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Richard A. Pelley
Rumford, Rhode Island -
"I served with guys who were willing to sacrifice themselves for others at the expense of their own life. Every one of us was willing to do that. It might sound simple and trite now, but when the Lieutenant said, "They’re coming over the top of the hill. We’ve got to go wipe them out", there was no hesitation among us. We never did. As far as I’m concerned, all of us were heroes because we were willing to make that sacrifice."
- Dick Pelley
My name is Richard A. Pelley of Rumford, Rhode Island. I was born on November 23, 1930 in Everett, Massachusetts, a son of Arthur and Lily Button Pelley. My parents came to America about 1925/26 for work and better living conditions. I believe my mother's oldest brother, William Button, was already living in Somerville, Massachusetts. A lot of people from Newfoundland had moved to America about that time, although we didn't live in an ethnic neighborhood. Some of my mother's brothers and sisters moved about the same time. Hancock Street, which I believe is where my parents first moved to and where I was born in Everett, was a middle class street.
About 1933 or 1934 we moved to Barrington, New Hampshire, as my father worked at the Portsmouth Navy Yard. The living conditions were crude as the house was very old with an "outhouse" as a toilet. We had a hand pump for water. In 1935 we moved to Newton, New Hampshire, to be closer to the Navy Yard. Newton was a small town and the whole family loved it there. We never felt the effects of the depression because my father always had work. I didn't even know there was a depression. I enjoyed my childhood very much, playing in the woods and fishing for trout in the nearby stream.
My father was in the Navy during World War I and was a deep sea diver. When he got out of the service he stayed working on the shore. In fact, he was one of the men that helped raise the submarine Squalus back in 1939. If I recall correctly, it sank near the shore when they went out on some trials. My mother didn't work outside of the home because she was raising eleven kids. (One died at five years of age from a tooth infection. When I was born I was named after him but with a different middle name. His name was Richard.) I was next to the last of the eleven. My mother was a strict disciplinarian. With five girls and six boys she had to be, but she was very fair.
In the spring of 1941 we moved to Somerville, Massachusetts, as my father then began to work in the Boston Navy Yard. My mother and father broke up in 1945. They never did get a divorce as my mother was very religious and wouldn't do it. My father ran around a lot. I do not remember him as being a good father. He had absolutely no fathering skills. In 1947 we moved back to Everett, as my Uncle Bill was in real estate and he knew of a property that had two houses on it. One was a boarding house. Uncle Bill arranged for my mother to buy it so she could have some income. We lived in the other house. By this time the only ones living at home were me, a brother, and two sisters. The others were now married. I was only close to one sister, Margaret, who was eleven months younger than me. We played a lot together. My brothers were too old for me. I can't say I was close to my parents. My father definitely not. My mother dearly loved us, but she never knew how to show affection. She saved it all up for the grandkids when they came along.
We all attended public school. My two oldest brothers, Leslie and Hector, attended Sandborn Seminary/Exeter Academy. There was no high school in Newton. Their school was in Exeter, New Hampshire, and they boarded in a private home, working for their room and board by taking care of farm animals. I liked school. It was a two-room schoolhouse with grades 1 to 4 in one room and 5th and 6th grade in the other room. When we moved to Somerville outside of Boston, I hated school because they were so far ahead and I never could catch up. I did manage to graduate from Somerville High in 1949 and was glad when there was no more school.
I worked my way through high school. It was during my junior year that we moved from Somerville back to Everett. Rather than change schools at that period of time, I received permission from the Superintendent of Schools to finish high school in Somerville. I worked part-time in an A&P store and traveled back and forth by elevated railway from Everett to Somerville to finish high school and graduate from Somerville High. It cost me $248.00.
I remember World War II very well. Every week they sold savings bonds and savings stamps at school. I had four brothers in the war--one in the Marine Corps and three in the Army. The one in the Marine Corps, Hector, was the next to the oldest in the family and he was killed on Iwo Jima on February 20, 1945. When I was in junior high school, once a week we had to cut out a little paragraph about the war from the newspaper and give a report on it. Having four brothers in the war, I always kept abreast of it.
My brother's death had an impact on our family. He was an unusual individual. Everybody always liked him. He could walk into a crowd and make himself comfortable. In that sense he was different than everybody else. He was also quite a football player. He didn't attend high school. He went to Exeter Academy, which is still going today, in fact. He was one of their main football players. He had an option, which he turned down, to play pro football. He turned it down because he was married. He was the only one in our family who was married at the time and he had a small baby. I believe the baby was a year old when Hector was sent overseas and was killed. For me, that always had a very dramatic impact. It has never left me. That's why I joined the Marine Corps.
After I graduated from high school I just continued to work in the A&P as a stock clerk until I got my draft notice from the Army. Because of the negative stories I had heard about the Army, I decided to join the Marines. I also joined in memory of my brother who was killed on Iwo Jima. I wanted to carry on that heritage. Hector and I had had kind of a relationship, even though he was quite a bit older. Back then at the tail-end of the depression and the early 1940s before the war, my brother had his own truck. He used to sell cord wood and he sometimes took me with him on Saturdays. We developed that kind of special relationship. The memory of him has always stuck with me. He never told me that I ought to go into the Corps. In fact, he probably wouldn't have gone in himself except he was drafted into it. During the Second World War men could be drafted into the Marines just like the Army.
I joined the Marine Corps on March 3, 1952. I was still living at home at the time. My parents were separated but they knew I had to go in. There was no choice. I was drafted and that was it. I just decided that I would rather spend three years in the Marine Corps than two years in Army, so I joined. There was not necessarily any rationale to it. What 19-20 year old kid has much rationale? When I joined, the Marine Corps didn't make me any promises. It wasn't like it is today. You just joined and that was it. You went where they sent you.
I went to Parris Island boot camp, which I think was about nine or ten weeks long, if I remember correctly. I took a train from Massachusetts to South Carolina. There was a whole bunch of guys on the train. I forget how many, but I know there was pretty close to enough to make a boot camp platoon. This was my first real big venture away from home.
All I can remember about my first day of boot camp was thinking, "I'm going to keep my mouth shut and do what I'm told." I had heard a lot of stories about Marine Corps boot camp and knew that was how I would survive it. My siblings and I were brought up with discipline and respect, thanks to my mom. I figured if I kept my mouth shut and did what I was told to do once I got to boot camp, I couldn’t get in trouble--and that is exactly what I did.
I was assigned to Platoon 233. I don't remember the name of my senior DI, but I have a picture of him. I know I'd like to kick his rear-end right now. I don’t know the name of my junior DI either. Both of them were fair. Keep in mind that they had recruits from all over--Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts. They had to have order. Discipline. I never got in any trouble and I was never disciplined for anything, but my buddy was. George Earl and a bunch of other guys joined the Marine Corps with me. I don't recall what he did wrong, but something happened and he and some others had to run around the whole company area. And it was hot! This was in the latter part of March and it was very hot in South Carolina. They had to run until they almost dropped before the DI stopped them. That’s the only time I can remember any kind of serious discipline.
Our day at boot camp started at either 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning, I forget which. It was still dark out though. When people started scrambling I knew that it was time to get up, whether I heard the wake up call or not. We had to go shave and get cleaned up, and then after that--it was either 6:00 or 7:00 a.m., we went to breakfast. Then came back from that. Everything was regimented, including our meals. There was no visiting amongst the recruits. We just ate. Discipline. Everybody had to think alike, eat alike, look alike. For military food, the meals were good, but it was not what they have today. This year I went to see Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. What I saw down in San Diego I thought, “This is luxury.” Their mess halls are like restaurants today.
After breakfast we returned to our barracks and then from there began whatever instruction they were going to do that day. Usually it was instruction in drill and marching. That was the first thing that we learned. We learned how to march. How to keep in step. How to line ourselves up and stay in line. After that we got our rifle and then learned that. We learned how to take it apart, and how to clean it and keep it clean at all times. We learned to never get caught with a dirty rifle. From there we went to other training classes.
There was an emphasis on cleanliness at all times. We had to be clean shaven, have good haircuts, and have clean clothes. Our barracks had to be spotless, too. At that time we lived in the old pyramid tents that held up to six people per tent. That was always spotless. Our bed ("sack") was always made. Our footlocker had to be placed in a certain way. The sergeant could come into our tent at any time to see if something was out of order. There was a certain procedure for laying out our clothes, so anytime they called for an inspection of our clothes we had to lay them out a certain way, except, naturally, our dirty clothes. We had to always have it done. The floor of the tent was made of plywood and we had to keep that clean, too. Every morning before we left the place we had to make sure everything was put in order--bed made and floor swept out.
When boot camp was over we had a graduation ceremony. It’s quite a bit different today than what it was then. I don’t remember too much about the graduation ceremony that took place when I went to boot camp. It didn’t have as much form as those today. We had to go out on the parade ground in front of whoever was watching us--a colonel or a major or whoever it was. It was probably the battalion commander, who would have been a colonel. We had to go through the whole routine of showing him we knew how to march. How to march in step and in time. Sure was a different thing 50 years ago. After the graduation ceremony we had seven to ten days of mess duty and then they sent us home. From there they sent us to a permanent duty station.
I think I was different coming out of boot camp than when I went in. I had a greater sense of discipline. To some extent that stayed with me my whole life, even today. The problem with this country today is that people don’t have discipline. They do their own thing. At Marine Corps boot camp, the whole thought was to make everybody of one mind so that when we were given an order everybody understood it, knew it, and did it. They instilled a sense of discipline. The other thing they bred into us, which was positive, was "Semper Fi" (always faithful) and the Esprit de Corps. That’s why they say, "Once a Marine, Always a Marine." Even today, 50 years later, I still saw that in the group of retired Marines to which I belong.
After I left Parris Island I returned to my mother's home in Massachusetts. I wore my uniform. Back then we always wore our uniforms. It’s not like it is today where a lot of the military is looked down when they’re wearing a uniform in the big city. Back then it wasn’t too far removed from the Second World War so there was still a lot of respect for someone in a uniform—not like it was in the Vietnam War. Almost every place I went I still wore my uniform. Korea was at war at that time. My mother never really voiced it, but I knew that the fact that I would be going to Korea bothered her.
When boot camp leave was up we went by train from South Station in Boston down to Rocky Point, North Carolina. From there I caught a bus to the base and reported to the guard gate. I handed my papers to the proper authority after reporting in to Camp Lejeune, and then went to Montford Point. Montford Point was on the base, but was not the main base camp. They had two things there--a cooking school for those who were going to be in the mess hall, and where I was--the Second Floating Bridge Company.
The Marine Corps had two floating bridge companies—one in California and one in Montford Point. What we did was, any place where a river had to be crossed we would build a pontoon bridge, or we would build what they called a ferry—one of these big huge pontoons that could be blow up and put the middle planks on it. They could put a tank on that and ferry it across the river. We also built foot bridges. We learned construction techniques as far as making floating bridges. That’s all we did. Floating bridges. Big huge pontoons. We strapped them together. They had big hollow aluminum planks and we used that for the deck.
The buddy who signed up with me to go into the Marine Corps was no longer with me by this time. He ended up in California going to radio school. He (George) later flunked out of flight school because he was too afraid of flying. He did continue in the Marines, became a Major, and retired after 20 years in the Corps.
I was happy with my orders for the Floating Bridge Company. I would rather be in that than in any other unit or outfit. We were there for around seven months, then because things were changing they decided that they didn't need the bridges as much as they used to, so they broke up the company and just left a skeleton crew there. They transferred the rest of us to a place called Tent Camp or Camp Geiger, which was part of Camp Lejeune, but totally separate from the main camp, as was Montford Point where the Floating Bridge Company was. I was only a PFC at both places so as most PFC's did, I did grunt work. In general, that was any labor they asked me to do.
When we got to Camp Geiger, we lived in Quonset huts and became part of the Engineers per se. I really liked working with the Engineers. We had weekend leave and good officers. Our responsibility at that time was to build a new gate to Camp Geiger. I was not there when they finished it, but I was there when they initially started it. Before I left, they put me on mess duty for thirty days and after mess duty I received orders for overseas duty in Korea.
Orders for Overseas
Before I left the east coast I was given ten days leave to go home, and then I shipped out to Camp Pendleton, California. I flew on an American Airlines prop job to the west coast. I think I was the only Marine on the flight, but I’m sure that others from all over were coming. In fact, my buddy Mo, who was with me in Engineers, went overseas with me but he left for a different destination point. Most of us were 18 to 23 year olds.
After the prop plane landed in San Diego or LA, we went by bus to Camp Pendleton, where we reported in to a processing center. When the required amount of people were there and the paperwork was done (I think it took about three weeks), they formed us into a company. At that point there wasn’t any training or anything. It was strictly processing all the proper paperwork. Paperwork followed us wherever we went. We could be in the front lines in Korea and the top side would still be handling paperwork. Once in a while it got messed up, but our paperwork--who we were, where we were going, what our rank was, how long we had been in, and what was our conduct, came with us. This paperwork also determined our promotions.
Once they had all those troops, they loaded 3,500 Marines and 1,500 army guys on the troop ship USS Polk. I am not sure from which port in the States we left. I think it was Los Angeles. Coming home we went through San Francisco. The only person I knew on the ship was Mo Malinish, my buddy from Camp Geiger. I had only been on a big ship once before, and that was when I was a little kid about five years old. Our family went up to Newfoundland and took a ferry. It was a transport ship back then. I never got sick on the trip to Korea. Some of the guys did, but I either stayed topside or stayed lying or sleeping in my bunk because I knew that if I got up and walked around, especially below deck, I would probably get sick.
The senior officer on the ship was army, so technically they were in charge of all troops on board. They were also responsible for the mess hall and meals. We were supposed to get three meals a day, but because the army guys didn't know what they were doing, we were lucky if we got one meal a day. They didn't know how to run a mess hall.
The ranking officer on the ship was an Army man, so he was in charge of all the troops onboard. He didn’t know the first thing about what he was doing. We were supposed to get three meals a day, but we were lucky if we got one meal a day because the Army guys in charge of the mess hall didn't know how to run it. We had to wait in line five hours to get fed. My buddy and I figured that the only way we were going to get fed was to volunteer, so we volunteered to work down in the hold of the ship sending supplies up. That way we were given special passes and got to eat three meals a day. Once we got to Japan, the Army guys got off the ship. Then the Marines were in charge and we got three meals a day. Breakfast, dinner and supper.
There was no entertainment on the ship, although I did receive a "Domain of the Golden Dragon" certificate when we crossed over the 180th Meridian on June 24. There were no drills or training of any kind onboard except "abandon ship" drills. The weather was nice, so going over it was a beautiful trip until a day or so before arriving in Japan. That's when we got in a typhoon. That was bad. It was so bad that the bow of the ship would go under and then the fantail would go under. When the fantail goes under, you know you’ve got big waves. In fact, they were 50-foot waves. The Captain was quite concerned. He made everybody get below deck and then they locked the hatches. He kept the ship just off shore just enough to keep it headed into the wind. We stayed on then and rode it out. I’m telling you the place was a mess. Everybody was throwing up all over. I didn’t get sick fortunately, but almost everybody else did. We couldn’t go to the john because everybody threw up all over the place. It took them a whole day, with a whole bunch of guys, to clean that mess up.
We arrived at Kobe, Japan, safely and stayed there overnight. We could smell Japan before we even got to shore. The smell of incense from all of the worship to Buddha or whatever god they were worshipping was overpowering. From Kobe we went to Sasebo. We had liberty for just a few hours at both places. Neither was an overnight liberty. We had to be back to the ship by such and such a time. Most of the guys went looking for girls, but some guys didn't bother to get off the ship. Can you imagine--suddenly 5,000 guys on shore leave. I had never been to another country before. I thought the surroundings were very strange and the music was weird--all that dinging of instrument strings and stuff. I didn't like it.
The Army guys didn't know what they were doing when it came to weapons. Seriously. At Sasebo, the Army guys all went into some Army barracks to get their weapons before going to Korea. When they came back onboard, they came to us and said, “What’s this stuff all over the rifle?” It was cosmoline--a thick, oily, sticky substance that was put on M1 rifles and carbines to protect them from rust while in permanent storage. We looked at them and laughed because one of the first things we had learned in boot camp was how to clean a rifle that was covered with cosmoline. It's got to be cleaned up. We used rags and gasoline, plenty of them, to clean it off. It was messy and not easy to get off, as it tended to harden with time. We did that in boot camp, but those Army guys didn't even know what cosmoline was. We had to get our weapon thoroughly clean or else dirt would cling to it. After cleaning it we then oiled the barrel with a tan, creamy-type of oil. I thought, "They’re going up on the front line and they don’t even know what cosmoline is?" That was my introduction to the Army. I think I made the right decision going into the Marine Corps.
The senior Army officer on the ship stayed in Sasebo and after that a Marine officer was in charge and Marines took over the mess hall. We had three meals a day after that. I think it was a two or three-day trip by ship from Sasebo to Inchon, Korea. The ship's mess hall was small and held only about 500 men at a time. As guys finished their meal and left, others filed in from the chow line. The food wasn't all that good, but when you are hungry, almost anything will do. Could you believe! They even served canned frog legs one time.
The Smell of Incense
We landed in Korea around the first of June 1953. It was daylight, but I'm not sure whether it was morning or afternoon. We landed at the port of Inchon, where everybody arriving in Korea landed. Once we got to shore we could tell we were in a war zone because we saw bombed-out buildings. We went through town and then into Seoul. Once we got into Seoul we knew again that we were in a war theater. All the buildings were bombed out. My first impression of the country was the smell. Like Kobe and Sasebo, once we got outside of the Inchon harbor we could smell the incense. That smell, which was a very, very distinct smell, just permeated the atmosphere.
When we got off the ship we boarded 6x trucks that took us to some kind of staging area. I don’t remember that too well, I think because I got caught up in the fascination of a new country, a new environment. I was always looking around and I didn’t pay much attention to what I saw in the first hours after we landed. I just followed orders. I’ve always been good at that.
They took us up to battalion, where we were not too many miles from the front lines. A sudden halt to the convoy brought more anxious questions as a smoke screen enveloped us. Beyond this point was the actual, real-life front lines and the MLR overlooking Outpost Esther. Because the 6x's were canvas-covered, we couldn't see out too much. But I remember looking up as we approached the front lines. An aircraft, one of our spotter planes, was spotting enemy movement. I saw that plane get shot out of the sky. That was my first introduction to combat. I wasn't frightened. There was a sense of wonderment. Most of us were 21, 22, and 23 years old. At that age you are very brash and you think you're invincible. I think that's one of the reasons why we have success in war. The young just don't have the idea of death. They think it's the other guy that's going to get killed.
The enemy could see us as we entered a "cut" in the hill, and all the way down the other side we were exposed to gook mortar fire. Their five-deuces were murderous. Helter skelter, we bounced down the other side. Arrival, assignment, and then familiarization to the front line life. In the battalion area was another staging area. I forget how many days we were there. It seems to me like it was two weeks, but I’m not sure. I remember that we slept in tents. It was in that staging area that they issued our weapons to us. That was also when they began to make us aware of what we were going to run into when we got up on the front lines. That’s all it really was. An indoctrination into what front line's life was and why we were there. Once we moved up to the front lines we lived in a hootch. This "Statler Hilton" was one room fortified with big oak beams. Its accommodations included four "beds" in bunk bed style--and plenty of rats. Everyone on the front lines slept in hootches. It was not safe to sleep in tents; in fact, I never saw any on the front lines.
I was assigned to How Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Division, 3rd platoon, 2nd squad, 2nd fire team. I was just a grunt--a PFC. I was just a rifleman. When I arrived at my unit, H-3-5 was on Outpost Esther. That was up on the 38th parallel at the DMZ. At this particular time in the Korean War, everything was sort of stabilized and there was very little daylight fighting anymore at all. It was all nighttime fighting. Whenever Marines were going to have a combat patrol, they always came back to where we were and practiced it before they actually had the patrol. They practiced it on terrain that was very similar to where they were going. That helped the guys adjust to it since later they would be on it at nighttime. Sometimes it was so dark that we couldn’t see each other. When we went out on patrol we had to put our hand on another guy's shoulder because we couldn’t see.
The best time for patrols was when the moon was full because we could see all the way across the rice paddies. We couldn't care less that the enemy saw us too so long as we could see them. The reason for that was quite simple. They always knew where we were and when we were going to be there anyway. They got out there ahead of us. Sometimes we passed by them and did not even know it. The other thing was, we could smell each other. We could smell them with their garlic and they could smell us with our Palmolive soap--which is why we learned to use Ivory. It didn't have a smell because it didn't have the perfume in it like the others.
Any time they decided to, the enemy could have wiped us out if they so desired. Of course, we didn’t think of that at the time because we had just taken orders and we didn’t really know what was going on. But as I've gotten older, I have looked back on some of that stuff and realized how ridiculous it was. The night they hit us they could have wiped us out if they wanted—and they almost did.
Just a couple of weeks ago my son asked me how I got my infantry training. I said, "It's called on-site training." All of us Korean War veterans who recently visited Camp Pendleton were very impressed with the training they do there today. There is lots of it. But when I went from the Floating Bridge Company to the Engineers, I had no combat training at all. I got my training in Korea, where I learned to just keep my eyes open and listen. I watched, looked, and listened to learn. I learned on-site.
I learned to keep the safety off of my rifle because we never knew when we would need to fire it. When coming under attack, there wasn't always time to pull the safety off. We learned to make sure our weapon was always clean. Make sure we always have enough ammunition. If we were going out on patrol and they didn’t give us enough grenades, we looked around and stole them. Usually there was not enough ammunition and not enough grenades. That was another thing that was foolish about the war. On Outpost Esther we were looking for grenades but there weren't any. They should have had them all over the place, but we ran out of grenades that day. That’s another story. It's how I got wounded, which is something I'll write more about later in this memoir.
I did not ever see a dead Marine while I was in Korea. I saw dead gooks, but I know that there were dead Marines as well. They were probably lying dead on the trench line. I’m sure they were. I’m sure we ran over some of them, too--both Marines and gooks, because it was dark. The only time we had a light was when they shot the flares off. Although I didn't see dead Marines I knew some of them who died. Just this past week I talked with some of the fellows who were there and some of the situations they were in. In the darkness we didn't know what was going on. We didn't know if there was an enemy just on the outside of us or what. And in the trench lines there was all kinds of clutter. Communication wire. Bodies. The whole place was a mess.
Before any fighting took place there were shrubs in Korea, as well as all these crossed rice paddies. On the east coast there were a lot of big trees. On the west coast it was more barren. Mostly shrubbery. Very, very few tall trees. There were hills of various sizes, and somewhere down below the crest of each hill, depending on what kind it was, there was a trench line all the way around. It might be circular. It might be zigzag.
Trenches had what we called "gates". They had a front gate and a back gate as a means to walk into the trench line. If we were out on patrol and we were getting hit and wanted to get in, we could come back into the trench through the back gate. Generally we would not come up over the hill because if we did, nobody would know who we were and they might shoot at us. So we always tried to come into the gate where there was a guard.
June and July in Korea were hot--very hot. Hot and dry. It could get up to 100 or more degrees. The problem was that we took a shower maybe only once a week. The reason for that is there were times when we couldn't find enough water to take a shower. During those times we just took a sponge bath. It was just a difficult time. To take a shower we had to walk about a mile and a half back to where the shower unit was. In 90 degree weather. we were just as bad off when we came back from a shower as we were when we left to take one. Sometimes the only reason why we went to take a shower was we were hoping that some doggie would show up in his jeep and forget his carbine or Thompson and we would steal it. That’s how we got our automatic weapons. We lived dirty. We ate dirty. Our meals consisted of C-rations. We never ate the native food and we never drank their water. Our water was supplied in water tanks provided by our own supply company.
Two weeks after arriving in Korea I was on Outpost Esther. It was a strategic location only in the sense that, when coming along the MLR (Main Line of Resistance or front line), the high ground was always strategic. We always wanted a high place out in front of us that could become a listening post. If any activity was going to take place against the MLR, then generally they would attack--or at least go by, the outpost first. There was Outpost Esther, Outpost Vegas, Outpost Ginger, etc. These were strung out all along the front of the MLR and helped us to protect it. They were a warning place. There were some high mountains in Korea. Hill 495, for instance, was considered a high mountain. But the outposts weren’t very high. From ground level I doubt if they were any more than 100-150 feet high. Most of the outposts were either named after a movie star or places in Nevada where there were gambling casinos--for instance, Outposts Vegas, Reno and Carson.
Great Impact on My Life
Something happened during the day of July 24, 1953 that had a great impact on my life. While I was temporarily stationed at Camp Geiger for orientation, I became a pretty close buddy to fellow Marine Mo Malinish. We became close buddies when we were traveling overseas together in the same outfit. Back when I was a teen in Massachusetts, I had attended the Assembly of God church in the town of Everett. Someone else who attended that church was a girl named Marilyn Swan. (She was not bad looking, either!) She lived in Malden, about five miles west of Boston. Her mother, Elsa, lived in Los Angeles, California. About 1949, Marilyn moved to L.A. to be near her mother. Both of them were Christians. I was, too, but not a very good one. When Mo and I were in California and soon to be shipped out to Korea, I decided to look up Marilyn. I had her address, so Mo and I went to meet her and her mother. Both of them took us out to show us around L.A. A friendship ensued and when I was in Korea the mother wrote to me.
I received a strange letter from Elsa on the day of July 24--a day during which we had no reason to suspect that there was going to be any trouble later that evening. We had an inkling that maybe the cease fire would be signed pretty soon, but we didn't know when. It could be signed that night or a week or a month later. Nobody knew anything definite. I was standing outside my hootch reading Elsa's letter. The moment is still very clear in my memory. Her letter (which was the only letter I ever got while on the front line) had the question, “Suppose your soul is required tonight?” Instinctively, upon reading the letter I knew that we were going to be in big trouble that night. There was no reason for me to think this as everything had been fairly quiet on the front lines because it was expected that the armistice was close to being signed. But for some reason, I figured that I had better get my life straightened out right there and now. And I did--on that Korean hillside about 1:00 or 1:30 in the afternoon on that same bright and sunny day. I didn't have a pastor or anybody with me. I just figured it had to be between me and Him. I had a talk with God.
A Night to Remember
Later that night several of us were ordered out on patrol duty with Sergeant Butler as our patrol leader. Sergeant Butler, a black man, was a good man to have around. I was the fifth guy from the rear and was assigned to carry two rolls of "com" wire on a pack board. This would be an immortal night that would be indelibly imprinted in detail in the recesses of my memory.
Two or three of us in the patrol were to set up what they called a Listening Post or LP. That was one of the scary kinds because the guys on the LP had to stay there in the shadows so that nobody could see them. They had to hide and just keep their eyes open for enemy activity. The patrol would then go around the whole outpost and pick up the guys on the LP on the way back to the trench line.
Thirteen of us were all lined up at the gate, hell bent for whatever, when all of the sudden, at approximately 2100 hours (a half hour after sunset), all hell broke loose. That was my baptism of fire--the first time that I was personally under fire. The Chinese knew we were going out on patrol. Every night they pretty much had an idea what time frame we were coming and going. They began to surround us with mortars. It's likely that they already had their sentries out there with their radios. They weren't going to engage us in fighting. They were just out to test the probability. When the mortar rounds came in, they came right across our path. They had to block our path to keep us from getting out there, so we hit the deck. When the mortar rounds let up we took off and then the rounds came in heavier. We were given orders that the Outpost was being overrun and we had to get out of there in a hurry and keep it from being overrun. We did and saved the outpost from annihilation.
It's like a little kid said to me a few years ago, "You've got to do what you've got to do." We learned. They're shooting at us? Shoot back. We didn't have the sense that we were taking someone else's life. The thought was, "It's either me or him and it ain't gonna be me." Or, "He killed my buddy so I'm going to get him." Our training taught us to shoot first. We didn't wait to see the whites of their eyes. When we saw a shadow we just shot because we didn't know whether the next bullet would be the one that got us.
At that time it wasn't real dark, but it wasn't real light. It was a fairly clear evening. Off to our right, where heavy weapons company was, mortar rounds and artillery fire were going up all over the place. "Hit the trenches and take cover," came the command from Sergeant Butler. Without hesitation we scrambled. The enemy was hitting the heavy weapons company to try to take them out of action. Heavy Weapons had mortars and heavy water-cooled machine guns, and the Chinese had to destroy them in order to be successful in overcoming the outpost. And they did. They almost literally destroyed Weapons Company. The mortar fire was so bad that the Weapons Company personnel had to get out of there or else they would all be killed.
On the second barrage, we got cut off. The last three guys didn’t make it because they were separated from us due to the intensity of the mortar fire. At that point I was the next to the last guy that made it out of there. Within minutes word came that the outpost was being overrun. "Line up. We've got to get out there and rescue them," we were told. We hastily lined up again and the sergeant yelled, "Let's go! On the double." We hit the darkness on a two-foot wide rice paddy path. After going about fifty yards, again mortar rounds fell all around us. "Hit the deck!" We hit it hard and I became entangled in com wire. The firing eased up. "Let's go." Stumbling in the darkness, we headed off again. More mortars came in--this time it was real bad.
We were totally surrounded by mortar fire but no one got hit. Off to our right the heavy weapons company was in disaster, as the enemy artillery and mortars were accurate. They were getting wiped out. Before total destruction, they abandoned their position. They bugged out, leaving everything behind. They probably took their rifles with them, but the heavy machine guns were too heavy to carry. The enemy fire power was so devastating that if they had stayed there they would have, in fact, been annihilated. That's how accurate the enemy fire was.
Sergeant Butler shouted again, "Hit the deck!" It was dark and scary and the adrenaline flowed in fast pulses. I hit the deck--again hard. I went one way and my helmet and the com wire went in the opposite direction. I was really tangled up in the com wire this time. The squad moved out again and I was scared. I thought, "They aren't leaving me here alone." I untangled myself and left the com wire behind. I was glad I was still not the last guy in line.
We arrived at the outpost confused and anxious, not knowing what to expect. Four of us were in the first fighting hole to the left of the command post (CP) after we entered the gate. The night was lit up with Willy Peter (white phosphorus) rounds. Together we huddled in semi-darkness, regrouping to get reoriented. I remember sitting down and when I put my hand down I felt something cold, strange and hairy. I was sitting on a dead gook. Two-thirds of the outpost had been overrun right up to the CP and we were the rescuers.
Lieutenant Bates returned and informed us that the hill was being overrun and the gooks were coming over the top. "We've got to make a sweep of the top and wipe them out," he informed us. We all volunteered. I wasn't frightened. In certain situations the adrenalin begins to pump and flow and then takes control. This was one of those situations. I remember replying, “Let’s go.” Now when I think back on it I think, “You stupid nut.” But at that time the adrenalin had taken over. I wouldn’t say that it was not fear, but it was a controlled type of fear. I knew that if I was afraid I was going to lose it.
Lieutenant Bates changed his mind and made a call to the MLR. "Have Sergeant Massey strafe the top of the hill with machine gun fire." When I looked up, tracers screamed through the sand bags fourteen inches above our heads. "You're hitting us! You're hitting us! Raise it three clicks!" What a beautiful sight as the tracers streamed overhead. It was murderous. The hill was cleared. It was nighttime but we could swear that it was 12 o'clock noon because off and on the flares lit up and then dimmed down again. "C'mon, you jackasses. Keep those flares going." We moved out with the Lieutenant leading the way, regrouping in a large fighting hole at a bend at the end of a trench line. They were trying to assess the situation: Where are the enemy coming from? How they can best control the situation?
From there the Lieutenant took a fellow by the name of Owen "Skudge" McFarland and me and put us in the very last fighting hole about 30 yards away. Once we got there, anybody that showed up was going to be dead because from there on out it was just all empty air and gooks. Nobody coming into the trench would have been any of ours because they had wiped out that whole area as far as the CP. We only held one bit of the hill by the time the relief patrol got out there.
The Lieutenant left and Skudge and I were left alone in deadly silence. It was frightening as I peered out into the shadowy darkness and spotted movement about 100 feet away. It was quiet and we didn't want to expose ourselves. We were looking out and watching, but the Chinese spotted us anyway. I saw a blob flying through the air and a grenade landed abut five feet out in front and to my right. "Watch out, Skudge," I whispered. "They're throwing hand grenades." This one didn't go off. Another one landed a little closer and it went off before I had time to duck. A split second before the grenade went off, the Lieutenant returned to check on us. The blast flipped me over backwards, half knocking me out. The blast knocked my helmet off and I lost my rifle. I wasn't badly injured. It was mostly concussion. Later on I picked little flecks of powder out of my face. If it had been any closer, it probably would have taken my head off.
The Lieutenant and Skudge presumed I was dead and they took off and left me there. I was not hurt--I was only half knocked out. I was shaking my head to try to figure out what had happened to me when I saw them disappearing down the trench line. I thought, “They’re not leaving me here alone!” My adrenaline rushed again and dazedly I took off after them. Together we hit the fighting hole at the corner. Skudge had blood squirting out of both sides of his nose from a small piece of shrapnel that went right through his nose. Tearing off his T-shirt, I wrapped it around his head to stop the bleeding. (I've had many laughs about this since--it was like a little white flag of surrender saying, "Here I am. Shoot me!")
It was dark out except for the flares. We knew there were more enemy further on out, but we couldn’t see them. It was now about 12:30 p.m. and things were beginning to quiet down, but it was still dangerous. The initial thrust of the enemy had been furious, with many dead and wounded on both sides. However, there were more dead and wounded on their side than ours. They paid a heavy price.
Hunched in the fighting hole, the Lieutenant asked for a volunteer to go to the CP to get more hand grenades. Useless without a weapon (mine was blown out of my hands) or a helmet, I volunteered. I took off running, bent low, and passed that same first fighting hole. For some reason we hadn't left one of our guys in there and a gook had snuck back in there. As I was running past, I heard an ominous, "Buuuuurrrp!" I was hit. Once he pulled the trigger of his burp gun, four bullets went into my right hip and spun me around. I saw a muzzle flash up in front of me so I lay still, playing dead. I found out later that the muzzle flash was from the rifle of one of our guys--a black guy from Georgia named Smitty. He was about 30 feet away when he saw that somebody was shooting at me. He shot the Chinaman and killed him. At the same time Smitty shot the gook, he also shot me through the arm. It was only a flesh wound at the elbow. I had no broken bones. Then, as the Chinaman was dying he must have pulled the trigger of his burp gun again because another bullet entered my left leg. In both cases, just a half of an inch more and bullets would have shattered my arm and my leg. That would have been just the height that the gook would have been.
Looking back, I can relate to what some people say, "like in the movies". I remember thinking in a split second, "Spin around and play dead." And that's just what I did. I didn't know if my guy had killed that gook or not, so I wasn't going to move around too much since I didn't have a weapon to fight with and didn't know exactly where he was. Hearing voices, I recognized one as Smitty. I figured that if I heard his voice, the gook must be dead so I called out, "Smitty, it's me. Hold your fire. I'm coming in." I was hobbling when I met him. I didn't know how badly I was hurt at that time, but the pain was excruciating. My back hurt worse than anything else. I just couldn't go any further. Once I got to Smitty, I knew that I didn't need to go any further. Somebody else could now take over. My adrenalin rush was over.
Where the CP was there was some corrugated roofing material covering the doorway and there was a place I could slip under for cover. I crawled up under there and stayed there. Somewhere around 11:30 to midnight, everything began to peter out. Probably by midnight it was all over. The enemy had lost too many men and they weren't going to go in the outpost because our artillery and some of the tanks had gotten involved and surrounded the hill. Those of us who were in the trench line were locked in with no way out and no way for anybody to come in.
Time passed. We didn't know if the enemy would attack again, but it was relatively quiet and our weapons company kept the flares coming. We stayed there until 4 a.m. and the flares began to dim. At that point I knew that it was pretty safe for us because if the gooks were going to attack it would be murderous for them now that we could see. Before when they attacked it was dark and we couldn't see them or how many of them there were. All got quiet. The gooks didn't take Outpost Esther. We kept it--with the help of anti-aircraft and mortars. The battle was over, but the air was still tense. We had won!
We had what they called idiwa trains. in Korean, "idiwa" means “come here.” We used these trains to take supplies out to the outpost, bring supplies back, etc. They also became stretcher bearers. About 4 o’clock in the morning word was passed down that it was going to be getting light pretty soon and if any of us were wounded and needed to go in for medical assistance we had to go in now. Otherwise we would have to wait until the following night. I didn’t know how badly I was hit, so I figured I had better get out of there. Things were fuzzy for me at that time, but I remember thinking, "These bunch of jokers are going to steal all my stuff." I didn't want them to get my wallet. They could have my clothes, but they couldn't have my wallet because there was money in it. I hobbled out to the hootch and got my stuff. It's uncanny the things you do and think under post-battle conditions. At the words, "Last call," I wobbled to the gate. Mo and I saw each other at the same time. He said, "Is that you, Dick?" I replied, "Yes." He asked, "What have you got for a weapon?" I said, "Nothing. I had mine blown out of my hands." Mo said, "Here, take this grenade."
South or North??
When I got to where the gate was, there was a man laying there on a stretcher. Come to find out, it was Lieutenant Johnson. He had been badly injured--in fact, he was on disability for the rest of his life because of his injuries in Korea. He was quite a Lieutenant. He stood his ground on everything. The decision was made that because the Lieutenant was bad off, we had to get him to a forward aid station and from there send him by ambulance to the field hospital. They couldn't send anyone with us to go back to the aid station because they couldn't spare the manpower in case of another attack. I could at least hobble walk, even though it was painful, so I went back with the Lieutenant and a group of Koreans. There weren't any other Marines in the patrol.
This stretch of the trench line to the forward aid station was unfamiliar to me because I had only been through it once. One of the Koreans knew the way, so off we went into nothingness--a dozen South Koreans (at least I hoped they were South Koreans), a stretcher with a badly-wounded Lieutenant Johnson, and me bringing up the rear. It was dark--real pitch dark blackness, and it was real scary as we crossed the rice paddy to get to the aid station. I wondered, "Has a gook snuck into the line?" A lot of times when the guys went out on an idiwa train patrol with, say, 13 South Koreans, they would come back with maybe 14. In the darkness a gook would sneak in and we wouldn't know it because there was no way of telling if they were North or South Koreans. The South Koreans wouldn’t reveal them for fear the infiltrator would pull a gun and shoot them. Because I didn't really know if I was with North Koreans or South Koreans, that made it even scarier. If they were North Koreans, we were going to die. I didn't have a weapon either--all I had was a hand grenade.
The Koreans kept dropping the Lieutenant. I thought, "They're going to kill this guy. The Lieutenant is shot up and now they're dropping him." So I got angry, swore a few choice words, pushed the two rear stretcher bearers to one side and told them to get out of the way. I threw down the hand grenade, picked up the handles of the stretcher, screamed, "Idiwa shipshaw" and we took off on the run. As I said earlier, it wasn't bravery or anything. It was the situation. The adrenalin started pumping and flowing. The pain was a blur. There are certain things that you've got to do. This was one of them. I didn't know whether I was going to make it across that rice paddy because I couldn't recognize the people I was with. Furthermore, I no longer had a weapon of any kind because my hands were on the stretcher handles.
Years later I talked to the Lieutenant about the trip to the idiwa train. He said, “I was conscious. I remember that very well. You were so angry at them for dropping me that you kicked them in the ass, got them out of the way, and picked up the stretcher and took off.” I thought the Lieutenant was out of it all of the time until we got back those 30 yards from the MLR, but he wasn't.
When we got to the aid station the guys guarding the gate called out, “Who does there?” I had forgotten what the password was because half the time we didn’t use it. I swore and the guard said, "Only an American swears. A Korean can’t." He let me through and that's when I told him that we had wounded and he needed to come out and help us. At that point I just collapsed. I wasn’t needed anymore. That was it.
Inside the aid station we were greeted by a doctor and a chaplain. The corpsman looked at me and saw that nothing was life threatening and that I was okay. The Lieutenant was bad off. Probably he was still bleeding and they had to put on compresses and that stuff to stop the bleeding. While they were attending to the Lieutenant, the chaplain asked me if I wanted to send a letter home. I thought, "Boy, if my mother gets a telegram stating that I am wounded, she's going to be worried." Remember what happened to my brother in World War II. So I wrote a quick letter to my mother to let her know that I was wounded, it was just a flesh wound, and that I was alright. Later I found out that she got my letter just hours before a telegram arrived informing her that I had been wounded in action.
We were taken back to a military hospital via ground ambulance. Because it was nighttime they couldn't use a helicopter. At the field hospital, I was left outside for seemingly hours while they waited on the Lieutenant and other worse cases. I must have lain there until the following night or pretty close to that because I remember some of the guys from my squad came in over the next few hours. They took some of them with minor wounds. In fact I was kind of disgusted with some of them because they were wounded because they had tripped over something and cut themselves. I thought, "Here’s me all shot up and they’ve got a little scrape." But it was a legitimate "combat wound" and they were going to get the Purple Heart. That sort of turned me off because there was someone like the Lieutenant or some of the others that were in bad shape.
It’s amazing how indelibly things get imprinted in one's mind. I can remember laying there that night on a regular folding military cot. I remember looking at this other fellow that they were going to operate on. They had a needle—it’s not an exaggeration, it was about a foot long, and it was curved. I remember thinking, “I hope they don’t stick that thing into me.” But that’s exactly what they did once they took me to the operating room. They had to get in me because they didn’t know how many or how deep the bullets were. They didn’t have X-rays like they have today. They put me the table, stuck that thing in me, and began to operate.
They removed three bullets from my right hip and one from my left leg. The one in my right arm went straight through without hitting any bones. I still have one bullet in me that they didn't take out. The only reason why I know I have one in there now is because about five months ago I had to go for a CT scan of the pelvic area. The technician came out and said, “Mr. Pelley, have you ever been shot?” I said, “You mean wounded?” She said, “Yeh.” I told her that I was wounded in Korea. She showed me the X-ray and said, “You still have a bullet in you.” It's about the size of my little finger--about the size of what a burp gun bullet was. All these years later, scar tissue has formed around the bullet. The technician said, “It’s never bothered you all this time so it doesn’t make any sense to take it out now.” So it's still there. I think the reason why they left one in there at the aid station is because the anesthesia evidently didn’t take in deep enough. As the surgery went on I became partially conscious. The pain was excruciating, so they stopped the operation.
From the field hospital I was taken on an ambulance ride to the coast where I then went on a boat trip to the hospital ship USS Haven. A week later I was transferred to the hospital ship USS Repose. Another week and a half later I was sent ashore to a recuperation hospital.
Only ten of the guys on the patrol made it out of Outpost Esther on the night of July 24. How many all total got killed from that I don’t know. I do know this. Either the next day or two days after that, they did a head count of how many guys were left out of that whole squad of 15-16 that was out there--the squad, plus the Lieutenant, plus the sergeants. There were three lieutenants out there and a couple of corpsmen, so there were only about 30 guarding that outpost, plus the relief squad of ten, making a total of about 40 Marines. Those men, plus the relief squad that came out, probably brought the total up to 25 or 30 people. The figure of how many of our guys were killed was somewhere between 12 to 14. The rest were wounded. It is a real wonder any of us survived, as we were outnumbered eight to one. It was the "box me in" fire that kept the gooks from penetrating any further. Their loss of life was horrendous. Where we lost 12 guys, the enemy lost 185 counted dead--not counting the untold wounded and other dead that they carried away.
We were attacked by a battalion piecemeal and the Marines came out the winners. The Marines are that. The enemy's tactics were to send in the first wave with weapons. The second wave and so forth would pick up the weapons from the fallen dead and fight with those weapons. They didn't value life the way we did.
One of the guys who was wounded was my buddy, George "Mo" Malinish. I met Mo when I was in the Engineers at Camp Geiger at Camp Lejeune. We were not friends then, but when we found out that we were going to the same outfit, a friendship began. Mo was guarding the gate with his Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) when he looked out and saw five gooks creeping up toward where he was. When he got up to try to shoot at them, his BAR jam-cocked. Any weapon will jam if it gets dirt in it. When running back and forth in the trench line it was easy to get dirt in our weapons. When Mo's weapon failed he just snuck back down in the shadows so the Chinese couldn't see him. They didn't come that close to look down in the trench line. Mo later said, "They came out, looked at me, turned around and walked away."
Mo became a casualty during the nighttime fighting that night when our side sent up white phosphorous flares to light up the sky. Some of it landed on Mo and burnt his arm. White phosphorus burns the skin and it hurts like hell. Usually the only way to put it out was by mud. In Mo's case, as it was only a small piece, it burned itself out. He could have gone to an aid station for treatment and received a Purple Heart for it, but Mo later told me, “No. I saw too many guys who were worse wounded than I was. I only had a few burns.” As for why Mo thought I was dead, I was a rifleman in the most dangerous place on the hill nearest the enemy side that night. Beyond that there was nothing but Chinese gooks. With all the fighting going on, Mo thought that I was dead. What caused him to think that was because of an accident that had happened earlier that night with a flame thrower. When two-thirds of the outpost was overrun, we had to clean the enemy out of the trenches. They put a guy on the flame thrower who had never operated it before. It wasn't his normally-assigned job. He cleared a lot of the trenches, but a stray bullet hit the tank, it blew up, and he burned to death. Mo thought the flame thrower was me.
Thinking Back on OP Esther
A lot of people think that on July 24, 1953, the war was basically over. But it wasn't. It's my understanding that there were a few other outposts that were attacked around this same time. I’m not convinced that the people on the front line knew anything about the immediate cease fire. I mean, generally the higher-ups wouldn’t tell a company commander. They might tell Battalion or Regiment—probably Regiment, but we were just grunts. We didn’t know anything. Word did not come down. I don’t remember the cease fire, although they probably told us in the aid station when it happened.
In dealing with both the Chinese and the North Koreans, I came to realize that they were a master at their strategy until they got their way. That’s what they got in Korea. They got their way. They got their way in Vietnam and in Korea. I talked to a lot of fellows this past weekend and I made the comment to them that Korea was a prelude to Vietnam. They said, “You’re exactly right.” We lost the will to win in Korea. That’s why MacArthur was so good. He was a genius—not only a military genius, but he was a genius in that he knew the Eastern mind. He knew the Oriental mind. That’s why he was such a success. The government of this country even today doesn’t understand the foreign mindset. MacArthur understood that Easterners were dogged. They would not give up until they got what they wanted. Even today they will always get more than what they give us. The other side of the coin is that life doesn’t have the same value to them that it does to the Western mind. Kamikazes died for the glory of the emperor because the life after was supposedly better than the life they lived now. MacArthur understood that. That’s why he didn’t want to give in. That’s why he wanted to go to the Yalu and destroy their supply depots. Truman didn’t understand that. MacArthur did. The only way to beat the Oriental mindset is to whip them PERIOD. If you don’t whip them, you’ve already lost. If you search out Vietnam you’ll find out the same thing. Same philosophy.
The battle at Outpost Esther on July 24, 1953 was a disaster for a couple of reasons. First, our philosophy of war was wrong and so we didn’t stand a chance of winning. The philosophy was to just contain it. You don’t need to win it--just exhaust them if you can. China has over a billion people. Of course, there weren't a billion in 1953, but nevertheless we were not going to exhaust China. It was also a disaster in the fact that it was a waste of time. We had no desire to win. We wanted a truce. In fact, the war in Korea isn’t over today. That was the mindset in Washington at the time. To some degree I understand it because it was so very close to World War II. Those were the glory days. World War I--that was a time of decision. "The doughboys are out. Bring the boys home." That was the cry. "Bring the boys home." So at the time of the Korean War, the country really didn’t want another war and I think Truman bought into that. It’s my conviction, and the conviction of a lot of people that were in the Korean War, that if we had fought to win it we could have won. The Oriental mindset was, "We have a billion people and we don’t care if we lose some. So we lose ten million. No big deal."
The only thing that flashed through my mind while I was in Korea was survival. Kill before I’m killed. All I was doing was looking out for the enemy. I didn't really think about the fact that my brother had been killed in combat during World War II. I do remember how dark it was and how when the flares died down everybody yelled, “Get those flares going.” If a shadow came down the trench line, we wouldn't know who it was. We would just take a shot and hope it was not one of our guys. I don’t think it ever was, but I don’t know. The best way I can describe it is that we were trying to control the confusion.
One guy died that night—Andrews, because of confusion. There were four guys--Dixon, Lieutenant Johnson, Ed Murray, and another fellow by the name of Gary G. Andrews. I met three of them out there. At the height of the battle they formed a circle, each one looking in a different direction so that they covered all the areas. If anybody was coming they weren’t going to get caught blindsided. They had just thrown a grenade over the other side of the trench line. At the same time, the enemy threw a grenade into their circle and it landed in the middle of them. It got all four of them. The Lieutenant was badly wounded and Dixon got a stomach wound. He had to hold his stomach together. Ed Murray was wounded, too. Andrews had his leg blown off. In the confusion nobody knew what was going on. Andrews was crying out, “I’m hurt. I’m hurt. Help me.” They went to drag him, but when they did his leg came off in one of the guy's hands and Andrews bled to death. Nobody knew what to do--whether to attend to him or to watch out for fear they were also going to get shot by the enemy. The corpsman was tending to other people that had already been wounded. His name was O'Rourke. Our group of veterans have since tried to find O'Rourke to attend one of our reunions, but we don't know where he is. That night O'Rourke was one of two corpsmen in our group. I don't remember the other one's name. O'Rourke was a tremendous corpsman. Usually he didn’t go out on the trench line because they brought people to him in the CP. That’s where they brought the Lieutenant so the corpsmen could took care of him there that night.
KIA - Outpost Esther - Partial List
Hums, Eugene H. CPL 1170343 Philadelphia, PA July 24, 1953 KIA Outpost Esther
Recovery and Return
I spent five weeks recovering on hospital ships and in field hospitals. I believe the first hospital ship was the USS Haven. I was on the Haven for about a week and a half to two weeks. I was wounded badly enough to be sent to Japan or stateside for medical treatment, so they transferred me to the USS Repose when the Haven shipped out. After about a week and a half that ship was scheduled to pull out, too, so I was supposed to be transferred to the Danish hospital ship Jutlandia. They put me and other recovering casualties on a boat and took us out to it, but word came down from the Captain that the manifesto had been closed and he wasn’t taking anybody else onboard. Looking back now, I’m glad they wouldn't take us onboard because the Jutlandia was headed to Japan. I would have had to spend the rest of my tour of duty in Japan. Instead, they sent me back to Korea to a field hospital for recuperation. I think I stayed at each place for about a week and a half. It was five weeks altogether.
The final place I was sent was to a field hospital in Korea called Ascom City. The hospital was a building, not a tent, if I recall correctly. They left me there for recuperation because the bullet wound I received was so deep that they had to keep taking bandages out and, it would always get infected and wouldn't heal. Slowly they kept pulling the bandages out further and further until the wound healed from the inside out.
For about the last week or so I had to get up and walk around. That I didn’t like. I had to walk over to the mess hall. Before, they brought my food to me. Once I could walk around and recuperate, strength come back to my legs and then they sent me back up to my outfit, which had pulled back somewhere around 2,000 meters to a new location. I remember some of that quite vividly because they put us on a train that went two miles forward and one mile back. Two miles forward and one mile. It had hard wooden seats. Three hard wooden seats. Finally we got up to where the battalion area was and battalion then took us up to company on trucks. Company took us on to where my platoon was.
I was still with H-3-5 and glad I was, that's for sure. By this time the war was over. The armistice had been signed on July 27, 1953. When I got back to my outfit it was sometime in September. My outfit had set up new front lines below the 38th parallel. The 38th parallel marked the dividing line between North and South Korea. They put me back out on another outpost with the third squad. It had the same purpose as before—just a forward listening post. There we spent time building and digging a group of trenches. Even though the war was "over", we were still preparing just in case it actually wasn't. There was no actual peace treaty--and still isn't today.
Forward Marine life when there was no combat was certainly better than when there was fighting going on. I was more sure that we were secure, although we still had the fear that there could be further attacks. There were no casualties in my outfit after the cease fire to my knowledge. The night I got hit was the last night we had any kind of fighting. I had no after effects from my injury, as it was just flesh wounds. No bones had been hit. I was 100 percent up to the job. I didn't have to make any adjustments to being back on the front lines--being in the hospital had not been "the good life."
I met up with my good buddy Mo again. When I came off the hospital ship he helped me out. I was discouraged because all I had was the clothes on my back and they weren’t going to replace them unless I bought them. I thought, "This isn’t right." Mo was in supply and he asked me if I needed any clothes. I said, "I need all of it." When he asked me what size I wore, I told him, "36, 34, 43". I went back a week later and I had all the clothes I needed. We were still under combat pay even though there was no war going on, so word came down from the Colonel that from now on we were going to have to buy our own clothes. I said to him, “My guys will never buy new clothes.” The Lieutenant said, “What do you mean?” Just what I said. When he asked me, “What are you going to do?” I said, “That’s my problem.” He didn’t know that I had a buddy in supply. When we went down to get boots I put two or three guys out to pay for their pairs of boot and keep the front desk busy while the rest of us stole more boots from out back. Then we divided the cost of the boots that were paid for.
Adam's Apple Officer
We had one Lieutenant whose name I won’t mention in this memoir. He was six-foot-two, a big tall gangly guy with a big Adam’s apple sticking out that made him look like a vulture. He was not only gung ho, he was self-centered. I made up my mind that if we ever went back into battle he was going to be the first casualty. Before he got us all killed I was going to shoot him in the leg and get him out of there because he would have got us all killed. Let me explain. One time we went out on maneuvers. We had to hike back seven miles to the company area. I was just squad leader. Sergeant Shields was the platoon sergeant. The Lieutenant wanted to set a time record to beat out the other platoons, so he let everybody know this and he said that we were going to take off double-time. So he took off. Before we knew it, he was a half a mile ahead of everybody. We were all still moving along. We had to come around a hill and go up into the company area. When we come to this certain location the Lieutenant was out of sight. We didn’t know where he was. He was somewhere around the bend in the road and we were still stuck way back. Sergeant Shields said, “I know a short cut that will save us about 3/4 of a mile. Let’s take it.” So we cut across the hill through a path that was there and sure enough, about 40 yards in front of us was the Lieutenant. When he turned around and saw us he was one mad dude--but he had a problem. Sergeant Shields had seen a lot of combat so the Lieutenant didn’t dare say a word. So we got him. But his face is red.
Just in the platoon area, every time we passed him we had to salute him. Some of the officers required that, but when he was coming back from company and we were coming up the road and walked by him, we had to salute in the platoon area. All day long we were saluting this character.
But what really ticked him off was when we were out on maneuvers one time and he was drawing out a diagram in the dirt of what we were going to do. There were three attacks that we were going to have to take. I was considered to have the best squad, so after he drew that diagram he said, “Now Corporal Pelley you’re going to pull all three attacks with your support.” And then he said, “Is there any questions?” I looked at Sergeant Shields and grinned. He looked at me and grinned. And then I said, “Yes, Lieutenant. There is a problem.” He said, “What is it corporal?” I told him, “You can’t do it.” He started to turn red at that and his Adam's apple began to jiggle. I said, “Sir, you want to simulate real battlefield conditions? After the first attack we’ll lose some of my guys. After the second attack we’ll lose all of my guys. We won’t have anybody left for the third attack.” I told him that right in front of forty guys. He turned as red as a beet, sputtered and fumed, and then said, “Okay, okay. What you can do is you can lay down the base of fire for the first attack, but then I want you to do the last two.” I thought, “This is still stupid, but I can’t embarrass him again.”
The first attack was all mapped out. The second attack was up the hill. So we did it. After we pulled the second attack up that steep, high hill, everybody was pooped and winded. We regrouped, went around the other mound, put the guys in position, and made the attack. We all took off yelling and screaming. Unfortunately, I ran up and over what we later discovered was a tank trap. I fell down into it and got myself knocked out. The guys didn't know what to do so they just stood around. When it was all over the Lieutenant came back and he was furious. “The major up on that hill is madder than a wet hen because you didn’t do this right. You were supposed to regroup the guys and send them for counter attack.” I explained to him, “Well, Sir, what happened was we were simulating real battlefield conditions and I went up over this mound not realizing it was a tank trap and I fell down in it and knocked myself out.” When I explained what happened the Major was happy and my guys were happy too because we didn’t have to do it all over again.
This particular lieutenant wasn’t fit to wear the uniform. When he got transferred and I was the platoon sergeant he asked me to go to his tent to get his gear and have it all sent over. I knocked on the door and went inside his tent to tell the other lieutenants what I was doing. I looked on the side of his bed and he had a wooden-handled case. I said, “This takes the cake. He’s got a big 7x11 picture of himself in his Boy Scout uniform next to his sack in Korea. This says it all. This man’s got more ego than anybody else in this whole compound.” A 7x11 picture of himself as a Boy Scout over in Korea next to his sack! I would be ashamed to do it.
Spies and Prostitutes
After the war ceased we did not have the opportunity to see how the natives lived. We weren’t allowed to fraternize with them. In our company area we had some South Korean girls that came in to wash our clothes once in a while. We could never tell how old they were. If they looked 14, they were probably 19, and if they looked 40 or 50, they were probably 60. The older they got, the older they looked. The younger they were, the younger they looked. Word came around that some of them were suspected of being spies, so battalion regiment stopped them from coming in to do our laundry. From then on we had to wash our own clothes.
The one time that I did have a chance to see how the natives lived was once when we passed through a Korean town. I was being transported in a 6x truck after release from the hospital. I didn't take much notice of my surroundings as the truck had a canvas cover and I couldn't see out too well. Other than that, I had very little contact with Koreans.
Later on after I was promoted to sergeant, I became a platoon sergeant. I had a Mexican in my platoon named "Chico" who I promoted to Squad Leader. Some of the guys got angry at that because they didn't like the idea that I had promoted a Mexican. I said, "Well you guys, listen. That's fair. Why shouldn't I promote him? If you could do as good as he does, I would promote you." Chico was a good squad leader but he did have one problem. Prostitutes got into Marine areas all over the place. Chico used to sneak over the fence to hook up with them. I said, “Chico, you’re crazy.” He said, “Why?” I told him, “For five minutes of pleasure you could end up destroying your whole life. Do you realize how much disease is out there? These people have had it for thousands of years. To some extent they’re almost immune to it. If you catch something, you'll ruin your whole life. It’s not worth it.” Finally after the third time sneaking over the fence, he came to me and said, “You’re right.” So he stopped it. (Supposedly.) He took my advice because of potential disease and never did it again to my knowledge. We had a staff sergeant who didn't heed my advice, however. He came down with the clap. He made the mistake of telling his wife and she divorced him. They had a three-year old daughter. I never went over the fence. For what? Nothing but trouble.
One time we all got quite angry because we had just finished digging all new trenches and everything was all nice when we were pulled back again a second time. Basically we were doing some maneuvers and that type of thing. Life was pretty easy. Then suddenly they pulled us back to another area to dig trenches where some other guys hadn’t finished. That was all wrong. Those guys took our place in the trenches we had just finished digging. Our guys figured, "This isn’t right." I don’t know why the higher ups did this. They did such stupid things sometimes. The best thing that happened at the new place was the Adam's apple lieutenant was transferred and 2nd Lieutenant Scott became the platoon leader. He was a great guy who came up from the ranks of Staff Sergeant.
After they pulled us back and we were in the process of digging some trenches (I wasn’t, because I was the platoon sergeant at that time), one of the guys came over to me and said, “Sergeant, we’ve got a problem. We’ve got three girls (prostitutes) and their pimp over here. They’re asking all kinds of strange questions.” When I asked him, "What kind of questions?", he said, “Well, they’re asking us military-type questions. How many are in our outfit? What are we doing here? Who’s the captain? Is this a regiment?” I then went to the Lieutenant and told him what was going on. The Lieutenant called up battalion. Battalion called G-2, and G-2 said, “Snap them up.”
The Lieutenant worked out a plan that he would take his bars off and act like a private and I would act like I was in charge. I was supposed to act like I was coming to get a prostitute. We all got into position and the Lieutenant said, “When I give the word, everybody grab somebody.” We acted like we were bonding with them. "Give us this and we’ll give you that." But all we were doing was setting them up so they wouldn’t recognize us. Once we got into position, the Lieutenant gave the word, “Grab ‘em.” You talk about chaos! I grabbed a-hold of two girls and they were petrified. They didn’t know whether we were going to rape them or what was going on. They were really scared. Two of them started dragging me down the hill--and it was steep one. We were tumbling and rolling and finally one of them broke loose. I still had hold of the other girl. Finally a bush stopped us. It was sure a laughable sight. There were five girls all total. Two of them got away, but we captured the other three. They were petrified. G-2 came out, took them, interrogated them, and found out that they were spies. They turned them over to the ROK army. The ROK army didn’t show any mercy. I don't know what happened to them, but I don't think it was pretty. They probably beat those girls to a pulp and then sent them on their way. That was the usual treatment to keep them from ever becoming spies again.
Guarding the Gate
There were South Korean Marines and a ROK army, but I didn’t serve with them. They were in other locations. I never served with another nationality in Korea. There were Turks, but the only time I ever saw them was quite a while after the cease fire when they were letting the prisoners go. During the Korean War we had North Korean and Chinese prisoners in our prison camps and they had some of our guys in their prison camps. The release of prisoners from both sides was agreed to in the armistice talks. I am not sure how the actual exchange was done because I didn't see any of them. My platoon was in a forward area near where the exchange took place in case there were riots or such. The other side had a lot of troublemakers and it was our job to deal with any problems if they occurred, although nothing ever happened.
North Korean prisoners were going back home and our prisoners were coming back home. I believe this happened about October or November 1953. I know that I was a squad leader at the time. I had gotten promoted to Corporal. It was my squad that was up on the gate, which was nothing but a squad tent on the side of the road and a guard shack. The UN forces went back and forth between our prison camp and Panmunjom and that's when I saw the Turks. They were mean looking. That’s the only time I saw any kind of foreign troops at that point. That was interesting for me. It’s a part of history. I found out just over this past weekend that one of the other squads was actually at the prison compound when the prisoners were going to be released. But my squad were there on the gate.
It was my responsibility to every hour on the hour go up on the hill with field glasses and look over into Panmunjom. The G-2 wanted what they called a "Traffic Report"—trucks or jeeps or vehicles coming and going, because they wanted to try to get some kind of an estimate of when the turncoats—at that time I believe there were seven of them, were going to be headed north. G-2 was expecting trouble when the prisoners were released but everything went off without a hitch. The turncoats were staying in a couple of one-story buildings made out of cement blocks and painted a light yellow. (I guess the yellow stood for the turncoats?!?) That was near where Outpost Marilyn Monroe was. We passed right by that. I believe that that was about the last outpost of any significance in that area, so that was a little bit of history to be involved in.
The "turncoats" were seven or eight of our guys who had been brainwashed by the enemy and didn't want to return home. They were hillbillies from Tennessee or Arkansas who were promised "the good life" (wives, et al) if they would remain in North Korea. They bought into that. They were not interrogated about their decision. They were kept at Panmunjom and then they were transferred to someplace in North Korea. They just left. I am not sure when, but after a few years some of them decided to come back home after all.
Probably the worst of all the living conditions in Korea was the cold. The cold was dry and there was not much snow, but it was bitter cold. We were outdoors all the time. We lived outside. The only time we were inside was when we went to bed at night. Everything took place outside so we were always cold. The boots we had were not like the equipment that Marines have today. During the Korean War they issued regular boots (we called them "Mickey Mouse boots") and woolen socks to us, but after walking a hundred yards our feet were sweating so much that we were uncomfortable. Our feet were always cold. That was the biggest discomfort I had, but I was a survivor. The rest of it I could handle. I looked after my troops to try to make the bad conditions easier for them.
For example, when I was a corporal and lived in the squad tent, it had flaps on it as doors. We had to keep tying the flaps to keep them closed because every time somebody came in they would open that up and the wind and snow would blow in--followed by cursing and swearing. I said, “Listen guys. We can’t do that. I’ll tell you what I want you to do. Whenever you go over to the shower unit to take a shower, I want you to come back with a floor board.” They had these pallets that we took our shower on so we wouldn’t be taking it in the mud. As the guys came back with a floor board, we made a wooden door, using pieces from a web belt for hinges. Billy Melvin's squad down below us thought this was a great idea so they started stealing floor boards, too. The only problem now was the shower unit was wondering where their floor boards were disappearing to so they were on the lookout. You guessed it--the 1st Squad got caught!
Another time when we went on maneuvers, Billy Melvin said to me, "You guys are never hungry. You always have enough to eat. How come?" I wouldn't tell him that when I was going out on maneuvers I over-requisitioned food. If I had 13 guys going out, I put in a requisition for 17 or 18. I never got caught.
While he was still working in supply, Mo asked me if I needed any extra fuel because the winter was cold. In order to get an extra barrel of gas, he told me that I would need a truck so I had to get the Top Sergeant involved. I asked the Top if he wanted some gas and fuel oil. When he asked me where I was going to get it I told him, "No questions asked. You want it?" He said he did and got me a truck. As a result, we got an extra barrel of fuel oil and one of gas--Top got the fuel and we shared the gas. I was his best buddy for the rest of my tour. He even got me three trips to Japan. Hey! This is what Marines do! Those were just some ways that I took care of my troops. That shortage of hand grenades on Outpost Esther taught me never to be caught short again. I never was, either.
I spent a Christmas in Korea in 1953. It was the same as any other day. All holidays were the same in Korea--nothing much. The only celebration was acknowledging that the day was a holiday, and then we went about our regular day. We did have dressing and everything else on Christmas Day, but the turkey was lousy because it was so tough. We didn't have a Christmas tree. I got nothing from home. (Although a month later I did get a Dear John letter from my girlfriend back home. She had been my girlfriend since before I joined the Marine Corps.) The company area was to the rear about a mile. 1st and 2nd Platoons were located closer to what were the new front lines. The 3rd Platoon was located at Company for protection purposes. We were away from Company eyesight and not in the company area, so we didn't sit down in the company mess hall. They brought it out to us in canteen type things that were round and tall and had different compartments--one for turkey, one for potatoes, one for grave. The canteens were supposed to keep the food warm but we never got hot meals in the field. Now, if we went into the company mess hall, that was different. We could sit down and have hot food. But we didn't have company mess halls where we were. Up on the front lines where we were, we got Chuckles. That was a little joke--we could swap one licorice Chuckle for two Hershey bars and the rest of the Chuckles we threw away. The rest of the food wasn't great, but we survived.
As to entertainment, I never had the opportunity to go to a USO show while I was in Korea. The only kind of entertainment I recall was in Pendleton just before we shipped out. Some of Red Skelton's gang (but not Red Skelton) entertained us. There was a musician who played whacky stuff. I can't remember his name. In Korea we were entertained by a Marine named Lowell Pyatt from Lookout, West Virginia, who had a guitar. He brought the guitar with him from the States and used to play it for us. That was our company entertainment. He was killed in a Mine School accident that will be mentioned later in this memoir.
R&R Times Three
Once the war was over almost everyone stationed in Korea got R&R. I happened to get it three times because I did some major favors for the top sergeant and also because my platoon was considered to be the best managed in the company. I had three days of R&R twice and a seven-day R&R once. All three times I went by plane to Japan--a country that was much more civilized and clean than Korea, staying in the same places. A whole bunch of other guys from different companies went on R&R the same time I did. We chased women (although we didn't have to chase them because they were waiting for us), but I will remain silent on what else we did!
We had one guy that I busted. He was a corporal. When we went out on patrols and that, I always checked up on all the guys to see how they were doing. One time I went back to check and the squad leader wasn’t there. I said, “Where’s so and so?” They said, “He said he couldn’t keep up.” I went about a hundred yards back and there he was. I said, “What’s up? How come you’re not up leading your troops?” He said, “I can’t keep up.” I gave him just one warning: "The next time I come back to check, you either be up in front of your troops or I’ll kick your rear-end from here to there until you are.” Of course, I couldn’t do that today or I would get court-marshaled. But we could do a lot of things back then. When I went back again about a half an hour later, he was still straying back. I kicked his rear-end and I said, “You’re out of it. You’re getting busted. I will not have somebody like you leading my men."
An Army Moment
When we pulled back from the front lines after the cease fire, there was a small Army unit up on the top of the hill to our right. When I was a squad leader my squad area was down in front of them. The Army guys had built a big embankment up there to house twin 40s--two 20mm cannons. (Instead of a 40mm they called it a twin 40.) Because it was in our area, our battalion commander had control over them. When they built that whole big bunker they built it about eight feet above the top of the hill. There was one rice paddy up to the side of the outpost and they could see across it for at least ten miles.
Our colonel came out mad as a wet hen. He said to them, “If you think you’re getting my guys killed, you’ve got another think coming. You tear that thing down and you rebuild it. You make sure it’s only two feet above the ground so they can’t spot it.” Oh, they were mad! But they tore it all down and rebuilt it. After they rebuilt it they put in a half track quad 50. (That was four 50-caliber machine guns firing simultaneously.) Their orders were that if the enemy attacked they were to fire off so many rounds, destroy the equipment, and get out of there. We thought, “How stupid can you get? That thing can drive faster than they can run.” But that’s what their orders were. We didn’t associate very much with the Army guys. They came down and ate our chow, but that’s about all we had to do with them.
I will say this for the Army. We had one instance that did the Army proud. In the spring of 1954 I was sent back to NCO School and at the same time, another fellow in one of my squads--the squad that I had been in charge of, was sent back to go to Mine School. His name was Pyatt. We went back, way back to the rear to regiment. I went to NCO school, which met in a Quonset. The other guy from my squad was next door in another Quonset hut for Mine School.
We were sitting there in our NCO School Quonset hut going through a lecture when all of a sudden there was a big, loud noise. The minute I heard it and saw shrapnel coming through our Quonset, I knew what it was. I grabbed one of the guys in our Quonset and said, “Follow me.” We took off and out the door and came in the end of the other Quonset hut. I was the first one inside that Quonset hut after the explosion. What devastation and acrid smell. Bodies everywhere. I still can't get it out of my mind. It was worse than what I saw on the frontlines. It was pure disaster. The instructor had dropped a mortar. Out of 44 guys--all Marines, only three came out without a scratch. Seven got killed, one of whom was Lowell Pyatt, the guy from my outfit.
The instructor was a corporal who loved getting out into the field where the mines were and digging for them. He was crazy for them. As I understand the story, somebody asked him if that gook mortar would go off if he dropped it. He said, “No, because the firing pin has been taken out.” Well, a lot of the enemy explosives were very unstable. Sometimes their grenades would go off and sometimes they wouldn’t. Sometimes their burp guns would fire. Sometimes they wouldn’t. They had very inferior equipment. Sometimes if it got moist, it got very unstable. Evidently that’s what happened. He had taken the firing pin out and when he dropped it, it went off. Something in that explosive was unstable. It's like charcoal. You can put it out to dry over a period of time, but it can catch on fire from the moisture by spontaneous combustion. So the mortar went off.
The corporal in charge of the Mine School was a mess. He was lying there on the ground with his legs blown off. It was literally like Swiss cheese. He was still conscious, so I had some fellows hold his shoulders and keep him pinned down so he couldn’t get up while I put tourniquets on him. He said, “I want to see. I want to see.” Somebody let go of his shoulders. He looked up, saw what had happened, and just passed out. I understand that he lived through it, but he became a mental case and they had to put him in a mental hospital.
My guy, Pyatt, the guitar-playing kid, was sitting in the front row and he was killed outright. He was from my squad and he was a great kid. His body definitely was recovered. He was not blown to bits. I saw him. I was there. There was a big investigation over that incident by a General himself. I forget his name, but if I heard it I would know. It was more the blast itself from only about three or four feet away. Pyatt was seated on the front row right in front of the corporal who dropped the gook mortar. I believe it was what we called a four-deuce. This is one of the haunting memories of my time in Korea. I still see the picture of it in my mind. I was the first one to enter the Quonset hut after the blast. Bodies strewn all over the place. Remember, out of 43 guys only three didn't get a scratch. The one regret I have during my time in Korea is not going to see Pyatt's family after I got home. I know he was a hillbilly. Always played that kind of music on his guitar. This year I found out that Lowell Pyatt's body was returned to West Virginia and he was buried in the "End of the Trail Cemetery" between Raynell and Lewisburg.
I don't have any further information about the mine explosion. I do remember treating a bunch of guys by putting on tourniquets. One guy had severe stomach wounds. While treating him, mostly by comforting him, he complained of stomach pains and a staff sergeant who was helping began to rub the guy's stomach to help ease the pain. Absolutely stupid. I had to tell him to knock it off. We was just rubbing the shrapnel in deeper.
Getting back to the Army, just across the parade ground about 60 yards was where the Navy corpsmen were. They heard it go off and they all came running--but without any medical supplies. Nothing. They just came in to see what the explosion was. About 200 yards away, where the Army medics were, they had heard it, too. They came running fully loaded with all kinds of medical stuff. If it wasn’t for them, more guys might have died that day. I thought, "The Army’s finally done something right." Their medics were pretty good. The Navy corpsman were also good, although this time they didn't have any supplies to help the wounded. Corpsmen were as good as any Marine. They had a thankless job because they were operating without any protection. They had a .45, but their hands were occupied with taking care of wounded.
When we pulled back again the second time, I hated the humdrum boredom of getting back in the normal military routine. Bivouac. Maneuvers. That kind of stuff. I knew about a week ahead of time that I was finally going to get to go home. I was not only glad, I was double-glad to get out of there. Anybody would be. There was nothing over there. Rice paddies and hills and dirt roads, that was all. I didn't drink, so I didn't go down to what we called the Slop Chute and have a few beers a night. That didn't interest me. Some of the other guys went there, but at that they were only allowed three beers a night. Absolutely nobody was ever allowed to get drunk.
I don't say this boastingly, but I considered myself (and others did, too) to have the best platoon in the company. I was platoon leader of the Third Platoon and when it came time to do the special things that we had to do--marches, packs, clean area, inspection and all of that, Third Platoon won the company flag twice. We got to fly the "Horrible Hog" flag over our platoon area for a month each time. I was ready to win it the third time, which was unheard of, but I left before the inspection. I had a good bunch of guys. A couple of guys didn't like me, but all the others did. I talked to the colonel about this last week. I said to him, “You know, I’ve always had the philosophy that if you take care of the troops, the troops will take care of you.” And that’s how I ran my platoon. That’s how I ran my squad. I always took care of them. I saw that they were well taken care of. If we went out on a march I was always up and down the column. I wouldn’t do it all the time, but I often went back and checked on them to see how they were doing. Then I walked back up to the front leading again.
Before I left Korea, I was in my tent when there was a knock on the door. (I lived with the rest of the sergeants as we were separated from the rest of the troops.) I looked up and there were three guys, two with a rifle and one with a flag. They said, “Sergeant, we need you outside the compound.” There was a flag area where we used to gather for formation. They marched me down there where they had the whole platoon lined up. They all had clean clothes on and their rifles were cleaned. They presented me to the troops and then presented me with a watch. Then they put it on. That never happens. I lost that watch about ten years after I was home, but I was pretty proud of it. Leaving those guys behind to come home was an emotional time for me. I had some good guys over there. I've still got some pictures of them and I've got a piece of flack jacket with their names written on it. I wouldn't have hesitated to go back into battle with most of those guys. There were a couple of them that I had to keep my eyes on, but most of the others knew what they were doing.
When it was time to go they took us back to Inchon by truck. I didn't have a weapon, but that didn't bother me. We were too far back in the rear at that time to worry about not having a weapon. I was glad to get rid of it. At Inchon they took us to a big area where there was a huge warehouse filled with tens of thousands of duffle bags all lined up in certain areas. How they ever did this I'll never figure out to this day, but they knew exactly where mine was in the building. They told me which pile it was in and then I looked for it. Within an hour I had my duffle bag. Our duffle bags held all of our dress uniforms and that stuff. We had our combat gear with us.
What we used to do up on the front lines was to cut the stock off the carbine. We cut the butt of it back so we could fire it from the hip like a long pistol. Word got around that somebody had hidden his carbine and a .45 under the floorboards someplace in the warehouse. I knew where they were and I went and found them. I was going to take them home with me as souvenirs until the rumor got around that they were searching sea bags. I figured I didn't want to lose my sergeant stripes--I had worked too hard for them. So I left them there. I was sorry about that. They never did search the sea bags. I have often wished that I had brought them back with me. I would have made new stocks for them.
We had to be checked medically before we left Korea. We went through a physical exam similar to the one that we took when we were inducted to make sure there was nothing wrong with us. They wanted to make sure that we didn't have lice or anything of that nature because they couldn't have any of that stuff onboard ship. I never did have lice in Korea. They also inspected us for athlete's foot. That was common out on the front lines because we couldn't wash after we sweated and perspired.
I went home on the USS Polk in September of 1954. The mood on the ship was exhilaration--for me and everybody. When we got to Japan we stayed just long enough to drop off the Army guys and then we were on our way back to the States. It took 30 days to get home. We went under the Golden Gate Bridge and then landed at Treasure Island, San Francisco. Going under the Golden Gate was an exhilarating thing because we knew we had arrived home. Just like the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Once you see that you know you're in the States. Almost everybody on the ship came up on deck to see it. It was very emotional for me. I knew I was home and that the ship was not going to sink after all.
The worst part about the processing once we got back in the States was it took so long for them to process our papers. It was a two or three-day process to get our papers and new orders and that whole business. When I left California I had my orders to report to Cherry Point, North Carolina in November. That was where a Marine Air Wing was headquartered. I got a 30-day leave and went straight home to Everett, Massachusetts to see my family. They knew I was back in the States because I had called them. My mother was the first one I saw when I got off the airplane. One of my siblings had a movie camera so I have my arrival at the airport on film. It shows me getting off one of those four-motor prop jobs and my mother welcoming me home. My father could have cared less that I was home. He was gone someplace. He was never home anyway. My family held a surprise welcome home party for me on October 9 at the local AMVETS Hall in Everett.
After my leave was up I went to Cherry Point until March 2, 1955 to finish out my time in the Marine Corps. (I was discharged from there.) As far as I was concerned I was out, but actually they didn’t discharge me right then. It was really a release more than a discharge because the law at that time was such that all active veterans had to serve seven years in the reserve. In my case it was the inactive reserve. After that I got my formal discharge.
Cherry Point was the pits. It finished me in the Corps. Give me Camp Lejeune and the Engineers any day. Why? Because as a sergeant at Cherry Point I was no better than a private. Being a Korean War veteran was also no better than being a private. They had a factory at the end of the airstrip at Cherry Point and we manufactured crates and boxes for shipping airplane parts. I was just working as a private. I remember that I had to go up and see the top sergeant once. I told him that I was glad to be getting out. He said, "You're not getting out are you?" I told him, "Yeh. In a week." He told me that they had me up for staff sergeant. It didn't change anything. I said, "Keep it. I'm out of here." I was released on March 2, 1954. I was gone and that was it. I chose not to re-enlist for two reasons. Number one was because I got fed up with the Marine Corps at Cherry Point. And number two, I didn’t want to go back in any infantry outfit. That was probably the big thing. I contemplated re-enlisting, but if I had I think I would have gone into the Air Force. That was a lot safer. I got all the combat in Korea that I wanted to have.
After the Corps
When I was released I came back home and went back to work at the A&P. I stayed there until September of 1955. Although nobody said it, I knew I had changed. My life was more disciplined. I felt a greater sense of responsibility. I was older than a lot of other guys who had been in my outfit in Korea. Mo was only 18. We had a lot of 18-19 year olds. So in one sense I was an old man. I was 22 when I went in and so when I got out I was 25. I had really matured in those three years. I had a sense of responsibility/accountability. Before that time I was full of piss and vinegar. At age 18 you don’t think that you’re vulnerable, but up on the front lines especially, you soon learn that you can be here today and gone tomorrow. After Korea, I had a whole different outlook on life.
After leaving the A&P I went to theological school to study to become a minister. Being a minister was something that I always felt I wanted to do. I just went to theological school for two years. When the school I was attending merged with another school in Green Lane, Pennsylvania, I decided not to continue. I got married instead.
I married Ruth Mercer, a girl that I was going to theological school with. Thirteen and a half years later we divorced. Our divorce was a mutual decision. She remarried and she was happy. I didn't remarry for three years and I was happy. Ruth and I just weren't right for each other. We are good friends today. Nothing more. Mostly I wasn't ready for marriage. I still had a lot of hangovers from Korea. It sounds like a contradiction, but in some ways I grew up and in some ways I didn't. I wanted things my way. Well, when you're a platoon sergeant or a squad leader, you can have things your way. You can give orders and that's it. Nobody fights it. I think I wasn't ready to give up some of that.
Another thing that affected our marriage was how I was raised as a kid. We had a good family, but with 11 kids my mother had to be a very strong disciplinarian. I have come to since then realize that some things are learned in life. I think emotions are one of them. Affection. We were never shown any affection when we were kids. I know my mother loved us, but with a father who was always out running around, Mother had to take charge of everything. Perhaps she was just incapable of showing affection, so we never learned it. In my first marriage I provided, I worked hard, and all that macho stupidity. I thought that was supposed to be love, forgetting that one of the most important things for a woman is affection and security. I learned that with Iris, my wife now. She and I were having problems in the beginning and then I began to search out the reason why. I decided, "I’m not going through a repeat process. What’s wrong?" Then I just made some very conscious decisions. In other words, it was up to me. I had to change. I decided, "This woman needs affection. She doesn’t care about a paycheck coming in. Food on the table." I had to consciously practice affection until I learned it. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.
I guess what happened in Korea also affected me a lot. I got a different perspective on life. Even now as I get older, it seems like every five years I get a different perspective on life. I’ll be 70 this year and I figure, "How many more years are left?" Each year I get a little bit more sober about life. My only problem in life right now is that I can’t handle the younger generation. I’m like Judge Judy. I come out of the 1940s and '50s. I tell people, "I can’t think like you think. I won’t think like you think." I can’t handle it. There’s not a sense of responsibility and accountability.
I worked at Dennison Manufacturing plant in Framingham for quite a few years and was totally bored and frustrated. It was the same old hum drum day in and day out. Back when I was a teenager I had worked with my uncle as a housepainter and wallpaperer. I was good at it. While I was working with Dennison’s I began to get some calls to paint houses, wallpaper, and things of that nature. Because I was getting so much part-time business, I made a decision that if I got $8,000 worth of business (remember now, this was 30 years ago), I would quit Dennison's. And I did. When I got $8,000 worth of business lined up, I quit and went into doing paper hanging, painting, remodeling kitchens, bathrooms, etc. on a full-time basis. For a while I had some help, but when I had to do some of their work over I decided that I could do better by myself. I figured I would have fewer hassles and less problems if I worked by myself, and I would still make a good income, which is what I did. In addition to going into business for myself I also pastored a small congregation. After it grew I became a full-time pastor.
I have three children by my first marriage and one by my wife now. For years and years and years I never told them about Korea other than when I used some illustrations about it when I was preaching. During the past four years I have started opening up a little bit about Korea. I found out that this is common. A lot of the fellows that I was with a couple of weeks ago told me that they never talked about it either. Some of them still won’t talk about it. A lot of them didn’t talk about it until about four or five years ago when their kids started asking them questions. Last summer I was down at Nickerson State Park in Massachusetts with my kids. My daughter Linda, who went with me out to San Diego this year, said, “Dad. You’ve never told us about your time in Korea. You've never told us about your time in the military. You owe it to us. You need to tell us.” I had all the kids there so I figured, “Well, this is a good time.” They won at both battles. I held them captive for about an hour and a half and told them all about my old Marine Corps. It’s funny now, but it wasn’t very funny then. I told them everything.
Linda asked me all kinds of questions. What outfit was I in? What company? What battalion? Unknown to me, she then got on the Internet and began to search this whole thing out. She found out that there was an H-3-5 reunion taking place. She wanted the family to surprise me by giving me the airline ticket and all of that, but she ran into a problem with Jim "Rats" Ratliff, the guy who was coordinating the reunion. Linda told Rats, “You can’t tell Dad.” He said, “We have to tell him. The last guy we didn’t tell died. We’re all getting older.” Rats told her, “I have to call him up. I owe it to him.” Linda then got in touch with Mo Malinish, whom I hadn’t seen for 46 years. I then got this telephone call: "You probably don’t remember me, but 46 years ago you and I went out with these two women in California. Do you remember?” I laughed, “Mo, you old son-of-a-gun! Where are you?” We got to talking and I said, “By the way, you still owe me 24 bucks.” He said, “What do I owe you that for?” I said, “When we came back from Korea we were walking down San Francisco someplace and you wanted to buy something for your sister who was getting married. You hounded me to borrow some money. You hounded me so much that I gave you the $24 and you never gave it back to me.” He said, “When I see you out in San Diego, I’ll give it back to you.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to make it, so I’ve never seen him. He lives in Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania around Williamsburg. Besides Mo, I was hoping that Skudge would be there, as well as Lieutenant Johnson. I was a little disappointed that neither could come. Skudge couldn't come because ten or twelve months earlier he had had a stroke. They tried to get someone in the family to go with him to the reunion, but evidently they couldn't. I was kind of sad that I couldn't see him again because he and I were together when we got banged up.
A week and a half after Mo's phone call I got a call from Rats. That’s how I went on to the reunion. When I attended it, I found out a lot of things that I didn’t know. I met up with Lieutenant Johnson, the guy I lugged across the rice paddies that night, and six other of the guys from Outpost Esther. Ed Murray and I have since become good friends. He has some real zinger of stories about that night. Sadly, he watched his close friend Andrews die from a severed leg and loss of blood. He said the gooks were jumping over the trench line above him. Every time they did, he pulled the trigger on his BAR and that was one less gook to kill a Marine.
I also found out about the 1st Marine Division Association at the reunion. I'm joining that and I’m going to enjoy getting the Leatherneck Magazine. There is also a 3-5 reunion that will be taking place this September in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but when I talked to some guys about it they said it’s not the same camaraderie. The guys of H-3-5 were a close-knit bunch. We knew so many of the people. If I went to 3-5, I wouldn’t know anybody. It would just be a get-together. I think I would rather save and go on to Oregon next year at H-3-5.
Today's Marine Corps
The reunion this time was absolutely fantastic. I think that what made it so good was we had a chance to go to Pendleton and see their training, which is 100 percent superior to what we had. It's still tough, but their means and method of training are different. They had a huge room that had three movie screens on one wall. The screens showed different weapons. They had what they called the cannon. It looked like a big, real strong, heavy-duty machine gun, but it was a cannon. It went, “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.” It didn't fire as many rounds, but the rounds it did fire were more explosive. Then they had 40mm machine guns, which we didn’t have. Ours were all .30 and .40 and .50. They had those all lined up on the screen and they were hooked up electronically. When the Sergeant got everything ready he said, “Lock and load” and the screen came up. A picture came up like on a video screen. Then the mortars went off and the screen lit up and we could see the tanks up there and the enemy advancing. The recruits shot at them with their weapons. It simulated real combat, but the weapons were fired electronically. They even got the "kick" from their weapons as if they were firing a real round. That’s how they do their target practice now because the ammunition is too expensive. Recruits can go in that room almost as often as they want as long as there is somebody there in charge. We veterans of H-3-5 were even allowed to operate some of the training equipment.
I saw a different attitude in today's Marines. I think the reason for it was that they were there because they chose to be there. We were there because we were ordered to be there. Major difference. I saw the way they carried themselves. The gunny sergeants. They were sharp. We then went to San Diego where they were having a graduation. I’m telling you, compared to their graduation, ours was a little toy. They had the general, the base commander. We never had a base commander at our graduation. Their base commander gave a speech and did the whole graduation ceremony. They said they graduate something like 600 Marines a week. I thought, “Wow! That’s just one base. That doesn't include Parris Island.” The parade ground at San Diego was huge--I think a minimum of half a mile long and probably a little bit longer than that. All those guys came up platoon by platoon. There was only one man giving the men marching orders. He was in the middle of a line that stretched way, way up. And, boy! When he gave the command, "Right Face" or "Left Face", talk about synchronization! No one was out of step. It was absolutely perfect. We were just impressed.
It's a totally different Marine Corps now. The mess halls were as good as some public restaurants. They don’t have the big long tables and the metal trays like we used to have. They now have little individual cubicles. Four men to a table. The décor and the surroundings are all first-class like a restaurant. Color schemes. Carpeting. Amazing. I asked one of the gunny sergeants, “How much does a private make today?” He said, “I think $800 a month.” As a buck sergeant with combat pay, I was making $135 a month. I thought, "When these guys go through 12 weeks of boot camp they can save $5,000." That’s the price of having a volunteer force. They were far, far superior to anything we had in World War II or Korea--even Vietnam, for that matter. Far superior.
Don't Know Diddly
As a Korean War veteran, I was treated differently than World War II veterans were when they came home from war. I served in "the forgotten war". We were the "police action". When Truman called it a police action, he diminished what we were doing over there. There was still a lot of heroism. Medal of Honors. Silver Stars. Guys in our outfit got the Silver Star. I think Korea is the Forgotten War because we didn’t win it. We didn’t lose it either. The military didn’t lose it. The politicians lost it. Same as in Vietnam. The military didn’t lose that war. They were winning the war. Politicians lost it. As far as Vietnam goes, the facts and records prove that if President Johnson had kept on bombing, they would have won that war. But they stopped it at a very critical time. Any simple military strategist will tell you that in order to win a war you have to hit the supply depots. That’s the only reason why we won World War II. We hit the supply depots and destroyed them so there was no replacement. They stopped doing that in Vietnam and we weren’t allowed to do it in Korea. That’s what MacArthur wanted to do but he wasn’t allowed to do it. You can’t win a war like that.
I served with guys who were willing to sacrifice themselves for others at the expense of their own life. Every one of us was willing to do that. It might sound simple and trite now, but when the Lieutenant said, "They’re coming over the top of the hill. We’ve got to go wipe them out", there was no hesitation among us. We never did. As far as I’m concerned, all of us were heroes because we were willing to make that sacrifice. As in World War I and World War II, those of us who served in the Korean War had a sense of what freedom was and were willing to die for it. We now have a generation that doesn’t have that idea, and one of them (Clinton) is in the White House, as far as I’m concerned.
I think the next generation could understand freedom even if they never have to fight for it, but they have to learn it through the school system. Unfortunately, we have gotten into our school systems a sense of not teaching our history. I was brought up on history. I was brought up on, “In Flanders Field the poppy grow.” I had a sense of nationalism. When I was growing up we had a big old Buick. On Memorial Day my dad always put two flags on the front of the bumpers and we went for a ride. The Fourth of July was meaningful. Coming out of the 1960s and all that happened there, we've lost that sense. In some ways I don’t blame those radicals for not wanting to go to war. I mean, how stupid is it when you take a bunch of guys—a platoon or a company, whatever it might be, to take a certain hill. Supposedly it's strategic. You go take it and a bunch of guys are killed. Two weeks later you abandon it. The enemy comes back in and now you’ve got to go back and take the hill again. How many times do you have to take that hill before you realize, “This is stupid.” The military did not fight the war in Korea and Vietnam, politicians did. And politicians don’t know how to fight a war. Who fought the war in World War II? The military. Who made the mistakes in World War II? The politicians. We’re going to let Russia in Berlin first. Look at how we suffered for it. Politicians don’t know diddly about warfare. It’s that simple.
Thinking back on it, I believe that the United States should have been in Korea. I also think that we should have been in Vietnam. People say that there is no "just" war. When I tell them every war is just, they look at me like I’m strange. Just stop and think about it. Why do you have war? You have war because there is an aggressor who has no business being an aggressor and somebody’s got to stop them. If you don’t stop them, you don’t have war. You only have war when somebody decides you’ve got to stop them. In that sense, war is cruel. But war is also just in that sense. If we hadn’t gone into North Korea, where would South Korea be today?
We did make two major mistakes in Korea. I think MacArthur did the right thing by going into North Korea, but he did it the wrong way. He should never have been allowed to go all the way to the Yalu. He went against Truman's orders and as a result was ignominiously relieved of duty and command. A disgrace. It was also a stupid military maneuver as there was only one very mountainous road in the dead of a bitter cold winter and two and three feet of snow. Because of this the Chinese set a trap by letting him come and then they surrounded him with, I believe, four Chinese divisions. They were ready to be annihilated until Marine General Smith disobeyed orders from General Almond, the Army General in charge of all military troops in Korea, in order to save his Marine division. Instead of retreating as ordered, the Marines fought their way out to Hamhung, a seaport, and boarded ships to safety to fight again another day. The army was in complete disarray until General Ridgeway took command and restored order and morale to the Army. General Almond was relieved of his command, never to command again, as well as MacArthur. MacArthur was a genius in planning the assault on Inchon, but after that he failed miserably.
I became a pastor some years after returning to the States, and had been pastoring for 13 and a half years when I was asked to say the opening prayer at a reunion banquet. Interestingly, years after Korea I was talking to Ed Murray and he told me, "You know, Dick, after that night I made a promise to God that if He would keep me alive, from then on I would never take his name in vain again. For 15 years I kept that promise.”
I’m not the type to read a prayer. I tend to make it spontaneous. That was the kind of prayer I said at the Marine reunion. In fact, my daughter commented, “Boy you really paused in the right places.” Yeh. It was meaningful. And Ed came up to me afterwards. I was quite surprised. He was a very distinguished gentleman now at 68/69. White hair. White moustache. He said, “You know, Dick. When you were praying I felt God. Did you feel God?” He was a tough guy and here he was soft as jelly. So then I told him that little story about that afternoon of July 24,1953. It was time for me to get my life straightened out.
Spark of Hope
I’m proud of my service in Korea. I wish I could say I’m as proud of my country today as I was then, but I’m not. We’ve lost our moral and spiritual base and it’s questionable whether we can ever get it back. I’ll tell you two stories along that line. There’s a book authored by ultra-conservative Judge Robert Bork. The book is called Slouching towards Gomorrah. Judge Bork was nominated for the Supreme Court but the liberal congress denounced him because he was too conservative and he never made it to the supreme Court. Samuel Alito was nominated and seated on the Supreme court in his place.
Bork details from an historical perspective why he feels this country is where it is. Basically he traces it back to the Age of Enlightenment (circa 1620-1789), explaining how it never as a worldwide system really, really took hold until the 1960s, when we began to lose our sense of foundation and heritage. A lot of that had to do with the Vietnam War and the attitude toward that. Bork says this was the time of the radicals. As he researched it along with other colleagues, they came to certain conclusions, documented by the written page. He terms the difference between liberals and elite liberalism. Roosevelt and Truman--that kind of liberalism, as opposed to today’s liberalism which came out of the radical element of the 1960s and '70s. Bork says that it can be validated, documented, that the leaders made decisions that they could not win. They wanted to win by how they were doing it with the radicalism and all that type of stuff.
The only way you can change the mindset and the mentality of this country and the direction of this country, Bork says, is to get into the schools, the churches and the universities. If we get in there we can control the educational structure. There is a liberal element in churches today, whether it’s Methodist, Congregational, Presbyterian, Episcopalian--but particularly liberal protestant churches, because they have fractures. One side is ultra liberal. The other side is very conservative. If we get into the liberal element we will change the spiritual mindset of the people and get into the schools. That’s when we begin to get "there’s no right or wrong". It’s whatever you think is right or wrong. The distortion of our foundational system.
What’s interesting is Bork concludes the last couple of chapters of the book by saying he and four other conservative scholars got together to discuss what could be done to bring this country back to its constitutional roots. There have been those in Washington that have gone so far as to say in the past couple of years, “We don’t care what our founding fathers said. That was 200 years ago. It’s what we say today that counts.” In other words, no way the foundation of this country, the spiritual and moral foundation of this country. What Bork brings out in the book is that he and the other very conservative scholars got together to discuss this issue of why we are where we are and is it possible to reverse it. They came up with four conclusions that are very interesting. They said Number One: If we had a major third world war people would tend to get very conservative, get back to the basics, get back to the fundamentals. He addressed that whole issue and said that the five of them had concluded that will never happen. He said that the other way that they thought it could happen was if we have a major worldwide economic crisis. The same thing happens. People losing. During a crash, people tend to get back to the fundamental basics of survival. They get very conservative. But they concluded they also don’t think that will happen.
But there was another possibility that they thought maybe was starting to happen. Elite liberalism has taken us so far astray from our foundational mores that there are little signs now that people are getting fed up. For instance, the freedom of sex and the whole distortion of what this country was founded on. They said they saw little inklings of that today and they elaborated on it. They were not quite convinced that people will do it, especially in an economy of this nature where everything is so affluent. People are caught up in the affluence of it. We don’t quite think that’s going to happen. The conclusion of his book is interesting. He wrote, "The five of us have concluded that the one thing that can turn this country around is a major evangelical spiritual revival where it changes the hearts, the minds and the spirits of the people." And he said, "We think it’s beginning to happen already. That’s our one little spark of hope." Interesting.
Once a Marine
It is absolutely true, "Once a Marine always a Marine.” It’s what I started this memoir out with. It’s called Esprit de Corps. The simple reason for it is this: When I was in the Marine Corps I always knew somebody was looking out for me. He wasn’t just protecting his rear-end. because if he was protecting only his rear-end he was going to die. That was bred into us in our Marine Corps training. "You look out for me and I will look out for you." That’s called Esprit de Corps. Comradeship.
When we were at the reunion and they asked me to say the prayer at the banquet, my opening comment was, “I have a younger daughter that always says to me, "Dad, I know you’re going to do something different." I said, "Tonight we’re going to do something different. We’re all comrades in arms here tonight. So I want everyone to stand up and hold hands when I pray.” You could just sense the atmosphere. We had been through the thick and the thin of it and we were still looking out for each other.
I can only repeat it second-hand, but I want to relate a true story about an incident that happened in Korea. One of the patrols went out and they got in a firefight. I guess it was pretty hectic. When they came back to the company area the captain asked them what happened, so they told him. He said, “Anybody get killed?” Yes. “Anybody get wounded?” Yes. “Where are they?” When they told the captain that they had left them there, he said, “You turn around, get your asses out there, and get them. We don’t leave our wounded. You can’t help the dead, but we don’t leave our wounded. You go back out there and bring them back.” And they did. It was a command. That's Esprit de Corps.
I’m proud of the fact that I was involved in a tiny bit of history at Panmunjom, where I was involved in the release of North Korean prisoners that didn’t want to go North. They went to Formosa, which is now Taiwan. I didn't see the returning Americans because they were in a different location. Outpost Marilyn Monroe, where I was located, was near Panmunjom, where the peace talks took place and near where most of the prisoners from both sides were released. I was one of the patrols near there at the time, living in a squad tent. I could see Outpost Marilyn from where we were only a couple of hundred yards away. We could also see over into some yellow cement block buildings at Panmunjom where the talks took place. On occasion, our guys, with Indians (from India) would pass by us to return to their quarters. It was an interesting time. As I now look back, I see that my squad was a part of and saw history in the making. We were at the place of entry from Panmunjom, North Korea, to the American prisoner compound.
After that I was stationed on another outpost (no name) that was on the road leading to Panmunjom. A few months later I was made a corporal and became a squad leader, only this time across the road by about 500 yards where the 2nd squad was. About another six months later we were transferred further to the rear and I got my sergeant stripes by special review on July 1, 1954. I then became platoon sergeant of the 3rd Platoon, the one I was with on the front lines. To me it was a tremendous honor and still is to this day. Making sergeant in two years, four months back then was a big deal. I am proud of my time in the Marine Corps. I was a good Marine as well as a good squad leader and platoon sergeant.
I have never gone back to Korea--I could never swing it financially and probably logistically. But I would love to go back up to where I was. I’m not even sure that I could even get there now because it’s No Man’s Land. The DMZ is pulled back. I would also perhaps be interested in going to the place where we first pulled back from because a lot of activity happened there, including me becoming squad leader and then platoon sergeant.
Through my lifetime I have never forgotten that I am a Marine. I’m very proud of it. I don’t mean proud in an arrogant way. I mean I’m proud of the guys I served with. There was a lot of sorrow. There were guys that didn’t make it. In fact, a lot of that was expressed over this past week. Someone once said about their service in Korea: “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the experiences I’ve had, but I wouldn’t take a million dollars to go through it again.” Outside of the battle and a lot of guys getting killed, Korea was good for me. When I became a platoon sergeant after less than a year in Korea and had 40 or so guys under me as my responsibility, I grew up in a hurry.
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