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Merton Kermit Ueland
Cooperstown, North Dakota -
"Those of us who served in Korea in 1946 were just a small part of what was going on in the world at the time. Some we understood and some we didn't."
- Kermit Ueland
A Korean War historian named Merry Helm was invited to speak at a Sons of Norway organization meeting in Cooperstown, North Dakota. She had a book signing time and told about how she got involved in her book and Korean War stories. My daughter-in-law Rhoda and son Marty gave me a copy of her book. Rhoda told Merry about my being in Korea and I talked to her after the meeting. She seemed very interested when I told her that I had been in Korea before the war. She put me in contact with Lynnita Brown of the Korean War Educator and this memoir is the result of that contact.
My name is Merton Kermit Ueland of Cooperstown, North Dakota. Cooperstown is 13 miles from my boyhood home and Luverne is eight miles from home, a difference of five miles. Back then our roads were very poor and cars very poor compared to now, so people did their trading as close to home as possible. At that time Luverne had a good general store, so that was where my folks went. Now a lot of small towns have lost their stores, schools and railroads, and people go to Wal-mart and supermarkets maybe 50 to 100 miles away.
I was born September 3, 1925, in my parents' house in Steele County, North Dakota. There was a neighbor lady who was called a midwife and assisted some people in childbirth, but at the time I was born, Cooperstown had a Doctor Westley who came out for my birth. I was named after my grandfather, Martin Andreas Ueland, and my dad. My parents were Knute Ueland and Inga Loge Ueland. I had one sibling, Shirley. She was born in our home near Cooperstown, North Dakota in 1921, and was four years older than me.
My parents were both born in this country, but my maternal grandparents had an interesting story. Mother's parents were Swen and Serina Loge. Swen was born in Thime, Stavanger, Norway, on October 27, 1852. He married Serina Thime in 1878. They left Norway for America on April 9, 1881, crossing the North Sea on a cattle boat called the Johan Sverdrup. From what I heard, they were down in the ship with no beds or anything in a big room that normally held live cattle. A lot of them were very seasick. At Liverpool, England, they boarded the ship Palmyra to make the rest of the trip to America. They had a baby a little over a year old named Elizabeth. We used to hear that she died on the way and was buried at sea. Later we heard she was buried somewhere in New York, so I don't know which was right. They went from New York to St. Paul, Minnesota on a train. While in the railroad depot in St. Paul, a baby named Swen was born in the depot. From there they went to Granite Falls, Minnesota where there was a Norwegian settlement. The women stayed there while the men went up to Dakota and found a place to homestead. They then went back to Granite Falls to get their families. I think all of this was by ox cart.
At first when my grandparents came here, they lived in a two-room sod house with the Valdemar Klubben family. The house was 20 feet by 13 feet and they lived in it, along with their kids, for five years before Swen built a log house. The sod house was built in 1881 right on the quarter line dividing Klubben's land and Loge's land so that half of the house was on Klubben's land and half was on Loge's. They both qualified under homestead laws. About 20 years ago we put a rock marker where the sod house was built. We keep a little area around it mowed. While there my Grandpa Martin Ueland came walking across the prairie in a snowstorm with no place to go so they took him in for a while. He homesteaded on land next to theirs after that. The Loges and Klubbens shared the sod house for five years, then the Loges built a log house a quarter mile south of where the sod house was and Kubbens built a log house a quarter mile north of the sod house. That would have been in 1886. They lived in that until 1915, when a frame house was built. That was when many of the houses in that area were built by a carpenter named Martin Bolstad. Two of their sons lived in that house, not at the same time. First Hans Loge and his family lived there for several years, then Lars Loge and his family family lived there until they lost it during the Great Depression in the early 1940s. In 1918 my parents were married and built a house two miles east of there by the Sheyenne river, and that is the place I grew up. I lived there until 1950 when I got married. Years later, about 1960, my mother had the frame house that I grew up in moved to Cooperstown. She lived in it there until about 1980. When I got married, Lois and I moved back to the Loge house that Mom had bought back in the early 1940s when the economy improved. My wife and I remodeled it and lived in it until 1999, when Lois died. I lived there alone for five years until I married MaryLou Johnson. The house is empty now, but we maintain it and my son Marty farms the land, as well as his own land next to this. His farm is the farm Grandpa Ueland lived on until his death in 1941.
We talked English at home except when Grandma Loge was there. She couldn't talk English. Eventually I learned Norwegian and I am very glad I did. In some homes the kids couldn't talk English until they went to school. Our folks said that when my cousin Spencer Loge and I played together, he talked Norwegian and I talked English.
Before my parents were married my mother taught in two small country schools. One school was called Kent School and the second one was the Thompson School. They were both one-room country schools that got their name by who lived the nearest. My mother told about a lot of farm boys who just went to school a few months in the winter and never even finished grade school until somewhere in their twenties and maybe fourth grade. My dad went to college a few months, but didn't finish. He ended up farming with his brother, Ole Ueland, until he had to quit due to his health. He had kidney trouble in his early thirties and died when I was two years old, so I don't remember him. I've just seen pictures of him. Dad was taken to Rochester and Fargo hospitals, but back then they couldn't help him. My dad was only 37 years old when he died. When I was growing up, I always had it in the back of my mind that that's when I would die, too.
I've always felt kind of cheated that I didn't have a dad. Mom raised my sister Shirley and me on this little farm. We had a few cows, chickens, and turkeys, and she rented the land to Dad's brother Ole. I was just an average boy growing up in a home with two women, my mother and sister. I was interested in farm life, always had a dog, and loved horses and other farm animals.
Life on the Farm
I can remember things that happened when I was five years old and after. The oldest thing I remember happened about 1929 or 1930. Mom, Uncle Swen, Aunt Lisa, Spencer, and I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Uncle Bernard's. They had three kids then--Homer, Marshal, and Burnette "Sister". Sister could never walk so they had to carry her always. I remember pulling her in her wagon. There was a gentle hill by their place and somehow she got over to that hill with her wagon, coasted down the hill, and just sat there until someone came to get her. She was very patient. I don't remember them having a wheelchair for Sister and she got quite heavy. As I said, Uncle Bernard always carried her, and I don't remember ever any complaint, but I'm sure it wasn't easy. Sister died sometime in her thirties. We all loved her. I remember two other things about that trip. We toured the state penitentiary. That must have impressed me, since I still remember it. The other thing is that we saw some waterfalls on the Sioux river. I guess that is where the town got its name.
The small farm that I grew up on was 13 miles from Cooperstown, North Dakota in Griggs County, so that was always our address. Luverne was a very small town eight miles from home. The town had maybe 100 people living in it. It had a general store that sold some clothes, groceries and things needed for daily living. It had a community building that was a beer parlor and gathering place. It had a barber shop in it and I remember Uncle Ole took me there for my first haircut. That was a big event for me because I usually got home haircuts.
We lived along the Sheyenne River and in the winter we had a man that stayed there for his board and room and cared for the cows. In the 1930s there was a shortage of work, so men were glad to have a place to live for the winter. We burned only wood for heat and cooking, so it was that man's job to cut and split wood. Mom sold cream and eggs in Luverne, so that was our main source of income.
In the spring we got a couple of little pigs and mostly fed them leftover separated milk from our cows. We butchered a cow and a pig every winter. We ate everything but the tail when we butchered a pig, including head cheese and pigs feet. Loren Phiefer said that his mother even made something out of the skin. We didn't have electricity, so we had no refrigerator. We didn't have steaks back then. I remember Mom grinding up a whole washtub full of meat, making meatballs and gravy, and putting this in canning jars. She also cut up some of the meat in one-inch cubes and put that in jars to can. We always had a big garden, so Mom also canned vegetables. Everybody had turkeys then and there were many grasshoppers back then. Shirley and I had to herd the turkeys up on the hill in the pasture for a while every day to save feed. They were real dumb creatures and in the evening when we chased them home, sometimes when they were going downhill by the house a few would start flying. That was bad because soon a lot of them flew down the hill. They didn't know how to stop and sometimes some of them would land in the river.
Clothes washing was another big job since we had no washing machine. Mom had a scrubbing board that she used to first scrub the clothes. Then she put them in a tub of clean water to rinse and hung them on the clothesline outside in the summer. She hung them on a clothes rack in the house in the winter. About 1935 she bought a washing machine with a gas motor from Gabe Sharp. He had a hardware store in Park River at that time. He was my dad's cousin, but was more like a brother. Grandpa helped him and his brother get here from Norway when they were just 15 years old.
We always had food and clothes, so I don't think we knew that we were poor. In the 1930s and early 1940s, everyone was quite poor and a few lost their farms. I'm sure it was hard and stressful for a lot of people, but I think we were happy and all in the same situation. We didn't suffer any, although we seldom had any extra things like treats or anything. I used to play with my cousins, Arla and Blanche Ueland, a lot since they lived right next to our place. Their parents were my Uncle Ole and Aunt Dagny. Uncle Ole was my dad's brother and since they lived next to each other, they shared a barn and machinery when they started farming. Once I was chewing some gum. Arla and Blanche never got gum, so they asked if they could get my gum when I was done with it. When I had all the flavor out of it, I gave it to them and they divided it, so I think we got our money out of that stick of gum.
I really think we were happier then than people are now. Our place was a pretty popular place in the summer to go swimming in the evenings. Neighbors came down several times a week and we would swim. Often the whole family came and we had homemade ice cream. We had an ice house so we had ice most of the summer. We had a car, but a lot of the time if we went to Gjesdals or Hetlands in the evenings we would walk. If there ever was a rainy day, Art Johnson would walk down for coffee. We always liked his visits.
For a time my cousin, Gerald Loge, lived with us, but it was too much for my mother. Gerald's parents were Hans and Christy Vasfaret Loge. Christy died near the time my dad died. Hans was unable to care for his kids real well after Christy died, which is why my mother took Gerald into our house. Gerald's uncle, Gilbert Vasfaret, raised Gerald, Harlow and Delphine. Uncle Hans Loge was one of my favorite uncles even if he had his problems. He stayed at our place off and on when I was growing up.
Back then, we didn't think we had to drive every place we went. We had a Model A Ford, but often we would walk to Hetlands or Gjesdals in the evening to visit. Lars Gjesdal was my dad's first cousin and his wife Elizabeth was my mother's first cousin. Their home in the country was about a mile from ours. Gjesdal is a Norwegian name that is pronounced "Yesdal" in English. Both Lars and Elizabeth were born in Norway and immigrated to the United States when they were young. Lars was a World War I veteran and we heard a few things from him about it.
Every summer we had Bible School down at Cooperstown Bible Camp around the Fourth of July. Cooperstown Bible Camp started in 1925, the year I was born. There were lots of kids. Sometimes we walked and Swen and Lars Loge and Kubbens would join us. By the time we got there, we were a big group. There were kids from Hannaford, Sutton, and areas around here and there. They had classes in a big tent with several rooms. It seems like the tent must have been about as big around as the tabernacle--maybe 75 feet in diameter. I remember a couple of the teachers, Margaret Pearson and a Miss Buckewitz. About 1970 or 1980, I sold a bull to some people west of Carrington who were descendents of that Miss Buckewitz. It was interesting to meet them. The roads were so terrible back then that when it rained the dirt down by camp got sticky. None of the roads were built up at all and there was no gravel. One time when Carl Hetland took us to camp, the mud stuck to the front wheels on the car so they wouldn't turn. He had to dig the mud out by hand.
Living along the river, we did a lot of skiing and skating in the winter and in the summer we did a lot of swimming. Neighbors came down several times a week in the evening to swim and visit. Around Christmas we always went to all of our relatives for a Christmas party. Once at our place, Uncle Ole Ueland sneaked out and after a while he came back in with a Santa suit on and a big gunny sack on his back with presents for all of us kids. I still think to this day that he was Santa Claus. He talked just like him and looked like him. He did such a good job of ho-ho-hoing. We had a house full of people and played lots of games. When we were at Grandpa Ueland's for Christmas, Grandpa had all us grandkids sit on the floor and he would have a story to tell us, as well as a little present for everyone. I remember that one year he told us about a goat that could make silver dollars and we each got a silver dollar.
Something else that happened in the 1930s was we had relatives in Chicago that we had never met. They knew about us and contacted us wanting to come and see us. Mrs. Ingebord Olson was Grandma Loge's niece. Her daughter Evelyn and Mr. and Mrs. Will Scholtz came. They said they expected us to be living like Indians. We got to be good friends with them and they came many times. Mrs. Theresa Scholtz and her brother Art came on a bus to Valley City. It was the first time that I had seen a Greyhound bus. I was really impressed and decided that's what I wanted to be--a bus driver. Theresa and Will had only one girl, a daughter named Lynn. They are all gone now. Will taught me how to drive. We always liked them coming and Grandma Loge was still living, so it was fun for her.
I remember when I got a used bike. Mom had some friends in Fargo that had two boys. They had gotten a new bike and wanted to give me their old one, which was real nice. We had no way to get a bike home from Fargo because people didn't have pickups then. My cousin Richard Loge was in Fargo for some reason and offered to ride the bike up from Fargo. I think he rode all the way, a distance of about 80 miles, in one day.
Uncle Ole Ueland's family lived right close by our place, so us kids were together a lot. They had ten kids. Two girls, Arla and Blanche, were about my age. They had a brother Garvin who was about four years older than me. He was such a happy kid. He was always singing. One day during the harvest of 1934, he and I were together at noon down on the stones below the house. When his dad went out in the field to cut grain after dinner, I was jealous of him that he got to go with his dad and ride one of the horses pulling the binder. They think he must have fallen asleep and fell off the horse, because the binder went over his head. He lived about a week. They doctor came out but they never took him to the hospital. Instead, they hired a nurse, Paul Johnson's sister, to stay with him at the home. I never got to see him, but sat outside his bedroom window. I was a pallbearer, along with five cousins and friends--Russell and Stanley Ueland, Lloyd Gjesdal, Harvey Kroer, and I think Elwood Gilbertson. Garvin was 14 years old when he died.
I think we were lucky to grow up then. We walked two miles to a small country school named Riverside School. It was in Riverside Township in Steele County. I went my first eight grades in that school. There were about eight kids in the school. Back then people had smaller farms and bigger families than they have now. Each township was about six square miles and each township had four schools located at convenient places around the township.
My first grade teacher was Ruth McCollough. The first thing I remember about school was in the fall when the weather was nice and the door was open. Bruce Stokka and I must have been sitting at our desks looking outside and soon we were outside playing in the dirt and were scolded for that. Sylvia McCollough, Ruth McCollough's sister, was my second and third grade teacher. Evelyn Hanson was my fourth and fifth grade teacher, and Doris Stokka was my seventh and eighth grade teacher. Our schools were just one-room and we each had our own desk that we sat in most of the time. Our lights were kerosene lamps that gave very little light, but that was what we had at home so we were happy with that. We had outside toilets.
We lived two miles from our school and in the winter our roads were blocked with snow that cars couldn't drive through. If it was real cold or stormy, we were taken to school in Uncle Ole's horse-drawn sleigh. One winter it never got above zero for six weeks and Uncle Ole took us to school every day. I remember the horses' hooves squeaked as they walked on the snow. Mom heated bricks that we took along to keep our feet warm. I think we always walked home, except in the spring when the river sometimes backed up and flooded the road one place. Then Uncle Ole would meet us and take us across with horses. I remember that in the winter of about 1935 or 1936, it got so cold the red mercury in the thermometer just disappeared to the bottom. It was 60 degrees below zero many times. One year Donald and Norma Jean Veile drove to school in a horse and buggy. They lived just east of the school.
I have thought many times how when we are outside now we are usually on a tractor that's making lots of noise, so we can't enjoy the sounds of nature. Back then when we walked to school on a spring morning I think there were meadowlarks sitting on every fence post along the road singing. I really miss that. Another thing I remember is that the road by the school was just a dirt road. Sometimes in the spring and fall when the weather was nice, whole families of gypsies would go by in open, horse-drawn wagons. If we were outside we were scared of them and would hide in the grass and peek at them.
When I was in seventh grade, one Saturday in the winter I asked Mom if I could go up to Uncle Bjorn's place and see if I could have a real nice horse to ride to school. I'm sure that she never thought I would get it, but after a lot of hemming and hawing he said I could have it. I came home very proud with this horse. She was a real pretty and fast horse. Once a storm came up during the day. The other kids stayed in the school overnight, but we always trusted that our horses would find their way home in a storm so I headed for home in the storm. There was a cut in the road near Kroer's that had drifted full of snow and neither the horse nor I could see it. She went into it quite fast and fell, and I went head first into this snow drift. The horse got up and went part way down the hill, then stopped and neighed at me but wouldn't quite let me catch her. All of the sudden she took off for home without me. Our hired man, Richard Loge, was at our place that winter. He was out by the barn and saw her come, so he caught her and came to meet me. When the horse saw me coming and walking, she neighed at me. I think that she knew something was wrong and was quite excited. She let me get on behind Richard and we all got home.
In normal weather we walked to school and it took about 45 minutes to get there. I think that we started for school about 8 a.m. if we walked, but we had chores to do before we left for school. We burned wood in our stoves at home, so it was our job to carry in enough wood for a day. We had a wood box by each stove to fill. We had a range in the kitchen and a space heater for the rest of the house. We had a battery-operated radio. I liked to listen to some programs for kids between 5:00 and 6:00. My favorite program was "Asher Sizemore and Little Jimmy" from Nashville, Tennessee.
Our school day began at 9 a.m. We had forenoon recess, one hour off for lunch, afternoon recess at 2:30, and school was out at 3:30-4:00, depending on the weather. In the morning one kid was assigned to put up the outside flag every day for a week, and the next week someone else got that job. Someone was assigned to clean the chalkboards at the end of the day. There was a flag in the schoolroom, and we first had the pledge to the flag. Then we had opening exercises where we did different things. Sometimes there was physical exercise and sometimes the teacher read a chapter from a storybook like Tom Sawyer or something. Then each grade would start their own class. That class would go up and be seated near the blackboard or teacher's desk. The teacher had to take care of the kids in that class and be aware of what the other kids were doing and if they needed individual help. Those of us that were studying and preparing for our class could listen in. If we were in the third grade, by the time we were in fourth or fifth we had learned or absorbed some of that stuff. The teacher spent about 15 minutes with each separate class. We had English, history, arithmetic, spelling, agriculture, and citizenship. Each teacher was different and had different priorities. I remember Sylvia McCollough really stressed penmanship and liked to have us do lines of circular squiggles. I think we learned to write better than a lot of kids now.
We brought our own lunch from home. We ate mostly cold sandwiches. We had a lot of peanut butter sandwiches and sometimes we ate fruit. Sometimes we brought a jar of soup. We had kerosene stoves in the school that were kind of like camping stoves, and that is where we heated the soup. The stoves had two burners and no oven. Kerosene was less explosive than gas, and it is what we used in lamps. Our school didn't have electricity, so the school was heated with a pot-bellied coal stove. It was the teacher's job to make a fire in that every day. The only time we used any light was if we had a program like Christmas or Halloween or something.
At recess we played different games like Norwegian ball, stealing sticks, fox and geese, and tag, and we had swings and a slide. There were very few kids in the school and Norwegian ball could be played with fewer. If there was new snow we played Fox and Geese. We also dug tunnels in the snow drifts. In January and February there were a couple of ponds nearby to skate on so we hurried out and put our skates on every recess. Elwood Gilbertson was good at making kites and he made a big one. Some days when it was windy it would pull us across the ponds on our skates. There was a vent on the north side of the school and I remember that once some of the bigger kids got me to say something into it that I shouldn't have. Sylvia McCollough heard it and I had to stay in during recess for two weeks during ice skating for punishment. I can't remember what I said (I think it might have been something about the teacher's boyfriend that she didn't like), but I don't think I said it again. When it thawed, rubbery ice was always fun to run on. One day three girls, Phyllis, Ella and Claris, were running on the ice holding hands when two boys, Elwood and Garvin, jumped on the ice by them. All five of them fell in and got wet and had to sit by the stove in the school all day to dry out.
During the 1930s it was so dry we had lots of dust storms and wind. One fall when it was very dry, they decided to repair the school so we had school in a vacant house for a while. Mom used our car as a bus and took us as it was four miles. There were a lot of tumbleweeds that rolled along in the wind. The rabbits were scared of these big tumbleweeds and would seek shelter under and next to buildings. There were hundreds of them in a granary next to the house where we went to school that fall. During recess at school we clubbed them with sticks to kill them. There were lots or rabbits then and lots of grasshoppers. If we left a jacket or any clothing laying outside, they were eaten up in short order.
I liked grade school in the country and was an average student. We had four different teachers during the eight years I attended school. Three of them were very good and well liked. The one we had for fourth and fifth grade, Miss Hanson, wasn't so well liked. I don't know why we didn't like her. I guess some people you just like better than others. She just didn't make school as interesting as the others. To show how dumb I was, if we did something wrong she said she would punish us some way. She said she always carried out her threats. I thought she was saying, "she always carried out her threads." Well, I didn't think that sounded so bad to carry her "thread" out.
There was bullying in country schools back then, too. Of us eight kids, we were all Norwegian except one. Harvey Kroer was a Dane, and we weren't nice to him. He insisted that we all were Americans, but we Norwegians said we weren't Americans, we were Norwegians, and that made it legal for us to pick on him. I think that he was maybe smarter than some of us. When I grew up I apologized to him for the way I treated him in school. He claimed that he didn't remember, but I'm sure he did. Once on the way home from school Garvin and I even shot at him with our slingshots. I don't think we hit him and I don't know if we were trying to eliminate Danes.
Every Halloween, Christmas and Easter we had a program and party at school and our parents came. We played games, had a program, and ate lunch. In the spring we had school picnics down by the river. We went to other schools in the area for their programs, too. That was always fun. A couple of years the Park School had theirs together with us. We played ball. I remember Lois (who later became my wife) being there and thought that she looked pretty nice. Our school only took part in play day one year that I remember, and that was when Doris (Stokka) Erickson was our teacher. We had a flat tire on her car on the way to Finley. Blanche U. was a real thin, wiry kid and she took part in the chin-ups. After she had done over 100 and was still going, they told her just to quit.
After my sister Shirley was done with school, I hated to come home and go in the house if Mom was gone. One time she was gone and my cousin Spencer Loge knew it. He ran down to our place after school, got there before me, and went down in the basement. When I came in the house he came up the basement stairs real loud. I ran out of the house screaming and he came out laughing. That was the most scared I have ever been. Another time that I was scared happened when Spencer and I went to a movie once that was real spooky. It was something about the Alamo in Texas. We sat about halfway to the front and were real scared. Finally I said to Spencer, "Lets move back by the door." He was more than happy to move, so we went to the back and sat right by the door where the light from the lobby shone in.
Y.C. L. Convention
In grade school we had Young Citizens League (Y.C.L.). I can't remember what we really did in Y.C.L. I guess we just learned about general living and how to interact with people. We got to go to a Y.C.L. convention in Bismarck when we were in the eighth grade. That was a disaster. We stayed about two days and nights in the Patterson Hotel, which had an elevator. None of us had seen an elevator before, so we just rode it up and down. We had a banquet and speaker and some kids that had excelled in something did their thing. It was a new experience for a lot of us.
Kids from all over the state went there, including kids from Loge School. Bruce Stokka and I went up to their room and Philip Hetland, a neighbor friend that grew up a mile from our place, and Gerald Loge, whose dad and my mother were brother and sister, filled the bathtub full and then jumped in. Water went everywhere. Bruce and I got put in a room with two boys that had no intention of sleeping. They were pillow fighting and making a lot of noise so Bruce and I went down in the lobby and slept on the couch.
Young Farm Hand
The summer after I finished eighth grade, I helped Uncle Alf on the farm. He had me sit on the binder and he pulled it with a John Deere D tractor. I milked cows, did errands, and every night after milking, Alf, Winifred and I would go swimming in the river. Grandpa had some land north of Cooper and one year about that time Uncle Bjorn and Magnus took me along up there to rake hay with horses. They didn't have a hay stacker then, and there weren't farm hand stackers yet. Bjorn made the stack, I raked the hay up next to it, and Magnus pitched it on top of the stack. I think of that every time I go by that field. I thought I was pretty big that I could do that.
I grew up before the days of combines and tractors when people farmed with horses. They plowed their fields and cut their grain with a binder pulled by four horses. A binder cut the grain and put it in bundles, each weighing about 25 pounds. The binder dumped these bundles in piles maybe six to a pile, and then we walked around the field and put them in shocks, ten to a shock, to dry. About the end of August or first of September, we threshed the shocks of grain. Threshing was a big event. Not every farmer had a threshing machine--or "separator". It separated the grain kernels from the straw. My Uncle Bjorn Ueland had a separator. About six or eight farms would get together and thresh. Six men came with wagons and teams of horses and hauled the bundles to the separator. Then they pitched the bundles into the separator and it separated the straw from the grain and blew the straw into a big pile. Grain haulers had their trucks or wagons next to the separator and the grain came out a spout into the truck. I hauled bundles and remember that when we started, my wrists and arms hurt so at night from pitching bundles. I couldn't sleep, but it was part of growing up--and it was fun. The guys that hauled bundles slept in the barns' hay mows when we went from place to place. We threshed at about six places. As I said, that was before combines. That was the most fun time of the year because we were a big crew, traveled from place to place, slept in the hay mow of barns at the different places, and ate all of our meals where we were threshing.
I worked for Uncle Ole's son, Mervil Ueland, two summers starting when I was a junior in high school. He lived right next to our place. It was about the time that Mervil's father, Ole, died and left him with the farm. Mervil stayed at home with his mother. He was about ten years older than I was. He had two much younger brothers, Olav and Duane. Mervil got his first tractor when I worked for him. I had raked hay and cultivated with horses for him before that, so I got in on that. I got to drive his new John Deere tractor. This was during the war when they let farm kids go home from school and help with the harvest due to the shortage of labor.
River Fun and Danger
As mentioned earlier, we lived right by the Sheyenne River, and in the summer my cousins and I and our friends spent a lot of time swimming. The Sheyenne River was just a small river that was deep in some places and shallow in others, but we had a lot of fun in it in the summer. In the winter we skated on it and I liked to hunt and trap along it in winter.
When I was about 14 or 15 years old, my friend, Philip Hetland, and I had a boat together. We bought a motor for it from the depot agent in town. We mostly cranked it. We got it to run some, but it was very temperamental. About 1942-43, Truman, Spencer, Philip and I went on a boat trip down the river in that boat as far as the railroad bridge. A lot of planning went into that trip. I'm sure it was about ten miles following the river. We took a tent, blankets and food along, and one night we camped under the railroad bridge. This was during the war years when they had guards by the bridge all the time. Thorwald Fuglestad was one of the guards so we had to let him know that we were coming so he wouldn't shoot us. We camped a little south of the bridge one night and the next night we camped south of the Thompson bridge. That was a fun trip.
Another time my cousin Olav, who was six years younger than me, was in the boat. I was swimming in the water a ways from the boat when he jumped in the water not knowing how deep it was. Olav couldn't swim. He sank to the bottom, came back up to the top, got his head above water, called for help, and down he went again under water. He did this several times before I could get to him, but I got him to shore. It was a scary thing for both of us.
High School Years
We were quite close to our family and neighbors so we didn't get very far from home. We lived in quite a small world. After finishing grade school I started high school in Cooperstown, eventually graduating in 1943. When Mom took me to Cooperstown to register to go to high school there, I didn't even know where the school was in town. Frank Heinz registered right before me. He was quite small. I will never forget his mother telling whoever was helping them, "He's small, but he's smart." I still like to remind him of that. He grew up to be six feet tall. He and I are about the only ones still living from our class. There were 35 kids in our class to begin with, but three boys lied about their age and joined the army. A couple of kids quit after a couple of years and went home to help on the farm. Our 70th anniversary of graduating would have been in 2013 but Frank didn't want to have a reunion. I wish that we would have because there might have been 5 or 10 of us left out of the 35.
When we kids from the country went to high school, it was a most common thing back then to rent a room in a private home in town and share it with a friend or two. We brought food from home and did our own cooking on a kerosene stove that we had in our room. We had no refrigerator, so we just had food that wouldn't spoil. We ate lots of eggs and peanut butter. The next year I stayed in a house a block north of Thompsons. One year I stayed with Spencer Loge. That first year of high school, Phyllis, Ella, Bruce Stokka and I stayed together in the home of the E.T. Thompsons. They were very good to us. We would go in Sunday evening or Monday morning and stay in town until Friday afternoon. Some weekends if the weather or roads were bad we didn't even make it home. One weekend Philip Hetland and I were so anxious to get home that we walked the 13 miles to get there and then on Sunday afternoon we had to walk 13 miles to go back to Cooperstown. In the winter of 1941, Mom moved us to town in a house that she rented. Philip H. and Mike Erickson stayed and ate at our place and Florence Watne and Eleanor Nierenberg stayed upstairs. That was a better year except for the fact that in our junior year a lot of the kids got some kind of terrible itch. We got some salve from Dr. Almklov and every night Philip and I smeared each other with the salve. It smelled terrible.
In high school we had physical education and played basketball and football. We country kids were at a disadvantage because we didn't have as much chance to practice as kids in town. I played the trombone in the school band It was a used one that I think I got through the school. Whoever had it before me had graduated. I was also in singing groups. We went to state contests in Valley City in the spring. We had a very good music teacher, so our school did quite well. His name was Bill Thornton. The judges always had something good to say about him at music contests which were held every year. Mr. Thornton quit teaching and joined the Navy during the war and then went back to teaching in another school after the war. We invited him back for our 30th or 40th class anniversary. By then he was in his seventies or eighties and his daughter came with him.
Bill Thornton had been in the Fessenden, North Dakota area before coming to Cooperstown. There was a doctor there whose dad had been a doctor in the Arthur, North Dakota area in the horse and buggy days. The doctor in Fessenden was very active in community events, and every year he directed a play there. It was a minstrel show where they dressed and acted as blacks. About 40 or 50 years ago I read a book entitled, Those Days, written by this doctor and telling about those plays. When Mr. Thornton taught in Cooperstown many years later, he had us do a minstrel show or play every year and I saw the connection.
One year the Dinky train made a special trip to Cooperstown and took all the kids to Valley City for the music contest. This was an ordinary train, but was known by local folk as "the Dinky" as it had only a few cars. A.M. Paulson had been Superintendent in Cooperstown many years, but at that time he was Superintendent at the college in Valley City. He walked up the railroad track that day and met the train with all us kids on it. The train stopped and picked him up. The train stood on the track right down town in Valley all day and took us back to Cooper that evening. I sat with June Lunde on the train and had a crush on her after that. The Lundes moved to Oregon later that year so that was the end of that.
While in high school I worked in Thime's Super Value, a grocery and meat market. Thime is a Norwegian name. I delivered groceries around town on Saturdays and sometimes after school. I don't remember how much I was paid per hour. It was just spending money. When I was twelve or so I got to do farm work for my uncles, and after my junior year in school I worked on a farm in the summers and did a man's job. That was during the war when there was a shortage of men for farm work. In the fall they let us farm kids out of school to help harvest. Even some teachers helped harvest. That was why young kids started working so young and when farmers quit using horses and started getting tractors. Tractors were very hard to get in the late 1940s Mervil got a John Deere A with steel wheels, and it was the first tractor that I drove.
World War II
On Sunday, December 7, 1941, we had the Lars Gjesdals, our neighbors from the country, in for dinner. I was a junior in high school at the time. I remember right where we were when someone told us that Pearl Harbor had been bombed. We kids had walked up town after dinner and were on our way home when we met some kids on the street who told us about it. I suppose they had heard it on the radio since that was before television. We were worried about what would happen next and if we would go to war. We had World War I veterans living in our area that were our relatives and friends, so we had heard things about war from them. The newspapers had pictures of Pearl Harbor--bombed ships and things. Roosevelt said we would declare war on Japan very soon. England was already at war with Germany. We soon joined and supported them and other countries in Europe.
The war changed lots of things. Soon there was gas and sugar rationing. We were issued gas and food stamps according to the size of the family. They weren't like money, but instead just regulated how much we could get. I remember Mom substituted syrup for sugar in some things, and I thought it improved them. I thought rhubarb pie was better with syrup in it. Farm machinery and cars were in short supply and hard to get. Farmers got fuel for farming, but fuel was rationed for cars. Car and machine factories converted to making things for the army such as tanks, trucks, guns, and ammunition. People bought savings bonds. I remember Mom bought some for Shirley and me--$25, I think. There was a shortage of many things. Most people had victory gardens and raised a lot of their own vegetables.
There was also a shortage of labor. Some people went west to work in defense plants and shipyards. Since most of the young men were drafted, women did a lot of farm work and held jobs in defense plants where military stuff was made. Polly Johnson and her sister Lois Johnson (who later became my wife) went out east and worked in a pharmaceutical plant in Summit, New Jersey. There they had brown outs (no street lights or house lights at night) because there was talk and a threat of Germany having submarines off the east coast that would shell the cities along the coast. Polly Johnson married Gene Troseth, a World War II veteran, in the fall of 1946, about the time that my sister Shirley married Lester Erickson. Polly borrowed some things from Shirley's wedding for her wedding. Gene reenlisted again after the war and spent some time in Korea when I was there. I think he went to the Pusan area, which wasn't near where I was, but I didn't know him then.
One year about 100 soldiers came to the Cooperstown area. They had a camp with tents and stuff in town and they helped with the harvest. Several of them ended up marrying girls from this area. A couple of years there were men from Iowa that helped with shocking. We farm boys got excused from school to help harvest. I remember that one year we had a real early snow and the grain shocks got covered with snow. But then we got warm weather in October and November and they let out school to help thresh.
Men between the ages of 18 and 40 were drafted if they passed a physical. Some kids quit school and went in the service. Keith Hare, Stanley Edland, and Donald Pella enlisted. Donald went into the Marines. They got their diplomas many years later after the war was over. Little did I realize that someday I would be sent to Japan and take my turn. Our neighbor, Bjarne Johnson, was Art Johnson's younger brother, and a very nice guy. His folks were Arnt and Taletta Johnson of Norwegian ancestry, so I suppose that is a Norwegian name. Bjarne used to help with things on our farm, but when the war came he was one of the first from our area to get drafted. PFC Johnson was killed on March 24, 1944 when the Jeep he was in was hit on Bougainville Island. He was 28 years old. North Church had a memorial service for him and he was buried in Westley Cemetery. Another fellow that I knew, Ray Ressler from Cooperstown, was in the Navy at Pearl Harbor and lived through it.
My sister Shirley was taking nurse's training at Kahler School of Nursing in Rochester, Minnesota. When she graduated in either 1942 or 1943, she and four other nurses enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and trained at Camp Carson, Colorado before going to the South Pacific. She was at different islands--Saipan, Okinawa, and Japan, until the war ended. Letters that we got from her when she was there were all checked, and some parts were blacked out due to censorship. I remember Shirley telling about how they worked in tents. She said that a lot of the wounded soldiers had received gunshot wounds in their seats because when they were crawling, their seat stuck up the most. Keith Hare, one of the kids in our class that quit school and enlisted, saw my sister on one of the islands.
A few years later when I was in Korea, I got to know one of the Koreans that worked at Kimpo air base. He said he was training to be a suicide pilot near the end of World War II. I asked him if he thought he would ever fly right into a ship if he had a chance. He said no. He said he would just veer off to the side and miss the ship.
I remember the day the war ended. My mother and we all saw it in the papers and heard it on the radio. We drove in to town with some friends and saw a lot of happy people celebrating. There was some drinking, but we didn't drink. Everyone was just happy and relieved that it was over, but we still knew it wasn't really all over. There was going to be a lot of adjusting and changes to get back to civilian life. The United States still had lots of military bases in many countries that needed lots of men. We still didn't trust those countries or feel 100 percent comfortable with them at times.
When we got through with high school, it was time for graduation day. We must have had a lot of rain at that time because the roads were so muddy that to get to town for graduation we drove south across the prairie east of where Alan Strokka lives to the Hannaford road and around by Hannaford to get to town. Some people let the air out of their tires and rode on the railroad tracks to get to town. No roads were built up then and there was no gravel on them. Mom and I rode to town with Hetlands to graduation and Art Sarstens had us to their house for lunch afterwards.
After I finished high school I worked for close neighbors, Nels Kroer and his son, Harvey Kroer for two summers. Nels and Mrs. Kroer came from Denmark, and I liked them very much. Mrs. Kroer could hardly talk English, so I learned a little Dane. Harvey was in my sister Shirley's grade in country school. He is the one that we bullied. I have lots of good memories about them. They were farming with tractors by then. I went to the service the next year. I remember a friend in basic was a farm boy from Missouri. He said that they did their farm work with a mule, so I thought North Dakota was quite modern.
Even though World War II was over the draft was still going on, so after high school we boys of that age were sent to Ft. Snelling by Minneapolis for physicals. If we passed we were put in Class 1A and could be drafted at any time if we were needed. I was about 18 at the time. I was taken to Ft. Snelling on a charter bus along with about 30 to 50 men. We went to Finley, the town where our courthouse was, and were assigned houses to stay in for the night. We were told a little of what to expect when we had their tests. At Ft. Snelling we were given a physical exam and some mental tests to see if we could read.
After going to Ft. Snelling and passing our physicals, we were put in Class A and were notified that we would be drafted, so two friends, Truman Loge and Leonard Johnson, and I enlisted on April 1, 1946 in hopes of staying together, but we each went separate ways. Truman was sent to Texas and Leonard was sent to Missouri. Eight of us were selected to go to Colorado to Buckley Field. I don't know why, but I think I got the best end of the deal. I think it is normal to think your branch of the service is the best and to be proud and thankful to have been a part of it.
We were considered World War II soldiers when I joined. My discharge papers list me as a World War II veteran. World War II ended in the fall of 1945, and I enlisted six months later. At the time, I was in what was called the Army Air Corps, and that's what is listed on my discharge. The Air Corps was in the process of changing to Air Force at that time. We voted on what new uniforms would be, but I didn't get them while I was there.
After I got my orders for Colorado, I rode a bus from home to Ft. Snelling and a passenger train from Minneapolis to Denver. Someone from the air base picked us up at the railroad station. No one I knew traveled with me on the bus, but it was easy to make friends there. I felt bad going away and leaving my mother since my sister Shirley hadn't come home yet. but she came back to the States while I was in basic. I hadn't been away from home before except the five days a week when I stayed in town while attending high school.
We got to Denver during the night and were taken out to the base, which was located 20 miles east of Denver in a very dry area. I don't remember that there was any landscaping or trees. A red-haired sergeant got up on a foot locker and if any of us thought well of ourselves when we came, he sure took that out of us. I think he didn't appreciate having to welcome us in the middle of the night. We had more physicals, were issued clothes, and sent our civilian clothes home. There were guys in army clothes that bossed us around that first day before we got our uniforms, and then we realized they were just one day ahead of us so the next day when we got our uniforms we did the same thing to the new guys that had just come in. We learned real fast.
They lined us up abreast about ten feet apart and had us police the area to pick up everything that didn't grow--paper, cigarette butts, and stuff. A lady came driving by the area and stopped to let us by. A few of us lifted the back end of her car up a little and she was quite disturbed.
My training platoon was Flight 8, Section 1, and I was attached to the 5th Air Force. There were four sections in Flight 8. We were assigned to one of four long, wooden barracks covered with black tar paper that housed about 30 men in each. Our barracks leader was Corporal Bashum. I don't know how long he had been in the Air Corps. There were no Blacks in our Flight. There were a few part-Mexicans and one Indian-American.
Basic training was six weeks. We learned about our weapons and had to pass tests for shooting different weapons. We had to be able to take them apart and put them together again blindfolded in case we had to clean them in the dark. We had to go into a room about ten at a time, and then they threw a tear gas bomb in there and we had to get our gas masks on. We learned how to take orders without asking questions and respect for our leaders. There was lots of drilling. I think all of the class training was outside sitting on the ground.
Toward the end of basic we marched out of Buckley Field about 20 miles to a bivouac area carrying a 50-pound pack that carried our tents and supplies. Two guys shared a tent and we each carried half of the tent in our packs. This area was about 40 miles east of Denver. I got through the march okay, but some guys fell out and couldn't make it. They had to be picked up and given a ride. Everything was outside, and I remember that it snowed. We did some shooting and drilling and slept in pup tents. Even though it was May, it snowed. We were out there a few days and then we had to march the 20 miles back to Buckley Field. That was quite an experience.
Our meals were very good in basic training. We got up at 6 a.m. every morning for roll call and we had to take care of our area around our bed. There was inspection every Saturday morning. They were very strict about our bed, area, and shoes and clothes. If we didn't pass inspection or failed in some way, we didn't get a pass or we were put on K.P. I was never punished during basic, but there were some part-Mexicans in our group that got involved in fights. One short guy stabbed a guy in the stomach once and spent some time in the brig for it. One day standing in line to eat, the man from the brig was in line next to us. I asked him why he had stabbed the other guy in the stomach. His reply was, "I couldn't reach any higher."
We had a drill sergeant who was very strict and sharp. He was part-Mexican and just perfect in every way. Joe Reos was his name. On Memorial Day our flight was chosen to march in the parade in Denver and I'm sure we could thank Joe for that. He was well liked. I respected all of the instructors except that sergeant that greeted us at the train station. I thought they were all very considerate and helpful.
After the first two weeks of basic and after inspection, we were free to go to town or whatever on Saturday afternoon and Sunday. One Sunday a bus took us to Castle Rock, a town near Denver. A church group had arranged a picnic for us. There was lots of food, games and horseback riding. That was fun. A lot of times we went to Golden, Colorado to a big amusement park. One Sunday morning another guy and I went to a church hoping someone would invite us home for dinner, but that didn't work. They had a very nice chapel out at Buckley Field that we attended. We were given New Testaments and some other literature.
Each barracks had a corporal in charge of the barracks. Ours was kind of a dud. His name was Corporal Bashum. One Sunday we stayed in camp and our Corporal had celebrated too much on Saturday night. He was laid out on his bunk so four of us picked up his bunk with him on it sound asleep and carried him out in the middle of a block next to our barracks. He was still asleep, so we put his tent up over his bed. When he woke up he was very mad and had the whole barracks go outside and run in a circle for a long time until someone said who did it. No one would tell, so he finally gave up.
There were good days and bad days, but I really didn't mind the army. There were a few that wanted to get discharged one way or another and spent all of their time not liking it and trying to get out. One guy I remember thought that if he wet his bed they would eventually send him home, so he did that. I don't remember what happened to him, but I know that he made life miserable for himself. I remember some had problems at home and got behind. I suppose they were put in a different group. I remember that one guy's grandmother died and he went home for her funeral. When he came back he was put in a different Flight and we didn't see him again.
We were tested for some different things, but to go further we had to enlist for a longer period. I had fun and liked being in the service, but I felt obligated to get back home again because my mother was alone. I was never sorry I got in the Army Air Corps. I thought it was the best branch to be in and I was proud and felt privileged to be there. I learned a lot--respect, obedience, cleanliness, looking out for each other, honesty, patriotism, living together--too many things to mention. I felt a sense of security being there. It was all part of growing up. While in the military I saw parts of the world that I would not have seen otherwise.
Home on Leave
After basic we were told we were going to Scott Field in southern Illinois to teletype school. We went on a troop train from Denver to St. Louis, Missouri, which was about 20 miles from Scott Field. My Uncle Bernard died in 1946 while I was stationed at Scott Field, but I didn't go home for his funeral. I had relatives in Chicago that sent me an invitation to a wedding, so I got a weekend pass to go to Chicago and see them.
I was at Scott for about a month, but never did go to school. We mostly just killed time there. We did some drilling and some maintenance things like mowing lawns, painting, and K.P. once in a while. There was a small stream that ran through the corner of Scott Field, so in our spare time Leonard Wajabowski and I liked to go down and sit on the bank by it.
We were given a five-day leave from Scott Field to go home and were told that we would be going overseas when we came back. I don't remember doing anything special while I was home on leave. I visited friends. I wore my uniform and people asked where I was and how I liked it. I realized that I was grown up now and had to take life seriously. When I first went to Ft. Snelling on the bus, I met a very nice girl that worked in Minneapolis. I had a couple of hours between trains in Minneapolis on my way back from leave so I called her and asked if she could come to the depot. She did and I appreciated that very much. I was anxious because I didn't know what was ahead of me and I was a little sad.
Overseas to Japan
After returning to Scott air base, we prepared to go to Ft. Lawton, near Seattle, Washington. We knew we were going overseas, but they didn't tell us where. We went on a troop train to Seattle, and were often "side-tracked" along the way. In most places there was only one set of tracks. Just certain areas had two sets of tracks where trains could meet and get by each other. Since we were on a troop train, we weren't on a schedule like passenger trains. If a passenger train or freight train was coming, we had to get off on a side track and let them go by. Because we spent quite a bit of time waiting for other trains to go by, it took us five days from St. Louis to Seattle, and we weren't allowed to get off of the train during that time. We were stopped in New Rockford, North Dakota for a long time, and a few guys crawled out a window and went up town for treats.
I had my 21st birthday when we were in Ft. Lawton being processed to go overseas on September 3, 1946. I didn't request duty in Japan. In fact, we still weren't told where we were going until we were on the ship. We left Seattle, Washington, about September 5, 1946. While on the trip we were then told that some of us would be going to Korea. At the time, we didn't know where Korea was. Korea hadn't been in the news then.
The ship I sailed on was the liberty ship S.S. Cape Perpetua. Liberty ships were built during World War II for troop transport. Before we got on the ship we learned how to use life rafts and practiced climbing down nets for abandoning ship. I have no idea how many troops were on it--maybe 300-500. I think there were only Air Corps personnel on the ship and no cargo. It was a strange feeling when we left the United States and saw the coast of the U.S. disappear. I remember that it was toward evening and there was a big moon. We stood out on the deck of the ship and watched the wake of the ship on the water glisten in the moonlight. It was very pretty.
Having never been on a ship before, it looked pretty big to me, but it wasn't very nice. All it had was a place to eat and a place to sleep. We had to go down a ladder to our sleeping area. There were bunks six high. It was good to get a top one so when someone above us threw up, we wouldn't get hit. There was one bunk in the very front of the ship. I took that so there was no one above me. I didn't throw up, but I didn't feel good at times. We were given sea sick pills and they had a nice effect on me. They made me sleepy and when I fell asleep I had such nice dreams. The next time I slept the dreams just continued.
There was no dining area--just a room with stainless steel tables that we stood by. The floor was slippery from vomit because a lot of men got very sick during a big storm and were unable to hold their food down. If you weren't sick before you went in to eat, you were pretty sure to get sick at those tables. I don't remember what all food we had, but it was bad. We picked it up at a counter and then ate it while standing. I remember that there was a block of Spam maybe 18 inches square, and they sliced off a chunk as we went by. The Spam was mostly gristle.
We were in a very bad storm on the way. There was a big wind and waves and swells. The swells were 20 to 30 feet high and rolled along toward the ship like big hills. They were so big the ship propeller came out of the water. When that happened the ship vibrated, the water washed over the deck, and we could hear the ship rumble. We got a little newspaper in Japan and in it we read that the S.S. Cape Perpetua later sank one day out of Japan on its way back to the States. It had been damaged in the storm. Now that I think back on it, that's probably why they made us practice climbing down those rope nets. They were used to abandon ship.
We had no entertainment on the ship other than guys that shook dice. I bought a good camera for very little money from a guy who had lost all of his money gambling. Some of the men I had gone through basic with were on the ship, including Leon Velde and Freddy James. I kept in touch with them for many years. Freddy died about ten years ago and Leon two years ago.
A Few Days in Japan
We went directly from Seattle to Yokohama, Japan. The trip took about ten days. I remember that the ship pulled right up to the dock in Japan, but we couldn't get off right away. There were two small Japanese boys on the dock. We threw pennies in the water and could see them sparkle as they went down. Those boys dove in and got them.
When we got off the ship, trucks took us to the 1st Replacement Camp near Tokyo about 25 miles away. It was quite a big camp, but there were just tents. I had started to lose my hair on the ship. I don't know why my hair started to come out. I suppose it was some kind of stress or something. It didn't all come out, but when I combed it the comb was full of hair. When we got to Japan there was a barber in that camp and a lot of us got a G.I. (short) haircut. I hoped that would help.
Not long after we got there I met my cousin, Truman Loge. He was one of the guys that I had enlisted with and it was fun to see him. He had been there a couple of days and was waiting to ship out to a permanent camp. I think he just stayed in Japan. My sister got married while I was in Japan, so I didn't see that.
We stayed at the replacement camp for a couple of days. We got more shots. Most of the men who came over on the ship stayed in Japan, but Edward Mahoney and I were taken by truck to Johnson Field near Tokyo to go on to Korea. I will never forget that it was a rainy day and we were in a hilly area. The Japs either walked or rode bicycles and were carrying big umbrellas of every color you could imagine. I'm sure there were hundreds of them. It was very pretty.
We got on a C-46 to fly to Kimpo, Korea about September 18. There were only about five of us that went to Korea. We flew over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and saw the effects of the atomic bombs that were dropped there. It was just bare landscape and trees with hardly any branches left. They looked just like sticks standing up in the ground.
Pre-Korean War Korea
I really don't know why the United States was in Korea at that time. There wasn't a war, but North Korea was always a threat to South Korea. If we hadn't been there, North Korea and China would have been, and South Korea would have been a communist country. I think that North Korea was more backward and poorer than South Korea. They always wanted--and still would like to take over South Korea. We were called an "occupation force" and I guess that's what we were doing--helping the Korean people build up their country after World War II.
It took about four or five hours on the C-46 to get to Kimpo air base in Korea. Kimpo had been a Japanese air field during the war, so all the buildings and things there were Japanese. It was located about twenty miles from Seoul, the capital of South Korea. It was quite near the 38th parallel, which was the border between South and North Korea.
We arrived in daylight and landed at the north end of a runway. I think the whole base covered about one square mile. There was no reception room or anything. There was just a runway to land on and a white hangar shaped kind of like a half moon. It was the only building that I saw that was painted. The hangar part of the half moon was one story, but the east end part of it had two stories. That part was the administration building and there were some offices on the second floor. At a distance it was a nice looking white building, but it was just a concrete building painted white.
A couple of the Koreans that worked there took us to an office. Since they worked for the squadron, we got to know them well. It was not a very big building--maybe 200 feet long. At one end were some offices, so we called it the administration building. We waited around there until someone came and showed us where to go. We just walked to a different area in the air field where the 2nd Communications Squadron barracks and orderly office were. We met our commanding officer, Capt. Harold Schroeder from Grand Forks, North Dakota. I didn't feel so far from home then. He was the only person I ever saw at Kimpo that was from North Dakota. He welcomed us and told us what we would be doing. I was assigned to the 2nd Communications Squadron and stayed with it all the time that I was in Korea.
I was told to go to where the motor pool buildings were and report to Sgt. Salvador Pontello, a real Italian who was from New York. I was his replacement. He was a very nice guy who showed me what I would be doing. I have a little story to tell about Sergeant Pontello. His mother sent him a package of long spaghetti. I had never seen long spaghetti before, so we found a kettle and cooked it. Because I had had my birthday about three weeks before, my mother had packed an angel food cake in a box of popcorn. It arrived in perfect shape. Sergeant Pontello and I had long spaghetti, cake, and the popcorn that had been used as packing. It was a fun day.
Besides the hangar/administration building at Kimpo, there were a few wooden buildings that were one story and about 30x80 feet with no paint. They were used for storage. One I was in had some appliances that I imagine were for officers quarters. The enlisted men just had Quonset-shaped barracks that had a round roof made of tin and wooden ends with a door and windows. All of the barracks weren't in one place. They were in groups of five or six scattered around the base. Our area had just a few barracks and our headquarters where our Captain had his office. It was just another barracks with a desk in it. There was a chapel in a tin building. There was also a dispensary with one room big enough for about ten beds. I was there a couple of times--once for flu and once when I got one hand hurt. There was no rec area and no enlisted mens' club. The barracks had about eight beds along each side, so there were about 15 men to each building. I had the first bed inside the door. Each of us had about eight square feet to keep clean and orderly--that was our home. We had to keep our barracks clean because we never knew when someone would be coming through to inspect it. Not all the barracks were being used. Our squadron used this area, and another group of men, such as those that serviced planes, used another one. Supply men or office men used another. We pretty much kept to our own areas.
Our motor pool area was just one of the big wooden buildings on the base that was mostly used for storing equipment, trucks, Jeeps, and generators. In one end where the walk-in door was, there was a small room with a little oil stove where we could come in and get warm in the winter. Those little oil stoves were what we had in our barracks to keep warm, too. There was one stove about in the middle. It got real warm right by the stove, but cold a few feet away. Sometimes the stove would go out or, if it got real cold, it would freeze the water we had in there for drinking or washing. Being from North Dakota, I was used to cold weather. The weather in Korea was much the same as back home. It got as cold as zero degrees at times. Our barracks weren't insulated and all we had were little pot-bellied stoves. I still remember how we huddled around that stove to keep warm. I don't remember it being real warm in the summer. There were no air conditioners. I remember it raining and being muddy. I think the roads were mostly just dirt, so roads around the base were muddy.
There were six P-51s that patrolled the area along the border with the North every day. There was also another P-51 that was part of an air strike team that flew along the border. I think the air strike team moved around to other places, because once in a while they were gone. The six P-51s put on a little air show when they came back every day. One day one of them ran out of gas just north of the base and landed in a rice paddy with about a foot of water in it. It looked like it just bent the propeller, but a few of us had to help get ammunition and stuff off of it and carry it out of there so it wouldn't get stolen. Those pilots were really good if they were having trouble like wheels that wouldn't come down or no brakes. They just circled and used up their fuel. When we saw them circling we went over to the runway and watched. They always landed without a fire or anything, but there were lots of sparks. Once a plane couldn't get its wheels down and landed on its belly. Another time a plane lost its brakes. It was a plane that had a wheel in front. When it landed he let the back end drag until it slowed down, then he lifted the back end and coasted to a stop on the front wheel. Other than the P-51s, there were mostly C-46 and C-47 planes at Kimpo. I think those planes came from Japan and could have both people and cargo. Once in a while one went to Shanghai and a few guys went along. They came back with Shanghai boots that were real special. I never went. There were no real passenger planes and no helicopters that I saw.
A few miles from where we were there was an engineer camp. The men there were working on roads. Near them there was an area that was all rock. They had a big rock crusher and we could hear that working from where we were. I suppose they used crushed rock on the roads. We were told that blacks drove the trucks hauling the crushed rock. Right by Seoul there were two small regular army camps. Further south on the Korean peninsula by Pusan along the coast there was a lot more stuff.
The area around the base was quite flat. I don't remember a lot of trees, but there were some right near the Korean houses that were scattered all around. There were hills in the distance about a mile or so away, and I remember there were trees and green grass on them and it was pretty up there. A couple of times we went out on a Sunday and drove around the area in the Captain's Jeep. Once we drove out to a hilly area and walked up in the hills. They weren't mountains, they were hills. But some of them were bigger than ours in the States. We met a couple of Korean guys and a girl who were hiking there. They were very inebriated. Another time the Captain let us drive in his Jeep around looking for pheasants. The ones we saw were just like the ones at home. There were too many homes in the area so we didn't want to shoot our big guns where there were people near. Needless to say, we didn't shoot any pheasants. If we had hit any of them with our big guns, they would have been blown to bits anyway. I didn't see any wild animals--just dogs.
The Koreans used their land for raising rice, so there were rice paddies. The land was divided into square lots, each lot being about half a city block in size with a dirt mound around each square piece. The Koreans flooded these little areas with about six inches or a foot of water. Some farms had oxen that were used to plow through the water with a man walking behind the plow to steer it. Oxen were also used to pull carts. I think the Koreans must have started their rice plants somewhere else because it looked like they transplanted each plant by hand in the water. Both men and women did all this hand work. The people worked in these water-filled patches with their pants rolled up and wearing no shoes.
They raised other vegetables and a lot of garlic. I remember seeing some red vegetables laying spread out in their yards drying. They fertilized their fields and gardens with human waste. They must have had some kind of tank or something by their homes. They would empty that into two-wheeled carts that we called "honey wagons". These carts were pulled either by a man or an ox, and then the waste was spread on the fields or gardens. As mentioned, all the work was done by hand. The only "machines" that I saw were the oxen-pulled honey carts.
There were no cars in Korea--only U.S. Army vehicles. The natives mostly walked and there were carts pulled by hand or by a cow. Korea was a dirty place. A lot of the men wore long, loose white gowns. When they had to go to the bathroom, they just sat down on their haunches and went right out in the open on the roads or streets. We couldn't see what they were doing until they got up and left. That's when we saw their feces.
The Koreans were bigger than the Japs and dressed a little poorer. We saw Korean kids when we drove outside the base, but I don't remember having contact with any of them. We didn't know about houseboys then, so we didn't have any. The officers might have had some, but I don't know that. The Koreans had a different smell to them--I suppose it was what they ate, especially the garlic. I remember that they always wanted cigarettes.
The Koreans that worked at Kimpo were very friendly with us and we could communicate with them some. We used a lot of motions and signs. I remember some of the first words I learned were half Korean and half American. I will write them like they sounded. "Habano" could mean several things like, "I don't have" or "I don't understand." We would say something to them and they would say, "Habana". "Edeway" was "come here". It bothered me that some of the first English words that the Koreans learned were swear words.
2nd Communications Squadron
I didn't know anyone in our unit when I got to Korea. Our unit was just part of the whole base. There were about 10 or 12 guys that I worked with and got to know. It really wasn't very military at the time. We were just a group of guys that lived together and worked together. When I think back on it, it was pretty much like any job. We knew what had to be done and we did it.
Three of us worked with electrical stuff, generators, and fuel for them. Two were teletype and lived in the barracks that had teletype senders and receivers in them. Two were what we called our air strike team. They had a truck with radio equipment in it. As they traveled along the border, a plane flew over them in the same area so they could communicate back and forth. The guy in the plane said what he saw from the air and the guys in the truck said what they saw on the ground.
There was one chaplain that served all religions. The chapel was just another ordinary barrack with a few chairs in it. I went there a few times, but I don't remember much about it. I guess it was our own fault that we didn't attend more often. The chaplain seemed like a nice, ordinary man and could be helpful to the men.
I can say our group all got along very well and we all got to know what had to be done and looked out for each other. Some of the men were Salvador Pontello from New York--whom I mentioned earlier, Norman McGlaphlin from Pennsylvania, Bruce Thomas from Wisconsin, Maxwell Banfield from Massachusetts, Bill Morris from Wyoming, and Boatman, also from Wyoming. I don't remember other names. Bill Morris' dad was mentioned in a book I read about Wyoming many years later. We had a guy from Australia that had never seen snow before. I don't know what his name was--we just called him "Snow". I remember that there was a guy named Mahoney who wasn't too sharp. He didn't learn fast and Sergeant Pontello got kind of disgusted with him. One day the Sergeant went to our commander and said, "Mahoney has reached the saturation point. I don't think he can absorb any more information." We all thought that explained him quite well. There weren't any black guys except those in the engineering group (so we were told), and we didn't work with them. I don't have any prejudice against any race. Prejudice has changed a lot in my lifetime, but I guess we have a ways to go yet.
We had no source of entertainment. No radios, movies, or anything. We don't think that we even had a PX to get any treats or anything, but we must have had some place that we got supplies. Maybe we just got them at the supply room where we got our clothes and personal things. We just went to bed when it got dark and got up when it was light. There was no enlisted man's club at Kimpo, but once in a while the officers had a club in a barracks. A projector wouldn't work on their electricity, so I was asked to bring a generator so they could show a movie. I got to see the movie and they gave me some treats. I suppose they gave me a beer, too. I smoked in Korea and sometimes had a beer. I don't drink or smoke now, and haven't for many years.
I did a variety of things, including taking care of generators, Jeeps and trucks, and hauling supplies. I serviced the Captain's Jeep. The things we fixed were just like what were fixed on cars back in the States--fixing flat tires, changing oil, fixing leaks. Once we had to put a new transmission in a Jeep. To get under it to get at the transmission, we just tipped it on its side. Any parts we needed we got from the States. They arrived coated with wax (cosmoline) to protect them from moisture. I still have pictures of the motor pool area where we worked in Korea. Looking at them now, it looked like a junk yard. The Japs who were there before we were used that same area. I think they must have been quite messy and just dumped their used oil and stuff anyplace on the ground.
There were about ten Korean workers that had passes to work on the base. Some worked in the mess hall, and the rest had other jobs there. We had to take turns going to Seoul, picking the Korean workers up, and bringing them out to the base. Even though it meant getting up at 5 a.m. to go get them and then take them back in the evening, I liked going to Inchon and Seoul. Inchon was a port about 25 miles away and we had to go there for our fuel. Seoul was quite a big city. I don't remember any big buildings, but there were lots of small ones. I suppose some of them were shops, and some probably sold food. Everything was quite dirty, so we were told to never eat the Korean food or drink the water. Since we never even walked along a street in Seoul, I never saw a place where we could have eaten their food anyway. We just drove through the town when we picked up the Korean workers. The streets were wide, covered with bricks, and very bumpy. There were street car tracks on some of the streets, but no street cars. Maybe they had been destroyed by the Japs during World War II, I don't know. Once we drove up in the area where the government buildings were. That was next to some hills and looked like it was landscaped nice. The area looked very green and pretty.
I never had to do K.P. duty because the Korean men did that. I did some guard duty at night sometimes. We had to do guard duty in four-hour shifts. There were some who didn't like being out on the edges of the base alone at night, so they paid someone $5.00 to take their place. I did that sometimes. $5.00 was a lot of money back then. We kept quite busy. Sometimes we had an alert and all the men went to their places along the border of the air field. There was a high fence and a trench all around the border of the base and we had to take our turn at Charge of Quarters (CQ). During CQ someone had to stay up all night and about every hour or so walk around our area and go through the barracks with a flashlight just to see if everything was okay. If someone had to get up early for something, the guy who was CQ woke him up. We mostly sat in the office at the orderly room because we liked to have something to do. Our captain had a typewriter and I liked to type, so when I had my turn, I used to type letters home.
The electricity there was poor and different voltage than ours, so for teletype and radio we had to use generators that we had to service and maintain. There were some big generators that were stationary and were standby in case the local power failed. There was a high hill called Homer Hill about a mile from the air field. It had homing signals for planes to help find their way if the weather was bad. We had generators on that hill in caves that I think either the Japs or we had used for guns during World War II. We had to drive to the top of that hill to service that equipment every day.
I really can't remember what food we had, but we always had it and never went hungry. It seems to me that we had a lot of scrambled eggs and K-rations. We ate out of our mess kits, so we each had our own containers to keep clean and eat out of. We got canned pineapple and other canned fruit. I know we got plenty to eat, although maybe not what we always wanted. I guess we all missed our home cooking in the States--to have a hamburger sandwich, piece of pie, bowl of soup, glass of milk, or piece of cake. We don't know what we miss until we don't have it.
They had mail call every few days and we would go listen for our name to be called because it was always good to get mail from home. Some of my mail was quite old when I got it since I was in Korea a while, then in Signal School in Japan for a while, and then back to Korea. The only big thing I remember getting in the mail from home was that angel food cake that I mentioned earlier. It was quite old when I got it, but it was still good and we ate it and enjoyed it. We got cookies and it was always interesting and fun to get local newspapers and see what was going on at home.
Fourth of July
I spent July 4th in Korea but don't remember anything about it. One of my neighbors back at home had quite a sense of humor. His favorite joke around the 4th was to ask if you knew if Canada had the 4th of July. If you answered no, he would say, "Do they just go from the 3rd to the 5th?"
I had many good friends in Korea. We were a close-knit group and we looked out for each other. We just used our last names mostly. I still get emotional when I think about them--how we could be so close and then all of a sudden so far away from each other when we returned home. That type of friendship is something that, unless you have experienced it, you don't know what it is. I only kept in contact with two guys after I got home--Freddy James from western North Dakota and Leon Velde from Minnesota. We got together many times. They have both died now.
One of my very good friends in Korea was Louis Elbert "Louie" Hampton from Missouri. I remember that he was a little darker skinned than most of us. Maybe he was part Spanish or something. He was a very nice looking guy. He was in the Philippines when the Japs came during World War II. He and some others escaped and went up into the mountains where they lived on roots and berries throughout the war. At night they sabotaged Jap stuff. They were known as guerilla fighters. He had lots of stories to tell. He wanted me to go to his home in Missouri and meet his family when I went home, but I didn't get around to it. I wish I had. He died in 1968 and is buried in Stoddard County, Missouri.
Humor in Korea
As mentioned, we had no movies and no radios. Some guys liked to play with dice and gamble a little, but I never did. We played some card games to pass the time. Sometimes we wrote a letter home and thought about home. There was a guy whose name I don't remember that wanted to be a card shark when he got out of the military. Whenever he had time he was shuffling cards. He had lots of card tricks that he liked to show and could do some hypnosis. He got it to work on some of the guys somewhat. He was a funny guy. If anyone wanted anything he could find it. For instance, when Pontello got the spaghetti from home, he wanted a kettle to cook it in, so the card shark found one. He also came up with a case of canned sliced pineapple. Some of us over-ate on it and got a little sick.
One of the guys knew how to wire a Jeep so that when we were driving or riding in it and not touching the ground, we wouldn't get an electric shock. The Korean workers liked to ride in a Jeep, so we would stop to pick them up. When they touched the Jeep to get in, their feet were still on the ground so they got a shock that was like touching a spark plug.
We pulled tricks on each other, too. One time when I went to Inchon to get gas, two guys went with me. The truck was full of 50-gallon barrels. When we got to Inchon I went in to show our papers so we could get the gas. When I came out to get back in the truck, the two guys had put a board in the seat with a nail sticking up. I didn't notice it until I sat on it. They thought that was funny.
Signal Corps School
About the middle of October, the Captain called me in and said I could go back to Japan and go to 8th Army Signal Corps School for six weeks. Signal Corps had to do with communication. I went on a C-46 again to Johnson Field and was met there and taken to a school that had been some sort of training place used by the Japs during the war. It was located in the industrial part of the city. There was a big concrete wind tunnel for testing planes that was about 20 feet high and 75 feet long. Our classes were held in a pretty big building and next to that there was a fenced-in concrete slab area that I think had been a recreation area. There was also a group of round-roofed metal barracks. For security there was a moat (canal of water) with high concrete walls around the whole area.
There were 25 men from several places in the Signal School class, but there were other military men stationed there, too. There were men from different army divisions, as well as marines and paratroopers. I remember that there were two paratroopers and one guy from Australia in classes with me. That was a nice experience. We had two instructors who were both corporals. They were very good and helpful to us. We had class for an hour or so and then took 15 minute breaks to go outside and have some free time.
We learned how to completely disassemble motors and generators and put them back together again. Growing up on a farm, I knew some about motors, but the generators we used in Korea were driven by gas or diesel motors. The generator part was very complicated. They came in many kinds and sizes, but they all worked on the same principle. We mostly learned how to take care of them and look for minor trouble.
Back then there weren't cell phones. The two-way radios worked, but they weren't as good as they are now, so the most reliable way of communication was by telephone. That meant that wire had to be strung either on poles or on the ground. We had to learn how to climb power poles. That was different. We had to strap spikes on our feet, stick them in the pole, and walk right up a pole. When we got to the top we had a leather strap--a safety belt that we put around the pole so both of our hands were free to fasten a wire to the pole. We had to learn to trust our safety belt, as we had to keep our body at arm's length away from the pole. Wrapping our arms around the pole felt like the natural thing to do, but we were taught that if we did, those spikes would come out of the wood and we would hit the ground pretty fast. The area where we had pole climbing practice had been bombed and was just a vacant lot when I attended Signal School there.
Sightseeing in Tokyo
We had nicer barracks than in Korea. We also had good food that we ate in a mess hall located in a pretty nice building. The school was in Yokohama, but it seems like Tokyo and Yokohama were all together like one big city. Parts had been bombed during World War II, but they had been cleaned up pretty much. We got passes to go to Tokyo. We didn't have any means of our own to get around, but there was a train that went to the downtown area in Tokyo. We could walk a ways and then take the train. I don't know how we got to where we wanted to go when we didn't know the language. The train was more like a street car, so maybe it said on it where it was going. I remember that there was a Japanese mother there one time who had the cutest little girl. She was all dressed up in some bright red clothes. The mother let me take a picture of her, but I only had black and white film so it didn't do her justice. The mother was friendly to me, but of course we couldn't talk since she didn't know English and I didn't know Japanese. But it was fun taking a picture of them.
We went on the main street in Tokyo called "Ginza Street" to sightsee. It was full of sidewalk shops that sold everything you could imagine. There were kids along the street wanting whatever we had. They showed us scars on their bodies, face and hands, saying they were victims of the atomic bomb. Maybe they were, I don't know. Some were quite bad. We wondered if they were trying to make us feel guilty. Some were nice kids wanting to shine our shoes.
There was an Ernie Pyle Theater in Tokyo that was very nice. Ernie Pyle was a well-known war correspondent in World War II who was killed quite early in the war on one of the islands. I don't know if that was a Japanese theater or if the United States just took it over and named it after Pyle. It had a big sign on it that read, "Ernie Pyle Theater." We went there a lot. It had a big PX in it and it was a good place to meet friends. I met some guys from Cooperstown that I had gone to high school with, including Arnie Sandvik, Alan Opheim, Erling Lunde, and James Thompson. I also saw Freddy James, Leon Velde, and some others I had met in basics.
They had movies at the PX and I went to a USO variety show there. In the USO troupe there was an older man who was the M.C., four or five girls, and a couple of younger men that took care of their stuff. The girls sang and danced and they all were involved in jokes and skits where they got G.I.s from the audience to take part. The USO troupe that I saw there was on the plane that took me back to Korea. I'll tell about that later.
Across the street from where Freddy James lived was a Red Cross building where we sometimes went. There was a lounge where we could sit and read or sleep, and, if I recall correctly, we could get snacks there sometimes. Occasionally they had some entertainment. There were some sumo wrestlers there once. Just a little ways from there was the area where government buildings were located. It was known as the "Diet" area, and compared to the U.S. capitol in Washington, D.C. Legislation took place there. Like the Signal School area, there was a moat around the Diet area. The Diet building had a throne in it that looked like it was made of gold. I imagine Emperor Hirohito had sat on it. The building wasn't occupied when we were in it. The Emperor and the Japanese government didn't exist anymore--MacArthur and the United States ruled then.
We took rickshaw rides when we were there. They were two-wheeled buggies that were pulled by a man, and that man was barefoot. He just trotted along and took us where we wanted to go. That was different and fun. There were no cars on the streets in Tokyo then. Instead, there were lots of bicycles. Once in a while we saw a small truck that burned charcoal smoking down the street. I think they must have run on steam some way.
I spent Thanksgiving and Christmas 1946 in Japan. We had turkey and dressing for dinner both days and it was very good. On Christmas Day I rode a Japanese train to the 1st General Hospital outside of Tokyo to see Truman Loge. I don't know how I knew where to go, but I found my way out to the hospital. My sister Shirley had worked in that hospital when she was there. I thought Truman was there, but he had been sent home because he had health problems. I'll never forget that train ride. We rode free. We just got on it like we owned it. The train was an old wrecky thing. There were no seats--or if there were the train was so crowded I couldn't see them. It was so crowded people were hanging out the windows. I stood next to a Japanese man who said Merry Christmas to me. That made my day. The Japanese were very friendly to us, but the Koreans weren't.
When I finished Signal School, Captain Schroeder at Kimpo gave me an 18-day rest or whatever you want to call it to stay in Japan. I spent some time with James Thompson, a friend of mine from my hometown of Cooperstown who was stationed in a different part of Tokyo. James and I went to high school together. He was a member of General MacArthur's Honor Guard. MacArthur had his office in Tokyo then and he was commander of all operations in the Pacific Theater and after the war. When MacArthur came to his office and left his office, six honor guards stood at attention along the sidewalk and saluted the General. Thompson invited me to come and stand with them and salute the General when he walked by, so I can say now that I was six feet from MacArthur and saluted him. He was quite an impressive man. He had a corncob pipe in his mouth just like in the pictures that I had seen of him. He got in an Army car and drove off. The Honor Guard guys wore special uniforms and white leggings. That was quite an experience.
Freddy James had taken basic training in Colorado with me. He and I were both farm kids from North Dakota, so I guess that is what bonded us together. He grew up on a ranch in western North Dakota near Alexander. He was in the Air Corps in Japan while I was there. The army had trucks with canvas tops that soldiers could use for buses in case it rained. The trucks went on a regular route around the city. Freddy drove one of these buses around Tokyo and I rode with him some. His group lived in a nice building and he got me a pass to stay there some and eat if I wanted. They sat at tables, were served like home, and ate off dishes. Once when I was there at supper, a Japanese orchestra was on a stage in the dining room and played supper music. This was all quite a change from Korea, where we stood by the table and ate off a tin tray. I couldn't quite understand why we were treated so different. We had pretty good food and I wouldn't have known the difference if I hadn't seen the other side. I enjoyed my time there and was just thankful for the experience.
When my 18 days were up, I went out to Johnson Field and was surprised to see the USO troupe there. They were going to Korea to do a show. We got on a C-46 again and took off for Korea. About ten minutes after we got in the air, the pilot said that something was wrong and we were going back to Japan to get it fixed. It wasn't too bad being stranded with a bunch of USO girls. We sat on benches along the sides and I sat next to a very nice girl. They were all very nice and ordinary people who were easy to get acquainted with. I got to know one girl quite well and enjoyed every minute of it. They got the plane fixed and we got back to Kimpo that day. Someone met the USO troupe and took them to where they wanted to go. The day I spent with those USO girls was a bonus for me because I saw very few women while I was in Korea. When I went back to my humble barracks, I liked letting the guys there know that I had spent the day with a real live American girl--the USO girl on that plane from Japan to Korea.
I saw one American Red Cross woman once that had a Jeep up near the runway and was handing out doughnuts. Once on a real cold day there were two Korean women that must have been doing some office work at Kimpo. Since it was so cold, I said they could ride up front in my truck with me. This didn't go over well with an older Korean male worker since Korean men thought they were higher class than the women in Korea. He thought he should get that privilege and protested some. That time he lost. He ended up sitting in the back with other men in the truck box, which had a tarp over it, benches along the sides, and was open in the back. Other than those two Korean women who rode in my truck cab that day, the only women I saw were ones working in the fields and those that washed our clothes sometimes.
When I got back to Korea from Japan it was sometime in January. I don't remember what date, but it was cold. The same two Korean men who had met me when I first arrived in Korea met me this time again when I returned from Japan in the cold of winter. They looked quite different this time, as they wore nice fur caps. Our barracks had a pot-bellied stove, but sometimes at night the oil would run out and the water we washed up in had ice on it.
In the summer there was as a 20x20 building on the base that had a few sinks and a shower. We made a tank and the sun warmed the water in it. We used this water to shower with. When it was cold, we just washed in a pail by the stove in our barracks, although not every day, I'm sure. Sometimes if we had real dirty or greasy clothes, we washed them in gasoline.
As mentioned earlier, Korean women were off limits to the G.I.s, but there were Korean women outside the fence around Kimpo who wanted a job washing our clothes. There were no laundry facilities at Kimpo, so we had to wash our own clothes in the same sink or pail that we washed our hands. That's why we hired the Korean women to do our laundry. We met them outside the fence with our clothes and then they took them and washed them on the stones in the river. We then met them in a few days to get our clean clothes. They got them to look real nice and were all folded and dry when we got them. We paid them with soap and cigarettes.
There was a redheaded guy stationed at Kimpo who had the nickname "Red". One day in April or May, he was washing his overalls in gas in the wash house. Something caught fire and the flames were put out, but it was still smoking along the base of the wall. I wasn't there when they got the fire out, but my friend Maxwell Banfield and I saw the smoke and went over to see what was going on. Two officers came in while we were all looking at it. There was a pail about half full with maybe three or four gallons of something in it. One of the officers thought that it was water, and I did, too. I was almost right by him when I saw him pick the pail up and throw its contents on the area that was smoking. The pail did not have water in it. It had gasoline. The whole building just exploded.
I think the gas must have blown back at the officer, because he ran out of the building on fire. There were about six of us there and one guy said that we had to knock him down and try to smother the flames. He knocked the officer down on the ground and we all piled on top of him and got the fire out. He was burned real bad and was flown back to the States. None of the rest of us were burned much, but I will never forget how that officer looked all on fire. It took me a long time to get over that. If you have ever seen someone on fire, you won't forget it ever. I can still see it to this day. In fact, I'm crying right now while I think about it.
There was no fire fighting equipment at Kimpo, so we just stood there and watched the fire. Four barracks in the area, including ours, burned. We lost all of our stuff. There was a big wooden building nearby that was the only place where we got anything that resembled a treat. One night a week they opened up a window and served something out of there that was like a milk shake. It was very good. Well, that was the end of that. The building burned down and the fire spread to our barracks.
There was another big wooden building nearby that was used for storing our equipment, vehicles, and generators, and an area to keep warm in. We were 99 percent sure that building would catch fire, too, and we stood there helpless. The only big door leading into it was on the side next to the burning barracks, so it was too hot to use that door to get stuff out. We all stood there watching this. Commander Schroeder was next to us and I said, "Shouldn't I take a truck and make a hole in the wall on the side away from the fire?" I still remember how he looked at me and said, "Do you think you can?" I said yes. I had never pushed a hole in a building big enough to drive a truck through before, but I did and it worked. I pushed a hole in the wall with the front bumper of the truck, then turned it around and drove inside backwards so nothing could fall on the windshield of the truck. We were able to get the stuff out of there. The funny thing was, that building didn't catch fire. We were able to still use it and the building was still standing there with a big hole in the wall when I rotated home. Things went quite normal after this fire and we did the work that we were assigned to do.
In Japan we felt safe walking around Tokyo, but not in Korea. When we first arrived we were told not to walk around because it wasn't safe. Korea had been under Japanese rule for many years. When World War II ended, the native people of Korea were free. As mentioned earlier, we were called an occupation force and were there to help rebuild their country. It was like countries in Europe after the war--the United States occupied them. We are still in Korea today. My own thought of Korea was that when it was occupied by the Japanese, the Koreans were probably mistreated, so they didn't like military. When we came, they didn't like us. We could never go out of camp at night and didn't feel very good in the daytime, which I thought was strange.
I think the Koreans were morally better than the Japs. They didn't want us messing with their women, so their women were off limits to G.I.s. Four U.S. soldiers were found hanging on a bridge by Seoul. It happened before I got to Korea, but I believed it. The Japs were just the opposite. They were very loose and friendly and had no moral standards. Maybe when the Japs controlled Korea they abused the Korean women. I don't know.
Big Joe's House
I didn't see a wedding or a funeral during the time I was in Korea. Korean parents chose and arranged who their children married. When one of the Koreans that worked in our area, "Big Joe", was going to get married, he invited me to come to his wedding. I don't like to brag or anything, but I humbly say that the Koreans that worked at Kimpo called me "Number 1." That phrase was commonly used by Koreans to show their respect for an American. It made me feel good. I just tried to be nice to them and respect them. I think that's why Big Joe invited me to his wedding and wanted me to see his house. Our captain didn't think it would be safe for me to go to the wedding, so I couldn't go. A while after they were married, I brought the Korean workers back to Seoul one day in a truck and Big Joe took me to his house. When we were walking up toward his house, his wife saw us coming and she ran over the hill, so I didn't get a chance to see her.
Joe's house was just a small shack maybe 15 feet by 15 feet. Most of the Korean houses were kind of clay and brown. We went in and the floor was made of shiny red clay. He opened up a small door in the floor and there were some little tin containers with his supper in them. It looked like fish and rice. The Koreans ate a lot of garlic, so they always smelled bad. The Koreans burned charcoal under the floor some way that heated their house and heated his food for supper. He was very proud of what he had and anxious to show me. I didn't ever tell our captain that I had gone to Big Joe's house.
A couple of other times we had some experiences with Koreans. If it had not been for writing this memoir, I would have carried the incident I'm about to tell you with me to my grave and no one would have known about it. One time Bruce Thomas and I were on our way to Seoul with a truck when we came around a bend in the road and discovered that about a half dozen Koreans had made a roadblock out of a pile of branches and were standing in front of it. They tried to stop us. Sometimes we carried guns in Korea, but that day we didn't have any. I didn't know what they wanted and didn't want to know. There was no place to turn around and no time to figure out what to do. I had been in Korea longer than Bruce, so I thought it was up to me to decide what to do. We had about five seconds to decide what to do. I said to him, "I'm going to drive through these branches. If the Koreans don't jump out of the way, too bad." Everything happened so fast. We were scared, but we speeded up. The Koreans jumped out of the way and we drove right through the roadblock. I don't know if we did the right thing, but that's what we did. I don't think we hit anyone. I think about this incident a lot and often wonder what would have happened if we had stopped.
When we came back a couple of hours later, the roadblock was gone. We decided not to report it and we never heard what came of it. We didn't know if they were North Koreans or not--we couldn't tell the difference. Some guys thought they could tell the difference between North and South Koreans. I think the North Koreans were a little bigger, but they looked much the same to me. We always had it in the back of our minds that the Koreans at the roadblock were North Koreans. They were always a threat to us, even then.
Another time when we took the workers back to Seoul in the late afternoon, the truck broke down in Seoul and we had no way of contacting Kimpo. Our first thought was that we couldn't leave the truck in the street overnight or the wheels and everything on it would probably be stolen by morning. The Koreans were good at stealing things. Bruce stayed in the truck while I walked to another U.S. army camp a few miles away. They came with a truck and pulled our truck to their camp. They gave us supper and set us up for the night in beds so we could get some sleep. We were dumb. We were just worried about the truck and never thought that anyone from Kimpo would come looking for us when we didn't come back. Well, we were wrong. They got a search party and looked for us all night along the route that they thought we would have taken. We should have stayed in the truck and they would have found us, but we didn't. We were reprimanded for that in the morning when we got a ride back. I guess they thought that we had deserted. We didn't have cell phones back then to let our home base at Kimpo know where we were or what our trouble was.
A couple of Sundays a few of us got a permit to take a Jeep and just drive around the countryside. Right before I went home a guy came from a little camp way in the northwest part of South Korea and wanted help. They didn't have a generator that worked. If I hadn't been going home, I could have taken one there. They had to go into North Korea to get there. I wish I could have gone. I suppose someone else went.
The summer went by pretty fast and we were told that we were going home. I left Korea in August of 1947. I felt kind of guilty leaving Korea and those Koreans so soon. When the Korean War came along later, I wondered what had happened to those people there that I had gotten to know. I get so sad when I think of the Koreans that worked there. They were people just like us and had so little it seemed. But they were happy with what they had.
We went to a replacement camp near Inchon and prepared to get on a ship. The harbor at Inchon was shallow, so a big ship couldn't come closer than about a mile to shore. We waded out to a small landing craft and took that out to the USNT Gen. H.B. Freeman--a very nice ship compared to the one that we came to Japan on. It was still a troop ship, but much bigger and nicer. It had a big dining room and we sat at tables. The food was very good. We even got milk--the first milk we had seen for a year. We had very nice weather on the way home and could go up on deck when we wanted to. We came back to the States at Seattle, where we had left from the previous year. It was a good feeling to see the coast of the United States appear again.
I remember what a treat it was to get on the ship on the way home and get good food. As mentioned earlier, I had eaten a lot of scrambled eggs while I was in Korea. After I came home, I often got sick about 9 a.m. or so. One day I had an egg for breakfast and, once again, I wasn't feeling good about 9 a.m. Another time I was at a neighbor's house and ate an egg salad sandwich. By noon I was very sick. I thought I was maybe getting sick because I couldn't stand fresh eggs, so I quit eating them. I couldn't eat fresh eggs for a year or so after coming home from Korea.
I was discharged in September, so I got home when the harvesting was going on, and was along with threshing right away. That was the most fun time of the year. I was undecided what to do that fall. When we were being discharged, recruiters tried to get us to either enlist in the Reserves or National Guard. I didn't because my mother was alone. There were also representatives from schools offering us opportunities to go to school. Some friends and I registered to go to a trade school in Chicago. In October or November I went to Chicago to this school for six months under the GI Bill. I took a mechanics course. Some guys took electric courses or refrigeration. We had part-time jobs after school. For a while I worked in a factory and for a while I worked at a Montgomery Ward mail order place, so I learned a little about that life, but in the back of my mind, I knew that I would end up farming.
Farming the Land
My grandfather, Martin Ueland, left me a farm so I was always expected to step in when I grew up and begin where my dad had left off when he died. Had it not been for that and the fact that my mother was alone, I would have stayed in the army a little longer. I went home in the spring of 1948, lived with my mother, and started farming. That is what I really liked to do. I don't think I had trouble adjusting to civilian life. I think the thing I felt the most was insecure. In the army you knew if you did your job. You were taken care of, had a place to eat and sleep, had regular pay, and were with men who were pretty much your equal. In farming you are very dependent on the weather and the price you will get for what you produce. I remember reading a book by James Herriot several years ago entitled, All Creatures Great and Small. He had a saying in there that caught my attention: "We are all created equal, but some of us are more equal than others." I kind of liked that.
Farming wasn't easy. It was very dry and machinery was still hard to get. I had trouble getting a tractor. When I finally got my first one, it was an S.C. Case. Maynard Loge and I worked together and helped each other. That was when farmers quit threshing and got combines. When I started farming in 1948, most of the farms were quite small compared to now, and there were many veterans starting farming. The government had a program for veterans in our area called Veterans Ag Class. The teacher was Mike Resvit, and the class was held at the high school in Cooperstown once a week. In the summer when we were busy, we met in the evening. In the winter we met in the afternoon once a week. We got paid by the government under the GI Bill for going to school. I don't remember how much the pay was, but it helped with our farming expenses. We worked together, helped each other, and some of us shared equipment with each other. I remember that once we got together and had a picnic. I think it was good for us to share experiences, and we made a lot of new friends. I think the Veterans Ag class lasted a couple of years or more. It was still going when I got married.
In the fall of 1948 I had been looking at Lois Johnson and trying to get up the nerve to date her. She was teaching in the Balkan school. One day after school I stopped by and asked her for a date to go to a school event in the town. She took me up on that and that was a new chapter in my life. We went together and had lots of good times until the fall of 1950. Then she was teaching in the Watne school and living at home with her folks. She was a very devoted teacher. We talked about getting married but she said that she wanted to finish teaching that year. She stayed at home with her folks for the rest of the year. We decided to get married Christmas Day 1950. Christmas Eve was very nice. There was no snow and the roads were good, but on Christmas day the weather was different. There was a snow storm. We managed to have our wedding okay. It was at her folks' place.
We had a good married life and lived on the farm 49 years. God blessed us with four kids and a very good home for many years. We had one daughter, Rhoda Kay, and three sons, Keith, Marty, and Joel. A memory that stands out in my mind is when our country school closed and Rhoda and Keith were going to take the bus for school in town. I can still picture them standing on the front steps waiting for the bus. I had a lump in my throat. I guess I realized that they were growing up and it was the beginning of growing up for both the kids and us.
When Marty married his wife (also named Rhoda Kay like my daughter), I remember that her father, Dan Roen, said to me, "Rhoda is as close to perfect as anyone can get." I say the same thing about Lois. Being a wife, a mother, bringing up the kids, I can't say enough good about her. The hardest part of my life was when we found out that Lois had cancer. In the spring of 1999 she complained about a numb feeling on one side of her face once in a while. She was on the way home from town once when she had it so she went back to the clinic. There was a fill-in doctor there that day and right away he got concerned that it could be a brain tumor. We made an appointment in Fargo and they did some tests and found a tumor. They operated on her in Fargo and she got over that quite well. I'll never forget that we were waiting around for her to come out to the waiting room when Clayton Lindgren showed up. He was a lay pastor and I always liked him. He was such a comfort to us that day. Lois got over the operation quite well, but I think they just did it for our own peace of mind. The doctor in Fargo made arrangements for us to go to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which we did. Our daughter Rhoda was at home then, so Rhoda, Lois and I went there to meet with a doctor in that clinic. He consoled us that they had done the right thing in Fargo, but they couldn't do any more than what had been done in Fargo.
Lois did quite well at home and she chose not to have any treatments. Either with or without treatments it wouldn't make much difference, and since she felt pretty good she didn't want to take treatments and feel bad for the time she had left. She was feeling pretty good so Rhoda decided to go home to Casper, Wyoming. Later that day, Lois and I were going to go out to the picnic table and have some lunch when she passed out. I called the hospital and the ambulance came and took her to town. The doctor and I think Lois had a stroke. She regained consciousness for a little while in town, but then passed out again. Rhoda came back again in a few days. Lois lived a couple of weeks and then she died--just two months after learning that she had cancer. That summer was the hardest time of my life.
I lived alone and wasn't good at that for about five years. Marty and Rhoda were good to me and I went down there for dinner a lot. MaryLou Johnson was my sister-in-law. She and her husband Mark, who was the brother of my wife Lois, had four children: Kristi, Kurt, Kory, and Karen. Mark had a stroke and died at the age of 74 in 2003. Lois died in 1999, also at age 74. I was alone and MaryLou was alone. We did things together a lot, so we talked about getting married and living in one house. I married MaryLou Johnson in 2004. I can only speak for myself, but I haven't ever been sorry we decided to get married.
Essentially MaryLou and I have been "family" for about 60 years, although not blood related. One thing that I thought was kind of funny. They used to have pie socials in country schools. Before Lois and I went together they had two in the Westly School. I bought two of MaryLou's pineapple pies, so I don't know what that proves? I had known both Lois and MaryLou all my life and liked them both. I can't believe how good they both have been to me. I appreciate it. Kristi even calls me Dad sometimes. MaryLou has had hard times losing both Mark and Kurt, so we have both had our hard times, but now we both have each other and are just getting a day older every day. MaryLou doesn't like it when I talk about how much longer we have left, but I can't help but think about it. I just thank God for all the time we have had together and am thankful for the way Kristi, Kory, and Karen have accepted me and my kids have accepted MaryLou just as well. I'm sure it isn't always easy for them, but I'm just thankful for all our kids and grandkids. Together we have 17 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. MaryLou and I are members of Saron Evangelical Free Church of rural Cooperstown. The church was founded in 1895. MaryLou's great-uncle Swen Wuflestad was one of the first pastors. We both have attended this church all our lives.
I retired when I was 65, but continued to live on the farm until I married Mary Lou. We decided that she had more junk to move, so I moved down there with her. My son Marty owns a farm next to ours and he now farms mine as well as his. I still help him in the summer driving a tractor or combine or whatever I can. I am still very active and like to do something rather than do nothing. I do some little woodworking things, but they are all volunteer jobs. The farm I own, the farm Mary Lou and I live on, and my son's farm are all located within a few miles of each other in Sverdrup Township, Griggs County, North Dakota.
I guess most families have both good and bad times. My son Keith died two years ago. He was in Jamestown, North Dakota, where he was a master electrician. Then one day in 1981, we got a call to come to Fargo because a trucker had found him unconscious in a rest area west of Jamestown. He had been in a motorcycle accident. He was taken to Fargo and was in the hospital about a month. After that, even though he was on disability, he was able to live alone for over 30 years. He got lung cancer in 2012 and died on May 23, 2013. Mary Lou's son Kurt, a researcher at North Dakota State University, died in 2010.
I am 89 years old now, so it's been a while since I was in Korea. I have never returned to Korea, but I talked to one guy that has. He had a son-in-law and daughter stationed there. He said that South Korea is a very modern place now. Being in the service there was both good and bad, but he and I both agreed that we wouldn't trade our experience there for anything. I received occupation, overseas, marksmanship, and good conduct medals for my military service. These medals and the VFW club that I belong to have some significance for me, and I appreciate it when people have said thank you to me on Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
For me personally, the hardest thing about being in Korea was just being away from home and family. The smell was also hard for me to cope with. The Korean men we came in contact with were okay, but they ate different food and they all had a certain smell. When I think back, it wasn't a very nice place to be, but I'm glad I had that experience.
My strongest memories of military duty overseas are the day we left the United States and seeing the coast line disappear, landing in Korea, and the gasoline fire. I also have very good memories of all the men that I lived with. I can't say enough good about them, including our 1st Sergeant who was dishing out food for us when we went through the chow line at the replacement depot when we were leaving Korea on our way home. We kidded him about his new job. He went home on the boat with us.
I joined our local VFW post and was both post commander and district commander. The district is made up of seven local posts. I also belong to the local American Legion. We put on a Veterans Day program and Memorial Day program at the high school in town every year and take part in funerals for veterans. Things have changed a lot, however. All of these veterans organizations have a hard time now. After World War II they were very active, but many of the World War II veterans have died now and the younger veterans aren't interested in joining because they have too many other activities.
Dash in Life
Our pastor had something in his sermon a couple of weeks ago that is worth thinking about. He said that when we die, what is put on our tombstone is something like this:
The pastor told us that that dash between the dates has more meaning that the dates. We are just given so much time and what we do with our time is very important. I think when we reach my age we get more appreciative of the time we have been given. I know I haven't made good use of some of my time and I'm still working on that dash. I'm thankful I've gotten such a long dash.
Those of us who served in Korea in 1946 were just a small part of what was going on in the world at the time. Some we understood and some we didn't. I think we see and hear so much more on radio and television now than we did back then. We are now more aware of what is going on and maybe question some of it. We don't all have the same opinion of what is right or wrong. That is what is good about our country. We still live in the best country and we just have so much time in this world. I think that "dash" describes it. I have done two things in this dash that I'm kind of proud of. I saved my cousin from drowning in the river at home and I helped save the guy from fire in Korea.
Addendum - Ueland Family Tree
[Source: Griggs County History 1879-1976, page 442, and Internet resources]
Martin Andreas Ueland was born at Ollestad in Heskestad near Stavanger, Norway on September 1, 1858. He was the youngest son of Ole Gabriel Ueland, a member of the Norwegian Storting (parliament) and one time president of that body. Martin went to high school in Flekkefjord and to Trondhjem technical school to become a Civil Engineer.
He came to the United States in 1880, and after a year in Minneapolis, a bout with typhoid fever, came to Dakota Territory in 1881. He homesteaded in what is now Sverdrup Township. He was elected surveyor in 1882 before the county was organized and served as surveyor for the following fifty years.
Between surveying expeditions, Martin Ueland farmed and gradually added to his holdings with land priced at that time at from $2.00 to $4.00 an acre. On returning from a surveying assignment in Montana he found a group of settlers encamped on the Sheyenne River bank at Valley City. They were all Norwegians from the general area where he was born and he knew relatives of some of them. They were Ole Westley, Betuel Herrigstad, Valdemar Klubben, Sven Loge and Christian Aarestad. They were in the process of bargaining for a breaking plow. He decided to go with them to the area they were settling and they became neighbors. This was still in 1881 and he was elected County Surveyor in 1882.
In 1888, Martin was married to Elizabeth Maria Holland who had also come from Norway, but worked in Iowa for some years. She worked for an American family and so became quite fluent in the English language before coming to Griggs County where two brothers, Knud and Hans Holland, were living by that time.
Martin and Elizabeth had eight children. They were:
Olav and his wife Dagny Edland Ueland (1895-1981) had ten children, all of whom have died as of this year (2015) except one son, Duane.
Children of Knute and Inga Loge Ueland were:
Child of Anne (Ueland) Windingland:
Child of Alf Ueland:
Martin Andreas Ueland died in 1941 and his wife, Elizabeth Maria, died in 1937.