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Bill Powers

Winter Haven, FL
Korean War Era Veteran of the United States Army

"If I'd been a hero, it would make a great movie, but I never became a hero."

- Bill Powers

 


Memoir Contents:


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Forward

by Bill Powers
503rd Abn Infantry; 504th Abn Infantry; 511th Abn Infantry

I joined the regular Army in June, 1953, and volunteered to serve in an airborne unit.  I was sent to jump school and became a member of the 11th Airborne Division and the 82nd Airborne Division. I graduated from Ranger School, and did all that I could to go to the Land of the Morning Calm, but it wasn't to be.  One thing I did that few people have done was to make a parachute jump in the north of Greenland in the winter.  This was at 40 below zero and I had to live out in the elements afterwards.  I also jumped in Alaska the previous winter.  Now I am 70 years old, crippled, and still suffering from frozen feet that happened more than 50 years ago.


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Korea On My Mind

With deepest respect for the men who went to Korea...

I was one who never set foot on the barren land of jagged terrain called Korea, but I can tell you anything that a person might want to know about the Korean War. I was sixteen years old on June 25, 1950, the day the North Koreans blasted through the 38th parallel and came south with automatic weapons, artillery, and T-34 Soviet tanks. I was listening to the radio with my grandfather in his country home south of Ocala, Florida, when the news came in that South Korea had been invaded by the North Koreans. The idea of a hundred thousand hostile troops crossing the border was chilling. I quickly grabbed an atlas and could see where Korea was in relation to Japan. It was easy to see that we had to hold Korea to protect the freedom of Korea and to keep Japan from being threatened.

I enrolled in a public high school in Jacksonville in the fall. While in high school, I lived with my parents. My first reaction after hearing that there was a war going on in Korea was to go to the Marine Corps recruiting office in the main post office in downtown Jacksonville. My presence and my telling the two Marine recruiters that I wanted to join the Marines that day was probably the funniest moment of their lives. When you're sixteen, and want to lie your way into the military, you'd better be big and sound tough. I felt humiliated, and walked out of their office.

As a young man born in Florida, I could quickly see the symmetry in shape between Florida and Korea. They are extremely close in appearance.  Of course, you have to remember that the Republic of Korea is located someplace north at latitudes from Atlanta, north to Philadelphia, with rugged hills and rice paddies all over the north and south Korean peninsula. It bothered me that so many members of the American public didn't show any sensitivity to those who were fighting in Korea. There was no anger toward our troops by the public such as existed in Vietnam, but at the time I felt that it was horrible to ignore a war where people were giving their lives. I had grown up accustomed to the World War II enthusiasm, where nearly all of us participated in the effort.

One must understand that the Korean War became necessary when the Soviet Union agreed to assist the United States in our war against Japan.  This was just about at the end of our land fighting, and as soon as we dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese. Prime minister Joe Stalin, who ranks with Adolf Hitler as one of the despicable leaders in history, had agreed with Sir Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt that it was a good time for the USSR to close in. The Russians began to fill Asia with troops to steal and occupy anything not nailed down. The United States noted that, with only a little time left, the Soviets were trying to grab all of Korea.

President Truman had the Army's 7th Infantry Division rushed into South Korea to protect it from Russian rule.
It was then, in 1945, that the United States hammered out a deal with the Soviet Union that the land south of the 38th Parallel in Korea would become democratic.  The land north of the 38th Parallel in Korea would be ruled the way the Communists customarily were ruled. North Korea became another Soviet puppet, and there was no friendship between North Korea and the Republic of Korea. The United States had intended to liberate all of Korea from external rule, such as when ruled by Japan, but that was not to happen.

When I was in the eleventh grade, an Army captain with a 24th Infantry Division patch on the shoulder and two rows of ribbons was walking down the halls of my high school. It was rare to see a captain recruiting, and this gentleman was there to see one of the good-looking women who had the job of teaching us. The principal heard the young officer was there, just back from Korea, and asked him to speak to the student body of juniors and seniors.  I don't know the captain's name, but he was a captivating speaker. He pointed to his 24th Division shoulder patch, and mentioned, "We were the first unit sent to Korea. We weren't picked because we were the best, but we were picked because we were the closest in Kyushu Island at Camp Wood in Japan."  He continued, "We were a good division, but were vastly under strength, and had served with four other infantry divisions in Japan as a token occupation force.  It was our job to make friends of the Japanese people. The people in the Pentagon had decided that the next war would be fought with nuclear weapons."

The Soviets didn't plan it the same way, and they had nuclear weapons also. At first, American generals and admirals thought that the North Korean attack was a diversion, and that their main attack would be in Europe. We guessed wrong. The T-34 was the tank that the Soviets used in beating the finest tanks Germany could build, at the giant armored battle at Kursk, and now the North Koreans had 90 of them in Korea. This vehicle had a low silhouette, a thick coat of armor, and an 85mm gun, with machine guns.

There were not many Americans to survive the first phase of America's fighting in Korea. I happened to meet one of the young men when I finally joined the Army in 1953. I served in an airborne infantry regiment of the 11th Airborne Division, and, having completed jump school and leadership school, I volunteered for Ranger school and was accepted. We didn't have Ranger units at the time, but we were trained to be better than we'd been, and most of the men I was with were outstanding soldiers. I was one of the few enlisted men in Ranger School who hadn't served in Korea.


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Bill Jones

The man in the bunk next to mine at the Ranger School in Fort Benning had a common name, Bill Jones. Bill had been in the Army for five years, and was in my regiment at Fort Campbell. He was in the 34th Infantry Regiment when he went to Korea.  The 34th went to Pusan, Korea, from Sasebo, Japan, aboard an LSU.  That is similar to an LST, but the U stands for utility.  Not much time had passed when Bill told me that he had been one of the first Americans in Korea. He told me something like, "We were the first ones to face them" or "We were the first regiment to face them."  The years have clouded my memory slightly. I know that he had been in Intelligence and Recon, and that he said they had Class A uniforms in their packs.  He was also a wire lineman.  Bill described going into Korea.  "We had to stay up late the night before cleaning the barracks before we left. We scrubbed the wooden floors, just like we did in basic training, and they told us to pack our dress uniforms for the victory parade they'd planned to hold in Seoul, the Korean Capital, once the North Koreans saw the American flag and turned around. We flew to Korea in C-54 Air Force transports. Then we took a train to the north, and walked to some place near Osan." He said that the train was fired at by snipers several times on the way north.   At first, they'd stop and try to find the sniper, but soon they just ignored the firing.  The train was also strafed by a North Korean Yak fighter (propeller driven) airplane, but it did no damage. He told me how they were placed in certain positions, south of Osan, Korea, and given fields of fire, which is how a soldier defends the area to the front, where the enemy is expected to attack. Jones told me that he honestly believed that the North Koreans would turn around when they saw an American Flag. It didn't work out like they'd hoped. 

The battle for Taejon was house to house, bayonet for bayonet, and rifle butts and bullets in the raging inferno.  Bill told me that they fought in an organized withdrawal all the way south to Taejon over a 21-day period.  He said they held on until the 21st day.  Jones said that dogs were used in the attacks by the North Koreans and Chinese, so that they could serve as food after the attack.  Jones even proudly recalled seeing Major General William F. Dean getting out far ahead of his troops and demonstrating how effective the new 3.5 bazooka was in stopping a tank.   He said that Dean knocked out the tank and impressed him considerably with his courage.

Bill Jones was forcibly captured by a North Korean after he saw one North Korean soldier fire at him from the hip, striking him in the bone of his skull.  He said that the bullet glanced off of the bone in his head, but it felt like he was being hit by a hammer.  He also told me that when they marched north with their guards and a large number of American prisoners, he said they had a fairly long delay in one town.  He said that he carved his name, "Bill Jones" in the side of a building of clay that was behind him.  He said that it simply read, "Bill Jones."  This was at a point farther north than the Americans had been.  After the Americans had advanced beyond that point, a LIFE magazine photographer took a picture of some troops, and Jones' mother saw his name in the picture and knew that he was alive.  En route to Taejon, Bill was one of 27 total prisoners at the time.  By the time they got to Taejon, they only had two men alive--Bill and one other.  The city was in flames.

I don't recall the state Jones was from, but know it was either from West Virginia or a Southeastern mountain state.  It may have been Tennessee or North Carolina.  I know that he was fond of country music.  He frequently talked about being one who resisted the Communist efforts to recruit him, and offered him token items, such as a blanket, when it was cold if he would attend indoctrination on Communism.  He declined any favors.  It was his opinion that pilots had a far rougher time of it than soldiers.  He gave illustrations of them being put in large metal drums, and having the drums beaten with chains around the clock.

Sergeant First Class Bill Jones, formerly Corporal Bill Jones, completed Jump School following service in Korea.  He also completed Jumpmaster School and Ranger School all in his year year before discharge.  He eventually advanced in Vietnam to the rank of Command Sergeant Major.  He told me that he hadn't fired an M-1 rifle since he arrived in Japan nearly a year earlier, but it came back to him quickly. Jones said that there appeared to be thousands of the enemy heading at their small position.  "I could see their long column of tanks, but they weren't firing as the infantry advanced on us. We engaged them in a fierce fire fight, and we did well considering the odds. I have no idea how long we held them off. In a way, it seemed like we had fought pretty well, but they just kept coming. Some people deny this, but I'll swear it's true.  The first sergeant stood up and said, 'The old man is dead. That way is south, pointing in the direction behind us. Every man for himself. I took off running with another guy, and we must have run nearly a mile. For some reason, my helmet kept coming off, then when I stopped to pick it up another time, I noticed my helmet was filled with blood. There were North Koreans running on both sides of us, and I saw a machine gun ahead of us, so I just stopped and raised my hands."

Jones explained an uncanny experience. "There were two of us taken together in a rice paddy, and then a few minutes later, the North Koreans brought over two more American soldiers. My friend said to me, 'What do we do now?' So, I thought, Maybe we should pray. He said I'm not usually a very religious person, but both of us dropped to our knees and said the Lord's Prayer.  In a few minutes, the North Koreans came over and shot the other two Americans. I'm not certain if the prayer saved us, but I'll always believe that there was someone watching over us that day. They walked us for days to the north, and we finally got to our first prison camp. I wasn't released for over three years."

[KWE Note: Bill Jones of California Hot Springs, California contacted Lynnita Brown of the Korean War Educator as the result of a renewed acquaintance with Bill Powers on January 9, 2005.  When they talked on the telephone just days before Jones called Lynnita, the two Bills had discussed Jones' participation in the Korean War in order to clarify some of the points mentioned in this segment of Powers' recollections.  As a result of Bill Powers' initiative to post his recollections of Bill Jones' comments about Korea on the KWE, Bill Jones has decided that an interview with the Korean War Educator just might be the best way to finally get his memories of the Korean War out of his head and down on paper.  He wants the next generation to know what he and his buddies experienced in Korea so the Korean War will not be such a forgotten war.  Be watching for his memoir in the coming weeks.] 


Explanation of Divisions

When a person is studying World War II or Korea, they must be aware that in Army units, a division is too big for soldiers to know everyone. There are three infantry regiments in an infantry division, and the regiment is too large to know everyone, but that's what soldiers usually identify with. And then, there are three companies of rifle battalions, plus headquarters and other units in a regiment.  Then, there are three rifle platoons, plus a heavy weapons platoon in a company. The platoon is often where a soldier has his closest friends. A squad is a third of a platoon, plus the machine gun squad, which has two machine guns and ammo bearers. A rifle squad has riflemen, a sniper, and two BAR gunners, and this is pronounced BEE AY ARRR. It stands for Browning Automatic Rifle. This is a simple structure for a soldier to know where everyone fits.

There were four infantry divisions on occupation duty in Japan when the North Koreans attacked the Republic of Korea. The divisions were the 24th Infantry Division, (First to Fight); then the 25th Infantry Division (Tropical Lightning); the First Cavalry Division (Infantry) was the "Hell for Leather Division"; and the 7th
Infantry Division, (Bayonet Division). An important infantry unit in Korea was the RCTs or Regimental Combat Teams. These were independent infantry regiments with added engineers, light artillery, and enough to fight alone.  The 187th Regimental Combat team jumped into combat in North Korea. The 29th Regimental Combat team entered combat early in the war on the east coast of Korea above Pusan. They joined with South Korean forces and the 24th Division in stopping a powerful North Korean force from taking the port of Pusan. Those forces fought bravely and many died. The 5th RCT joined the 24th Infantry Division and came in from Hawaii. The 5th RCT was affectionately called, the "Little Red Shithouse", because of the small pentagon that served as the unit patch. It was often referred to as the "Most shot at unit in Korea." There is so much bull circulated in the Army that you can't separate fact from fiction sometimes.  Sergeant First Class Charles Root of Texas heard so much talk about how rough the Turks were that he couldn't take any more. Root said to me, "The best troops in Korea are the American G.I's, and don't forget it." The entire force of the 24th Infantry Division had been used to buy time. Its mission had been to delay the enemy, the North Koreans, while the American forces were built up through the Port of Pusan, on the southeast coast of Korea. If this had been in Florida, Pusan would be about where Miami is.


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Jim Hill

I talked to Lt. Col. Jim Hill, who lives in a suburb near Atlanta today. Back during the early days of Korea, he was a member of the 24th Division's 19th Infantry Regiment, which had the official name, "The Rock of Chickamauga."  This goes back to their days as a rock in the Union army's line. Today they were affectionately called, "The Chicks". The Chicks, like the other regiments in the 24th Division, were without the numbers the books called for, and vastly under strength to be called a regiment. These men were probably not aware that they were simply buying time with lives.  In fact, I'm not sure their commanders knew that early in the fight.
The men of the first two regiments on line, the 21st and the 34th had made a stand on the Kum (pronounced Koom) River line. The generals had looked at this position, and it did present a normal defensive point. So, as then First Lieutenant Hill told me, they walked up to the Kum River as the men of the 34th and 21st were withdrawing. He said it was a brackish river, just as nearly all the rivers in Korea had salt in them. And the river wasn't deep, with it being shallow enough in places for the enemy to wade across, even though the America Army's engineers destroyed all of the bridges that could assist the enemy's advance.

He said the men of the 21st and 34th were withdrawing their wounded on stretchers, by jeep, or whatever was available. Lieutenant Hill said that the men of the Chicks were composed as they went about their jobs of placing their men into fighting positions for the battle they expected. This regiment of hundreds was trying to defend a riverfront nearly three miles long. This meant that the men were far apart. At about two or three in the morning, the stillness was broken by a flare. It may have been fired by a North Korean mortar, but it signaled an attack. The incoming small arms fire, combined with heavy artillery was said to equal anything seen in World War II. The 19th had to surrender territory, but they did it with a fight. In the early morning hours, the North Koreans began to wade across the river, then get behind the men on line. Oh yes, the troops of the 19th were alert and shooting the enemy as fast as they could pull the trigger.

A person must understand that the 24th Division fought with tenacity, but the Communist forces could easily get behind the American's thinly defended lines. I asked Colonel Hill if he ever saw a situation in Korea where there was actually a line like we would draw on paper, with units linking closely together.  He told me, "No, I never saw that." I think a soldier had to be defending the south side of the Kum River to know how bad it really was, watching the enemy sneak ashore, then behind them, as they continued to fire at the enemy coming toward them.

As if the infantry wasn't enough to withdraw a defender's enthusiasm, the big T-34 tanks began to cross the waist-deep water, with machine guns raking the stillness like so many chain saws. When the tanks reached the levee on the south side of the river, they looked like dinosaurs as they would reveal their massive bottoms as they climbed over the berms. Some troops were crushed by the tanks.

Colonel Guy Melloy, was the commander of the Chicks, and he had been wounded in the legs or in the hips, and couldn't walk. The medics carried him over to the road, and an officer asked that he be carried to an aid station on the recon tank, with quad-fifty caliber guns mounted on it. The tank commander said that he couldn't take the colonel back, that the North Koreans had a roadblock down the road, and they would get killed if they tried that. Hill said that a captain, a former football coach, pulled out his .45 caliber pistol and pointed it at the tank commander. He told the commander, "Do you want to risk dying at the roadblock, or do you want to die here?" The first lieutenant said that they quickly loaded the colonel on to the tank, and the tank took him safely to an aid station.

Hill added that Colonel Melloy eventually made it to the rank of four stars, and after that, he served as U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand. So, the regiment had lost their commander to wounds, and Major General William Dean was missing in action after taking a new 3.5 inch width Bazooka forward to illustrate to the men of the 24th Division that he could knock out a T-34 tank with the weapon. This bazooka would have been wonderful to have a week or two earlier. Following Dean's courage in knocking out the enemy tank, he was cut off from American lines, and was taken prisoner after hiding out for a month.


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Progress of War

The 24th Division had accomplished their mission of delaying the North Koreans, and keeping Pusan open to more troops coming ashore. The First Cavalry Division was placed to the front, or the north of the 24th Division. The 25th Infantry Division was to the eastern front of the Naktong River, and the Marines were farther right than that, defending their little territory they affectionately named, "The Bean Patch". The Republic of Korea troops had the spearhead position of the 8th Army troops when they went on the offensive.

The First Marine Division, along with the Army's Seventh Division, scored a smashing victory in their amphibious landing at Inchon. This took pressure from the Pusan Perimeter, so our troops along there began to advance. In three weeks of combat, the 24th Division had lost nearly 7,000 soldiers. The 2nd Infantry Division "Indian Head", had arrived in Korea. The 2nd had Lt. Col. Anthony Herbert--Sergeant Herbert at the time. Herbert was the most decorated soldier in Korea. The 3rd Infantry Division, "The Rock of the Marne", went directly to the front. The 40th Division "Ball of Fire" a California National Guard Division, arrived about a year later, along with the 45th Division, "The Thunderbirds", an Oklahoma National Guard Division. Coming in to serve as part of the Army's Third Division was the 65th RCT, which was Puerto Rico's National Guard Unit. A person should never forget the Airborne Ranger Companies of that war. There were eight Ranger Companies (Airborne) that arrived in the fall of 1950 and contributed considerably under the worst of conditions.

The bitterly cold winter was worse than anything our troops saw at Valley Forge, and Americans were not equipped for the Korean winter. I recall Lt. Col. Jim Hill--then First Lt. Hill--telling me that in late October he was hit physically by about ten or more Chinese Communists. It was more like football than war he said, but they were wearing quilted purple uniforms. He said that they were Chinese Marines. They didn't appear to try to kill him, but it was part of the Chinese effort to make the Americans withdraw from North Korea.

In late November, the Chinese hit in full force with guns blazing.  Sometimes they were armed with the coveted Thomson Submachine guns, given to China by the United States to fight the Japanese. I was in Ranger School with a Lieutenant "Egghead" Agnew. This man was small like me, but he fought and did everything with the vengeance of a wildcat. I read about him in Time magazine before I ever saw him. Agnew was a platoon leader along the Yalu frozen waste when he saw his First Sergeant being attacked by three Chinese soldiers with knives. With disregard for his own safety, Agnew attacked the Chinese and killed all three of them with his own bayonet.  The sergeant survived. Agnew was an inspiration, even in training.


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Ben Taylor

Sergeant First Class Ben Buster Taylor suffered more mental trauma than anyone I've ever known. He took me down to the personnel office and showed me the words written by a psychiatrist on his behalf. To paraphrase it, 'This record should show that Sergeant Taylor loves the Army, and has suffered beyond imagination for the pride he has in being a soldier. When he has problems, it should be remembered that he has this condition and it should be regarded as a badge of courage.' I had the good fortune to have had Taylor confide in me prior to a night jump when he was afraid.  It made me feel so good to be able to assist this giant of a man.

Once, when Ben Taylor and I were sitting around talking, and he was telling me about his old unit, the 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Division, he told me of a tragic experience. He said that they were on patrol in the area of the Iron Triangle north of Pyongyang, and there were cliffs on one side of the trail. Taylor said that they could hear movement in a cave as they approached it. He said, "You know, when they're in a solid rock cave, a fragmentation grenade often won't hurt them."  The men in the patrol were all whispering to each other, "Willy Peter.....Willy Peter." Willy Peter is military slang for white phosphorous.  So Taylor said that the patrol leader took a WP grenade and lobbed it inside the cave. He said they waited a few minutes, ready to shoot whoever came out of the cave. They were shocked to see two small children crawl out on fire. He said the patrol leader couldn't control the horror within himself for making such a terrible mistake. He said that he repeated, "I didn't know they were in there, did you?" And he kept repeating it again and again. They took the two children and the patrol leader back to an aid station.


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William Buckner

Another sergeant in my unit, Staff Sergeant William Buckner, said to me one day, "You know how sometimes before you jump, when you're afraid, it's easy to fall asleep?"  I acknowledged that I knew what he meant. He said, "When I was in Korea, our foxholes were more than ten yards apart, and one man to a hole.  You know how quiet and patient the Chinese were, even when it was below zero?" I told him that I knew, and he said, "Well, I used to fix the bayonet on the end of my rifle and sit on the bottom of my foxhole at night and just sleep. I didn't want to see it coming, do you know what I mean?"  I understood.

War can often be the fear--the continual fear--that your courage will fail when you are needed. The fear that your valor will fail you when you need it is one of the greatest fears that soldiers suffer from. A man never wants to let down his unit and cause others unnecessary pain. More soldiers would rather be able to wear the Combat Infantryman's Badge than any medal in the book. It shows that you belong. It is given to a soldier who has been in combat; one who has been part of a firefight, an exchange of fire with the enemy. It is also given for serving two weeks on the front line. Not many people know the origin of this badge, but I learned it from my commanding officer, Colonel Charles W. Davis who attended law school at the University of Alabama before joining the Army early in World War II. Davis was awarded one of the first Medals of Honor for his valor with the 25th Infantry Division at Guadalcanal. It was one of the first offensive ground awards given during World War II. His medal wasn't for one act of bravery, it was for many. They said that he went so far behind Japanese lines that they could watch him with binoculars. Over a two week period, his heroism contained unheard of confrontation between Japanese on machine guns and Davis and his pistol. Davis may have been wounded, but he came back alive, and this was the only award his commander felt was appropriate. He was given the Medal of Honor by General Marshall, chief of staff, and during that time, they had a conversation. Davis said to Marshall, "Sir, you know that being in the infantry isn't a glamorous unit. It would be wonderful if someone could design a badge for every infantryman who faces the enemy every day and every night with so little recognition."  General Marshall turned that conversation into the Combat Infantry Badge.


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Emotions of War

War contains so much extreme emotions of hope and fear. There is no glory. There is pain and there is pride for work well done. The movies fail to show war as it is. When the 24th Division arrived in Korea, there was an abundance of furnace hot temperature. There were flies so thick that it was difficult to keep them from your mouth. There was no drinking water, so the men filled their canteens from rice paddies, and the paddies were filled with human waste. There was galloping diarrhea existing in nearly every soldier that first summer in Korea. They had to deal with all of that, plus an enemy that outnumbered them. The men had to fire their rifles and machine guns with one hand holding up their pants, and the other holding a machine gun or rifle. The movies fail to show the weather, the cold, and the look of fear in a soldier's face as he watches the sun set on a bitter cold winter night.  The nights seem to last forever. They don't portray how a soldier is so uninformed, and has no idea what to expect. A soldier does think of a girl back home. It doesn't matter if you have a girl back home or not, you make one up. You have to have someone who is the antithesis of all that is going on around you. You try to imagine, soft, and sweet, and warm, and innocent. It always made sense to me that I was there to protect a girl back home.

I describe fear, motivation, and cold, because it's a bigger thing than people realize. I don't think that civilians understand shrapnel. It's hot after it lands, it's bigger than you would expect, and it will cut like a razor. Artillery passing over my head didn't sound like it did in the movies. Another thing, bullets don't "zing" very often when they pass near or overhead.  It is simply a loud "POW". Sometimes when the bullet strikes the dirt first, it makes a buzzing or even a zinging sound.

One of my points in writing is to let people know what is not properly shown in a movie. I also tried to touch on what people don't think of. Soldiers honestly do care about their units and each other, and the peer pressure to gain acceptance is far higher than I would ever have imagined. One regimental motto translated from Latin is, "Let Valor Not Fail Us." That is possibly the best military quote I've ever heard. Another quote was from Lieutenant General James M. Gavin, who said, "A General should spend artillery like a millionaire and lives like a miser." I respect him and General Matthew Ridgway for thinking that way. Ridgway added 12 artillery battalions when he took MacArthur's position. Congress asked if he wasn't wasting artillery, and he gave them a flat "NO".


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My Military Experiences

After I was discharged, and my wife and I were married, my youngest brother was sent to Vietnam. I corresponded with him daily, of course it took two weeks for my letters to get to him, and then two more for a reply.

One thing I have learned that I noticed many historians have no way of knowing, or even knowing to ask the questions, is that they have no idea what it is like walking as fast as you can with an M-1 rifle slung over your shoulder, and you sometimes do this all day long. You don't know where you're going, and nobody tells you how long you're going to be out there. It becomes normal for you to not know or care much of anything. On the other hand, you do take immense pride in your unit. I know that I wanted to continue to fit into my unit and to be liked by the others, so you never could drop out when you were walking faster than you could keep up. Sometimes I just ran in order to keep up.

We all helped the crews of machine guns, with the tripods and ammunition, and we'd spread the boxes out among the rifle squads. There were two air cooled machine guns to a rifle platoon, and we'd pass the machine
guns around, and they didn't care how you carried them, just as long as you kept them clean and ready.
An infantryman isn't told much as you move out. They tell you to shut up, and to "Keep ten yards between you, one round would kill you all." They had hand signals, such as a circular motion of a leaders hand meant, "assemble on me", and a pumping of the fist meant, "double time, or run". I was in Ranger school when they taught us about signals to each other. We'd gotten that far without knowing you weren't supposed to whistle, or make chirping noises like in a war movie. I remember all of us being stopped when a point man made a bird call like sound. The officer in charge said, "Just a minute, do you think you're running a bird farm or what? The enemy is going to know that the weird whistles by you men isn't going to be some exotic bird, and you'll all be killed." He told us to rap our knuckles on the stock of a rifle, or take our comb, and rub the teeth with the nail of our thumb. Don't use dumb sounds if you don't want to die.

 

 

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