~~Sixty-Six~~

Robert Bickmeyer

Signal Company

7th Infantry Division

U.S. Army

As the 7th Infantry Division was making the Inchon Landing on September 15, 1950, I was employed at General Motors—waiting to be drafted. When confronted with something distasteful I tend to deal with it quickly, so I can put it behind me. For example, when eating dinner I eat my vegetables first, and then I enjoy the meat and potatoes. So, I called the local draft board and volunteered to be drafted. They advised me they could not call me until my number came up, which it did in February of 1951.

I soon boarded a train loaded with draftees, and some enlistees, headed to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. The 31st Infantry Division, known as the “Dixie Division,” was a National Guard unit from Mississippi and Alabama that had just been activated. It was being reinforced with recruits from New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and elsewhere.

I was assigned to M Company, which was a heavy weapons company that consisted of three platoons—machine gun, mortar, and 75mm recoilless rifle. We were given our choice of platoons, so I chose the machine gun. I could see myself mowing down North Korean and Chinese “commies” as they attacked in waves. I was young, but not bright.

During the first roll call of our platoon, when our last names were called out, one recruit named “Dallas” responded with a loud “Yo.” The platoon sergeant asked him if he had any relatives in Texas.

Dallas replied, “Maybe. We’re like horse shit; we’re all over the place.”

The serious sergeant, who was a veteran of the Second World War, laughed along with the rest of the platoon. Needless to say, Dallas wasn’t his real name; I changed it for obvious reasons.

The platoon was made up of four squads, with twelve men per squad. Our home was a square tent, and our street was lined with twelve tents. There was a guy—Geno—in our squad who played a harmonica. After a long day of training, we were soothed by Geno and his harmonica as we laid on our bunks at night. His favorite song was “Harbor Lights.”

During training, Dallas, who had become a close buddy, decided he was going to finagle his way into a medical discharge. He was a physical specimen that everyone admired; he was very health conscious and an avid weight lifter. Being an excellent soldier and welled like, he complained about the Army more than anyone. We were on night maneuvers and had bedded down for the night on some pine needles, when he whispered, “This is it Bob. I’m gonna go bananas. The CO is here, the platoon leader, and our sergeant.” Suddenly, he jumped to his feet and let out a blood-curdling scream of agony, mingled with cries of a severe headache. They loaded him into a jeep and took him to the medics.

I easily slept through the night having marched along dirt roads all day. The next morning Dallas returned to our squad explaining, “They insisted my headache was nothing serious. It was caused by inhaling dust all day long during our forced march.”

We ended our basic training with a few weeks of maneuvers at Fort Bragg, where we spent each week in a pretend war against “aggressors” who were seasoned GI’s trained to be the enemy. During our last week, Dallas, “Frankie,” and I were assigned a machine gun. We were instructed to dig a U-shaped trench, placing our gun inside the U at shoulder height. This allowed us to fire at the aggressors in front of us, and to our left and right. We were to have someone awake, and alert, at all times. Unfortunately, when Frankie was on duty, the company commander made his rounds checking all positions. He found all three of us asleep. It was war time, and you guessed it! At the end of our maneuvers, all three of us were put on a list—to Korea.

After a ten day furlough we reported to Fort Lewis, Washington. A rumor was going around that we were going to be flown to Korea the following day, because there was a dire need for infantrymen. We sneaked out of camp for one last night on the town. Dallas and Frankie had decided they weren’t going to Korea, especially at the beginning of winter. We went to a men’s clothing store where they bought civilian clothes, then they went to the bus station where they purchased tickets to California. Alone, I went back to Fort Lewis—having lost all respect for my two buddies.

The rumor was just that—a rumor. Two weeks later, I and many others, boarded a troop ship for a two week voyage to Yokohama, Japan. Here I was sent to Eta Jima Specialist School, which was formerly the “Annapolis of Japan.” Here I was converted from a machine gunner to a radio operator; my mother’s prayers had been answered.

After twenty weeks of radio school, I arrived in Korea in early June of 1952. I was assigned to Signal Company, 7th Infantry Division, where I was assigned to a three man radio team, which had the responsibility of maintaining radio contact 24/7. We rotated shifts so someone was on the radio at all times. Our team chief had rotated stateside, so I was designated team chief, which normally called for the rank of sergeant. However, ranks were frozen and I never received the three stripes.

Summer in Korea was hot, but bearable. The winter was almost unbearable, especially sleeping in an unheated tent with the mercury dipping to seven below zero. We were each given a sleeping bag, along with six blankets. I folded three of them in half and placed them on my cot, and I covered up with the other three. For added warmth, we slept with our fatigues and boots on. Admittedly, sleeping in these conditions was the most heroic thing I did in Korea—I saw no combat.

In order to arrive back in the States by February 1953, for my discharge, I left on New Years Day; leaving behind my teammates, Jim Curry from Kansas, and Tony Rizzuto from Louisiana. I arrived in Inchon to wait for a troop ship headed for Sasebo, Japan. While here I attended a USO show starring Debbie Reynolds and Carlton Carpenter. All the benches were full, so I boldly walked to the front and sat on the ground. Only a few feet in front of me, I watched Debbie as she sang and danced. Every GI there, I am sure, fell in love with her—I know I did.

Many of us were on deck as our ship sailed into San Francisco during the darkness of early morning. We first saw the harbor lights, then coming into our view was the Golden Gate Bridge. As we sailed under the bridge, I began to reminisce about Geno—my buddy back in the Dixie Division—playing “Harbor Lights” on his harmonica. At that time, it was the happiest moment of my life.

I was discharged at Fort Dix, New Jersey, one month after leaving my radio team.

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