American Fighting-Man: Destiny's Draftee
The man of 1950 was not a statesman; Dean Acheson and his fellow diplomats
of the free world had, in 1950, notably failed to stop the march of Communism.
Nor was 1950's man a general; the best commander of the year, MacArthur, had
blundered and been beaten. Nor a scientist, for science--so sure at the
century's beginning that it had all the answers--now waited for the politicians
(or anyone else) to find a way of controlling the terrible power that science
had released. Nor an industrialist, for 1950, although it produced more goods
than any other year in the world's history, was not preoccupied with goods, but
with life & death. Nor a scholar, for the world of 1950 was surfeited with
undigested facts, and sought its salvation not in the conquest of new knowledge
but in what it could relearn from old old, old lessons. 1950's man might turn
out to be the aging conspirator, Joseph Stalin but as the year closed, that
dreadful prospect was far from certain; if he was winning the game and not just
an inning, Stalin's historians would record that 1950--and all other years from
the death of Lenin--belonged to him. Or 1950's man might turn out to be an
unknown saint, quietly living above the clash of armies and ideas. Him, too,
the future would have to find.
As the year ended, 1950's man seemed to be an American in the bitterly
unwelcome role of the fighting-man. It was not a role the American had sought,
either as an individual or as a nation. The U.S. fighting-man was not
civilization's crusader, but destiny's draftee.
The Peculiar Soldier. Most of the men in U.S. uniform around the world had
enlisted voluntarily, but few had taken to themselves the old, proud label of
" regular," few had thought they would fight, and fewer still had foreseen the
incredibly dirty and desperate war that waited for them. They hated it, as
soldiers in all lands and times have hated wars, but the American had some
special reasons for hating it. He was the most comfort- loving creature who had
ever walked the earth--and he much preferred riding to walking. As well as
comfort, he loved and expected order; he yearned, like other men, for a
predictable world, and the fantastic fog and gamble of war struck him as a
Yet he was rightly as well as inevitably cast for his role as fighting-man
in the middle of the 20th Century. No matter how the issue was defined, whether
he was said to be fighting for progress or freedom or faith or survival, the
American's heritage and character were deeply bound up in the struggle. More
specifically, it was inevitable that the American be in the forefront of this
battle because it was the U.S. which had unleased gigantic forces of technology
and organizational ideas. These had created the great 20th Century revolution.
Communism was a reaction, an effort to turn the worldwide forces set free by
U.S. progress back into the old channels of slavery.
The American fighting-man could not win this struggle without millions of
allies--and it was the unfinished (almost unstarted) business of his government
to find and mobilize those allies through U.N. and by all other means. But the
allies would never be found unless the American fighting-man first took his
post and did his duty. On June 27, 1950, he was ordered to his post. Since
then, the world has watched how he went about doing his duty.
He has been called soft and tough, resourceful and unskilled, unbelievably
brave and unbelievably timid, thoroughly disciplined and scornful of
discipline. One way or another, all of these generalizations are valid. He is a
peculiar soldier, product of a peculiar country. His two outstanding
characteristics seem to be contradictory. He is more of an individualist than
soldiers of other nations, and at the same time he is far more conscious of,
and dependent on, teamwork. He fights as he lives, a part of a vast,
complicated machine--but a thinking, deciding part, not an inert cog.
" In Our Time..." A British officer who has seen much of the U.S.
fighting-man in Korea last week gave this shrewd, balanced appraisal:
" Your chaps have everything it takes to make great soldiers--intelligence,
physique, doggedness and an amazing ability to endure adversity with grace. The
thing they lack is proper discipline. They also would be better off with a
little more training in the art of retreat. I know they like to say that the
American soldier is taught only offensive tactics, but if Korea has proved
nothing else it has proved the absolute necessity of knowing how to retreat in
order. Your marines know how, but your Army men just don't. In our time, you
know, we were able to make quite a thing of the rearguard action.
" Also, it seems to me that you are a little too reluctant to take
casualties for your own good. I've seen an entire American division held up all
day because a regimental commander was unwilling to risk what at most would
have been ten or 20 casualties. I don't want to sound blood-thirsty, but 20
casualties in a light action today may frequently save 100 or so tomorrow."
Like all British observers of the U.S. Army, this observer was both
envious and appalled at the bulk and variety of U.S. equipment and its
" amenities." One Briton in Korea says that he saw tanks held up for hours by
beer and refrigerator trucks. Another, who had been with U.S. troops landing in
Southern France, said last week. " In France, I thought someone was just having
his little joke when they brought the office wastebaskets ashore from the ship.
But damned if they didn't do the same thing in Korea, too."
Night Into Day. The American fighting-man who went forth to battle,
brandishing his chocolate bars, his beer cans and his wastebaskets, was
(contrary to the expectations of many) no lily. He had proved himself able to
endure the tortures of climate and the thrusts of a brave and well-led enemy.
His soldierly virtues were attested by the fact that he had been able to stay
in Korea at all.
His defects were many, serious--and understandable. Unless he was in an
extremely well-trained outfit, he was prone to inner panic at the opening of a
night attack. On several occasions, Red units had broken up American units by
night charges accompanied by shouting and bugle calls. Old soldiers, aware that
the Army needs sterner training before it goes to battle, said that the answer
to this was more night training. A more typically American answer was in
practice last week around the Hungnam beachhead: lavish use of star shells,
which changed night to day. Another defect was that the U.S. Army was roadbound
by its enormous supply train, a defect that grew out of the very strength of
U.S. technology. The relative security of American life had dulled the U.S.
fighting-man's caution, made him unwary about taking cover in the presence of
the enemy. Said a sergeant instructing new arrivals in Korea: " If you see
anyone on the skyline, don't shoot. He's probably one of our guys."
These were explainable demerits. More surprising--and disgraceful--was the
fact that the American fighting-man in Korea, despite his country's vaunted
industrial superiority, found that his government had not given him weapons as
numerous or as good as he needed and had a right to expect.
The Men. More important than the weapons in 1950, as in 1066, were the men
who used them. What were they like? Better trained, more experienced and older
than the G.I.s of World War II, the U.S. Army in battle in Korea was the
nearest approach to a professional army that the U.S. had ever sent into war.
The men in it did not lend themselves to easy characterization. Nobody could
find a typical U.S. soldier of 1950. There was no one type; there were as many
types as there were men. Here are some of the men:
PRIVATE KENNETH SHADRICK, 19, of Skin Fork, W.Va., the first U.S.
infantryman reported killed in Korea, fired his bazooka at a Red tank on July
5, looked up to check his aim, and was cut down by machine-gun fire.
MAY. GEN. WILLIAM F. DEAN, trapped with his 4th Infantry Division in
Taejon, sent his men out of the besieged, burning city while he went after Red
tanks with a bazooka; he is listed as missing in action.
CORP. HIDEO HASIMOTO, a Japanese-American who had been interned in the
U.S. during World War II, kept hurling hand grenades at the storming Reds;
after he ran out of grenades, he threw rocks.
2ND LIEUT. JOHN CHARLES TRENT, of Memphis, captain of West Point's 1949
football team, was killed by a rifle bullet at Wonsan, while he was walking
from foxhole to foxhole to see that his men--fighting for three days &
nights--had not fallen asleep.
PFC. DONALD PATTON, who in his frontline foxhole slept through the
bloodiest night attack which the Reds hurled against the U.S.'s position on the
famed " Bowling Alley" near Taegu, woke up the next morning, looked at the
smoking, knocked-out Red tanks and cried in a frightened voice: " Holy Cow! What
PFC. JOHN D. LASHARE, 17, of Moundsville, W.Va., went around reciting the
23rd Psalm (" Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..." ).
PFC. JOHN A. PALMA, of Brooklyn, was captured by the Chinese Reds and
later released. Said he: " We prayed like hell all the time."
T/SGT. WAYNE H. KERR, of Cleveland, was on safe desk duty, but got into an
L-5 at night when other pilots had refused the mission; holding a flashlight in
one hand to light up the instrument panel, he landed on a tiny, badly lighted
mountain strip and flew out a wounded marine.
CAPTAIN " WHISTLIN' JOE" ROGERS, 26, of the 36th Squadron, Eight
Fighter-Bomber Group, had probably killed more North Koreans and Chinese than
any other flyer. During World War II, to his disgust, he had been an
instructor, saw no combat. He had made up for it in Korea. Air Force men liked
to talk about Joe's exploits--his trick of barrel-rolling when he came in for a
strafing run, the time he attached a whistle to one of his wings to scare the
enemy, thus earned his nickname. The story they liked best was the one about
Joe chatting at the bar with a B-26 pilot who, not knowing Joe's record, was
beefing because he had to fly combat two days in a row. " How many missions you
got?" asked Joe. " Eight," said the other flyer. Joe didn't say anything. At
that point a third man joined them and asked Joe how many missions he had.
" Hundert an'fifty-three," said Joe. The B- 26 man quietly set down his glass
and faded away.
SERGEANT JOHN LLOYD ran a motor pool. Helping a war correspondent fix a
flat tire, Lloyd talked very American talk, and very happy. " You need any gas?
I am the stingiest man alive with gas. Anybody comes in here with more than
half a tank don't get any, that's all. They get mad. But when we get orders to
move, I have got some saved up, and then I'm not such a bad guy." The tire
repaired, Sergeant Lloyd went over to a compressor which would not work, turned
a screw, took hold of a valve, told a G.I. who was standing by to kick the
thing; after three tries, the thing worked. " Of course," he said, in
explanation of the procedure, " the bad problem is parts. We don't do bad. If we
come across anything on the road, damaged, we strip it for parts. When we got
time, we send a party out to scour the road for vehicles, gook or otherwise." A
jeep marked H.Q. 35 drove up. " You see old 35 there," said Sergeant Lloyd.
" That is our reserve. Whenever a jeep comes up here and needs a part bad, we
take it off old 35." How did he replace the parts on old 35? " Ah, that is a
professional secret. If I don't keep this stuff rolling around here, it's just
my tail, that's all."
54 Days to Pusan. Very few Americans got to Korea because they wanted to
fight. PRIVATE STANLEY POPKO, of Bayonne, N.J., for instance, was in Korea
because he had wanted an education. His father was a night watchman for
Standard Oil of New Jersey; there was never any money to spare in the family.
After Stan graduated from Bayonne Technical High School last year, he looked
around for a job that would permit him to go on to night school, finally
decided to let Uncle Sam take care of his further education. First he tried the
Navy, but it had a waiting list. " So I thought," says Popko, " I'd go see what
the Army had to offer. At the Army place there was a first lieutenant. He was a
real good salesman. First he said I could pick my own branch and then I could
go to school wherever I wanted to. Boy, did he sell me!"
They taught Popko to fire an M-I rifle and a carbine. The closes he came
to artillery and flamethrowers was an exhibition; he also saw a tank from a
distance. After his basic training was over, he went to Quartermaster School at
Camp Lee, Va., where they made him a salvage technician, i.e., " one of the guys
who clean up the battlefields."
On Sunday, June 25, Popko slept late, played a double-header softball game
against a local bakery company. When he returned to barracks, someone turned on
a radio. The North Koreans had attacked the South Koreans. " We figured that if
the Koreans wanted to fight among themselves, let them fight. It was like that
revolution in China. It was nothing to do with us."
Fifty-four days later, Popko was in Pusan.
A lieutenant was just about to assign Popko to duty in a warehouse when a
sergeant rushed in, crying: " They got to have riflemen." Popko thought: " There
is the only guy in the world I'd like to shoot." The sergeant won his argument
with the lieutenant and got Popko.
" I Was All Alone." Unhappy, scared and wishing he had never left Bayonne,
Popko was loaded onto a truck with 60 other G.I.s, and started along dusty
" Cavalry Boulevard" toward the Naktong River front. Says Popko: " After the
first couple of days we got to be pretty good. We learned the tricks. We knew
what to watch for and when to fire and how to take care of yourself. If you can
live through the first couple of days, you got a chance."
About three weeks after Popka had moved to the front, the big attack
came--part of the enemy's hard-driving try to take Taegu. Popko's squad was
holding the left side of Hill 303. (Scene of the infamous massacre of U.S.
prisoners by North Korean troops.) The enemy came up in three manzai-screaming
waves. " Once I was going to get out of the hole and throw my rifle away and go
over the hill. You can't explain how it is. You just think you can't stand it
any more. But the guy in the next hole to me started talking sense to me."
By 3 a.m., all was quietly. Popko's platoon sergeant discovered that all
the other men on Hill 303 had either been killed or pushed back. Popko and his
buddies managed to get off the hill with the help of a South Korean who led
them through enemy lines. At dawn, they were ordered to retake the hill. A
couple of times that morning, Stan Popko ran up & down that hill, chasing
the enemy or being chased by him. Then he went up for the last time. " It seemed
like I was all alone. There were supposed to be guys on both sides of me, but I
couldn't see them. I spent a lot of time in Korea looking back down a road and
wondering when someone was going to come up it and help us. There never seemed
to be anyone coming up.
" I kept going up this hill carefully and then all of a sudden I see this
light machine gun up real close. There were two gooks with it. I grabbed a
grenade and threw it at 'em. The damned thing was a dud and didn't go off. The
first thing I felt was my leg hurt real bad. Then the other leg hurt and both
my arms were numb. I yelled, `I got hit!' but there was no one around. I looked
up and saw both of these gooks coming for me. I couldn't find my rifle and I
knew I couldn't throw my last grenade because I could hardly move my arms."
" I Lay There Real Still." " I figure that they're going to get me. I didn't
think about very much. I just said to myself the bastards won't get me alive
and they aren't going to live either. I got the last grenade and held it. When
they got real close to me, I was going to pull the pin and let it go between
" I lay there real still and they come up slow as hell. I was just ready to
pull the pin when a hell of an explosion came between me and them. It must have
been our artillery. The next thing I knew I was at the bottom of a rise. I must
have been rolled 100 feet or more. What happened to the gooks I don't know.
They weren't around."
Stan Popko, hurting bad, started crawling. He figured he crawled almost a
mile before he looked up and saw a tank coming down the road.
" The turret man was waving his big 50-cal. machine gun at me, and I
figured he was going to let me have it. I yelled, `I'm a G.I.' He looked at me
and then the other way. The tank went right by me.
" I got up some way and started to run. I took two steps and fell down. I
saw two G.I.s coming toward me and I passed out. I stopped worrying.
" I came to the next morning about 6 o'clock and I felt for my right hand.
I couldn't find it. I started yelling like hell and this South Korean kid who
brought water around to our stretchers came in and asked me what the trouble
was. He showed my hand to me. It was in a cast and I just was scared to look
for it. I thought sure they'd cut it off."
Later that day Popko was taken to the Pusan airfield and flown to a
hospital near Tokyo. Two weeks later they sent him home to Bayonne, N.J. A lot
of people asked him would he do it again--enlist if he knew what was ahead?
Said Stan Popko: " I guess I would. I can't see myself spending my life as a
counterman or hanging around streetcorners."
The Sun Never Sets. A man's past, the things that shape his character, are
reduced in wartime to a few sentences in a personnel file. But ENSIGN DAVID
TATUM, like any fighting-man, is the kind of fighter he is in large measure
because of the way he grew up and the things he learned. Tatum flies a Grumman
jet fighter off the carrier Valley Forge. When he was a boy in Baton Rouge,
La., his father gave him a BB-gun, with instructions to stand guard over the
Tatums' little back garden, then beset by seed-snatching sparrows. David scared
off the birds; frequently he hit one, but he didn't enjoy the sport. " I would
look at these sparrows and think, `He didn't do me any harm. He was minding his
own business.' I felt guilty."
He learned the Ten Commandments in Sunday School, but they meant nothing
to him. " My mother taught me that it was right to go to church, but that you
didn't have to go to church to have religion. She taught me to hate a
hypocrite--a Sunday Christian." His parents also taught him to respect older
people--a lesson driven home more than once with a switch. " I didn't mind that.
It didn't hurt--it only stung a little. I would rather be beaten than fussed
In school, he won second place in an essay contest on " Why I Am Glad I Am
an American." He had gotten most of his ideas on this subject from a comic book
whose hero was Uncle Sam. The book said that Uncle Sam was happy because he was
free to go around and " lip off" about anything he pleased, because " he didn't
have to mind his Ps and Qs."
In sixth-grade geography, David Tatum learned that there was a world
beyond America. He had heard a little about the Roman Empire, which conquered
the world and, in time, fell. He learned about the British Empire, which also
ruled a large part of the world--in fact, said Teacher, the sun never set on
it. Tatum could not understand that, so the teacher got a globe and patiently
explained the celestial facts. In a larger sense, Tatum never understood; he
still wonders with a mixture of curiosity and awe how the British managed to
keep control of so much land, so many people.
Sparrows & People. His seventh-grade teacher taught him some current
affairs--something about the isms. Naziism to him was the swastika, and evil
because it was against the underdog. Fascism to him was a fat man on a balcony.
Communism? Today he says without hesitation and with deep seriousness: " I will
not live under Communism."
In 1946, just after he turned 18 and liable for the draft, he volunteered
for the Navy. Soon after he joined, he sat in the movies holding hands with his
girl. They were showing newsreels of the Bikini A-bomb test. For the first time
he was frightened of war. Without knowing it, he squeezed Mary's hand so hard
that she cried out. " I was sorry for those ships going down," he says. " I told
myself, `Tatum, you ought to be in a foxhole, not on a ship. This is where a
man can get hurt.'" But he really liked ships. " A ship is home," he says.
The Navy sent him to college (Rice Institute in Houston), then to
pre-flight school at Pensacola, Fla. In December 1948, he qualified for carrier
duty. On July 31, 1950, he joined the Valley Forge at Okinawa. On Aug. 6, he
flew his first combat mission. The next day, on another mission, was the first
time the 22-year-old, raised under the rule of law & order and under the
Ten Commandments, killed a man. In his journal, Tatum wrote later in neat block
letters: " Monday, August 7. Armed Recon Southwest Korea. Up to Taejon and
Seoul. Shot up 2 junks, one supplies. Burned other troops. Burned in water."
Somehow, he did not feel about the dead Koreans as he had about his father's
sparrows. " Probably because I didn't have to pick up the Koreans and look at
But jet fighters over Korea flew very low; sometimes a pilot had to look
at the people he shot. On one mission, Tatum was firing into some troops moving
along the road. With them walked an elderly woman. She was hit, and literally
exploded: she had obviously been carrying ammunition in her pack. " That I don't
like. If you have never seen arms and legs flying through the air..." says
Tatum, his sentence dangling like a severed limb.
None of the other fellows in his squadron liked this business of shooting
civilians. But, " I figured if we had to kill ten civilians to kill one soldier
who might later shoot at us, we were justified."
Butterflies & Men in White. Tatum flew an average of one mission every
two days, about an hour and 40 minutes to each mission. The entries in his
journal are phrased like a boy's diary notes on how many butterflies he caught
or what odd shells he found on the beach, but there is a deadly difference:
" August 12. Armed Recon. Hit Kimpo airfield, burned 4 Yak fighters,
damaged one more. Burned truck south of Taejon. Heavy flak.
" August 13. Armed Recon north of 38th. Burned trucks, one bus, one motor
launch...Encountered 20-mm. & 40-mm, ack-ack. Hit on plane by 20-mm. Landed
aboard, wire broke, hit fence.
" August 26. Armed Recon...Destroyed 3 trucks, 2 loaded with supplies.
" September 16. Strafed & killed many troops on road from Taejon to
Seoul, strafed & sank junk full of troops on Han River northeast of Inchon.
Caught troops coming out cave in hill to board junk. Many casualties..."
On Sept. 19, Tatum was shot down--by two bullets from North Korean rifles.
He did not even notice that the plane had been hit until the pressure gauge on
the instrument panel began to fall of to zero, and he realized that one of the
slugs had hit fuel lines. He managed to turn around and ditch the plane about a
mile offshore in the sea. He remembers scrambling into the life raft and
watching the plane sink slowly. " I gave it sort of a half salute." His main
worry was what his plane captain would think when Ensign Tatum was reported
missing. A British cruiser picked him up.
That evening Tatum was unable to sleep. He thought about his
life-insurance policy and how, if he had got killed, the Navy would have had to
read all the letters from his girl which he had saved. " A hell of a job for
somebody." But then he pulled his blanket over his shoulder and went to sleep.
His crash landing is the only war experience Tatum dreams about. The men in
white he shot on the road, or the old woman's detached arms and legs, never
disturb his sleep.
Ensign Tatum describes patriotism this way: " I don't necessarily believe
in the big shots as individuals. But there are a lot of people like me and you.
I believe in them. I believe in the American girl I see walking in the street.
I have never even met her, but I believe in her."
" If These People Aren't Stopped." If there is any one story of a U.S.
fighting-man that can sum up the best in all the stories, it is that of Marine
SERGEANT ROBERT WARD, a full- blooded Cherokee Indian who grew up in Los
Angeles. He got to be a wonderful marksman with a bow & arrow. When he got
hungry he would go out into the country and kill himself a rabbit. Ward's two
older brothers were killed in action in World War II. Robert served in the
Navy, later joined the marines. After he went into action in Korea last summer,
his mother wrote to the President and to the Marine Corps, begging that
sergeant Ward, her only surviving son, be transferred from the combat zone. The
marines' General Clifton Gates agreed to apply the " only surviving son" rule.
(On their own or their parents' request, sole surviving sons serving in any
branch of the U.S. Armed Forces may be assigned duty outside the combat zone,
if another son or daughter in the family has been killed as a result of the
" hazards" of service since 1940.) Leather-faced Sergeant Ward intercepted the
transfer orders, went on fighting.
Eventually, despite his protests, Ward was transferred to a desk job in
Japan. Last week his mother received a letter from Sergeant Ward. He wrote:
" I'm no hero, but...if these people aren't stopped here on their own
ground, we will have to share the thing which so many have died to prevent
their loved ones from sharing--the sight of death in our own backyards; of
women and children being victims of these people. I went on the warpath for the
right to do my bit to keep our people free and proud and now I'm shackled to a
" I ask you, my mother, to free me so I can once again be free to help my
boys. They placed their faith in me and...whenever I led I brought them all
back and now someone else leads them and I know they need me. Maybe in a sense
I need them--my dirty, stinking and loyal platoon.
" Once I cried before you when I thought I'd lost someone whom I loved very
dearly, and once again I did cry when I was told I must leave my men. So, I ask
of you the one thing your heart does not want to do--release me to fight.
" I pace my room feeling useless, being no good to anyone. I'm no
barracks-parade-ground marine--I'm a Cherokee Indian and I'm happiest being
miserable with my men up in those mountains.
" I know you'll understand and that your blessings will go with me into
whatever the future holds in store for us..."
Sergeant Ward was sent back to Korea and his dirty, stinking and loyal
platoon. His mother said: " When men in our tribe say something, they mean it."
Not all of the U.S. fighting-men are as brave as Sergeant Ward. Very few
of them can say what they mean as fervidly as he. But most of them know what
they are fighting against--" The sight of death in our own backyards; of women of women and children being victims of these people."