Delbert Rice

7th Cavalry Regiment

1st Cavalry Division

U.S. Army

On March 26, 1928, I was the second child—and son—born to Forrest and Varnie Rice. Our father was a share cropper, which meant we moved to a different farm every two-and-a-half to three years. On September 8, 1938, mom had twin girls—Dorothy and Doris. Unfortunately, eighteen days later, Doris passed away.

In 1941, my mother’s bachelor uncle died leaving money to his niece’s and nephew’s. With this money our parents bought a house in Fordsville, Kentucky, where dad was able to get a job working for the I.C. Railroad Company—our days of moving were over.

In June of 1950, two years after I had graduated from Fordsville High School, war broke out in Korea. Two months later, on the 17th of August, I reported to Owensboro, Kentucky for a physical along with thirty-three other guys. Included in this group of men was my cousin, Ernest Everett Edge.

On the 20th of October, eleven of us draftees reported to the courthouse in Hartford where we boarded a bus for Owensboro; it was here that we were inducted into the U.S. Army. From there we were taken to Fort Knox, Kentucky and assigned the locations for our basic training. However, before I left home that morning my brother Bob—a veteran of World War II—gave me some advice: do everything the instructors told me for they were trying to save my life in case I ended up in combat.

I was sent to Camp Pickett, Virginia for my basic training.

* * * * * *

The 43rd National Guard from Connecticut, had been at Camp Pickett since September, and we draftees were to bring it up to full strength. I was assigned to Company D, 169th Infantry Regiment.

One day we were on the firing range, firing from the prone position at two-hundred yards. After shooting the target, the person in the pit pulled the target down—like a window—to see where your bullet had hit. He then raised the target and pointed to the bullet hole with a marker, which was a flag attached to a stick.

I had already made several bull’s-eyes when the sergeant kicked me in the foot. He told me the next time I shot a bull’s-eye to see if I could shoot the marker. After they raised the target, I zeroed in and gently squeezed the trigger. When they pulled down the target, I had my weapon ready for the marker. As soon as it came up—indicating another bull’s-eye—I squeezed the trigger, snapping the marker in two. They quickly announced for us not to shoot until the markers were out of the way. The sergeant shook his head, and said, “Damn,” as he walked away.

It’s safe to say the military is made up of all kinds. We were practicing throwing grenades. After you threw one, you were supposed to duck behind a log wall that was built into an earthen berm. One of the guys pulled the pin, threw the grenade, ducked down, then all of the sudden he jumped back up—he wanted to watch it go off. Luckily, the sergeant grabbed him, throwing him to the ground.

We were told during basic training never pick up any live ammo from the practice fields, but you always had a few who wanted a souvenir. There was one guy who bunked on the second floor of our barracks that picked up a rifle grenade and kept it in his foot locker.

As some of the guys were scurrying around and getting ready to go home for Christmas—I believe. However, the guy took the grenade from his locker and yelled, “Catch,” to a guy walking up the steps. Realizing what it was, the guy moved over and let the grenade go by. Unfortunately, it hit one of the landings and detonated—sending the guy through the air. Needless to say, we had locker inspections and all souvenirs were confiscated.

* * * * * *

After graduating from basic training we were given furloughs. I usually hitch-hiked home, because it was faster than riding a bus and making all the stops. So, I had been waiting for some time when a gentleman stopped—I believe this was around Richmond, Virginia. He told me if he had not come along I would have been standing there for a long time. After getting in, he drove me around the courthouse square. There in the yard was a sign that read, “Dogs and Soldiers Keep off the Grass.” Finally, I made it home.

I can’t remember how long it was, but after spending New Years furlough at home, it was time to head back to Camp Pickett. My brother, Bob, was taking me to the bus station in Hardinsburg. As he backed down the drive, I can still remember seeing mom running down the drive and out into the dirt road waving bye as we turned the corner and out of sight. When we arrived back at camp, we gathered our belongings—it was time to head to the train station. We draftees were headed to Korea; and the 43rd National Guard was headed to Germany.

As we boarded the troop train bound for Fort Ord, California, I shared a bunk section in our car with Ed Tabler, who I had met and became friends with during basic training. We traveled through the southern part of the states going through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. I remember going through some areas and never seeing a building the entire day. At night, off in the far distance, you could see the faint flicker of a light.

We boarded our ship in San Francisco and sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge as we headed for the open sea. While aboard, Ed and I were in the same bunk section. During our voyage I never got seasick; however, a lot of the younger guys “fed the fish.” It was late March, or early April, when we finally docked in Japan.

We were taken to Camp Drake, were we stayed for several days; getting familiar with all the weapons. While on the rifle range I was squeezing off some bulls-eyes, when the guy next to me asked if we could swap weapons. He was shooting all over the target, and wanted me to zero in his rifle; he wanted to be sure he was going to the front line with a reliable weapon. So, after a few adjustments, I was soon squeezing off another bull’s-eye.

This is an excerpt from a letter I wrote to Uncle Ernest Edge:


Monday, April 9

Hello, Uncle Ernest and all,

I am now at Camp Drake, Japan. But we move out tomorrow for where I don’t know. But I got a good idea...

From Deb

Ed and I had gone through basic, traveled across southern America, and journeyed across the Pacific together, but when we landed in Korea—we were split up. Ed went to the 23rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, and I went to Company D, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Company D was a heavy weapons company that was divided into three sections: machine gun, recoilless rifle, and mortars. I was assigned to the mortar section.

* * * * * *

After being assigned to my unit, and getting settled in, I wrote home asking mom to get me my cousins—Ernest Everett Edge—address. He was assigned to the 23rd Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division. When I received his address, I send him a letter only to have it returned—it was stamped “Deceased.”

* * * * * *

The first patrol I went on was a contact patrol; this meant you made contact with the enemy then pulled back.

We were going along some rice paddies that had a small rock wall running along the edge. There was a small ditch, about three-to-four inches deep and twelve-to-eighteen inches wide, that had been formed by the water that ran down from the hills.

As we were walking along, suddenly we heard a whistling sound—then silence. We quickly ran for cover. I laid in the ditch as deep as I could get; then I heard a “thud.” I slowly looked around, and there about fifteen-to-twenty feet away was an artillery shell protruding from the ground. Not knowing if it was a dud or on a time delay, I quickly made a one-hundred eighty degree turn—on my stomach—and got out of there.

* * * * * *

Another one of the mortar squads forward observer had became ill and was evacuated. They were in need of a FO, so I volunteered. Their squad was about three-quarters of a mile away, but due to the terrain and enemy in the area it took me six-and-a-half hours to reach them. They were going to pull out the following morning, so I was able to get a nights rest.

When morning came, my radio was dead. The captain told me that I was no good to them without a radio, so I was to return to my squad. As I headed back, they took off down through a valley.

* * * * * *

We had corned beef in our C-rations, which was the nastiest tasting stuff I’ve ever eaten. So, everyone either threw it away or gave it to the locals. One of our guys gave his to an elderly lady and within twenty minutes of eating it—she was dead. It wasn’t known if the corned beef was to rich for her system, or what happened.

* * * * * *

One morning after everyone was up, and stirring around, the guy pulling last guard duty came walking down the trail. He had his weapon slung over his shoulder and was carrying another one as he had an enemy soldier in front of him. I told one of the other guys to take the prisoner back to company headquarters and let them take care of him. Another soldier came up to me and said, “Sarge, you might want to check Yum Yum’s weapon.”

So, I yelled for Yum Yum (Johnson) to come over to me and that I wanted to see his weapon. After handing it to me, I jammed back the bolt to find an empty chamber.

I asked, “Yum Yum how come there is no round in your chamber.” You could have knocked me down with a feather with his response.

He said, “Oh sarge, I couldn’t hurt nobody.”

I said, “No, but you could let them come in here and hurt us.”

Shortly afterwards he was transferred out of our unit.

* * * * * *

In school, I read about a soldier during the Civil War who was shot at by opposing soldiers as he rode by them on his horse; and no one hit him. Being a good shot with a rifle, this was too hard for me to comprehend until one day I witnessed it with my own eyes.

The colonels had their own guards, and one day a “gook” came out of the woods. His guards began shooting at him as he ran down a path, for about one-hundred yards, before he ran back into the woods. The colonel said, “Damn! I ought to send every one of you guys back to the States for more training.”

He was so close; I believe I could have hit him with a slingshot.

* * * * * *

When we were in reserve, we were always going through training and attending lectures. I would give a lecture on the importance of the M-10 Board, which was used by the mortar sections to calculate the range of their target, and for accuracy in firing.

The first two rounds were fired for adjustments; the third round was fired for effect.

* * * * * *

We were moving our position, when we noticed the enemy moving along a ridge line trying to circle behind us. I immediately started directing fire; right, left, up thirty, fire for effect; all by sight. We were successful in keeping them from coming in behind us—they withdrew.

I told the captain that I was sorry for using direct sight instead of normal calculations. He told me that I had done “a fine job” and not to worry about it.

* * * * * *

During the later part of July, four inches of rain fell in one day, thereby, causing the river to flood. Some units—including D Company—were cut off from the rest of the battalion. We had run out of C-rations, and they were unable to get supplies to us. So, to survive we ate potatoes and corn from a nearby farm and our water supply came from the flooded river.

* * * * * *

Monsoon season had set in, and we had been wet for ten straight days. A few of us guys were standing around talking, when all of a sudden a guy came out of his tent—screaming. He was saying that he was going to the top of the hill and kill all the “gooks,” so he could end the war and go home.

It took three of us to subdue him and load him into a jeep so he could be evacuated out.

* * * * * *

After being confined to our foxholes for several days, we were finally able to come out for a breath of fresh air. I was sitting on my helmet, next to my hole, when another soldier saw me and crawled over to talk. We had been there several minutes when I noticed a flash from a recoilless rifle.

I told all the guys to hang on, because the “gooks” would try to knock-out that recoilless rifle. All of the sudden, you could hear an artillery shell coming in. As I dove for my hole, the guy I was talking to dove between my legs—beating me to my hole.

He got hit in the hip with a piece of shrapnel; I yelled for a medic. After the medic attended to him and got him out of there, I was able to get my foxhole back.

* * * * * *

One night “Tiny” [Everett] Waggoner and I were standing on an overhang, when all the sudden Tiny said, “Dang! A ‘gook’ just hit me in the leg with a grenade.” I told him there was no way. So, he pulled down his pants and sure enough there was a red spot on his leg where he had been hit.

When daylight broke the next morning, we went back to the overhang. As we looked down the hill, there lying about twenty feet away was the grenade. Luckily for us, it was a dud; if not, we could have been seriously wounded, or killed.

* * * * * *

One night our mortars were set up out front, the recoilless rifles were on the flanks, and the machine guns were to our rear. Around 0200 hours, one of the machine guns opened fire. I quickly radioed back and told them to get that guy off that gun—before the enemy zeroed in on us—or we would. The gunner said he thought he heard something; come to find out he was only sixteen.

Needless to say, the following morning he was taken off the front lines.

* * * * * *

We had a soldier down that we couldn’t get to. There were a few tanks in the area and the tank commander asked if he could help; I replied, “Yes.” I pointed out the soldier to the tank commander, who was about two-hundred yards out.

After spotting him, he climbed back into his tank and had his driver drive out and straddle the wounded soldier. Once the tank straddled him, one of the crew members opened the escape hatch—located in the bottom of the tank—and pulled the soldier into the tank returning him to safety.

* * * * * *

I always had men to stand guard for two hour intervals, and I was always the first one to be woken up. We had a fresh recruit, who with his gung-ho attitude was going to end the war. He was placed on the last guard, and after waking me I told him to wake everyone else. Shortly afterwards, I again told him to wake everyone up. He said he had, but I told him there were two soldiers lying underneath the tarp—as I pointed to it. Walking over to it, he jerked back the tarp—exposing the bodies of two dead soldiers waiting to be taken back to headquarters—and vomited up everything he had eaten in the last few days.

If looks could kill, I would have been dead. That was probably the cruelest thing I have ever done in my life, but I believe it saved a young man’s life. The following day he transferred to the supply company.

* * * * * *

One day there was a loud yell coming from the cook’s kitchen. I immediately grabbed my weapon and ran towards the back of the tent. As I rounded the corner, there were a couple of enemy soldiers exiting the back of the tent; I only had one choice—shoot.

The soldiers dropped to the ground, never to get up. These are the scenes that one never forgets.

* * * * * *

As we were bunking down one night, another soldier and myself crawled into a bunker that had a log roof covered with dirt. The rest of the guys were set up in tents not far from the opening of the bunker. In the early hours of the morning I woke up covered in dirt and I felt around for the other soldier, only to find that he was gone. I crawled over to the bunkers opening and cautiously whispered out the names of my men—no one responded. So, I grabbed my weapon and started down the hill looking for them.

Finally, I located them; they had moved to a safer place. Apparently, during the early hours of the morning we had been shelled by enemy artillery, with the bunker taking a direct hit. And since I didn’t come out with the other soldier, they assumed I was dead.

It’s hard to believe one can sleep through artillery shelling like that, but when one goes on very little sleep for days—they can become “dead” tired.

* * * * * *

Our company was on the move when we reached a safe area—stopping to rest overnight. The captain yelled, “Sgt. Rice take a bazooka and one man with you to secure the area; no tanks get through.” I gathered my men telling them the captain had a dangerous mission and that I needed one man to go with me. Immediately, Sgt. Lawrence Saunders stepped forward saying he wanted to go.

I had a lot of good men in my platoon, and Saunders was no exception.

After grabbing the bazooka, and ammo, we set off back down the road. Finally, we came to where the road made a ninety degree turn to the left. We then climbed up a steep bank where we could look down on the road, and when we got situated we came up with an escape plan. I told Saunders after we knocked out the lead tank, I was going to run down the back of the hill. He told me I better not slow down or he would run over me.

We mostly set there listening to the silence, then just before dark we heard a tank start up. As it moved towards us, the earth began to shake—by now our adrenaline had kicked in. The tank got within one-hundred yards of us when it stopped momentarily. Before reaching our spot, there was a road that turned left. Suddenly, the tanks engine revved up as it headed up the other road. Soon, the tank had rumbled out of earshot, and sight.

Saunders and I joyfully returned to the platoon.

* * * * * *

One day Charlie Company was too far out in front when they began to get overrun. They had to fall back, so their flanks closed together. I was instructed to take four men and hold as long as possible; Charlie Company would be passing through us.

Along with the men, we took two mortars. The Chinese were coming over the hill behind Charlie Company like ants. So, immediately I started calling in drops—visually. As men from Charlie Company rapidly passed through us, they said, “Good luck Sarge.” I told them it was going to take more than luck.

Suddenly, a tank came up along our right flank and started firing directly at the Chinese. I quickly yelled to the tank commander to get his tank out of there. He told me he was okay; I agreed, but told him the Chinese would be zeroing in on his tank, which would make it rough on us.

Finally, all of Charlie Company had made it through—now it was our turn to leave. We didn’t even have time to remove the mortar tubes from their base plates. After tossing them into the back of the truck, the guys jumped in. I quickly jumped onto the running board, hanging onto the door as we sped away.

Luckily, we made it out with no casualties or injuries.

* * * * * *

We had been firing continuously for hours when a gunner yelled, “Misfire on #4.” I had the gunner unscrew the tube and slowly turn it upside down as I was prepared to catch the shell—nothing came out. So, I packed the tube with a small sand bag and called for a truck driver to take it to Ordnance. About thirty minutes later he returned with the tube, telling me there was no projectile in the tube.

After daylight we found the undischarged round lying about fifty yards out in front of us. To give the rounds a little more “umph,” we placed small cellophane bags of gunpowder between the shells fins. Due to the continuous firing, the mortar tubes had become extremely hot. Apparently, before the round hit the firing pin, the heat from the barrel ignited the bags. This caused the round to launch from the tube.

* * * * * *

On the 3rd of October, we, the 1st Cavalry Division, along with several other units, launched the offensive—Operation Commando. At the end of the first day of fighting we could turn around, look down and see where we started from. The fighting was so brutal; we probably didn’t even advance a quarter of a mile. By the end of the operation, thirteen days later, we had pushed the Chinese farther north across the 38th parallel.

At the end of the thirteenth day, less than seventy men from the 1st Battalion walked off the hills. As a jeep was going along one of the roads, it was stopped by two soldiers; as they got in, they said that was all the transportation Charlie Company needed.

* * * * * *

I believe it was around Thanksgiving when we, the 1st Cavalry Division, received word that we would be leaving Korea; we were going to Japan.

Around the middle of December, the 7th Cavalry left Inchon headed for Camp Crawford, which was located on the northern island of Hokkaido, Japan. The 5th Cavalry Regiment had already left, the 8th Regiment being the last to leave Korea.

The camp was above the 38th parallel and it was bitterly cold with lots of snow. While at Camp Crawford we trained in the snow wearing white camouflaged uniforms. We also skied behind Weasels, which were a tracked vehicle, and we even played softball on two feet of snow.

In early February, I received orders to rotate home. When time came, I boarded the troopship Marine Adder bound for Seattle, Washington. After arriving, all soldiers going to bases east of the Mississippi River were flown home; those going west, went home via train.

I arrived at Fort Knox on Washington’s Birthday, which happened to be a Friday. After checking in, I was informed that everyone was confined to the base for the weekend. I in turn, informed the clerk that I had just returned from Korea, and I was going home; either through the gate or over it, and it didn’t matter to me which way. Needless to say, I was granted a weekend pass.

When I returned to the base, I was walking between two barracks when I heard someone yell, “Hey, Rice.”

I thought to myself, “Who knows me here.” I turned around, and there stood Ed Tabler. Needless to say, we didn’t sleep much that night. We stayed up talking about our last ten months.

One time while on leave, I went riding around with my cousin James Edge—brother of Ernest Edge. We saw two young ladies, around seventeen, playing in the front yard of one of their homes. Of course I had James stop, and I got out and introduced myself to one of the ladies—Shirlene Fuchs. We began to date. However, I would be transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

As luck would have it, Shirlene had a brother—Maurice—attending medical school in Kirksville, Missouri. After graduating from high school, she came to stay with her brother and his family. Many a weekend I burned up the road between Fort Wood and Kirksville.

* * * * * *

While at Fort Wood, I was in charge of one of the barracks. I told the guys that I was easy going, but if they got my butt in a sling I would return the favor.

One morning during inspection, I was calling roll. When I came to “Smith” two guys said, “Here.” I told everyone to fallout to the barracks, and when I called their name for them to come outside. This time when I called “Smith” no one came out. He had apparently gone home and was late getting back—he spent some time in the brig for being AWOL.

Another sergeant and I were going to take a couple of the guys to St. Louis to watch a Cardinals baseball game. However, that weekend everyone was confined to base, so the guys said they wouldn’t be able to go. I told them since they were not confined to their barracks, to be ready to leave when we came by.

Going into the clerk’s office, I asked to see all weekend passes. As I looked through them, I palmed their passes and put them in my shirt pocket. I then handed the rest back to the clerk saying they looked in order. I then picked up the other sergeant, and then the two recruits and we went to St. Louis. After returning, I again went to the clerk’s office asking to see the weekend passes. Removing their passes from my shirt pocket, I replaced them back in the pile. I told the clerk they all looked in order, then walked out.

Being the only one on base that had been to Korea, the captain asked me one day if I would escort the body of a fallen soldier home. I told him that during my time in service I had never disobeyed an order. However, if this was an order, I would not do it. I went on to tell him that I had seen enough death during my nine months in Korea and for him to see if he could find someone else. Shortly afterwards, he informed me that there was a guy on base from the same hometown as the fallen soldier, and that he had volunteered to escort the body home.

When it was graduation time, all the guys from the barracks marched around the parade ground for inspection by the base commander. As they marched they were guided by a soldier carrying a guidon—I was that soldier.

When the young recruits from my barracks graduated they presented me with a gift; a Parker pen and pencil set, which I still have to this day. The recruits from the other barracks also gave their sergeants gifts—the finger.

* * * * * *

I was discharged from the U.S. Army on July 5, 1952. On the 6th of July, Shirlene Fuchs and I were married.

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