Headquarters Battery of Divarty
24th Infantry Division
I was born in a little coal mining village in the Purgatoire Valley of south central Colorado. Like most of the men in our village, my father worked for the Colorado Fuel and Iron Corporation in Valdez, Colorado. Life in a coal mining camp is like the Tennessee Ernie Ford song “Sixteen Tons”depicts. The men worked hard in the mines, but after the company store deducted the wages for groceries, and sundries that had been charged during the week, they brought very little money home on payday.
We left Valdez at the beginning on my teenage years, and moved to Dublin, California. In the summer of 1944 we moved to Oakland. We moved into a house off Twenty-Second Avenue, near East Twentieth Street; in an alley named Sonoma Way.
I met Leslie Frater at Roosevelt Junior High and I told him I was working at the Dutch Maid Bakery. He wanted a job, so I set him up with an appointment with Mrs. Meyer. She hired him, but he only stayed three months than disappeared.
One day in March of 1946, Leslie showed up at the bakery and he was dressed to kill. He had joined the Merchant Marines. He told me he had been to Okinawa, Guam, Midway, and the Christmas Island. He made more than five-hundred dollars in less than four months. The next day he took me to the Union Hall and Coast Guard Building in San Francisco. Here I officially joined the Union—Sailors Union of the Pacific. On my sixteenth birthday, I was ready to go; I was dispatched to the SS Shuyler Colfax, as a mess man.
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It was early 1951, and I went home to hang around for a month. I went back to the Union Hall for another ship, and was dispatched as a Second Cook and Baker to a ship that was anchored in San Francisco Bay. I needed to go home and get my gear, so I called my mother asking her to pack my things. She informed me I had a letter that looked to be important; it was from the President of the United States.
I knew immediately what it was—I was being drafted. However, being in the Merchant Marines, I was exempt from the draft. Anyway, I had her open it and read it to me—I was right. So, instead of going home to get my gear, I returned to the Union Hall and told them to give my assignment to someone else, because I had been drafted.
Having sailed for the last four-and-a-half years with veterans of the Second World War, I got to listen to stories of heroes, and cowards. I had decided I wasn’t going to be the latter.
Ted DuPriest, my brother-in-law of seven months, also received his draft notice. Both of us were ordered to report at 9:00 AM, on March 2, 1951, to the same draft board, located on the corner of Webster and Fourteenth Streets. Along with old friends and classmates, we boarded a Greyhound Bus headed for Fort Ord.
We soon learned the Army had many surprises for us, and there was one surprise I didn’t care for. It was late in the day and we were in the final phase of processing, when I was confronted by a corporal I guessed to be nineteen, who spoke with a German accent. He had this stern military air about him, which I didn’t like. He asked me what part of Mexico my parents were from and without hesitation I asked him, “What the hell has that got to do with me going into the Army.”
Based on his accent, I figured he hadn’t been in America but a short time. If I was right, he could have been one of those twelve or thirteen year old boys—in Germany—clicking their heels and shouting, “Hiel Hitler!” Now he’s in America, in our Army, and accusing me of not being an American. When in reality, my family background goes back to the first surname Gurule’ in 1682.
Shortly, a second lieutenant came up to us because we were holding up the line. The other guys were tired and wanted their bedding, so they could go to bed. I told him, “This German is questioning this American soldier’s American citizenship, and I resent it.” The corporal then made a mistake. He told the lieutenant, “I gave this recruit an order to tell me where in Mexico his parents were born, and he wouldn’t tell me.” The lieutenant moved him aside, and told me to move along.
The following morning we were awakened early and were told after breakfast that some of us would be going to Camp Roberts—I was in that group. The other guys would remain at Fort Ord. When I finished eating, a Mess Sergeant asked if I would be interested in staying at Fort Ord as a cook. I politely thanked him, but told him I wasn’t interested since I was a cook, and baker, in the Merchant Marines.
A Mess Sergeant at Camp Roberts made me the same offer, and he got the same answer. When basic started I was assigned to Company D, 48th BN, and having a little ROTC in junior high, I could march and do the Manual of Arms. The first sergeant and field sergeant were both veterans of the early fighting in Korea; both had been wounded, and sent back home to recuperate and train recruits. They told us at the end of basic, we would be going to Korea. They continued on telling us we needed to learn to survive, because in Korea the terrain was rough, winters were extremely cold, and the summers were hot.
After the 4:30 AM “up and at em,” you quickly showered and made your bed. If it wasn’t tight enough to bounce the sarge’s half dollar, he would tear your bed apart and you had to remake it while the other guys watched. When bed-check was finished, you had to fallout fully dressed, with rifle in hand, in front of the barracks—for inspection. Then it was a one mile, double timed march to the mess hall for breakfast.
We also learned how to break apart our M-1 rifle, and any other weapon an infantry soldier would come in contact with, and reassemble it.
It was now graduation day; and in perfect formation, we proudly marched around the parade ground ready from inspection by the base commander. He told us that they had done their best to teach us how to survive in combat—the rest was up to us.
We were given a weeks leave to spend with family and friends before we had to report to Port Chicago, near Martinez, California. It was May 1951 and we were shipping out to Korea.
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We all gathered on the dock and sat on our duffel bags. To help hide our feelings, guys told jokes and I told stories of my years at sea with the Merchant Marines. It was around 10:00 AM when we organized in formation. With our duffel bags slung over our shoulders, we headed towards the ships gangplank. Finally aboard ship, most of the men lined close to the ships railing to wave goodbye to their loved ones. However, Oliver Medeiros, Alberto Granados, and I went below to the galley to find something to eat.
We were taken into the hold we would be sleeping in, and we were allowed to pick our bunks. After twelve days of sailing, we docked at Yokohama, Japan, but we were not given shore leave. I had been here several times during my days as a Merchant Marine.
After disembarkation, we were taken to Camp Drake. Here we boarded another Navy ship and headed to Inchon. From there we were taken to Yong Dong Po, which was a short distance from Seoul.
As we traveled to Yong Dong Po, there must have been a hundred trucks in our convoy. Arriving at night, even though there was still a little daylight left, we were fed a late supper. After which, we took our duffel bags and leaned them up against a wall—or rocks—and were soon asleep, for it had been a long day.
We were at a Repo Depot and there were several thousand men scattered over a large area. Everyone was lined up for breakfast, as names were being called. When a name was called, they were instructed to report to a certain area. Here they were loaded onto deuce-and-a-half trucks, and delivered to the units in need of replacements.
One night I was lying on my duffel bag, with my helmet down over my eyes. Sleeping next to me was a guy with his boot laces untied. I thought back to when I was seven years old, in grammar school, in Valdez. We had a kid—Agapito Espinosa—in the second grade who never seemed to have laces in his shoes. I moved, causing my helmet to fall off, and as I reached for it I noticed the guy—it was Agapito! The last time I saw him, he was about thirteen years old.
While we were still waiting for our names to be called, we met a guy—Norman Smith—from Oakland. During basic he special ordered a pair of boots from Georgia, and he was complaining that they were too loose. My boots were tight, so we traded. Norman was assigned to the 19th Infantry Regiment, and while on a patrol during his first week with his unit, he was killed; he was wearing my boots.
It was now day three, and I had to go to the latrine. I could vaguely hear names being called over the loudspeaker. When I returned, Oliver, Alberto, and half the guys I was with, were gone. They had been assigned to the 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. Later that day, my name was called; I was assigned to Headquarters Battery of Divarty, 24th Infantry Division.
After arriving, I was taken to Captain Spivey, the Battery Commander’s tent. I informed him that while having served in the Merchant Marines, I had been to Korea a few years earlier. He told me that he had been in Korea since the Pusan Perimeter, and as he put it, “When we got our ass kicked.”
The captain said since my records showed that I had been a cook, they could use one in their mess hall. I told him, “With all due respect, I have already turned that job down twice already, since coming into this man’s army...” He said they needed a forward observer in the survey team. I told him that would be okay, but I would need to be trained since all my training had been as an infantryman; my training started the next day.
Since I knew nothing about what a surveyor did, I started out as a rod and tape man. Sgt. Gilliam kept telling me one needed strong legs for this job, because it involved a lot of walking. By the end of the week, I was ready to go on a mission with them.
Our missions included establishing locations for observation posts, azimuth orientation lines, reference points, potential target points, and potential firing points for our artillery batteries. I soon learned to be an instrument operator and would get my first taste of action against Chinese and North Korean forces.
Four guys from our team climbed to the top of a hill in search of a trig point, while three others had gone to a pre-arranged location, to set up a red and white surveyor’s pole. Then they would measure off two-hundred yards and put up another flag pole, so the instrument operator could shoot a triangulation. However, heavy shrubs and debris hampered our view, so some of the guys started to clear the shrubs with their machetes. Being a country boy, and having hunted, I said the machetes might make an echoing noise and alert the Chinese of our position; thereby, causing them to lob mortar shells at us. I asked our team leader if I could set up an instrument in top of a tree located next to where the trig point was located. Permission was granted, so up the twenty-five foot tree I went—with a sextant.
Soon we were spotted by the Chinese and the mortar rounds started coming in. Not long before we arrived, heavy fighting had taken place and the tree I climbed up was riddled with bullet holes. So, with the incoming mortar rounds, the ground began to shake causing the tree to fall. On my backside, I landed on a solid flat rock, which knocked the breath out of me.
The team immediately evacuated the hill; they carried me as far as they could, which was about three miles. We made it back to our vehicle, which we had hidden in a ravine, and made it back to our unit before dark.
The next day, my backside was black and blue, and our team leader thought I should go see the medic. However, I just laughed it off and told him, “I just got my ass black and blue; I’ll be fine in a few days.”
It had been a month since the Chinese May Offensive when we had to walk over mountains of dead Chinese, and North Korean, soldiers. Decomposing with worms, and other kinds of insects crawling in and out of their bodies—especially their spooky eyes.
My muscles from my shoulders to my buttocks were still black and blue, which made it difficult for me to walk and caused me to lose feelings in my fingers. Sgt. Gilliam, twice asked me if it would be better for me to stay back at the tent and rest. Later on, Sgt. Wise told me that Gilliam was afraid if we got into trouble with the Chinese, he would need me and I wouldn’t be in any condition to help.
In July we were working in an area known as the “triangle,” when the Chinese starting shelling us with their mortars. Corporal Harold Riech got hit with shrapnel in the mid-section of his back. Sgt. Wise and myself carried him until we reached level ground, then he was able to walk the remaining distance to our jeep. By this time he was bleeding badly, so we needed to find a M.A.S.H. unit. Lucky for us, being surveyors we knew where the medical units were located. We took Riech to one and dropped him off. The last we heard of him he was evacuated to a hospital in Japan, then sent home.
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There were many missions from June thru September—then it turned cold. A tent city was set up when the 45th National Guard, from Oklahoma, and the 40th National Guard, from California arrived in late December. The 40th was to relieve us.
During the last week of December, we sailed from Inchon to Camp Drake, Japan, where we were split up. My unit went to Camp Youngons, in central Japan, where I stayed until I was in a jeep wreck. It was dark and we hit a wall on a busy street. I hit the unarmed turret with my nose, and when the jeep hit the wall I broke my arm. The driver and Master Sergeant, who were riding in the front seat, received small injuries that did not require hospital care. I was taken by ambulance to Sendi, which was a larger city and had an American hospital.
By January my injuries were getting better, so I was transferred to St. Luke’s Hospital in Tokyo; I stayed there until late February. From here I went to Letterman Hospital in San Francisco, at the Presidio.
After spending a day here, I was issued a weekend pass and went home across the bay to Oakland.
On April 25, 1952, I was discharged from the U.S. Army.