Master Chief, USN, Retired (Jan 1971)
August 25, 2000
Never heard anything about the "world"
until Vietnam. I guess returning to the
"world" expressed what we all privately
wanted to return to from Korea---family, friends, our
good old car and open highways.
THE KOREAN TRENCH WAR -- A
Corpsman's Perspective (If you detect a certain
lack of detail in the following vignettes it is because
this was written over 48 years after the events took
I'll never forget my tour of duty
with the Marine Infantry. Some of the best friends I
ever had, that took me to the most frightening places
I'd ever experienced, during the last six months of
the war with the 5th Marines, 2nd Bn, Easy Co.
I still remember my first casualty. A
Marine was putting up a blanket over the bunker door,
using a .30 round for a nail and a grenade for a
hammer. He was lucky. The round went off and not the
grenade. He lost a few small pieces of his left thumb
and forefinger, but went on patrol that night. His
right trigger finger was in good shape.
In January 1953 the strength of the
whole Marine Corps was about 18,700 officers and about
230,400 men. The Commandant was General Shepherd.
General Taylor had command of the Eighth Army in Korea.
Major General Pollock commanded the Marines in
In the field, in Korea, we (USN
Corpsmen) never wore red crosses, or carried any
visible gear that the gooks might use to identify us as
Corpsmen. If that surprises you, understand that 1,170
corpsmen lost their lives in WWII, in Korea 108, in
Vietnam, 638. We obviously needed weapons. Our job was
one of mercy, we cared for all injured, friend or
captured foe, warrior or civilian, but we also went on
combat patrols and all ordinary Marine missions. We
went through Boot Camp like regular Marines, and then
through Medical training, and when we were assigned to
Fleet Marines we not only adequately armed, but also
competent in their use.
In the field, we were issued 782
Gear1, .45 automatic pistol model 1911A1
with two extra magazines, holster and a box of ammo.
Thermo boots, field boots and all the other clothing
and foul weather gear a Marine had. An M-1 Rifle, with
ammo and a bayonet, and a K-Bar knife. Web belt and all
the stuff you can hang on it, but always a canteen,
containing chlorinated water for washing wounds.
Sometimes, rifle grenades and launchers could be had.
The first aid kit was carried out of sight in the rear,
never any serum albumin cans (a blood volume expander)
taped to the helmet, as you might see in the movies.
Grenades, we kept in our pockets, or hung by a spoon on
an outside strap (I never hung them on a strap). We
liked concussion grenades, for tossing into trenches
and bunkers, and they weren't as dangerous as
Gear1--LtCol Curt Bruce, USMC,
Retired, dug most of the following from the
Guidebook for Marines, 1945 Edition: The 782 gear
consisted of a "haversack, knapsack, belt
suspenders (better looking than Larry Kings),
cartridge belt, bayonet with scabbard, oil and
thong, meat can with cover, knife-fork-spoon,
canteen with cup and cover, first aid packet and
pouch (sulfa dressing?), poncho, shelter half
with pole-five pins-and guy wire, steel helmet
with liner, helmet cover (camo), gas mask with
cover, entrenching tool (combination
shovel/pick), and grenade
Added to this was cold
weather gear: a parka with fur trimmed hood,
mittens with trigger fingers, mitten inserts,
water proof trousers, thermo boots, heavy socks,
and other assorted cold weather needs like
chemical heaters, etc. By 1953 leggings were no
longer issued. (Trousers were tied and rolled
over at boot top or just flapped in the wind. I
never knew how the odd man with a shelter half
got out of the wet and cold. I guess he tacked
down the corners and crawled under it. In the
trench warfare they were used as doors for the
bunkers, to cover the dead or used to carry
On patrol, a Thompson submachine or a
Grease gun was great if you could get one (they used
.45 cal. ammo) The M-1 was kept in the bunker and
usually only used to defend our static position.
Because I was assigned to a fire team and one of my
buddies was a BARman, I carried an extra harness of .30
Cal. magazines when we fought on Vegas. And, at times
we were in blocking positions in that area, in March of
1953, with the 5th Marines, 2nd Bn, Easy Co.
If nothing was going on, about every
two weeks we could go back to a field shower unit,
bathe and exchange our clothes for clean ones. If a
field mess was found, the cooks would give you some
meat, cheese, onions, butter and bread for sandwiches.
They weren't stingy and loaded us up, especially if
we had a souvenir to trade.
Quiet times were used to build up
fortifications. Sand bagging, digging trenches,
bringing up supplies. The wire out front of the MLR had
tin cans with stones in them, hung on the wire, and 55
gallon drums of napalm* with TNT in the bottom wired to
a detonator, dug into the slope at about a 45 degree
angle. Mine fields were everywhere, especially
"bouncing bettys"**. Going out past the
outposts at night you had to step carefully to avoid
getting tangled in all the com wire. I always thought
the Gooks had a sure path, just to follow the com wire
in, if they found it. Bunkers were built by digging
through the side of a deep reverse slope trench at a 45
degree angle about three feet wide and about 8 feet
long, as an entrance way. Then, at the end, digging a
room about 12' by 12'. This was all covered
with logs, then sand bags, up to about 3 feet thick,
then covered with about a foot of earth. A fake chimney
was a piece of stove pipe that stopped beneath the
earth. The real chimney, for the Yukon stove, came up
under the earth, went about 12' horizontal and came
out near a bush. This was to prevent the gooks dropping
grenades down our smoke stack. The 45 degree entrance
prevented the enemy shooting in or grenading the
bunker. The door was a shelter-half or blanket.
(*) Napalm--An acronym derived from
naphthenic and palmitic acids whose salts are used in
its manufacture. It is a jellied gasoline used in flame
throwers, fougasses (a name for the imbedded drums
mentioned above) and aerial bombs.
(**) Bouncing Betty--An anti-personnel
mine that discharged a 75mm shell to about a head
Outside, about twenty feet from the
bunker door was a "piss tube". An ammo sleeve
of impregnated card board stuck in a small soakage pit,
it was used instead of going all the way to the head.
One night a Corpsman from our bunker stepped out to use
it, just as a mortar round came in, and caught a shell
fragment in the buttocks (same as Forrest Gump). An
ambulance jeep came up and took him back to a medical
battalion. He spent a few weeks sleeping on his belly.
He was one of two Corpsmen that were sent to relieve me
that got hit, before they had spent enough
indoctrination time on the MLR to take over on
I remember when a Gook 82mm mortar
found our "4 Holer" head. No one was in it at
the time, but it certainly made a mess. Turds and slime
everywhere. It took hours to find it all and cover it
with dirt. Field sanitation went to hell that day. Worm
pills and DDT powder had to be distributed when the
lice and worms started to itch. You could tell when
someone was bothered with them. Scratching their head,
their butt, or both. They said malaria and hemorrhagic
fevers were present in Korea, but I never saw a
Our bunker was big enough for a six of
us. It was almost water proof. Bunks were made of barb
wire stakes laced with com wire to hold the air
mattress and mountain sleeping bag. Ammo crates made
side tables with a lantern or candle, stools and a card
table. A Yukon stove (similar to a metal box on legs)
completed the furnishings, fueled with a jerry-can of
diesel, a hose and a drip valve.
That stove could get cherry red and
damn near run you out of the bunker. When on the bunk
reading, rats in the overhead logs read along with you
and helped themselves to the chow. We had a mutual
understanding. Stay off our face when we were sleeping
and we won't throw a concussion grenade in the
bunker to kill you. I swear to this day that Korean
rats could read English and loved their gourmet
C-rations. Otherwise, with all the shooting going on
they probably wouldn't have stayed around, unless
they also enjoyed chewing on a Chinese carcass.
Unless something was going on, we slept
during the day and patrolled at night. Patrols were
called Cadillacs, Chevrolets, Buicks and some other
names. I can't remember which were which, but they
were combat, ambush, recon, etc., patrols. I liked the
ambush patrol in the spring because we could lay out
under the stars and wait for the gooks to find us
(which they seldom did)
In winter the recon patrols were the
best. You could keep warm moving around. Combat patrols
involved getting into the Gooks trenches and blowing up
their outpost bunkers. These weren't fun, because
the Gooks would get mad as hell and shoot back or you
had to break your butt getting away from a satchel
charge blast. Moon lit nights were double dangerous for
Sometimes we didn't have to go out
very far, if it was too bright, just hang around an
outpost or stay close in. No sense getting slaughtered
by the Gook mortars. The story was, every Gook had a
mortar and a hundred ammo carriers. They were good
shots! Every now and then, we would find a couple of
their lookouts in a shell hole not far from our lines.
Usually half frozen in the winter. The G-men liked to
get them for questioning before they were sent back to
a prisoner compound. Our Company commander dearly loved
prisoners. I think he got a bonus for everyone
captured. Small patrols were lead by a sergeant, or
better, and platoon size by an officer The larger the
number on patrol the more the danger. I could never
hear very well, but it seemed to me I could hear every
foot step of everyone around me. The patrol leader
usually put me one man forward of the tail gunner.
Because we had good leaders, we took very few
casualties and none of them serious on the patrols I
accompanied, and I went on a lot of them. We took more
casualties in blocking actions from incoming
One night we got trapped in a small
bowl with low ridges on both sides and the front. The
Gooks were on the other side of the front ridge and
must have thought we had crossed it and were heading
for them. They were pounding the area with small 61mm
mortars and spraying it with machine gun fire. We were
in platoon strength. The lieutenant called in machine
gun fire just over our heads toward the front ridge and
had a mortar barrage box us in on three sides so we
could escape from the rear of the bowl. Our machine
gunners fired so low that a man with a spool of com
wire on his back, who was trapped near the top of the
front ridge, got some rounds through the spool. We got
out of the bowl and tried to flank the Gooks, but they
were wise to us and started to walk mortars toward us.
The patrol was aborted and we went back to the MLR. No
casualties that night.
Somewhere near the Nevada Cities we got
smashed by what someone said was our own artillery
105mm. I never found out for sure. Guess I really
didn't want to know. We lost about a dozen Marines,
many killed. The "chiggy bearers" came up to
take out the bodies and the non-walking wounded. Those
were brave little old guys from South Korean labor
battalions. I had heard the shells exploding as they
walked toward us up the gully we were in, and got up
under a washed out tree root beside a dry stream bed. I
pulled my helmet down so hard it probably covered my
feet. The blast of a shell hitting above me bounced me
around, covered me with debris from the tree roots and
I couldn't hear for awhile.
Artillerymen considered themselves the
"King of the Battlefield" because their
massed fire could cause such destruction. The steel
rain from their guns could destroy the fighting ability
of whole companies of Chinese. If they were king, the
mud Marines were the Knights that met the enemy in the
Another time, we were positioned in a
field, below some of our tanks that were sitting on a
ridge. Resting and eating what we had gotten from a
field mess, on a reverse slope, near the front. I guess
the Gooks saw the tanks and started shooting at them.
The short rounds fell on us. It was broad daylight.
Huge pieces of shell fragments got some of the guys. I
finally got to a guy that had caught one in the head.
It took off most of the right side. I put an abdominal
battle dressing over the wound and gave him a shot of
morphine. Neither, of course, did any good. I just
stayed with him until he expired. I didn't
recognize him because of the size of the wound and I
long ago forgot the name on his dog tags.
I was 6'2", about 190 lbs,
when I arrived at Camp Pendleton. When I boarded the
troop ship, going home from the "Land of the
Morning Calm", I weighed about 165 lbs. I had
started my unexpected military career in the "week
end warriors", while in High School. After I
graduated, I went to a Navy/Marine recruiting station
to join the Marines. They were out to lunch on the
Marine side. A Navy Chief grabbed me and talked me into
joining the regular Navy. I went to boot camp at Great
Lakes (seems I didn't have enough "week end
warrioring" to escape boot camp) Immediately got
pneumonia. The Corpsmen in sickbay pulled me through
and I got back to "butts and muzzles",
because I was always screwing up. When it was time to
leave boot camp, it was detected that I had been a soda
jerk in a drug store. The Personnelman looked up
"soda jerk" in his book and found that
"soda jerks" memorized formulas for making
ice cream dishes and was suitable as a Corpsman
trainee. Off I went to Corps School, where I did well
enough to get two stripes with a Caduceus patch. Off I
went by train to Beaufort Naval Hospital, near Parris
I was now close to real Marines. We had
loads of boot Marine patients and Marines wounded in
Korea at the hospital. Parris Island in those days was
very close to being a kin to Devils Island. I drove an
ambulance over to Parris Island, sometimes, and watched
the poor souls getting their ass kicked by a D.I. One
kid told me that the best job was to be assigned to the
garbage detail because the mess halls threw out some
pretty good stuff to eat. Some of the boot patients I
saw on the "dirty" surgery ward had the soles
of their feet torn and blistered from being forced to
run barefoot on hot macadam roads in the South Carolina
When those kids got out of boot camp,
they could eat nails. Many times I got my lumps in a
barroom brawl from a "just graduated monster"
who thought us boys in our nice, neat, little Navy
suits were put on earth solely as punching bags. They
probably thought the Caduceus on our left arm meant we
healed fast. I left that duty station, with a front
tooth missing, as an HM3, heading for Camp Pendleton
and God knows what! Field Med School, amphibs, combat
in towns, obstacle courses, cold weather training at
Pickle Meadows, shooting ranges and close order drill
were the Whats!
I remember the M-1 had a muzzle
velocity of 2300 feet per second and the effective
range of 1000 yards. There ain't much to see at
1000 yards when you spend most of your time crawling on
your belly. And, I almost got run over by an amtrac
doing just that, near Delmar. When the D.I.s were
through with us, I could climb a rope on the
"No-Name", hand over hand, with a full field
transport pack. We really needed more Field Med
Schooling than we got, looking back, but a war was on
and somebody had to carry the bandaids. Matter of fact,
we were needed in hurry enough to warrant a Flight
Draft, on PanAm Clipper "Red Rover". That was
the name of the first hospital ship, used in the Civil
War, an old side-wheeler river boat type.
We fueled in Hawaii, landing in Itami
Japan and then on to Kimpo Airport in Korea. We boarded
a troop train that had most of the floor and windows
blown out. I think we stopped before every bridge while
someone went ahead to see if it was safe to cross.
Finally reaching the rail end at Munsun-ni. We were
assigned units and left for the front by trucks. We got
out and straggled up to the front line unit. (I mean
"straggled" because you don't do a Parade
March where the Gooks might see you) It was a bright
winter day that was about to turn to doom and gloom a
few months later.
I remember three Marines by name now,
One was a patrol-leading Sergeant nick-named
"Trigger Jack" Williams, Leo Kelly a BARman,
and Bill Sterns a radioman. Its funny, but I can't
remember all the names of the other Corpsmen in our
Company, except "Pappy" Grisham who blew up a
"Yukon" stove by inadvertently getting
gasoline at the fuel dump, and Jim Garrison, a good
friend. One side of Pappy's face was black for
weeks. What a chuckle we all got out of that! Later it
was my turn to get dusted by a back-fire. My
"Eatie Wa" spoon still rests in a kitchen
drawer. The only spoon in the drawer that has been to
war. Made from a shell casing by an old Korean grandpa
and traded for a pack of Luckys.
Next best thing to boarding a troop
ship headed for home was the mail and packages. They
could really raise your spirits. I still have most of
the letters that I wrote home, that my folks saved.
Return addressed: Co. E, 2-5, 1st Mar.Div., c/o FPO,
San Francisco, California (no zip code in those
From what was heard, you would have
thought the Army was fighting the whole war, but the
1st Marine Division, Reinforced, was there and when it
came to the fight for the Nevada Cities, on the ground,
they were alone. The major part of the conflict, from
March 26th to 30th, was a determined effort by the
Chinese to take Reno, Carson and Vegas, the Marine
Outposts, and just as determined Marines to prevent
Everything we ate, with the exception
of mess tent hand outs, come in cans called C-rations.
Most of the cans contain two things like; Meat &
Spaghetti, Meat & Noodles, Ham & Lima Beans,
Chicken & Vegetables, etc. Another can will have
crackers left over from the Civil War, and another has
toilet paper, cigarettes, matches, etc. What we
didn't like, we dug a hole and buried it so a
future generation can get a taste of the junk. One
thing was excellent. That was the C-ration can opener.
A little piece of metal about an inch and a half long
with a fold out hook-like cutter. One of the best
inventions ever made.
The only good thing about being in on
an attack or counter-attack, was the food. We were
issued assault rations. Little cans of concentrated
food and delicious chocolate bars. One I especially
liked was the scrambled eggs with ham chunks.
When I dreamed, it wasn't about the
war. It was about food. Steamed crabs and beer. Pizza
pie (it was just catching on). Roasted turkey with all
the trimmings. Big slabs of baked ham. Home made pies
and ice cream. I heard the Army had ice cream!
When patrols are out we sat up and
waited to see if they got back OK. We took turns on
patrol. Two go out on a pair of patrols and one
Corpsman stays put in the bunker. We got one full
night's sleep out of three. Some nights, the Army
on the right flank made such a noise that it was hard
to sleep, with them shooting at the shadows. When not
working on fortifications we could write letters, cook
some chow, wash clothes or ourselves, or clean a
weapon. Some nights, when not on patrol we were
assigned duty on the sound powered phones logging the
watches and outposts checking-in. That was a welcome
change, with hot coffee all night.
On the MLR, we had a fifty caliber
machine gun mounted in a covered firing position and
the gunner was very good at snapping off one round when
the situation called for it. With nothing much to do, I
just happened at the firing position while he was
watching a Gook digging in a trench, through a
telescopic sight mounted on the gun. The Gook would go
down in the trench, get a basket of dirt, come up a
ladder and throw the dirt over the edge of the trench.
The gunner told me to take a pair of binoculars he had
and watch the Gook the next time he came up the ladder.
He came up again. A fifty caliber slug hit him and
threw him on the back of the trench. The gunner said he
had been tweaking the gun in on the Gook for the last
ten minutes, or so.
The worst weapon of war, in my opinion,
was the napalm. We were on patrol at night and came
across a group of Gooks that had been hit with the
stuff. They were fried in grotesque positions. Some
sitting, some kneeling and some on their face in the
dirt. Some still holding their weapons. The smell of
burned flesh still lingered.
Should you want to remember the smell
of a battlefield, just smell the opening of a cartridge
case that has recently been fired. That's the smell
that permeates the haze.
Air observers flew in small aircraft
that looked like a Piper Cub from a distance. One
afternoon one crashed landed between us and the Gooks.
Someone from the plane got out and started to run in
the direction of the Gook lines. Everyone, all along
the line, that saw it, yelled at the guy to turn
around. The guy saw the Marines and quickly ran back to
a bunch of Marines that would guide him through the
mines and barb wire. That event broke the monotony of a
dull day on the MLR.
I was helping a Bill Sterns, a
radioman, string some com wire along the trench. He got
up on the edge to put some dirt over the wire, to hold
it down, when "crack" a bullet snapped right
by his head. I wasn't more than a couple feet from
him and heard the sound like a whip crack. Needless to
say, we kept our heads down, and tried to spot the
sniper, to no avail.
Artillery shells and mortar rounds that
the Chinese shot at us was called "in-coming"
and the shells going toward them was called
"out-going". The in-coming had an eery
whistle. The outgoing, big shells, "chugged"
like a train on a hill.
Mortar crews had a pit lined around the
sides with sand bags and a small shelf where they
planted aiming stakes. Depending on the distance the
projectile was to be fired, they put
"increments" on the fins to give the shot a
The Chinese had the best trench works.
Some were so deep and wide you could drive a truck
through them. If you ever fell into the deep ones you
would need a ladder to get out. They also dug out the
hills to make bomb proof hide outs.
The only enemy planes that flew over
were at night, called "Midnight Charlie",
headed south to bomb a supply depot. One night he made
a hit and half the sky lit up. We never saw the plane.
He only flew on the dark of the moon. The plane sounded
like it was old and needed the engine overhauled.
Tanks had 90mm guns that could fire a
shot and put another in the same spot. I believe it was
called a "floating gun-sight". They would
come up on the MLR and fire from revetments. I happened
to run afoul of one. Walking down a trench line, I
didn't see the muzzle sticking over the trench. It
went off and a blast from the sides of the muzzle-brake
hit me, knocked me down and my helmet was in the trench
a dozen feet away. My hearing was lost for hours. At
first I thought in-coming had killed me!
On a five hour patrol you come back
tired and ready for some chow and coffee. Usually those
waiting up for you had some ready and were waiting to
hear any interesting stories of the patrol.
Out on patrol, if you were down wind of
the Gooks you could smell them because they ate a lot
of garlic and pickled cabbage called KimChee. Sometimes
we got close enough to hear them chatter while they dug
fortifications. If there was a good fix on their
location a fire mission could be called down on the
poor unfortunate souls.
The searchlight at Panmunjom stayed on
all night pointed straight up so no one would shell or
bomb them. We used to think of stealing the light and
bringing it over to our hill so we wouldn't get
shelled or bombed.
A map I saw indicated we were on hill
126. Three enemy hills were in front of us called Betty
Grable, because it had a long leg, hill 98 and Frisco
or Garry. They were napalmed, bombed and rocketed by
our airplanes quite often. I don't know if they
were in range of naval gunfire, but I heard the
Missouri sometimes fired on hills with delayed action
fuzed shells to blast the hill top off. I remember that
an armor piercing 16" shell weighed 2500 pounds
and took 6 or 8 hundred pounds of powder to lob it 20
Going back to the showers and getting
clean clothes can be dangerous. Once, a plane bombed us
and we had to jump into a rice paddy to get cover
behind a retaining wall. A piece of shell fragment,
larger than my hand and as thick, slid in the mud,
right in front of my eyes, turning iridescent colors as
it cooled. The plane looked like one of ours. They get
confused sometimes. No one caught a piece of the bomb,
so we went on our way, when the plane left.
When it's cold we patched up holes
in the bunker to keep out the wind. When it rains the
water runs from the trench into the bunker and a
drainage ditch has to be dug to get it out. One day it
snowed about an inch with the sun shining. At night,
with a moon out and its reflection on the snow, it is
bright as day. There is no patrol on a night like that.
You could see everything that moved. When the ground is
thawed and it rains the mud seemed to have no
On patrol we found plenty of "safe
conduct passes", ours and theirs. I don't
remember a Gook ever using one. The Gook would have
been shot long before we knew what he had in his
Sometimes we could find a mess tent in
the rear serving cube steak and powered eggs with
reconstituted milk. The king of all meals. It
didn't take long for the word to get around.
On a platoon night raid on Frisco, a
Corpsman got hit by a mortar fragment in the knee and
had to be relieved of duty. That same night Benny
Hudson was killed by a mortar shell landing between his
legs. He was a real good buddy of mine. He was from
Lorton Virginia. When that happens, you sit around all
day and try to think of a reason why a guy should die
for a hill that we don't even keep. Then, we go out
again and fight on the same hill another night.
When there is a bombing raid going on,
it shakes the bunker and dirt falls in from the sides
and roof, which have to be repaired.
The Army leaves a lot of stuff lying
around to be "liberated." One time we lifted
a tommy gun and a case of rifle grenades. At the
railhead, the Army got their fresh vegetables in
refrigerated freight cars. The refrigeration was blocks
of ice in bins that could be entered through hatches on
top of the cars. Under the floor boards of our strong
backed tents we dug holes lined with burlap to use as
our refrigerator with the ice supplied by the Army. The
ice went well with our drinks.
On a big raid, like one that was
planned for hill 98, which was later cancelled, there
would be 180 men, 9 flame throwers, 6 machine guns, 6
bazookas, with others having carbines and BAR's.
Four Corpsmen would go on a raid this size. The hill
would be "softened-up" by aircraft attacks
and artillery fire.
One of our patrols got ambushed when
they went out to ambush the Gooks. The patrol came in
missing one man. A new patrol was organized to find
him, but he was never found. He was listed as missing
in action. The new patrol got some grenades flung at
them, but a mortar barrage called-in, took care of
When in reserve, a stay is about 40
days. When the beer comes in everyone gets three cans.
Movies are on a make-shift screen and the seats are
sand bags. One time, the beer tent caught fire. The
strong-backed tent was a total loss, but not a can of
beer was lost. There were times that a USO show showed
up for an evening of entertainment that was really
enjoyed. The girls looked fantastic in their dance
costumes. It was a problem getting a sand bag seat near
During the Nevada Cities battles we
were called up from reserve to be thrown into a
blocking action and later into an attack on Vegas. A
few things happened that are vivid to this day. We were
passing an aid station, slightly wounded and dead were
outside. I went in to look for some replacement medical
supplies. I never got much. Medical officers and
Corpsmen were working on the seriously wounded. The
stench, gore and foul air in that dark bunker with the
cries and groans of the wounded was just too much to
bear. I had to get out into the fresh air and see what
I could do for those outside. Another, was a run along
a rice paddy wall when a 76mm opened up on us. A Marine
far in front, jumped into a shell hole for cover. A
shell fell right into the same hole with him. There was
little left. I continued to run, when I heard a round
whiz by, toward the end of the wall for cover, I fell,
and sticking up from the dirt were the three prongs of
a "bouncing betty" anti-personnel mine. After
I got up and ran into a shallow ravine, there was a
Marine who had an emotional breakdown being sent back
to the rear. The first and last one I ever saw. He was
a sergeant from my platoon. Sometime during the fight I
remember the word being passed that Major Lee and
Captain Walz were killed.
We were headed up a lower slope of
Vegas when an enemy mortar barrage came in. I had
flopped down beside a radioman who had one of those big
radios with the long whip antenna. He may have been a
forward observer. When the barrage lifted I got up to
run and the radioman didn't move. I checked him out
and discovered something had gone through his helmet
and destroyed the top of his head. There weren't
many wounded because there weren't many of us left.
I still remember the eyes of the dead Marines, that
were open, seemed to be staring blankly into the haze
of the battlefield. Those with eyes closed appeared to
be asleep. The bodies of the recent dead, that
hadn't yet been moved and covered, were sometimes
in the strangest positions. Probably running when they
caught a shell fragment.
Shells that hit frozen ground are the
greater danger than those that hit in the mud. More of
the former's fragments fly on the horizontal.
Direct fire is much more dangerous than indirect fire.
Indirect fire is a potluck type of hit, where direct
fire is coming from someone looking directly at you
with plans to take you out. VT fuzing is a radio
proximity that causes the shell to explode a few feet
before it hits the ground and is especially lethal
against exposed infantry.
If you take some Marine bravado, mix it
with being scared, than angry and throw in a
determination to take the fight to the enemy, you end
up with courage. Courage is what makes the Marines a
great fighting force. What seems an impossible task,
courage carries them through. Marine veteran officers
and NCO's are extremely good leaders and exhibit a
strength of character that causes us to follow where
ever they lead. They are always out front with the
troops, exposed to the murderous fire and that is why
so many of them get killed or seriously wounded. Even
in civilian life, military officers and NCO's that
have seen their share of combat with front line troops
make excellent people with which to work. Trifling
things don't bother them.
Something that you see or hear in war
movies or books is a lot of profanity. That is not the
way it is. Profanity is only used when a certain
situation calls for it, like when scared or angry.
Certain substances are described using profane
language, such as morning chow that is a red or white
sauce with hamburger served over toast. Everyone calls
it SOS, meaning shit on a shingle. Sunday evenings cold
cuts are usually served and called horse cock. A
mattress cover is a fart sack. A garbage can is a shit
can. Navy and Marine profanity is mutually understood.
There is no learning curve to contend with when a
Marine goes aboard ship or a sailor is stationed with
the Marines, except a small bit of jargon has to be
picked up. The Navy has no H&S Company
(Headquarters and Service) and a Marine would think a 4
by 4 was a wooden beam instead of a wound dressing.
What was left of the trenches was
plastered with mud. What had been trees or bushes were
stumps with twigs sticking out. The barbed wire aprons
were all snarled and blown apart. The com wire strands
were everywhere and probably going nowhere now. During
an attack on an enemy position, you start out with
basically the whole unit all around you. Then you stop
to treat a wounded man and look around and there are
few, if anyone, around. It's a stop and catch-up
situation. I had a tendency to get disoriented except
for the fact that the usual direction was
"up" the hill. I never had a map or compass.
When I did get lost there usually came along a Marine
that knew the proper direction.
When I first reached the upper reverse
slope of Vegas there was a Chinese prisoner coming back
with a leg wound that I dressed. Much later, I found
out he was a 21 year old litter-bearer that had been
dug out of a collapsed bunker. We spent the night
fitfully sleeping in trenches that were no more than 2
feet deep, having been blown-in by artillery and mortar
fire. The next morning, very early, before the morning
mist had cleared, we were attacked by the Chinese,
after a barrage of artillery fire from them was lifted.
Leo Kelly had his BAR working and was cutting them down
as they came out of the mist and smoke. They fell like
rag dolls. They were too far away to see their
features. I was carrying ammo for him and squatted
beside him and handed him magazines when he ran out of
his supply. The Gooks left, and the remainder of the
day was without much disturbance. When we were relieved
I carried a bazooka tube back down the hill. The hill
was littered with personal weapons, both ours and the
Chinese. We broke what we couldn't carry in case
the Chinese were to overrun the hill again. I can't
remember what the weather was like except there was
mud. Maybe it was clear above the battlefield haze
which could obscure the sky or there could have been
low clouds scudding over. There had been full moons
that could be seen sometimes at night, whose light
shown through the clouds and haze.
I don't remember going back to the
MLR or anything else after leaving that hill. It seems
to be a blank. I usually thought about getting some
chow or catching some shut-eye. I never got a scratch.
I guess the closest to getting hit was the time in the
winter, on patrol, when a shell fragment cut the ski
cleat off one of my thermo boots, the tug on my foot
almost knocked me down. I did get plenty of dings on my
flack jacket and helmet. The battles of the Nevada
Cities had raged for five days before the Chinese gave
up the attack. Vegas remained ours, Reno was lost
forever, and Carson was never completely overrun to my
knowledge or if it was it was immediately retaken.
After the cease-fire on 27 July 1953,
at 1000, there was still plenty to do taking care of
the sick and wounded from mishaps. I got transferred to
the 1st Engineer Battalion and worked in a quonset hut,
turned sickbay. We had a shell shocked dog we adopted
and called him Tiger. A backfire would send him under a
cot hiding for hours. He had a mineral deficiency, we
thought, and he ate gravel until he got a prolapse of
the rectum from the compaction. We had to put him to
sleep. He had eaten the food and vitamins we had given
him, but he would never give up the gravel. That dog
was really missed. He was everyone's friend. We
couldn't shoot him. We put a hose from a jeep
exhaust into a large box, gave him sedatives, and when
he was asleep we put him in the box. He was buried on a
hill side with a big rock as a headstone, with
"Tiger" painted on it.
Not long after Tiger's death, some
of us were sent to an Army supply depot to get diesel
fuel. Fourteen drums were on the requisition. We were
loading the fuel when someone spotted drums of 190
proof ethanol on some pallets near by. We loaded 13
drums of fuel and hid a drum of ethanol among then.
When we got back to the battalion the Colonel found out
about it and sent an orderly down to the sickbay to get
a coffee pot full. Grapefruit juice and 190 makes a
wonderful drink that has some real body. The grapefruit
juice ran out long before the alcohol.
The tank trucks had to go to a water
point to get the sanitized water from a stream. We
dammed up the stream below the water point and had one
fine swimming hole. We had plenty of heavy equipment to
help build the dam.
The Engineers were given the assignment
to clear some mines and I tagged along far to the rear
of the Marines that hunted for and dug up the mines. I
had to be available in case one exploded.
"One" never did in this operation. On patrol
once, a Marine had stepped on a wooden box mine that
knocked him down and put splinters in his legs. He was
able to walk back to the MLR and I picked the splinters
out of his legs. We decided he was one lucky Marine. I
hung out with the guys in Explosive Ordnance Disposal
(EOD) when not in the sickbay and they taught me a lot
about disarming shells and mines. I even had the
opportunity to watch a huge pile of shells, mines, and
other explosives destroyed, from about a quarter mile
away, in a bunker with a small slit to view it through.
It was a tremendous explosion with streamers of white
phosphorous and a huge cloud of smoke and debris. The
crater was large enough to topple a small mountain
into. Some of the fragments fell on and past the
bunker. The Engineers had rigged the munitions with C-3
strung with primer cord so it all went off in one big
When I was a kid, I was pretty good
with guns and went hunting near the Blue Ridge
mountains in Maryland, where my grandfather had a farm.
Long before I got to the FMF, I was a good shot with
both a rifle and a shotgun. My father was a Washington,
D.C. policeman. He made me join the NRA and take their
training course before he would take me hunting. The
NRA had an indoor shooting range downtown and they
supplied the rifles and ammo for training. After
shooting, we all headed for a hotel where there was an
indoor swimming pool.
Getting home from Korea was a lot
easier than getting there. After being dusted with DDT
powder and getting worm pills, we boarded a troop ship
and headed for Treasure Island, near San Francisco,
California. We drew our pay, had some fine meals. I got
discharged and was given an airline ticket home to D.C.
Eighty-nine days later I was back in the Navy assigned
to the Atlantic SeaBees. Before retiring my final tour
of actual sea duty was aboard the nuclear powered
ballistic missile submarine the Theodore Roosevelt
(SSBN 600-Gold Crew). I qualified on the first patrol
and was assigned a section as Chief of the Watch,
followed by a two year tour of duty at NAMRU#2 (a
medical research unit in Taiwan) doing business in
Vietnam on disease studies, with my final duty station
being the U.S. Naval Dispensary, Fiscal and Supply in
Washington, D.C., at Arlington Annex (Headquarters
Marine Corps), and going out to the Fleet Reserve with
22 years active service.