I became a 19-year-old member of Uncle Sam’s Army in April 1953, while the war was still fitfully sputtering, and was sent to Fort Knox, Ky., to train as a tank driver. In July, a truce was signed in Panmunjom so some of the pressure was off, but we still trained as though our lives depended on it.
I left for the Far East about Nov. 1, 1953, after a short leave, and flew to Chicago where I boarded a troop train for California. Then, as though there was a critical shortage of tank drivers in Korea, three of us privates were hustled onto an airplane along with a bunch of officers and were off to Japan.
The flight was long, about 36 hours, with brief stops in Honolulu and Wake Island. We landed in Tokyo and were taken to an old Japanese Army camp just outside town. After all the rush to fly us to Japan, we spent three weeks at the camp, where I experienced my first earthquake. I made several trips into Tokyo and saw some of the sights, including the Ginza.
Then we took a Japanese troop train (with canvas hammocks instead of seats) for the trip down through Japan to the southwestern port of Sasebo, where we boarded an old motorboat. After an all-night trip across the Korean Straight, we landed at Pusan on the southern tip of Korea. There we boarded an ancient train, pulled by a steam engine. The passenger cars had hard, wooden bench seats, along with a large pipe through the floor that served as a latrine. As we slowly traveled north toward the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), we met several trains of American troops heading south and home. They took no pity on us new recruits and at every stop regaled us with stories of the terrible things the Chinese and North Koreans were going to do to us.
Finally, we reached the 2nd Infantry Division, to which we’d been assigned. I was put on guard duty my very first night in Korea and was armed to the teeth – with a nightstick! My entire four-hour shift I spent in total darkness, clutching my useless nightstick and facing north from where the Commies were sure to infiltrate. Next morning, I realized that I’d been facing south the whole time.
Here I am at age 74 in my old Army Reserve uniform. Photo by Lisa Moore.
Then onto my assigned unit, the Tank Company of the 38th Infantry Regiment, which was on the DMZ. The company commander needed communication men more than he needed tank drivers, so another replacement and I were picked to be commo men. I was disappointed at first but the commo job turned out to be easier than being a tanker, although having to go out at night to find a break in a phone line running to one of the front line platoons wasn’t very enjoyable. I usually got stuck with this job because I was the youngest, but it wasn’t really too bad, except for when I had to pass through the position of the Dutch battalion that was attached to the 2nd Division. I was afraid the Dutch sentry wouldn’t understand my response to the password and would shoot me. He never did though!
Sometime during the summer of 1954, the 2nd Infantry Division was disbanded and rotated home (I didn’t get to go with them), and all our equipment, including the tanks, was turned over to the Republic of Korea Army.
By this time I was a “communications specialist” and was transferred to an infantry battalion headquarters company in the 17th Infantry Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division. No more tanks, but lots more telephones, and telephone wire to run. While in this outfit I was, for a while, given responsibility for the generator, a 10 KW-unit powered by a Jeep engine. I had to get up a couple of hours before everyone else to start the generator for the cooks to make breakfast. I also had to stay up until midnight or later before shutting the thing down. Luckily, it didn’t need to be run during daylight so all I had to do all day was a little maintenance on the machine.
Everything was great until one dark night when the engine ran out of gas. I got a 55-gallon drum from the POL (fuel) dump, connected up the line to the generator and restarted the engine. It ran for only a couple of minutes and died, never to run again (until it was overhauled). We found that someone had delivered a drum of Napalm (jellied gasoline) to the POL dump by mistake, and the little Willys engine didn’t like that at all.
My time was finally up in April 1955 and I was taken to Inchon and put aboard a troop ship bound for Seattle, Wash. It was a good voyage, but that two weeks seemed like two months. At last we got to Seattle and then another long train ride back to Chicago, where I was released from active duty, only to join the active Army Reserve where I spent another 15 years.
I really had a lot of fun in the Army and enjoyed most of it immensely. I ask you to please pray for the men and women who are serving in Afghanistan and Iraq and yes, still in Korea, and do everything you can to honor and support them.