After WWII ended in Europe, many of the service men were sent home on leave for some rest and relaxation with orders to report back to be sent to the Pacific but most of them were spared returning to the battlefield by the signing of peace with Japan in August of 1945. Our service men had given several years of their lives to the defense of our country and now would return to life at home once more.
The draft continued after the war with each young man having to sign up when he reached his 18th birthday, to be called for a two year stay in the military sometime before their 26th birthday provided they passed their physical. Those going to college could postpone their military obligation until they completed the four years of school. Most men served two years, while some chose to make a career of being a soldier. Most served in the occupation army in several countries of the world for just a few short years until North Korea invaded South Korea in June of 1950. Our troops again were sent into battle, many questioning why we needed to fight in a country far from home for reasons which did not seem to be any of our concern.
At the end of WWII, Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into Soviet controlled North Korea and U. S. occupation zone of South Korea. The South was invaded by the North in June, 1950. The U.N. sent its member nations to the aid of the South under the leadership of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (he was replaced by Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway in 1951). North Korea initially swept through much of the South but was later pushed back to the Chinese border. When the Chinese Communists joined the North in Oct. 1950, fighting centered around the 38th parallel. Negotiations for a cease-fire began in 1951 al Panmunjom and peace was established in July, 1953.
With the memories of WWII still fresh in their minds, reports of panic buying spread throughout the country. A headline in the Times-Press for July 6, 1950 read: "Report Demand for Tires, Sugar." Merchants in Reedsburg said that purchases of these items increased from 50 to 300 percent over previous averages. One hundred pound bags of sugar were being bought by families (usually only one bag by any one family), and the sale of tires was reaching a critical supply situation with a 200 to 300 percent increase in sales. Sheets were also in short supply, with one store selling out 20 dozen in less than two days. The sale of refrigerators, washing machines and freezers reached an all time high, according to dealers.
A month later, the war jitters had eased some. An article in the August 10th paper pointed out that "In the opinion of local merchants, the increased spurt in buying is due for the most part on actual need of the items purchased. They feel that buyers have been slow in making up their minds and had been 'dickering' for some time. The war scare helped them to make up their minds in a hurry, and the resultant heavy buying ensued."
The Reedsburg Times Press carried the column "News about Area Servicemen" through the early 1950's.
Most of the area young men appeared in this column at one time or another as they served their tour of duty. Many were wounded and were returned home. Bill Ewing, a member of the RHS class of 1948, was killed in Korea on October 30, 1951.
Pvt. Merlin Meyer, 23, was reported missing in action as of April 23, 1951 in word received by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Rinehart Meyer. Merlin entered service Oct 23, 1950 and was sent to Korea in March of 1951. They received no further information until the Communists began releasing names of prisoners via the radio. Merlin's sister, Pearl, listened to the broadcasts and at 3 A.M. one morning she heard the name she had anxiously been awaiting, Merlin Meyer!
Merlin was not one to talk much about his experience except to state, "The food was extremely bad. I made the decision I would eat whatever they provided because I was going to live."
He left the Demarcation Center in Korea on August 16, 1953 and arrived home on the night train in early September to be welcomed by city officials, friends and local people, who shared in the joy of his return.
In an article in the Reedsburg Times Press, Sgt. John O' Malley stated, "I was shipped out with only five days of training and landed in the infantry as platoon sergeant. Two thirds of the men in the Second Infantry Division had wounds from previous action. At one time ammunition was rationed to 19 mortar rounds a day." He believed that
as far as the men were concerned it was just a matter of staying alive and sweating out their rotation. No one could see any reason for getting killed.
O' Malley went on to say, he believed the war should have been extended early in the fighting, that the Chinese bases should have been bombed and the Chinese coast been blockaded. He also felt that if Americans were to exert enough pressure, a way could be found to end the fighting.
O' Malley was later wounded and returned home still carrying a bullet in his shoulder. He was mentioned in an eyewitness account of the Korean fighting published in the April 28,1951 issue of Collier's magazine. His rescue of a wounded buddy, which earned him a Silver Cross, was described in the article.
Some young men objected to going for religious reasons but usually were drafted and given duties other than serving on the front lines.
General Dwight Eisenhower, in his campaign for president, run on the platform that he would end the Korean War if elected. Peace was established in 1953.
The Korean War involved primarily U.S. soldiers fighting for the South, and 54,246 American citizens died in the conflict.
Pusan Korea 1952
Korea by Landon H. Risteen 2009
We’d been training since the fall of 1950; that's when I’d been drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. We were the 388th Evacuation Hospital unit at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. Most of our personnel were draftees, although there were a lot of National Guardsmen and reservists running things. They were from the Detroit area mostly, especially from Hamtramck. I was trained to be a surgical technician, a scrub nurse, and I’d been there long enough to become a corporal. And long enough to want to do something besides train endlessly. After all, we had been there over a year and we were trained to a fare-thee-well. Go ahead and ship us out, we said, get us out of Indiana, put this hospital into action, and let us do something useful.
Of course the Army in its special wisdom didn’t do that. Instead it broke up the hospital group and shipped us out to Korea, a few men at a time, giving new meaning to one of our favorite sayings: "There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Army way!" So, after a two-week leave over Christmas and New Years I was on the way to Seattle on the crack train, the Empire Builder, with accommodations in a sleeping car. There were four others from my hospital unit on the same train, also headed for Seattle and Korea, and we hung out together most of the 40-hour trip from Chicago. An intercontinental train trip was a first for all of us, and provided beautiful winter scenery, especially through Montana, Idaho, and Washington.
Seattle was another matter, though, with its grey skies, rainy atmosphere, and 40-degree temperatures day after day. Fort Lawton was as grey as the skies, and although there were calisthenics every day, waiting for the troopship to arrive, most of the time was spent in the barracks playing cards, reading, and bitching about how long we had to wait for the ship. Life was dull, but I remember the pleasure of getting a Washington Delicious apple out of a vending machine in the PX for a nickel. Somehow those apples were always perfectly shaped, cold, and really crisp. When we finally boarded ship, after ten days of sitting around, it was the U.S.S. Marine Lynx, often described, appropriately, as a rust bucket. 1500 of us filed aboard, found our bunks, scoped out the ship, and settled in for a twenty-day trip on the North Pacific in January.
It was twenty days of ugliness, discomfort, fear, and loathing, with seasickness the main scourge of the trip. I was a medic and had the foresight to load up with seasick pills to take along. They helped to the extent they prevented continuous vomiting, but they didn’t head off the sick nauseous sensation that the rough seas created. And the seas were rough! The Pacific is anything but that in January. Each day the various decks had to be cleaned, and those of us not involved in the cleaning had to be topside, outdoors, for much of the day. However, in rough seas the windward side of the main deck was off limits because of waves over that side. That meant hundreds of us crammed onto one side of this pitching, yawing, rolling ship in freezing weather, throwing up, sliding around in the slop, and swearing a lot.
When we didn’t have to be topside, we could spend time in our bunks, if we chose. Keep in mind this is a troop ship. I was in "F" deck, that is to say, six decks down from the top. The canvas bunks were five-high, so unless you were in the top one, there were only about six inches between your prone body and the guy above you. We were also near the prow on "F" deck and every time the ship pitched the prow came up out of the water and then came back down hitting the water with a thunderous, shuddering crash.
Everything was a problem. Eating meant climbing down the vomit-slicked stairs to the mess hall, standing in line for the meal, keeping the metal tray on the table, and somehow transferring the food from tray to mouth. Some of it actually got there, but the mess hall was well named. Keeping clean was a problem with one fresh-water hot shower a week. Otherwise there was only cold salt water available. A salt-water shower leaves something to be desired in that it results in a residue of salty stickiness on the body with no way to rinse it off. Sleeping was a problem too, because of the nature of the bunks, the movement of the ship, and the likelihood that someone in a bunk above you was going to be sick.
Twenty days was an eternity, and it was early February when we finally docked at Yokohama, Japan, the port for Tokyo. It was snowing big time. It hadn’t snowed there for forty years, they said, and the locals couldn’t believe it. So in the snow it was march off the ship, carry your duffle bag, stand on the dock, get on a truck, ride to some army camp, be assigned to a tent overnight, try to stay warm, and maybe get some sleep. The next day for some of us it was on to a train for a two-day trip to the port of Sasebo, in the south of Japan. No sleeping cars here, but one man and a duffle bag for every two seats, a bathroom at the end of each car, and have a nice trip! I should mention that the bathroom had a sink with running cold water, and a hole in the floor. Quaint and effective, I suppose, but hard on the folks in some of the towns we went through.
Memorable was going through Hiroshima. The train moved very slowly at this point so we had a good look at the city. This was only seven years after the atom bomb was dropped there, and the effects were self-evident: A very large urban area with only two- and three-story buildings; much open space, evidence of fires, and a lack of human activity for a city of that size. We had a good view of the signature dome-topped, burned-out building near the center of town, and the whole scene was forlorn and sobering.
Once in Sasebo there were two more nights in a tent waiting for the ship to take us across the Korea Strait to Pusan, Korea. When it arrived it was much smaller than the one that had brought us across the Pacific, and we were on it only for a few hours. And the waters were calm so there was no seasickness this time. What there was, though, as we approached the Korean mainland, was a distinctive and disagreeable smell in the air. The Koreans, at the time, were still fertilizing their crops with human fecal matter, winched out of local outhouses with buckets--"honey buckets" we called them--and delivered to farmers by oxen-driven tank wagons by men who made their living doing that work. It resulted in an odor that wafted out over the sea, ten miles from port.
When we debarked in Pusan we went to a replacement depot––rhymingly called a "repo depot,"––to be assigned to a permanent post. However, it was evening and we had to wait until morning for that to happen. It was a freezing cold night, the tents had canvas bunks, the space heater was way too small to be effective, and by midnight everyone was out of his bunk, standing close to the heater, trying to stay warm. Morning finally came, and with it the much anticipated interview with replacement officials to determine where in Korea we would be stationed.
When it was my turn the officer said, "Do you play an instrument?" I told him I played the piano, but he meant a band instrument. I confessed that I didn’t play one, and also professed my dismay that I should have trained for over a year to work in a hospital operating room only to end up in the Fifth Army band. But, since I didn’t play anything, he found a place for me at the 3rd and 14th Field Hospital in Tongnae, a suburb of Pusan. This was a prisoner-of-war hospital with 25,000 sick and wounded North Koreans and Chinese POWs, and my home for the next nine months. The month-long shipping-out odyssey was over at last, I could quit living out of a duffle bag, my family could know where I was, and I could settle in.
The army assigned me to the 3rd & 14th Field Hospital in Tongnae, just outside of Pusan. I was glad because I'd been training to be a surgical technician (scrub nurse) ever since I was drafted into the army in 1950. This was February 1952, I had nine more months to serve, and all of them would be here in Korea. The three-week trip across the Pacific on the U.S.S. Marine Lynx had been miserable--slow, rough, wet, sick--and I was truly grateful to get to a base where I had a bed, a place to put my clothes, first-rate food, and a daily job that was interesting and worthwhile. Living out of a duffel bag for a month had been a major pain.
It turned out that this hospital held 25,000 sick and wounded prisoners of war--North Koreans and Chinese. They were all inside a barbed wire enclosure, living in wooden-floored tents laid out along narrow streets, so, except for the barbed wire, and the military police, the place looked something like all the bases I lived on. There was, of course, a hospital building complete with sick rooms, operating rooms, recovery wards, labs, and offices. That's where I went every day, and it was only a short walk up the hill from our quarters. It was also close to the mess hall, so the whole arrangement was very convenient in terms of its layout.
It didn't take long for me to feel at home here with the work and the people. There was a Major Ferguson, a nurse, who ran the hospital surgical section, and who was terrific to work with. We also had three other surgical technicians there and two Korean nurses, Miss Kim, and Miss Goldie. Strange that I remember few of the Americans by name, but do recall all the Koreans we worked with. All of us scrubbed for surgery every day. I was a sergeant and so I was the non-commissioned officer (NCO) in charge. They gave me an office, and a Korean secretary to help with the paperwork. The office work didn amount to much, and so the secretary, Miss Kim, sat around a lot. She was a refugee from Seoul with a college degree who spoke Korean, Japanese, English, French, and Spanish. Let's just say that she was way overqualified for her work with me, but happy to have any kind of job in her situation. The office, by the way, worked very well as the place to chat with Eddie Fisher when he came to Korea to entertain the troops. I think his big hits at the time were Oh, My Papa, and Anytime.
The duty here was much better than it had been stateside. There we were up every morning at 6:00, did a lot of calisthenics, stood guard duty, did KP (kitchen police), and had barracks inspection every week. None of those activities went on here. I worked 7 to 5, lived in a quonset hut with about 20 other guys, and because of my rank got an end bunk. That is to say, in the corner by the front door; very desirable. We had a house boy and a house girl whom we called "Boy-san and girl-san" to keep the hut clean as a whistle, do our laundry and ironing, run errands, and generally provide for our general welfare. (Come to think of it we called everybody something-san: Adults were "Mama-san and Papa-san", and infants were "Baby-san". I think it's a Japanese term, but I never knew exactly why we used it). All the guard duty was done by the military police, while the mess-hall work was carried out by Koreans. So, except for the fact that there was a war close by, and that we were 8,000 miles from home, army life in Pusan was pretty good. One other exception: going to the latrine (outhouse) in the middle of the night with a flashlight to scare away the big, ugly, slimy rats just so you could take a leak was not a highlight of life here.
Most of the surgery dealt with emergencies such as appendectomies and accidents, and in this community of 25,000 there were a lot of those. However, soon after I arrived, a surgeon specializing in pneumonectomies--lung removals--came on the scene and we began doing one pneumonectomy every day. Nearly all the prisoners were suffering from tuberculosis, and removing a diseased lung often transformed a patient from sickliness to well being almost over night. Or so it seemed. The surgeon, Major Rocky, was highly talented, but a total pain in the ass. He's the guy in . . . "What's the difference between a surgeon and God? God doesn think he a surgeon." My problems with Major Rocky began the day I tried to clip a sterile towel onto his back. Sad to say I fastened it into his skin, not into his surgical gown. He let out a roar, bled, cussed me out, and ever after when anyone came near his back with a towel clip he flinched big time, not that you could blame him. The other OR personnel experienced total cognitive dissonance; they knew I did a stupid thing, but on the other hand, this guy was arrogant, demanding, and haughty, and no one felt sorry for him. The fact is we laughed to beat hell about this for months to come.
Major Rocky's pneumonectomies often did wonders, though. I remember one particular prisoner, a Chinese soldier, who was immensely grateful for his transformation from a tubercular life to one with a better chance. He tried to express his gratitude when he woke up in the recovery room, even though he did not speak English. And I tried to understand his expressions even though I spoke no Chinese. There was something about the situation, though, that enabled us to establish a relationship. He saw me not as an enemy, but as a helpful friend, who had been part of improving his life. I felt huge sympathy and empathy for him and for his situation. I went back to see him several times after his surgery, and a small bond developed. But after he healed he disappeared back to his compound, and I never saw him again, and don't even know his name.
The large majority of our surgeries were successful, but one that was not sticks in my mind. During a procedure, one of the surgeons nicked an aorta and a stream of blood as thick as my finger arched out of the patient chest into the operating field and onto the floor. It was ghastly, and, of course, the patient was dead almost immediately. It's painful to have to admit this now, but I was more upset at the prospect of cleaning up all this blood, than I was about losing a patient. The operating room floors were wooden, and hard to keep clean under normal circumstances. Getting several pints of blood out of there turned out to take the rest of the day. Occasional accidents not withstanding, we took pride in giving the POWs the best medical care we could. We had first-rate doctors, nurses, and technicians on duty, we used up-to-date equipment, and we followed up every surgical procedure with the best post-operative treatment. We worked diligently to keep a sterile environment during surgery, and to make sure the equipment was properly cared for. This meant spending many hours each afternoon cleaning, wrapping, and sterilizing instruments for the next day's surgery. There was a machine called an autoclave, which did the sterilizing, and everything had to be run through it. Only the blood for transfusions was not up to snuff. That is, it was too old to use with our own troops, but judged usable for POWs. Every time I hooked up one of those bags of blood for a transfusion I thought of the American who had donated it and how that person would feel if he or she knew it was flowing into a Chinese POW. Not happy, I reckoned.
Sober moments were ahead when the prisoners rioted one day. Prisoners of war who were not ill were kept on Koje-do Island off the southern coast of Korea. They were there by the tens of thousands. On a particular day they managed to kidnap the U.S. commander of the prison, General Dean. That led to serious rioting and near mayhem in the prison until somehow Dean was freed. During that riot on Koje-do the prisoners at our hospital staged a sympathy riot. In some way, without any visible means of communication, our prisoners knew what was going on at Koje-do. Our riot included prisoners murdered by other prisoners, dead bodies hung on the barbed-wire enclosures, huts torn down, property burned, and prisoners locking themselves in the enclosure, lining up on the rooftops waving Chinese and North Korean flags, and taunting U.S. personnel. Our MP detachment quickly restored order by smashing through the fences with tanks, lobbing tear gas grenades as they went, and prodding anybody who hesitated to move with bayonets. The upshot of that was that the OR spent the entire afternoon and evening cleaning out and sewing up rear-end bayonet wounds often without benefit of anesthesia. Through my secretary, Miss Kim, and our Korean nurses, I managed to get some education about 20th century Korea. The country had been ruled by the Japanese from 1912 until the end of World War II, and the Japanese had been tyrannical. Korean culture was suppressed, the language was forbidden, and people were treated cruelly. In spite of these conditions Koreans never stopped using their own language in secret of course and did their best to maintain their centuries-old culture. In addition, they developed a deep hatred of everything Japanese, a hatred they were anxious to communicate to American soldiers. Because of Army regulations and Korean customs there was no fraternization with native Koreans. We could not visit their homes, for example, could not have meals with them, or socialize in any way. They, in turn, would be disgraced among their own people if they were seen socializing with Americans outside of work. So given these circumstances, what I learned about the country and the people had to be learned on the job, and as a result, what knowledge I gained turned out to be somewhat superficial.
As you'd expect we picked up a number of Korean/Japanese expressions and used them in everyday life. Pali pali meant "hurry up" dai jobi meant "ok", ichi ban said "you're tops". To call to somebody you yelled yo-bo-sey-o, and "thank you" was kam-sa-ham-nida. "Latrines" were binjos, kimchi (pickled cabbage) was on every Korean breath, and every adult woman was a mama-san. A few of these terms have stayed with me over all the years: honcho, for instance, which means, "boss".
It was hard to get more than a taste of what Korean life was like. We could go into the city of Pusan on a pass, shop, and visit the USO club there. It was less than exciting, though life in that city of 400,000 people offered a lesson on what the war meant to civilians, as hundreds of people were making their home in the Pusan railroad station, for example. Crossing bridges always revealed many, many women washing clothes in the streams, and there was a flourishing industry wherein outhouses were emptied of their contents which were then stored in primitive tank cars drawn by oxen, transported around the countryside, and sold to farmers for fertilizer. We called the tools used for this business "honey buckets", and a distinctive odor all over the countryside was a by-product. In fact, we had smelled it on the ship coming into Pusan when we were ten miles out at sea. This practice of using human fertilizer on vegetable gardens meant we were forbidden to eat local garden products.
On one of my rare trips downtown I bought a pearl necklace for Jan. Real pearls!! Right from the Sea of Japan, I suppose. It was beautiful then and it still beautiful 57 years later. On another trip to the main PX I bought two sets of dishes. One was a full set of dinnerware made in Japan under the name "Naruma." The other was a tea set, with cups, saucers, and a lovely teapot. This was labeled "Hakusan," also from Japan, and was very delicate. Both sets survived the long shipment home, though. Once I bought desk nameplates for my Dad, my father-in-law, and for me. They were triangular, and made of mother-of-pearl embedded in black wood. Very handsome! Actually, I didn buy them, I traded a carton of cigarettes for them on the black market. All this, plus a red silk dressing gown for Jan and a pair of Korean rubber shoes for her and for me. In hindsight I wish I had bought a whole lot more because the art objects and jewelry were exquisite and everything was amazingly inexpensive.
In addition to going downtown GIs could go to the bathhouse in Tongnae, relax in the warm water there, enjoy big quart bottles of cold Asahi beer, and generally tell ourselves that it could be worse. We also went to the Sea of Japan beach at the nearby airbase and watched the B-24s take off and land 50 feet over our heads as they went on their daily bombing runs and we got a suntan If we needed one, that was a reminder that we were not on vacation over there.
We had a non-denominational chapel on our base, very near to our quarters. It became important in my life because the Chaplain, Captain Soladay, was such a fine, solid, guy. Really, he had the soul of an enlisted man and a great ability to see things from others points of view. As the months passed I began playing the organ for Sunday services, singing solos, attending some of the fellowship meetings, and generally making the chapel sort of a center for my non-work activities. At one point we had a variety show at the chapel, with singing and dancing acts, comedy routines, and skits. I recall doing a bit based on some radio show I heard where a screechy-voiced woman digs the meat out of a hot dog, holds it up and yells, "Happy hollow-weenie." I doubt that it was any funnier then than it is now.
Mail call was the big feature of every day, and nobody did a better job of writing than my wife Jan, back in Wisconsin. Her letters were particularly important because after our honeymoon in Chicago Jan was pregnant. She experienced big-time morning sickness and had to leave the university in the middle of her junior year to return to Viroqua and live with her parents. One day in late February I got a letter from her telling me this. I was astonished as she was, but, of course, my daily routine didn't change. Hers, on the contrary, was totally turned upside down. Totally! I know that now, and have for a long time, but I'm ashamed to say that at the time I was too bound up in events in Korea to really "get it." She was pretty matter-of-fact about the situation, and very strong, but there she was, pregnant, sick, barely twenty-one years old, living with her folks in Viroqua where she knew no one, and her husband was half way around the world. We talked about our new baby in our letters; how Jan was coming along, what the doctor had to say, what to name the baby boy or girl, and whether or not I get home before the baby arrived.
Life went on at the hospital. We worked six days a week, went to church on Sundays, waited for mail call, wrote letters, read books and magazines, went to the USO and the PX once in a while, cursed the army regularly for its inability to do anything right, and yearned to go home. It seemed to take forever, but--one day it happened. My two years were over! My tour of duty was up! I was going back to the states to be discharged from the army ("separated," they called it). I was headed back to civilian life, back to Jan, and to a new baby. Back home; sweet, sweet home.
c2009 Landon H. Risteen
Edwin Meyers Written in 2008
Caution: The following article contains language and graphic descriptions which may be objectionable to some people. But we feel to sanitize the realities of war would be an affront to the soldiers who served their country and put their lives on the line for the cause of freedom. We landed in Pusan (Busan), Korea, the first week of September 1950. At the time, this area was called the Taegu-Pusan perimeter. From this location, we traveled by train to Taegu (Daegu). This is where the front lines were located. Once we arrived, we could hear artillery fire in the distance. We stayed the night in a hotel but had to sleep on the floor because all the furniture was removed. Early the next morning, we were allowed to carry only our shaving gear, tooth brush, and a few pairs of socks and handkerchiefs in our pockets. I had an M2 carbine, which fired automatic or semi-automatic. I had not fired a weapon since basic training. They only issued me a 15-round clip for my rifle and two, 15-round clips for my ammo belt. They said ammo was in short supply, as they had closed most of the plants after World War II. We boarded 2.5-ton trucks and headed to the front, which was only 3 miles away. On the way up, we ran into a machine gun ambush setup by the North Koreans. The driver told us to lie flat on the truck bed, and he went as fast as he could. Bullets bounced off the trucks, but we made it through without casualties. A couple of South Korean soldiers and I were sent to a hill to dig a gun emplacement. Once there, we started to receive fire and got pinned down by snipers. At first shot, the South Korean soldiers took off running down the hill, and then the snipers really opened up on me. I crawled down the hill with bullets hitting all around me. Once I was down the hill, and hidden by some brush, I circled around the bottom and waited. Directly, I saw a North Korean working his way down the other hill. When he was about 100 yards away, I put my rifle on full automatic, aimed, and shot him. This was my initiation into Korea.
I was assistant squad leader in the first cavalry division, third battalion, M company. I was on a hill, in a foxhole, with the squad leader. The next day, he sent me down the hill to get more ammo. When I came back with Korean ammo bearers, my squad leader was dead. Because of this, I was made squad leader.
(One day) the enemy hit us just before complete darkness. My buddy, Terry, and I were sent across the road to a ditch. This is the place where our wounded would be kept.
The enemy came at us in groups. They hit my three-quarter ton truck with 75mm recoilless and it was on fire. We kept shooting and stopping them, but they would keep coming. Our men kept getting hit and falling.
My buddy and I were the only ones left in the ditch, and a large group of enemy soldiers were coming at us. I said, "Pull a dead gook over you and play dead because we can't get them all!" As I pulled one over me, my buddy said, "He's, not dead!" and shot the enemy soldier on top of me. Then my buddy ran down the ditch.
It was pitch dark except for the burning vehicles in the field. The chinks jumped in the ditch and ran across me. They stomped on me as they went by but kept going. When they quit coming, I eased the dead one off me and started crawling down the ditch. I bumped into an enemy soldier and shot him in the head. I kept shooting more as I went down the ditch, six in all. Then my carbine jammed. A bent round was stuck in the chamber and I was trying to clear it with my thumb nail. A chink stood up and saw me and all of his dead buddies. He didn't try to shoot me. He just ran across the road. I cleared my rifle and snapped a shot at him but missed. He then threw a grenade at me from across the road. When it landed, I grabbed it and quickly threw it back. It blew up halfway across the road. I met up with my buddy, Terry, a little farther down the ditch. He was hidden in a small culvert, and I had to help pull him out.
In the ditch on the other side of the culvert were more GIs and a second lieutenant. The lieutenant arrived with the supply truck. He kept saying, "We're outnumbered. Let's surrender!" I told him, "Go ahead, but I'm not going to and I don't think they will let you anyway." The lieutenant took out his white handkerchief and started waving it over the ditch. They shot it right out of his hand.
The enemy came at us again, and we kept mowing them down. They started tossing grenades. I told the guys to grab them and throw them back fast. We kept doing it. One grenade landed on the other side of the lieutenant and I couldn't grab it, so I dove over a dead guy. When I turned back to the lieutenant, his foot was gone to above the ankle. I took his belt and a bayonet and made a tourniquet to stop the blood. He was screaming. I finally got him half calmed down and had him hold the tourniquet. At about this time, I learned the enemy soldiers were Chinese, not North Koreans.
The Chinese started to hit us with mortar fire. I told the men we had to move. I told the lieutenant we couldn't take him with us because we had to crawl across the road one at a time. I took the lieutenant's carbine and gave him mine. His was new and had never been fired. There was only Terry, me, and four other GIs. We went to the middle of the field and had everyone dig in the soft dirt. We lie flat and I told them not to fire until I yelled for them to. Directly, eight chinks came out from under the bridge. When they got about halfway to our position, I yelled, "Fire!" We got all but one guy, and he was hit but managed to make it back to the bridge. I said to our guys, "Let's get out of here! The one that got away will give our position and they'll cover this field with mortar rounds." We moved back up the field toward the wounded dugout. I shouted, "GIs coming in," and someone yelled out, "Come ahead." We no sooner got there than mortar rounds started landing in the field.
In the dugout was a tech. sergeant on a light 30-caliber machine gun and there were other guys. We held the chinks off all night but our guys were getting hit one by one. The chinks kept throwing hand grenades, and we kept throwing them back before they exploded. We had no hand grenades.
Just before dailithe, a grenade landed next to the tech sergeant. He grabbed for it but dropped it. Hewas wearing mittens with an exposed trigger finger. He jumped and threw his body on the grenade as it exploded. He saved us.
I got another piece of grenade in my leg, so I had some in my foot and my leg. By now, there were only four of usleft. I took over the .30-caliber machine gun and the tech sergeant's .45-caliber pistol. I set the pistol beside me. The tech sergeant was dead with his knees under him. I had to sit on him to get the machine gun because my legs hurt badly.
When the chinks would charge, we would mow them down, and when it got daylight, I had less than half a belt of ammo. I would fire in short but effective bursts. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a chink stand up in the ditch. He was throwing a grenade. I grabbed the .45-caliber pistol and fired fast. I put a crease across the road and knocked the chink down. His grenade went off where he fell and chinks started scrambling down the ditch. The guys shot them and I turned the machine gun sideways and fired, too. The guys shot over half a dozen. I noticed one had a backpack when we shot him. I had one of the guys crawl across the road to retrieve it. It was a whole case of W.P. (white phosphorus, willie peat) grenades. We started using them. We held them off all day until there were only three of us left. By this time, I had about a foot of ammo left on my belt.
About 5 p.m., on Nov. 2, 1950, the vhinks got lucky and dropped a mortar round right on us. It knocked me out. When I awoke, the one guy was dead and my buddy was standing over me. He said he had to get out of here and was going to leave me. I said, "OK." I was wounded so badly I could barely move. I slowly crawled back into the wounded dugout. I couldn't walk. One man's intestines squeezed up between my fingers. This was the last holdout. There was no one left to stop the Chinese from capturing us.
... I was next to Capt. McAbee and a Catholic priest named Father Kapaun. The Chinese threw in two grenades, killing some of the wounded. I got shrapnel from them in the sides of my head, hands, arms, and legs. The Chinese started coming in and ordering us out. The captain and the priest crawled over sandbags on the front of the dugout. I tried to follow but couldn't get over the sandbags. I was wounded too badly. The Chinese started shooting everyone who couldn't get out of the dugout. I was trying to get out, and Father Kapaun reached in, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out before they could shoot me.
We came to a farmhouse in a place called Death Valley. I used my jackknife to cut out half a square of grenade that was protruding from the side of my foot. We were there for about a month. They kept us in a shelter with only a roof. It was a sheep's pen. We tried to keep warm with hay and sleeping side by side. They came every three days and put a small bandage with methylate on our wounds. Our wounds were getting infected.
The first part of December, they marched us north to a place called Camp 5. This was in the area of Pyoktong, North Korea, right on the Yalu River. This river separated Korea from China. This time of year was cold and snowing. We were placed in two-room mud huts. The room I was in was 8x10 and housed 21 soldiers. The mud huts had a low fireplace at one end and channels lined with racks under the floor, which heated when the meals were cooked in a large pot. We were about the second group to arrive and more kept coming. In all, about 3,000 soldiers arrived at this location. The officers and sergeants were separated into different compounds. The first winter was bad. The GIs kept dying off, mostly from disease and starvation. We were fed soybeans, but they weren't cooked very well. Many men got dysentery. At times we were given purple barley, and it was full of small, white worms. We received one small bowl in the morning and another in the evening. We also got millet, which is yellow birdseed. I was the cook for the first winter, and all the food was rationed down.
My wounds were infected. They were only issuing one patch of methylate per week. I would heat snow water in a steel, helmet and wash my wounds. We were getting sores from body lice and we had scurvy from not getting fruits and vegetables. Our tongues and gums would split open and bleed. We had bloody drool coming out of our mouths constantly. We took our clothes off every day and killed lice between ourfingernails. We couldn't get them all, and they would lay eggs along the seams in your clothes. These eggs would hatch about every five days.
GIs were dying constantly. Four were in my room and one of them died next to me. We would take the clothes from the dead to help keep warm. All we had was our summer uniform when we were captured. Everyone was getting weak and thin. We looked like walking skeletons. My weight went from 180 pounds to 125 pounds. We lost about 1,700 to 1,800 GIs the first year. Another guy and I went out and took a large 4x4 beam from a building that was falling down. The guy had a bayonet and we started cutting on it. We were going to use the wood scraps for firewood to keep warm. One of the chink guards came in and caught us. We got clobbered with the rifle butts. They made us carry the beam to a high bank overlooking the buildings. We had to hold it on our shoulders, between us, nearly four hours in 30-degree below zero weather. Our feet and hands froze to solid ice. When they let us go, we couldn't stand up anymore. We had to crawl through snow back to the building.
We would pile the dead into a building that resembled a corn crib. When the pile of bodies got 3 or 4 feet high, they would form a burial detail. This detail was formed about twice a week. They would pick the strongest-looking guys and have them pull the bodies across the Yalu River using food bags or straw. This is where they would bury the dead. We were all so weak. We would scrape the snow away and dig about a foot deep with picks and hoes. We covered the bodies with, dirt and snow. When spring came, the river would rise and wash the dirt off the bodies and float many bodies downstream. When the wind came from the Northwest, the stench of decayed bodies about made you sick. During the spring I knew which weeds were edible, and I would pick them and put them in the food. This helped heal some of the scurvy.
In the late fall of 1951, we were finally given some padded clothes and hats. It was because a group of Swiss inspectors came, but we could not speak to them. We also got padded cloth shoes with rubber soles.
In the summer, I unraveled my GI socks and made fishing line. I found some wire and made hooks. An inlet from the river came up to the edge of our camp, and I would fish. I caught oriental catfish. They had long, slender bodies, like eels. These fish were edible, and I would boil them and we would all have some fish.
The Chinese built a large barn on the hill over our camp. They would make us climb the hill and sit through Communist lectures. The first year, the others and I were so weakwe had to crawl up the hill. If you stopped, a guard would clobber you with his rifle butt.
Some guys lost their hair. Some lost their sex life. Some lost their eyesight, as I did. I lost 50 percent and probably would have gone blind if they hadn't given the United States a list of POWs. That's when they started feeding us a little better. They brought in some pre-cooked pigs, and we got a small amount in our barley or millet,
I persuaded the Chinese to let me move to their "sick company." I wanted to help take care of the sick. Most died when they were put there. A friend, named King, was sent there after I kept him alive the whole first year. Once they sent him to the sick company, he gave up and died. Another of my buddies was put there and I took care of him and kept him alive. I'd make him eat and he made it back home alive.
According to my parents, I was listed as missing in action (MIA) from November 1950 to mid-December 1951. They were notified that I was a POW.
They started peace talks in mid-1952, and we started getting better food. It still had worms in it, but we got more pork and pork liver. The Chinese set up a center kitchen with large pots and made enough food for the whole company. One Mexican guy and a couple of Army cooks did all the cooking.
I was still in the sick company when I was informed that we were going home in June 1953. My buddy, Vincent Semmonetti, thanked me for keeping him alive, as did the others. (He passed away in 1999 with a heart attack.) They started feeding us better and even got a couple of doctors for the sick. The sick company was the first to leave and each week another group would leave. I left with the third group on Aug. 9, 1953.
We loaded onto trucks and were taken to a train. There, we were put in boxcars. The one I was in had straw, hay, and a lot of sheep crap. The train finally moved late that day and traveled at night. In the morning, we got off the train and back on trucks. They took us to Panmunjom. As I stepped off the truck, an American soldier helped me and I nearly passed out from the excitement. I was a POW for 33 months and eight days.