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American Fighting-Man: Destiny's Draftee

History  Bert '53  On Line

Time: January 1, 1951

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 terrifying affront.

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 happened?"

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 us."

" 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 at."

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 them."

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 useless job.

" 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."

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