John Francis Richter, HM1

Preventive Medicine

In early 1950, I was a Navy Corpsman attached to the 1st Medical Bn., a part of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, California.

Many of we Corpsmen were WW2 combat veterans, having served alongside the U.S.Marines in the pacific battling the Japanese. I had joined the Navy in January, 1941, trained as a Medical Field Service Technician, and in August, 1942, was in an assault landing alongside the U.S.Marines on a muddy, rotting, malaria-infected, steaming jungle island called Guadalcanal!!

I was the assigned Corpsman to a 75mm Gun Half-Track with a crew of five rugged Marines, my "adopted family" for four chaotic months on the isand. One day our coastal defense position was completely leveled by Japanese Bombers, wounding one Marine and blowing "yours truly" out of my shallow foxhole.

I made another assault landing on Cape Gloucester, New Britain (1943), again with the 1st Marine Division, and had my fourth and final attack of malaria in 1945---thank you Guadalcanal(??)

After the war, I did "Independent Duty" (sole medical personnel) on board the U.S.S. Cole, DE-641, a Destroyer Escort who's primary mission was to intercept Korean smugglers operating between Korea and Japan. In May, 1950, I transferred to the 1st Marine Div. at Camp Pendleton.

July, 1950, I and others were asked to volunteer to be part of "C" Medical Co., then being formed. This company in turn would become part of the hastily formed 1st Provisional Marine Brigade, slated for immediate transfer to the Korean combat zone, to halt a probable forced evacuation of the Pusan Perimeter by UN forces.

What followed immediately was a frantic (though only partly successful!) effort to beg, borrow or steal all necessary medical and other required supplies and equipment to support our anticipated combat area needs!

Leaving San Diego,Ca. as a Brigade on 13 July, we arrived at the Port of Pusan, South Korea on the night of 2 August. We disembarked our ship without delay!

Being as the North Koreans did not sign on to nor honor the terms of the Geneva Convention, medical personnel were issued .30 caliber M1 Carbines immediately at the Port, fresh out of storage cases and thickly covered in "Cosmoline". With no time allowed to clean our newly begotten weapons, we mounted awaiting trucks and were advised we may very well have to fight our way to our next destination further off (fortunately that proved unnecessary)!

In Sept/'50, during the Korean War a handful of we Navy Corpsmen from "C" Medical Co. (1stProvMarBrigade) were temporarily in the area of the 1stBn 5th Marines aid station within the Pusan Perimeter. While outside of the medical facility doing our chores, sniper fire erupted from the adjacent hills. (At the time the Marines were out of the immediate area, their hands full fighting off the enemy further away.)

As the fired rounds entered our area, I found myself sprawled face down in the dirt. After a very brief period of calm, dangerously close shots rang out again as I found myself once more, face in the dirt only this time with an added touch--- a mouthful of that rich, fertilized South Korean soil!!) That did it! The danger that the patients and Medical Staff were exposed to, my aversion to digesting dirt, and the ultimate indignation of having those jerks in the hills playing us like puppets on a string, had me fighting mad!!

Grabbing my M1 Carbine, I shouted out to our Corpsmen for assistance. Directly without hesitation Corpsman Melvin Hogan answered my call: "I'll give you a hand "Rick"!

So off we went to do the job.

Not wanting to make known to the snipers our intent, we initially headed away from the source of their firing, then circled widely and eventually came up slowly on the backside of their hill. Having a general idea of where the action had evolved from, we slowly approached their camouflaged area. A short distance ahead we could hear their Korean babbling and laughter as our quarry were preoccupied enjoying their attempted "turkey shoot".

Hogan and I huddled together and decided on signal to bellow out loud and furiously while firing on semi-automatic directly down through the top of the covered dugout, giving the enemy the impression they were surrounded by many more than just we two!

The ruse worked well as five North Koreans jumped out screamng in surrender leaving their weapons and two of their mortally wounded comrades behind in their dugout.

Moments after, a frustrated look replaced the one of fear on the faces of the prisoners as they realized in disgust they had been overpowered by two mere "medics".!!

Days later (in my complete naivete) I was concerned over how I would conduct myself while being presented with whatever award they had in mind for our "accomplishment". That concern evaporated as word leaked out from Co. Headquarters that court-martials were being considered as "reward" by the "Brass" of "C" Med. The charge: 'Leaving one's duty station without prior permission'. The intent as rumors had it was to set an example that would discourage other Navy Corpsmen from "playing Marine".!

The award seekers vs the court-martial seekers evidently neutralized one another for the "incident" was quietly layed to rest.

I strongly believe the aggressive action we took that day should rightfully have been interpreted by the "Medical Establishment" as PREVENTIVE MEDICINE!!

(Note:The above incident involving the North Koreans was touched upon by Major Andrew Geer (USMCR) in his book "THE NEW BREED" (Battery Press))

After the Pusan Perimeter, the Brigade was reabsorbed by the 1st Marine Div. in preparation for the Inchon Landing under the brilliant leadership of General MacArthur.

Sometime after the successful historical Inchon Landing, while on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea, I decided to test-fire my 7.6mm Soviet Submachine Gun appropriated from one of our less fortunate adversaries. Squeezing off a few rounds in a concealed and (I thought!!) "isolated" area, I was immediately greeted by a fusillade of "friendly" fire.

Due to the characteristic brrrp brrrp sound of the weapon the Marines thought me to be an enemy sniper!! (Luckily, with my extensive Marine training and combat experience I escaped their fired rounds!) My newly acquired "tattletale" machine gun was discarded pronto!

At Koto-ri (N.Korea) our Medical Co. was alerted to the Marine casualties arriving from the Chosin Reservoir, about 11 miles north of us. The duty corpsman at the Medical Entrance was occupied with a patient. His back to the entrance, he heard this loud "clump" "clump" on his spotless wooden floor.

Too preoccupied to turn his head, he bellowed out loud-and-clear

"Hey Marine! Take off your crummy boots in the Sick Bay"!

The chastised Marine responded in a soft, pathetic voice: "They ARE off, Doc"! (His feet were dangerously FROZEN SOLID!!)

A short time later, surrounded by lots of Chinese, we fought our way down the icy mountain road in near zero weather. As I staggered behind our ambulance, loaded with wounded and "near-frozen" Marines, I had this MADDENING urge to grab hold of the steaming hot exhaust pipe extending from the rear and wrap my near-frozen hands around it. (Fortunately, sanity prevailed!!)

After what seemed like forever, and what looked like a mirage were these beautiful Navy Warships at the port of Hungnam, waiting to take us into their warm, protective "arms"!!

After Korea, I did staff duty at USNH, St. Albans, NY, served in the 2nd and 3rd Marine Divisions, was Inspector/Instructor Staff (14th Special Infantry Co. USMCR) at Jersey City, NJ, and retired on twenty in June, 1960

As a civilian, I worked with the Post Office, and Union Carbide, after which I finally retired for good.

In 1968 I had met my lovely Finnish blue-eyed blonde bride, Elisabeth on the Ballroom Dance floor at "Roseland" in Manhattan, NY. I have been dancing around with Elisabeth both literally and figuratively ever since!!

For my service in two wars, I was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation twice, the Navy Unit Commendation, the Korean Presential Unit Citation, a Letter of Appreciation, a personal Commendation, the Asiatic/Pacific Campaign medal with 4 battle stars, the Korean Service Medal with 3 battle stars (and other awards).

(Hi! to all from Largo, Florida!!)

John Francis Richter, HM1 USN (Ret.)
Guadalcanal/Korea Alumnus
Semper Fi

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