Stories From The DMZ

A grief stricken American infantryman whose buddy has been killed in action is comforted by another soldier. In the background a corpsman methodically fills out casualty tags. Haktong - ni area, Korea. August 28, 1950 Sfc. Ai Chang. (Army)

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Real life soldiers tell real life stories; and they tell it best.  

Please read on to learn about South Dakota Korean War Veteran’s experiences in the Demilitarized Zone, the DMZ, in KoreaClick here to submit your own DMZ story.

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1)       Email: Scan your photos and send them by email with a description to Eileen.Aberle@state.sd.us

2)       Mail: Attach a label with your name, address and a short description of the photo so we can return the picture to you. 

Eileen Aberle, Military and Veterans Affairs
500 East Capitol Avenue
Pierre, SD 57501
 

Attention!

ATTENTION:  Each segment of this section of the Web Site has been written by actual Korean War veterans, relatives or spouses of Korean War Veterans.  They remain unedited so that visitors to the Web Site may better understand South Dakotans and their participation in the Korean War. 

The stories contained herein may contain graphic descriptions of actual combat situations which may be disturbing to you or young readers  

The State of South Dakota has not and will not verify the accuracy of story content.

   
U.S. Air Force MSGT WM. N. Tackitt, Ret USAF
  I was stationed at Misawa AB when the Korean war broke out, however I was TDY on Iwo Jima at the start of Korean War. Confusing isn’t it. Our rescue unit pulled strip alert on Iwo Jima, and I just happened to be there when the North Koreans invaded the south. We couldn’t find out what was happening as communications were all tied up with war traffic, and it was coded. A ham operator tried to find out and was told to shut up and get off the air unless was handling wartime traffic. That really got us to going.

MSGT WM. N. TACKITT, RET USAF



 

Picture: The picture of the SA-16 was taken on the island where the Chinese POWs were being held. We got stuck, and the Army Colonel we had taken there went and got a bunch of the prisoners. They literally got under the plane and picked it up enough for us to start moving. I was standing in the rear door and relaying info to our pilot.

Picture: The picture of the SA-16 was taken on the island where the Chinese POWs were being held. We got stuck, and the Army Colonel we had taken there went and got a bunch of the prisoners. They literally got under the plane and picked it up enough for us to start moving. I was standing in the rear door and relaying info to our pilot.
U.S. Army Charles W. Bowar

Charles W. Bowar was a member of “B” Company. On 29 May 1953, First Battalion under operational control of TAFC was given the mission of counterattacking to seize Outposts ELKO, of which only a small portion was in friendly hands and CARSON, lost to Chinese forces in the previous day is fighting.   

On 290955/I May 53, Company “B,” First Battalion, crossed the LD vicinity CT 073066 to attack and seize Outpost ELKO, vicinity CT 068075, and on order to continue the attack to seize Outpost CARSON vicinity CT 064076. Company “B” reached ELKO at 1040 hours, at 1105 hours, overran enemy positions on the hill, and secured the objective. At 1122 hours, an air strike was executed against CARSON in preparation for the attack, and at 1125 hours, Company “B” crossed the LD to attack and seize CARSON. The company attacked with the First Platoon on the left and the Third Platoon on the right. Second and Fourth Platoons remained in position on ELKO to support by fire. At 1135 hours, the assault reached a point vicinity CT 06650770 and was halted by heavy enemy artillery, mortar, and automatic weapons fire. Company “B” returned to ELKO at 1145 hours to reorganize.   

At 1210 hours, the company attacked again. The attack was again stopped at a point close to the objective, vicinity CT 06600760 due to heavy enemy artillery, mortar, and automatic weapons fire. The two platoons returned to ELKO at 1230 hours to regroup, and prepare for another assault. Commanding Officer, Company “B,” called for twenty minutes of preparatory fire on the objective prior to another attack.   

At 1400 hours, the attacking forces crossed the LD in the third assault. At 1415 hours, Company “B” reached a point at the foot of CARSON, vicinity CT 06500760, but the assault was unable to gain the heights due to overwhelming enemy fire. The company was forced back and returned to ELKO at 1430 hours. During the next eight (8) to nine (9) hours, ELKO was under constant enemy artillery, and mortar fire, and the defending forces withstood six (6) enemy counter attacks. Several times enemy forces got on the forward slope within hand grenade range of defense positions. At 2300 hours, on Division order, Company “B” began to withdraw from ELKO. At 292400/I May 53, Company “B” had successfully broken contact with the enemy and closed the MLR.

 

This information came from the Adjutant General’s office in Washington, D.C.
Charles W. Bowar
PO Box 313
Kennebec, SD  57544-0313

 

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U.S. Army

We Are Forgotten

Image From the National Korean War Memorial.

We're not a bunch of convicts,
We're defenders of our land.

We're men in the Army
Earning a measly pay;
Guarding people with millions,
For two and a half a day.

Living here with our memories,
Waiting to see our gals,
Hoping while we're away
They haven't married our pals.

Few people know we exist
And few people give a damn,
Although we may seem forgotten,
We belong to Uncle Sam.

When we get to Heaven,
St. Peter will surely yell,
"Here are the boys from Korea;
They've served their time in hell."
 

Image From the National Korean War Memorial.
 

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U.S. Army

Frank G. Scepaniak

Aberdeen, SD
1st battalion, the fifth cavalry regiment
Number: US55163671
1951

Authentic photo image of the United States Army at Pork Chop Hill.

Authentic photo image of the United States Army at Pork Chop Hill.

I want to give my personal experience of what I went through during the period of part of Old Baldy which was hill 346.  I am telling the story after 53 years because it has always bothered me and because of the experiences and the hardships I went through. 

Starting off, we had fought for old Baldy unsuccessfully from October 7 of 1951 till we finally assaulted the hill on approximately October 18.  The regiment moved in at the base of hill 346 and up the shear face to assault positions on that day.  As I recall, we did take the crest of the hill under fire and tremendous losses.  After about three weeks of fire fights and fighting off Chinese assaults we were able to secure the hill.  We took over the trenches that the Chinese had dug and used them for our own protection.  We occupied Old Baldy till approximately the 8th of November.  I am not positive of the time and the dates.  They may not be accurate.  We were then asked to move out and take on a higher piece of ground, not knowing until the battle was over, the place was called Pork Chop Hill.   

We moved out and reached the base of Pork Chop Hill just as the sun was coming up.  I was in the first platoon, and the first squad to attack the hill.  My position was way over to the left.  We moved up and it was a beautiful day, the sun was coming up and as I moved up the hill I saw a hole.  It appeared as a badger hole.  I got close enough to it that I could actually see the spider webs over the hole.  But there was something shiny as the sun shined in, something flashed and I knew something was not right so I squeezed off four or five rounds with a BAR and everything broke loose.  We were getting fired on from higher ground than we were on and we were losing 10 casualties at a time.  I crawled up beside this hole and I threw three hand grenades into it.  The Chinese never quit firing.  We finally threw some more hand grenades into this hole and this stopped the firing that was coming out of the hole.  We did not know the Chinese had dug a tunnel through the hill.  This hole went back approximately 12 feet and made a 90 degree turn and joined up with the main tunnel.  They were dropping 60 mortar rounds at us and it was unbelievable.  We crawled behind ridges and anything else for protection.  We did not have time to dig a fox hole for protection.  Nothing!   

I crawled into a hole that a 60 mortar had made and I lay there for a few minutes.  Just then two other guys came in, Viola and Childs came in with me.  I told them that we have to get the machine gun that was directly in front of us or it would kill us all.  I remember Viola’s very words as he said, “Just relax, they cannot fire all day.”  So, I decided to take a chance and I took a quick look see.  I could see where the smoke was coming out between two rocks and I set my sights for the distance I thought that I was firing.  I pulled up and fired three quick rounds and a cap came flying out of the hole in between the rocks.  So I decided to move up and try to get up to high ground.  As I began to get up to higher ground we hit a ridge that gave us a little protection and I looked over and we had about 75 feet of flat ground.  The Chinese had dug a trench and I thought we would be a lot safer if I could possibly make the trench.  A guy named Schumacher was right along side of me.  I told Schumacher “Why don’t we run across this flat ground and get to that trench.  Otherwise we are surely going to die.”  So he decided to try it.  He made a run for it and they opened up on him and I took a quick peek and he made the trench.  I felt it was a bad idea to go ahead and try it from the same position he was in, so I moved over to the left and I tried it.  I picked myself up and I started to run.  I had four hand grenades in my harness up high but the pins were straight.  As I made it approximately 15 feet from the trench the Chinese fired on me.  As one bullet hit directly in front of me, I swerved too much, and as I did I fell and I could hear the click of one of the pins falling out.  I felt on my chest and I had lost a hand grenade.  I was laying on it and I crawled as fast as I could and just as I dove into the trench my hand grenade went off.   

We lay there for a few minutes to regain our composure and a lieutenant made it over the hill and fell into our trench.  He was shot in the shoulder twice.  We lay there and tried to patch him up and he said you know we have to get the other machine gun that is directly in front of us on the other ridge.  He said you know if we don’t they will kill everybody in this company.  I said “Don’t look at me, I don’t want to take this kind of a chance.”  He said “You have to, if you don’t we do not have a prayer.”  The machine gun was up on the next ridge but there was a ravine between us.  I decided I might as well try it so I got out of the trench and he said he promised to give me cover fire.   

I was running down the hill and I got to the base and I started to crawl up the hill right toward the machine gun nest.  Part way up the hill they started throwing hand grenades out.  But they threw them a little too hard and they went about 5 ft. over my head and hit the ground behind me and rolled back down the hill.  I crawled as fast as I could and finally got right to the bottom of the machine gun.  I could see the smoke about two feet above my head.  So I decided that the only thing that I could do, as I had my M2 carbine, was to raise it over my head. I had a banana clip on it and I must have shot 20 rounds right into the machine gun.  As I got up some Chinese ran out of the bunker and I shot them.  I crawled up near them because they were between some rocks and I would be a little safer than I would be back where I was.  So, I crawled up a little farther so that I’d have protection from the rocks.   

Cato was a radio man and he wanted to tell me something.  He was behind me and he started to run over to tell me and he got within six feet and he went down.  He got shot through the radio and right through his chest.  He had a lung shot and I knew there was no chance for him to survive.  I lay there along side of him and put my arm over him and I prayed in silence as he lay there.  He only lived six minutes before he drowned in his own blood.  Just about then the lieutenant made it over toward me, he was about 10 feet away when another sniper hit him and he died instantly.  I was trying to find out where the sniper was and I took a quick look see and he shot me in the helmet.  Part of the bullet went through my helmet and part of it skimmed around on the inside of my liner and dug in my ear and into my shoulder.  Well, I was in a position where I could not crawl and I was a little too high.  The sniper cut my canteen off with a bullet so I just lay there for possibly a half hour.  I made a run for some larger rock that were above me and that went on the rest of the day.   

That evening the few of us gathered in lower ground and decided to get together and hold the high ground that we had finally taken.  The rest of the night the Chinese tried to crawl up on us and they came so close that you could hear the little twigs break as they were crawling.  I tossed out a hand grenade probably 30 or 40 feet away and then the next one closer and the next one closer and the last one I just rolled over the edge as they exploded.  The Chinese cried all night and I know they were asking for help.  There was nothing I could do – nothing I would do.  But even in Chinese you know when someone was begging because they were dying and it was terrible to take. 

We fought all night and getting closer to morning I am sure.  I am not positive the man beside me was Darwin Dade.  We were kneeling on the ground and I had my helmet off and I was loading my banana clips and Darwin said.  “Lord if only they don’t hit us till morning.”  Then we’ll spearhead out to the back and see if we can make it out of here.  Well, just then a water cooled machine gun went off and they were spraying the area.  They were graze firing at us and shooting about 3-4 ft. off the ground.  I waited and I finished loading my banana clip.  Just then a flare went up to our right and then a green flare went up to our left and another green went up just behind us and then a red flare went up in front of us.  You never heard a noise like this in your life.  The Chinese were coming at us from all directions and were screaming.  We shot some flares up as few as we had and as the lit up the sky it was just like ants coming toward us from every direction.  The only thing we could do was just try to hold our ground.  And I just stayed there kneeling on the ground.  The Chinese finally hit.  While they were going by me not over 5 or 6 feet away, I kept a spot clear in front that they would by pass me and I finally ran out of banana clips.  I had fired so many times with an M2 carbine that it would not eject the empties.  I had to pull them back by hand.   

Just then something would have hit me right in the face and I grabbed it.  It was a hand grenade with two square sticks of dynamite wired to it.  I threw it back but it did not get very far.  I do not know how far but possibly 15 feet and I reached down for my M2 but I could not find the ground.  I lost my M2.  I finally picked it up and a half of the stock was sheared off from shrapnel.  So being somewhat mixed up I did not know if I was going backward or forward but it looked like it was safer to go forward than to go back with the few Chinese that were left.  So I went forward but I did not have a weapon.  I had a 45 and that was all.  I moved forward and I needed a weapon badly.  I saw it was 20 minutes after 5:00 and getting day break and there was a soldier laying on the ground face down.  I reached down and he was holding his M1 and I reached down and I grabbed his M1 and I noticed he did not want to let it go and he was just that scared and he was just laying there.  So I jerked the rifle out of his hand and as I turned him over I noticed that it was a friend of mine.  His name was Bernie Roush.  I knew him from a few days prior to that.  He had a couple of bandoliers of ammunition and I grabbed them and put them on.   

The Chinese by this time had taken Port Chop Hill and were taking the wounded to a tree that was just a stub that was sticking out.  It probably stood about 7 feet high.  The Chinese took telephone wire and they tied the GI’s hand behind them and they tied around their neck and they pulled them up just a little way so their toes were touching the ground, and then took and cut their belt and dropped their trousers and they cut off their privates with a bayonet.  Then they hung them and I told Roush “Just come with me.”  So we still ran forward and down a slope to our right.  There was a rice paddy and we crawled across the rice paddy.  I cannot recall where Roush got hit but he was hit in the log or hip so I had to drag him across the rice paddy.  We got across the rice paddy and they were following the drag marks as it was getting daylight.  We crawled to the other side.  I helped Roush drag himself for two miles to the base of Old Baldy.  Then they sent a stretcher down to pick him up and help me up the hill.   

When they got me back to the top of Old Baldy the Captain said, “Get him to the aid station”, that was just behind the hill.  So they took me to the aid station and they took Roush to the aid station and I recall clearly, it was a full colonel, he was a doctor, who said get that soldier on a stretcher and I do not recall anything after that until I woke up and I was in a collecting tent hospital that was 15 or 18 miles to the east and south of Old Baldy.  I had been there for several days.  The cuts in my hands – I was a wreck.  I got up, I had no broken bones or anything and I decided to go to the bathroom.  I go to the bathroom and they had a stainless steel mirror hanging in this bathroom and I literally did not recognize myself.  Of course, I was bearded up and I had not been cleaned up properly and the only thing I could recognize was my eyes.  I came out of there and said “They just cannot do this to me.  I am not going to allow this to happen.”  There was a stack of M1 and M2 carbines 7 feet high and approximately 12 feet across and they were just filed there from the guys that came in that were wounded.  I went back in and I found some clothes and I got dressed and I went out and found a M2 carbine that looked like it would work and I took all the ammunition that I could carry.  I remember one of the doctors saying “you are not leaving here” and I said “yes I am, I am leaving or I am killing someone if they try to stop me”.   

I walked back 17 miles to the base of Old Baldy and crawled the hill.  I got to the top of Old Baldy about 11:00 at night and made the trench because I knew the hill very well.  I made the trench that I was familiar with and then a guy named Blake whistled to me and I could not hardly hear him and he said just come forward and I got in the trench and I know my hearing was really bad and I was hurting real bad.  I stayed there until about 5:00 in the morning and at about 5:00 the Chinese had a small patrol try to come through the Constantine and I looked up and they shot a flare and I could see them in the Constantine and I pulled up to shoot and as I squeezed off a round everything went black.  I could not understand it.  I told Blake, “Blake I am hit,” and he said “Where are you hit?” and I said “I do not know but I just cannot see anything.”  We lay there for a long time and I got back to reason what was going on and I noticed that if I moved my head something inside my brain was loose and my brain would go back and forth like a bowl of Jell-O so I knew that that was not any good and I would need some help and I stayed there.  They had a telephone line wired into the trench with telephones every so often so if anyone needed anyone they just whistled into the phone.  Someone whistled into it and Blake picked up the phone and the person on the other end said “By any chance have you seen anybody named Scepaniak?”  He said “Yes, he is right here.”  So he asked “Where are you located.”  He gave the location and at about 9:00 two captains came over the hill and they had to crawl over it.  They got to me and they told me your fighting days are over and we are going to take you back.  They took me back to where they had set up tenting and were bringing in the reserves.  A colonel, Larife, came over to see me and he talked to me and he said we are sending you to Japan where you can get some R & R and hopefully we can see you back here.  I said “I hope I never come back.”  Apparently, I got back to the tent but I must have had amnesia because I do not remember anything till I reached Japan, 15-17 days later.  I talked to different guys like Narvone and Viola and others and I said “What happened?  Where have I been?”  And they said “You were fine.”  Whatever orders you were given you just did it.  I ended up in HoKKaido, Japan and I spent 17 months over there to recoup and get healed up. 

I never complained and I went to the aid station for a little help for whatever was ailing me.  I just felt I did not want to be hurt or say that I was hurt.  I felt like it was almost a disgrace that I could not fight.  I want to forget about the past.  It just cannot be done.  I have nightmares.  I have them even now.  I am always on edge and I cannot do the things that I want to do.  Like my mother said, and probably she was right.  She said “Ever since you came back the devil has been chasing you.”  I just want to forget about the past and I think that the only way it is going to happen is that is going to be when God washes away all the memories. 

I never fought with a soldier who was not a hero.  We left a lot of heroes on Pork Chop Hill.  Most of the men perished, only a handful survived.

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U.S. Army LeRoy James Hawley

LeRoy James Hawley, 73, died Tuesday, April 29, 2003 at Rochester Methodist Hospital.

LeRoy James Hawley, son of Dice and Arietta Hawley was born April 9, 1930 in Armour, SD where he was raised. LeRoy served in the US Army from January 1949 to October 1953 during which time he spent 31 months as a Korean POW.

He was united in marriage to Marilyn Schonher on February 4, 1956 in Howard, SD. He re-enlisted in the US Air Force in August 1956 retiring in August 1973. As a career military man he served his country throughout the United States, as well as Puerto Rico, Turkey, Thailand and Germany. During his distinguished career, LeRoy was awarded the following medals: Combat Infantry Badge, Air Force Commendation with Oak Leaf Cluster, Presidential Unit Citation with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, POW, Air Force Good Conduct with 2 Oak Leaf Clusters, Army Good Conduct with 3 Knots, National Defense with Bronze Star, Korean Service with 7 Service Stars, Vietnam Service, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Ribbon, Air Force Overseas Long Tour with 2 Oak Leaves, Air Force Longevity with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters, United Nations Medal, Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, Vietnam Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea Service Medal.

Following his retirement from the service, LeRoy and his family moved to Brookings, SD in August 1973. While making his home in Brookings he worked for John Bell Motors and then RCA Service Company retiring in 1985.

Having raised his five daughters, LeRoy and Marilyn moved to their dream home near Hot Spring, SD in October 1994. In November 2000 he returned to Brookings, SD.

He was a member of American Legion Post 74, Disabled American Veterans, American Ex Prisoners of War, VFA, and the Retired Enlisted Association.

Grateful for having shared his life are his daughters, Jane Hawley Boggs and her sons, Jesse and Chris of Brookings; Danita Hawley Branson and husband Matt and daughters Maria and Katie of Gig Harbor, WA; Lynn Hawley; Gwen Hawley Holinka and husband Rick and their children, Tyler and Marissa; and Natalie Hawley Arendsee and husband Bryan and their children, Amanda, Justin and Adam all of Watertown, SD.

LeRoy is also survived by his brother Wayne Hawley, and 4 sisters, Jolene Johnson, Mary Mimmack, Shirley Koisti, and Bonnie Nessan and numerous nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Marilyn; his parents, Dice and Arietta Hawley and his sister Marlene Probst.

My family history paper is going to be about my Grandpa and his experiences in the Army and the Korean War.

He was born April 9, 1930 in Douglas county near Armour, SD He attended rural schools for eight years and then Armour High School.

He enlisted in the U.S. Army on January 11, 1949. He went to basic training at Camp Chaffee, Arkansas and was later assigned to Ft. Bliss at El Paso, Texas. He was released from active duty on January 10, 1950 and was assigned to the U.S. Army Reserves. He returned to South Dakota and farmed with his Dad.

The Korean War started in June 1950 and he was called back to active duty in the middle of October 1950. He was sent to Ft. Lewis, Washington for two weeks of refresher training. When he finished, he was shipped to Ft. Lawton, Washington, near Seattle to wait for shipment overseas. He was shipped out on a troop ship for Korea stopping in Yokohama, Japan. From Yokohama they went by train to Camp Drake, Japan to pick up their field equipment such as rifles, gas masks, cold weather clothing and to get their shots. They were at Camp Drake for two days and then went back to Yokohama, Japan to board a troop ship headed for Inchon, Korea.

Once he arrived in Inchon, he was assigned to the U.S. Army 25th Infantry Division, 25th Reconnaissance Company, 3rd Platoon as a rifleman. He joined his unit near the 38th parallel which divides North and South Korea. His job was to help protect radio Jeeps assigned to listening posts. They also checked refugees that were headed south in advance of the Chinese Army who had entered the war and was pushing the U.N. forces south. They would also check Korean villages for North Korean and Chinese soldiers that were trying to infiltrate the U.S. lines and get behind them.

They slowly withdrew to Seoul, the capital of South Korea. They arrived there around the beginning of January 1951. On the morning of January 4, the platoon he was in was sent to the outskirts of the city to help an infantry unit that was pinned down. This unit had two tanks and three jeeps. They were cut off by the enemy after a long fight. They lost their jeeps so they loaded the wounded men into the tanks. They divided into two groups. The first group made it out with the wounded in the tanks. He was in the second group and they were unable to get through the enemy lines so they hid out in some vacant houses until it got dark. They hid in the daytime and tried to get back to their front line forces but they had withdrawn further south. They were behind enemy lines for eight days. They found very little food to eat and were having a tough time trying to hide.

My Grandpa and the rest of the group were captured on January 12, 1951 between Seoul and Inchon, South Korea. There were between 12-15 guys that were captured with him. They were captured by North Korean soldiers and up to that time, the North Koreans had been killing all captured enemy soldiers. I guess they were very lucky because they had stopped killing the captured soldiers. They were held in a small village for a couple of days. While they were there, they were interrogated several times. They were marched back to Seoul and held there for a month. While there, they had them haul water in a two-wheeled cart and gourds. They also had to go to houses that were vacant but still standing and take whatever the North Koreans could use or needed.

When they left Seoul, they went further north to a place they called the Bean Camp. The Bean Camp was an old Japanese mining camp during WWII. They called it the Bean Camp because they were fed a ball of rice and soybeans twice a day. The Bean Camp was a staging area. There were many prisoners there and lots of them died due to hunger, diseases, no medical care and many other reasons. They were held at the Bean Camp until the beginning of April 1951. After the camp was hit by friendly aircraft with rockets, which killed quite a few men, they started to march north to a permanent POW camp. They left with about 700 men and usually walked at night because they would get hit by U.S. aircraft because they were unable to identify them.

During the day the Chinese would hide the prisoners in a village or they would hide under trees on the mountainside. Many days they got no water and very little food. What little food they received was cracked corn, rice, millet seed or whatever the Chinese had. The march which they referred to as the Death March lasted about one month. Many men died on the march to Chong Song.

They went to POW Camp One in Chong Song, North Korea. The POW camps were run by the Chinese. When they got to Camp One, they were divided into different camps by colored soldiers, South Koreans, Sergeants, Officers, etc. Camp One was made up of lower-ranking Army soldiers. Camp One had between 700-800 prisoners and was made up of four companies; my Grandpa was in Company Two. He stayed at Camp One until the end of the war.

When they got to Camp One there was no medical care and the food was bad. When they first arrived at Camp One, they would bury 10-15 guys a day. They ate cracked corn, soybeans, rice and would get meat about twice a year.

Camp One was a village down in the valley in the mountains that had been taken over. They lived in Korean houses made of mud and straw. Each house had a cooking area with a large pot and usually two to three rooms that were 10’ x 10’ in size. There would be nine to ten guys in a room and they slept on mats on the floor.

There was a hospital on the hill but basically the men would go there to die. The Chinese did not provide much medical care to the prisoners. The prisoners would put maggots in their wounds or open sores so they would eat out the infection. Occasionally the Chinese would take a sick prisoner up to the hospital and sew a chicken gizzard under his arm as they believed this was a cure for everything.

The prisoners would have many jobs like gathering wood in the mountains, burying the dead and cooking. While he was at Camp One, he worked in the kitchen cooking the food and boiling drinking water for the prisoners. A Chinese officer would show them how to cook the food they gave them.

They would give them the Shanghai News and other communist propaganda to read. Occasionally they would give them a NY Times newspaper. The squad leader was supposed to have them study and discuss communism every day.

Sometimes some of the prisoners would be beaten and placed in a small box they called "the cage"; it was like solitary confinement. Occasionally they would shoot a prisoner.

Many men died at Camp One and on the march. They estimated that out of 700 men that left the Bean Camp, when my Grandpa did, that only 50% of them lived to return home.

The war ended July 27, 1953. They were released by camps. They would release a set number of American prisoners and other U.N. troops a day. He was returned to the American military at Freedom Village on August 14, 1953 traveling by truck and also by railroad box cars. Later in the afternoon they were flown by helicopter from Freedom Village to a holding area in Inchon, South Korea. After they were released, they were allowed to send a telegram to their parents. They were given ice cream to see if they could tolerate it. They were then allowed to shower, were deloused, given new uniforms, and fed a big meal. They were then required to lie down to see if they could handle the American food.

A few days later they were loaded on a troop ship to go back to the United States. They kept the troops and the released prisoners on separate parts of the ship; they were not allowed to interact. It took about two weeks to get to the United States. He said the Golden Gate bridge looked great when they went under it and it was a wonderful feeling to be on U.S. soil.

His parents and an Aunt and Uncle met the ship in San Francisco. They drove back to his hometown of Armour, South Dakota where they had a parade for him. He said "It was great to be home again, a free person."

My grandpa spent 31 months and 2 days as a Korean POW.

 

 

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U.S. Army Cpl. Kermit C. Wager

Cpl. Kermit C. Wager
Cpl. Kermit C. Wager
,
ER 55239784, Co. B 79th Comb. Engr. I was drafted into the U.S. Army on January 18, 1952 – discharged December 12, 1953 and was in the active reserves for 6 years.

I did 8 weeks of Infantry training and 8 weeks of heavy equipment school. I learned to operate – dozers, caterpillars, scrapers and blades at Ft. Leonardwood, Missouri. We graduated from that course on June 5th, 1952, and received orders for overseas duty. There we would get our experience.

I hitchhiked rides by auto from Ft. Leonardwood, Missouri to Mobridge, South Dakota. I had 21 days travel time from Ft. Leonardwood, Missouri to Seattle, Washington. I went by train to Seattle so I had plenty of time. I was on the train 40 hours from Mobridge, South Dakota to Seattle, Washington. I went on board the ship "General Funston" on July 6, 1952.

We went by the Aleutian Islands, part of Alaska. We stopped for a few hours at Adak, Alaska, and then journeyed on for 14 days to Yokahama, Japan. I thought we hit it lucky and what a place to spend my tour of duty. Oh yes, they had a Japanese band waiting for us. One of the songs they played was called "If We Knew You Were Coming We Would Have Baked You a Cake."

After about 6 days there we received more orders, which put us on another boat (troop ship carrying about 3000 men). We landed at Inchon, Korea after another 5 days on the water. Inchon is about 23 miles from Seoul, Korea. Once we reached Seoul, we were assigned to Co. B of the 79th Engineers; this Engineer Company was located on Koje and Chijdo islands.

Once we arrived there, we helped build the prison compounds for the North Koreans who were the prisoners. After we completed our job there, we went back to the mainland of South Korea.

I was a truck driver for about 8 months then I went on to be a dozer operator. We built several bridges, repaired lots of roads going up to the 38th parallel. We built the 8th Army Headquarters in Seoul such as a PX, library and several night clubs and private housing.

I received word from Tony Ducheneaux December 28, 1952, that he would be back off the front lines for a few days. Camp Casey was the name of that rest point. Tony Ducheneaux and I were good friends and left for the service together. I thought this would be a good time to catch some rides up there and have a visit. Tony was from Promise, South Dakota. It was about 80 miles up there and the temperature was about zero. But I spent New Years day up there 1953. I rode in the back of an open truck which was no fun that far, but it was worth it. Tony and I were both drafted into the service the same time. I received my orders on Friday, November 13, 1953, to come home.

I spent Thanksgiving Day on the USS General Whittier ship. We landed at Seattle, Washington in December and I was discharged December 12, 1953 from Camp Carson, Colorado.

My medals are as follows: (1) Korean Service Medal, (2) 3 Bronze Service Stars, (3) United Nations Service Medal, (4) Good Conduct Medal and (5) National Defense Service Medal.

Kermit C. Wager
604 W. Garfield
Gettysburg, SD 57442

 

 

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U.S. Army Richard L. Hemmingson

Richard L. Hemmingson, I was a soldier in the Korean War during 1951-1953. I trained in Fort Riley, Kansas as an Infantry soldier, and then was shipped out to Japan. I spent two months in Japan, December – January, 1952.

Then I was shipped by boat across the Japanese sea and was sent to the 73 tank battalion of the 7th Division Company C. When I got there I was sick and was sent back to Jung Dung Po to the hospital. I got well in a couple of days and caught a ride with a truck driver from the outfit I belonged to. We had to drive black out that night and the outfit had moved since the truck driver was gone so neither of us knew where it was for sure. We drove until we finally found a tank encampment and found out we were on the DMZ, one mile more we would have been captured. Needless to say the man who I replaced was glad I got back.

I didn’t see that truck driver again until one day he drove up in a bus at Fort Lewis, Washington.

 

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U.S. Army Francis A. Grabinski

Francis A. Grabinski

Francis A. Grabinski

Transport

Francis A. Grabinski, was drafted into the US Army in February of 1951. He was inducted in Sioux Falls and then boarded a troop train in Milbank. The first stop was Ft. Lewis, Washington; it took about 5 days to arrive. From there he was sent to Camp Cooke, California for basic training. Francis was assigned to D Battery, 140th AAA AWBNSP 40th Div. He thought basic was rough at 2 o’clock in the morning, having to do "special assignment" which consisted of running around in the dark.

After basic Francis received a 5 day leave to come home before returning to Camp Stoneman to prepare to board ships and head to Japan. He traveled on the US Army Transport "The General W. M. Black". Once in Japan they started their advanced training. By December 5th, 1951, he was in Korea. Francis even thought that Korea had colder temperatures than South Dakota.

While in Korea Francis earned all of his rank. He started out a PVT E-1 and was discharged a S2C-US 55102457. He also had 5 medals issued to him. Occupation of Japan, Good Conduct Korean Campaign, Korean War with 3 battle clusters, and later received the South Korean President Unit Citation.

Francis talked about how many great friendships were formed, especially during basic, but also mentioned that they were split up somewhat once in battle. His first officer was Lt. Joblinski, Francis mentioned he was a good guy; he always shared a shot of whiskey and gave him a hard time for not being able to speak Polish with a name like Grabinski.

A highlight was the USO entertainers. Doris Day and Betty Hutton came. The unit drew straws to see who would go and Francis got the short one. He even has a personalized autographed picture of Betty Hutton.

Francis wrote: "About Christmas time in 1951 we knew we were going into combat. I was really surprised. I thought it would be like in the movies. I lost a couple of close friends, after a short time we were transferred to different units so there were no more than 2 of us that really knew each other, I guess that was to make things easier when something happened, sad but not as personal."

Francis was discharged in January of 1953 and he came back to the family farm. He recalls just wanting a good hamburger and a malted milk. It took about 2 years to get settled back in and decided to stay at the family farm and get married. He had 8 children and took care of the farm until he died in December of 2001.

Francis loved to attend the reunions and to visit with some of his fellow veterans. He told me once that they exchanged many stories but the really bad ones were never brought up. He was an active member of the Rockham American Legion Post 57 and he was a member of the Redfield VFW Post 2755. Francis was a proud Veteran and a great man. He remained in the color guard for Memorial Day services until the last 2 years of his life and displayed great patriotism. He made a canon to pull in local parades with a sign that says "Remember our POW and our MIA’s". He also made a replica of the tank he drove in Korea. I feel that the time Francis spent in the service was very important to him and again I know he was very proud to be a Veteran.
 

 

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U.S. Army Mel Dittman


Mel Dittman

"MY TOUR OF DUTY" 1952-1954

Basic Training

It was the required responsibility, that of being a young male and living within the continental limits of the United States, to furnish your name and your whereabouts, these pertinent facts made up a roster of available persons qualified as top-of-the-line by their peers…and to be selective candidates for military service should the need arise. It was called the Local Draft Board. Mine was in Chamberlain, South Dakota.

To begin this account, let us go back to late May of 1951. Having recently been released from the Pierre National Guard with already some pre-Basic Training experience, and a two-week bivouac exercise at a military facility in Minnesota, Ft. Ripley (between Little Falls and Brainerd). I served with the Pierre National Guard unit, Capt. Boocock, the Company Commander for a period of nearly two years. This was credited military time I was informed when I was drafted into regular duty. Reporting to Sioux Falls for physical and oath of allegiance, called being sworn in, it was April 2, 1952.

The people from Lyman County: Mike Sweeney-Presho, Wayne Hall-Vivian, and myself Mel Dittman-Presho. A Native American Alonzo Busch, I believe from Mission, South Dakota, passed our testing and physicals and were now Army property on a train headed for a quartermaster depot for clothing issue and all the things we’d need for Basic Training including a rifle, mess kit, backpack and a little shovel to dig fox holes with, plus other aptly suited details, like latrine duty when camping out.the Army called it "on bivouac." A temporary outdoor encampment, usually with tents as shelter (per Webster) with all this unfamiliar gear to take care of, we all looked at each other laughing and jesting as our duffel bags were packed to the max space available, and approached a 60 lb. weight. Yes, the first test of just what kind of physical shape do you represent?

We, a mass of Recruits from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and other mid-west states lugged their gear aboard a new later model train and in the dark of night, we listened to the clickityclack of iron wheels on rail splices, each of us in our own thoughts as we realized a new and different adventure was just beginning for all those who now were known by a series of letters and numbers. This new I.D. was called a "dog tag." I still remember mine: U.S. 55267211.

We slept and dozed in the coach cars as well as anyone can…when you’re tired enough, sleep comes easy. Sunrise revealed we were in Louisville, Kentucky. What if they’ll let us view the gold at Fort Knox? I don’t think so. But, I’ll bet those guarding the gold will be viewing us, ‘cause that’s our destination. By truck, G.I. 6-bys with wood hoop canvas covered bed, a fold-up bench on each side of the box. The trucks each stopped at the main gate to Ft. Knox (the distance from the Louisville train depot, between 20-25 miles). Fort Knox is a big area. No telling where the gold was. The Cadre, a Cpl. In fresh pressed fatigues came to the rear of our truck. Yes, we had arrived. The two-striper announced, "Get your minds off the gold and listen up. You are at your Basic Training Command…these three two-story barracks buildings will be your home for the next three months." A pause. "Dismount from the truck, fall in, a column of ducks!" What he’s talkin’ about, my National Guard experience helped to understand the military lingo. The Cpl., after much personal adjusting of the Recruits as to the direction and distance relative to each other, finally said loudly, "Lunch will be your pleasure. You will enjoy it! Attench-hut! Right face! Forward march! Then he double-timed to be the lead soldier just off the left of the marching column. Not all in step, but we ended up outside the Company mess hall. A great beginning! We do have potential, plus a place to call home. How many months did he say?? A thought: Hey! You better listen closer when the info is presented. You got that right buddy!

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Click HERE to read the rest of the story. (Adobe Acrobat Required, PDF document - 3.4mb)

U.S. Army Orvile Harley
Orvile Harvey
 

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