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Joe H. Sowders
City, State- Florissant, MO
"I looked out the window of that Lockheed Constellation and saw my dad crying like a baby when he put his only surviving child on a plane knowing that he may never see him again. That picture still brings tears to my eyes. The very day I got on the ship to Korea, the truce was signed and a great weight was lifted from my mental burden. I made up my mind then that I would do my very best at whatever I had to do, even though I hated every minute of my Army service."
- Joe Sowders
My name is Joe (not Joseph) H. Sowders of Florissant, Missouri. I was born October 23, 1932, in Nuroad, Missouri, now called Berkeley, Missouri. My father was Joseph M. Sowders and my mother was Carol E. Hamilton Sowders. I was the only one of their four children that lived. My two sisters and one brother all died shortly after birth due to RH factor problems. As an only child, my mother tried to be protective of me, but I was always one who accepted her love and care but let it be known that I was my own person. She was a wonderful mother and I took care of her for 26 years after Dad died.
I attended grade school in Berkeley, Missouri; one year of school at Benecia, California; and high school at Berkeley, Missouri.
My father worked in the construction trade doing excavation work, grading, etc., for home and business sites. He was a hoisting engineer. During World War II, he was first in a CB-type organization that built anti-aircraft ("ack ack") emplacements around the Panama Canal by carving locations out of the jungle. It was just another excavation job for him. Each morning they had to chase the snakes off of the warm engines of the bulldozer before they started work for the day. He was even confronted with a black panther one time. Dad was in Panama for nine months. Word got out about these men, and when they returned home they were given a choice of either being conscripted into what was called the Traveling Automotive Technicians (TAT) or be drafted. Dad chose the TAT, which was a group of highly skilled mechanics that went all over doing modifications to weapons of war prior to shipment to the battle front. They had officer status, yet they were civilians. They were civilians, yet they were in the Army's control and command. It was a very unique outfit--one of the strangest outfits I have ever heard of--now or then. All of these men were heavy duty mechanics, and they were supposed to wear officers uniforms, but they all refused. The Army gave up on trying to order a bunch of rough and tough construction-type workers around. As long as they did their job, they left them alone. These men were so valuable to the war effort, they weren't about to mess with them. They lived on BOQ's like officers, and they were paid civilian wages. And most of all--these men were all 35 years old or better--too old to try to make "cannon fodder" out of them.
Dad's job kept him away from home all during the war. My mother and I would join him as soon as I got out of school for the summer. As a result, I lived in Texarkana, Texas, Detroit, Michigan, and Benecia, California. I attended school in Benecia for one school year because my dad was stationed there for quite some time. His team was sent there to convert the water-cooled engines of our tanks to air-cooled engines. Rommel was whipping us in Africa because, being water-cooled, our tanks burned up the engine from the heat. TAT converted hundreds of these tanks to nine-cylinder, 450 horsepower Pratt & Whitney radial engines.
My mother worked during World War II when my father was effectively in the Army. She made ailerons and rudder control surfaces for C-46's which were flying the "Hump" in Burma. As far as the family coping while Father was gone and Mother was working, we didn't know you had to cope. During World War II, nobody thought a thing about "coping," as we had a job to do and we did it--kids and all.
At home we collected scrap metal (aluminum, tooth paste tubes, cans, and whatever was needed). At school we all saved our money and bought savings stamps toward an $18.75 war savings bond. When the 25-cent stamps added up to that figure, we got the war bond which, on maturity, was worth $25.00. At home, we saved cooking grease which was used in munitions manufacturing. We saved our tin toothpaste tubes because we had to turn in our used tube to get a new tube of toothpaste. We got three gallons of gas a week and food ration stamps for meat. The latter wasn't a big problem as there were always ways to supplement the meat supply. I raised chickens each spring and we ate them up before the next batch was grown. My grandfather and I planted large gardens and we canned enough food to last all winter (beans, tomatoes--whole and stewed, peaches, applesauce, pears and many other veggies). We never hurt for food and we seldom ever used all of our ration stamps because of our gardening activities. We used to shoot a rabbit or two and maybe a squirrel or catch some fish as well. Americans were at that time very good at making do with what they had. Probably the worst thing was the shortage of shoes. We used to go to Kresge's 5&10 to buy "Cat's Paw" resole shoe kits for 25 cents and glue the resole to our worn shoes. We then wore them until they needed another resole. When the war was over, one of the first things we rushed to buy was new shoes.
I attended Berkeley High School, graduating in the Class of 1950. During my high school years, I worked at Aircraft Line Service at Lambert Field, St. Louis Municipal Airfield. My job was gassing aircraft. I also took flying lessons and flew aircraft. My flight instructor was Geo Sayers--a great friend of mine who had guts enough to try to teach a 14-year-old kid how to fly an airplane. I owned a Piper J-3 for a short time that I was buying on time payments for the grand total of $250. When my mother found out that I was flying and had bought an airplane, she had a wall-eyed hissy and I sold the airplane. (But I didn't quit flying.) I flew a lot of different type World War II trainers (BT-13, PT-19, Stearmans, Beechcraft Bonanza). Why was I wanting to fly? Because I love it and still do, but I learned when to quit. "There are old pilots and there are bold pilots...but there are no old bold pilots." I knew when to quit due to night depth perception and the high cost of flying.
After high school graduation I went to Bradley University in Peoria, Illinois, to be a mechanical engineer. At the end of the first year, things were not looking good to be able to finish the next year. There was a war going on in Korea and there were no draft deferments at that time. I also wasn't doing that good in school, so after one year of college I got a job at McDonnell Aircraft. McDonnell Aircraft gave me a mediocre job, but by demonstrating my ability to make the necessary pieces and parts for the various experiments, I soon proved that the job was wasting my talent and their time. I eventually worked my way into a guided missile lab where my mechanical and machine tool knowledge helped me become a guided missile technician. A guided missile technician made experimental guided missiles for air-to-air and ballistic tests. I was and still am a very good machinist. That was what got me the job.
I was working at McDonnell Aircraft with an 1A draft status. Our government was filling the pipeline to Korea with any warm body they could round up. I had an appendicitis attack just before I was drafted, and that gave me a six-month deferment. I feel damn lucky to have had the date of my being sent to Korea postponed by the appendicitis operation. The outfit that I would have been in would probably have been the 34th Infantry Regiment. They were wiped out down to seven men, a Jeep, and a .30 caliber gun at Osan, Korea. I have always felt that six-month deferment saved me from being 'cannon fodder' had I been sent over six months earlier.
I was married to Lorna E. Finley for just nine months when I was drafted. I had known her since second grade. I was afraid I was going to get drafted and be shipped to Korea to get killed, so I got married thinking I would at least have a little bit of happiness with my bride. We took up housekeeping at 6049 Berkeley Drive in Berkeley, Missouri, and now here we are looking down the barrel of our 50th anniversary in 2002. [KWE reminder: The interview with Joe Sowders took place in 1999.] Naturally being drafted so soon after my marriage didn't endear me with the whole mess of being in this ill-begotten mass demonstration of gross military incompetence, coupled with political stalemates as to what and how we should be fighting this "non-war." The reality of what would happen if I didn't come back from Korea loomed on both of our minds, and that was one of the reasons my wife came to Camp Roberts, California during my 16 weeks of infantry training. We wanted to be together as much as we could. It was one of those things we both thought about, but never talked about it. I wonder if this was a common feeling at that time, as our boys were being slaughtered left and right by being used as cannon fodder for the holding action until hopefully someone figured out what to do. MacArthur playing his ego game didn't help much, and the only thing that saved his bacon was the Inchon Landing. If ever one wants to study a fouled-up mess to learn how not to run a war, study the Korean War from Task Force Smith forward. Regardless, like anybody who came through World War II, I just felt that serving was my duty, even though others and I really didn't want to. We were conditioned much differently than the generation that followed ours.
When the Korean War broke out, I did not know a damn thing about Korea. I didn't even know where it was, and I had never heard of it before. I didn't have the foggiest idea what we were doing in Korea. "Ours was to just do or die!" I knew very little about it other than the fact that going to war was what you did when your number came up at your draft board. Later on, others had the option of "hiding out in college." The war in Korea was an abstract thing that we read about and, frankly, it gave us--the potential cannon fodder--a rather grim outlook as to our possibly getting killed. But we didn't have much choice.
For induction into the Army, I took a troop train from Berkeley to Camp Crowder, Missouri, which was located just outside of Joplin. There we were greeted by a run-down camp from World War II that had been closed and then hastily re-opened as an induction camp. This was in the middle of winter, February 8-12, 1953. Camp Crowder was a mud hole, and we were made to stand formation in the rain and mud. There was this no good SOB called Sergeant Greene--the worst example of humanity known to man. He walked down the ranks and harassed troopers for no reason. He would go up to an inductee, make him drop down in a mud puddle to do push-ups, then step on the guy's head and push his face into the mud. Of course, we were all scared to death, as this dehumanizing exercise made us afraid of what was going to happen next. The first night, he and several of his cohorts came busting through the barracks with a helmet and told us all to dig into our pockets and donate to the Old Soldiers Fund. Well, we all did, as we had just seen what the SOB would do to a guy. We all threw whatever money we had into the pot. Well, guess who the "Old Soldier" was? You got it. Sergeant Green and his cohorts.
From Camp Crowder we went by troop train to Springfield, Missouri, and from there we were air-shipped to San Francisco, California and taken to Camp Roberts for 16 weeks of basic and advanced infantry training to be a killer for the USA. Our instructors included two miserable bastards named Sgt. Billie Vigil and Corporal Crow. Our Company Commander was a good guy named Lieutenant Huber. The first two were conceived on a flat rock and the sun hatched them. They were the typical Army misfits who couldn't make it as civilians and hid in an Army that gloated on basic training cadres with an average IQ of 75.
I was one of four guys in my platoon who were married. My wife Lorna took a leave of absence from her job at McDonnell Aircraft and drove out to spend what time we could have together in those 16 weeks. During the days, she and other wives of our outfit entertained themselves by doing things that cost nothing. We were all poor as church mice. Lorna and I rented a hovel which was a truck body trailer made into two separate living quarters. We shared it with another couple. It was rather grim (early Neanderthal decor), but it served the purpose and we had no money for anything else. I made $18.75 a month and Lorna got $45.00 Class A allotment. That was it. Lorna came to the camp each night we were in the company area. Sometimes we only got a few minutes together as there was always some "chicken^%$" thing harassing us. After our 12 weeks, we got a weekend pass most of the time.
Our day began at 4:30 a.m. and ended any time up to 9 p.m. We were awakened by the usual, "Okay, you miserable SOB's. Get your A&^%'s up and on your feet. (The standard high mentality morning salutation for the Army.) We were trained either in the field or classroom, and then pulled guard duty at night. Both in the classroom and outside of the classroom we learned "how to kill people and break things." We had no news from Korea. The only word we got was how to kill them before they killed us. We had to be ready to stay alive by being better and faster than the enemy. "There are only the Quick and the Dead" was the motto.
We were constantly harassed by the cadre. For example, we were ordered to dig a hole, then were ordered to cover it up. Then we were chewed out for filling it up and were ordered to dig it out again. Sometimes we were made to run around the company area with full field pack and rifle, yelling, "I screwed up" until we fell down. There was other nonsense that was thought up on the spot by the Neanderthal cadre at Camp Roberts. They did this to all of us. About my 14th week, Corporal Crow lined us all up and started saying nasty things about our wives and spraying our faces with aerosol shaving cream. This was the straw that almost broke his back. I picked him up, dragged him outside, and proceeded to give him a good going over. I knew the Army regulations inside and out, and I knew that I didn't have to take his harassment. I put the fear of God into him. We never had any trouble from him again as he knew he had been out of line. Again, these animals weren't qualified to do the job. The Army was full of these misfits.
There is no doubt that some toughening up is necessary to get a soldier in shape to become a trained killer, but de-humanizing is counter productive. The good NCO's and Officers we had were respected and they were far more productive. Lieutenant Huber was strict but respectable. His demeanor was to prepare us for the job ahead. The only problem was he left too much up to his "Goon Squad" (Crow and Vigil) because he was an officer and his hours and privileges allowed him to go home early to his wife, leaving the dirty work for Crow and Vigil. Their mouths was bigger than they were. Newton's Law states, "For every action there is an opposite reaction." That's why so much of the harassment was a waste of the valuable training time. To give you an example of the hatred felt for these two men, a couple of GI's in the company went to Paso Robles and tried to hire a hit man to do them under. They were just SOB's who enjoyed harassing us for the sadistic pleasure of it.
Nobody was ever fully trained to understand what we were going to get into in Korea, especially the poor devils that were sent there on June 26, 1950. They were just sacrificial cannon fodder. In the early days of the war, some men were sent into combat with no training other than what they got on the ship en route to Korea. I was one of the more lucky ones in that I felt the training to become a "Pavlovian Killer" was very adequate. I could kill a person with a single blow of my hand if I had to. I could use a bayonet very skillfully, and I was a good rifle shot. I took my training very seriously as I always felt the best man wins, given equal odds. The trouble in Korea was that the odds were stacked for the enemy. My military training was something that stuck with me for life, despite the idiots that were in charge of it. Nobody will ever make me do a damn thing I don't want to do, and I know I can take care of myself. I've fought many windmills in my day in the business world, and the infantry training I received in the Army helped.
Was I bitter about my experience in the Army? Yes. From Day One I felt that if this was the corruption that existed in the Army, I was going to have a rough time tolerating this hogwash. All through Basic this same type of garbage existed. It was a very unnecessary, de-humanizing experience ran by sadists. I was more disgusted than bitter, as I felt that things didn't have to be so base in treatment.
While awaiting orders after Basic, I was assigned to the camp stockade to guard American prisoners who were in the stockade for crimes ranging from murder to AWOL. This was the worst duty I ever pulled. As uninitiated guards, we first thought that these guys were just like the rest of us, only they had gotten into some trouble. It was a mistake to think they were harmless. I took work details out that had murderers in the group. When they tried to overpower me, I nearly had to shoot them with my automatic shotgun to stop them. Then I got a chewing out from the commandant for being a good guy to them. It was extremely "ornery" duty.
I got separated from my buddies after basic. I tested high on an IQ exam and was offered OCS, but I would have had to re-up for three years. That was out of the question. Later I was awaiting orders to go to Atomic Weapons School when they finally figured out that I had a Class A allotment for my wife. The only way they would send me to Atomic Weapons School was if I agreed to re-up for one more year. I told them to put it where the sun doesn't shine. A few milliseconds later I was Korea-bound. All my Basic buddies went to Germany and enjoyed the good life.
After finally getting shoved into the "Korean pipeline," further training was zilch. We had been taught all we would ever need to know to "kill people and break things" in Basic and Advanced Training. My wife and I were both numb knowing that I was about to leave for Korea. We didn't talk about it as there was a good chance I would never be back again. When I left the States for Korea, Lorna went back home to Berkeley, Missouri for the duration and her job.
A Fluke Break
We left Camp Stoneman and loaded out on the USS Meigs berthed at Oakland Navy Yard. The Meigs was a three-stacker troop ship with 5,000 smelly GI's crammed into a ship designed for 2,500. We had what they called a "double load." We spent half of our day below and switched off from time to time topside. When people ask me to go on a cruise ship now, I tell them, "Get lost. I've had all the cruising I ever want!" The USS Meigs was a merchant ship pressed into duty to haul troops back and forth to Korea.
This was my first experience shipboard. How did I handle it? Well, like I handled the whole 16 months. I put my mind in neutral, read every book I could find on the ship, and just tried to stay upwind from the vomit. It was a very boring two weeks of being crowded up with a bunch of GI's like sardines. I didn't have any trouble with seasickness, but I saw guys get seasick before we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge. Once we got our sea-legs after a few days, everybody seemed to settle down. I was lucky and avoided any KP or other details. I stayed low and maintained a low profile. On my return trip home, I was a Sergeant and Sergeants don't pull details--they run them!
We were lucky as the weather was reasonable and the USS Meigs was a big ship that could ride the waves well. We stopped at Yokosuka (Yokohama) for one night and got our first chance to get off the ship for the evening. The reason we stopped there was to drop off some replacements for duty in Japan (the lucky devils). The rest of us then went to Sasebo for further processing. We got deloused and were then stripped of all of our fresh new clothes and given two changes of fatigues and two pair of boots. Two days later, we were loaded on a smaller ship for transport to Pusan, Korea. On the way to Pusan, we hit a typhoon and that was a very scary time. The ship bobbed up and down like a cork. When the screws came out of the water, the whole ship shuddered. It was rather rough, but surprisingly enough, nobody got sick. I think we were too scared to get sick.
We landed at Pusan about July 28, 1953. I thought that Korea was the rectum of the Universe. When God created the Earth, he was quite tired on the sixth day, that being Saturday night and he still had Korea to create. When he woke up on Sunday, he said, "Oh, to hell with it. It isn't worth it." And that's why Korea is what it is. There was just a limited view of Pusan from the docks, but it was a stinking, devastated city that had been burned. It was full of people just trying to exist. There were orphaned kids with limbs missing, begging in the streets for food or anything to stay alive. People openly defecated on the streets, and then someone would pick it up, put it in a bucket, and throw it on their rice paddy. It was a very dismal sight. Over the burnt-out town full of seething masses struggling to stay alive, all we saw were the hills surrounding Pusan. Having never seen a war zone before other than in movies, Pusan just looked like a city that had been sacked by fire. There were no signs of artillery damage or gun fire.
I was off-loaded from the ship, then put directly on a truck and driven to Tongnae. There I waited in a tent at a replacement depot (known as a "Repo Depot" or "Reppledepple") to be assigned to wherever they needed a warm body. This is where I lucked out. I was there about a day when Major Louis Caudell came into our tent and asked if anybody had Engineering Draftsman experience. Since I had some draftsman experience from college and at McDonnell Aircraft, I quickly said, "I do." I had previous education in my Mechanical Engineering classes and also in High School. This is what qualified me to be an Operations Draftsman in the 34th Infantry, 24th Infantry Division, S-3. Major Caudell said, "Come with me," and then he marched me off to the Regimental CP to the S-3, where he said, "You are now an Operations Draftsman."
To explain, a Regiment has S-1, S-2, S-3, and S-4. S-1 deals with the administration of Regimental paperwork such as orders, court martials, company staff, filling of replacements, and generally handling all the paperwork that takes place in the Army's way of doing things. S-2 is Intelligence. They are supposed to know what's going on all around with the enemy and what might be going to happen. S-3 handles the operations for the entire Regiment. The most important job in any Regiment or Division is the Operations Officer and his staff. Nothing happens unless the S-3 plans it. The S-3 Officer is the first to be quizzed by any high-ranking commander because the S-3 generally knows where and what is happening and what must be done to stay alive. Having a poor S-3 Officer will result in bad things happening to a Regiment. My S-3 Officer, Captain James Vaught, was one of the most respected S-3's and it is no mystery why he went on to become a three-star General. I was lucky to have served under Captain Vaught and Major Angeledes, two of the greatest officers in the Army. We busted our humps for them and they took good care of us in return. Major Caudell, the gentleman who rescued me from the "Repo Depo," was S-3 for only a few weeks after he rounded me up. He was a weak S-3 and was replaced by Captain Vaught. S-4 handles Supply and Logistics. They are supposed to have everything needed when it is needed. This seldom happened. (But we always had plenty of toilet paper.)
When I joined S-3, I was then one of the three Operations Draftsmen that brought S-3's Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) up to strength. I was forever thankful, as it kept me from going to a line company as an infantry rifleman (which I was well-qualified for). One of those "fluke" breaks that happen. In my outfit, we had a physicist, various engineers, and I was a guided missile technician prior to being drafted. It didn't matter if you were King Tut. Men of draft age in 1950-53 were destined to get 16 weeks of infantry training and be sent to the Land of the Frozen Chosen. Besides me, the other draftsmen in S-3 were Bob Pasta from Chicago, Illinois, and Hiag Gopian from Binghamton, New York. Hiag died around 1995 and Bob Pasta died in 2006.
S-3 Operations was located wherever the 34th Infantry Regiment was. Just prior to my joining the 34th Infantry Regiment, the regiment had just finished up Operation Big Switch, where we swapped North Korean and Chinese prisoners for our American prisoners. When I joined my company, Tongnae was just ten miles north of Pusan, and that's where I began my job. I walked about 30 yards to the 34th Regimental CP and went to work. The "Repo Depo" was at the 34th Headquarters area. I got no further training in Korea before beginning my job. I went directly into my S-3 job, which was just a matter of doing what the S-3 officer asked me to do. Any good draftsman could do a good job because, while the job carried a lot of responsibility, it wasn't a complicated job at all. We just had to be very careful to not make mistakes or we could kill the wrong guys.
Although there was a cease fire when I arrived in Korea, Operation Draftsmen were still very much needed. Remember, the war has never actually stopped. As such, our job was to keep our Regiment in a constant state of warfare capability, as things didn't settle down for over six months after the cease fire. Over the past 56 years, we have lost over 2,000 soldiers from DMZ skirmishes. That is something you never see in the news media these days.
We made all the map overlays for troop movements. A map overlay was a sheet of velum paper (like tracing paper, only more translucent) upon which direction and instruction were drawn and keyed to map coordinates. This could then be laid over a topographic map with the drawn information (like mine fields, troop placements, mortar crew locations, AA guns, enemy emplacements, other troops), and any other data that is needed to know and run a Regiment. We (the three of us) prepared many copies of these overlays, which were then distributed to the respective Company Commanders or other necessary officers to carry out the S-3 Officer's orders. We made mine overlays for the maps, artillery overlays so they didn't drop "friendly fire" on our troops, maps of all the troop placements, and whatever was needed in the way of mapping data that was needed for companies of the regiment to know where they were "supposed" to be.
When I first arrived in Korea, I had no weapon. A few days later, when I was assigned to Headquarters & Headquarters Company of the 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, I was issued an M-1 Garand rifle. Although the war was "over," there were still stragglers who liked to take pot shots from the hills. (We were given combat points even after the signing of the truce.) This slowed up after about six months. There was constant threat of a possible gook straggler or thief deciding to come running out of the hills and do something crazy. Our guards did a pretty good job of dropping them before they did anything. It was a good thing they did, because as soon as the truce was signed our ammo was locked up and we couldn't have returned fire if we had wanted to. We used to bootleg .30 caliber machine gun ammo for our Jeep (which had a .30 caliber Browning machine gun mounted on it) when we had to roam around the countryside trying to find out if the companies were where they were supposed to be. If we had gotten caught with the ammo, we could have been court-martialed. But remembering our motto, "only the quick and the dead," we were smart enough to keep that from happening. There were no casualties by warfare or gunfire in my company during my stay there, but we had venereal disease and overdoses of heroin that sent home a body or two. The heroin came from the Chinks, who wanted to get as many GI's on dope that they could. It was dirt cheap and available in any house of ill repute. It was no problem to find it any place. The occasional land mine also caused post-war casualties in Korea. A Philippine outfit next to us was digging a six-holer latrine and dug into a mine. Three were killed. We never took any long walks in the countryside!
We were billeted in the military police quarters at Tongnae, which was a prisoner of war camp. When Sygmund Rhee turned all the prisoners loose, they had based the 34th Infantry Regiment there until we moved north for the prisoner swaps. Our barracks were of typical GI slapped-together construction. They had corrugated siding and roofing, and we even had concrete floors. It was not bad at all until we moved north, when it was squad tents from then on. Two winters in them was all the camping out I ever needed for the rest of my life. My idea of camping out now is a Holiday Inn. Each barracks had about 35 troopers, and each tent had six to eight troops. All of our living quarters were for those of us who staffed the Regimental Headquarters of the 34th Infantry Regiment. We had S-1, S-2, and S-3 quartered together.
Division Headquarters formulated plans for us to handle the prisoner swap of Operation Big Switch and Little Switch, which we did. We three Operations Draftsmen made all the overlays, maps, rest stop overlays and situation maps, and all other visual aids needed to move prisoners from Koje-do island 450 miles north to Panmunjom. For the job we did, General Mark Clark told the Regimental Commander that he wanted the three of us to be promoted from Corporal to Sergeant. At that time rank was frozen, but we were promoted. Damn, did this cause a furor in the Company! We really got the hard times in the chow line when we walked right up to the front of the line for chow because Sergeants didn't have to stand in line. We had our own area to eat in. We were also awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service on this operation. When General Clark came in our CP, I gave him a run down with our situation maps as to the progress of the 250 trucks en route from Koje-do to Panmunjom. As he was looking, we got an update via radio to keep the map current. This was very impressive and it was something we thought up on our own. All were impressed with our ingenuity. We really had a good team and were always getting somebody's attention with the little special things we did--like daily menus for the Officer's Mess. (For that I got coffee and doughnuts when I delivered them to the Officer's Mess each day.) I also had access to a bottle of Canadian Club for $2.50 once in a while for this special service. GI's are a resourceful group.
While I don't like to blow my own horn, our job was very important. One wrong slip of a pencil could give the wrong location of something and that might cause shelling or mine fields in the wrong place. People could get killed by our mistakes. We had to be good and were trusted to be good in our job because our S-3 officers knew we really cared and were competent. They put a lot of trust in us. In August of 1999, I was General Vaught's guest at a review for him at Ft. Bragg. While he and I were reviewing the CP (S-1, S-2, S-3, S-4), he introduced me as the 'best damn Operations Draftsman he had in Korea.' That made me feel proud after all these many years to get a compliment from Lt. General Jim Vaught like that. The three of us (Gopian, Pasta, and Sowders) commanded a lot of respect from all the many Regimental Officers we interfaced with. We had to be spit and polish as we were in the middle of all operations. Each day was unique because at any time the highest brass might drop in. One day General Mark Clark and I had a discussion about the situation map during Task Force Olsen. I consider that unique, as well as a pleasure. He was a great officer and commander. (But not as good as General Vaught. Jim is tops in my book.)
Each of us three draftsmen had different talents that melded into a very efficient group. That helped when we needed a favor. We were able to scrounge up stuff that nobody ever dreamed we could come up with. My Coleman camp stove was the most popular thing each morning, as it warmed water for shaving. My squad always had warm water when the others didn't because I "managed" for it when a Sergeant rotated home. This stove was not TO&E and was not authorized for us, but that was tough. Often we were searched for non-TO&E equipment, and the Coleman stove was quickly buried for future retrieval. To explain, the Army has a "Table of Organization and Equipment" list that spells out specifically what every person, place or thing is authorized to use or possess. For instance, an infantry company would have a list of every last piece of equipment authorized to them down to the Nth degree. Each soldier was listed as to what the TO&E was for his Military Occupational Specialty or MOS.
To make our job easier as Draftsmen, we "appropriated" a Leroy Lettering Guide by TO&E to make our drawing look top notch. The guide was a series of templates that permitted us to letter with India ink on drawing rather than free hand. It looked much more professional and it got us a lot of brownie points. We put it to good use. For instance, the Regimental Commander might request place cards for visiting dignitaries (Division commanders, 8th Army visitors and other cronies of Colonel Olsen) as one of the sideline pluses it gave us. Procuring the Leroy Lettering Guide was arranged by a buddy at Division level who "liberated" some excess supplies for us. I suspect the 3rd Marines are still looking for the ditto machine that disappeared from their tent which carelessly had the left side open one night at Munson-ni. This ditto machine helped us greatly during Task Force Olsen, and the work it turned out impressed General Mark Clark. (It also made pretty menus for the Officer's Mess each day.) So, you see, one could get away with a lot that wasn't authorized if one knew how to play the game. After all, what officer was going to take our ditto machine away and stop the menus from appearing on his table each day? And, on the cold mornings, if we greeted our S-3 officer with a hot helmet of water for shaving, he wasn't about to say it wasn't TO&E to have a camp stove. Our officers depended on our ability to scrounge, and turned their head as long as we played it cool. We learned how to walk the fine line.
I had great relations with the high ranking officers of our regiment. In Operations it was our job to know a lot about the country as far as geography. The Regimental Executive knew I was a camera nut, so one time he said, "Take my Jeep and driver and take the day off. Run around taking pictures of points of interest for me. I'm going home soon and I want to show my wife what I saw." I visited temples, cities, etc.
Because we were in S-3 (Operations), we stood the chance of always being on the move. We left Tongnae to head north to the Inchon area as the advance party for the 34th Infantry Regiment (24th Infantry Division) to set up the operation CP for "Operation Task Force Olsen," named after our Regimental Commander, Colonel Olsen. We left good, warm barracks (with hot showers once a day) to face the cold winter of Korea in squad tents and sometimes a pup tent.
During Task Force Olsen, we swapped Chinks for Koreans at Panmunjom. We transported the "gooks" and the swaps took place. The actual swap was conducted by the Neutral Nations Advisory Group. Many of the Koreans and Chinks refused to go back to North Korea or China. They were given the chance to go to Formosa (now Taiwan), and most did just that. We also had the turncoats at Panmunjom--the U.S. prisoners in North Korea who decided they wanted to stay there. Carpenter was the name of one of them. Later they got fed up with the North Koreans and asked to come home.
Task Force Olsen lasted in total about three and a half weeks to executive, move, and place all the many points of operation in place. It involved over 250 two-and-a-half-ton trucks (we called them "deuce and a half's) to transport over 21,000 prisoners from Koje-do to Panmunjom. We had rest points every 50 miles for the POWs. We called them "Tea and Pee" stops. Our job was to keep an Operations Board showing the location and position of each truck that passed the many check points we had set up. We had radio and land line (a twisted pair of lines we called the EE-8 field telephone COMMO) to keep us updated.
Checking Off My Calendar
Our daily routine and policies were static. It was "sameo-sameo", as they say in Korea. It was also the same disgusting country all the time. Stink, stink, stink!! Sometimes we had a normal day, like from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Then at other times when we were on a training mission, we might be up and going for as long as 42 hours non-stop. We also pulled Charge of Quarters or CQ on a rotational basis, which meant that about every six to seven days we were CQ for 24 hours. All in all we were always on call, but we didn't mind as the S-3 officers we had were the best and we would proudly do anything they asked because they really took good care of us whenever possible.
In non-working hours, we just BS'ed a lot, talking about home and going home--what we were going to do when we got home. Church services were offered. They were generally in the open except sometimes we had a building for the services. I went sometimes, but the Chaplain was not the most liked guy. He was too pious for our tastes. He came through our tents and tore down our Marilyn Monroe calendars and that really made us mad. I went to the CO and demanded that he return them. They reappeared!
Sometimes the Red Cross came into our company area, but they didn't endear themselves with me when they did. They used our coffee and then asked for donations before we could get the coffee. As a first three-grader, I was supposed to offer $5.00, but I told them to stick it. The CO didn't like me for that, but I knew he didn't have a leg to stand on for that kind of extortion. I suspect he had a working relationship with the blubber-butted Red Cross girl he brought in for "The Coffee." To this day I have little regard for the Red Cross because of my experience with them in Korea.
We got a case a week of beer ration, but we didn't have the money to buy that much. We didn't have access to hard liquor except through my connection with the officer who ran the officer's mess. He was the one that I worked out a deal with for a few bottles of Canadian Club in exchange for the daily menus for the Officers Mess. Cigarettes, which I never smoked, were plentiful. Booze was always available either legally or by other methods. When the supply got short, we found an engineer outfit that hauled the booze and made a deal with them. We never suffered from "withdrawals" from alcohol. Actually, we drank beer because the water gave us kidney infections from time to time. Plus, that was a damn good excuse to use! I have to say this--the booze kept us going, as a beer helped keep the situation from getting to us. We weren't drunks, but we did tie one on once in a while.
We played cards, harassed somebody in a friendly manner, drank beer whenever we could get some, and generally made do with the typical banter that GI's possess. I read whatever somebody had or the Stars and Stripes. Books were passed around and read until they fell apart. (We had a small library for the regiment, but it was not much.) We also had somebody entertaining us with some prank or story. We seldom got a USO show. In my 16 months in Korea, I saw two and they were second rate--just a tired but dedicated group of entertainers doing their best to give us something different other than old movies, which we ran over and over. Every day we had fun just cutting up and laughing at something or somebody. With a drunk for a Company Commander and an Indian who drank Aqua Velva toward the end of the month when his money ran out, we had plenty to laugh about. This Indian swiped the CO's Jeep one day in a drunken fit, ran it off into a rice paddy, and turned it over. He wasn't hurt, but he got court martial. I don't remember the punishment. We always had something going on. GI's will make lemons into lemonade regardless of the situation. It helped to keep laughing and it kept our morale up.
My buddy Hiag Gopian was a very neat guy and was a good detail man. He was just a nice guy (he smoked those little stinky Parodi Italian cigars) and came from an Armenian family with strong values. Bob Pasta was always a barrel of fun. He was a cut up and the two of us were known as the "company harassers." We would select a guy for the day to just give them a friendly fit! Pasta was also one of the best scroungers around and could talk an Eskimo into buying snowballs. He was from Chicago and of Italian extraction. He was a little guy and kind of rolly polly. We called him the "Skochie Whopp" (small = skoch in Korean). He was and still is a good friend. We have kept in touch all these years. Until the day he died in 2006, I still called him "Skoch" when I called him. He knew it was me then. Why did I end up with them as buddies? Well, we worked together, slept together, ate together, and drank together 24 hours a day. It just so happened that they were nice guys and we became life-long friends. I had other close buddies, too, including Dick Lemon, Ernie Favarro (our company clerk), and Alvin "Tuck" Tucker. Tuck is still a great friend. We had a really good group of guys on the staff of the Regimental Headquarters (S-1, S-2, and S-3), and we all got along well. Pasta was also the best poker player in the company and always had a wad of money that he had won. Being the best winner at cards, he was also the loan shark for the company. His interest rates were nominal, but I don't remember what the percentage was, if any.
We improvised with what we had to celebrate Christmas. We had no tree, but we fashioned a semblance of one out of paper and scrap. Christmas was mainly one of the two good meals we got in the 16 months I was in Korea. There was no Christmas shopping or gift exchanges. Most of the gifts sent from home were packages of food and goodies. It was a very solemn and sad time for most of us. Some tried to sing a few carols, but most were just too sad to get into it. I was homesick in Korea from Day One and I never got over it. I wanted to get back to my bride who I had married less than a year before.
I got mail from my wife and my parents, as well as from many relatives. I was an avid letter writer and wrote my wife every day. (The letters are still under my basement steps.) I also wrote more than one letter each day to the people who wrote to me. The letter writing helped me cope, since I could vent my spleen in a letter like I couldn't in Korea. Sometimes my darling wife sent me a little extra money for R&R. One of the guys got a Dear John letter, cried like a baby, and then got drunker than a skunk. It was sad to see a guy devastated when that happened. I wished the sender of the "Dear John" could have suffered with the same kind of pain she had inflicted on that GI.
I had two Rest and Recuperation visits (R&R), both to Tokyo, Japan. Being a married man, I had no interest in the typical R&R past-time of I&I (Intercourse and Intoxication). I did a few days of shopping for gifts to send home, then I got on a train and just roamed around Japan looking at the sights. I am a devotee of history and historical points of interest. I walked halfway up Mt. Fuji and rode a 100MPH train to Nikko. (Yes, even in 1953 they had fast trains.) I visited quaint shops while traveling for unusual gifts to send home. I still have many of those souvenirs today. I bought my wife a string of Mikimoto pearls for $25. It is worth 50 times that now. I also bought a hand-carved horse chestnut tablet of the Sacred Bridge of Nikko, some china, pool sticks, knives, and typical tourist trinkets. I was and still am a photographic nut and spent most of my time taking pictures. I have several hundred Kodacolor slides that are fading away after the many years, but I also have many black and white photos.
R&R was always a great break, as we could get some good food, a hot bath, and a cold beer. Back in Korea, our food was simple. Stew, stew, and more stew. I thought the world had gone brain dead and forgot to grow anything but stew components. I think the cooks had only one day of training and that was: How to Make Stew. What was in the stew is a damn good question. It appeared to have some resemblance of meat in it, but we never knew if the Koreans ate our dog or if we did in our stew. It was made from whatever they could find in cans--thrown in a pot and cooked to death. It was nothing like anything one would expect to find at home in the States. The best food we got was a rare air drop from the Air Force, which had great assault rations. They had potted meat that was a real treat and a biscuit that we could actually chew. If we were on the move and no hot food was available, we got a cold C-ration can of sausage patties (which was full of white grease and stuck to our mouth for a week) or cold C-rations of beans and frankfurters. Our cooks had the mentality of an earthworm when it came to cooking. Powdered milk. Powdered potatoes. Powdered eggs. Pot-boiled GI coffee. That is what we lived on. It kept us alive is about all I can say good about it. The exception to that was on Thanksgiving and Christmas. I have to give the Army credit--they always came through with the full meal come Hell or high water on those days. It made good press back home to see us getting two good meals a year. I wish they would have sent the Joint Chiefs of Staff a cold can of 1948 C-ration sausage patties for their Christmas.
We never ate the native food. Heavens no! It was too dangerous even to eat an apple off of the tree because of disease possibilities. We had one of our guys drink some clear water out of a rice paddy and in two weeks his teeth started to rot and fall out. During Task Force Olsen, I got a small splinter in a finger on my left hand one day while building a drafting table from some scrap plywood that I had rounded up from the junk pile while we were assembling to head to Munsan-ni, our CP for the operation. The next morning I had a life-threatening case of blood poisoning that about did me under. Overnight an infection was already heading to my heart, as seen by a blue streak that ran all the way up my arm and to my left armpit by the time I got to the medics. A very alert doctor said that another 30 minutes and I would have been a goner. They started pumping me full of antibiotics to stop it, and thankfully it worked. That's how dangerous dirt was in Korea. The human feces that the Koreans revered so much was deadly to Americans. And Korean food? Wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole.
Needless to say, a "care package" from home was always appreciated. My wife, my mother, and my grandmother sent me boxes of goodies from time to time. Mother sent a "hot water cake." She knew I dearly loved it and it kept well for the 30-day trip over on a ship. We all got care packages from home with various kinds of food and goodies enclosed and we all shared them. Having several ethnic groups in our squad, we had some interesting food sent--cookies, most of all, as well as ethnic sausages, fruit dried into sheets, pickled pig's feet (which we loved because they had some taste), homemade candies of all sorts, and cakes too. It was all great to get and what a treat.
Korea and the states of Missouri and Illinois are on the same parallel geographically, so the weather is much the same--only made worse in Korea by the mountains and the cold blowing down from Siberia. Monsoons set in and made the land a gigantic mud puddle in the spring. In the summer, the Anopheles Mosquito--the Malaria bearers which all land head down to bite, gave 100% of us Malaria. I have never been able to give blood because of the infection of Malaria which can be passed on to anybody who would get my blood. Korea in the summer was also hot like the Midwest (hotter than Hell). There was nothing we could do to cope with the heat. What choice did we have? We just took it along with the daily bitter pill of being in a situation that we had no control over. The only answer was to wait it out and hope we made it until our 480 days were up. Being young (20 years old) helped, as one can endure the heat better at that age. But the cold was never easy for any age.
Yes, the weather in Korea was tough, especially the winters. In the winter, -20F was not uncommon. I have never been so cold in my life. We tried to stay warm with whatever we hopefully could find, scrounge or swipe. Most of the time the Army supplies were for the wrong season. Many times we got our winter issue too late to do much good. One of the favorite methods of shoring up our winter supplies was to have a guy rotating home to pass on his "good stuff" to those of us who were remaining. We then hid it from inspection so we could have it when we needed it. Never underestimate the ability of GI's to improvise and come up with some deal to beat the system. Supply and "whatever worked" helped us exist. To this day, I hate cold weather. I still suffer from frostbite of my hands and feet. Cold was the one thing that bugged me most because I've never been good with the cold. (Although, you would be surprised at how much a single candle could keep two guys warm in a two-man pup tent.)
Sometimes we had a shower point and sometimes we didn't. When we didn't, we improvised--like dragging out my Coleman camp stove and heating up a helmet full of water to take a bath with the meager amount of water it held. Other times we found a river or a creek to take a bath in. Most of the time the water was frigid. In the summer we always looked to find a waterfall coming off a mountain. That was "uptown" if we found one. We washed our clothes in creeks most of the time also. In winter, because shower points froze up, we didn't bathe much except from our helmets. You can see why my Coleman stove was such a prized possession by all of my squad. When I left Korea I passed it on, but it stayed in my squad. Several years ago I saw one like it and bought it just for nostalgic reasons.
Unlike my experience with Sergeant Greene in Basic Training, I was in contact with officers each day in Korea and they sheltered us from BS. Our job was very important to them and they made sure we were taken care of. The Headquarters and Headquarters Company of an Infantry Regiment was responsible for billets and rations for the Regimental Headquarters personnel. Basically, it was two companies in one (commonly called Head & Head Company). The Regimental Headquarters was staffed with enlisted men (like the S-3 Draftsmen) who were specialists in their respective jobs. Our jobs were needed to run a Regiment. We were only attached to the Head & Head Company for billets and rations. S-designated personnel were not to pull any guard duty or any other duty, as their sole reason for being there was to sleep, eat, and be supplied the necessary clothing, boots, etc. The other Company of Head & Head Company was to furnish intelligence and reconnaissance, communications, motor pool, food, guards, etc., to keep and support the Regimental Headquarters.
Our Company Commander resented us. (We called him "Ole Captain Red Eye" because he was drunk most of the time.) He didn't know the purpose of a Headquarters and Headquarters Company. Apparently he had slept through that class at OCS and didn't know how a company was to be ran. He called us "the Bossom-less WAC's." (I had to clean that up a bit.) One time he decided to put us all on Guard Duty. When he ordered us to fall out, we reminded him of our duty. He told us in no uncertain terms that he gave the orders. I told my squad to settle down, for by sun up we would have broken that nit-wit from sucking eggs. The next morning, none of us showed up at Regimental Headquarters to do our jobs. Well, you never saw so much waste material hit the fan. My S-3 Officer rang up the EE-8 field phone and got the Company Commander on the phone. I have never heard an officer chew another officer out like that. (The Company Commander was a Captain.) Well, Ole Captain Red Eye quickly jumped in his Jeep and personally rounded us up one by one and escorted us to our Regimental CP so we could get to work running a regiment. He got a quick lesson in Army command structure and his derriere was sore for at least a month. You just don't shut down a Regiment's operation to satisfy your vendetta as a result of not knowing how things are supposed to work. He never messed with us again.
I was in Korea for 16 months and, strangely enough, discovered that my mind went into quiescence. I just took it a day at a time, checking off my calendar. Although at that time it was a moot point, I didn't consider Korea a country worth fighting for. Further into my tenure, I came to dislike the Koreans because they would steal our eye teeth if they could find them loose. They could steal the watch off our arm while talking to us and we would never know. They could slit our hip pocket and steal our wallet, again without us knowing. I saw the side of my tent slowly raise up one night and then saw a hand reaching to get some gear of mine. I gave him a butt stroke with my M-1 and I guarantee that he had the damnest ache for a week. If we had a dog, it was short-lived as they dearly loved to eat them. Old "Syg Rhee" had 50,000 cats imported to Seoul to attack the rat problem. (Rats were overpowering Seoul.) The Koreans ate every damn one of them and probably started on the rats next. I saw an old Papasan carrying an engine that he had stolen from a deuce and a half GMC truck in our motor pool. He had it loaded and was trotting it off on his A-frame when we caught him.
We saw very little about the Korean culture because we were never in close confines with the natives. For the time we were in the Pusan area of dense population, they were off limits due to dope houses and prostitution. They lived in packing boxes and whatever they could scrounge up. Rice straw was their primary building material. They were resentful of us, and the more we tried to help them it seemed the more they disliked us. We built them homes, yet they resented us and told us, "Go home, GI." They said, "GI's Number 10." That was the way a Korean told us that we were no good SOB's. In retrospect, I think the planning on our part was ill-begotten. We built them the wrong type of homes. We built what we would build here in America. Oil stoves were installed with no thought by us as to the natives' ability to buy oil. The only way they could get oil was to steal it. (They were masters at stealing.) We should have built them mud floor huts with rice straw roofs and sidewalks and put "onders" in the mud floor. "Onders" were a serpentine labyrinth arrangement under the mud floors that was one of the first forms of radiant heat. It had been used for centuries in Korea. Any fuel could be used both for cooking and heating, and it worked. We tried to interject our Western ideas, and they just resented our stupidity relevant to their situation. We sent over tractors for them to plow their rice paddies. Guess what? The tractors got stuck in the mud, the engines blew up when they didn't keep oil in the crankcase, and they didn't have the money to buy diesel fuel. So what happened again? They thought we were nuts and told us to go home. The old oxen that they used to plow the rice paddy didn't need anything but a meager ration of forage, and when he died, they ate him. In some ways, I think we deserved some of the criticism, as the powers that sat back in Washington had their head in the sand about the customs and abilities of these people.
At the time I was there, no reconstruction had really begun. Papasan was returning to his rice paddy to plow, and many times was blown up by a land mine. The working girls were in full operation regardless of how remote the GI's might be up in the hills. There are two Korean smells that I will never forget. If we smelled garlic, we knew a gook was close by. The kimchi they ate gave them a breath that proceeded them by at least 300 yards. The other smell was perfume. No matter how remote we were in the field, at night we could smell the perfume wafting through the air from the "working girls" who always knew where the GI's were. Many were shot because we didn't know who or what they were and we took no chances. Every time one was shot and turned over to the ROK authorities, it cost the U.S. Army $150.00 for burial expenses. If the truth were known, the authorities probably let them rot and kept the money. Nobody would ever be able to detect the smell among all the other smells. A few of the troopers in our CP did indulge in the indigenous female working girls trade. It was never allowed, but it was also never discouraged unless a GI died from an overdose of dope or got into a fight and the MO's had to haul him off. Then, only that particular "house" was placed off limits. As to shooting a few, that was their own fault as they were told not to try and cross into a marked area because if they did, they would be shot. We never took chances because, in the dark, we never knew if that perfume we smelled was on a female or a male. Shoot first and ask questions later. The working girls were a problem because every one of them had venereal disease, and some of the infections were forever. I kept my distance from them for fear something might jump off of them and onto me.
It was hard to tell whether the resentment for Americans was the attitude of the citizenry at large or just a few complainers. We never knew if we were talking to Communist sympathizers or who. Plus, my attitude wasn't good about the gooks, so I didn't mix with them much. I was shocked to see women openly stopping on the streets of Pusan or Seoul and defecating on the street, never looking up or thinking a thing of it. I was also shocked to see working girls plying their trades while a baby was strapped to their back. I was annoyed at "Sam the Honey Bucket Man" fighting to get the human dung from our latrines, bitching about GI's who used too much paper, yet loving it for the nice quality of fertilizer for the rice paddies. Those who have never been to Korea can't even begin to be able to realize how bad that country stank in the fall when they fertilized with human excrement. We gasped for a breath of fresh air and it isn't there. For two months or more until the ground froze we suffered that god-awful smell. Also, you can bet that any dirt that got into a wound resulted in instant infection.
Besides American military personnel, there were Greeks still in Korea at the end of the war. They fought harder among themselves than anybody else. The Turks were so damned mean that we stayed away from them. Brits and Aussies were lots of fun to be around. Philippine troops stayed to themselves. East Indians were there, but we saw little of them. And, of course, there were the ROKs scattered around. They weren't attached to us, so any dealings with them were meager. We had next to nothing to do with the ROK outfits, although the ROK Army always seemed happy for any help we offered. At that time, they weren't much of an Army and were looked upon by us as "rag tag." Many years later they proved to be the meanest SOB's on the block, and were some of the best fighting soldiers in the world. I never had much contact with any of these foreign troops as we were kept very busy each day and only saw them when we were on a joint operation. One time we had a small group of Formosa Chinese attached to us for a few days during the prisoner swap. All we did was feed and billet them in tents. I never understood a damn thing they said. The one thing that I remember about them is that the officers and enlisted men all slept and ate together. Not like our Army.
I felt sorry for a bunch of kids in an orphan home. I had my family send over a big box of clothes for them. I got them just before Christmas and took them to the orphans home. There was one kid that I took a great interest in, and I made sure he was dressed for the cold winter. I came back a week later and asked him what happened to his clothing. He said, "Honcho sold to Slicky-Slicky boy." I found the head man had sold the clothes on the black market and the kids went begging. I was further appalled at the disregard for girl babies. If food got to be a problem, the girl babies got their heads bashed on a rock and they were thrown into the nearest creek. We all saw these bodies from time to time. A creek in Pusan was one of the places that it was rare not to see a body in it. I think that one of the most revealing discoveries I made about Korea--and one of the toughest things for me to endure, was the total lack of value for a human life that Orientals had. We Westerners had a totally different outlook on human lives. For instance, if a ROK soldier misbehaved, he might just be shot on the spot. These human animals placed little value on a life. It was hard for us Westerners to understand that. The Chinks used thousands of unarmed soldiers just for cannon fodder to have us expend ammo during some of their attacks while the war was going on. They also doped them up with heroin to give them a boost before they got mowed down. I guess seeing what they did to girl babies was enough for me to understand that they just placed no value on lives. And, from what I hear, this is still prevalent in China.
The 34t went to Yangu Valley to relieve the 45th Division, which was to return to the United States. Then, after three and a half years in Korea, the 34th packed up to return to Japan. Because I was too "short" to go with them, I was sent on temporary duty (TDY) to the 7th Infantry Division to send me home.
All soldiers on duty in Korea had an Estimated Date of Departure Far East Command (EDDFEC). When our time came up, orders were cut and we shipped out for home. It was probably one of the most efficient things the Army did for us. I was about as glad as a guy could get to leave Korea. Fourteen months from arrival in Korea I became a sergeant. Two months later I was finally going home to my bride and back to being a member of the human race. Being away from my wife had been the hardest part about being in Korea. One of the jokes that we always asked a guy going home from Korea was, "Hey, Clyde (or whatever the name was). What's the second thing you're going to do when you see your wife for the first time in 18 months?" The answer was always, "Take off my field pack." Got it?
I left the CP by train and truck to Pusan and embarked from Korea on the USS General Anderson, the sister ship to the USS General Meigs. It was a general class, three-stack ship with the capability of holding about 5,000 bodies. We made a stop at Tern Island in the Hawaiian chain because one guy had hemorrhagic fever. They dropped him off there hoping to fly him to Honolulu for treatment. We never knew if he made it. Most didn't live with that fever.
We arrived at Oakland Naval Base in the San Francisco Bay area. There was no band playing for us and there was no welcome home. Nobody could have cared less. We were just a bunch of bodies they had to get on trains and get the hell out of there. Directly off the ship, we were loaded on a troop train and headed for Ft. Carson, Colorado. Three days there and we were on our way home. I took the Colorado Eagle train home to St. Louis in a roomette just for me. I was surprised at the dispatch with which they discharged us. About the most time they spent with us was trying to get all of us First Three Graders (Sergeants) to re-enlist. I told the Bird Colonel who interviewed me, "Sir, with all due respect to you, all I want from the Army is OUT." He got the message and I was on my way.
My wife and family knew when I was to be shipped home, but didn't know when I would arrive until I called home once I got back in the States. I had left Korea on December 14, 1954, arrived at Ft. Carson, Colorado on December 26, 1954, and was mustered out on December 29, 1954. I arrived home on December 30, 1954, took two weeks to just do nothing, and then went back to my job at McDonnell Aircraft.
Since then, I have lived life to the fullest. I became a very successful Sales Engineer and Sales Manager, and spent my last 30 working years as a Manufacturing Representative selling process machinery to Staley Company, ADM, Cabot, etc. My mechanical ability and engineering bent has been my long suit and I made the best of it. Now that I'm an old man, I am sitting back and enjoying the fruits of my labor. I have done so damn many things in my life because I wanted to that, if you quizzed me, you might think I am Baron Munchusen. Frank Sinatra wasn't the only one "Who did it his way." I did too! I've kissed my toads and now it's my turn.
In addition to my sales career, I became a certified master clockmaker and do a lot of clock repair and restoration in my retirement. "Certified" means that I have served as an apprentice and studied at the old Horology School of Bradley University, which moved to Kansas City, Missouri. I also attended Bradley U in pursuit of a Mechanical Engineering degree. A certified master clockmaker has to pass a very rigorous test and actually make a clock movement from scratch, including making the gear cutters and such. Once you make your master piece and it passes all the exams, you are one! It was one of the toughest exams I've ever undertaken. I was certified in 1974 and was required in 1999 to recertify.
I did not leave Korea with a very good impression of Koreans. It has just been in the last 10-15 years that I would buy or have anything to do with anything made in Korea. I still think the only purpose of the war was to hold the Communist world in check from their expansionist plans for world domination. With that in mind, I guess Korea was as good as any place to start that movement, but I sure wish they had chosen a warmer place with people who cared. Korea was so corrupt when the war started from Sygmund Rhee's regime that the Korean people were converted into animals to survive. I think after many years they looked back and now have a very good attitude about what the Americans did for their country, but at the time I was there, I thought we were wasting our time and money. It sure tore a hole in my young life.
When I got mustered out of the Army, I thought I would assimilate back to civilian life without a hitch. Boy, was I surprised. It made me a bitter person as I was mad at the world for sending me over there and wasting my valuable time. I was so bitter that I wanted to stomp a mud hole in anybody who crossed me. It was the result of being transformed into the Pavlovian Killer mode of the training and the loneliness of being deprived those months from my bride. I really resented it and was embittered with that until I decided enough was enough. After about a year or so, I took myself aside and had a good talk with myself. Still, it took me several years to finally get a hold of myself and quit wasting my time bitching. Now I'm a calm, cool and collected, suave and debonair vet of the Forgotten War.
I don't think my wife noticed my bitterness so much because she was contemporary with my feelings via my letters. But my mother was the one who said, "The Army ruined my son. He came back a hard, bitter person." I guess she was right in a way, as the stuff I saw and had to do would toughen anybody up from a soft cushy civilian attitude. Anybody who went through that period of time was scarred in one form or another. I was one of the lucky ones. I wasn't there in the early days when it was really the worst thing you could put a GI in. I was able to stay out of a line company with the lucky placement I got in S-3. I told myself that my job was just as important as the next guy's, as lives depended on me getting my job right. I feel embarrassed to complain about my tenure because I know how those poor bastards suffered in the early 1950s with the cold and no support.
During World War II, I was too young to go to war. But I was just the right age for Korea. I always wanted to be a fighter pilot in World War II, fly a P-51 Mustang, and shoot Germans out of the sky. My eyesight wasn't good enough to pass Air Force requirements, and they required four-year enlistments. A draftee had two years obligation and, if he made it back, he might even get out in a little less than 24 months. I actually got out in 22 months. After I served my 16 months in Korea, they didn't know what to do with me so they mustered me out. They also figured it wasn't worth trying to make use of anybody who came back from Korea because their attitude wasn't worth wasting time on. We didn't come back with a very good opinion of Army life. It was just a series of one foul-up after another. I was fortunate that I had a good Military Operations Specialty (MOS) as an Operations Draftsman in S-3. I worked for great officers. As for the rest of the Army that I interfaced with, it again was SNAFU most of the time. The Army always had an abundance of toilet paper, but never enough boots or cold weather gear. It seems the logistics were always an abstract thing.
Like I said, I count my blessings that I was at the right time at the right place when I was chosen for the Operations Draftsman job. While it was not a snap job, it was at least not a line company assignment. Being in Korea was an experience that I wouldn't take a million dollars for, but wouldn't do again for five million dollars. It changed my whole outlook on life. In some ways it made me tough as far as not tolerating any excess crap from people. Even today I still have my father's motto in place, "If you don't like my apples, don't shake my tree." Being in Korea made me very self reliant. It made me very aware of the nice things in life that we didn't have. It taught me that Americans are the most spoiled people in the world. And it gave me some life-long friends.
My darling wife doesn't understand my continuing interest in my Army buddies and wanting to have reunions with them. I have given up trying to explain the bond that happens to Army buddies. She doesn't understand because she didn't spend 16 months of her life with a bunch of soldiers in the mud, muck, and mire of Korea. We had kept in touch all these years. Bob Pasta is still one of my close buddies, and we stay in touch as he lives in Chicago and I live near St. Louis. We phone back and forth. We were a great team in Korea and made a good name for ourselves by being a solid team that could be depended upon. After 46 years I found some of my other buddies from Korea too, and it was really a shock to them when I called them on the phone. I have also lost two other buddies besides Hiag. They are Dick Lemon and Ernie Favarro, our company clerk. In the spring of 1999, we had a reunion after 46 years. It was great. I'm still looking for Tom Guthrie, as he is the first one they ask about when I find somebody after all these years. Tom was the biggest, "I don't give a damn what the Army wants me to do--I don't want to do anything they want me to do" kind of guy. And he didn't. He was a great guy and funny with his wise cracks and escapades. He kept us in stitches most of the time. He was always in trouble with Lieutenant Brown. We finally figured a way to get rid of Lieutenant Brown. Since we were in Regimental Headquarters, we were able to see to it that he was shipped out to a school in Eta Jima, Japan, never to return. That probably kept Tom from the "Big Eight" (GI stockade in Japan). I hunted for my S-3 Captain James B. Vaught for 46 years and through a fluky bit of luck I found him. I can't tell you how much it meant to both of us to be reunited after all those years. He was one of the greatest officers that ever served in the U.S. Army, and I thought he could walk on water. He later became Lt. General James B. Vaught and is now retired. He was the 24th Infantry Division Commander in 1977-79.
Whether or not the United States should have sent troops to Korea in the first place is a question that would take at least a week of discussion. If I had been asked that question in 1952, I would not only have said, "No." I would have said, "Hell No!" My biggest complaint was the way they sent troops into battle poorly equipped with no known mission and into a war ran from the Dia Ichi Building in Tokyo (General MacArthur's headquarters) by an egotistical old man who was out of touch with the world. He hadn't been in the USA for over 35 years and was totally lost. Men were used for sacrificial lambs until the powers that be quit scratching their posteriors. Then those powers continued to procrastinate and politicize the whole damn war. Since World War II, we have never gone to battle with the intention of winning. If you look at later history, one could draw the conclusion, "Yes, it was the right thing to do to head the Commies off at the pass before they took over the world." But we went at it the wrong way in Korea, then we turned around and did the same dumb things in Vietnam.
I have a solution to wars. When it is decided a war must be fought, Congressmen and Senators over the age of 55 must go first. (If you have a draft-dodging yellow-bellied President, he must lead the pack.) Then after that, you draft all men between the ages of 35 and 55. You leave the breeding stock at home to propagate after all these old men fail at their job. This would have a profound effect on wars. Those who start them would then know what it is they have been sending the young men to do. Those in the prime of life are being sent to their death. I realize this is the rambling of a bitter old man at politics, but we haven't learned a damn thing from the senselessness of Korea or Nam. It is just a matter of time before something happens again, especially with the yellow-bellied draft dodger mentality that is running the country. The Congress uses our young men as pawns for their whims.
I don't think we have any choice but to still have troops in Korea. We got ourselves into a situation that is ongoing. It is rather a "Damned if we do and damned if we don't" situation. Kim Jung Il's son still has plans to make one Korea, and China is still in the wings being reinforced by our crooked politicians into the world power that will someday bring us all to our knees. Our presence in Korea is the only thing that stops the crazy North Koreans from coming back South. I don't think many Americans realize how maniacal North Koreans are. They make an animal look like a Rhodes Scholar. Life isn't worth a bat of an eye to them. If it weren't such an impoverished country, North Korea would have started the war up again long ago. China helped them once. Who knows when they'll help again. They know that our only defense in Korea will be atomic holocaust, as we can't beat them in ground warfare. That is the deterrent today. Tomorrow, who knows what nut will decide it is worth the risk--or jump us first. In Desert Storm, we were just lucky that Sadam caved in. If he hadn't, we would have taken it on the chin. We sort of lucked out. With "Old Yellow Stain" as our president, who knows what will be the next debacle.
I have mixed emotions about a revisit to Korea. I have had relatives who served there after the cease fire and they tell me it is a modern country now. I've often thought I would like to see it again, but I still don't know if it would be worth the long trip. I know the Korean government has tours that are subsidized, but I'm still moot on this point. I guess the long trip is the biggest deterrent. I had a belly full of world travel as a Sales Manager for an international company. Also, it might just be my luck that the North would decide to come South about the time I got there on a revisit!
I've been following the stories that came out this year  about the 7th Cavalry at Nogun-ri. Supposedly they killed innocent civilians there. A subsequent story of a bridge-blowing also claimed that innocent civilians were killed. I wish the dumb bastards that are condemning the 7th Cav guys had their thing in that wringer like these veterans do. Sure we killed civilians. We had to. The gooks typically masked themselves among the refugees. When they got close to us, they mowed down their cover and us too. When you see a small kid come up and ask a GI for a chocolate bar, then he gives it to him and the kid pulls the pin on a grenade and blows him up, you get damn callous about these things. I know from my own experience that the Koreans were told to stay away from the war front, yet they didn't pay any attention to what they were told. I told a Papasan not to go in a rice paddy because of mines, but when I turned my head he did it anyway and BANG, he was gone. I developed a callous attitude that they made good mine sweepers and why endanger our boys if they wanted so badly to plow their rice paddy. Yes, I would have done the same thing as the 7th Cavalry had I been in those guys' shoes--and it probably would have haunted me the rest of my life. But that's war.
Why are the AP writers picking on this instance? I never heard any of these people say a damn thing about the bombing of Germany's cities when we knew we were killing civilians. Nor was there a big hoop-la about the Germans bombing London with V-bombs. Again, that's what happens in war. People get killed. Some 35,000-45,000 of our men got killed and three times that number carry their wound today (if they're still alive) from a senseless war. Or have you ever heard any big noise about Stalin's murder of 20 million people? Get off my back fellows. They will start something they can never finish with me when they pull this old story back to recycle to sell their book or newspaper. Hell yes we killed civilians. But don't condemn us unless you've had to walk in our combat boots at -20 degrees with our feet frozen and not having any food to eat for 48 hours. At times like those, our strength was pure adrenaline and the will to stay alive was all they had left. Nobody likes these sorts of things, but war is Hell. It was never designed like the modern-day mentality emanating from the "Yellow House" to bomb the Bosnia's or the Kosovo's from 35,000 feet and never know who will be killed. Get on that case, Fellows. If you want a war on your hands, don't take on us Korean vets, as we still have a lot of fight left and we know how to still use it. Nuf' said.
The Korean War is a great example of political and egotistical bungling--a pattern from which nobody seems to remember the last boondoggle. The Korean War was replete with political ineptitude, egomaniacal battles from the Supreme Commander--MacArthur (who was out of touch with international reality), and an administration that was riddled with a Congress that was composed of jellyfish for statesmen. Couple that with June 26, 1950, and you have a country, a supreme commander, the Korean President, the Pentagon, JCS, and the US Congress all with their thumbs stuck in their noses trying to figure out what to do. And what did we do? The usual. Send in young kids to be used as cannon fodder for a holding pattern until we figured out how to extract our thumb from the orifice it was hung up in. We backed a corrupt presidential regime with Sygmund Rhee, who was as crooked as a dog's leg, and we didn't have guts enough to dump him. Finally when he dumped us, we got off dead center, but that was several years too late. I could write an essay where we went wrong in Korea, but there have been many, many books that cover this subject fully.
I have become a voracious reader about military history, especially about Korea. It is revealing how little we knew about what was happening while we were in Korea and how little we were told while there. I was in Operations where you would think we would know the heartbeat of the situation, but either deliberately or not, we didn't know much about our Division or regimental history. Since then I find that I served in a great Division and a Regiment that is in the history books with full honors being given to them. Had I been given a bit more information about the great unit I was in, I might have had a better outlook about it all. We were kept like mushrooms--"feed 'em manure and keep them in the dark."
My children have heard their Old Man tell lots of stories about Korea--the good and the bad. I've given them a liberal education on Korea over the years. They have heard of the primitive life I saw, the disregard for human lives, the smell of Korea, what a honey bucket is, what Sam the Honey Bucket Man did for a living, and the inability for us to ever win a war against the Chinks. There is much more too. I endeavored to give them an insight into how great their country is and what a good life they have had. It was an interesting time in my life--and one that I will never forget, but I sure hate to see how we are the non-veterans of the non-war. I sometimes get a bit sick of hearing the Vietnam vets complain. At least they got recognized.
The time I spent in Korea was a liberal education that was both priceless and nonsensical to me. Priceless for the experience of seeing things from the other side of the world. Priceless in letting me know how lucky I am to be an American. Priceless to see kids have a chance at life without having the girl babies' heads bashed on a rock. Priceless in learning the Oriental mind and culture. And on and on. It was nonsensical in that we never learned a damn thing. We turned around twelve years later and backed another crooked regime in Vietnam and lost that war too. We just had a fresh cadre of the same dumb politicians to screw up things like Korea. At least our foul-ups are consistent.
My experience in Korea influenced my outlook on life. It made me more self-reliant and opened my eyes as to the way the world goes around. It was a very broadening experience in that when I'm around my peers who haven't had a military life, I find myself far ahead of them in grasping the big picture. It also was a great experience to get an understanding of the differences in Americans. I grew up in a sheltered environment and had a very limited outlook. Being drafted when my chances of coming back alive were not good was a very traumatic thing to me. I felt trapped in this war and wondered why the hell we had to stick our noses in a place I never heard of. After I finished my Basic training and got on the plane at Lambert Field to go to Camp Stoneman at Pittsburgh, California, I looked out the window of that Lockheed Constellation and saw my dad crying like a baby. He had put his only surviving child on a plane, knowing that he may never see him again. That picture still brings tears to my eyes. The very day I got on the ship to Korea, the truce was signed and a great weight was lifted from me. I made up my mind then that I would do my very best at whatever I had to do, even though I hated every minute of my Army service.
It's funny. While I was writing this memoir, Korea seemed just like yesterday. In my mind's eye, I could see the people, places, and things as clearly as if it was 1953-54. I guess the mind can play strange tricks. On the other hand, my mind is different than a good deal of other minds. I remember things most people forget or want to talk about. I think the Korean fiasco should be documented as much as possible. I don't expect this memoir will make a hill of beans difference (which the history books have proven), but it will make good reference material for some college student's thesis.
I dug out the letters that my wife and I wrote to each other while I was in Korea. There is a whole history book to be written if I were to read them and build a story. (Maybe I'll call it, "Lonesome Joe and the Korean War.") I bet I could sell at least three copies (one to each of my daughters). I think there must be 300 or more letters in the satchel where they have been resting since 1954. I started to read a few and had to quit for awhile because the tears overtook me. It brought back sad memories about things that I had totally forgotten about. Since I seldom failed to write a letter except when I was on an exercise, my daily letters are a chronological history book of my "dailies" in Korea. If I get time this long, cold winter, it would make a nice history story to pass on to my daughters. Each one that I read had the same sadness of a GI who missed his bride so much, and her letters said the same thing. These 50-plus years later, I still love her as much or more than I did then. As a clockmaker, I am reminded that every tick of a clock I hear is one that I will never hear again. The days become more valuable with each other every day. I enjoy life so much and each day is so valuable to me. I need at least two more lifetimes to catch up on what I want to accomplish before the last roll call.
First, I want to thank Lynnita for her courageous endeavors in the preservation of the days many have spent in the Forgotten War. Her work will see that our memories will not be lost.
After reading my memoir 56 years later, I find that some of my statements might not be politically correct in today's world, but I could care less. As a disabled vet, a survivor of cancer, a heart attack victim with a six-coronary by-pass operation, a hernia operation (all in the last six years) and the results of three injuries in Korea, I feel I have a right to feel like I do. I'm 75 years old and life has taught me a lot. I was 20 years old when I arrived in Korea and my eyes saw things that have influenced my opinions ever since. While reading my story, the recollections of my 16 months and 6 days in "Frozen Chosen" were just as vivid today as they were then. My feelings were generated by what I encountered at that time. Today, Korea is a prosperous county as the result of the American and ROK army blood spilled from Pusan to the Yalu. South Korea appreciates our help in rebuilding the economical "might" they enjoy today. So when you see or buy a Hyundai auto, give thanks to the 48,000 GIs who were killed worldwide during the Korean War and the 1.2 million soldiers, sailors, Marines, and Air Force personnel who made it possible.
My story of a GI who hated every minute of my Korean service is not unique. We all bitched and moaned, but we gave it our all to do the best job that we had to do. I didn't enjoy the frozen feet and hands or the three injuries I sustained, but we realized it was just part of the job we had to do. Even though I was sorry to have given away two of the best years of my life separated 8500 miles from my wife and family to serve in a war that was mismanaged (as all have been since then), I treasure what I saw and learned at that time. Don't burn my flag or you will suffer the wrath of an Old Soldier who loves his Flag and Country. I hope America wises up soon, as what I see happening today to my country frightens me. We are at WAR and only about 1.5% of Americans who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan feel it. I hope we get the message soon and don't let the politicians continue to sell us down the river. If they do, then all our efforts and lives lost in Korea will have been for naught.