7th Cavalry Regiment
1st Cavalry Division
I was born on June 23, 1933, in Brooklyn, New York, to John and Catherine Flynn. Three weeks after my seventeenth birthday—on July 18, 1950—I enlisted in the Army.
I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey for my basic training. Upon my arrival, it looked as though the barracks had not been cleaned since the end of the Second World War. As we new recruits entered, there were newspapers scattered all over the place; they were all dated 1945. Our first order of business was to get the barracks back into living conditions.
Our training consisted of marching, long hikes, stripping and cleaning our weapons, bivouacking, and how to survive under extreme conditions. During basic, the Airborne Division visited our company to recruit new members. They used the incentive that whoever volunteered would no longer have to clean the cosmoline off the new machine guns, which was a messy job. So, some of my buddies and I signed up. However, when it was time to leave, I was in the hospital with pneumonia. Before leaving, my buddies came by to say their goodbyes, along with a case of beer. Later I would find out that they were all injured, or killed, during their training.
After completion of boot camp, I was assigned to a Quartermaster Company there at Fort Dix; this was a sweet deal. I volunteered for permanent KP duty, which was seventy-two hours on and forty-eight off. So, every three days I went home to Brooklyn. However, being the wise guy I was, I stretched a ten day leave out of a three day pass, and the 4th of July; I was gone most of July. When I returned to camp, the first sergeant called me into his office and chewed me out. He told me to check the bulletin board the following day; sure enough, there was my name—I was headed for Korea. Shortly afterwards, I was on a troop-train headed for San Francisco.
My Uncle Danny had been in the Navy during the Second World War, and he gave me some tips about being seasick. He said regardless of how sick you get, always force yourself to eat. This would help settle your stomach, plus if you did throw-up, it would keep you from getting the dry heaves. His advice came in handy, because for three days we chased our own wake in a typhoon.
After a short, unscheduled stop in Okinawa, where they removed the captain, we finally arrived in Korea; it was August 1951. Rumor had it, that the captain had freaked out during the typhoon and some of the junior officers had to take over the ship.
I was in a group of sixteen guys that were to be assigned to Quartermaster Companies; therefore we had not been issued weapons. However, having been in some heavy fighting, the 1st Cavalry was in dire need of replacements. So fifteen of us were issued M-1 rifles, loaded into trucks and, in the blackness of night, were hastily driven to the front lines. Here I was assigned to the second platoon of Fox Company, 7th Cavalry Regiment.
I was then—in the darkest of night—taken up a hill to a forward position and assigned to a foxhole, which was to be shared with a veteran soldier. The first words he spoke to me were, “Thank God. Maybe now I can get some sleep. The ‘gooks’ have been hitting us every night for the last three days.” I told him to point me in the right direction, and then asked him what I should be listening for. This he did, then he told me to wake him if I heard any noise at all; he then crawled into his sleeping bag.
I thought it would be best if I loaded my M-1, but it had been over a year since I last touched one. Between the dark, the cold, and being scared to death, I forgot how to load the ammo clip. My foxhole buddy heard me fumbling with the clip and asked me what was going on. When I told him, he had some choice words about me, the Army, the damn war, and how it was being run. Needless to say, he didn’t get any sleep that night. And lucky for me the “gooks” didn’t attack or I would have had to use my rifle like a Louisville Slugger. The following day I received a refresher course on the loading of the M-1.
A few nights later, in the same foxhole with a loaded M-1, it was my two hours on while my buddy got some shut-eye. It was another dark filled night, when I heard a scuffling sound, which seemed to be getting closer. I woke up my buddy and told him to be very quiet, and listen. He did, and we both agreed something was in the gorge below our hole. Not to give away our position, orders were not to shoot at night. So, I grabbed a grenade and tried to pull the pin, which would not come out. After my buddy tried and failed, I grabbed another one—with the same results. I signaled to him that if he couldn’t get the pin loose—orders or no orders—I was going to shoot. Finally, he was able to pull the pin and rolled it down the hill. Needless to say, after the grenade went off, the whole line went on the alert. We didn’t know what was making the noise, but for the rest of the night it was quiet. The next morning, we went down to the gorge to see if we could find out what had made that noise. We found a bloody fur hat, with ear flaps, that belonged to a “gook” about fifteen feet from our hole; so, I guess we did the right thing.
The Army was involved in an operation, which I believe was called Operation Clobber. Tanks and half-tracks were lined up along the entire front line—alongside our foxhole—and for seventy-two straight hours, fired at enemy positions. The noises, and fumes, were unbelievable! After the shelling stopped, we attacked the hills with little opposition. We found that the shelling did very little damage to their well built bunkers, which were located on the back slopes of the hills. The following day, we left giving the enemy back their caves.
My squad was to go on a patrol, but first we had to go through our own minefield. When we asked for a map of the minefield, we were told that it was missing. We protested, but our new “ninety-day wonder” (OCS Lieutenant) ordered us to proceed. Our sergeant led the way, with me—the assistant squad leader—bringing up the rear. About half the way through, the sergeant stepped on a mine, which blew off his foot. I was able to get the rest of the squad out by backtracking over our footsteps; then another soldier and myself went back to get the sergeant. After we successfully retrieved him, and he was on his way to the aid station, I became very angry. I grabbed my M-1 and went looking for the lieutenant. Another sergeant saw me, grabbed me, threw me into a bunker, and calmed me down before I did something stupid. A few nights later the lieutenant accidentally—so he claimed—shot himself in the hand with his .45 pistol.
It was Thanksgiving 1951 and we rotated in small groups to go down the hill for our Thanksgiving Dinner. Our meal consisted of hot turkey, and all the trimmings, which the newspapers back home were reporting. What they forgot to tell was that it was raining by the buckets, and we only had half a mess gear to put our food in. Standing in line, in the pouring rain, we entered the mess tent to receive our meal. First they placed the turkey, then the mashed potatoes followed by cranberries, vegetables, bread, butter, gravy, pie, and finally the ice-cream—all in a pile. Then we went outside into the pouring rain; our nice meal turned into one big pile of mush. When I saw what was happening, I noticed a lid for one of the big pots that I took and washed off in the rain. As it came my turn in line, I had the cooks place each item in a different spot—on the clean lid—not in a big pile. I then went outside and found a small overhang, under which I ate my Thanksgiving Dinner in relative comfort.
We were on patrol one night, with the intention of surprising a “gook” patrol, and taking a prisoner. Just as we were to leave, the powers to be had a brilliant idea; to put fluorescent sticks on our backs so we could keep track of each other in the dark. As soon as we cleared our lines, we ripped these off each others backs. It was a good thing we did, because the “gooks” were lying in ambush and they opened fire on us. We had taken several casualties before being given the order to pull back; gathering our equipment, we ran back to our line. In the process I ran off a small cliff, and just like in the cartoons, my feet were still running in mid-air. Landing on my feet, I fell backwards and quickly got up and made it back to safety. I laid down to catch my breath, and soon realized I couldn’t move either leg without severe pain. I was evacuated to a M.A.S.H. unit where they took a x-ray of my back and found two fractured vertebrae. From there I was flown to Tokyo Army Hospital.
My combat days had come to an end; even though I would go back to Korea for another fifteen months. This time in the rear echelon, working in a medical supply depot.
I did this until I rotated stateside in March of 1953.