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John Richard (Jack) Miles, Jr.
North Miami, Florida -
"Bunker Hill was the hardest job we had while I was there. This was a platoon-size operation and we could only take it for one week at a time. The mortars (120mm) and artillery fire were devastating. The Chinese were on one side of the hill and we were on the other. They were in such close proximity to us that the fuses on our hand grenades had to be shortened, as they were throwing them back at us."
- Jack Miles
My name is John Richard Miles of North Miami, Florida. I was born on March 5, 1927 in Lancaster, Ohio, a son of John and Mildred Tolliver Miles. My father was a millwright and toolmaker. I had two brothers, Stephen and James, both of whom were younger and are now deceased.
I attended grade school in Lancaster and Cleveland, Ohio, and then West High School in Cleveland. I was attending school during World War II and participated in the war effort by saving stamps, buying war bonds, and saving aluminum and rubber, etc. I graduated from high school in June 1946. My first jobs were working in the American shipyards as a rivet passer and then welder.
I enlisted in the Marine Corps in June of 1946, reporting for duty on July 5, 1946. I chose the Marine Corps because I had always admired the Marines from youth--the fact that the Marines were a small and dedicated group with a mission. A couple of neighborhood guys joined with me for various reasons.
As I stepped off the train in Port Royale, a short ride from Yamassee, South Carolina, the drill instructors informed me that I was in a different world. Wow! It was a calamity for me. It was as hot as a summer day could be in early July, and Parris Island was a virtual swamp. There were many ants and crawling creatures of all sorts.
We immediately had our hair shaved off and got out of our civvies and into dungarees. They were new, of course--with sizing, so no air could get through the material. Then we picked up our 782 gear and M-1 rifles. We also had a poncho by now and went to a parade field near our barracks to clean and strip our rifles. They were loaded with cosmoline. By this time it was late morning. It must have been a hundred degrees by then.
The drill instructor (I don't remember his name, but we were in Platoon 204) showed us how to strip our weapons. Many, including me, just didn't get the idea of putting our weapons back together again after cleaning. We had to stay there in the hot, boiling sun until we completed the job. We couldn't ask any of the other boots for help. To this day I am amazed that I completed the task. It was brutal. We had no rest after that, though. We went back to the barracks to have a field day in our new quarters. We cleaned with sandstone bars and water to make the wooden decks snow white. We finally got into the rack about 2000, then we got back up at 0430 for our second day.
Our days were very regimented. Days started at 0430 a.m. It was usually one of our DIs that woke us up, and they were not very gentle at that. They usually said, "Fall out in 15 minutes." That was after we were clean-shaved, our teeth were brushed, we had put on clean fatigues, and had a morning absolution. There was roll call and then physical instruction before we had to be at the mess hall at 5:30 for a 30-minute meal. No conversation was allowed at meals. The meals were good and we were fed well at all times. We were burning so many calories during the day that anything was good and meals allowed a little rest. Then it was off to training and being a good Marine. Classes were usually held outside unless we had rain. God, we loved it when we had it. The barracks were everyone's responsibility, but a different squad had it on a regular basis. We could eat off the floors at all times--that was boot camp. Lights out was at 2000 always.
We were awakened many times at night for exercises of any nature. The DIs were very strict. That's the way we were taught and that's what made men out of us. I came to appreciate my DIs because they saved me during my lifetime in and out of the Corps. Everyone came into boot camp equal, and that's the way we started out. Size really meant nothing, and neither did mental proficiency. We were all equal until we got our beloved Anchor and Globe to wear.
We had individual discipline problems and platoon problems. I was punished for throwing radishes in the mess hall at a friend. They made me ride the ranges (clean the giant stoves with sand stone) in the mess hall before going to the rifle range. This made my hands swell before qualifying at the rifle range, but I did. They did this to try to put us back so we didn't graduate with our platoon. From time to time people were in trouble. The Jewish kids who received too many packages from home with cakes and candy, etc. got in trouble. There were some who were removed from our company. I don't know what happened to them. They just disappeared. This happened often, not only to the Jewish fellows. If something was stolen and the DIs couldn't find out who did it, we were all punished. We didn't put up with stealing from our comrades in the Marines.
Church was offered. They marched us there. It was a time of relaxation, so who wouldn't take advantage of that and attend? The hardest thing during boot camp was boot camp itself. We had tear gas training. They made us take our mask off for a few seconds while there. It was most unpleasant. Boot camp was great once it was over--like going to the dentist to have your teeth pulled, but I was never sorry I joined the Marines and I would do it over again in a second. In fact, I tried to reenlist again during the Gulf crisis.
On graduation day we had a formal parade and were awarded our globe and anchors. Then we were called Marines. We were walking three feet off the ground. I was very confident of myself and my buddies. After boot camp was over I went home on boot leave. I wore my uniform at home. Everyone I knew commented how well I looked. Go Marine!
Cherry Point to Pickle Meadows
After boot camp leave I reported to Cherry Point, North Carolina. Soon after, I was discharged in 1947 on an early discharge. This was in the time frame that Harry Truman tried to shit-can the Marine Corps (politics) and he almost made it stick. I then joined the inactive Marine reserves (no meetings).
By this time I had enrolled at Ohio State University, and was in school there until I changed to the University of Dayton. After another year at school the Korean War came about. The Army offered me a commission as a Second Lieutenant if the Marines would allow my release from the Inactive Reserves, but the Marine Reserves wouldn't allow me to accept it. Needless to say, I was pissed, but that's life. A further point on Marine politics of that era, the Marine Corps called back every man it could put its hands on. The General staff thought this was a perfect time to insure the fact that they would be around and increase the number of the General staff and high ranking officers.
I reported back to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina as a corporal, and joined the 2nd Marine Division. After advanced training there and at Little Creek, Virginia, and then off to Vieques, Puerto Rico for more training, including shipboard training, I was then off to Camp Pendleton, California. That was in 1951.
I had more training in California, including cold weather training at Pickle Meadows, California. During my training in California we always had liberty if the situation warranted. After my training ended I went back to Pendleton for shipment to Korea in the 18th draft, which was in February 1952. I served in Korea on both the eastern and western fronts. My action consisted of all the outposts fighting and Bunker Hill.
Trip to Korea
I went over to Korea on the USS Gordon, a MATS troop ship that carried approximately 3,000 troops. There were only Marines and Navy corpsmen on the ship. I didn't know any of them except my immediate buddies. I don't believe that there was any cargo. I had been on APA, AKA, LSDs, etc., so I had no health problems on the ship. Some people did get sick, however.
The weather was fine during the approximately 15 days it took us to get to Japan. There was no formal entertainment on the ship. Some of the guys had musical instruments that they played. Others played cards and dice, and there was letter writing. Our duties consisted of keeping our immediate area clean, as well as our heads and any areas we were around. We also tried to keep out of the way of the ship's company. Really, nothing eventful happened aboard ship--our biggest task was going from one chow line to the next. The meals overlapped because of the troops.
The ship landed in Kobe, Japan, and we had four or five days liberty before taking a smaller ship on to Korea. While in Japan I met a girl whose father had been a Japanese marine during World War II. She wanted me to meet her father, so she took me to her home after I had had several (a lot) drinks. I was somewhat apprehensive, as the World War II fracas had only been over about five years. He was very nice, but they served raw squid and shark for dinner. (This was before it was a fad and we started calling it Sushi.) With all my drinks, I, of course, got sick and had to leave (the ugly American). I never did score with this girl.
I arrived at Pusan, Korea at 3 a.m. on the morning of March 10, 1952. We immediately disembarked from the ship and saw buildings in shambles. We were taken to Division reserve in trucks, and I was assigned to the third platoon of George Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment as fireteam leader. I was a Corporal.
The weather was cold in the late part of February 1952. When March arrived the 1st Marine Division changed from the east coast to the west coast of Korea and the whole Division moved down near the city of Seoul. The west coast seemed more temperate than the high mountain country. We had to clear the civilians out of our area on the west coast. They were farming when we arrived.
A fireteam consisted of four people--a barman and assistant barman, a rifleman and a leader. I liked my job. The first few days was hectic getting into our new position because we were relieving the ROKs. We were all scared by now because we found out that we were actually fronting the Chinese and they were better trained military people. But after a few days this subsided somewhat and it was the everyday action of staying alive. We ran patrols every night ourselves and listening posts in between.
While guarding the saddle of our lines, we engaged the enemy when we caught Chinese coming through our barbed wire. This was about two weeks after my arrival in Korea. After using my M-1 rifle, I heard a man (the enemy) screaming and asking his buddy for help. That was the first time that I saw dead enemy. It didn't phase me, as I was just doing my job. The first time I saw dead Marines, it made me sick to my stomach for a short time and then it passed.
At first I carried a Thomson submachine gun, then later a pistol (a Smith and Wesson 38 that I had inherited somehow). My favorite weapon was the Browning Automatic Weapon or BAR. I carried one quite frequently. Although I was new to combat, my emotions were holding up well--the same for everyone. We were taught the ropes by veteran combat Marines. We were not accepted at first for two reasons. They wanted to see how we reacted in combat situations, and they really didn't want to get close to someone and then have them killed or wounded in action. After I killed a Chinese when I first got there, I was accepted from that moment on like a regular salty Marine. I learned that we had to work as a team to stay alive and we depended on each other.
We had plenty of trenches and foxholes and, of course, we lived in the bunkers when on the line. We constantly upgraded our bunkers. The ones we took on the ROK positions were small, as the Korean people were smaller. We had the know-how for making things more comfortable ourselves (materials). Bunker life was not bad, depending on what we put into it. This made them comfortable and clean. They kept us dry and warm and out of the elements in general. They protected us in a lot of cases. Some non-humans were around, but my squad and friends strived to keep our area clean. (Cleanliness is next to Godliness.) We were protected by land mines, razor-sharp concertina wire, trip grenades, and fields of fire. When we were in a trench or fighting hole we were usually in a precarious position out in the elements.
Fighting was mostly at night, running patrols and manning listening posts, etc. The enemy we were fighting included young and old gooks, both Chinese and North Koreans. The Chinese were the best fighters. We had excellent fire support from the air and ground--Marine aviation was just great. Our own artillery fired on a hill we were on when it was being overrun and kept the Chinks from capturing us while we were in bunkers. Another time our patrol was attacked out in front of Vegas on a site we used for artillery observers and several were badly wounded. The enemy had plenty of fire power, like ourselves. We had our share of KIAs and WIAs, so they were effective.
Baptism of Fire
My real "baptism of fire" came near the end of June while leading a reinforced squad out to one of our fire bases. It was either Reno or Vegas. We occupied them during the day for our artillery forward observers or aviation FOs. We were about a mile or two in front of lines (MLR) on Vegas. The gooks had been there during the night and had booby-trapped the bunkers and fireholes we would occupy. Immediately we heard explosions and thought that we were getting incoming mortars or artillery. When my men started hollering for the corpsman, I realized that all the bunkers were booby-trapped. I decided that, with the number of casualties that we had, we had better get the hell out of there. I had been in radio contact with my CO and he also suggested the same. The one or two miles back to our lines with wounded on stretchers was the hardest work we encountered for some time.
Bunker Hill came a few weeks later. At that time Marine thinking was to have outposts rather than a Main Line of Resistance (MLR). This was the reason for Bunker Hill, Reno, Vegas, etc. They were all hills, not mountains like the east coast of Korea. Manpower was critical for the area assigned to the 1st Marine Division.
When first approaching Bunker Hill through a small valley, we discovered that the enemy had the area zeroed in for 120mm mortars. It was frightening and we were scared shitless as we passed holes about the size of swimming pools that were caused by the mortars. There was the ever-present smell of cordite and smoke.
Bunker Hill was the hardest job we had while I was there. This was a platoon-size operation and we could only take it for one week at a time. The mortars (120mm) and artillery fire were devastating. The Chinese were on one side of the hill and we were on the other. They were in such close proximity to us that the fuses on our hand grenades had to be shortened, as they were throwing them back at us. We were on the reverse slope during the day and had to fight for the forward positions at night. We just couldn't move during the day because of the mortars and hostile fire. Bunker Hill was one big scrap pile of expended casing and C-ration tins full of rats.
Back when I was in boot camp, there were no blacks in my platoon. We started to get them during our time in Korea. My only bad experience with one was while we were being relieved during the Bunker Hill fight. Under a murderous bombardment coming down off the hill, my platoon leader asked me to get two of my men back up the hill to help get our wounded and killed in action off the hill. I turned around, spotted two Marines from my squad, and ordered them back to help. The one said he wouldn't go up, but I persuaded him with the help of my carbine.
Officers rotated just like the enlisted men. The rotation was usually after 12 months, depending on killed in actions or wounded in actions, which might be sooner. Our officers were all competent as far as I know. They were all great people, except one that took a stripe from me.
While I was in Korea I made buck sergeant, but I lost it when I had a detail going back to Division for a USO show. I stopped at Division for some cold beer with a PFC friend of mine who was in the original detail. We got a little drunk and our transportation went back without us. We hitched a ride with a couple of officers part of the way. They didn't want any of our beer we had, but we left our church key (can opener) in the Jeep. As luck might have it, we tried blowing a hole in the cans, which, of course, didn't work. The 11th Marines (artillery) thought that they had infiltrators until they found the two of us. They took us back to the MPs at Division. My battalion finally sent for us after we spent three days in the brig, which wasn't bad as we had hot meals and didn't have to run any patrols or be on the line. They finally got around to taking one stripe from me, which ruined my career in the Marines. When I got back to the States they wanted me to reenlist, but they would only give me my sergeant stripe back. I wanted to have a Staff rating at least. This was before the new Code of Military Justice, and Staff had its privileges. I couldn't get it, so I took my honorable discharge.
The weather in Korea was cold, rainy and hot. The winter weather was the worst. In the extreme weather some weapons would not fire. We picked up using fish oil for lubrication of our weapons from the Chinese. We had cold weather gear from the Army. The Marine Corps was so small in the budget we were always sucking the hind tits. In the summer we wore regular fatigues. We bathed every day and shaved the same. We had a chance to have clean clothes as often as needed.
On the line we had C-rations. Some were good. We also received PX boxes every week or so, depending on the enemy activity. We had hot food usually in reserve or on the second or third day. Thanksgiving dinner was brought up to us on the line. "Pogey bait" (candy, cakes, gum, etc.) arrived in the mail from home.
We received mail usually every four or five days. I received mail from my family and friends and a girl I was in love with at the time. I received a Dear John letter from her while I was in Korea and I was fractured at this. I never received packages for some reason.
I had good friends (buddies). We understood our jobs and why we were there and we associated with like people. Most of us laughed a lot. We had light moments all the time--such as being caught on the toilet with incoming mortars when we were not finished or when a certain person fell asleep and snored so loud we thought it could be heard a mile away. Our leisure time was spent in playing cards and baseball and keeping alive.
My other memories of everyday life in Korea include:
Closer to the time for me to leave Korea I left the company and went back to battalion. I was very sad, but also glad to go. I was leaving many friends and realized that it might be the last time I would see them for one reason or another.
Back at Battalion
The last month of my time in Korea I was back at battalion as S-4 Sergeant. This was a neat job. It meant no more patrols and no more being on the front line. There was a Captain Noble who was Battalion S-4 officer (logistics) for all the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines. He was a reserve officer who had been an encyclopedia salesman before being called up. His father was a General in the Marine Corps and he (the son) was known as a Fu_ _-up officer. Every time we had a jump off in the battalion I had to drive him up to see it. I just wanted to be drinking beer back at Battalion, safe and sound and waiting for my papers to arrive. We would go up to the different command bunkers while a sortie was going on and the officers would tell us to get out of the way.
When it was time to leave Korea I went by truck to a point of departure on the coast. I got orders and had a physical and shots, then boarded a MATs ship for the return trip to the States. I had no duties on the ship except to keep my immediate area clean. We had a liberty call in Sasebo, Japan. We didn't sightsee there--we drank and tried to get lucky.
It took about 13 days to get home, if I remember correctly. We played cards and thought about home on the voyage. The ship arrived in San Francisco, where a band was playing. Going under the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing Alcatraz Island, I knew I was finally back in the USA. It was very emotional. After disembarking I got in a relaxed mode by going to the slop-shoot and having some beer. I planned to take Frisco by storm. In 1953 the people were good to servicemen, especially Marines, and this was a Navy town. After being assigned to casual company for our processing to go further in the Marines or a discharge, we had open gate liberty. That meant that we were on liberty whenever we were free. It took about two or three weeks for this processing. Females of all shapes and sizes waited at the liberty gates for Marines that were available. They took us into Oakland or Frisco in their cars. Most of us had plenty of money on the books, so this was no problem. This was the days before Aids and we had pro-packs for VD, so the world was our oyster, like someone once said. That took up our first 24 hours and many after that.
As mentioned earlier in this memoir, I did think about reenlistment, but they wouldn't give me Staff rank. Things happen for the best. I would probably have bought the farm one way or another in Vietnam before retiring. I was discharged in February 1953.
In August of 1953 I married a girl from Nova Scotia and we had five boys and two girls. I attended business schools and worked for a supplier of dental materials selling their products. I held other selling jobs as well. I went to work for Bristol-Meyers Corporation as a seller, as well as Wilton Packaging Corporation, eventually retiring in 1994.
My feet were frostbitten in Korea and I got a permanent disability for that. I joined the G-3-1 Association and that's how I keep in touch with other Marines. My boot camp training helped me develop a strong character and a strong will to live. Serving in Korea made me a better person. It made my outlook on life more realistic.
My memories of Korea are of the times my life was in jeopardy. It was a bloody mess, and something that I wouldn't want to do again, but I enjoyed the experiences while I was there. The worst thing was the cold weather, staying warm, and staying alive for another day. We were all there to do a job, trying to stay alive so we could get home safely. I really didn't understand the politics except the Marines wanted me there and I was fulfilling a contract that I had made earlier. Troops were needed in Korea at that time. The USA's place in the Korean War was stemming the Red Tide coming out of China, bankrolled by the Russian communists.
A Marine is responsible for about 15 yards on either side of and the same directly in front of him. A war hero is a Marine who puts his life on the line, and that was about every day. Heroes are in the right place at the right time, and that goes for KIAs, too. To this day I am proud to have been one of the Few and a Marine always. Once a Marine always a Marine is true. There are two kinds of people--Marines and people who wish they were.
In Jack's Memory
John Richard "Jack" Miles Jr., a long-time resident of Miami, coming from Cleveland, Ohio, passed away on November 08, 2003, after a long illness. A Marine veteran of World War II, he served in China and also during the Korean War. For many years he was an outstanding member of Alcoholics Anonymous and member of the Harvey Seeds American Legion Post #29. He is survived by his loving wife, Jeannie Miles (nee Corran), and children, Michael, Kevin, Cathy, Neil, Corrine, Titus, and predeceased by his son, John Richard II. Services and interment were in Florida National Cemetery, Bushnell, Florida.
The Marines Prayer
Almighty Father, whose command is over all and whose