SOME OF MY EXPERIENCES ON MY KOREAN TOUR 1948-1949
Click on Patch and Insignia for respective Associations information
1. The Cavalry
2. Gen. R. M. Blatchford
3. South Pacific
5. Korea (contíd)
7. Occupation of Korea 1948-1948
I originally signed up for three years in the Army. I asked for the 1st Cavalry Division because I thought they still had horses and I wanted my own horse. After finishing basic training I was sent to the 1st Cavalry. They started training me in Tanks. I asked where my horse was and they quickly told me I had 500 right behind me and to get in and shut up. I immediately asked to be sent for Medical Training at Ft. Sam Houston. After finishing Medic Training I was assigned to Ft. Custer, Michigan as a Corpsman in the Psychiatric section. Next I was transferred to Fitzsimmons General Hospital, Denver, Co. in X-ray development. I was barely 19 years old when I got my orders reassigning me to Alaska. I took a delay in route and went home to Houston, Texas. On my return I bought a bus ticket from Houston to Camp Stoneman, Ca., the Port of Debarkation, through Denver. The bus ticket took all my money except 25 cents. After leaving Denver I had the 25 cents left in my pocket to last until I got to Camp Stoneman. I hadnít eaten anything from the time I left Houston until I got to Reno, Nevada. I was so hungry; I got a cup of coffee and a couple of donuts to last until I got to camp. At Camp Stoneman I was processed and the troops got on flat bottom barges at Pittsburgh, Ca. and sailed down the river to San Francisco. It must be over sixty miles by water. We were told we were being assigned to Alaska. I didnít really want Alaska because I thought it would be too cold. I could see there were two ships tied up at the dock. When they tried to dock the barges, they had problems, and it started making large waves. We were carrying all our gear on our back. Over 100# each. The gangway was hinged in the middle. We had to get past the middle of the gangway before the next wave came so that we could make it to the ship. If we didn't make the center we were thrown back down the gangway to the deck of the barge. About a hundred men in front of me they announce, No more troops for Alaska on this ship. All the remaining are going to Korea to be assigned with the Occupation Troops. Where ever that is. I had never heard of Korea, but at least I wouldn't be freezing like those going to Alaska.
I got on The U.S. Army Troop Transport, "Gen. R. M. Blatchford" in San Francisco and sailed at dusk for Korea. They played "Harbor Lights" loud on the speakers. It was terrible listening to the music and watching the Golden Gate Bridge disappear. I had never been away from home. I almost cried. They crowded 5000 troops, mostly Medics, plus civilian dependents and Civilian Government Employees. The civilians were assigned upper cabins. We never got to talk or mix with any dependants or civilians. The troops were assigned below deck. I was assigned to Compartment 5C. I donít know if this was five decks or three decks below the main deck. We had metal-framed beds that would fold up when we weren't in them. This seldom happened after everyone got seasick. The bunks had a piece of canvass tied to a metal frame with rope. The bunks were short. Your head would be on the top piece of the metal frame and your ankles would be on the bottom. They were extremely close together. You would slide into your bunk. If you wanted to turn over, you had to slide out, turn over and slide back in. The bunks were stacked five high. I was late getting down to the compartment and had to take a top bunk. I didnít realize how lucky I was having a top bunk until we all got seasick. It took me about a day before I got real sick. We were so sick we just lay in our bunks and puked on whom ever was below us. They were too sick to care what was happening to them. The latrine (toilets) was a long 4-inch line that had toilets every few feet. There were no flush handles; water (I think salt water) was flowing all the time. As the ship would list from side to side, water may flow out of the end toilets. You learned really quick not to use the end toilets for anything. After a few days, of not bathing, we all began to stink. They issued salt-water soap and told us to shower. After the salt water baths your skin would burn or be sticky. The stink became more bearable after experiencing the salt-water baths. I was sick for almost two weeks. The galley (kitchen) had round tables that slid up on a pole to make cleaning easier. While eating we stood up at the tables. In rough weather we kept our elbows on the tables to hold down the table and keep it from going to the ceiling. I only went to the galley a few times. I was too sick. In fact I was so sick I tried to climb the stairs to get on deck so I could jump off. When I couldnít get on deck I prayed the ship would sink so that I could get over being seasick. We got into a storm. A man fell and hurt his back. We detoured and went to Hawaii to get the man to a hospital.
This was my first experience with anyone other than someone from the forty-eight states. It appeared to me these people in Hawaii were not civilized. They were dangerous with the equipment almost knocking people into the water. Our next stop was Guam. We were going to be here several hours and we hadnít been off the ship for, seems like months. The ship arranged to have large personnel carriers (trucks that carried close to 100 men, standing) to carry us around the Island and show us some interesting spots. They took us to where many Japanese soldiers committed suicide, rather than surrendering, by jumping off the cliff. These natives were crazier than the ones in Hawaii. Looked like all the sailors had jeeps. Some with bomber bubbles for tops. The closer we got to Korea the crazier the natives became. I thought in Korea they must be a bunch of lunatics. About two days before arriving in Korea I started to feel better and they put me to work in the ships bakery. My job was to break eggs. I was having trouble breaking them one at a time when the steward told me to just break them any way I could but hurry. I was hungry after not eating for several days, so I took (stole) cookies from the bakery. I stuffed my duffle bag with as many cookies as I could get. After a total of twenty-three days on the Blatchford we arrived at Inchon Harbor. We anchored several miles off shore. Then I saw landing craft coming towards us. I wondered what they were doing. Then we were ordered to bring our gear on deck and over the sides we went on landing nets. This was an unexpected thrill. Never seeing a landing net except in the movies and with over a hundred pounds of gear they were shoving us over the side onto the net. We were stepping onto men still on the net and barely able to hold on. Then comes one on top onto you. Itís a wonder any of us survived this.
Korea was the most stinking place I had ever been in. I didnít realize what the smell was until I saw their honey wagons and pits. They used human waste in the fields and let it ferment in pits along the roads. The next morning I realized why they brought us in on landing craft. The tide had gone out and the harbor was nothing but mud. We boarded railroad boxcars that looked like they were a hundred years old. There were no seats and a lot of the floor was missing. We used our duffle bag as a seat. We were sent to the replacement depot. The meals were skimpy and I made good use of the cookies I owned. Even though I was trained as a Medic, they noticed where I had originally signed up for the Cavalry. So I was promptly assigned to the 7th Mechanized Cavalry Recon. Troup in Seoul. They were living in what had been an old Japanese Prison and Dungeon. Our duty was to perform Recon along the North Korean Border at the 38th parallel. When not in the field we were training Republic of Korea Army Officers. After graduation the ROK Officers were sent on a bivouac. Sometimes there were communist sympathizers among them. US troops would have to go and bring them back. There were many communist sympathizers in Korea. Some of them wore green armbands. While I was assigned to the 7th Recon there was a patrol, from the 7th Recon, that was captured by the North Koreans and kept for several weeks. There were not many U.S. Commissioned Officers or N.C.O.s in Korea at this time. I was a T/5 (Corporal Specialist didnít matter if I was a trained Medic), and made an M-8 car commander. I had never even seen an M-8. An M-8 is a 6 wheel Armored vehicle with a 20mm cannon and machine gun. The crews were well trained even if I wasnít. The M-8s were pretty fast and going around the dirt roads and seeing the dirt fall down the side of the mountain, I was scared to death. I begged for a transfer back to the Medics. They did relieve me as car commander and let me give First Aid Classes until a place could be found for me. Little did I realize what was in store for me.
My next immediate assignment was with "B" Co. 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Division. We lived in old Japanese Barracks that held two Infantry Companies. While I was there one burned to the ground in twenty minutes. Only one man lost his life.
Again as a T/5 I am assigned as a Machine Gun Section Leader. Here we go again. This time I had never seen a Machine Gun. I didnít have to explain to the two Squads under me, they knew I didnít know what I was doing. They took pity on me and trained me real fast. I liked being Section Leader and decided to be the best I could. I did get pretty good at it even if I do say so. The Company Commander must have thought so too. He promoted me to Sgt. Our mission was to protect the Hospital which was about twenty miles outside Seoul. For practice frequently we had forced marches to the Hospital to see how long it would take us to get there. We could make it in about two and a half hours. Pretty fast. I was a guard at the Russian and French Consul in Seoul. At the French Consul I had to stand near a guardhouse at the gate. At the Russian Consul two Americans and two Russian soldiers marched the grounds together. We couldnít speak Russian and they American. We talked to each other in Korean when the Russian Officers were not around. This is when I realized a Russian was human just like me. He had a family back home in Russia and didnít want to be in Korea anymore than I did. In Seoul there was a Texas Photo shop that I took all my pictures to have developed. I purchase a genuine Korean silk nightgown for my mother in Seoul. When I got home she asked where I got it and showed me the gown and the tag said, "Made in Utica, N.Y." I was in Korea when Korea officially got its independence, August 15, 1948. The Koreans, literally, scrubbed the streets of Seoul before Gen. MacArthur came for the celebration. While Gen. MacArthur was in Korea for the celebration he came to the 31st. Infantry to see Sgt. Potts, a survivor of the Bataan Death March. I stood in ranks next to Sgt. Potts when the General came to thank him. Seeing Gen. MacArthur this close was a thrill I will never forget. I stayed a Machine Gun Section Leader until the Unit was sent to Japan on paper. I was then assigned to "H" Co. 5th R.C.T. (Regimental Combat Team) at Munson, on the Imjin River, on the 38th Parallel. This was the Border between US/South Korea and Russian/North Korea. We patrolled on the 38th and stood guard duty. A North Korean Army Camp was across the river from us. This is when I found out Alaska was warm compared to the Korean winters. I actually saw -60 degrees Fahrenheit. While on patrol it was so cold I couldnít open the frozen "C" rations. About this time most U.S. Soldiers in Korea were offered $3 per day, in addition to their military pay, if they would volunteer to stay in Korea with the KMAG (Korean Military Advisory Group). I know of some that stayed. They later told me they were charged by the Korean Government $3.25 per day for room and board.
I left Korea for assignment in Japan. I donít recall the ships name. It was a Hospital Ship and a short trip. We stopped in Okinawa.
Next I was assigned to the 5th Army Medical Depot in Yokohama, Japan. I thought I had gone to heaven after being in Korea. You could see the snow on top of Mount Fuji on clear days. While in Yokohama we kept our Class "A" Passes at all times. We took the train to Tokyo almost everyday. The streetcars and train was free to Servicemen. These trains would go 30 miles in 30 minutes even with the stops. I would go to the Ginza (main street) in Tokyo and have a 5-course meal for $.75. A western style or Japanese room at the hotel was $1. The Japanese rooms were much more comfortable than the western bed. I attended the opera Madam Chocho (Butterfly). For R. & R. we could go to the Japanese Emperorís private beach. I also went to the resort at Nikko, Japan. While there we had an earthquake. This was a frightening time. My cousin Allyne Collins and her husband M/Sgt John Franklin and their young son John were stationed at Misawa, Japan. I took a train to visit. This time it cost me $1 for a sleeper. Instead of taking the train back to Tokyo, John Franklin arranged for me to have my first airplane flight. It was in a C-46 (flying cigar). All on the flight were doing good until the pilot (who had been a pilot over the Burma hump) landed. We were flying at about 10,000 feet when he let the bottom fall out and we were on the ground almost immediately with most passengers vomiting. I also went to Yokuska Naval Base. The sailors had the finest of everything on base.
I left for the US, 11 November 1949, on the USAT Gen Fred C. Ainsworth. I had a Zenith short wave radio and the first night out of Yokohama, Japan I picked up the powerful Del Rio, Texas radio station. I thought I was home already. We arrived at Seattle, Washington November 20, 1949. I was discharged, from the Army as a Sgt, 1 December 1949. I lost all of my Korean and Japanese souvenirs and most of my pictures during the 1979 flood at my home in Brazoria County, Texas.
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