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Billy R. Smith
"I never talked much about Korea through the years. The people here in the States fall into two categories: those who had been there/done that, and those that wouldn't have the slightest idea what the hell you were talking about. "
- Billy R. Smith
My name is Billy Roy Smith, and I was born on February 12, 1930, in Decatur, Illinois. My dad’s name was Eddie E. Smith and my mother's was Lucille L. Hoskins Smith. Her people originally came from Assumption, Illinois to Decatur. I attended and graduated from Decatur High School. There were only two schools in the town at that time. If you were a Catholic, you attended St. Teresa. All the rest of us went to Decatur High.
All of my life before I graduated from high school in 1947, I had wanted to enlist in the Army as soon as I got out of school. I liked military life. I belonged to the Decatur Schools' Military Training Corps while I was attending Decatur High School. That was around 1944-45, when I first entered high school. This group was led by a bunch of guys out of the Army Reserves. They weren’t National Guard. The National Guard had been activated and were fighting in the South Pacific. The fellows training us were too old to really do anything for the war effort. They were the ones who went down and guarded the bridge over Lake Decatur where the dam is south on Route 51.
At that time during World War II, Staley’s was a prime producer of sweeteners that were used in a lot of the food industries. They were really big business in the sense that they were a big supplier of everything. There was fear that someone might float a bomb or something down the water and blow the dam, causing us to lose our water source. At that time, we supplied a lot of water to the Mississippi Valley steel industry. Also, at the time we had Archer Daniels, although it was very, very small compared to what it is now. Additionally, we had Wagner's and we had Mueller's. They were all very prominent in the war business, and because they were quite afraid that we would lose the water supply, they had these people down there walking back and forth on the bridge—these older fellows—with a shotgun or an old World War I rifle. They wanted people to help them--like the high school seniors—kids who were 16, 17, maybe 18. They gave them the basics in left foot, right foot and that sort of thing so that when they did get drafted (and everybody went into the service as soon as they got their diplomas and walked out the door), they would already know how to march.
We trained at the Armory on East Eldorado Street in east Decatur. They gave us old 1903 rifles, and we trained with them. We learned the manual of arms. We had khaki uniforms that were "seconds" that were not sent on to the military. Our caps at the time had the rounded peak in front that I associate a lot with the Marine Corps at that time. We also had our own little distinguished patch.
There was no incentive for joining except pride that you were helping your country and doing something for the war effort. Nobody got paid for it. It was just a fun thing that we did a couple hours a night, two nights out of the week. I was too young to walk the bridge. They wanted the big kids—the ones that were older. I was in the Decatur Schools' Military Training Corps until I graduated.
When I got out of school, I tried to enlist in the Regular Army. The enlistment sergeant was airborne, and the only thing he wanted me to enlist in was airborne. That would have been a three-year tour, and I didn’t want that much. I just wanted one for a couple of years. My brother Bob lived with us at the time. When I came home and told my family what they wanted me to do to enlist, Bob sat down with me and we had a little brother to brother conversation. Bob told me that when he was a bomber pilot with the Eighth Air Force out of England, they would fly over to Germany and drop their ordnance, then turn around. As they were coming home, they would land at a captured airfield and there they put liberated POWs (American and English) in their bomber and wrap them up with blankets. They’d fly real low and fly them home.
He told me that, at this one stop in northern Germany, he had the opportunity to pick up what was left of the Red Devil Brigade, which was an English unit that had dropped on D-Day, I believe. When they lit, they lit around SS troops. The SS troops would not allow the English medics to work on the paratroopers. When they landed, they didn’t land in the field. They landed in a town or a village. A lot of them had broken arms, legs, backs—things like that. The SS made the English take them all to a barracks in a POW camp, even though they were injured. This was so one guy couldn’t get up and help another guy. They just had to lay there because they weren’t allowed to straighten a leg out or straighten an arm out. Bob flew them out several months later. He said it was really pathetic because the guys had their arms and backs and legs all bent in all kind of grotesque positions because that’s the way they healed. He said, "You know, it’s one thing if you get hurt in training. But it’s something entirely different if you run across an enemy like this." I agreed with him.
So for two weeks, I kept going back pestering this recruiter. I wanted to join for two years or 18 months. They had them all on the enlistment program at that time, but this guy kept refusing. I was young and dumb and didn’t know that I could have gone to Mattoon or Champaign or Springfield to a different recruiting station where I could have joined up and got what I wanted. As a result, I decided not to go into the Army at that time. Instead, a friend of mine, Jack Constant, offered me a job working in his father’s business, the Ornamental Metal Works on South Franklin Street in Decatur. They built pipe and iron railings, ornate railings, and that kind of thing. I decided that I had to have a job somewhere, so I went down and applied for the job.
I think I started out making something like 64 or 69 cents an hour. That was back in 1947, and that wasn’t bad pay. In those family-owned businesses, I think you had to work a little harder, because if you goofed off, that didn’t come out of some corporate director’s pocket, it came out of your boss’s pocket. I think I learned pretty good work habits there. I stayed there until 1950. At that time, I went to work for Grigelete Punch Press. I could earn more money at that job. It seems to me that I also had a job in between there, too, but I can’t remember what it was. Maybe I went down there in 1949.
At about that time, there were two or three of us that hung around together. One of them was Jim Jones. We used to have a lot of fun back then with our names because we’d go out and introduce ourselves to the girls as "That’s Bill Smith, and that’s Jim Jones." And, of course, they’d say, "Oh yeah, sure. Sure, I’m Mary Brown." You know—just a lot of fun. Anyway, we went over to see this third friend of ours, Jerry Enlow, and he was getting all duded up. We asked him where he was going and he said that he was going down to the National Guard. We said, "What’s the National Guard?" He told us to come on down with him, so we did. At the time, there were four National Guard companies in Decatur. We had the Headquarters Company, Service Company, Signal Company, and the Military Police Company of the 44th Division Military Police.
Jerry was going to enlist in the 44th MP Company. The basic reason why they wanted Jerry was because he was a real good mechanic. He was real smart for a young guy. He knew his way around under the hood. We walked in with him and the captain who was in charge of it was there. He had been a Mustang (a battlefield commission-type person) during the war. His name was Cedrick Rieboldt, and he was a foreman at the Staley Company. He wanted to know what we were doing there. When we told him that we were with Jerry, who was going to enlist, he said, "Well, why don’t you enlist, too?" We didn’t really know what National Guardsmen did, so he took us under the arm and we went around to the different classrooms. At that time, all National Guard companies were way under strength, and they were wanting anybody and everybody to enlist.
I went home and told my folks what the Guard expected of me. I would have to go off to camp for two weeks and play soldier a couple of nights out of the week. I thought it would be fun. They thought it was better than enlisting in the airborne or getting sent off in the draft to the infantry. As a result, I enlisted in the National Guard Military Police Company in 1947. I had to get my mother to sign for me because I was just 17.
In June of 1950, I married my present wife, Louise Nash. She lived just south of Decatur. Duke Mueller of the Mueller Company had a big farm out there. He had acres and acres of land, and Louise’s dad was the farm manager. Her dad was a good farm manager and farmer. They raised hogs and cattle and things like that, and he knew how to do it. I think I knew Louise just casually when I signed up for the National Guard, but we weren’t going steady
War Breaks Out
About three weeks after we got married, the North Koreans came across the border on the Korean peninsula. When it happened, I did not realize that I would be going off to war. Each year, each National Guard unit was evaluated by regular Army troops, and then they were put into groups—like the 40th National Guard out of Oklahoma. The 44th out of Illinois was down a little bit on everything in its evaluations at the time the Korean War broke out. We scored about the fourth or fifth from the top.
Also, historically, whenever a war comes out, the regular Army troops were the first on the line. Then it was up to the Army Reserve, followed by the National Guard behind them. This way, the government would have time to draft people, have regular Army troops train draftees in the regular basic training camps, or they would use them in a National Guard unit to augment them. letting the National Guard train them. This way it was sort of a two-headed sword to get draftees trained.
The primary mission of the National Guard was at the state level. The Army Reserve answered strictly to the Army, and the National Guard answered to the governor of the state in which they lived. A lot of folks don’t understand this. The National Guard is the governor’s police force. When the city police, the sheriff, and the state police can’t handle a situation, they call us.
Because the 44th rating score was low in 1950, the government called out the 40th and 45th National Guard units and gave them their marching orders to Korea. There was a lot of equipment to gather up before they could be sent there, however. In the spring of 1948, Harry Truman was in charge of the country. He didn’t want to look like a war monger or something. He wanted to keep his popularity among the people—everybody liked good old Uncle Harry. He said that those who were in the National Guard or the Army Reserve were draft exempt. Well, our National Guard unit immediately started filling up with guys wanting a draft deferment. A lot of them were farmers, and they were the sole farmer on their family land. Back in those days, you didn’t have these huge combines and plows and all that. It took two guys working night and day to till the land if there were a lot of acres. So, as a result, we got a lot of farm kids, a lot of newly-married, a lot of guys wanting to go to Milliken University. A lot of them out of the class of 1947 came down there and enlisted for that reason. As a result, we were getting filled up.
I always laugh at these guys that you hear tell a big story that they went down to the National Guard and they wouldn’t sign them up because it was full. But then the next week the mayor’s kid went down and he got right in the National Guard, just like that. It was all politics. Well, yes and no. We had four companies in Decatur, and if a big old farm boy came down there and he wanted to get in Service Company or Headquarters, they asked, "Well, do you type?" The answer would be, "Well, no." But he would try anyway. An officer would say that they were filled up at the moment, but he would talk to Captain Rivell. He was looking for these six-foot farm boys to be a Military Policeman. Captain Rivell would say, "Boy, have we got a place for you!" and he’d get him in.
Then along would come a five-foot-six, hundred-ten pound guy who wanted to be an MP. "Well, gosh, we’re filled up," they would tell him, "but I know for a fact that they’re wanting people down here in Headquarters Company or Service Company." And they’d take them down there and get them in. So we played a little game of politics, if that’s what you want to call it, where we could sort of pick and choose who we wanted. This was how a lot of National Guard units did business.
At the time, we were down on the bottom of the hotshot divisions, so in 1951, we went off to summer camp again. We did summer camp at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin. To me, it was sort of like a cut and dried deal because as soon as we came back from summer camp, we had our marching orders. We were to be activated around February 14th, I think it was, of 1952. That was a six-month span, and it would give us time to order all of our spare parts for our trucks and our equipment, and get everything up to what we called a Table of Organization of equipment, or TOE. That way, when we left Decatur, we would have everything that we needed, and then we were supposed to go to Camp Cook, California. From there we weren’t sure where we would be sent.
The company commander asked us, "How many of you people are school-trained military policemen?" Well, I wasn’t. He said that if we wanted to stay military policemen, we had to go to Fort Gordon, Georgia, outside of Augusta and be trained. By then I had worked myself up to a Staff Sergeant, but he still said I had to be school trained. Some of us went to basic Military Police School, and others went to mechanic school. I went to Fort Gordon. Three months later, on February 13, 1952, they discharged me from the Illinois National Guard. Then, at one minute after midnight on the 14th, they took me into the Regular Army of the United States. It was just a paper thing, but I was federal after that.
While at Fort Gordon, I learned all the basic police skills. In other words, town patrol, walking patrol, riding patrol, and guard posts. I was taught by the engineers how to estimate the weight limit on a bridge so that if I had to take a convoy of tanks and ride to the bridge, and I didn’t know whether or not they could safely cross it and there weren’t any engineers there, it was up to me to make the guess as to whether we should go around the bridge or if it was safe enough to cross it.
In the States, an MP could conceivably be asked to be in train stations, bus stations and airports, asking people in military dress why they were at that particular place. Do they have travel orders? Do they have a pass to be away from their unit? And we would check it and verify whether he was going home to see Mom or whatever. And we would make sure that they were legally off of their post. Let me give you an example. After training at Fort Gordon, I had to report to Camp Cook, California, which is now what they call Brandenberg Air Force Base. There, we worked in conjunction with the civilian police around Lompoc, Santa Marie. I worked in Santa Barbara down in L.A. If they were having a big brouhaha in the bar, it was my job to get the military people out of there and to see who they were and why they were beating up on the bartender or some civilian.
We had problems around the military posts because a lot of the civilians there were ex-service people. They didn’t much care for Military Policemen. If they were Regular Army or had been Regular Army or had been in a different branch of the service, they heckled us. "Hey, I don’t like mashed potatoes!" That was the nickname for MP, you know. Mother’s Pets, Mashed Potatoes, and all that sort of thing. They tried to jerk our chain to get a reaction. They didn’t get one out me because I just stood back and let that big, old civilian cop talk to them. He did a wonderful job, because he knew all the troublemakers. At that time, the towns were smaller and the civilian cops knew who the troublemakers were.
I was at Camp Cook from the last part of February until September of 1952. While there, we took all of our people and put them through basic infantry training. The post Military Police manned the main gates and monitored the people coming and going. At the time, Camp Cook was a closed post, which meant that you had to have permission to come in, and everyone was checked as they were leaving. Local working girls wanted to come in and other girls did, too—fun-loving girls. Out in California, there were guys that did that, too. They would say, "Hey, Johnny GI, when do you get off? Let’s meet down there at the bar and we’ll have us a good time." They’d pick him up and he would have stars in his eyes. They bought the drinks all night, and then the girls went home to their husbands, boyfriends, or just left. They were looking for a good time – sex for pay and sex without pay. They weren’t looking for husbands, I don’t believe. Because they knew we were just going to be there for a few weekends. You can’t very well build up a big romance when you’re at summer camp.
Also, when we were out at Camp Cook, a lot of the guys were married. I was married. Probably 75 percent of the guys in my company were married. As a result, we lived in Santa Barbara, which was about a hundred miles south. My platoon sergeant, a corporal, and I all lived in one side of a duplex. We had one bed, a davenport, and the floor. My wife was pregnant, so whenever we came home on a weekend pass or something (it was rare that all three of us got to come home all at once), she and I always got the bed. We always thought that was hilarious. We’d get home about every other weekend or every third weekend or whatever, because usually one weekend we would be having maneuvers or we would have to pull a detail on posts.
My wife lived out there in Santa Barbara in the duplex. We came down to visit her. We also had a friend who lived in Long Beach. We went down to see Jess and his wife every now and then. We maybe spent a weekend with them or whatever days I happened to get off. That was the way our summer went until my wife had to fly back home to Decatur. Back in those days, the airlines had certain rules and regulations that you could only be so many months pregnant when flying their airline. So I sent Louise home in June, I think.
After that, I went up north to Hunter Liggett Military Reservation. That was where the artillery folks went to fire their big 155s and 8-inchers. We went up there because I didn’t have any "husbandly obligations" to go home and check on the little lady or any of this business. So they could then move me wherever they wanted to.
At Hunter Liggett, we did road patrols, and in fact, like any other cop in a squad car, we stopped speeders and gave them tickets. We had what we called a one-way defile there. That was a narrow stretch of road that had to be controlled. We let so many vehicles from the north come down, then we shut them off and let so many folks from the south go up, and then we shut them off and allowed southbound traffic to come down. On Rt. 101, we had to escort military traffic because at that time the big humongous four to six-lane highways didn’t exist. It was foggy in that area of the country, and because it always took an hour to get over to the coast highway, we had to wait until around 9 a.m. to move them out due to the fog. We couldn’t move by night because the fog rolled in and you couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face.
We had a lot of accidents out on the coast highway because a lot of guys went down to drink that good old Mexican juice and tried to get back the same night. Well, they were not used to the twists and turns and hills and hollows around the coast. All of a sudden the road would drop down, and you had to make a real sharp right turn – all of this traveling in nothing but solid fog for the next half mile. Drivers traveled this road riding their brakes. Sometimes they drove into the side of the cliff. Others trying to stay away from the cliff drove right into the ocean. I worked a lot with the California Highway Patrol (CHIP). We traveled the road quite a bit because just about every other car was driven by a National Guardsman. It was up to me to get an ID on him and find out what company he was from. Most of them carried a pass saying they were in L Company of the 130th or something like that. A lot of them were killed on this road before they even left the States.
My son Michael Roy Smith was born on the 31st of August in 1952. At that time, I was TDY (temporary detached duty) in Santa Barbara for their Fiesta Days. It was a big thing with those folks. My job was to go there and look out for the GI’s. I worked in conjunction with the sheriff’s department, city, and state. The MPs stayed in the Santa Barbara Hotel and took shifts working at the festival. My wife had been a Bell Telephone operator, so when Louise had the baby, my mother called a telephone operator friend of ours who lived in Santa Barbara. She told my mother not to worry because she would find me, and she did. She told all of her friends down at Bell Tel to call this number and that number and they finally got hold of me. Then I couldn’t find my company commander. He was gone. They were all gone. When I finally got back to the main post and told them what I wanted, they fixed me up with an emergency pass.
One of the guys in our company had just received his orders to go to Europe. He told me that there was no use in me buying a plane ticket or driving my car back. He suggested I ride with him and share the driving, then I could fly back. So I drove back with him. I think we made it in something like 52 hours or something. We drove non-stop, which was a big deal then because we just had two-lane highways.
I called home and told my family I was coming home. I got to stay home for about ten days, and then I had to go right back to Camp Cook. I arrived there about 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and the C.Q. told me to go and look on the old man’s desk. When I did, I found a set of orders assigning me to FECOM (Far East Command). I wasn’t allowed to take the orders until the company commander handed them to me the next day. That was on a Monday morning. By Wednesday I had cleared the post and was in the second levee. Each time they sent so many MPs to their new assignment, it was called a levee. I was in the second levee to go. I wasn’t surprised to find out that I was going to Korea. I knew that’s where I would eventually end up going because they needed people with my MOS.
I didn’t call home. Before I left Louise to go back to Camp Cook after the baby was born, I had told her that the next time she saw me I would be on orders, and I imagined it would be to go to Korea. I told her that I didn’t want her to get all hyper. My master sergeant was out of Missouri and he needed a ride home, so he and I just shared a ride in my old Studebaker and we came back home. There again, I think we made it in about three days. I dropped him off down in Missouri and came on up to my home in Illinois.
When I arrived, Louise had just got through feeding the baby. She had him laying across her knee and she was patting him so he would burp. Boy, I thought she was going to lose that kid. She didn’t expect me. She just happened to look up and suddenly it dawned on everybody, "Oh, you’ve got your orders." I had about thirteen days at home before I had to leave for overseas duty. My wife handled my leaving okay, but I think that was because there was never a doubt in my mind that I would come back home. MP’s were not Line Company people, so I knew that I wouldn’t spend all that much time in the impact (combat) area of Korea.
When I left Decatur, I flew to San Francisco. Doug Leuke and Orville Shoemake out of Decatur were on the same flight. We had been in the Army long enough to know that when you go to a replacement depot and you’re not supposed to be there until 10 o’clock that night or whenever, you don’t show up at 8:00 in the morning. They always needed somebody to do something that you wouldn’t like to do—like clean the latrines or scrub floors or dig ditches or paint rocks or whatever. So we just messed around in San Francisco on Market Street. Then we went out to the repo depot in the afternoon.
Onboard the Nelson Walker
We got our shots and all of that business and then they put us on the good ship Nelson M. Walker. That ship was a civilian ship ran by the Merchant Marines. It held something like 3,000 GI’s and 1,500 airborne personnel. I’m not sure of the date we left San Francisco. It wasn’t the first time I had been out of the country, because I had been to Mexico, but it was the first time I had traveled on water.
I didn’t handle the trip well. I vomited a lot. And I’ve got to tell you this—it’s sort of gross, but it’s funny. When we pulled out of San Francisco harbor, the good transportation officer thought that the best way to feed all 4,500 of those green troops onboard was to serve liver and onions. I venture to guess that there might have only been 100 or maybe 150 people on that ship who didn’t get sick. Everybody was sick because they fed liver and onions to us on the evening tide. The next morning, they fed us hash—an ice cream dipper of hash, a boiled egg, and a half a slice of bread. That was breakfast.
Now, when I say a "boiled egg", it wasn't like the boiled eggs that you and I know. They had this huge caldron boiling all the time. These guys came in and dunked the eggs into it. No sooner would that guy get out of the way of dunking it in than this other guy would reach in there and get an egg out and give it to the next guy in line. As a result, you either got a raw egg or one that was just really burnt black and split wide open. The eggs were half rotten. Some of them had little baby chicks in them, and I swear to God on that. I’m not lying. It was terrible, terrible chow.
At noon, we got an ice cream dipper of hash, too. Then in the evening, supper was hash again, and the half a slice of bread again. As I came down the gangway (stairs), it was just slick with vomit and the whole ship stunk. By this time we were out in the sea and that big old ship started to pitch and roll. It was a beautiful night—a full moon. It was fantastic. You could almost read a newspaper by it. Anyway, when I got to chow, there was a good old Cookie right out of Beetle Bailey—undershirt, fat belly, cigar in his mouth, ashes dropping into everything. I mean. you just wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. Anyway, he put that bread on my tray, and I grabbed it up because I could just feel the vomit coming.
We had to stand up to eat at little free-standing tables that had rims on the top. There was nothing to sit on. When the ship pitched, the trays would slide. I didn’t drink anything because I didn’t trust anything. I mean everything stunk the same. I shoved this bread in my mouth to keep the vomit from coming out, but I knew it wasn’t going to hold anything. I started to the head. When I got to where the other bread was, I knew I had to have more bread to stop from vomiting. I reached in there and grabbed a couple of slices and jerked my hand back. Just about that time old Cookie whacked down with his big old food tongs. I swear to God that guy would have broken my hand if he had hit me. I shoved the bread in my mouth and just looked at him. He sort of stepped back because he knew that all I had to do was open my mouth a little bit more and I would have puked all over him.
I had all of my mouth stuffed full of the bread and I looked like a chipmunk. As I walked, there were two old soldiers. By that I mean two men who had been in the military in the 1930s and through World War II. They’d been there, done that. They were standing there watching all these young kids barf and fall down and all of this stuff. The deck was slick and all this crap. I walked over there and wondered what else I could do to keep from throwing up. I threw my tray down and thought, "The hell with it. I’m just going to puke and get it over with." That’s what my brother and my dad, both veterans of the bigger wars, told me to do. So I just took off for the porthole. I’m a short guy and the porthole was about five foot off the ground. I knew this wasn’t going to get it. I started to try to jump up and get my head out. Just about that time that old ship went down in a trough. Well, when I jumped up, it was just like I was floating. I went way up and I ran my shoulders clear through that porthole. I was looking out there and the spray from the ocean came up and hit me in the side of the face – you know, just – BOOM! It sort of shocked me. I looked down and the ocean was phosphorous. I mean, it was just fantastic. I was looking out at all of this stuff that I had never seen before. I hadn't seen this part of the ship or the ocean yet because they had to keep us below decks until they got names and counted everybody.
About that time I heard somebody going, "Oh, oh." I looked down. The next porthole was maybe eight or ten feet away. Here was this Air Force guy (we called them Airdales) with one arm sticking out and his head sticking out. He was a skinny little guy and he was laying out there sick. He just kept saying, "Oh. Oh." And about that time, I couldn’t hold it anymore. I starting vomiting. And if you’ve ever been on a troop ship, you know that you can’t spit and hit the ground. You spit and the spit goes out either that way or that way or that way or that way – but it never goes down. So when I started vomiting, it went out about two feet and turned left and went right up next to that ship and right down. It hit that guy right up the side of the head. And he was still going, "Oh." He turned around and looked at me and for some reason or other, I thought that was the funniest thing I had ever seen. I just kept vomiting and he kept waving that one arm going, "Oh. Oh." I vomited all over that kid.
I finally fell back inside and I was just dying laughing. Well, here comes over these two old soldiers and they said, "What’s the matter?" I guess they thought I’d flipped out because I was laughing. So I told them what happened. I said that in about two minutes there was going to be one of those Airedales coming through with my puke all over him and he’s going to want a piece of me. They started laughing, too. All three of us were standing there dying laughing. One of the sergeants said that I should put something in my stomach, but I told him that I couldn’t even stand the smell of that hash. I hadn’t puked in it, so the sergeant ate what was left on my plate.
The next day, there was an announcement on the PA system that the top three graders could go to the ship stores and buy things out of the canteen there. Top graders were master sergeant, sergeant first class, and staff sergeant. About a half dozen of us hung around together. I was the ranking person among all of us who buddied around together, so I loaded up with things that cost only two or three cents apiece. I got Cracker Jacks, Oh Henry, and Snicker candy bars, and other non-melting type stuff. That’s what we lived on instead of eating the chow. The big joke was the guys saying, "Well, did you get Mother Sill’s Seasick Pills?" It was a joke they pulled on flatlanders who didn’t know there wasn’t any such thing at that time.
After I finished getting sicker than a dog, seasickness for me wasn’t as bad. The longer you were there, the better you got. I learned to put Saltines or anything dry in my stomach. After the first time I had vomited, I was just weak. After that I didn’t eat anything for awhile. I just flopped in my rack. You lay there and every roll of the ship you could just feel your stomach go slosh, slosh. And I mean it was a terrible feeling for a person who is seasick. I don’t get carsick, but boy I sure get seasick, and I do to this day.
While I was on the ship, I did duty with a Master Sergeant who was an old soldier who went into the service in the 1930s. He told me that whenever he got onboard a ship, he immediately went down and reported to the medics. He told them that he got violently sick and they could either put him in the bunk now, or within two or three hours after setting sail, they would have to come and carry him down with a stretcher. He said it happened every time.
I’ve got to tell you something else about life onboard a ship. Our bathroom was a room that had a trough along one wall. It was sort of tilted and water ran through it constantly. The toilet seats were in two sections--right hand and left hand--and they were held in place by pegs. We used to have fun-loving people on our ship who thought that it was jolly great to go into the head and put all the left-hand sides of the toilet seats together, and then put all of the right-hand seats together. Because of the seasickness, a lot of the guys had diarrhea. They were too sick to rearrange the toilet seats back the way they were supposed to be, so that head would be a mess. There was no sense in hollering at them about it. They were just too sick to care. They just looked at you and threw up on you.
The pranksters also knew that when the ship was rolling and everything, the water in the head trough sloshed from here to there. It ran underneath you constantly. Some people thought it was great sport to wad up a newspaper, set it on fire, and throw it in the trough and let it float from a head on the other side of a divider wall. You would be sitting on the head, thinking you were in control, when all of the sudden you were the barbecue of the day. Of course, everybody pleaded innocent so the pranksters were never caught. If you saw the flames coming, you could lean forward and avoid it. But you didn't tell the guy next to you because it was more fun watching him jump. A lot of different things lightened life aboard the good Nelson M. Walker.
The trip was very boring. Most of the time I stood up on the deck and just talked to my buds. I sometimes wrote a letter, but what was there to write home about? I was still sicker than a dog; we were still eating hash; and I couldn't see a damn thing but water and sky. By then I wasn't sure which was which. Everybody was sick. To write home about all of these things would only make people worry, and by the time they got the letter, I would already be on dry land. I thought, "Is this the worse thing that's going to happen to me? Forty years from now, I'll laugh about it." But at the time--oh my God. You could smell that hash and puke. To this day if I get in close quarters with hash, I'd better leave and leave quick, because if I don't, I'll get sick.
The trip to Sasebo took about nine days. I slept in a rack. Because my name is Smith, I was always at the tail end of every formation. We went into a compartment and they’d say, "Okay, you, you and you." And we were like six to eight bunks high. Our bunks were a strip of canvas about the size of a door and pipe rail. There were a bunch of grommets and they took all of these and rope and made it into a bunk. If it was tied loose, it would belly down, something you didn’t want to do because the guy below would kick you in the fanny because he couldn’t move his knees. So you had to do it real tight. There were about 26 inches between the bunk above and below ours.
When I went down into the sleeping area, because my last name was Smith, everybody got a bunk but me. I had to go to the next compartment, and then the next, where it was the same thing over and over again. Finally we came to where there were a couple of holes in the deck. The old chief said something would have to be done to get some bunks down there. He got some of the swabbies and they stuck a post here and there and locked them in some way or other up in the ceiling by hooks and chain. The canvas bunks were strung up there, too. But by the time I got there, everybody had beat me to the high bunks. The only one left was the one on the bottom. For nine days I had my feet up against a companionway going down. My head was up against a 55-gallon puke drum.
Even in the sleeping barracks everything was slick. Everybody puked wherever they could. I went around all through the ship and got every newspaper I could find and I put them all down my left side, which was next to the puke drum. When the guys got close to the puke barrel and started puking, they puked on the floor and it would splatter up. I never had a shower all the time I was on the ship. Besides, they threw up in the shower room, too. It was just as bad in there, and they’d throw up five minutes after they showered. When I was in my rack, I learned to pull the papers up over my head to keep the puke from splashing all over me. That’s how it was for a couple of days until we had been out to sea for about two days. You could go to chow but as soon as you were done, you had to go right back to your compartment. You weren’t allowed on deck.
The bunks were funny. Every now and then, some fun-loving clown sneaked in the sleeping area and pulled a trick. They thought it was great sport to go in there and take the chain out of the hook in the ceiling and take a shoelace and tie the chain and hook together. Well, naturally after you got two or three GI’s in that bunk, it went bust. Every now and then you could hear these guys in the middle of the night – "whop, whop, whop, whop, whop, whop"—down they went because somebody was getting even with somebody. They all ended up rolling around down there in that puke and all that stuff. They were ready to kill, but we were dying laughing.
I remember that one time the captain announced that we were as close to land as we were going to be for about five days. Everybody went out on the deck and we stood there looking all around to see the land. Then the captain announced that it was 1,000 feet straight down. What we were going over, I don’t know, but it was his idea of a joke. We also went over the 180th meridian and got a little sheepskin plaque. We were completely equal distance east and west of the Greenwich mean time zone. This was a big thing among sailors—the same as crossing the equator. There was no ceremony or anything, but it was nice to have the plaque to bring home. At the time, however, I would have given anything if it had been my papers to walk ten feet over there and get on the gangplank to dry land.
We were in a civilian ship with 30 some regular Navy guys onboard ship. We had two gun tubs. They were twin 40-type cannons with a big shell and projectile. In the event we were attacked by whatever—aircraft, sub, another surface ship—it was the sailors’ job to defend us. It seems to me that there was one on this side and one on the stern side of the ship.
When we were two days out of Yokohama, the old man told us that a typhoon was coming. We all went below deck and here came that storm. It was a dandy. This big ship of ours was tossed around. We went down in the water, and then we came up. I mean, the bow was out of the water, and then we’d go down again. The screws were coming up out of the water, and you could hear them. You know – "Whee" like that. The water was breaking over the bow like you saw them in old World War II and North Atlantic film settings. I thought, "Man, I don’t ever want to get out on this ocean again." We did another 180 and went back in, and it was more calm. We pulled into Japan. We had to wait outside until they pulled back the sub nets, and we went into the harbor to dock. They closed the net behind us.
When we pulled into port, they fed us. The transportation officers came onboard, so we didn't get hash. Instead, they fed us fried chicken. It was cut Army style--that is, they just laid the bird back and whacked it down length ways with a cleaver and then they cooked both sides. It was a lot of chow. They staggered the people who were eating. For instance, they said, "B Compartment, Number Three, go eat." B Three went down there and got their chow. Then, "tweet, tweet, tweet - B Three bagging baggage up on the weather deck for disembarkment." The guys didn't even have a bite of their food yet, but they took it and threw it up on the bulkhead. When I got down there, they gave me my piece of chicken and some kind of vegetable, a coffee cup, and a frozen container of milk. I opened up the top of the container of milk and turned it upside down. It was hot there in my port, so I finally got about a three-eighth's of an inch of liquid in the bottom of that coffee cup. It never did melt. The eating conditions on the Walker were just terrible.
When we got off the ship and went down the gangplank with our little duffle bags, you would be surprised at how many guys stumbled and stooped and staggered because we had sea legs. We didn't have land legs yet. It was dark when they finally got me off of there. We were all standing out there waiting for transportation and here came this Merchant Marine. They were the ones in charge of the ship. He had his white duffle bag up on his shoulder and he was really a salty dog. As he walked down, you could see the outlines of tin cans. A canned ham, and even Spam cans, have a distinct line to them. One of the guys saw this and said, "Why you dirty wah, wah, wah." This swabbie sort of looked back at him and picked the pace up. One guy stepped out of line and kicked that guy's feet and down he went. That duffle bag of his just clanged, bammed, clattered. It was full of the food we were supposed to have, and that clown was stealing it. When he got up, he got up running. Everybody was screaming and hollering. Along came the shore patrol--the MPs--and wanted to know what was going on. They thought we were rioting or something. Everybody was saying, "arr, arr, arr, arr," you know, and pointing down there. They finally got everybody settled down.
I remember that, while I was waiting to get off the ship, there were some swabbies around us. All of a sudden, all those pretty pennants that were flying on the ship came down, and a whole bunch of new ones went up. We were all kidding about them, asking where the skull and cross bones were and all that. One swabbie said, "Man, I've never seen that before." He told us that they were having a court martial. He could tell by one of the flags that just went up. He said he had to go find out what was going on. When he came back, he told us that a Master Sergeant out of the Air Force had gone into the chow hall when all of the guys were throwing their chow up against the wall and the trays were rattling around on the floor. He took a sugar sack, filled it with the uneaten chicken, and put it under his raincoat. He went out on the deck and started to sell the chicken to the guys waiting on the deck to disembark. "Hey Joe. Want a piece of chicken? Give me a dollar." They were all standing in line eating chicken when the officer of the deck spotted what was going on. He went over to the Master Sergeant and put the arm on him. The guy's pockets were full of greenbacks--ones, twos, and fives--whatever they had. He wouldn't make change. The guy was brought up on charges of selling government property. He got on the ship as a master sergeant and got off a private.
Repo Depot, Japan
When we left the ship, we got off in different formations according to what our assignment was. They put all of us MPs in a little bitty old truck or something and ran us up to our repo depot. By the time they offloaded all 4000 of us and got us to the repo depot, it was late at night. When we arrived there, they put us all in this big field and said, "All of the A's there. All the B's here. All the C's here. D's, E's." All the way down to the end of the line. I was at the end of the line as usual. They started processing through the alphabet. "Where's Private Allison?" They found him, took his serial number, gave him his papers, told him which line he should move to, and then went on to the next person in the alphabet.
They pulled two guys out of the MPs and kept them in Japan with the 77 deuce MP Battalion. Those two were the only ones pulled out of the pipeline to stay in Japan as MPs. The rest of us were given physicals at the Repot Depot. They didn't want us carrying any kind of VD into these countries. They did this in Japan for two reasons. One was that they didn't want to mess around with sending you clear to Korea, setting you up in a company, and finding out that you have something that wouldn't wash off. So they gave us what was called a GI inspection.
Once at the repo depot, we had to leave things behind. It seems odd, but before we left the States, we drew our equipment. Then when we got to Japan to the replacement depot, they wanted us to leave all of this equipment and draw other equipment. It made sense to the Army, I guess. I think that’s when we got our rifles, bayonets and web gear (belt and suspenders), but we never got any ammunition or anything like that.
We also had a couple of classes while we were in Japan. They were about dealing with the enemy and what to do about equipment problems. They had kind of a play on a stage. It was about American GI's going down the roads walking and one suddenly saying that he didn't want to keep carrying his gas mask, so he threw it away. Hell, it was warm last night and it's going to be warm tomorrow. I'm going to throw this blanket away. All this stuff. And they leave a trail of equipment. Next on the stage came slant eyes who saw the discarded equipment and said they could use this and they could use that. They could use all of the equipment the GI's threw away. The object of the lesson was that you should not throw away what the enemy might be able to use. There was also a training officer who updated us on enemy mines, weapons, tactics, and stuff like that. They basically figured that you already knew all that, but a lot of what he told us we actually didn't know.
We stayed in Japan about five days total, I think. We took physicals and got everything up to date again. We got a haircut. Got new socks and new underwear. Got different equipment. A lot of equipment that I came with was tailored because I had been an MP in the States. There, they wanted everything all tailored. But at the repo depot, I left all of that laying out in a field and they gave me just plain old clothes. They looked at us and said, "Oh gee, you look like you're a size 36. Here's a size 40. That will fit you." And that's what you got. We packed everything in our duffle bags and away we went again.
When it was time to leave Japan, they moved us to the same general area we had been when we landed. This time we got on a smaller ship--I think it was the Marine Lynx. Japan is made up of a series of islands, and we were on Honshu. We went in between that and another Japanese island. That was quite a little ride. The islands were sloped down quite a bit, and when the tide came in, it rolled up these big old rocks. The tide caught the ship and it started to roll. You would swear up and down that there was only 20 feet of water underneath you and that the ship was going to hit those rocks. It was very narrow between the islands. Then we hit the big ocean again. Everybody started getting seasick again. I did not barf, but I was sick. We pulled into Pusan that night.
Arriving in Korea
Pusan is located in the southeast corner of Korea. We pulled in close to shore. The guys who landed at Inchon had to wait until the tide was just right and get in smaller boats to go ashore, but we didn't have to do this at Pusan because it is a deep harbor port.
When we were about twenty miles at sea from Korea, we could start to smell Korea. Because it stinks. They had used human fertilizer ever since the beginning of time to fertilize their land. Actually, in some parts of the country, they were still using human fertilizer in 1988. I remember thinking, "This land really stinks." You had to be there a good 30 days before you didn't notice the smell anymore because you got so used to it.
When we got off the ship, we stood alongside the railhead waiting for the train to come. A poor old mama-san came along there begging for food and cigarettes and anything she could get. Our train finally backed in. It was a small Korean train. Their rails were not as wide as ours. As a result, their seats were narrower than we were used to. They had littler people in Korea, too. There were three GI's in two seats. We put one by the window, one by the aisle, and the guy across from you sat in the middle. That was the only way you had any leg room, because the seats were only about 14-16 inches apart.
The trains had all kinds of things about them that were different than those in the USA. The bathrooms on board their trains were simply a hole in the floor. There was no separate room. It was to the back end of the railroad car. There was a raised thing about, oh, 16-18 inches high that you stepped up on. It was not porcelain, but like inlaid glazed tile. It had a hole in the floor and that was where you went to the toilet. You squatted down like an oriental and you went to the toilet. Modesty was nothing to them. They thought nothing of a man or a woman just doing their bathroom thing wherever. On the train, nobody worried about trying to go to the bathroom with the train joggling along. You finished and just kicked things where they ought to go and went on about your business. It fell out on the track.
I remember that, as we progressed north, they started picking guys out who had M-1's on them. They took them to the door where there was an open case of M-1 ammo. They said, "Don't let anybody come on board this train. Shoot them. And we don't care if it's some five-year-old slickie boy or some 99-year-old mama-san. You shoot them. Because if you don't, they're probably going to hand you a hand grenade." That was quite a shocker to a lot of us. Most of the guys with M-1 Garands were privates. Most of us with carbines had some rank. It was the old Army game, you know. Rank has its privileges. So they would put the privates at the door doing the dirty work.
I don't know how many hours we'd been on that train when we came to a train that was over on its side and burnt. We asked the MP guards what happened. They said that guerillas blew it up the week before. This was the first time we'd ever run into anything like this. We weren't really prepared for it mentally. I took my duffle bag and threw it down between the seats. Then I flopped down on top of it. My thinking was, if they had mined the track and the train blew up, I'd have all my junk and this other GI's duffle bag underneath of me to absorb some of it. The other guy sharing the seat was sort of a long, tall Charlie. He got over in one corner and had his legs over the top of me. Although it was daylight, we were trying to halfway sleep. In the Army, any chance you get to either eat or sleep -- do it, because you never knew when you would get that privilege again.
Eventually we came to tunnels. They pulled up to them and stopped outside. The MPs who were in gondola cars in front of us got off the train and walked through the tunnel to make sure it wasn't mined. Then they signaled a train to come on through. When the train got to the other end of the tunnel, the MPs went on that side of the mountain and walked out a couple of hundred yards. They checked the back side of the hill. Every now and then, if they saw something that didn't look right, they shot at it three or four times to see if they got any action. Then they motioned for us to come on through. We went through a bunch of tunnels like that.
The train had old puffer-belly, coal-fired engines, and you can just about imagine what we looked like when we got to where we were going. We were not just dirty. We were filthy. The windows on the train were busted out, which I guess was okay because you wouldn't have been able to breath if they had been closed.
At the northern end of the line, we finally got to the repo depot [replacement depot]. We had gone right straight up through the center of Korea. I think we were on the train for about a day and a half, and it was the next day at daylight when they finally let us off that train. It took that long for us to get to our destination because the train started and stopped, started and stopped, started and stopped.
When we got off the train, there were people there asking our name and serial number. That is where I was finally assigned to the 728th Military Police Battalion. I got in this deuce and a half with about three or four other guys and away we went. We went up to around Seoul. I think it was Yongdungpo over on the east side of Seoul. That's where the battalion headquarters was located. They assigned me to Charlie or "C" Company. Others were assigned to B, D, and A. The mail drivers who came to the battalion from each one of these companies were our rides back to the company where we had been assigned. I went east of Yongdungpo over to the middle of Korea to Chunchon. That was my main company while I was in Korea. I was assigned to C company from when I got there in October or November of 1952 to when a left nearly a year later.
Importance of Chunchon
The United States basically ran the complete country of South Korea at that time. The people there had been shot up many times, and they had lost so many people that they simply did not have the manpower to do anything. The South Koreans had been shot up so many times, and they had lost so many people, that they simply did not have the manpower to do anything.
Chunchon was a Korean village right on the 38th parallel. Nobody could be above that parallel. They referred to it as the "farm line." In other words, the natives could farm up to this point, then they had to quit. We had a lot of Korean farmers out in the hills north of us, farming their old homesteads. We didn't get excited and send them back, because if any enemy line crossers came over, the farmers told us about it. They were sort of like an unpaid second line of defense. We let civilians sneak through and go up a mile, two miles, five miles, maybe ten miles north of us. Sometimes they found their own house that they had been chased out of sometime earlier during the war.
Additionally, allowing them to farm north of us gave them money. You can't really understand what it's like to be in a country that is completely devastated. I mean, they had nothing. They had no business other than a guy working out of a place about the size of an office desk. He did whatever he was smart enough to do. Maybe he was a cobbler. You felt sorry for a man trying to cobble up Koreans' shoes because their shoes weren't like ours. I saw one trying to work on a Korean's shoes. He just had a piece of iron that he stuck up into the boot and then he tried to nail it down with a little bitty hammer. It was very, very primitive.
They had no grocery stores, no drug stores. Absolutely nothing. Those things were completely unheard of in Korea. You asked them about them and they just looked at you with no comprehension. You couldn't tell them that you used to work in a Piggly-Wiggly or the A&P. You couldn't tell them that we had a store that was 200 foot long. That we had vegetables, canned goods, everything. They just looked at you like that was impossible. Nobody had that. So we let those people grow what little vegetables they could, do their little rice paddy thing, and that gave them food. In turn, they were very supportive of us.
By the time I got to Korea, Chunchon had been fought over something like three times. The North Koreans came through there first. The First Cavalry went through there and did a number on it when they chased the North Koreans back over the 38th parallel. The Chinese had been there. The Marines took it once. When I was there, it was in the Army zone and the Marines were east and north of us.
It's hard to describe the size of Chunchon. Everything was one story, and several people--a family with maybe two or three generations--lived in one small house. They made their homes out of cardboard--old sea ration cardboard boxes. The containers for 105 shells were made of little wooden 1x6 boards that were about 24-26 inches long. They used those for the walls of their home. Their floor was always a mud/straw mixture. At one end of the house they dug a pit down on the outside and put their stove there. The chimney went under their floors and came up. Their stove to them was a fireplace. The chimney flue for it was made of 105 ammo cartons stacked on top of each other until they finally got up to the thatched roof. In the winter they slept on top of the floor because it was warm.
Naturally, the houses caught on fire all the time. If a big wind came along and blew off two or three of those 105 cases, the thatched roof often caught on fire. There was no fire department to put the fire out, but their homes were very spartan anyway. The only thing that burned in them was their roof rafters and the roof. When that happened, they started to beg, borrow, and steal to replace the roof.
The only two-story building in Chuncon was our police station, which had been a bank. The Provost Marshall was on the top story. That was the investigation section. They tried to chase down stolen Jeeps that were stolen for profit as opposed to those Jeeps that had been taken by drunken soldiers for joy rides. We (the Desk Sergeant, Military Police Desk Sergeant, and our little jail) were in the bottom part. The "jail" was a little cover with 2x4's and hog wire for a cell. In fact, we called it the Hog Pen. We threw some of the bad guys in there. In the other corner was the vault, where we threw the really mean guys in and kept them chained. The "bad guys" were the ones who drank Korean whiskey and went crazy. We weren't jailing South Koreans. We jailed our own people -- Americans.
Just before the presidential election, Eisenhower said that if he got elected, he would clean out the homesteaders in the States. In Army terms, a "homesteader" was a guy in the Army who had been on a post ever since he came home from World War II. He had maneuvered himself into a cushy 9 a.m.-5 p.m. job. Eisenhower said those people had "been there, done that" and he wanted them over in Korea so they could teach the kids what to do and let the other guys who had been in Korea for a long time be rotated home. Eisenhower followed through with his promise.
As a result, I ended up with a commanding officer named M/Sgt. Bill Janka. He was a lifer who had been in the military since the early 1930s. He and I were assigned to be the Vice Squad. We were in the division rear for the 45th Infantry Division School Standards. Because division rear was the main supplier for anything going up north, it generated a lot of people coming into Chunchon. There were maybe 2,000 to 3,000 people living in the village, although you couldn't get an accurate count if your life depended on it.
We had a lot of trucking companies there. They hauled petrol and ammo, chow, dry goods, tires, and stuff like that from the rear back of us. These trucks were always getting stolen. The American guards up there in their little watch towers could sit there and see the Koreans come over the fence and steal tires. One particular night, the guard saw three Koreans come in over the wire and start throwing tires out over it. These were not North Koreans. They were South Koreans stealing from the people who were there to defend them. When they got all out of there that they wanted, they started climbing the wire to get back out again. The guard sat right up there coolly and calmly, shooting all three of them. He killed them. It was just something that was right for the time. I remember going out and investigating that. All the evidence was there. The guard didn't get in trouble for killing the Koreans, but he got court-martialed for misuse of government property because he used up three bullets. He also got an automatic transfer out.
It wouldn't have mattered if he had used only one bullet. He was issued three bullets and he used them and didn't bring them back. In the Army, just like in the States, you have to have a reason for doing something. If that had happened in the States, you would have mother, father, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters, kids and all that crap down there wanting to kill that guy. It was no different in Korea. "Why did you kill old Charlie Chan there? You could have fired over his head and scared him off." On the other hand, he could have been court-martialed if he didn't try to stop them and capture him. Well, he couldn't run down from his guard post and get over there and catch them, but he was court-martialed anyway. He did not lose his rank, but he was fined. At the time, I think it was something like 13 cents a round for the ammunition.
The Vice Squad in Chunchon had other duties besides investigating incidents like that one. We also raided houses of ill repute. Behind each one of these trucking companies in Chunchon, there was a little village filled full of ladies of the night. They were there to make money. They were not clean. They did not take preventative measures, and neither did the DIs. As a result, the truck companies often called us. For instance, maybe the 55th Trucking might call us and say, "My God. I just got a report from the medics. My VD rate is high. I've got 13 new cases. Come down here and do something." So Jake and I went down there and talked to the officers. We'd make a plan. "What if we catch your First Sergeant, your Mess Sergeant, or your Second Lieutenant over there? What if we catch him with one of the girls? What do you want us to do with him?" The officer usually answered, "By God, wake me up and bring him to me." That was okay with us. We just needed the ground rules. That night we raided the village and packed them all in. If one of the men was on our list, we'd take him right in and wake up the old man. He then began court-martial proceedings.
Men caught in a house of ill repute were given a disciplinary report. First, they were generally out after the hours of curfew. They knew they were not allowed out of the compound after curfew. Second, they were not allowed in an indigenous person's house. And number three, they were not supposed to be in a house of ill repute. Their punishment depended on how big of a fall the old man (company commander) wanted to give them. By daylight the next day, some were in a deuce and a half, heading to the front line as a replacement in an arrival company. This deterred some of the vice, but not always.
We had all sorts of people to deal with in Korea in 1953. They were taking them out of stockades, disciplinary barracks, and penitentiaries. They were maybe guys who had jumped all over the top of their First Sergeant, Company Commander, beat him up, and got five to ten years at Leavenworth. The military went to them and told them that if they volunteered to go to Korea and spend one year in a rifle company, and if they were fortunate enough to come back, they would wipe their slate clean. So these criminals would agree – anything to get out of doing ten years of hard time. Because when the Army told you that you were going to do five or ten years, they really meant that you were going to do five or ten years of hard time.
When these men volunteered, the government ran a prison ship. They took them all under guard down into the ship’s quarters and kept them under guard on the ship. I thought that was hilarious. After all, where in the world would they go? You aren’t going anywhere once you set sail. I suppose they could take the ship over, but then the Navy would come out there and blow you right out of the water. Once they got to Korea, these men were put in a repo depot to go through the same process I did – Pusan on the train, and then up to the 45th Division. They didn’t give them weapons at the repo depot yet. Instead, they started giving them some orientation. I guess a lot of those guys hadn’t been under military discipline other than two or three years in the penitentiary. We picked up some of them after they had gone over the fence. These are ones who hadn’t seen or been with a woman since they were in the penitentiary. They wanted to go out chasing the girls around, so they stole something so that they had something material to barter with, even if they didn’t have any money. They stole a blanket or something like that to give to the girls. When they did and we found out about it, we got them again on stealing government property.
The girls were sometimes dressed in western clothes and sometimes dressed in Korean clothes. I remember that some of them that we arrested were wearing long-handled GI underwear under a plain dress. Some of the guys took good care of their women. They wrote home and asked their mothers for a Montgomery Ward or Sears catalog. They then sat down with their Korean woman and let her pick out the clothes she wanted. He ordered them and when they arrived, she was dressed in American clothes. Back then they didn’t wear jeans and a tee shirt. But they wore a lot of makeup so that you knew immediately that they were jo-sans. A lot of English words were not transferable over to the Korean or Japanese language. The Koreans were walked over by the Japanese since the turn of the century, so their language was a mixture of Korean/Japanese. But the men all knew what a jo-san was.
The girls were partly accepted by the Korean society and partly not. If they were just a plain jo-san, that was okay. After all, how else were they going to eat? How was mama-san going to eat? How was anybody going to eat? The Americans had everything, so as a result, they went to the Americans. Americans were no different than any other occupying troops. "You want a can of sea rations? You come over here and go to bed with me."
We discovered that there were two things that were not acceptable by the Korean people. A jo-san going to bed with a Negro was one of them. They called them "crumb" or "crumble." They were "Number Ten GI’s.", meaning that they were no good. A Number Ten GI was the worst of the worse. I don’t know why. Bear in mind, back in 1952 when I was at Fort Gordon, Georgia, there were still signs up in the taverns saying, "Niggers and GI’s keep out." So you have to go back to the period we were in at the time. The other thing that set some jo-sans apart from others was their willingness to have oral sex, whether with a white GI or a black GI. The other Korean hookers looked down on another hooker doing that. As a result, a crumbo or crumble was in big demand because there weren’t many of them. In Chunchon there was only one, maybe two, who did oral sex. These girls were considered sleazier people. The other jo-sans described her as someone who "never has a no.", which meant that they were clear off the chart in so far as being nice. I don’t think this was because of American prejudice against the blacks. It was because a lot of blacks over there didn’t have much discipline. We’d tell them not to leave the post from 1700 at night to 0600 in the morning, but that didn’t mean a damn thing to them. They did it, they were caught, and they were court-martialed as a result.
Blacks were also in sort of menial jobs. They were assigned to trucking jobs with white officers. It was possible for a black soldier to become a Staff Sergeant or Sergeant First Class maybe, but he rarely made Master Sergeant. White guys got that slot. General Walker of the Tenth Corps hated blacks. He hated them with a passion. He also didn’t like the men of the 65th regiment. They were from Puerto Rico, and he hated them too. No matter what they did—charge the hill until there wasn’t anybody left to go up the hill, whatever—to him they were nothing but a bunch of slackers. Walker was from the old Army. Again, you have to remember that this was the early 1950s.
I remember that one time there was a GI who molested one of the natives. One night we went out and were sweeping the area. We were driving down the road when all of a sudden about a half dozen Korean mama-sans jumped out in the road. The men hid because if they were young Koreans, we questioned why they were not in the Army. "I’m over here ten thousand miles away from home and you’re sitting on your butt. Why aren’t you in the Army?" All the women came out and kept saying, "Number Ten GI. Number Ten GI. Crumble GI. Crumble GI." They told Sergeant Jake and I that he was over there, and they pointed in one direction. We asked what he was doing and they said, "Oh, punchy, punchy." You know, kick. They said, "You take crumble to monkey house". That was what they called jail.
We went down there and pulled into this little village of two or three huts. There was this poor girl, and she had really been beaten up on and stomped. Mama-sans were coming around and they were trying to wash off her breasts and everything. And they brought over this little bitty baby. Do you know what was going on? Come to find out, this woman had had her baby and it was only like ten days old. This black GI wanted her, but they tried to explain that she was a new mama with a baby-san. He didn’t accept that. Instead, he started slapping her around. Some of the mama-sans grabbed the baby, and they tried to get the mother out, but they couldn’t. There were two black GI’s. They just started beating up on everybody. They pistol whipped this one old Korean man, and then from him they moved on to beat the hell out of everybody.
Although there were only two of the GI’s, a Korean person at that time was submissive. He’d been walked on and ordered about for 50 years by the Japs. You know, "When I tell you do so something, you do it." They didn’t know how to handle it when somebody told them to do something that was wrong. They didn’t know how to get it stopped. By the time Jake and I got there, the two blacks had taken off down the trail. Jake and I left our Jeep there and we took off running after them. We could see them because they weren’t very far ahead of us. Jake hollered at them to halt. "Halt! MP’s!" Well, this one guy turned around and he had a carbine. Jake and I separated. The black GI was coming up this way and I tried to get around behind them. It was about a half mile to two-thirds of a mile over to their compound and they had their lights on. We could see them outlined against the lights.
The guy with the carbine started shooting at Jake. Jake returned fire one time and this guy shot back at him again. He was in a dried-up rice paddy. I shot twice, but the carbine didn’t work. I kept pulling the trigger and nothing happened. I couldn’t figure out what happened until it dawned on me that my magazines had fallen out of my carbine. The guy turned around and shot at me three times. The first one, I could have reached out and touched the ground where it hit. The ground was frozen and it sparked when it hit. The next time the round came equally close to me. I thought, "Oh my God." I tried to crawl inside my helmet. The next one went real close over my head. I got that magazine and I put it back up in there. I thought, "You so and so. I’m going to blow your head off." I hauled off and jabbed a round up there in the chamber and I let loose about another two or three more rounds. He was looking over towards Jake like he was going to fire at him again. The guy swung his rifle out and spun around and went down. Either my first or second round got him. I thought, "Well, Sucker. I got you."
I hollered for Jake, but he didn’t answer. I knew that clown was going to stay where he fell, so I went looking for Jake. I found him hiding behind a rock out in the middle of a rice paddy. When I asked him what the hell he was doing, he said, "You aren’t going to believe this. When I got out of the Jeep and started chasing those guys, my belt buckle fell off my belt. So I took the .45 and I shoved it down my pocket and I took off running after them with my carbine. I fired two shots and then my carbine locked up. I don’t know what’s wrong with it." He said he wasn’t going to keep on hollering because he couldn’t shoot anybody anyway. He thought that the clown I shot might come over and do a number on him.
I gave him my .45 and we took off after the other one. We chased him right up into their compound. There was some Corporal or Private at the guard standing there. He said, "Halt! Who are you?" Old Jake told him, "We’re Military Policemen and we’re coming into your compound, boy. Get out of our way." We told him to call his officer of the day or sergeant of the guard and get him down there. We had two attempted murderers in his compound. He said he couldn’t decide if he should or shouldn’t do what we told him. Boy, you don’t say anything like that to an old Line Master Sergeant. Jake just reached over there and politely grabbed that kid by the front of his jacket, and jerked him off the ground. Jake was over six foot and weighed 200 pounds. He was a lot of man. He told him, "You do it now." The guard replied, "Okay, okay, okay."
We took off and there were two or three guys standing there. I asked them, "Where did they go?" They pointed down between the tents, so we took off down the outside of the tents. They had put their tents end to end, whereas most compounds just had single tents. They had put theirs where you could walk clear through three or four tents. The guys we were after ran down through the tents, but when they got down to the other end, Jake and I were waiting for them and we nailed them. Along came a Lieutenant and he wanted to give a bunch of orders. Jake and I were to put up our weapons and everything. He obviously knew nothing about military law, and he had a Sergeant there with him. We had cornered these two bad guys and I had jerked one up off the bed. He was trying to shine his shoes or so something to make us think that he had been there all along. But he wasn’t, because you could see the scratch marks down the side of his face and everything else, you know. They were still bleeding, so hell, we knew he was one of them. We jerked him up and grabbed the other one. The guys pointed him out, so we had both of them.
Along came the Lieutenant, and he said he was going to court martial us. He was going to do this. He was going to do that. But Jake told him in no uncertain terms that he had better call the Military Police Provost Marshall now. He turned to the Sergeant and asked him if he was the Sergeant of the Guard. He said he wasn’t. He was a Sergeant First Class who just wanted to see what was going on. Jake told him that we were going up to his orderly room right now. I grabbed the one guy’s carbine and put that on my shoulder. That made me carrying my carbine, his carbine, and the other one. Jake stuck the guy’s .45 in his pocket. I got my .45 back and put it back in my holster. We all started to walk toward the orderly room, with Jake up front, me behind him, and the two bad guys on the left. Jake was with the Lieutenant telling him that, "No, you’re not going to court martial us. You’re calling the Provost Marshall and we’re going to get this whole damn thing straightened out now, Lieutenant. You can either do it here, or you’re going to do it down at the monkey house. That’s the only choice you’ve got – get your company commander."
About that time, I looked up and saw that the Sergeant First Class had gotten in behind Jake and the Lieutenant. He was going up to this bad guy and nudging him. This bad guy looked back at him, and I’ll be damned. This guy handed him a .45. It sort of like stunned him, I think. He looked down at it and this guy shoved it up in his hand. He took it and I just flipped the safety off of mine and hollered, "Jake!" This bad guy turned around and looked at me. I said, "I’m going to kill you." He said, "No, no, no." Jake reached over and grabbed that .45 and said, "Where in the hell did he get that?" I said, "That so and so right there." I told the Sergeant to get his butt right up there beside him or I’d drop him right where he was at. I was very, very angry. As an MP, you can’t lose your cool, but you know, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
We took those bad boys to the Chunchon Area Command. The two black guys were court-martialed, and so was the Sergeant First Class. The Sergeant was busted down to a Corporal and he was transferred to a rifle company. The Colonel told him, "You want to shoot people? You’ve got your opportunity. You’re going to a line company." The two black guys were sent to Seoul and that’s where they were court-martialed. Minimum penalty for what they did was 90 to 110 years in the pen, but just like the civilian courts, I heard that they later dropped the charges.
From Seoul, we took them to the "Big Eighth", which was a military stockade for the Eighth Army in Pusan. Two other sergeants and I went to Seoul, picked them up, and took them to A-16, which was an airfield there. I was in charge of the detail, and I took a couple of Regular Army soldiers with me. They had been in the Army since back in the 1930s, and they knew the rules and regulations. If you let a guy that’s sentenced to ten years hard time get away from you, you do ten years hard time in his place. That used to be the unwritten law in the Army. When I signed for the prisoners, and picked them up, they recognized me. I didn’t say anything to them. I just put the cuffs on them.
I was the only guy in our company that had a set of handcuffs. The Table of Organization of Equipment (TO&E) did not call for any handcuffs for our battalion. I got mine when I bought them off of a guy who was going to rotate home. He had his own personal handcuffs. I got a lot of fun trips that way. I took them down to the airport and we all five got on a plane headed for Pusan. I made them sit on the floor across from me in the bottom of the cargo hold. Then I changed my mind. Instead, I got them up and set them across from me and strapped them in the seat. I put the cuffs on them and through the webbing that they sat in so they couldn’t jump up and run around. I told them, "Here are your orders. If this plane goes down for whatever reason and I’m incapacitated or any of the other two Sergeants are incapacitated, you will report to the first officer that you see and turn yourself in as a prisoner. Is that understood?" They said yes. And then I said, "If you try to escape any time you are in my custody, I’m going to shoot you. You know I’ll shoot, because I tried to kill you once. But I won’t miss the second time." They sort of looked at each other and said okay. They had no remorse for what they did. A Korean jo-san meant nothing to them. When the plane arrived in Pusan, they were put in a stockade awaiting transfer to Fort Leavenworth.
The MPs of the 728th MP Company were technically called Combat MPs back then, because we had no night sticks. All MPs in the 728th MPs are now issued night sticks. I got what they called a "Korean washing machine." They were little bitty miniature baseball bats that were about 15 to 16 inches long. And that's what they looked like--little baseball bats. They drilled a hole in the butt end--the small end--and ran a thong through there. We called them Korean washing machines because the Korean ladies, when they did the laundry, went down to the brook, river of whatever, got the clothes all wet, put them up on a rock, and beat the clothes on the rock with a stick to get the dirt out. I threw my stick away. It didn't make a good night stick, and I figured that thing would give me more trouble than they could get me out of, so I just got rid of it.
Whiskey & Disease
Korean whiskey was supposedly part embalming fluid. They drilled a little hole in the bottom of the whiskey bottle, took the good stuff out, put the other stuff in, and then sold it to the Americans as whiskey. If they drank enough of it, it would kill them. I brought in a Sergeant First Class one day. He outranked me, but he had a bottle of what we called "all-yauk" juice. It was Korean whiskey. I asked him how much he'd had to drink of it and he showed me. I took the bottle, turned it upside down, and shined my five-cell flashlight on it. There was not enough alcohol in there to kill the stuff that was swimming in it. There were things that looked like hair, and sometimes there were little bitty brown bugs. Their favorite trick was to buy empty American whiskey bottles and seal them with counterfeit tax stamps.
A tax stamp was the seal that went over the top of the whiskey bottle to show that it was properly licensed and taxed in the United States. We just called it a tax stamp. If an American in Korea maybe wanted to spend a few hours with some Korean lady, she'd charge him for a fifth of whiskey. Sometimes a fifth of whiskey--Three Feathers or Country Club or Four Roses--would be 65 cents or a dollar, whatever. She charged him and they both drank out of it and did their thing. Then she sometimes slipped the bottle out the door and her counterpart grabbed it. They searched for other bottles that maybe had a little whiskey left in them. They combined it all into one, then walked over to the rice paddy and stuck the bottle down in there and finished filling it. Then they put the top on and used a little glue to put the fake tax stamp on it. Along came the next GI wanting whiskey and a woman. They charged him five dollars for Three Feathers or Four Roses, and he never suspected a thing.
The MPs thought it was absolutely stupid that anybody would do something like that, but they did it all of the time. Some of the guys that we picked up were laying out in the road throwing up, sick, incoherent. We threw them in the back of the Jeep and ran like hell down to the hospital. They pumped their stomach out and tried to flush it to get all that stuff out.
In Korea they had a lot of diseases that we had never heard of over here. I had a good friend on Koji-do who died of meningitis. He started getting sick after breakfast. By midnight that night, he had died. I mean it was quick. They also had venereal disease in Korea. One or two were ones we had never heard of before. It wasn't the common syphilis or gonorrhea or soft or hard shankers or things like that. It was things that we didn't even have a name for. We called it "nonspecific urethritis."
Earlier I mentioned [in the Vice Squad section] about taking those two black guys who beat up on the jo-san with the new baby to the "Big Eighth" prison in Pusan. Two other sergeants and I took them. A friend of mine, Jack Constant from Decatur, was down there because he had something to do with the POW Command. While we were there, we hitchhiked out to where his unit was and walked in. Of course, here was everybody all clean and pretty and everything, while we looked like Willie and Joe. Jack asked us if we wanted a hamburger or Coke or milkshake. We hadn't heard of stuff like that since we had left the States, so we said, "Sure." We went over to their little PX or club and all three of us got a milkshake. We were amazed that they had milk to make a milkshake. It was dry milk, but it was still basically a milkshake.
We asked Jack who did what there. Just about every section was headed up by a Colonel or a Lieutenant Colonel who in turn had a Master Sergeant and a Sergeant, a Corporal, and a Private or two. They were very, very top heavy in rank. We were sitting there talking and it was about 5 o'clock, I guess. Everybody quit work for the day and came in to the PX. Here came in all of these young American women. They were in their early 20s and 30s.
We just laughed--we thought it was hilarious--when we saw these old Colonels standing there actually drooling at these young girls coming in there. They didn't even give them a glance. They ran over to some little PFC or Corporal who was their age and hung on to them. They were the only American women I saw in Korea. Back at Chunchon, there were no American women at all.
There were no bars or taverns in the area of South Korea where we were stationed, either. Soldiers were forbidden to be out after the hours of curfew, which was basically after 5:00 p.m. You could not be outside your compound without a specific pass. There were no bars—no flashing signs that said "Schlitz" or "Beer" or anything like that. Absolutely none. The only place that you could get booze was in a house of ill repute that had jo-sans, sexies, or whatever you want to call them. They or some slickie boy had some liquor for sale there. But as mentioned before, the booze you got was usually 90 percent of the time doctored. It made you sick, and in some cases, it could kill you.
There was an Enlisted Man’s Club in our area. We called ours the EM Club because it allowed not just NCOs (the three sergeant ranks), but also privates, PFCs, and Corporals to drink there. The club had whiskey and rum. Nobody much liked rum, but it came in our whiskey ration, so we just set the bottle out on the bar, and anybody who wanted to come and pour himself a drink could do it.
We had one Indian in our unit. The rumors about Indians not being able to drink whiskey were 100 percent true in his case. I think his name was Black Bull, but we had a different name for him. We called him White Cow. He was a nice enough guy, but he was quiet. He didn’t really have any friends, you might say. He had nobody to buddy around with because he’d drink a couple shots of whiskey and then he’d be drunk and crazy—not necessarily in that order. His father had made him a big old hunting knife. I think it must have been about 14 or 15 inches long. He sat in his tent and threw the knife out the door into a little old tree that was out there. They had a terrible time stopping him from doing that. They finally stuck a little target up there for him because he was about to cut the tree down.
One night I was on patrol. They were having a doings going on there that night, and White Cow went to the EM Club. I think it was every two weeks or 30 days, something like that, that we got in 10 or 15 MPs from a different unit. Sometimes they were Division MPs or Corps MPs or whatever. They rotated them into our company, and it was our job to teach them how to do town patrols, investigations, and different things. Because they had been Division MPs most of the time, they were out on checkpoints and escorting convoys. That’s about all they did. They never did investigations into something being stolen or whatever. So they rotated back to us for 15 or 20 or 30 days or whatever length of time it was. When the new bunch came in, the old bunch had not left yet, and that was reason enough for a big old drunk.
That night, White Cow snuck in amidst all the confusion, and he bellied up to the bar and grabbed the free rum bottle. Nobody really paid any attention to him. He got a glass and took about three or four big drinks of that rum. The next thing, I guess, according to the boys, he threw his head back and let out a great big howl. Then apparently the fight was on. It took six guys to control him. He was one of our own and we didn’t want to hurt the guy, so everybody grabbed an arm or a leg or a head or whatever to try to pin him down. Because I was the only guy in the company who had handcuffs, and I wasn’t there, they couldn’t even handcuff him. All they could do was hang on to him. They brought a three-quarter ton truck and got him up in that thing. He was still wanting to take on the world and get even for whatever reason. They took him down to the jail and we put him in the vault. It took until the next day to sober him up enough that he didn’t swing at the first white guy that stuck his head in the door. From then on, the rum was still free, but it was kept underneath the bar.
The demand for booze was very great in Korea. Rumor had it that in Pusan, conveyors used to offload ships ran 24 hours a day, offloading booze. Now whether this was true or not, who knows, but we did have a lot of booze in Korea. It was my understanding that in line companies, they also had a ration of booze. The officers came around and gave each guy a can of beer, or maybe a squad or something would get a ration after they were back off the line. In Reserve, they might get two cans. They might also give a fifth of whiskey to the squad. Each company certainly rewarded their own.
Sometimes we got whiskey as a reward. Different company commanders sometimes said, "Send Smith and Janka out." Well, everybody knew Smith and Janka were the vice squad. If you had a particular problem that dealt with vice, you called us and we went out there. We sat down with the Company Commander and the First Sergeant and asked them what we could do for them. They might say, "Here’s our problem. Here was our VD rating two months ago. And here is what it is now. It’s increased 100 percent or 75 percent." The Company Commander was afraid he would be court-martialed for allowing the increase. We asked him where the boys were coming back from with the VD, and the commander might say, "Well, the village out there behind our company." Maybe the company was a transportation company, just an ammo company, or a supply company. It could be any because we had all sorts of companies around us on the main supply route (the MSR). We told the commander not to worry. We would take care of it.
Sometime that night or another night, we sneaked over to the village. It might be anywhere from a couple of little old farmhouses up to maybe ten or so of them. We gathered up the men who weren’t supposed to be there. Most of the guys we could apprehend and take into custody without a problem. We marched them across the paddies right up to the company commander’s tent and called him out. Needless to say, the commander would be in a very, very foul mood that night. We told him that if he wanted to prefer charges against any of them to give us a call the next day and we would start taking names and serial numbers. Of course, we already had the names, but not the serial numbers. A lot of the company commanders were pleased as punch because their VD rate would stop right then.
We then went to the National Police and told them that we wanted all of the girls in that particular village picked up and put on deuce and a halves. They sent them to Taegu to be admitted into a Korean hospital where the Korean doctors inspected them for what we called "pi-dockie", which was venereal disease. The American medics furnished the Penicillin and everything needed to cure these girls up. Then they received passes that allowed them to be in a certain town or area and that stated they were pi-dockie free. These passes had to be stamped and updated.
The South Korean people and their doctors were very innovative. When these girls were being arrested, they said that they had to have their little sack that had their makeup and everything. Technically, American MPs were not allowed to arrest them. Members of the Korean National Police had to apprehend them. The jo-sans knew how to whisper sweet nothings in the ear of the guard who was taking them to the truck to haul them away. "Here's $10,000 in Korean money. You lookie that way. I go this way." And then they'd disappear. Sometimes the guard would negotiate, telling them that they might look the other way if they gave them $20,000 instead of $10,000. An honest cop wouldn't take the money
It was a joke to us to see those girls get in the deuce and a half. The road going up and coming down from Taegu was very hilly with a lot of cutbacks. The driver had to go clear down to first gear to pull up some of those mountains. Well, when they got to going that slow, the girls just hopped out of the deuce and took off. The Korean guard said, "hi, hi, hi," and took off trying to chase the ones that went off to the left. Then three of them jumped off and took off to the right. By the time they got to Taegu, they were averaging two women a truck. When they started out, there were about thirty of them in the truck. They didn't want to go because they didn't want to miss out on the money. Some didn't think they had pi-dockie because they didn't have a burning sensation. Maybe they made everybody use a prophylactic. But we didn't care. We didn't know. Our job was to apprehend them and get them to the doctor for a physical.
One incident always sticks out in my mind. Jake and I were out one night, and it was probably February or March. It was cold, but it wasn’t all that cold. It was sort of getting a little warmer. We looked up to the north and saw a string of flares in the air. We thought that was odd because we didn’t have things like that down where we were. So we took off north going up whatever little road we could take to get closer to the flares. We ran across some apes up there—air police. They told us that they had a plane coming back from a night run—I think it was British—and it had been hit. The last they had heard of the pilot, he said, "I’m going to have to get out! I can’t get my engine restarted! I’m afraid it’s going to blow!" He was a jet jockey with some sort of a jet aircraft. Apparently he got out to walk and they were looking for him. They asked our guys to help too.
There’s a funny thing about a plane like that going down. You don’t really know how much of a to-do to make out of it. You didn’t want the wrong people to hear that you had a pilot down up there, because the guerillas were up there all around us. We didn’t want them to go in and snatch the guy.
We went up there to join the search and told them that we’d take this trail here and that those guys should keep on the track they were already on. They were going down the heading that he was last on. They were in a DC-3 and they were kicking flares out and illuminating the area trying to see where his parachute might have lit. But there was also snow up there, so it was pretty difficult.
I had a whistle in my pocket. We went down the road a hundred yards or so and then I blew the whistle, hoping that someone would respond to it. Then we continued on. That was the only way we could do it. We pulled into this one village of about three little farmhouses. Here came this old papa-san out and wanted to know why we were up there. There was one guy there that could halfway speak English. So we told them that we had a plane down and that’s why we were searching. We asked if they had seen any English people up there. He said he hadn’t, but then he asked us to tell him again what was going on. As we were talking to him, people started coming out of hiding. There were several old women. They were grandmothers and mothers, but they were elderly. The young women who didn’t want to be sexy hid all the time. The older women who were too old to be considered sexy, they came out.
This one came out and she had a little kid with her that was maybe, oh a year and a half old or something. You know—just a baby. This woman had this little kid in her arms and she was wailing. She kept wanting to reach out and hold onto me. I didn’t really know what in the world she wanted. We were all out there in the dark and the illumination from the flares was the only lighting we could get. She kept holding on to me. She put the baby down and the baby started crying. I thought, well, he wants back up. He wants grandma to hold him. He wrapped his little arms around my leg and he wouldn’t let me go. We kept saying, "We’ve got to go," but the woman grabbed me, wrapped herself around me, and the little kid held onto me.
Everybody else was starting to leave and I kept saying, "Hey, wait a minute. What are they doing?" And this one person, he talked to the woman and a couple of the other women. The upshot was that the women didn’t really believe our story. They were afraid that the Chinese had counterattacked and that they were coming down and that we had been sent up there to stop them. They thought that because we didn’t see any of them in the dark we were leaving, and that they would be left with the Chinese who would come in and grab these women again. They were absolutely terrified of being caught by either the Chinese or the North Koreans. We kept trying to explain to them. That gave us a feeling of helplessness to know that these people felt that the only thing between them and a Chinese or a North Korean was us. Oh Lord, yes, they appreciated us being in Korea. They didn’t want us to leave for anything.
We heard later that they did pick up the pilot. Apparently when he got off to walk, he was higher than they thought. Enough wind carried him over. The plane kept going straight south, but the wind carried him way off to the west. We were a long way from where he came down. Another unit picked him up. We never did see the plane explode or anything.
We had been told that there was a village that was built into the side of the riverbed and that it was way out past the Turks. We were told that there were a lot of GI’s using it. The reason why nobody was complaining with VD or anything was because they were servicing a lot of guys out of the replacement depot. So we talked to the commander of the repo depot. He said these guys were given a clean bill of health when they got on a ship on the trip over to Korea. They took them straight from wherever they were coming from to Korea, not dropping them off in Japan first.
When they first got to Korea, they were on their guard. They put them on trains, and kept them under guard until they got up to the end of the line. Then they put them on deuce and a halves and kept them under guard until they got up there at the 45th School of Standards. The replacement depot was part of it. Then they said that when they got up to the line, all of a sudden they had a problem. Medics checked them out and found out that they had this or that venereal disease. It showed up within a matter of six or seven days after contact, so they knew that they had to be getting it in Korea. But how were they getting it? Nobody could figure it out.
It was obvious to Jake and I. But I think the Company Commander was playing dumb for the simple reason that they had such a big contingency there. A lot of these guys coming in were prisoners. A lot of them were prisoners who had been let out of Leavenworth or other stockades. When they got to Korea, some of these replacements were made guards. Some other guy would then come up to them and say, "Hey, there are jo-sans over there" and went on past the guard to get a "short time" with one of the girls. This guard could have cared less whether they went over there. He just told his superiors, "Well, he didn’t come past me." They let these guys come and go to get a short time.
There were bunkers buried in the riverbank, and there was a single tunnel that went down to them like a little street, connecting all of the bunkers. Jake and I went over there to check them out. When we got there, the little slickie boy who was supposed to be watching for MP’s didn’t notice when we walked right past him. He was sitting out there asleep. We didn’t quite understand that because most of the time they were pretty much alert. Jake said he would walk down to the other end and when he got there, he would flip his flashlight on and off a couple times real quick, and then I would go in. He would either go in at his end, or he would block the entrance so they couldn’t escape. I waited, and after a while he flicked his light. I started kicking these GI’s out, just trundling them along ahead of me.
When I got down to this one particular bunker, it was just sort of like walking down a Pullman or a regular hotel. I mean, they had gossamer screens in front of them. It was an odd layout. We just kept pushing them on down there. We got them all down and we must have had about 20 or 30 of them. We gave them our best chewing out and told them that they weren’t doing themselves any good, da da da da da. We told them to get out of there now and get back inside their compound fence the best they could. We told them that from here on out, we would be checking out that village all the time. If we caught them again, they would go to the monkey house. We took their names and serial numbers. They were so relieved that we had let them loose. We figured that we’d done our civic duty for the night.
We waited two or three days and then we went right back there again. When we got there this time, that slickie boy was halfway alert. I nailed him before he got wide awake enough to get down in the tunnel and tell everybody that we were coming. I told him that he wasn’t supposed to say a word, otherwise, he’d be the first one going to the monkey house. So he went over there and sat down. He didn’t know what to do, poor little kid. He was not very job smart.
We went down through the tunnel and this time I got clear down to where I remembered that there had been one black guy the last time we raided the place. I walked up there and they had a couple of candles for illumination. The black guy was there again. He was real neat, but there was something about his eyes. He was with the best-looking Korean woman I had seen to date. I thought, well, this is odd. You know, everything just seemed odd. I stepped in through the curtains there, and they were both asleep. This Korean woman woke up. She looked at me, and I put my finger to my lips for her not to say anything. I motioned for her to get out of bed. She did, and when she got out, she sort of kicked this black GI and he sort of woke up. He turned around, rolled over, and looked at me. I said, "You’re under apprehension! Get out of the bed. Get out on this side!" When he started to scoot over to come out, he rammed his hand underneath the pillow. When he did that—I was carrying my carbine and my .45—I just jacked around into the carbine. I told him, "That hand better come out empty, or I’m going to shoot you!" He said, "oh, yeah, yeah man. We’re all friends." I told the Korean woman to hand me his pants and I checked them out. Then I told him to put them on. I told her to hand me his boots and I checked them. I decided I would just hang on to them and he could walk barefooted out to the other end. And he really didn’t need his socks.
By this time, everybody was awake, and they were heading for the other end of the tunnel, where they ran into Jake. He said, "I remember you from the other night," and "Oh, you’re a new guy. Anybody tell you we were going to raid this place all the time?"
The black GI reached down, but I told him that I would get his dog tags. I pulled them off of the bedstead there, dropped them in my pocket, and away we went. We got up there to the other end and he never said anything to anybody. He acted real nice. We figured out that we had this guy and two other guys that we had caught before. We said, "Now boys, we told you exactly what was going to happen. We’re going to take you to the monkey house, and just so you know we’re not lying, we’re going to take you there."
We loaded all three of them into the back of the Jeep. We had the top up on it, which made it very, very crowded. Jake just sat there with my carbine pointed at them all of the time. We went down to the monkey house—the jail, and we put them in there. I had the guy’s dog tags, so I wrote the DR out by the dog tags. The other two guys had their billfold and all kinds of ID in it. The black guy didn’t pick his up in the rush, but I told him that we didn’t need it. We called down to the repo depot, and got Private Brown, Private Jones, and Private Anderson. Well, Brown and Jones they knew. Anderson they didn’t. They sent someone down to get Brown and Jones.
Then we got a message saying that there was a problem someplace else. So Jake and I left to deal with it. It was about 12:00, 1:00, or maybe 2:00 in the morning. We went out to this area where they were having a problem and we were out there three or four hours. When we came back, it was starting to get daylight. It wasn’t unusual for us to work all night long. We’d go to work when it got dark, and we’d get off when it was daylight.
The Desk Sergeant told us that all we had was just that one prisoner. He asked if we would take him up to the Company and feed him. We said that we would, because we were hungry ourselves. On the way there, this guy started asking Jake and I about Sergeant so and so and Corporal so and so. Were they still there? We didn’t know them. Then he asked about this one other guy. I’d been there about three months earlier than Jake, and I recognized that last guy’s name. I told him that he used to work the desk, didn’t he? He said he did.
Suddenly, "ding, ding", I realized that something was odd about this man. How come this guy knows all of the Desk Sergeants and the Turn Keys, yet he’s newly arrived in Korea? And nobody claimed him. When we took him to the Company to feed him, there was a Desk Sergeant there named Papasan Jones. He was getting ready to rotate. He was the one who broke me in on the desk. He sat there and kept looking at this guy, and this guy sort of sat there and tried to get his hand up over his face or something. We ate and then we took him back down and locked him up.
Jones asked me, "Who was that guy?" We told him that we was going by the name of Anderson. That’s what his dog tags said. Jones said, "Oh, I don’t think so." When we asked him what he meant, he said, "I know him from somewhere. I was still a Corporal when I was working the patrol. I know him from somewhere." But he couldn’t put his finger on it. For three or four days, we called all over Eighth Army. We called the repo depot, but they said that they didn’t have a guy with that name. We kept going back interrogating him.
After about four days, he said that he had found the dog tags, and that his real name was like Johnson or something. He gave us a different serial number. After a couple of weeks time, I seemed to have a good relationship with this guy. I took him to chow every morning. I kept asking him to give us his right name. We knew that he wasn’t giving us his right name or serial number. I asked him, "Where are you going to go? What advantage is this to you?" We just talked more and more, and finally, he said okay. He told me his true name and his true serial number. The guy had a real good brain. He could remember all those numbers and not get them mixed up or anything. He also gave me his outfit. I think it was out of the 24th Infantry Division. When he told me his outfit, I told him, "Hell, they haven’t been over here for quite a while, because they got shot up pretty badly." They had taken them clear back down south.
The upshot of it was that the guy had gone AWOL back in the last part of 1950. I think there were about seven GI’s give or take who had gone AWOL while they were in Korea. We didn’t have too many people that were technically classified as a deserter, but he was one of them. Our Company Commander was real elated that I had finally gotten the guy’s name and the proper serial number. I didn’t get a raise or bonus or anything, but anyway I was quite proud of the fact that I did capture a deserter.
They court-martialed him. I imagine that if he’s alive, he’s probably still in Leavenworth. When you desert, it’s a very, very serious crime. I mean, they could shoot you for it. He deserted under fire. They were hitting his company real good. At first, they thought that maybe he had been captured, but then some of the guys said that, no, they had seen him. Then some started saying, "I haven’t seen him since Monday." Another guy said that he had seen him on Tuesday or Wednesday. Finally, they figured that he went AWOL. They caught him once. He was taken back up on the line because they needed people badly. Well, you know, a black guy sort of shows up among Orientals real quick—as quick as a Caucasian would. They brought him back up on the line one morning, and by that night he was gone again. So they classified him as a deserter.
Turks & Ethiopians
Chunchon wasn’t just a native town. We had no Marines, no airborne, no Navy. We did have an airfield there for resupply, and it was a big one. I think its designation was K-16. There were others besides Americans there. We had Turkish troops when they rotated back. Turks were definitely tough fighters. They figured this was sort of a slur on them if they were rotated back, and they didn’t want that. So they were odd. When they came back, they just stayed out in the middle of a dry paddy, and they slept in pup tents. Some of our guys went over to talk to them. They told us that when the Turks killed the enemy, they took time to cut his ear off. They strung it on a piece of card of whatever, and they hung them on the end of their tent posts.
There were also Ethiopians in our area. When I was working Desk Sergeant one night, our town patrol brought in this black guy. They had him by the arm. He was a big old boy, and they were dragging him in. He was more or less coming willingly, but he had a death grip on a little Korean. We asked what was going on. A troll told us that this black dude had his bayonet out and he was trying to kill that Korean. I told them to set the Korean over in the corner, and I went to talk to him to ask him why he was wanting to kill the Korean. The guy answered me in French. I thought, "Oh boy. It’s going to be one of those nights, because here is some smart alec that every time I ask him a question, he’s going to reply in French and make me think that he is French. Then he thinks that I am eventually going to throw my hands up in the air and send him this way and the Korean that way, and he’s going to get out of getting a DR.
Well, it’s one thing to smack around somebody, but it’s something else to pull a bayonet out and try to kill him. This black dude and I argued for about 10 or 15 minutes. What little high school French I could recall, not having spoken it for five or six years or whatever, and what Korean that I knew and he knew, we finally put it together that this Ethiopian had come down south. He wanted a girl and papa-san said, "Oh boy, have I got a girl for you. You give me 20 bucks." Well, everybody dealt in script over there as opposed to their own country’s money. So he gave old papa-san 20 bucks and papa-san told him to wait there--he would go get the girl and bring her back. Papa-san took off into the dark laughing, thinking, "Boy, this crumbo GI is absolutely stupid."
Well, papa-san slicked all around in Chunchon for about 20 minutes, and finally went over to his house where he sat down with some of his buddies and told them how stupid this guy was. And he had the money to prove it. Well, he was bragging, and about that time this black GI kicked in the door and wanted to know which one of them there was the girl. Those Koreans scattered.
The black dude didn’t really care about the three or four Koreans. He wanted the one that took his money, and he wanted the girl. He didn’t so much want the money back. He just wanted the girl. Because he was waving a bayonet around underneath this Korean’s nose, the other Koreans figured that he was going to kill him. So they took off down the street and along came the MP patrol. They hailed them and took them up there and they looked in. There was this big old black dude waving his bayonet under this guy’s nose, threatening to kill him. So they took this black guy into custody and brought him up there to me. Then I figured out what had happened.
I told him to sit there and I got the other guy, who was the Korean. We sat down and we talked. Of course, the Korean boy said that did everything right. He was on his way to get the girl. And boy, he was just as honest as the day is long that he was going to come back with the girl. We had a Korean in there, and this Korean was about to die laughing because he knew this guy was lying. Pretty soon, I told that Korean that could speak a little English, you tell papa-san that I give him five minutes head start, and then I will give the bayonet back to the crumbo GI. He looked at me sort of odd, and then he told the Korean what I had said. That Korean’s eyes got great big, and he hit that door on a dead run.
About a half hour later, we let the black guy go. We actually shook down old papa-san the pimp and got the guy’s money back before he left, too. We got more money back than he gave him. Then we figured out from his Geneva Convention card where that black guy actually was from. He was from French Equatorial Africa, and he was part of the French troops. So we kept him in there. We didn't really want to take him down and fix him up with some girl, because we didn't know that much about him. We fed him breakfast the next day, and then we let him go to join up with his buddies who were supposed to pick him up.
In the Army, gambling on payday was rampant. Each company did their own thing. We didn't have roulette wheels or anything like that, but guys got together and played a little poker or shot craps. When I first came into our company, we had a mess sergeant--a big old black dude--and the only thing that he carried was a set of dice, deck of cards, a straight razor, .25 automatic, another razor in his shoe, and a Geneva Convention card. That was it. That's all he carried. And he gambled. Now, he was good. He took these young soldiers fresh over from the States and got out a big wad of money. Well, these kids had just gotten paid. Maybe they had $75 in script on them, you know. He got them in there and inside of three rounds of cards he'd have them broke, because no matter who opened it, he'd always say, "Hey, let's go sky's limit. You boys want some of this money, don't you? That's the only way to get it. You ain't going to get it off of me a dollar or two at a time." These guys were dumb enough to say, "yeah, yeah, we'll play sky's the limit." All the man had to do was sit there and raise a hundred dollars on each turn of the card and they were gone. I saw him clean out a tent in less than 30 minutes because they were so dumb. The First Sergeants, Company Commander, the officers, nobody said anything unless somebody came crying or whining to them, and this was basically unheard of. You don't go tell the Company Commander that the Sergeant First Class over there took all of Private Jones' $68 or whatever.
I counseled people that came into my tent that only a damned fool would play cards with those people. I'd tell them exactly how they would beat them. These guys knew the old Army game, and that's how they played it. They watched this old boy, the Mess Sergeant. It might take him all day, but he'd clean out nine or ten tents. They said, "He's starting up that end of the company street." So they started at the other end to get the money before he did. When they had cleaned out these guys and the Sergeant won all of his money, they got together and played poker. Sometimes they shot craps, but mostly they played poker.
I remember this one Sergeant. He was one of them that went with me to haul the bad guys to Pusan down at the Big Eight. I went down with him every day for five or six days maybe. I sent home the equivalent of my basic everyday pay to his wife. For a month I think it was $105. He was busy playing poker, and he was winning. He needed somebody to send that money home to his wife because he could only send that money down once a day. He was winning big time. He didn't really want to be away from the game that long, so I went down there with him. He'd holler at me every day and we'd go running down to the APO. We'd fill out the money forms and send it home. These guys knew exactly what was happening down there. This one guy came laughing over to this other Sergeant. He said, "Hey, you better watch that Sergeant over there. I think he and your wife's going on." He said, "What do you mean?" "Why that guy's been in here every day this week sending her home $107." Everybody got a big laugh out of it, you know. I never gambled with them. If I did, it would be just like a waste of time.
There were drugs in Korea in 1950, too. The Koreans had it, and it was heroine, I think. I didn't ever see or smell any marijuana. I don't remember seeing anything else. There was always a little trading around with the brown stuff that kills pain that the medics used to carry. It wasn't coke.
I remember one night going into a Korean house and there was a woman in there. She was rather attractive, but she was real mouthy, real aggressive. Most of them knew that if they just shut their mouth and got over in the corner and let us come in and look around, we would leave. But she would not do that. She kept running her mouth and running her mouth and cussing us in Korean. We couldn't understand why she was so aggressive because we had done nothing other than just open the door and walk in. I was looking for counterfeit whiskey bottle tags or stickers or whatever you call them. A Korean house didn't have any furniture in it other than maybe a pile of rugs or blankets over in one corner. They built a shelf up about six feet from the floor and this was where they put their eating utensils or what have you just up out of the way. I reached up there to feel for stickers or whatever they might have up there because I was too short to see that high. Then she really got wild. She started cussing me more and hauled off and kicked me. Well, that upset me to no end, and I just reached up and grabbed the shelf and jerked it down on the floor.
When I did, she had one of those little round containers like a woman gets bath powder in. It was about six inches by two or three inches. When it came down, it went all over the front of my field jacket. It wasn't a white color or pink. It was a reddish color because she had mixed it with rouge. It went all down the front of me and all of a sudden she got real docile. She shut her mouth and got over in the corner. She was real humble. She started this submissive approach of bowing to me. She wouldn't raise her head; she wouldn't nothing.
I thought, boy, what have I done? I kept looking around. I could see absolutely nothing that would change her so radically. We went outside and we found some empty American whiskey bottles in a rice bag. We immediately broke them. She didn't say anything. You could tell in her eyes that, boy, she didn't like that we had cleaned her out. We might have got those whiskey bottles first. Maybe that's why I was looking for tags. Anyway, when we left, my buddy Jake said, "Let me drive for a while." I said okay and hopped over there in the passenger seat. I was sitting there and all of a sudden, down the road there about a hundred yards was this huge monster reared up and coming down the road. I started screaming and hollering. Jake couldn't figure out what in the word was wrong with me.
He took me down to the medics and there was a German medical doctor down there. We couldn't understand what he was saying half the time. But the only thing we could figure out was there was some kind of drug in that red powder. When it went down the front of me, I inhaled it. When I was outside, it wasn't all that bad. But when I got in the closed-in jeep, it came right up my nose and made me hallucinate.
I kept wearing that dad-gum field jacket until the doctor told us what it was. Of course, they were kidding me. You know, "Oh, getting high?" We all knew each other. The medic got some kind of a brush or something, wash you know, to scrape the stuff off. He washed it off of me. That was the only brush I ever had with drugs. Now whether it was heroine, I don't know. I know it was a hallucinogenic, but I don't actually know what kind of drug I inhaled.
Of the four vices that were over there--alcohol, prostitution, gambling, and drugs--the most troublesome of them all to handle was the sex. By American standards, some of the Orientals were not all that attractive, but there were prostitutes behind every unit. You could take off walking across the field to any house. If there wasn't a sexy in there, just ask the farmer in there to get you one and he would go get her for you. To a lot of the ladies, it was very degrading to have to do this, but you have to bear in mind that this was the only way they could get money to buy from another Korean during the war. They had to sell their bodies to get sea rations to put food on their table.
The Sleeping Bag
One thing I remember is that Jake and I were making a sweep through a village one night. It was a new village that we had found. Actually, it was only two or three houses, but it still constituted a village. We were going through there and I went into this one room. Here was this prostitute laying there in a sleeping bag. She was making all kind of suggestive remarks and gestures and all this kind of stuff. I thought, well, there's no GIs around here you know. Why is she wanting to keep me busy? Usually they did that so the GIs could get away. They hung on you. Anyway, I kept saying, "No, no, no." And I showed her my wedding ring.
Pretty soon she decided she'd try the last thing in her repertoire of tricks. She flipped back the whole sleeping bag and she was laying there naked. The lining in this sleeping bag was red silk. I had never seen a sleeping bag like that. I told her it was a Number One sleeping bag. She said that her boyfriend had gotten it for her. I asked her what her boyfriend did. He must be a big officer to get a sleeping bag like that for her. But she said, no, he worked down there at the supply depot. I got down closer and read the little label. It said it was a winter sleeping bag. I forget now whether it said it was so good down to so far. This guy had stolen the winter sleeping bag that was coming over to go up north to the troops. Somewhere along the line he had either gotten (a) the pattern or (b) taken out the lining of it or something or (c) he had gone to Japan and brought back the silk and somebody made it for him.
I decided I wasn't going to freeze my humdingie off anymore while this jo-san was laying there nice and warm. I was ten thousand miles from home, and I was cold. So I reached down and rolled her out of that sleeping bag. I think I caught her unawares. She didn't quite know what to think of it. I started folding it up and I told her sayonara, goodbye. Boy, she came completely unglued. She was all over me like a cat on a mouse. She was kicking, screaming, biting, scratching, you name it--she did it to me.
I went out the door and tried to scrape her off on the ground as I went through, but I didn't have any luck. The best thing going for me was that when I got outside, my old buddy Jake was out there and several of the sexies that were around. It was down below zero and she didn't have any clothes on. She started getting cold in a hurry. She tried to reclaim that sleeping bag and the other sexies there (she was in a sense probably the best looking one in the crowd) were sort of like snickering as if to say, "Well, little Miss Hotshot. You got yours." Anyway, I made off with the sleeping bag. She probably had another one within a week.
I kept that sleeping bag the whole time I was over there. It was a good winter sleeping bag. I was carried high by all the people because number one, until I got the thing laundered, I smelled like, as the old saying goes, a Frenchman's dream. She had it drenched in perfume. Everyone wanted to come and see that red sleeping bag. I even had one guy tell me, "Everybody's got the same old horse blanket sleeping bag and we are all freezing our fannies off except you, Sergeant. Do you realize that our Company Commander doesn't have one as good as you?" He kept hinting and hinting that the sleeping bag would dignify an officer, but not a sergeant. But I stood my ground. I did not give up my sleeping bag. It was a big joke. Some of the guys there in my tent hid it from me from time to time. I came home to my tent and found it gone. They said things like, "When I came in off patrol, your sleeping bag was gone. So don't blame me!" Then they all snickered and laugh. I then had to go through everything, go down to the next tent, or bribe a house boy to go bring it back.
I had a lot of experience with a lot of sleazy things, but one thing really shocked me. They broke Jake and I up in the last part of March. They sent out for the best MP battalion in Korea and out of that battalion they wanted the best MPs because they were all going up to Panmunjom on Little Switch, which started around April. Little Switch was the exchanging of wounded American POWs for wounded or incapacitated or badly hurt Chinese and North Koreans. That was in 1953. They called it Operation Little Switch. It was the forerunner to Big Switch, which came along later.
They took Jake. I begged and begged and begged to go with him, but they wouldn't let me go. That's probably because the Company Commander didn't have a nice red sleeping bag. Jake's last name was Janka. William P. Janka. I knew that he was born and raised in Pennsylvania, but whenever I asked a lot of those Regular Army guys where they lived, they just laughed. They said, "I'm out of the U.S. Army. Just go around some of them posts. You'll find me." I never met up with Jake again and I don't know if he is living or dead. I surely don't. Jake then went up to Panmunjom. I had to stay where I was long enough to train another Sergeant to work with me. I got a big old black Sergeant by the name of Johnson. He had been a major in World War II. I broke him in.
Then rumor had it that we were going to send a platoon up into the Second ROK Division. I talked to the first sergeant, Sgt. John Myler. I think he was born in Missouri, but he had lived a lot in Pennsylvania in the Carlisle Barracks area. He was a lifer who Eisenhower threw off of his job as a game warden and put him back in with the regular guys.
At this time, Jake came back every week or two from Panmunjom to the main company. His eyes were bloodshot, so I asked him what he was doing up there. There was no whiskey, no girls, no absolutely nothing. In other words, those at Panmunjom were strictly spit and polish. Jake told me that they had to stay within the compound at Panmunjom and keep perimeter guard so nobody would sneak in and plant a bomb or something. He said that as soon as it got dark or around 10:00 each night, the Chinese artillery started firing. They knew when everybody went to bed. Nobody was supposed to fire over this little enclave out there in the middle of nowhere, but the Chinese did. The Americans had to lay there and every 10 or 15 minutes or hour of whatever, the Chinese threw a round over. They kept it at a low trajectory where it sounded like it was coming right in the tent with you. It blew up not too far away outside the area. This was strictly forbidden, but the Chinese did it. The next day, our people asked the Chinese why they fired the impact at this or that point. They then said, "How many Americans have we killed?" We told them that they didn't hit any, but they insisted they did. They said that they saw Americans sneaking into their area, so they shot at them.
According to Jake, it was the same old story day in and day out. He said that he couldn't get a bit of sleep. They were ordered not to get out of their tents and get into their holes, because the Chinese were always popping flares to see what was going on. They violated everything in the book. So the Americans just stayed in their tents. Jake didn't know who the commander was up there. The man who ran the peace thing was an Admiral or something. He was choppered in and choppered out. When he wasn't there, they just had a lieutenant or a captain or something in charge of the area. And that was their orders - don't leave your tents. With blood red eyes, Jake told me that I wouldn't want to come up to Panmunjom with them.
Around the first of May, I went on R&R over to Takura, Japan. I got there just in time for the May Day riots in Takura. When I came back to Korea, it was around the fifth or sixth or seventh of May of 1953. They told me that within a week we were going up into the II ROK area--the II ROK Corps--to relieve a platoon of 519th MPs.
So I packed my gear, got my favorite houseboy, and away I went--my houseboy and my interpreter--because I trusted both of them. An MP in Korea was a Number One guy as far as the natives were concerned. If he wanted to do something, it was okay with them. It wasn't that they hated o didn't like or fear us. It was just how they felt about us. So when I went somewhere, I took my good interpreter Charlie and my houseboy who had one arm blown off. The three of us went down to the perimeter.
When we got there, things were pretty peaceful for the rest of May. It started heating up, though, in June. They had a lot of firefights up there and we were fairly close to them. We were back out of the impact area I suppose eight to ten miles or whatever. The Chinese and South Koreans were shooting back and forth at each other. They had firefights about every two hours it seemed. The Chinese picked a section of line and just shelled the hell out of it. Everybody then thought that they were going to start a big push. That was just one of the little games the Chinese generals played with their troops. On our side, we thought, "Boy, here they come." But instead, the Chinese went to bed, leaving the South Koreans wide awake and scared all night long that they were going to get overrun.
This action took place in the Hwachon Reservoir. It was north and just a hair east of Chunchon up from the 38th parallel. Back in 1951, they thought they should blow the reservoir gates so the enemy couldn't flood the Americans. We went in there and shot it all up and got the gates jammed. I think they were jammed open. I remember that I took a lot of pictures of the reservoir, the dam, the surrounding countryside, the old foxholes, the old bunkers and everything else. I sent rolls of these pictures back to my wife. On occasion, I also got back to the main company where they had a little Korean shop that developed pictures. The Americans had somehow gotten developing fluid and equipment for this Korean, and he developed the pictures. Nobody ever bothered him, so he did great business.
My brother-in-law, Eddie Hahn, was a KMAG soldier at the time. He was stationed to the west of us. I was behind the Sixth ROK Division. The next ROK Division to the west was the Capital Division. That was Eddie Hahn's division. Off on the right were more South Korean divisions. I don't know who was over there with these divisions, whether they were Marines or who. Anyway, I went down to see Eddie one day because things were quiet in my unit. That's when I took the pictures. He asked me how I was going to get them developed. I told him about the little Korean shop, but he said that there was a signal outfit right down the road and they would develop them for me. I left them with them and wasn't in any hurry to get them back. We were both there for the duration anyway.
Not long after that, the South Koreans captured a North Korean sneaking back through the lines to the north. After they interrogated him, they found out that the enemy was getting ready to start a big push. He had come down clear to Seoul and Taegu and all around to scout. He said that he had been behind our lines for something like four or five months. He had guerillas all hot to trot all over the place. Whenever they put a big push on, these guerillas were sent to set up road blocks, blow the bridges, shoot the GI drivers and trucks that were trying to get ammunition up to the line, and that kind of stuff. This prisoner told us that they were going to take everything back. He said that the first day they planned to be down this far, the second day they would have all of Seoul, the third day they would be here, fourth day there. So this KMAG major attacked this South Korean regiment.
Ed called down to me and wanted me to come up and get this Colonel, so I went up there. They dragged him out of the bunker and I got him. My one set of handcuffs and I got a lot of detail. They told me to take him right straight down to Chunchon to the airfield. I was to tell the AP’s that I was with their people and to notify Colonel So and So. I was to go right out on the tarmac and wait for him. My corporal, Charlie the interpreter, and I took off with this North Korean. I handcuffed him to a pipe in the back of the Jeep that the passenger seat rested on. That way, it kept his head down. They couldn’t ID him and he couldn’t jump. Away we went.
After we had gone about two miles, maybe three (it was awful hard to judge distance over there), I looked in the rearview mirror and thought, "Holy Cow! What’s that coming down the road!" Boy, there came a Jeep plowing 90 miles an hour with the red light and siren going. I thought that they were carrying some South Korean general or something. This Jeep came flying. There were three Jeeploads of people, and they all had a light .30 mounted on a tri-pod.
The first one went on past me. This second Jeep and driver came flying up alongside of me and put on the brakes. The first one slammed on the brakes too. I thought, "What the hell are they doing?" My interpreter, old Charlie, was just about to go through the roof because that South Korean in there pointed that machine gun at us. We were running side by side and my head was about six feet away from that machinegun. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. My corporal had his carbine across his lap and mine was across my lap, too. We always carried them like that. I could see him get a hold of that thing and flip off the safety. I said, "Don’t do it! Don’t do it! They’ll kill every damn one of us."
I didn’t know what they were or who they were or what they wanted. We pulled up a little further going down that road and they kept motioning for me to slow down. Pretty soon the lead Jeep in front of me just stopped in the road. Everybody started pointing toward to a little bitty old choagie trail off to the right. I went down it and there was this other Jeep. Boy, by that time it was so narrow. He swung in behind me and we went down there about a half a mile before we broke into a clearing. Lo and behold, there was a little old airfield.
There was a little two-engine C-45 plane waiting there. It could carry about a half dozen passengers. The Illinois National Guard had one like it years ago, and might still have it today. Anyway, there was an American GI standing in the plane’s doorway. The props of the plane were just barely turning. He motioned for me to come on over, so I pulled over and those other Jeeps just pinned me right in. The Air Force Master Sergeant looked over at me and said, "Hi there, Sergeant Smith. I see you and your escort got here." I didn’t know him, but he seemed to know me.
He turned to a couple of his guys and told them to get the prisoner and put him inside the plane. Then he said, "Here Sergeant. You have to sign these papers to release the Colonel to me." I told him to wait a minute and then I unlocked the cuffs. I wanted them back and there for a while I didn’t think I was going to get them back, but I did. They put him on the plane and I signed the papers. I was left with a carbon copy of the original, and because it was the third or fourth sheet down, you couldn’t read anything on it—not even the printed part.
When they got him on the plane, they told us to back off and get out of the way. The tail on those planes had uprights in the back. They didn’t just go out horizontally, but also vertically. So we backed out of there and the pilot looked back to make sure we were clear. Then he started down through there taking off. When I turned around, the other three Jeeps of Koreans were gone and my corporal, interpreter, and I were all alone.
I looked down at that paper and thought, "We’re sitting out here in the middle of nowhere and all I’ve got is this damn yellow piece of paper. Oh my God, you know what’s going to happen to me?" When I got back to the platoon, I told the Lieutenant what had happened. He made a phone call and came back to tell me not to worry about it. Everybody knew what was going on but me.
In the next couple of days, the Chinese started hitting us real hard and the line started folding. As it started folding, we had nowhere to go other than south. My brother-in-law told me, "I’m not supposed to tell you this, but if you see me in my Jeep with a Colonel going 90 miles an hour past your platoon, you’d better get in your Jeep, get in behind us, and follow us--because we’re getting overrun." I said, "You’re kidding me." He said, "Nope." He told me, "That’s our bug-out route." I never did see Eddie come down that way for the simple reason that they bugged out the other way. Every plan that they had laid, they did the opposite everywhere. We didn’t really know what was going on, but as the line folded we had to go up in the firing areas. We had American long guns and they were firing a lot.
The Major that was in charge of them came out and said, "Can you get us out on the road and get us the hell out of here?" I said that I could, and asked them where they were going. I think it was called Sabanga-ri, but I’m not sure. I asked him how soon he wanted to leave and he said in the next couple of hours. He started getting his men ready to go. In the meantime, we had to go up and get the Korean Sixth Division. Their KMAG people were hollering for us to get up there and start south with them.
We went up north and brought the South Koreans down with a bunch of 105s, getting them off of the line and back down into another firing position. Well, the Koreans are odd people. They didn’t even trust each other. For example, there were several instances when their truck convoys broke down due to lack of gasoline. Because what they did was to say, "We think it will take five gallons of gas to go from point A to point B." Everybody got five gallons of gas. Well, some trucks made it in four gallons, some in six. As a result, those that needed six ran out of gas. They just pulled over to the side of the road.
When we went up there, these old Japanese Nissan brand trucks were out of gas. They were like an old farm ton and a half. We started hooking them up to get them out on the road. The first truck’s engine was idling and the other trucks weren’t, so naturally, the first truck ran out of gas first. They knew where they were going, so their commanding officer took off first. We started shoving all the rest of them out there, and down the road we went. I was the only MP. I decided that I would put myself in the middle. The road was narrow and not a good one at all.
Pretty soon we were going through mountains. As I came around a curve, I looked up and saw that everybody was stopped. I kept motioning for them to get the hell over, and they did—to a point. We finally got up to where the problem was and there was one of those trucks out of gas. It was hilarious in a sense because the Koreans were not mechanically-minded people. In 1952 and 1953, if something quit they would just take a rock or a stick of something and they’d beat on the engine to try to start it. I mean it was plumb ridiculous to us, but the poor people had never seen an engine before, let alone driven or worked on one.
American trucks came up behind us and started to slip around the Korean Nissan trucks. I thought, "Holy hell. I’ve got two different convoys messed together here." All of a sudden I was trying to figure out what in the world to do. I don’t think we had even been there two or three minutes. Then I heard this big voice from hell saying, "Clear that Goddamn road!" I looked over at my Corporal and he looked over at me. We thought, "Who’s talking to us out here on the side of this mountain. And we could hear whistling. We turned around and looked up. Here was a little two-place Piper Cub spotter plane. Painted on the bottom of it was 25th Division Tropical Lightning, two stars. It had to be the Commanding General of the 25th Division.
We were surprised. "What’s he doing here?" About that time, he shut the engine off and just glided right in on top of us. He fired that engine up, got on the bullhorn and was hanging out the door. He said, "Clear that Goddamn road now!" I looked over at my corporal and said, "Come on." We went up to where a 105 was hanging on the back of the truck. My corporal grabbed a Korean gun crew that was standing around watching. He picked them up and laid them over the barrel. When he got about four of them up there, he ran up there to where you hook the gun on the back of the truck. He and I started swinging the gun barrel—the gun carriage—out over the cliff. When the Koreans saw what we were doing, they started screaming and hollering and piling off. But it was too late. They peeled off one way into the road and we dropped that gun over the side. It went down a couple hundred yards, bouncing and carrying on. The gun was on two rubber tires, and it had two firing part points to the rear. You lifted the spade, as they called them, and that went into the ground to stop the recoil. They had a hitch like you’d hook up a farm wagon of something. We had to clear the road to make way for the Jeep, and there was no place else to put that gun. The Chinese were overrunning the infantry, and we had to clear the road for them.
I went back and pulled my Jeep off to the side, and here was old "Jiving Joe Jackson." That guy had been over there in Korea forever and he would stay there forever. He was a "payday drunk." Every payday the only money he drew was his $8 overseas pay. Everything else was confiscated because he would be court-martialed the day after payday for missing bed check. They didn't see him for two days and then he showed up again. They’d ask him where he’d been and when they found out he had been drunk, they court-martialed him again. He was a real nice likeable fellow otherwise. He came in as a private and I figured that he would go home a private.
I told him to push that damned truck out of there. He said, "Well Sergeant, how far do you want me to push it?" I told him to push it until he came to either a narrow spot or a wide spot in the road. He said, "Okay man." He had a habit of turning his hat backwards like the kids do now, even before it was cool. He had an old fashioned deuce that had a clutch instead of an automatic transmission. He could work that clutch and he could work those gears. About half the time he didn’t have a hold of the steering wheel because they had two gear positions. He would be shifting gears and that truck of his—I tell you, whoever his mechanic was, boy, he knew what he was doing, because away he’d go. He went flying down that road and whacked that old Nissan right in the fanny. He had about a 20-yard run on him and away he went. This one Korean took off running and finally got behind the wheel and started steering it. He put his foot on the brakes and I saw him before they went around the curve where the back tires locked up. I saw black smoke roll out of this deuce and a half, and I knew that old Joe was giving him a ride. You better believe he was pushing him.
We went flying down the road to find where Joe had pushed it. We finally came to a defile that was a little road down through a creek around a bridge that wasn’t good enough to handle the load we were putting on it. We found the truck. Old Joe had pushed that sucker halfway down that crick, and he took off and kept on going.
The Korean commander of the 105s got there and started to send them off to the side of the road up a little trail there. The Americans went straight ahead. I decided to take a break, and while I did, they set up aiming stakes. These were used to put the gun sight on top of the stake to fire at a certain target. The 105s only had a certain amount of power in them. The shell went out and landed at a designated spot up north somewhere.
We were standing there taking a little blow and eating a can of rations. Meanwhile, this little colonel—I guess that’s what his rank was—was in a little ravine there looking at a map. His aide and others were with him. They began to fire their weapons at his command. They must have had 30 to 40 guns down there. These guys were like hub to hub like what you would see in a Civil War movie. The land in Korea was so mountainous that they just didn’t have room to spread them out.
They fired two or three rounds from each gun. We were in a sort of valley between two mountains. To the left was the top of one of the mountains, and a shell hit an incoming Chinese. Then the Colonel talked on the telephone and ordered the men to fire another three to five rounds from each gun. This time they didn’t finish shooting all of them before we heard all this whoosh and whammo. They fired back a whole volley and they hit the top of that mountain. It looked like it took off the whole top. There had been some trees and shrubs and stuff up there, but now you could see everything floating away in the breeze. It took the whole top of that sucker off.
This old Colonel got out there and hollered at those guys again. And boy, they really started shucking her out then. The South Koreans started firing to the north. I don’t know how many rounds they fired. I turned to my corporal and told him that those people up there weren’t dumb. They had to know that there was only one wide spot in the road down here and we had to be somewhere near it. The South Koreans knew that they didn’t do anything to the North Koreans on higher ground except to make them mad. But the North Koreans started to adjust their fire some way or the other and started to search until they could find where all of these cannons were. I told my corporal that I thought we’d better get the hell out of there and he said he thought that was a good idea. I’m telling you, we hopped back into that Jeep and poor old Charlie and my interpreter were almost back in there before I even said anything.
About the time we were getting ready to hit the main drag again, boy, here it came in again. W-h-o-o-m! And you could see another foot come off the top of that hill. We left. They were searching and we knew that they were going to find who was firing up at them. I never saw that outfit again. If and where they bugged out on their own, I have no idea.
Afraid to be a Prisoner
That’s the closest I came to being under intensive fire. I wasn’t afraid of being killed. I was 23 at the time. I was far more afraid of being taken prisoner than I ever was of getting killed. I didn’t know if I could handle it when they started torturing me. It was common knowledge that there had been an episode in a place called the twin tunnels where the enemy took some American guys prisoners. When Americans started to come after them, they tied them all up with barbed wire and took them inside that tunnel and shot them. Now, I know this isn’t torture. But we had heard rumors about what they did to prisoners.
We had talked to people who knew what the North Koreans did to their South Korean prisoners. I sort of acquainted them with the German SS. They were so mean to their South Korean prisoners. I mean, it was just terrifying. When they captured them, they stripped their clothes off. A lot of times they cut their penis off and shoved it in their mouth, gouged out their eyes, cut open their bag, put their eyes in a bag, put their balls in their eye sockets, and wrapped them in barbed wire and rolled them down the hill. They might or might not be dead.
We saw guys like that. Once when we were going back and forth to the line bringing things back off of it, we saw a Korean ambulance that was over in a ditch. The road was narrow, so we had to get that ambulance out of the way for anything else other than a Jeep to get around it. So we stopped. There were about a half a dozen Koreans there trying to push it out. It was down almost to the axle and we just couldn’t get it going. I thought that it acted like it was full. When we opened the back of it, we saw that it was full all right. They had a bunch of South Korean soldiers in there, and they had been wrapped in barbed wire. Some of their eyes had been gouged out. Some of them had been exchanged for enemy prisoners.
It was pathetic. They were dead and this Korean medic and his buddy were so mad. They were just beside themselves. We had to unload those guys and put them on the side of the hill to get it where we could get my Jeep up against it. For some reason or other, they didn’t have four-wheel drive on that ambulance. We pushed it until we got it back on the road, then we had to load the bodies back into it and let them go on down the road.
Both the Chinese and the North Koreans did this. And if they would do this to some guy who was a Private or a PFC in the South Korean Army—I mean, these people are illiterate. They’d have to make a mark for their name, so how in God’s name could they tell any information? Seeing that ambulance with the mutilated bodies upset me a lot.
MP Price Tag
A lot of people didn’t realize it, but the North Koreans and Chinese had a price on American MP’s heads. I didn’t know this until I had been over there a couple of months. A corporal who was an old-timer told me. He had been over there a year or 15 months, something like that.
I said, "What do you mean ‘a price’? Why would they want to put a price on our head?" He told me to stop and think about it. "We run all the convoys through Chunchon up north. How many convoys go down and pick up 105 shells each week and take them up into this area? How much powder do we take up there? How much gasoline do we take up there? How many rations do we take up there? We know if we have taken troops up there. This is invaluable information to an enemy." I told him that there were South Koreans all along the road everywhere. Why didn’t they capture one of them? He said, "We feel that it’s because they think that they can’t get the message back up north. They would have to depend on a line crosser to do that." A line crosser was a guy who sneaked through the lines and took a message to the north to tell them what’s going on, and then sneak back through the line again.
He said that—and this is the part that everybody thought was hilarious—there was a $1,000 price tag on a Military Police officer and $500 on enlisted. But the officers didn’t know diddly squat. They never took convoys up there. They were never out on the road. They were like bean counters. They said, "We need four guys here and six guys there and one over here." They wouldn’t have any idea what was actually happening on the road. MP’s always escorted supplies to their destination.
A lot of things I saw in Korea reminded me of my wife and my son back home. You know – what would my wife do under these conditions. Here in the USA, people have never, never seen a country devastated. I was a fence-maker in Decatur, Illinois and then suddenly I was a vice squad MP in Korea. You can’t toughen yourself up to prepare yourself for what you are about to see. Going through war is just like going through life. You have good days and bad days.
Sometimes if Jake and I caught guys out of a forward company or something, we had to go up there for the court martial. This was their way of getting even with the MPs. They said, "Well, you have to come up here, you MPs, and identify the guy." For instance, if we caught some Private Jones or someone in the house with a jo-san, we had to go up there and identify them.
On the way there, we had to go through their MP checkpoints. Those poor guys who were division MPs. If they screwed up, they put them out on checkpoint. That mean checking the trip ticket of vehicles coming and going. MPs generally worked in twos, so that meant that two guys would be court-martialed at the same time. They dumped them out there at the checkpoint with a pup tent and a bunch of sea rations and that was it. Maybe they were out there only two days and two other MPs then screwed up. Instead of bringing the first two back, they left all four there. Then they needed a mess hall and everything, so maybe they would kick off a squad tent with them. It was really something. That's the way it was with a lot of Division MPs. They kept them on their toes.
Just Plain Dumb
I was never court-martialed. I was too slick. A time or two I thought maybe I was getting close, but I didn't. Generally this was about the time we changed company commanders. I never took orders from them. All of my orders came down from the Provost Marshall because I was assigned to Vice Squad. Every day I was assigned as either a Desk Sergeant or a Turn Key. I did that all the time except for three or four weeks when I was Patrol Supervisor. A Turn Key was like a warden, and it wasn't too bad of a duty.
One day we got a new Lieutenant. He had already been through Headquarters, Dog Company, Baker Company, A Company, and now our battalion. He was just a plain screw up. Whether he was classified as an MP or rifleman, I have no idea. He was fairly new over there, and he was one of those guys who thought he was always right because he had on Second Lieutenant bars. He was arrogant. He was stupid. I mean, I can't say anything good about the kid, because he was just plain dumb and he was never going to learn.
There was a quiet time there in June or something when I was up with the platoon. The only way we could keep anything cool was to dig a little hole in the bottom of our tent floor to make a kind of homemade cooler. There were a few floor boards that we could flip up to get to the ground below. After we dug the hole, we put a box in it and lined it with straw. Then we begged, borrowed, and stole some ice and threw our beer or cold ones or whatever down there to keep them cool.
I went down to the motor pool to get a hammer, but the only hammer I could find was a hammerhead. I had a piece of wood from a tree and was trying to nail it in place on my homemade box when I heard this voice at my elbow saying, "What are you doing?" I didn't even bother to turn around. I just said, "Hell, I'm building a box, can't you tell that?" Suddenly, I heard, "By God, who do you think you're talking to?!" I turned around and there was this Lieutenant. Well, we didn't do saluting when that far north. We might come to attention, but we didn't do any saluting. This chowder head demanded that we salute him. "We're going to do saluting. We're going to do this or that...." And he was going to start with me and make me a big example. He called Sergeant Johnson, the big black dude that I broke in on Vice Squad. He was a whooping and hollering and wanted me to be put up on charges and everything.
Johnson finally got him all calmed down and told him, "You've got to excuse Sergeant Smith. He's been over here a long time. And, we're just not used to saluting up here because there might be guerillas or snipers out there and all. I'll make sure that Smith does so and so...." Then Johnson left and told me what happened. I said, "My God, that guy's going to get somebody shot." Johnson said, "I know, I know." He said that the Lieutenant was just plumb stupid and that we didn't have to salute him, but if he stopped to talk to me, I would have to stand at attention. I wondered what the guide rules were for every time we got a different officer. The Lieutenant didn't like me at all, and he told me that he wanted me to do strictly road patrol and nothing else.
Shortly after that, Johnson got a call from one of the Colonels up there on the line somewhere. The Colonel had asked for me to come up and get his people out of there, so I went up as requested to help them out. When the Lieutenant noticed that two or three trucks were coming down close together and the next two or three were all spread out, he came up to where we were and said that I didn't know what I was doing. He was just looking for an excuse to bust me. Meanwhile, I didn't know who had talked to who last. All I knew was that a Colonel on the front line had put a call in for me to come up, and I did.
The Lieutenant started getting all carried away with the situation, and then the Colonel came by. (I wasn't there when this happened because I was out there in the road helping to get the trucks moving in some sort of timely fashion.) Generally Privates and Corporals directed the traffic and officers of higher rank just stood and watched, but I was sort of a hands-on person, so that time I was doing it myself.
From what I was later told, the Lieutenant started getting real mouthy with Johnson. He said he wanted me pulled off duty and sent back to the platoon. He said he was going to transfer me down to the Company the next day and he was going to have me court-martialed or something. This Colonel stood there for a couple of minutes listening to this guy's carrying on. Then I guess he clouded up and rammed all over this Lieutenant. He told him that they were going to go through Chunchon and asked him if he knew a particular Colonel there. The Lieutenant said, yes, he was the Provost Marshall. The Colonel said, "That's right. He's a personal friend of mine. And I'm going to make it a point to stop and ask for commendation for Sergeant Smith. If I hear anything about anybody wanting to get in Sergeant Smith's face, you're mine. I'll have you transferred into my infantry regiment before sunset." I didn't get a commendation, but I didn't get in any trouble, either.
I was threatened with court-martial another time, too. Being school-trained to be an MP, I knew how to set up a speed trap. The way we had to do it back in the 1950s in Korea was with mirrors. I set up a mirror in one spot, and then I set up another mirror at a given distance from the first one. Then I sat in the middle of the two and waited for traffic. When a Jeep went past, I'd catch a flash of it in the first mirror. Then I hit my stop watch. When I saw the Jeep in the second mirror, I hit the stop watch again. I had a chart that I checked to see how the seconds translated into miles per hour. That way, I could tell if someone was going 27 miles an hour in a 20 mile an hour zone, or whatever. Like the handcuffs, I was the only one in my unit who seemed to have a stop watch, and that was because, at that time, I liked fancy watches.
Speed control was necessary in Korea because if you went real fast down through an area, it caused a cloud of dust and caused people to be concerned as to why you were going in such a hurry. I mean, who gets in a hurry in Korea? I know that I wasn't going to get in any hurry to go anywhere, and neither was some poor old dog face delivering mail. But a messenger with a prime message for an officer might.
One day, I set up a speed trap just outside the 45th School of Standards. They had complained about speeding traffic, and wanted the MPs to put a stop to it. That day, here came down a whole great big convoy. And they came through a ten mile an hour zone running maybe 35-40 miles an hour. I thought, "What in God's name are they doing?" I ran up to the front of the line and got them stopped. I asked who the ranking officer was in the point vehicle. This guy in the back seat said, "By God, I am." I asked him who he was and told him that if he was the commander of the vehicle and the convoy, I wanted to see his AGO card. He said, "By God, I'm not going to show it to you." I told him that we needed to start all over again. "Sir, this is a ten mile an hour zone. You came through there 37 miles an hour. Our Chunchon Area Command said we cannot give you three times, almost four times, over the speed limit. I want to see your AGO card." He refused.
The two of us got more and more heated. I asked him for his rank and his name, but he refused to tell me. I then asked the Lieutenant in the Jeep with him who he was and his rank, but he wouldn't tell me either. His face was getting whiter by the minute. I said, "Well, Lieutenant, you fail to assist a Military Policeman in the line of duty. You also get a DR. Out of the vehicle now!" I jerked the driver out, and he kept looking over at the officer who still refused to give me his name. I had never ran across an officer like that before. When he got out of the Jeep, the officer had no markings on him anywhere. Again, I asked him for his AGO card. That was a card issued by the Adjutant General's Office. It was issued to all officers as a means of identification.
When he continued to refuse to let me see his AGO card, I turned around to the guy who was working the speed trap with me and told him to go inside the School of Standards building, call the Provost Marshall, and tell him exactly what was going on. I told him to tell the Provost Marshall that I wanted him to come out here and take either this officer or his XO into custody. We left the Jeep crossways in the road, and the officer was really angry. He said that I couldn't do that to him because he was so and so. Finally he told me who he was. The upshot of it was that this guy was with the Red Cross. I said, "Pardon me? Are you a Red Cross worker or are you a commissioned officer in the Army of the United States?" I knew that when Red Cross workers were captured, they were suppose to say that they had a rank of either Captain or Major, but the rank was only imaginary for POW purposes. But this guy had started in calling himself Major So and So without being captured by the enemy. I knew I had him when I asked him that question, because if he had said, "Well, I'm a commissioned officer," then I would have had him for impersonating an officer.
Since he was a Red Cross worker, that meant that the officer in charge of the convoy was the Lieutenant. He started telling me that he had to get this unit up on the line. The Red Cross worker kept interfering every two minutes so I finally told him to get over to the side of the road and shut up because he was interfering with my duty. "Right now you're nothing," I told him. "And I can put you under arrest and haul you down to the jail." We could never really figure out what this Red Cross dude's thing was. I guess he just wanted to get up there, so he had told the Lieutenant, "Boy, you do what I do and I'll have you Captain." He basically bamboozled his way over that Lieutenant.
When we finally got everything squared away, I gave the Lieutenant the DR and told him that he was definitely in charge of the convoy. I told the Red Cross worker that he was absolutely nothing and that he was to be quiet and stay in the back of the Jeep. At this point, he threatened me that if anything happened with my family back home, he'd make sure that I was the last guy in Korea who would ever hear about it. This upset me greatly because my son was only about six or seven months old at the time.
As soon as we sent them down the road, I folded up my little mirrors and we went right straight down to the Provost Marshall. I reported to him what had happened and gave him the Red Cross worker's name. They were also assigned some kind of number, if I recall correctly. The Provost Marshall told me to write out a DR on him. "You sit right over there, Sergeant Smith, and write her out." He turned around and got on that phone to the Eighth Army in Pusan. He talked to the Provost Marshall who was in charge of Korea. That Provost Marshall said that he would take care of the matter. He immediately called the headquarters for the Red Cross in Japan. This happened on a Monday and on Wednesday that Red Cross worker had left Korea for Japan and then on to the United States. He didn't have a job any more.
Our Provost Marshall made a special point to ask me to come in and see him on that Wednesday. He said that he just wanted to follow up on that deal with the Red Cross guy. It made me feel good. We had a Colonel who would absolutely not put up with anybody stepping on us. Now, if we were out of line, it didn't make any difference. He would defend us, I do believe, to the death. Then, after all parties had left, he would probably tear us limb from limb because we'd put him in that position.
Rivers & Ammo Trucks
We MPs were called on to help out in all sorts of unexpected ways in Korea. One time we were at a check point north of Chunchon on Highway 1, I believe it was, going up into the Hwachon Reservoir area. There was a river there, but naturally they had blown up the bridge. The engineers had come in and put a wooden bridge over it. The river was a typical Korean river. It was very wide--probably three or four hundred yards wide--but the water wasn't all that deep. Out in the main channel, it was maybe six feet deep, but then the rest of it was like five feet deep or something like that.
I was escorting a convoy up to the artillery area. When we came to that bridge, I thought they were going way too fast. They were loaded with ammo and everything, so you didn't really want to go driving too fast on some of those hills and hollers up there. We had to come around a curve in the mountain. It went maybe 25 or 30 yards if memory serves me correctly, or maybe a little farther than that. We had this sharp 90-degree turn to the left to take us out onto the bridge. Then when we got to the other side, there was another 90-degree turn again to go around that mountain.
You had to watch what you were doing with those old deuce and a halves. I was trying to catch up with the leader of the convoy to slow him down, not just because of the road, but because we had been running ammo up there for two days, and the drivers had not had any rest other than what they could get while they were at the ammo dump and their trucks were being loaded. Once loaded, they'd have to take off and go over and fuel them either before or after they were loaded, then take off with them. So they weren't getting any sleep. I hadn't had any sleep either, but I had a driver with me, as well as a Korean MP because we were operating in a Korean sector.
I was trying to jump around the trucks and get up to the front of them. I was about the fourth or fifth in line. When we came to the bridge, the truck that was two vehicles in front of me made a sharp turn to the left out onto the bridge. He couldn't straighten out and go down the bridge. His wheel just stayed sort of cramped. Most of the drivers had been running that run for the last couple of days and they knew it well. They would swing wide and get out on it. But his wheels were still canted to the left maybe 20 degrees or whatever. When he started out on the bridge, the wheels just kept going left. All we had was a two by four side rail, and that was basically just to guide the guys at night, and he kept it cramped. When he got out about 75 yards on the bridge, his truck hit the left side of it and he just drove off. He turned 180 degrees and the truck landed in the water. It didn't explode and nothing miraculously came out of the truck. It was so odd that none of the boxes of shells or anything came out. They just stayed all packed in the back. Basically, the floor boards and everything stayed up out of the water.
When I saw it happen, I just swung over to the left real quick. Of course, everybody in the convoy saw it too, due to the configuration of the road. They slammed on their brakes. I just backed up off of the bridge and around to the side of it, and started running down the embankment. It was quite a ways down, and my Corporal was with me. He was just sort of stunned with what he saw.
I ran down the hill and there was like a beach area on the bank. I threw off my gun belt and my helmet, and I think I also pulled my notebook and wallet out of my pocket. Then I went into the water after the guy and got out to him. Sometimes I swam and sometimes I walked on the bottom. When I got out to him, he was trapped in the cab. The seat that he was sitting on had come forward and sort of pushed his legs up underneath the dashboard. He was under the water so I pulled him up so he could breathe. He spit and spewed a lot of water, but he was more or less breathing, although he was unconscious.
All those trucks had on them were straps across the door. There was a windshield and a cab over the top, but the doors were off because it was summer. The door was just a canvas web belt with a snap. They snapped it into big eye bolts about an inch and a half in size on the side. In the wintertime they unscrewed them and put the doors back on them for the bad weather.
I kept hollering back to my Corporal to get himself out there because I couldn't pull him out since he was trapped in there. The Corporal came out to me and I told him to hold the guy up. While he held him up out of the water, I went under the water. I had to go around the other side of the truck because when I was first holding him up, I was on the passenger side. When I went underwater, that's when I discovered that the seat had him pinned. So I pulled the seat and got it out of there, then I felt all down the guy's legs. I couldn't see because the water was too muddy. I just figured that he had bad trauma to both legs. I didn't feel any bones sticking out, so I kept maneuvering that leg until I got it free. Then I went down after the other leg and did the same procedure. I made sure there were no bones sticking out, and then I got it free.
When I finished, I told the Corporal to pull him and I would get back under the water and sort of cradle both of his legs and shove him out so that they wouldn't get stuck on the gear shift. There were two gear boxes there. Finally, we maneuvered him out and headed for shore. I got one arm and my Corporal got the other arm. We just sort of floated him back up there, holding his head up and everything. We got him up on the beach so to speak, and the MP that I had on the checkpoint ran inside and grabbed the phone. I knew that he had help on the way. From up above, they threw down a fatigue jacket to me and I got the guy's head up on that. We couldn't see any trauma to him. He wasn't bleeding anywhere. By that time, there were people out of the convoy--truck drivers, their Sergeants, Sergeants First Class, Master Sergeant--whoever they had, to check on their man.
All of a sudden, that kid laying there let out a big scream and sat up. When he sat up, the blood just gushed out of his head. He had a crescent shaped wound right to his temple, sort of right behind the eye where you could sort of feel an indentation there. It went through his skull and you could see the gray matter. It was clear into his brain. It was not only the guy screaming that surprised us. When the blood started gushing out, we wondered where in the world it had come from.
He didn't have a First Aid packet on him because truck drivers didn't wear gun belts. So I pulled my First Aid packet off my belt and I put it up on the guy's head. It was immediately just blood soaked. I mean it was bloody really, really fast. My Corporal did likewise, and we started yelling up to the guys to throw down their First Aid kits so we could stop the flow of blood. The guy was trying to get up and move it around. These two Sergeants out of his outfit sat on both of his legs and my Corporal sat on one arm. I guess somebody else pinned the other arm, and I had his head between my legs. I knelt down on his head and tried to stabilize it and keep it compressed to stop the blood. I must have put three or four compression things on it.
Finally, the bleeding stopped. We were all mystified that this had happened. We had stood around the guy for two or three minutes before he had started to bleed. Another five minutes later, we heard this bird coming. It was a little helicopter that my man had called. It came in and lit beside us. We picked the guy up and put him in one of those wire baskets on the side. He started to wake up again, seemed like he would pass out, then he would want to wake up again. We tried to tie the bandages on him the best way we could. We got his hands and arms underneath the restraining belt and belted him in so he couldn't move.
When the bird started to take off, it couldn't get in the air. The guy's weight on one side of the helicopter made it tilt over on its side. The pilot hollered for rocks. All of us scurried around and started getting rocks out of the river, throwing them in the other basket to equalize the load. I was worried that the bird was going to crash before it could take off. All the bridges over there in our area had an arm sticking out on one side--a two by four or something--so that communication wire could be strung out on it. The copters like he was piloting were notorious for doing a circle as they went up. I don't know whether it was the pilot or just the way they did it. Anyway, I kept pointing up because I was afraid that when he went up his rotor would swing around. I knew that he was thinking of clearing the bridge, but he wasn't clear of these arms with all the wire on them. I thought, "Man, if he gets up in that, he'll never get off the ground."
The pilot looked up at it and signaled acknowledgement to me. He knew what I was pointing at. He started to go up again, and though he was a little unstable at first, he finally got up and took off down the river to take the guy to the hospital. It was my understanding that he took him to the 121 Evac. We had a hospital in Chunchon which was closer--maybe 20 or 30 miles away. In Korea, we went by how long it took to get somewhere, rather than by the mile.
We sort of kept track of the guy. I called the outfit every now and then because they were calling the hospital every day and asking what his condition was. After about a half dozen days, they just started to say, "We don't know." We think they moved him. Whether or not he died, I don't know. I don't remember his name. I had it written down in one of my notebooks, but I just don't recall.
The First Sergeant called me in to his office and wanted to know what had happened out there. He said that they had gotten a report from the trucking company that there had been an accident. He told me that he was going to put me in for a Soldier's Medal. I don't think he ever did, because if he had, I would have been interviewed by somebody, and I never was. It certainly would have been nice if I had been given a medal for it, there's no getting around that. That is a pretty high decoration for a non-combat situation for a guy to get, especially after I heard that one of the guys over in A Company got one because he was on patrol in Seoul and saw some smoke coming out of a house and went and alerted all the people and got them out. He got the Soldier's Medal. All he did was pound on doors and scream and holler. I sort of laughed at that, but that's what can happen in a war.
A Pretty (Muddy) MP
The 25th was part of our sector. We found out later that the 25th Division had what they called the 27th Regiment "Wolfhounds." They were called a fire brigade. That is, every time the enemy punched a hole in the line somewhere, the 27th Regiment Wolfhounds swung in behind and plugged that hole. They kept one regiment on the line, and another in "ready reserve". Within a half an hour's time, the Wolfhounds had to be bagging baggage, in deuce and a halves, and heading off somewhere.
One time I ran across an MP who was a PFC from the 25th. That's a funny story. There was a big mountain between my unit and where my brother-in-law's was or had been. I went over the hill and here was this American MP. And, man, he was beautiful. I mean, he had a polished helmet. You could shave with a crease in his pants. He was clean. He was just right out of a band box.
I told him who I was and where our jurisdiction was. I asked him who he was and how far his guys were coming east. So far as he knew, he was the last American MP and pointed up the trail to what was his jurisdiction. While we were talking, this Jeep came flying down the road and came skidding to a halt. Boy, I'm telling you it was all polished up. It shined like a diamond. Then a Lieutenant got out of the thing, and he was twice as pretty as the MP who was a PFC. He stomped his feet so his cuff just perfectly bloused. I could just see what he was thinking. "I'm three days out of OCS, and I'm God." He reminded me of that just plain dumb lieutenant we had back in our platoon.
We came over to where we were standing and he snapped to attention and so did this PFC. They exchanged salutes. I came to attention, but I didn't salute him. He looked at me out of the corner of his eye, inspecting me up and down like he was inspecting the PFC. He looked at the bumpers on my Jeep to see what outfit I was out of. I always made it a habit of taking my MP helmet up in the 25th area, but it had no identification that anyone could see. I always dragged my helmet through the first mud puddle I came to. I wanted to get mud up on the top of it because that big old wide MP up there was just too good a target for the enemy.
I was basically clean when I started out the day. But when I got off patrol, I was filthy. I mean, the dust was terrible. I was muddy, cruddy, and everything else. So I went into our gravity feed shower with all of my clothes on when I got off duty. I just started washing stuff and setting it out here and there. When I walked out of the shower, I was naked. I'd put my boots back on and walk up to the tent with my .45 on my shoulder.
Anyway, this Lieutenant looked me up and down. You could see him building himself up. I wondered, "What's he going to tell me and how is he going to tell me?" He go a big old chest full of air, and got his finger up about a foot from my nose. Suddenly, I heard whistling. Boy, I could hear it coming. He got a look on his face like, "What's that noise?" I could tell that he was hearing something, but he didn't know what he was hearing. I knew. That PFC did, too. But I guess the other guy had been out of the impact area for so long that he just didn't realize where we were. The enemy could get us.
I turned around and I dove. I went right square in that ditch, mud, and all that sort of stuff. The PFC dove too. So did the Lieutenant. We were all down there in the ditch. That round went way over us, thank God. But it was low when it was coming down. It didn't have a high arching. It was flat when it came over that mountain. It was looking for a place to land. It came down a football field past us, and W-H-O-P-P-O! It blew up out in the middle of nowhere. It didn't hurt a soul, but it scared us all half to death.
The whole ditch had mud in it, so when I got out it, I had mud all over myself. The Lieutenant looked down at himself, and he was covered with mud, too. I tell you, the Good Lord took care of me that day. It was just like something out of a movie. As soon as that Lieutenant got puffed up and got his finger in the air, here it came. It deflated him. He looked just like a thunderstruck little kid. Like, "My toy broke." He looked down and saw the mud all over him. His pretty polished helmet wasn't pretty anymore. When he had his nose down in the ditch, his helmet had flipped forward and got mud all up over the MP thing. And when he came out of the ditch, instead of rolling out of it and getting up to where it was dry, he got his hands and knees in the mud. The PFC and I rolled out of it, but not the Lieutenant. When he stood up, he tried to get the mud out between his fingers and his once-pretty clothes.
We never did know where the round came from. I can't figure it out. I don't think it was ours, but it could have been. Ours were the only ones that could have reached us, but it came out of the north. And I don't think that the Chinese had a gun that close with a shell as big as that one was. Maybe somebody just got their aiming stakes wrong. I don't know what they did, but it came the wrong way and got down to where we were.
I told the now-muddy Lieutenant that I had already briefed the PFC on our jurisdiction and he had briefed me on theirs. I explained that we pulled our patrols in when it got dark. Charlie owned the day, but Joe Chang owned those roads after dark. I said, "It's getting dark for necktie Charlie, so if you need to, call us. See you." He was just sort of looking at me, nodding his head. I tell you, it was the funniest things I ever saw while I was in Korea.
Another Bad Experience
We had one other bad experience up there, too. We went up and over the trail the next night, and when we got up there we had what we called the "goat trail" that ran north up into the MLR. This one particular night, it was about 7:30 or 8:00 when we got there. I don't know if you've ever been in the mountains or not, but if you have, you know that one minute it's daylight and five minutes later the sun is behind the mountain and it's suddenly dark.
There were two MPs there out of the 25th. We pulled up, introduced ourselves, and started talking to them. We sat there and smoked a cigarette with them. I looked down at my watch and it was a few minutes after eight. I said, "Well, gang. We're going to pull it in, because the Chinese own this road after dark. I know you guys are new up here, but I want to tell you right now, don't come up this far again unless it's daylight." They wanted to know how come. I said, "Well, hell. They've got guerillas all down through here. They've been infiltrating. We've been picking them up ten or twelve miles south of this road, so we know they're in here. They're everywhere." There were four well-armed people in my Jeep, so they were not likely to take a shot at us. But they would shoot at just the two of them.
I told them that it was going to be dark in another ten minutes, so they'd better leave now. I explained that the sun would drop real quick behind that mountain, and then it would be dark. That's when the Chinese liked to come out and do their mischief. The guy said, "Well, we're going to finish up this cigarette." I told him that we were going to leave now. "When that sun goes down, they're going to have to shoot at somebody running." They sort of laughed and we left. We got back that night about 11:30. At 12 o'clock, I got a phone call asking me if I had seen any road patrol MPs from the 25th Division. I told them where I had seen them. They asked me what they were doing when I left. I said that they were sitting there smoking a cigarette and that I had told them at that time that it would be dark within 10 or 15 minutes and that they had better get their fanny out of there.
I got the call because they hadn't come back from their patrol. When I said that wasn't good, he asked me if I thought they ought to go out and look for them. I said, "That's up to you. But if I were you, I would fall out the whole damn platoon and go up there in two or three deuces to do that." He said that they didn't have that many people. I told him that we wouldn't do it because all we had was a small platoon. I said that if they hadn't come back yet, something had happened to them. It would get daylight a little after 5 a.m. I told them that I would hop in my Jeep with a couple of guys and start heading west over to them in the morning.
About 5 or 6 o'clock in the morning we got back up there on the goat trail. There were two or three Jeeps of MPs, officers, and all of that stuff. When I got there, I spoke to the Sergeant and asked him what he had found. He pointed down a ravine about 75 yards away. They were waiting on a deuce to come up with a winch on the front. There in the ravine was the MPs' Jeep. It was all shot up, but there were no bodies. There wasn't much blood inside of it, either. The best we could come up with was that the Chinese shot them, dragged them out of their vehicle, and perhaps shot them in the arm or leg or something. They had to be right up on them. We think that they must still have been alive and were taken prisoner. No trace of them was ever found. The enemy left the Jeep behind because they were traveling north. There was no way in the world to get that Jeep up north. For the sake of a cigarette, that's what happened to them.
The last ten days up there before the end of the war were pretty harrowing. That’s when we were up on that path with the Second ROK. Things were pretty hot and heavy. When we went to get the 155’s out, there were a lot of walking wounded coming down the road off the line and going through the American gun positions. We were especially watchful of the Koreans because we didn’t know if they were North or South Koreans. Some of them had weapons. Some of them didn’t.
Now here came a Lieutenant. I think he was in the South Korean Army. He had his arm in a big bandage and had a big old signet medal pinned on the front of it. Most of the officers could speak a little English. A Major hollered at him and asked him what was going on up there. The longer this American officer kept talking to this Korean, the more excited this Korean got. Pretty soon he was waving this supposedly injured arm that had blood stains on it and First Aid packet and all that stuff. This sergeant looked at it and sort of looked at me and looked back at it. Pretty soon this officer just reached out and grabbed that bandage and jerked it off of him. There wasn’t anything wrong with that guy’s arm.
He wasn’t North Korean, he was South Korean. He was bugging out—leaving his people whether he was an officer or not. When he did that, this officer started cussing him, and you could see the fear come up in this South Korean’s eyes. He took off running. This sergeant looked over at that officer and the others just sort of nodded and turned around. The sergeant just pulled out a .45 and shot him.
I guess it was just the shock of it that makes me so emotional when I think about it even this many years later. It was just one of many things that shocked me while I was in Korea. You can’t really point at this and say that really shocked me or this really shocked me.
At any rate, we just pulled the body off to the side of the road and the South Koreans started walking past while all this was going on. They didn’t do anything. They just kept on choagying down the road. Did I think it was fair for the officer to shoot the deserter? Hell yes, it was right. We were over there a long way from home fighting and here was this guy bugging out. He was an officer. He should have stayed. He should have taken care of his people. And by damn he deserved what he got. My interpreter’s eyes got real big, but he never said anything. Everyone knew that what had just happened was right in times of war.
Going down this mountain, the interpreter started saying, "Sargie, Sargie!" I turned around and looked and this fun-loving driver of a self-propelled gun had come right up behind my Jeep with his cannon sticking right behind me. I sort of turned around and said, "What the hell are you doing?" We were only going like 20-miles an hour because you couldn’t do the curves at any speed. In the United States, most American roads had to adhere to some sort of guideline for grades. In Korea, they didn’t. Their roads were steeper and they were more narrow, and they were just over to the side of the cliff. The mountain was one side and the cliff was on the other. The cliff dropped down into a creek or river below.
Injured on Purpose
We saw one Korean who was leaning on an M-1 rifle. He was injured and trying to walk back. We threw him in the Jeep and took him down to the Korean medics. It was during the day. The South Korean medics went inside this tent and when we tried to help get this guy on a stretcher, they just kicked this one guy out in the floor. It was kind of dark in the tent, but when I looked again, I saw a different uniform. It was Chinese. They kicked him on the floor and put this guy in the racks where the Chinese guy had been. I was surprised that they had the South Korean and the Chinese in the same tent.
Later that afternoon, we were going down the road when we came across a little South Korean who we had seen up on top of a truck holding his hand. He was just sitting alongside of the road. We asked him if he wanted to go to the medics. He was out of gas, so he said yes. We put him in the back of the Jeep and that’s when I got to looking at him. His right hand had been blown off and he had a great big old bandage that he was holding on it. We took him down to the medics and they sort of pre-op'ed trying to get him squared away to see what they could do for him. They also picked up the guy who had a bad foot and took him in the operating room. We thought, "Well, my Lord. It’s been eight to ten hours since we brought him in here and they’re just now going to work on him."
Apparently the South Koreans thought it was too hot to operate. And it was hot. They brought him in and threw him on the table and got their tools out. This one scalpel had a hook on it about like a boning knife. The doctor stuck it in his patient's laces. They were wearing tennis shoes. He cut it open and took his shoe off—no pain killer, no nothing. He just threw the boot over in the corner. He took that same scalpel, went up in there, cut his sock off, and threw it over in the corner, too. We could see from looking in the window. We weren’t but five or eight feet away. There was a telltale hole in the top of his foot. And the bottom of it was telltale because the guy, when he shot himself in the foot, was standing on that foot. Well, when the bullet went through, it then hit the ground or rock—whatever he had it on—and then all of the power went back up and drove part of that shoe back up into him. He had a place covering the whole bottom of his foot.
They took care of the one with the foot injury before the one with the hand injury. I don’t think they had two or three operating tables in there. They were just starting, and this was the first one they came to. After they did that, this guy was whooping and hollering and carrying on. Then this medic took the Linoleum knife and reached over into the hole in the top of his foot and just hooked it in there, jerked it down, and opened him up like from there down in between his big toe and little toe or the toe next to it.
He did this because of what he had done. The guy was screaming and hollering and trying to get off the table, and the medics came over. They were all sort of laughing you know. And we’re thinking, "My God, what are these people doing?" They got out a hypodermic needle and just went over and shot him in the arm with it right through his uniform. They didn’t roll his sleeve up or anything.
When we were getting this little guy that had his hand blew off out of the Jeep, that is when we basically realized that he had his hand shot off. He had a pin with the tiger’s head on it symbolizing the Capitol Division. He pulled it out and gave it to me. I was surprised, but that was the only thing the man had to give me to thank me. I’m sure he got taken care of, but we could only stay long enough to maybe steal gasoline off of them or grab some rations or something and then leave again.
We lived in a tent with a wooden floor at Chunchon. We heated it with an oil stove. We made a little square about three foot by three foot with sand in it, then put the stove in it. There was brick or something in the bottom of the stove. Oil dripped on the brick and then it burned.
We went through four Company Commanders while I was there. They rotated out for whatever reason. We ended up with this one Company Commander, and he was a real clown. He said that they had a big shortage of fuel over in Korea, and they needed that diesel fuel that we were dripping in the stove. He said they needed it for trucks and tanks and all this business. So at nighttime we had to turn our thermostat back to two. Well, when you turned it back on two, that stuff dripped in there and barely burn. It sooted up the stove pipe and didn't put out enough heat.
It was really cold. Where I was in Korea in January, it got down to 16 below zero, and the wind blew and blew and blew. Some of the smart folks learned to loosen the screw on the top of the thermostat and move the indicator needle two notches higher than it really was. Then they redid the screw and turned the thermostat back to two as the commander had ordered. The captain didn't realize what we were doing. He just came in and checked to see if the thermostat was set on high or low. But we could tell whenever one was turned up because it started burning the soot out.
It was so cold that I asked my mother to send me a scarf. She knitted me a bright Kelly green scarf and I've still got it. In January I also got a box of crumbs as a Christmas present from her.
There were a lot of rats in Korea, and we devised our own methods to get rid of them. I talked to one of the guys who was in the Line Company about what to do. He told me that after they ate their sea rations, they cut the bottom out of the can and made a sort of cylinder, crimping both ends. Then they put some ethylene glycol in it-which is antifreeze. They put the can down in the "rat run" and the rats walked through it and got the ethylene glycol on their feet. Then they licked their feet and in a sense poisoned themselves.
The military police had an important role in Korea. Years after the war, I talked to a tanker who had been in Korea in the early 1950s as part of the 24th or 25th Division. A bunch of guys were all sitting around one day swapping war stories and he was kidding me. He asked me why I didn't have any war stories to tell, and I told him that I didn't know how in the world I could compete with him. I said, "You've had three tanks shot out from underneath you. There's Scooter Burke over there, recipient of the Medal of Honor. This guy here's got two or three Purple Hearts. I can't really compete with you people. I was just an MP."
He said, "Let me tell you something. I would rather have been a tanker and had all those tanks shot out from underneath me before I would have ever wanted to be a Military Policeman." I told him that he was just saying that because he wanted me to buy a round of drinks or something. But he said, "No. I am very, very serious about this. When the Chinese started overrunning us when they first came in the war the last part of October 1950, we were trying to get out of the mountains. Every time we came to a crossroad, we saw dead MPs." He said the reason they were dead was that it was sometimes 20 to 40 degrees below zero. If they built a fire to stay warm, the Chinese could see them, sneak up on them, and shoot them. And if they didn't build a fire, they froze to death. He said, "I wouldn't have had your job for all the tea in China." A couple of other guys said Amen to that. There's nothing worse than having one guy or two guys out in the middle of nowhere, where you don't know friend or foe. You don't know where help is or anything.
I remember one time that we got the 155s back and I helped set them up on the road basically just down a little way from where we had an MP checkpoint. We had to dig in and sandbag our checkpoint, because if our guns could shoot and hit the enemy, then their guns could shoot and hit us, too. I told this one MP that he'd better dig in. Well, he was a goof off and didn't dig a hole deep enough. He just dug it down about two feet or so, and then stuck sandbags around it to where the next MP on duty would be all right if he lay down flat. He went off duty and the next guy came on.
That night I was sacked out because I was dead tired. They started in shelling down in the area of our checkpoint. The CQ woke me and said that I was going to have to go down to the checkpoint. We had received a call from the MP on duty saying that something was going wrong down there. I hopped in the Jeep and took off down there. Our guns were firing pretty good. I got two or three hundred yards from where the checkpoint was and pulled off to the side of the road. I started walking down the road the rest of the way to the checkpoint. The MP who was supposed to be on duty in the little shed that we had made for a checkpoint wasn't there. I started looking all around, hollering his name. I didn't know what the hell had happened to him.
Suddenly, I heard this voice saying, "Help me." I went back to where there was a whistle in the road. That was a culvert or a tile about two feet in length or something like that. He was in it, and I didn't blame him in the least. When he had called in, he sounded like he was holding off 47 Chinamen and really needed help. I told him that he had to stay on his post, but we went down to the checkpoint and got his field phone and everything. We dragged it back to the whistle and I told him to report in every half hour or so, so we knew he was still alive and awake. I told him not to get too excited about being on the checkpoint by himself, because there were Americans out there a couple hundred yards. "If somebody comes sneaking around," I told him, "you run like hell up there to those Americans and they'll help you." This is something funny about Korea that I remember, although I'm sure it wasn't funny to him at the time.
Samurai Swords & Such
I remember the day of the cease fire. They radioed up to our platoon and told us that it would be in effect at 2200 hours that night. We went down to where the 155s were set up, and asked them if they knew about it. They did. But they had been firing a lot of rounds. Lots of them. Each side was trying to expend all the ammo they possibly could, so they were firing continually. When it got dark that night, Lord, you could read a newspaper because the sky was continually lit up with artillery. About three or four minutes before 10:00 clock (2200 hours), there was a pause. That was sort of the cannonneers' way of saying goodnight. And then they all fired their guns at 2200 hours. I mean, the whole earth just trembled and the sky lit up about as bright as it is in this room. They fired off their last salvo. Then they didn't do any more firing.
The cease fire was official, but the North Koreans and Chinese continued firing at us that night. Some in different sectors petered out. They stopped firing. But some continued firing. Some stopped and then they'd start again. By about 12:00 or 1:00 in the morning, however, they were down. They weren't firing any more artillery. We were close enough that we could listen and still hear small arms fire on the other side of the hill.
The next morning, the engineers came up to string barbed wire and put up signs saying that this was the south line of the demarcation line. We helped them string some of the wire. We put up a portable road block going back into some old firing batteries of the 155s. About an hour or two after that, some medics came up. They wanted to know if it was okay to go up in through the old firing batteries. I asked them why. They said there were some artillery people missing, and they didn't know if they were hurt up there or what. They were "kimchee soldiers" and they wanted to go up through there and check everything. I said okay, even though it was strictly forbidden. We were given orders not to go up in there, but I was with medics who were on a mission.
We went up there and got into some of the old bunkers where some of the South Koreans had been. We came across a couple of Chinese who were both laying splattered out on the ground. One of them had a Japanese Samurai sword. When he went down, it went out from him about 6 or 7 feet. I looked at it and all my smarts went clear out the window. Nobody was home in my brain. These two dead Chinese could have been booby trapped, but they weren't. The Good Lord was with us.
This one medic saw it at the same time I did. We both made a great big jump for it, but I won. I got the Samurai sword. The medic grumbled and I kidded him--ha ha, I got it. The two Chinese were probably killed the day before and they hadn't started smelling yet, so I rolled over the other one and found that he had an American dagger in his belt. It had apparently gone full circle. Some American died over there and that Chinaman got it off of him. I got it back.
More Time in Korea
I stayed in Korea for about two more months. We continued to run road patrols and check around. We set up patrols through there at our checkpoints, so they were like listening posts to try to catch people sneaking down south. They did sneak down, too. We knew it because we caught one down at the river where we had a checkpoint about 15 miles below us. Occasionally the Korean rifle companies north of us caught a few infiltrators. I was up in the Second ROK area at this time. It was in the Hwachon Reservoir area. The only Americans there at the time were American artillery and MPs.
I don't remember if I got a chance to write my wife or call her or what to tell her that I was coming home. I returned home on the Marine Lynx or Marine Serpent, one or the other. It was a regular Navy ship, with a lot better chow. I got seasick again on the return trip.
We pulled right back into Camp Stoneman, California. The same port everybody had left from so many months earlier. We laughed saying, "There's that poor old redheaded singer out there, singing the same old songs at the dock." There was a crowd waiting for us, but the crowd belonged to every sailor on that boat. They ran a list in the San Francisco paper or something, telling who was landing and from what town. Maybe one or two Army kids had their parents waiting for them at the dock, but the rest were families of swabbies. We thought, "Man, ain't this great? There's nobody here to meet us and we've been gone for months. But these swabbies, they've been out of sight of San Francisco for maybe 31 days over and coming back, and they've got somebody to meet them."
We were put on buses and then they drove through town. A lot of guys had not seen a white woman in anywhere from 12 to 15 or 18 months, so there were whistles and cat calls to all the lovely ladies in San Francisco. They immediately turned their noses up at these guys. We went on up to Stoneman, and everybody got in lines. A's up there. Z's back there. Being Smith, I was way back there. They brought in two troop trains and loaded us on them. They put this person and that person in charge of the troop train. There was to be no smoking. No gambling. No drinking. No carousing. No women. No nothing. And we said, "Yes, Sir. Yes, Sir. Yes, Sir. No, Sir."
We were going to Denver, Colorado, but they took the weirdest route I ever saw. The first thing they did was turn south. We got in the middle of the desert somewhere and pulled in to get water. No sooner had that train stopped, then every window that could go up had a GI coming out of it. Every door that could open, a GI went out of it. They could see these flashing neon lights off in the distance. And, of course, most guys weren't out of shape yet. They could still take off and run a half mile or mile and pull out. I had gained about 20 pounds after the war was over, but as soon as I got aboard that ship, I lost it. I was back down to around 170 and back where I could run.
We ran over there into this town. All those yahoo cowboys wondered, "What in the world is this?" We asked them for a shot of whiskey -- give me a beer. I said I wanted a fifth of whiskey and asked how much. When he said four dollars or something, I said, "God. That much?" He said, "Where are you from, Son?" I told him that we had just got off a ship from Korea and that now we were on a troop train way the hell over there in the boonies. When he learned that I had just got home from Korea, he told me to give him a couple of bucks. Everybody started getting a fifth of whiskey. Then we headed back to the train. When we got there, here was this Lieutenant or Captain or whatever he was. He was running around like crazy because he had lost half of his train. We sneaked back onboard and by the next day, of course, every bottle was empty. Everybody had been thirsty. But this Lieutenant couldn't catch anybody drinking.
All of a sudden, we were by a town in New Mexico with the name of Brance or something. Like I said, it was the dumbest route I had ever been on. We were out there in the middle of nowhere again, so we all hopped out and ran over to the town. We got our booze again and we were ready to leave. Some of these guys said that, since it was broad daylight, the Lieutenant was going to nail us. I said, "Now you've got to out-think him. Where are you going to hide your booze?" One said he was going to stick it in his bloused boots, but I told him that was the first place the Lieutenant would look. When they asked me where I was going to put mine, I said, "Watch." I loosened my tie collar, slid the bottle down my back, fastened my tie, and then said, "Here we go." I bought a bottle of Coke and we went back to the train. The Lieutenant was chewing everybody up one side and down the other. "I told you not to get off the train. We're going to court martial a whole lot of you."
When he asked me what I was drinking, I said, "Coca Cola. They ran out of it on the train, I'm not kidding you, Lieutenant. Take a sip of that. It's nothing but straight Coca-Cola." He smelled it. He looked at some of these other guys, and they all had bottles of 7-Up or grape juice, or whatever. He looked at us guys like we were lying. I asked if it was okay to get back on the train, but he said, "Wait a minute, boy." He reached down and started grabbing on my bloused boots and pants, and then when he didn't find anything, he told me to go ahead and get on. He didn't find one bottle on anyone getting back onboard. We all sat down and the train started moving again. Then each of us reached behind us, got out our fifth of whiskey, and opened it up. Old Sam the porter came with cups and more Coca Cola. We sat there sipping on it. I was right inside the door. I poured myself a healthy shot of whiskey, and just when I started to tip it up, I saw that Lieutenant standing there looking at me. He said, "Sergeant, I knew you had that whiskey. I knew you had it. I just don't know where you had it." I told him that I knew he could keep a secret. "Have a slug and I'll tell you where it was." He grabbed a cup, poured himself a slug, and then said, "Now just where the hell did you have that whiskey?"
It was a celebration on that train. We were happy about everything. Happy the war was over. Happy we were back in the States. We could start letting down like we couldn't do when we were over there in Korea. You couldn't really let down on board the ship coming home, either. I mean, there was a time when everybody was sleeping because we had good chow, but every now and then guys started screaming and hollering in their sleep: "They're coming! They're coming! Incoming! They're inside the trenches." They were still thinking about their war experiences. It was never that far away from their minds. On the train, we were still nervous. We were still jumpy. But we were starting to unwind.
Back with Family
All the way along the route, they gave us rations. Once in Colorado, we went to Denver and Fort Carson. There, they fed us some good chow. We were told to form up again in our A through Z lines. We stayed in line because all you would be doing would be hurting yourself if you didn't. We were processed to go home in alphabetical order. Those of us at the end of the processing were given a three-day pass. My buds and I got one of the cabbies and took off for Denver. When I got there, I called my wife and family. She was staying with her folks. We talked for quite a while, and I told her that it would be another week at least before I could get home. It was an emotional phone call. The last time I had talked to her was when I was on R&R the first part of May in Japan.
Even though we were back in the States and due to be discharged, we were still nervous. We wondered if the war would start up all over again before we could get our discharge. We couldn't trust them. If the war started up again, would they load us right back up and take us back over there? But everything went fine and I finally got to go home. I took a plane to Decatur.
My homecoming was an odd sensation. When I left there, my son was just fresh out of his mother's womb. When I got home, there he was running all around the front yard. I had missed a lot of being his father. And he didn't like me. Everybody was gushing over this man that he didn't know. If he started crying, why, everybody didn't immediately jump up and run to him. He didn't like that. Still, he did let me hold him. Before we could clear Fort Carson to come home, we were required to put our ribbons on. I still had my ribbons on when I got home, so my son liked it when I held him because he could play with them. He was 14 months old and I was a new experience for him.
Being in Korea had changed me. I felt there were some people I could trust, but others I couldn't. I had to be around strangers for a little bit before I could have a relationship with them. Everything just seemed different. The people I knew were just dying to ask me what I did over in Korea. I thought to myself, "How in the world am I going to answer?" I was interviewed by a reporter who wanted to know why I was always smiling in the pictures that I sent home from Korea. He wanted to know, "Weren't you ever tired or grumpy?" I told him that my family had enough to worry about with me just plain being over there. I was not about to have my picture taken with a sourpuss look on my face and have them worry, "Why is Bill looking sad?" So I never took a picture unless I was smiling.
No Bragging Rights
I never talked much about Korea through the years. The people here in the States fall into two categories: those who had been there/done that, and those that wouldn't have the slightest idea what the hell you were talking about. I could talk to the guys who had been there--ask them where were they, when were they. We could stop and remember this and that together.
I met up with one of my buddies out of the 728th one time. He was with me in the 2nd ROK area. I asked him what he remembered about being in the same platoon with me over there. He said, "You know what I remember? I remember you. Because I thought that if anybody got shot in our outfit, it would probably be you. You were always getting up close to the front line. You were always way up ahead. Nobody else went up that far north. Nobody else always nosed around. Nobody else would go up there and bug those people out."
If you ask me did I appreciate the States more when I got back home, the answer is yes. My God, yeah. But some things bothered me. For instance, one of the first things I did was join the VFW like my brother and father had done. I was sitting up there at the bar and this guy came in. I didn't know him, but he started talking to me. He wanted to know how old I was and what qualified me to be a member of the VFW. I told him that I had just got back from Korea. You could see a sort of mystified look on his face. I said, "Yeah, you know. Where it gets real cold." He looked at me and said, "If you want to talk about cold, let me tell you where I was at. I was up in the Aleutians." He took off talking about fighting the Japs and that was it. That seemed to be the mentality of everybody I talked to in 1953.
It seemed like, for most people, the only big significant battle in Korea was up in the Chosin Reservoir. But when it came to World War II, they knew all about the Battle of the Bulge, Casino, the different passes, Normandy, the crossing of the Rhine. They said, "Me and three of my brothers were over there. One of them was down in the Pacific. He fought on Guadalcanal." They knew all those places. But when I talked about the Inchon landing, they looked at me and maybe said, "What island was that?" The Korean War veterans explained that it wasn't an island. It was over on the west coast of Korea right outside of Seoul. Then they said, "What were you doing over there? Was that when the Japs surrendered?" They knew absolutely nothing about Korea. We had no general who was real famous who said, "Nuts" when the Germans surrendered. People had no concept of where we were. They couldn't pronounce the words. They didn't know where the hell the country was. They didn't know why we were there.
Even the guys who had been in Korea didn't know where they were at, for the simple reason that they couldn't pronounce the names of the towns they went through. You couldn't spell them, either. You couldn't nothing. Things were different for World War II veterans. A lot of them could speak German or Italian. They sent a lot of Indians off the reservation into the islands for code talkers. And, you know, the towns--you could spell them. You could look on a map and find them. Our guys--the Korean War veterans--they had to go to the National Geographic to get maps. And the Korean language is awful difficult to pronounce, whereas you can easily pronounce "Rhine River." In Korea, the rivers were "Han" or "Naktong" and others with real long names.
Through the years, nobody has cared enough about Korean War veterans to make sure the history books that mention it are written accurately -- or if there is anything about us at all in them. I was very disappointed and I had to bite my tongue when this guy over in Decatur who is supposed to be the great guru historian of Decatur thought that it was more important to tell about the First National Bank adding the 12 by 15 room onto their bank instead of about 300 or 400 guardsmen leaving for Korea. And that was just what was left. The rest of us had already left for active duty.
Nobody cared when nobody went down to the train to see them off to war, other than their immediate families. Leaving for Korea was just a big joke. And when we came home, veterans of World War II said, "Been there. Done that." So you couldn't really come home and brag that you'd done this or done that in Korea, because no matter who you talked to it was, "Yeah, I know. I did that too." And, "Oh you got a Bronze Star? Well, that's great. I got two Silver Stars." We didn't have bragging rights on anything. It was just sort of like being the younger brother. No matter what you did, you were never first in anything.
They didn't mobilize the nation for us--not like they did during World War II. They didn't have big bond drives like they had during World War I and II. Mothers didn't put stars up in their windows. They didn't mobilize a lot of draftees. They decided that they would have no more than six divisions in Korea. If they had eight divisions, they rotated two out and put two in. It was just a sort of a joke.
My family knows what I did. That's basically okay with me. I have a son and a daughter. Melody turns 42 tomorrow. She was born in 1954. Every now and then I might say something to my son about the war, but I don't think my daughter would want to hear about it. I think my son is curious from a man's point of view. A lot of times I make light of the war, too. If I'm with some of my buddies kidding around and somebody does or says something stupid pertaining to the Army, I'll look at one of my buds and say, "And what did you do during the great war, Daddy?" Stuff like that.
But I think that the United States' presence in Korea made a difference and made this world a better place for my son and daughter. I remember that I'd been home a week or two and we were living with my parents until we could get our own place. My brother came over. He had been in World War II; my father had been in World War I; and I had been in Korea. The three of us sat down together all by ourselves and my dad asked me what I thought of Korea. I said, "Dad, it stunk to high heaven. From 20 miles at sea you could smell it." Then he said, "Well, France stunk an awful lot, too." And my brother said that England didn't stink too bad.
My dad sort of laughed and said that I had gotten home pretty quick after the war was over. He asked me if the Koreans had thrown me out of the country. I told him that, actually, they didn't want us to leave. He was surprised and my brother said, "Boy. That's different." When I asked him what he meant, my dad told me a little anecdote. He said that after the armistice was signed, up until that time when they rotated guys off the line in France, they would walk back about a half mile or mile out of the impact area and there would be a string of cabs waiting along the road. They'd hop in them and go to the nearest town and drink beer, wine, or whatever. Then they'd bring them back.
Dad said the day after the 12th of November, the boys got their passes and ran out to the road as usual. There were no cabs. They walked about a mile, but still no cabs. Another mile. Still no cabs. Another mile. another mile. Another mile. Finally, they got back to the town and there were all these cabs out there parked in a circle all around the town square. The guys were pretty upset so they asked the French cabbies why they weren't up there at the little crossroad waiting to meet them and bring them to town. The Frenchmen promptly told them, "Hey. The war's over. Americans go home." That was quite a shock. They just couldn't believe it because those people had been our tried and true friends two days before that. Now they wouldn't even drive up there to pick them up to go down and get a beer.
My brother started laughing. He said it was the same damn way in England, where he was billeted during World War II. He was with the daylight bombers. When they got off the mission, they went to the English pubs and drank beer at night. After the war was over, they walked into these same pubs. The bartender was looking out the window, and there was nobody else in the place. The guys said, "Hey, how about a beer down here?" The bartender replied, "Just hold your bloody self. I'll get there when I can." My brother said, "We asked him, what the hell's the matter with you people?" The reply was, "Why should I bust my ass to get down there to you? You Yanks are all the same--overpaid, oversexed, over here. You can get the hell out any time you want to." Bob said, "My God. We'd just stopped bombing their enemy three days before that. The Russians were in Berlin trying to find Hitler's bunker. There wasn't really an official cease fire, but there wasn't anything left to bomb. So we just sat. We couldn't understand it. There was still a war going on in the South Pacific, but those blimeys could have cared less."
I said, "Boy, it wasn't that way in Korea." My God, no it wasn't. I mean, those Koreans kept saying, "No go home. No go home. You stay here. You go home, North Korean, Chinese, they come back. They come right back. No go home." Those people had been so nice to us for no more than what they had to offer. A lot of time you would see a mama-san with a little kid maybe six, eight, or ten months old. You'd think, "My God. If somebody marched through my country, how would my wife cope with it?" I said I was pleased that those people coped with it. We all got along reasonably well. They just genuinely liked us and didn't want us to go home.
Reflections on the War
I think that the United Nations accomplished what it wanted to over there, but I also know that when you fight a UN battle, the problem is that you have to fight with the UN rules. Those rules of engagement are that Country A invades Country B. You are to go over and go into Country B and push Country A out, set up the old boundaries, and make sure that Country A cannot get back in. This is what we did, but now you still have the same people over there that are doing the same thing. Sooner or later, we'll have to go over there and shoot them again. Because those people are different. We do not understand Orientals. Harry Truman was so stupid. Everybody said, "Oh, he's a great President."
In September when we broke out of the perimeter down in Pusan and started going north, MacArthur went into Inchon and Seoul and took it. Everybody started north. The communist Chinese went to India and their diplomatic embassy and told the United Nations that they would never allow a foreign power to be on their border. Well, Harry Truman had no idea what in the hell they were talking about, and he would not ask them what they were talking about. He didn't want to lower himself down to that level of asking a question. So we kept running north. We got up to the 38th parallel. Harry Truman didn't have the guts to say anything to MacArthur--to give him guidelines to do this or that. Harry Truman told him to do what he had to do to protect his soldiers and stabilize the line.
MacArthur was an opportunist. He decided that as long as there was enemy out in front, his soldiers were in danger. So he crossed over the 38th, and he went in direct pursuit of the North Koreans. The Chinese again went to the Indian embassy and said that they would not stand for a foreign country to be on its borders or shores. The Indians promptly told Harry Truman again, but he still did not understand. Four or five days later, the Chinese said the same thing. But Truman still didn't decipher the problem. He called up MacArthur and told him what happened.
MacArthur said that they didn't see anybody mobilizing anybody anywhere anytime. He told General Walker, who was in command of the Tenth Corps, what Truman had said. Walker said, "Who's afraid of a bunch of so and so Chinese laundrymen?" That was his answer, and, of course, they played it up in the paper. This infuriated the Chinese, but one more time they told the Indian embassy that they would not stand for a foreign country to be on their shores or border. Our people crossed the 38th parallel, pausing only long enough to let the North Koreans go ahead. The Chinese didn't say anything, but as soon as the North Koreans crossed over, we followed them again. MacArthur thought that we could just go right on doing what we wanted to do.
By this time it was getting into October. It was starting to get cold up north. Along about the middle of October, the South Koreans who were in the loop back or something like that in the mountain range on the east side, started picking up Chinese. They told their KMAG officers that they had captured Chinese. KMAG people told them back at Eighth Army. Headquarters wanted to know what Army they were out of. KMAG guessed that they were out of the Chinese Army because they said they were volunteers to fight for the North Koreans. "Oh, well, hell," Eighth Army figured, "it was probably like the Eagle Squadron in World War II--just a bunch of volunteers and mercenaries that went over there to fight. Don't worry about it."
The response from the field was that they weren't sure about that--there were a hell of a lot of them. As they pushed north, they started to pick up even more Chinese. By that time, an American Army was road bound, because in Korea there were a lot of mountains. Our people weren't going to get out and walk. They were going to sit in a truck and ride down the road. As a result, the further north they got, the South Koreans kept picking up more Chinese prisoners.
All of the sudden, the Americans in the 7th Division were on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir, also picking up Chinese. They all told the same story. They said they were volunteers. When asked what army they were out of, they said, "Not really an Army. We've just volunteered to help the North Koreans." So clear up until this time, Americans thought that's all they were--volunteers. They bypassed thousands of Chinese because the Chinese just got off the road and went up into the hills and sat there and watched the American Army go past in the road. When the Americans got up there as far as they wanted to go, why, bingo! The Chinese started with their bugles and their cymbals, gongs, and everything. They started pouring in.
The Seventh Division was trapped on the east side of the Chosin Reservoir with the reservoir on their west side and the mountains on the east side with the Chinese in them. The Chinese were also to the north side and to the south side. The only thing that saved a lot of Americans was that the reservoir froze and they started to cross it to get to the Marines. The Marines were on the west side, and there again, they had the reservoir to the east, the Chinese to the north, the south, and the west. They started back down, and as they tried to come back out of there, they were in dire straits. The Seventh Division got caught way up north in some really bad firefights. It was a massacre.
The ones that got all the notoriety for the Chosin Reservoir campaign were the Marines coming out. The Seventh Division was hardly even mentioned, and the Seventh Division was damn near eliminated. They joined up with the Marines. General Ray Davis at that time was a colonel. He was with the Marines up there, and got the Medal of Honor for it. I know him and I've talked with him about it. He did what a good military leader would do. His job was to get his people out of there. So what he did was put his Marines clear to the south with what trucks, tanks, and armored vehicles they had because he thought they were better disciplined than the Seventh Infantry Division. With them and Marine air support, they started punching their way through. He put a column on the east side and west side of the road to clean out the hills. Well, the Chinese were used to fighting guerilla war, so they just fell back into the hills further. The Chinese collapsed back down again on the rear of the convoy. The rear was the Seventh Infantry Division people, including a lot of their wounded. The Marines kept their wounded right up there with them, so this is why they didn't lose very many people in The Chosin Reservoir. But the Seventh Division lost a ton of people.
Now, if it had been an Army general, he would have probably done the same thing, only put his men in front and let the Marines take the heat in the back. The Marines are proud to say that they marched out of the Reservoir, got on their LCIs and left. But a simple reason they were able to do this was because the Army's Third Infantry Division held a perimeter around Hamhung. The Marines came right down and marched onboard the ships. The Third Division closed the line again and for something like two or three days, the Seventh Infantry Division infiltrated through the lines because they had been cut to pieces and they couldn't keep up. The Seventh came out and got on board. Then the Third Division started in collapsing in round Hamhung, and they got on the ships last and left. This was around Christmas, I think.
Kids who have never been in a war or never been in a war-torn country cannot comprehend freedom. My son can, because he's sort of a military buff and he's seen pictures. When I showed him my pictures, I told him a little bit about it and he understood. He's never been in the service, but he understands these things. But the kids growing up now, they have no idea. They think Korea was M*A*S*H. I don't know if my daughter can understand the same thing that my son does. I don't know whether it's a woman's thing; maybe she can. I have not sat down really and talked one on one with her about it.
I thought for a long time that maybe my son would not have to ever go to war. But since then, everything has changed. We have no way to protect our shores now. People have made fun of the notion of "Star Wars" and the need for defensive weapons. The news media and the opposition on the other side have sat around and laughed at the idea. So they took it clear out of the federal budget, and now instead of producing defensive weapons, we're building basketball courts to play basketball at midnight.
I think the United States is letting its guard down. Oh my God, yes. That draft dodger in there as President now has absolutely no concept of what he's doing. He is piece-mealing us into Bosnia, Somalia, Haiti--you pick the country. He has stuck troops in there, and the more he diversifies, the less efficient we are. We have put armies or troops in 19 different countries. And why? I mean, are we the world's mercenaries? Why are we supposed to do these things? Who said we have to go in and protect Bosnia?
Bill Clinton refused to sell them weapons. Well, here you've got one side that's being supplied by the Russians, and the other side nobody's supplying. Guess who's going to win? So he says, "Oh. We can't have that." So he puts our Army in between them. I mean, that's plumb ignorant. Instead of saying, "Hey, Russia. If you're going to arm those people, we're going to army people, and let them have at it." I mean, doesn't it seem a little odd that some of these people of that language--the Turks--don't come in and help? Doesn't that seem a little odd to you? When they are Muslim, who's fighting who over there? You can't even tell one country from the other. And it's odd that he puts a dictator in Somalia. He puts one in Haiti. He's never been there. He's never done anything.
Women in Combat
I have nothing against women. There are a lot of strong women and a lot of women who I think might do an admirable job at whatever they might do. But there is a world of difference between being on Star Trek and actually being out there in combat.
James Brady had a great article on why women should not be on the front lines. Women cannot comprehend war. They have no idea what's going to happen to them if (a) they get wounded, and (b) they get captured. They just have no idea. What happened over there in the Far East when some of those countries got overrun? They killed the men, and they raped the women repeatedly so that when they left, the women would be carrying their babies. This was their idea. How many of these little American girls do you think could handle that? They can't comprehend that they are going to suffer horrible things before the enemy's done with them.
And don't think for a second that they won't, because they will. I don't know of any Army that would say, "Oh my goodness. You're a lady. Okay, fine. We'll take you over there. There's the showers. Here's the clothes. Now we'll take you over there in this nice hotel, and that's going to be your POW home."
Women in South and North Korea fought. They picked up North Korean women and Chinese women over there. They weren't what you would refer to as a GI out in the mud and the blood. I didn't see any, and I didn't talk to any, but from what I understand, these women were like messengers that just got caught up there. They were supposed to run up and hand the note from Garcia and turn around and run. But they couldn't. They got caught. People just don't comprehend what happened to these women. They look on the movies--the old John Wayne movies--and see that, yes, there's the lady settler that the Indians had tortured. But all you see is a picture of her from the back. You never see what they actually did to her.
They had a mini series called West that just came out, and they told how they could tell which tribe had caught which person. This tribe cut off the right arm or just made mincemeat out of them. Another tribe did the same thing to their left leg. Another did it to the left arm. This one did it to the hand or the foot. This one disemboweled them. I don't think that I would ever want to live to see what happened at Maylay where Calli lost complete control of his country and let them go in there and slaughter 400 people. Now I can understand their hatred. I can understand that in a flash. But you cannot lose control of your people. Of course, their hands were tied due to the rules of engagement. Their hands were tied, and they just plain got fed up.
We had the same thing in the early part of the Korean War when our MPs tried to set up road blocks. The North Koreans pushed the civilians down the road in front of them, and there was no way we could stop them without killing innocent civilians. Finally, worse turned to worse and we fired on them. We mined one of the bridges over the Han River outside of Seoul. We told the Koreans to get off the bridge because we were going to blow it. They didn't think the Americans would. Well, the Americans didn't. They turned to the South Koreans and said, "Your people, your bridge. You blow it." And they did.
That was a hell of a coup for the North Koreans. "Oh, look what they've done. We'd never do that." People have no concept of what war means. Do you really think a Russian or a Turk would turn around and walk away from any woman that they captured, especially an American woman? Don't ever kid yourself.
In 1988, I went back on a revisit to Korea. By that date, there had been 8,000 "incidents" on the DMZ. We were told this when we went up to Panmunjom and talked to the people there. To go there, you have to get a special permit. I was on tour with other Korean War veterans, so they got us up in there. They had a briefing room where they told us what we could do and what we could not do when we went up into the Freedom Village area where they have the negotiations and everything.
You could not make obscene gestures to the north. You couldn't yell anything across to them because when you got up into Panmunjom itself, we went into the building where they actually do the negotiations. There was a line of something like concrete that was about six inches high and probably a foot or 15 inches wide that went from east to west. It went all through that camp, except in the negotiations building. The table in that building was correctly placed so that there were so many inches on the south side and so many inches on the north side. Naturally, our team sat on the south side and the Chinese and North Koreans sat on the north. When they are negotiating, our people stand with their toes against this concrete and those on the north do the same thing. They stand and glower at each other for however long it takes until they dismiss or take a break from a negotiations sessions.
We are still negotiating today for a number of reasons. We still want to know when they are going to tear down the invisible barrier and let North and South Korea vote as to whether they want to be communist or otherwise. Do they want to be one unified country? If so, what kind of government are they going to have? Are they going to have a democracy where they vote for their leaders, or are they going to have China tell them who their leaders are going to be.
Another thing we still want to know is, what happened to our people--the POWs? From the American point of view, this is a big thing with us. We have had many reports from North Koreans who defected to the south and said things like: "I was a switch man in the yards up there. I threw the switch for the trains, and, yes, I saw this POW train loaded with Caucasians. We sent it across the Yalu River into Russia where their people hooked their engine onto it, changed guards, and away they went." Or, "I threw the switch and the train went into China and never came back out." We keep getting these supposedly reliable reports that they went here or there. We don't know if any of them are going to be alive now, because they would undoubtedly be in their 60s and 70s. The food in those places is much different than ours, and we don't know if they gave them reasonable medical care, a place to stay, and proper food. We don't know if they worked them eight hours a day or even if they are working them still. Are they being subjected to all kinds of mind games? Communist mind games were in their infancy back in the early 1950s. The North Koreans say that they don't know what happened to them. Bear in mind now that, ever since the negotiations started back in late 1951, they have said that they would repatriate just the dying. And they sometimes captured people and just released them, with not one of them wounded.
Harry Truman started this stuff about not arbitrarily shipping their POWs back to them. Instead, we asked them if they wanted to be repatriated back to China or North Korea. If they said no, then we said we would not force them to go back. Then we asked South Korea if they wanted the Chinese and North Korean POWs released into their custody, or what did they want us to do with them?
We kept very good records of those we captured. If somebody was killed and we picked up the body and were able to identify who they were, we immediately told the Red Cross what happened so that they could, in turn, tell their counterpart in China or in North Korea that we had this man's body. We interned it in a temporary cemetery until such time as we could exchange bodies. The North Koreans and Chinese kept very good records too, but they would not share them with us. This has been one of the bones of contention. They said they would not release any of our Americans or prisoners or whoever back to us until we responded in kind. But we have. We have released all of the prisoners we held during the Korean War.
We sent them home as quickly as we could, but bear in mind that we held them on the Solon Islands, Koje-do, Cheje-do off the coast, and it took a while to get them and bring them back and escort them up to Panmunjom. When we had a truckload of 500 prisoners ready to take to Panmunjom, they had all kinds of excuses why they weren't sending their prisoners back to us. They didn't have trucks, and if they had trucks, they didn't have the fuel. If they had trucks and fuel, the bridge was blown out. There was nothing we could do about it. We didn't have a good camera up there at the time--no satellite to see if they were telling the truth. There was nothing we could do but just stand there and grit our teeth, because we knew many were still alive.
We gave a lot of freedom to the POWs we held in captivity. The Swedish Red Cross was forever going into Koje-do, Cheje-do and the POW camps that we had on the mainland. They were checked out every 30, 60,90 days--whenever they wanted to check. We made sure they were fed, clothed, had a roof over their head, water. We made sure that they lived basically like our soldiers lived. I know because during the war they brought the prisoners back to the Korean sector where I was stationed. The Chinese prisoners were fed the same food that the South Korean Army was fed. It was spartan by American standards because we were a meat and potato country, but if we gave sea rations to those people, it would have been too rich for them. It would have given them diarrhea. You couldn't give them hot cocoa or anything like that because it would make them sick. Our food was not their kind of food, so we fed them a big bowl of rice. An American with a different body chemistry couldn't survive on that. We heard that they were feeding our people just water out of the rice paddies and anything that they happened to want to throw in with it. But we fed the Chinese and North Koreans really good food.
A lot of the North Korean prisoners wanted to stay in South Korea when they were released at the end of the war. They had been pressed into service as the North Koreans invaded, coming down through North Korea and even into South Korea, and pushing down to the Pusan perimeter. They gathered up any able-bodied person they could and said, "You're now in the North Korean army." It took us a while to figure out that this guy or that guy had been pressed into duty. He was a North Korean, but he didn't want to go back, so we weren't going to force him. And this guy here was a South Korean and wanted to stay here. We weren't going to force him, either, even if we didn't know whether he was telling us the truth or what. Bear in mind that this was only eight years after World War II. Well, in World War II over in Germany when they went through Poland, Czechoslovakia and other different countries that they overran and even France, there were these countrymen saying, "Hey, we want to be in the German Army." So they formed their own units and fought with the Germans against their motherland, against France and Czechoslovakia, Poland, Yugoslavia. They fought against their own country. A lot of our officers remembered this when the Korean War ended. They said that, for all they knew, these people were dyed-in-the-wool communists. They might have been born in South Korea, but we didn't know for sure. Why were they in the North Korean Army? Were they forced into it, or did they just freely go down and join them?
South Korea had a kind of draft. When a Korean is born, he is one year old. So theoretically, a kid that's born, say Christmas Day, he's one year old. A week later, he's two years old. They said that everybody who was born in the Year of the Dog or whatever, you go down and you meet here at this intersection and a truck will come by. You're in the Army. A lot of South Koreans at that time weren't really literate. Only the mayor had a radio, and they didn't have newspapers. They had no TV at that time. No communication whatsoever. They just nailed a notice down in the square, and everybody was supposed to go downtown and read it--those who could read.
As a result, their "draft" was a very haphazard, hit-and-run type of thing. If it was raining, they weren't going to go down there and stand on some dumb corner. Everybody stayed home. I know that when we made sweeps through the countryside when I was with our main company, it made a lot of guys mad, including me, to find these young men in the houses there. We wanted to know how come they weren't in the Army. They said, "No war." We maybe found some that had a scar or something on their arm. This was enough to get them out of the Army. So there he was home, and there I was 12,000 miles from home. I served right alongside of guys that had a lot bigger and better scars than that who had been hit up in the line because they couldn't really do the physical work of an infantryman. But still, they stayed in the Army. So we put them in the MP company. It upset us. The draft as we know it by our standards was not their standards.
By 1988, South Korea had improved greatly. When I was there, we stayed in Seoul. We got a cab driver and I told him where I wanted to go. We had to go through our tour guide, who was just about as honest as a politician. Anyway, I told the cabbie that I wanted to go up into the Hwachon Reservoir area. As we went toward the town of Hwachon, we were on a big four-lane highway every bit as good as I-57 or I-72 or I-74. It was a beautiful highway. We could see the town of Hwachon over there about two miles, but when we finally got up there near it, all of a sudden the highway just quit. There weren't any signs anywhere how to get off the road or why we should get off the road. No signs, no nothing. We just went flying out in the middle of a dry rice paddy. We ended up driving around in this dry paddy until we finally saw a little old ox cart trail over there. We straddled it and just kept driving across the different paddies until we came to a road and went into Hwachon.
We thought it was odd because there were trucks, cars, everything in Hwachon, but we didn't know how they got there. When we got up there, Korea started to smell just like it did when I got there in 1952. That was because we were closer to the DMZ. They had no updated sewage. They had water, but they still used natural fertilizer for their paddy fields. Up until that time, everywhere else we had gone in Korea was clean. They had modern facilities everywhere--sewage, good water, and that sort of thing. They used commercial fertilizer on their gardens and paddies.
There were no signs that there had ever been a war in Korea at one time, other than monuments all over the place. They had monuments for a soldier or a sailor or whatever, but all of the figures were Orientals. I thought that was odd and very funny. They also had museums. We went to a museum at Chunchon after we left Hwachon. Chunchon was my old stomping grounds, but I didn't recognize a thing. They built a big dam there, and I think the Chunchon that I knew is all under water now. But insofar as monuments, they were anywhere from a small obelisk to something larger. They said things to honor the Sixth ROK division or the 1st Cavalry, or maybe stated that the 7th Regiment of the 1st Cav liberated this town on such and such a date or something just in memory of the brave men of this or that outfit. It seemed like they had a lot of those in every little town that we went through.
The United States was well thought of in Korea, even in 1988. We could tell that they were glad when we shopped and talked with the different Koreans. When they found out that I had been there during the war years, if we were trying to buy something the price was automatically cut 50 percent and sometimes 75 percent, no matter what we wanted to buy. They were practically giving it to us.
I think that all Korean War veterans should revisit Korea, if nothing else but to get the thanks of the Korean people. They really appreciated what we did. Now, there are only about 40,000 American troops over there, with most of them up close to the DMZ's Second Infantry Division and their support units. They're all up around Panmunjom. The rest of the country has been turned over to the ROK Army. They control the DMZ now. When I was there during the war, the American Army didn't really appreciate what the ROKs did. The ROK Army lost a lot more people than the US government gave them credit for losing. It was very difficult to be accurate about how many people were in their unit and how many were left after a big battle. The Americans could, yes, because we notified next of kin and all that sort of thing. The ROK Army probably did the same thing, but they didn't really share the information that much.
Sometimes the ROK Army said that they lost, for instance, maybe 3,000 people in a particular battle. The American generals replied, "Oh, they didn't lose that many. They were lucky if they lost a thousand." Or they the ROKs said they killed 10,000 Chinese, and our guys said, "Oh man, there is no way they could have shot 10,000 Chinese. They were probably lucky if they shot two or three thousand of them." However, later on it was possible to check the reports of KMAG officers who had actually been there on the scene and to read histories of the Chinese and North Koreans that some of their generals had written. The Chinese histories said things like, "I went into battle with my division which was 10,000 strong, and three days later I only had 2,500 left of my division." So see, in fact they probably did have 7,500 of them killed. The Americans are just now starting to appreciate the fact that, by golly, maybe those South Koreans did kill so many thousand in that battle. But up until that time, they didn't believe it. They thought that the South Koreans were just wanting the Americans to take over more of the front line or send more troops over there or more money or whatever. In fact, that really wasn't the truth. They fought just as hard for their country as we would if somebody was invading our back yard.
I will say, however, that a lot of times we didn't trust the ROKs. The last couple of weeks of the war I took my interpreter with me because I trusted him. When we picked up a ROK MP or one of their national policemen to go with us to do whatever we had to do--escorts, ammo, or whatever--I just didn't trust them. I didn't know them. Didn't know anything about them. We didn't understand the other guy's language. The standing joke was that the only way to know a North Korean from a South Korean was whether or not he was shooting at you. Hell, we figured that no matter what he was wearing, if he was shooting at us, he was a North Korean. It didn't make any difference whether he had one of our lend-lease uniforms on or a Chinese uniform or North Korean uniform. It was a language thing.
And I doubt very much if they really trusted us, either. Maybe they figured they would shoot at the North Koreans a couple of times and then run. Let the Americans bring in their 155s and blow them off or call in an air strike or something like that. When I was back there in 1988, a lot of the people in the South Korean Army spoke English. They have English programs on TV that are teaching the American wives and soldiers over there things like, "The word for water is mule" and that sort of thing. It's just like some sort of correspondence course. Probably a whole lot of Koreans are learning English, whereas our people over there aren't learning Korean because we rotate our people in and out of Korea so much.
War is a terrible thing, but I'm proud of what I did over in Korea. The Korean people appreciated it. I hope my family appreciates it. And I hope that God appreciates it.
Billy Roy Smith was born in Decatur, Illinois, on February 12, 1930, a son of Eddie E. and Lucile L. Hoskins Smith. From December of 1947 until December of 1951, he served in the Illinois National Guard in Decatur. He served in the Korean War from September of 1952 until October of 1953, when he returned to Illinois and was in the Army Reserve for one year. From 1954 to 1957, he was in the Illinois Air National Guard in Springfield. He was a military police in all branches of his military service. During the Korean War, he was an MP and member of the vice squad with the 728th Military Police Battalion, Charlie Company.
In civilian life, he was a foreman at Caterpillar, Inc. in Decatur until he retired. After retirement, he worked as a security officer for the Decatur Earthmover Credit Union until his death. He was also a member and deacon of Woodland Chapel Presbyterian Church in Decatur. He and his wife were parents of a son, Michael Roy Smith of Normal, Illinois, and a daughter, Mrs. Fred Allen (Melody) Bateman of Olney, Maryland. Billy has two grandsons, Mark William and Alan Michael Bateman. He is also survived by his mother, Lucile L. Smith of Decatur.
An avid collector of military memorabilia (collecting Japanese items 1875-1945 and U.S. items 1890-1960), Billy Smith was also an active member of veteran's organizations: VFW Post 99, American Legion Post 105, and the DAV. He served as a past national director of the Korean War Memorial Board in Washington, D.C. In Illinois, he was the first elected president of the Illinois Department of the Korean War Veterans Association, and an officer of the Charles Parlier local chapter, KWVA.