My father had a job in Montreal, Canada, driving a cement truck. This is where I was born on March 12, 1932. After finishing the eleventh grade, I quit school. By the time I was seventeen, I figured I had already learned everything I needed to know. So in 1950, I started working at a paper mill in my hometown of Niagara Falls, New York.
When the North Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel—like everyone else—I was assigned the classification of 1-A by my local draft board. As of June 1951 I had not yet received my letter from President Truman, and I became panicky that my war was going to pass me by. So, I did a dumb thing—I volunteered for the draft.
After completing sixteen weeks of basic and advanced infantry training, at Fort Dix, New Jersey, I was given a two week furlough. On Good Friday 1953 at the end of my furlough, I boarded the 20th Century Limited in Buffalo, New York. Not only was I excited about going to Korea, but for the first time in my life I was able to ride and sleep in a Pullman car. We arrived in Chicago the following morning and joined up with the rest of the troop train, which was attached to the back of a passenger train.
As we traveled to Seattle, on Easter Sunday, the officer in charge rounded us all up at a rest stop and offered us a chance to attend a non-sectarian service somewhere up the line. I believe the train stopped in Deer Lodge, Montana, and after we disembarked, we all lined up and marched to the church. The town looked like a set from a western movie; with the wooden church perched on a hill at the end of the town.
When the service ended, the lieutenant in charge told us that the town’s people had gathered all their Sunday dinners, and picnic tables, at the train station. He went on to tell us since they were nice enough to share their meals with us; we would parade down Main Street. No one had to tell us to look sharp!
Marching in a parade in my uniform, always brought me a sense of patriotism—even more so this time. I can still see veterans of the First and Second World Wars, in their American Legion hats, saluting us as we marched by. Not only had mothers and wives brought food, but they even brought their finest china and silverware. These people didn’t know us, yet they gave us the dinners they had prepared for their own families; this made it taste better than any expensive meal in a fancy New York restaurant. At that time I was too macho to let anyone see me cry. However, several of the other guys must have gotten some dust in their eyes; for they were red and watery from trying to soothe the irritation.
To this day, on Easter Sunday, I remember that particular Easter, and what it meant to me and these other GI’s.
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I arrived in Korea in late April 1953 where I was assigned to Charlie Company of the 5th RCT. At first I was a rifleman, than I was reassigned as a gunner on the 57mm recoilless rifle. While our trucks were delivering us to our drop off point for Christmas Hill, one slipped off the dirt road and crashed in the valley below. One GI was killed and several others were injured.
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We arrived at Outpost Harry on the 12th of June 1953, and that night we were greeted by a killing bombardment. I had just been relieved from guard duty, and along with two buddies, was huddled around a rifleman’s firing pit that was just big enough to accommodate one man. I had just fallen asleep when the shelling started. My two buddies took possession of the firing pit and tried to get what little protection it provided. I tried to press my body into the forward wall of the trench, since the artillery and mortar fire was coming from that direction. I figured I was safer here then being out in the open. After what seemed like an hour, but was probably only about ten minutes, our medic, “Doc” Morton, came scurrying down the trench towards me. He shouted in my face, “Follow me.”
This was my first experience of being seriously shelled by the enemy, and I was more than happy to obey his order. Doc and I piled into a machine gun pit that was about fifty yards away, and was already over occupied. Then it suddenly occurred to me that I had left behind my rifle, ammo, and backpack; basically everything needed to fight the enemy if they had gotten into the trenches. I felt safe enough because the company medic was with us. So, how could anything bad happen?
Sometime during the night the shelling finally stopped, and we were able to get some sleep. The following morning we prepared to relieve whoever was left at the outpost. We drew our ammunition and grenades, and then my platoon was taken to the rear of the outpost. The rumors about the number of casualties were not far from the truth. American bodies were stacked up like wood going to a sawmill; both American and Chinese bodies were lying around the trenches and along the road that followed the stream down to the aid station. However, this didn’t bother me as much as seeing body parts strewn about.
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I had already seen action on Outpost Harry before our outfit—Charlie Company—of the 5th RCT relieved the ROK unit on Christmas Hill, in late June of 1953. We had only expected to be there a short time, so we only brought minimum supplies for two or three days. Our main concern was our weapons, grenades, and ammo for our squad weapons. On our climb up the hill, it had rained hard and as I took a huge step, trying to keep my 57mm recoilless rifle from getting dirty, my GI boxers ripped. Needless to say, we didn’t take along extra pairs of boxers. So, for the next six weeks I wore a pair of boxers that were ripped from the waist to the crotch.
One of the things we didn’t take along were the brushes used to clean our weapons. Now we had to decide which was more important; oral hygiene or weapon maintenance. Our toothbrushes were now used on our weapons, not our teeth.
The trenches that had been dug by the ROK were for “munchkins” and provided no cover for a grown man. We had to remedy this. I remember digging next to a guy who was about to rotate home. As we dug he picked up a Chinese stick grenade, and after examining it, without saying a word pulled the ring out of the handle and handed to me. I will never forget the terror that ran through my body; I didn’t know whether to “shit or go blind.” Suddenly, I remembered what they taught us in basic training—I threw it down over the hillside. When it didn’t explode, I noticed the guy was lying in the trench laughing so hard he almost busted a gut. After he was able to compose himself, he explained that he had noticed the string had rotted through, and pulling the ring out wouldn’t activate the fuse. Needless to say, after my embarrassment had passed, we had a good laugh.
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After the truce had been signed, our outfit was removed from Christmas Hill and we set up camp in reserve, in the Chorwon Valley.
In the beginning of 1954, the 5th RCT was sent to the island of Koje-do, where two days later I rotated home.