USS Haven – AH-12
Less than five years after the end of the Second World War, the Korean War broke out. With not too many men left to go to war, the government asked high school kids to go sign up. At the age of seventeen I was eager to go to war, but what does a seventeen year old know?
Having always being interested in the water, and ships, I joined the U.S. Navy during my junior year of high school. Not having ever been away from home before, I went to San Diego for my basic training. From there I was transferred to Tongue Point, Astoria, Oregon, but didn’t know why until later. Here I received training on LCM’s (Landing Craft Machinery). These were the ones whose bows opened up.
After my training was over, I was transferred to the USS Haven—a hospital ship. She was to replace the USS Benevolence, who had sunk under the Golden Gate Bridge after being rammed—during a heavy fog in August 1950—by a freighter.
The Haven was docked in San Diego when I went aboard. She was beautiful; all white with red crosses. She had a seven-hundred bed hospital, equipped with two operating rooms. A few weeks after we set sail, we reached Korea—what a sight. The worse place on earth I had ever seen. People begging in the streets, women on the beach picking up anything that moved—to eat, kids that were homeless, buildings and homes blown up.
There was a boy being treated on the ship, which I fell in love with. He had a broken arm and bad legs. His parents had been killed, so I took him under my wings; his name was Lee Kom Poo. Eventually he was taken and placed in an orphanage—I never heard from him again.
The Haven was anchored in the bay, while the fighting ships were miles away. As they shelled Inchon in preparation for the invasion, we could see and hear the shells all night long as they passed over the ship.
There was a helicopter pad on the ship in case a soldier needed immediate medical attention. We had a small boat the circled underneath the fantail just in case a helicopter didn’t reach the landing pad.
There was one thing they forgot to tell us, our boat had no guns for our protection. However, we were given a plastic card from the Geneva Convention, in case we were captured. If so, we were to show our captors (with the guns) our cards and we would be okay. They would read a card we gave them, written in English and not hurt us. Right!
Inchon Harbor has the second highest tide change in the world, thirty-two feet, and we were anchored there. The training I received in Astoria was as an engineer on a boat—now I knew what I had been trained for. A coxswain, a bow man, and myself were given a boat and told our job was to go to the beach and pick up the wounded and dead. M.A.S.H. units and corpsman would bring them to the beach and it was our job to get them to the Haven. We did this day and night, as needed. On one trip, as we were approaching the beach in rough water, our bow man—Delbert Earwood—fell off and we never found his body; he was only eighteen.
When we arrived at the beach, there would be over one-hundred men lying there waiting for us to take them to the ship. Blood was everywhere. Men crying and begging for help; some had their limbs and other body parts missing. As I looked at their faces, I soon realized they were the same age as me—eighteen. Men were screaming, “Save me! Will I live?”; others asking God for forgiveness. Before we left the ship, we were told no matter how bad these men were we were to tell them they looked good.
We did this day after day until the ship was full. When she was fully loaded, she set sail for Japan—taking the wounded to hospitals there. In our absence, a small Swedish hospital ship would go into the harbor until we returned; then back to the beach we went.
After the fighting during the invasion was over, our job for days was to go around in the harbor and pick up dead soldiers that were floating in the water. When shot these men sank to the bottom of the bay with their backpacks and rifles. Several days later their bloated bodies would rise to the surface. As we maneuvered our boat along the water, we placed large plastic bags in the water guiding the bodies—with boat hooks—into the bags. We then zipped up the bags and returned to the ship where they were prepared to be shipped home.
On many occasions, with a boat load of wounded, we missed the tides. This caused the boats water inlet, which cooled the engines, to pick up mud and plug up the strainers. There we were in the middle of the bay, with our engines stalled, and two-hundred or more wounded men crying, moaning, and some even dying. Here I was, an eighteen year old not knowing what life was about—with death all around me—trying to unclog the strainers. Without a shadow of doubt, I believe the Lord was with me the whole time I was in Korea.
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In September 1954, after being on the front line for so long, the Haven was sent on a world mercy cruise—picking up more than seven-hundred wounded French Foreign Legionnaires in Saigon, French Indochina. We finally arrived at Long Beach, California—our home port—on November 1, 1954; sixty days and 30,000 miles after we left Yokosuka, Japan.
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I saw and did things that I will never forget, and things I don’t like to remember. During my time in Korea I kept a daily log. If my day was bad, I wouldn’t talk or write about it. My entry would be how the weather was—good, bad, or very bad. According to my log, I had twenty-eight months of bad weather.
During these twenty-eight months, I threw up many times.