7th Cavalry Regiment
1st Cavalry Division
On March 29, 1951, I received a free bus ride from San Bernardino, California to Fort Ord, California, where I went through fourteen weeks of basic training—in the U.S. Army.
I was no stranger to Army life; my father retired from the Army in 1943. So, I spent my first thirteen years on army bases. I was familiar with army personnel, the barracks, and the mess halls; I even knew how to march. However, basic training was different.
After our arrival at Fort Ord, we went to the reception center where we traded our civilian clothes for GI clothes. One morning we were told to pack our duffel bags and proceed to the front of the barracks. From there we walked to a parking lot and tossed our bags into a waiting truck. We were then told to get in formation, and then we met a new group of instructors.
I stood there chewing my gum as I watched what was going on around me. Suddenly, a guy appeared in front of me; I soon learned his name—Sgt. Morimotto. He asked me what was in my mouth.
I responded, “Gum.”
He informed me to get rid of it. Knowing better than to spit it on the ground, I put it in my pocket.
The sarge must have been satisfied, because in a calm voice he told me to give him twenty-five. To which I replied, “Twenty-five what?”
In a louder voice, he said, “Twenty-five push-ups!”
I figured I was the only one counting, so after doing twenty-three, I stood up. In a louder voice, he asked me who said I could get up. Then in even a louder voice, he told me to give him twenty-five more. This time he told me to “sound-off.” After finishing, I waited for permission to stand.
That was the first—and last—time that I got chewed out or did push-ups for punishment.
Finally, during the first week of July, my fourteen weeks of basic training were over. I received a short leave, to go home, before my new assignment—Korea.
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When it came time for me to leave home I searched through the house for mother, finding her sitting on the edge of her bed. She took my hand as we sat there without saying a word; she with tears in her eyes. In a little while, she turned loose of my hand, gave me a kiss, and told me to go.
It was a goodbye I have never forgotten.
* * * * * *
My stay at Camp Stoneman, California, was for two days, and then I boarded a four-engine, twin-tailed, Constellation headed for Hawaii. What was to be a two hour stop, before going on to Wake Island, turned in to ten hours due to an engine needing repaired.
After a brief stay on Wake, we landed in Yokohama, Japan; the hottest, and most humid, place I had ever been. We were issued new clothes and boots, then off to Korea we went.
After landing in Korea, we loaded onto a deuce-and-a-half and headed north. As we drove through Seoul, I could not believe the destruction; people with all they possessed on their backs; children, hungry and begging for food. A sad sight!
We spent the night at a replacement center, where we received a haircut and turned in the clothes we would no longer need. Now everything I possessed I carried on my back, like the civilians I had seen in Seoul. Along with my M-1 rifle, ammo belt, trenching tool, canteen, and First-Aid Kit; I was ready for the front line. However, my training did not prepare me for the drastic change that was to take place in my life in the next few days.
As we crossed the 38th parallel, we went through a huge barbed wire complex known as the Kansas Line; which was loaded with minefields. When night came the ground would become our bed. The following morning, we continued our journey north. We passed through an artillery section that was firing continuously on a big hill to their north. As I stood there watching the shells rip apart the mountain, my only thought was, “Why?” The following morning, I found out the answer.
Around noon our journey came to an end. We were dropped off in a little canyon, with nothing around us except five-or-six more new replacements. Here we were welcomed to Company M, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, by Captain Corbin. You never volunteered for anything in the service; however, this doesn’t always hold true. The captain asked if any of us had experience in cooking, typing, 81mm mortars, etc... These were probably some of the better positions in the company. So, I stood there without raising my hand; I guess I was waiting for something better. Then he turned to those of us who didn’t raise our hands, and said you are machine gunners and will be assigned to K Company.
A machine gun section consists of two squads, each with a .30 caliber water-cooled machine gun. The gunner carried the tripod, which weighed about forty-four pounds. The gun, which weighed about the same as the tripod was carried by the assistant gunner. Ammo bearers carried two cans of ammo, each weighing fifteen pounds; there were two-hundred fifty rounds per can.
I was taken by jeep, just a short distance down the road. Then the driver stopped and pointed to a small group of guys gathered on a small rise, off in the distance. He went on to tell me that was my machine gun section. I got out of the jeep, gathered my gear, and then the jeep sped off leaving me in a cloud of dust.
Finally, I made my way to the small rise, where the group of twenty-one guys were located. One was from Guatemala and the other twenty were from all parts of the United States. Six of them had been in Korea for about two months; the rest were almost as new as I was. I was assigned to help carry ammo for the two .30 caliber machine guns. As I was being introduced, there were a couple of guys that really stood out. I could tell they were the ones I needed to stay close to; one was Carl Myers.
They told us after K Company ate their chow that night, we would meet with them to get oriented about Hill 487. This was the hill the artillery section was continuously shelling. From all observations, there was nothing moving on that hill.
We were taken by trucks as far as possible, and then hiked to the base of the hill. From the base we were to climb to the top, string barbed wire, and set up a defensive position. After this had been completed, another unit would relieve us and we would be back by nightfall for a hot meal.
It was dark when we reached the end of the road, and disembarked from the trucks. Then we began a night march, back to the hill. The night was so long, we took three rest stops. When dawn arrived, we were on a long ridge looking up at this huge mountain.
Stopping at the base we were told to dig in, which was routine. Carl and myself dug a foxhole together. When we finished, we laid down in it and ate a can of cold beans. Soon, word was passed around that in a short time we would continue our climb up the hill. However, before we started, they told us to fire some practice rounds off to our side, which we did. What a mistake! It was like walking up to a door and ringing the doorbell—announcing “we’re here.”
As the riflemen jumped off their assault, I gave my cans of ammo to the machine gunner; who was providing overhead fire to the riflemen. I stood there wondering why there was all this shooting, when there was no one on the hill. Suddenly, a guy to my left yelled for me to get down; he didn’t have to tell me twice. It seemed someone forgot to tell the “Chinks” they weren’t supposed to be there—at least not according to our plan.
This area was rockier than where Carl and I had dug our hole. So, as I moved the rocks to make me a hole, I put them in front of me for protection from the bullets that were hitting all around us. Kneeling on my knees, I raised up to look around. This almost proved to be a fatal mistake, as I felt the heat from a bullet as it whizzed by my ear.
Suddenly, I noticed a guy lying about ten feet in front of me, unconscious, with a long gash along the side of his head. A medic picked him up and carried him off. By now everyone was running back to the rear. The only thought that came to my mind was, we are all going to get shot in the back.
In just a short distance that thought became reality. There, lying on the trail in front of me was a GI that had been shot in his back. I soon came upon four guys carrying a wounded soldier; he looked a lot like the guy I had seen earlier with the head wound. They were exhausted and asking for help, but no one stopped. I would have rather been running like the other guys, but I stopped. I told one of the guys to carry my rifle while I took his place. When we reached safety, I was unable to find the GI with my rifle. However, many guys were carrying someone else’s rifle due to the high number of casualties; so, I took one of those.
We were soon being regrouped and I had this feeling in my stomach that we would be going up that hill again. Then orders came down; move out. It was decided that we would take the easiest, and quickest, way out, since we were tired and had many wounded.
As we walked down into a valley, we came upon a large rice paddy. The water was about waist high, and it was like wading through a sewer pond; the Koreans used human waste as fertilizer. We finally reached the area where the trucks were to pick us up. Totally exhausted, there was little to no conversation on the trucks. We didn’t return to the area we started from, nor did we have a hot meal waiting for us—nobody cared. We all laid down on the ground, and slept until morning.
* * * * * *
We reached our objective, which was an observation post where we stayed for ten days. Our second morning here, we learned we would also be a patrol base; this wasn’t good news. This meant patrols would go out to locate, and see what the enemy was doing. Then we would return to base, hopefully without any casualties. When going on these patrols we never took our machine guns, so now I didn’t have to carry the thirty pounds of ammo.
There was one hill that we went out on patrol on that looked like it had been fought over, won and lost numerous times; it had the scars to prove it. We all dispersed into the trenches that already lined the hillside. Half of the guys slept, while the other half pulled watch. We had no blankets, so I pulled my poncho over my head in an effort to stay warm. It was a long, miserable night; luckily for us, we saw no Chinese.
The next morning we headed back to base. Along the way, we came upon a creek where the water was clear. We stopped, filled our canteens, and laid down in the creek—clothes and all. This was the closest thing we had to a bath in about a week. My boots soon filled with water, which was soothing to the sores on my feet. We arrived at our base late in the afternoon, tired, but alive. The only thing that was bleeding was my feet. Since we never went out on another patrol, they had time to heal.
They told us that the next day K Company would be bringing us up hot meals, which would be my first since leaving Seoul. However, the machine gun squads were from M Company; we soon found out how it felt to be an orphan. After much debate over who was responsible for feeding us, K Company said they would—we ate last.
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At the break of dawn on September 21, 1951, we headed for Hill 339. We now had ten guys to do what twenty-two did when I first arrived. Once again, we teamed up with K Company as we started our climb up a steep embankment. After reaching the top, it was back to the normal routine of Korea—up one hill, down another. Along the way, we took several short breaks. With two legs of the tripod slung over your shoulders, and the third rubbing the middle of your back, you tried to conserve your strength.
We came to a fork in the trail and we took the one to the right. Traveling only a short distance, we came upon a GI lying on a stretcher—stiff as a board. Continuing on, we soon realized we had taken the wrong trail. So, we turned around and headed back; once again we passed the dead soldier. These are the things one doesn’t forget.
Finally, around mid-afternoon we set up our gun at the end of a ridge that overlooked our objective. A lieutenant from K Company set up a telescope and as he was looking at the hill we were to take, he noticed movement. Being too far away to identify them as friend or foe, he asked me to look. I agreed with him, we were to far away to make a positive identification; but, I guessed them to be GI’s. He guessed the same, because another company was to come up the hill from the other side.
Having confirmed by radio that the hill was unoccupied, taking Hill 339 would proceed. As we went down off the ridge, and approached the base of the hill, all hell broke loose. Mortar rounds came down on us like a hailstorm. With nothing to shield us, we quickly jumped to the low side of the hill and laid as flat as we could. Finally, the shelling stopped, so we grabbed our gear and up the hill we went. Carrying the tripod, I made it half the way up before my legs wouldn’t go anymore. The mortar shells began to fall again, so I yelled for Carl to get the tripod off my back. He did, and I was able to make it to the top.
Reaching the top, we set up our machine gun in a shell hole that was roughly five-to-six feet across. It wasn’t the greatest place to set up, but for the time being it would have to do. There were trenches, and bunkers, already on the hill since it had been occupied earlier. With darkness approaching, I found a shell hole about five feet across, but not very deep. It was in an area that needed to be defended, so I took first watch. I told my assistant gunner, Higgins, to stay with Carl and Chief, and try to get some sleep—since he would be relieving me.
As I sat there alone in the dark, shivering from the cold and shaking from fear, my mind began to race. With no one to talk to, I looked to the heavens. Suddenly, it didn’t seem to be as dark. I had no religious training, but I remember mother telling me the Bible was a sacred book. And there was a God who would look after us. So, I began to talk to Him; telling Him how I felt. When I finished I was no longer cold, and had become calm.
Higgins had joined me for the rest of the night, when just before midnight the night came alive with the clatter of machine gun fire from K Company. Even though it didn’t last long, it definitely kept us on our toes. The next morning we found out that the Chinese had sent out a patrol to see if we were alert; it cost them several men.
That same morning we found another shell hole further up the hill, which was a better place to set up our machine gun. It was hard rock and the shell didn’t penetrate very deep, so we had to dig. We ended up with a hole big enough for two guys to squeeze into, and we stacked rocks along the sides. Then we covered the top with branches and dirt. It wouldn’t stop a mortar shell, but at least our position was concealed. Swede and Chyzy set up in a bunker about thirty feet to our left. Carl and “Chief” (William Whistler) were down the hill a little and to our left.
To this day, I still remember what Swede told me on that day as I set up my machine gun.
He said, “Don’t worry; I’ll be right here if you need me.”
Our right side was open, and K Company was above us—on the other side of the hill. We had heard that the Chinese had caught Charlie Company while many of them were asleep in their bags. Carl and I didn’t want this happening to us, so we devised a way to communicate with each other. We strung communication wire between our positions, and tied empty C-ration cans to each end. To get each others attention, we pulled on the wire; then to communicate we made short jerks on the wire.
A few days later, we finally got some protection on our right when men from K Company put up some barbed wire. They also put in some trip flares, which we were unaware of.
Having been here for several days, we were taking casualties every day. One afternoon we received a lot of mortar fire, and then it finally stopped. So, I decided to take a break and walk to the backside of the hill. I came upon a trench that I had taken shelter in on the first day we arrived. As I looked down, there were two almost decapitated GI’s—it was a terrible sight. They were two medics who had apparently laid down to rest and had put their stretchers over the top to shield themselves from the sun. The trench had taken a direct hit from a mortar shell.
This one particular night started like all the rest, one hour on and one off with heavy mortar bombardment. Then shortly before midnight, as I was looking forward to my hour rest, the shelling stopped. Suddenly, the hillside came to life with what sounded like a thousand pair of feet charging up the hill. Quickly, I jerked my C-ration can to warn Carl; he too, was warning me. Then came those blood curdling screams, which sent cold chills up my spine. I pulled back the bolt on my gun, and squeezed the trigger.
I was very thankful for the barbed wire and trip flares that K Company had placed on my right. The flares lit up the area, catching eight-or-ten Chinese in its light. I watched as the red tracer bullets, from my gun, caused them to fall out of sight. As I fired in the direction of the screaming, I soon went through the first can of ammo. As Higgins was putting the second ammo box on the gun, he said, “You are shooting to fast!” And I was. I had just recently learned that Higgins was only fifteen. How he was able to enlist was beyond me.
After he finished putting the cover back down, I pulled back the bolt to resume firing; I pulled the trigger and it only fired one round. Panic began to race through me as I pulled back the bolt and it only fired one shot again. The only thing I had left to fight with was my .45 pistol, with only twenty rounds of ammo.
Higgins lifted the cover to find the belt had twisted. Once again I pulled back the bolt, and this time we were back in business. During the third or fourth ammo box the gun become really hot and with the water running low, steam began to come out the barrel. What little water we had left in our canteens was poured into the gun. We needed more! So, we both urinated in a C-ration can and poured it in the gun.
Due to our hole being small, we couldn’t store our six boxes of ammo in it. With only enough room for four, we stored the other two in a shell hole that was about ten feet away. Now we needed those two boxes. I told Higgins to man the gun while I went for the ammo.
I let Carl know what I was doing, for we were to shoot anything that moved, or stood up. He informed me that he had run out of ammo for his carbine, and he wanted me to throw him the M-1 that was stored in the hole with our boxes of ammo. I tossed the M-1 where I thought Carl was located, but I guess he wasn’t able to find it in the dark. Then I quickly grabbed the ammo boxes and went back to my machine gun.
Soon, the unnerving screams stopped; we could hear the Chinese falling back. Now we could hear the moans of their wounded as they were being taken care of by their medics. Higgins wanted to keep firing, but they were withdrawing and we were running low on ammo. So, we stopped shooting.
I believe it was around 3:00 AM when a sergeant from K Company came by and told us to bring our gun up the hill so we could form a tighter perimeter. There was a crater, about eight feet across, on top of the hill; this is where we set up our gun. Joining the Sarge, Higgins, and myself in the hole were Carl and Chief.
The first thing we wanted to know about was how were “Pete” (Clayton Peterson) and the guys on the other gun. We knew they never fired a shot, so we could only think the worse. I told Carl we needed to say a prayer for them, so we did. Suddenly, we heard someone say, “Hey you guys.” My first reaction was to go help him, but the sergeant said it could be a trap. Even though I was out voted, I called for Pete. We waited and listened; finally, he reached our position. He had been shot in the leg, mid-way above the knee. I took a bandage from my First Aid Kit and wrapped his leg; Carl took him to a bunker on the backside of the hill.
We found out that Werney, our squad leader, Swede, and Chyzy were all around the back in a bunker. Swede had been shot in both knees.
When daylight arrived, medics began to attend to the wounded. Men began to move around and survey the damage. Some guys had cameras and they took pictures of the dead. Lt. Hughes, of K Company, also came to our side of the hill to survey the results of the night. He told me that he was requesting for us to be relieved by Item Company.
I heard that some Korean civilians would be carrying our wounded off the hill, so I went to say goodbye to them. I found Pete, and we talked for a moment; then I went to see Swede. He was lying on a stretcher waiting to be carried off the hill, I could see he was in a lot of pain—neither of us said a word.
I returned to our position, hoping we would be relieved soon. Apparently, the Chinese had regrouped, because heavy mortar shelling started again. As I listened to the incoming rounds, I could tell they were getting closer. Then all the sudden, five rounds were coming my way and it was too late for me to run. All I could do was curl up in a ball and count as they exploded. I knew the last one was going to get me, but it landed several feet away. As soon as the dust settled, I took off running to Carl’s hole.
Finally, around mid-day, we were relieved by Item Company. We moved around to the back of the hill and down to the bottom of a valley. We continued our normal one hour on and one off guard duty. Shortly before midnight someone fired a few rounds; then more guys began firing. Higgins pulled back the bolt and was ready to fire, when I told him not to shoot. We waited, and it soon calmed down. Considering what we had gone through the night before, everyone was on edge—and a little trigger happy.
The following day, we were able to take turns going down the hill for hot showers, a change of clothes, and even a hot meal. After taking my shower, I hopped a ride in a jeep to go get my hot meal. When I arrived the cook informed me I was too late. Even after explaining to him our circumstances, I still didn’t get a hot meal.
After returning to my outfit, Higgins and I decided to clean, and oil, our gun. While cleaning it we discovered a spring that had broken on one side. We dispatched word back to supply that we needed a new spring. When we finished cleaning and oiling it we put it back together, hoping if we needed to use it that it would still work.
As nightfall was approaching, our new spring arrived. I thought about waiting until morning to change it, but I changed my mind. I should have taken the gun outside since there wasn’t much room in our bunker, but I didn’t. When I reached over to take out the bolt, the driving rod shot out like a bullet, lodging in the lower part of my left eye—near my nose. The first thought that crossed my mind was, I lost my eye. This meant I would be going home, but blind in one eye. However, I guess being alive and blind in one eye was better then the alternative.
I tried to pull it out, but it wouldn’t budge. Carl ran over to me, looked at the rod sticking out of my face and told me to pull it out. I told him I had already tried, so this time I used both hands pulling as hard as I could. Finally, I felt a pop and out it came. I was accompanied back to our company, where I was put on a litter jeep and taken to a medical facility. Here they covered both my eyes with a bandage, placed my personal belongings in a bag, and loaded me on a bus that ran on the railroad tracks.
The guys driving the bus were having a difficult time keeping it on the tracks. They were constantly stopping and I could hear them working to get the wheels back on the tracks. Finally, we reached the end of the line, and I was loaded into an ambulance—if that’s what you want to call it. It looked like a panel truck with a stretcher in it. Arriving at a hospital in Seoul, they carried me in and sat my stretcher down, and said goodbye. From the echo of their footsteps, it appeared to be a large building.
The following morning I was taken to a room where a young doctor informed me that I would be his first operation that month; putting in stitches was considered an operation. When he finished sewing me up, they took me to my bed and I was allowed to take a shower.
After spending a few days here, the doctor removed the stitches and said that I could return to my unit. Going through the replacement center, I received a new issue of combat gear; including a new rifle. The next morning I hitched a ride on the back of a truck headed toward the front line. When I reached M Company, I still knew a few of the guys and they were surprised to see me. They just knew I had lost my eye, and was on my way home.
A day or two later, our machine gun section was taken to the company area for showers, hot meals, and a much needed rest. Now that we didn’t have to worry about mortar and artillery fire, we were allowed to pitch pup tents—Carl and I shared one.
We took turns pulling guard during the night and I could hardly see with my bad eye—I was practically blind at night. A few nights later, while we had gathered in one of the big tents, the order to “saddle-up” came down. As I began to gather my gear, I was told I couldn’t go because of my eye. So, I stayed behind and helped anyway I could. The rest of my time in Korea, I spent giving haircuts, worked as a switchboard operator, along with anything else that needed to be done.
Around the middle of November we moved to a safe area where we stayed until the first of December. Then the entire 1st Cavalry Division was shipped to Japan; we were replaced by the 45th Infantry Division.
We stayed at Camp Crawford until the first of December 1952, and then we went back to Korea. After we unloaded at Pusan, we boarded LST’s that took us to Koje-do Island.
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Finally, March arrived and so did the ship that began my journey home.