wrong message with respect to our intention to defend Korea. To a lesser extent our military also was culpable, especially regarding not training the troops we had--e.g., the garrison troops in occupied Japan.
I think MacArthur should have gone north of the 38th parallel, but I believe he should have stopped at the most defensible MLR 50 to 100 miles south of China. What he did almost cost us the 1st Marine Division, mainly because he didn't develop sufficient combat intelligence capabilities and ignored what little military intelligence he did have. He also let Army Lt. General Almond make poor decisions. Among them, dividing our forces, both Marine and Army, as they approached the Chinese border.
The UN and US should not have allowed themselves to be duped into peace talks as early and so often. We should have been much more resistant to talks and recognized the other side was playing us for patsies for short term relief from our military pressure. We should have pounded the Chinese relentlessly with everything we had until they sued for peace. Our representatives at Panmunjom should never have had to put up with the degradation they suffered negotiating with the communists. My idea of a positive altered outcome would have been replacing the current (in 1953) regime by the Chinese in order to obtain a peace treaty with us.
There are still Americans missing from the Korean War. To be fair, and considering that the North Koreans are hardly cooperative about anything, let alone the dead of their enemy, our government is probably doing its best to bring our MIAs home. I keep hearing about return of remains in modest numbers. I guess the only way to avoid these kinds of problems is to win our wars/battles unconditionally.
Marilyn and I and other vets and spouses went over to Korea in 1985 as guests of the Korean War Veterans Association. The KWVA footed the bill for everything but the air fare. They also decorated the Marine combat vets with a beautiful medal. We stayed in Seoul at the Hotel Shilla. Every day was filled with tours, shows, and celebrations. I'll just mention a few things we did. We attended a ceremony in Inchon to honor those who died saving South Korea. We received a briefing by Army 2nd ID intelligence, then visited the demilitarized zone, including Freedom Village, where some of our prisoners of war were brought at the end of the war. The building where the peace talks took place was especially interest with armed North Korean soldiers walking around the building looking in the windows at us. They also had armed soldiers on the watch towers watching us. There was a facade of a village on the north side with nothing behind it--sort of like a Hollywood set. They also had loud music playing. We had to sign a release before we ventured into this area. Another day was spent in a 1700's Korean village where we were treated to traditional cooking and enjoyed a demonstration of agricultural dances by the National Dance Troop. Interestingly, while we were enjoying our meal there was an air raid, which they have often, and we were gently herded into a safer place. This reminded us that South Korea remains threatened by the North. Everywhere we traveled in our three buses decorated with the 1st Marine Division banner, we were joyfully welcomed by a grateful populace. This was especially true of Koreans from our generation, who ran up to us grabbing our hands while thanking us profusely. School children in their uniforms would come out of the schools with their teachers and stand by the side of the road and salute us as we passed by. It was very emotional.
Korea is and was an ally in a strategic location of the world. At the time of the open hostilities in Korea in 1950-53, it represented the front line in the battle against communism, which had to be stopped. Korea was a free people threatened by brutal repression if conquered by North Korea, which was a puppet of the Russian-Chinese axis. We saved South Korea from communism, which at that time was so dangerous as to be called monolithic. One only has to look at their progress, especially compared to the North, to understand the good that came out of our sacrifices to help them.
I am not troubled by the recent crisis in North Korea regarding the threat of atomic weapons. I'm confident that continuous pressure by Japan, the United States, China, and South Korea, along with constant surveillance of their shipping, communications, etc., will keep them in check. We still need troops in that part of the world. Korea is strategically located and the South Koreans owe us and want our protection.
The Korean War is called "The Forgotten War" because it was relatively short and buried between gigantic World War II and the interminable Vietnam War. In addition, there is widespread ignorance of what was at stake and the war's considerable intensity. Casualties were much higher per year than Vietnam. I hope that present and future readers of my memoir will come to realize the significance of the Korean War. Most historians agree that the period between World War II and 1989 when the wall came down--the "cold war"--was actually World War III. If that's the case, Korea was the first major battle of World War III. Although the US-UN could have done better, their actions set the stage for World War II which we--the free world--won with the help of Lech Walesa, Pope John Paul II, and Ronald Reagan. I would also like readers of my memoir to recognize the sacrifices of almost 35 thousand sets of parents whose sons and daughters were lost in the fight for freedom during the Korean War era.
Very seldom do I tell non-vets about my war experiences, mainly because of their general inability to understand, but also because of their apparent indifference to something which they don't believe has any relevance to their lives. With male non-vets I believe there exists a deep-rooted sense of shame that they didn't respond to the call of their nation, and a strong resentment towards being reminded. With respect to family, I share my war experiences according to their interest--e.g., my wife, sons, and older grandsons, and a couple of the older granddaughters. Even my son-in-laws are sufficiently interested to cause me to relate a war story or two.
With regards to PTSD, there is behavior that is typical of combat veterans, especially those who have experienced intense and sustained danger. This behavior includes responses to sounds mimicking those of combat. My son recalls that I described the sound of a mortar round descent as "the sound of his book sliding across the dining room table" as he was doing homework. Much to my delight, John tells me that I spent many hours--split into small bits--relating my war experiences to him. I was afraid that I hadn't devoted much time to such a worthy pursuit. I'm proud he followed me into the Marine Corps and remains to this day as a warrior in the service of the United States. I'm equally proud of my other son, Patrick, who also followed me into the USMC, and is a career Colorado State Trooper.
The period of time I was over in Korea rated the Navy Unit Citation (NUC) for the division. The awards I personally received while in Korea are still a sore point for me. I don't believe our officers were properly indoctrinated with regard to the value of the USMC awards system. I saw a fair amount of action, but rarely did I see awards given. My awards are as follows:
I was recently informed of a Silver Star recommendation for my part (Pete Rendina, also) in the rescue of a wounded Marine off Bunker Hill COP on October 25, 1952. The paperwork is currently being resubmitted and I'd say our chances of getting it are good. The Purple Hearts (and a probable Silver Star) hold much significance to me.
I feel that most of the Marines I served with were heroes because of the nature of the job and the fact that few balked under the most trying circumstances. They went out on patrols, outposts, and listening posts knowing that there was a pretty good chance they would be shredded by incoming/small arms fire and killed, wounded, or captured. The way they fought was really something. We gave each other tremendous confidence to do what our tradition demanded. Our training served us well in Korea. It's no exaggeration for me to state that without the discipline and knowledge gained at Parris Island, and the skills and additional knowledge I achieved at Pendleton, I'd never have made it through almost a year in the rifle squad.
I consider my time in Korea to be a huge net plus by any measure. The minor damage I suffered mentally and physically is overwhelmingly surpassed by the good I did for myself and the world. It was a high honor to serve. I know I did well, and most of all it was the right thing to do. Outside of my family, I've never done anything remotely as important. The sights I saw and the heroics I observed I believe could not have been matched in civilian life. I thank God I was permitted to be part of such a great undertaking.
It might have been true at one time that World War II veterans were treated better than Korean War veterans, but I don't think that's the case today. Of course, there are always exceptions. My take on the situation is this. Many a World War II vet did nothing in the war except get drafted and do a rear echelon support role, and here he is disrespecting a guy who perhaps fought in the infantry at the Chosin. Whose service was superior? I know guys who were made to feel unwelcome by World War II vets in the military organizations because they were only in the "Police Action."
One of the men in my platoon, Pete Rendina, found me in the 1st Marine Division directory five years ago. Pete and I found our Platoon Leader, Dick Fisher from Tennessee, a few years ago with the help of Headquarters Marine Corps. I attempted to find our Gunny, Tech Sergeant White, who was with us on Bunker Hill, but was unsuccessful. I've attended every Charlie Company reunion except one since we formed back in the mid-nineties--to mention a few, Branson, Hilton Head (Battalion), Monterey (Company), Virginia Beach (Company), and Palm Springs (Battalion). I enjoy them for the people, the stories, and the new sights.
I don't know what my life would have been like sitting out the war or serving in a different branch of the service. I strongly suspect my life would have not been as rich an experience. I was a Marine for only three years, but I packed a lot into them and they were formative years. More than my upbringing, education, and career, those years made me what I am--a Marine. And the longer I live, the more I realize this. The Marine Corps is a belief system centered on pride and responsibility, from which you draw the courage to do the honorable thing regardless of fear or inconvenience. It's as though you're still surrounded by other Marines which you will not let down. I am not always responsible, but I try--and feel lousy when I'm not. (Do you hear the stirring notes of the Marine Corps Hymn?!)
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Pictures of the 53 Platoon, 2nd Battalion (PDF File 1.6Meg)