WWP: “I can talk to you about wading the Imjin River in the winter, the night the Chinese attacked us the first time…we’ll start with the night the Chinese came in.”

What is your birth year?

1932.

How old are you?

85 today. 

What branch of the United States Armed Forces did you serve in?

Two. The United States Army and the United States Navy.

What was your rank?

In the Army, I became a sergeant. In the Navy, I became a captain.

Where did you serve?

We’ll start with the Army. In the Army, I started in Alabama, went to Louisiana, then went to Korea. Came home from Korea, spent time in the Army hospital in Denver, then from there I was released from the Army and went to college. The Navy, I started in Newport, Rhode Island, and I went all over the world. We lived in a variety of places; the first duty station after I became an officer was in Hawaii- it was a territory. My wife went with me, and there we were, in Never-never Land.

Where were you born?

I was born in Lafayette, Indiana.

What are your parent’s names?

My father’s name was Wayne and my mother’s name was Gladys.

Do you have any siblings?

I had three brothers. The brother next to me, whose name is Dick, was closest to me in age. Dick and I did a lot of things together; we probably fought a lot together, too. We did a lot of things together. When we were out here dealing with the cattle, both of us were doing it. Our other two brothers were several years younger than he was, so it was almost like two different families, looking at it now. At the time we didn’t think that, but looking at it now- my parents moved after I left home, and Dick and I were both gone. Our two youngest brothers lived in a big city while they were in high school, and we hadn’t had that experience at all.

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What city did you grow up in?

I essentially grew up in Brook, Indiana.

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood?

Interestingly, I remember the German invasion of Poland better than I do Pearl Harbor, for the simple reason that I would’ve been 7 years old when it happened. The Germans invaded Poland on the 1st of September, 1939. The same day in this little town- this town of Brook was about 800 people- they were having a Polish anniversary celebration for all the Polish people who lived there. The news of the invasion by Germany was out by the time this thing started in the morning. It was in a little park, and we lived next to the park, so being a little kid, I was over there snatching food. I was very much aware of how concerned they were about what was happening. When Pearl Harbor occurred, I was aware of it by late in the afternoon, but it isn’t as vivid in my mind as the Germans invading Poland.

What sort of technology was available to you while growing up?

We had a party line, and our phone number was 4-5-ring-3. I’ll never forget it; it’ll never let me forget it. We didn’t have a lot of technology; I remember when we went from having an ice box to having a refrigerator. The ice box was a box, and a guy came to put ice in it every week or so, and sometimes it would be 25 pounds, 50 pounds. We had a sign we’d put up in the window. It was during the Depression, and there wasn’t a lot to do. We’d listen to the radio, and that was it. The little town had, in the summer, movies. I have no idea how these were paid for, but we’d sit out in the street. They only had two main streets, and a few little side streets. We’d block off one of the main streets, and people would sit out and watch the movie in the good weather. Before the movie, they’d generally play music. There’d be a bunch of guys with violins, and guitars, and a base maybe- I used to say that I’d heard Star Spangled Banner on the violin more than I’d ever heard it any other way, before I went to high school. In the winter, they’d move the movie inside the local feed mill. We all sat in there, with all these sacks of feed around. In the middle was a great big furnace, and that was used to keep the feed from freezing. It was up on a platform, and underneath the platform, all the rats got under because it was nice and warm. They’d stop the movie and turn the lights on to change the reels, and all the rats would run out. That’s the way it was! That’s the way we lived, and we lived fairly well. We were out in the country, so we had food. Not a lot of clothes, [and] we didn’t go very far, because it was expensive to travel, but we just lived a great life, looking back on it. [My wife and I] lived through rationing. Food was rationed, shoes were rationed, tires were rationed, everything was rationed. Gas was rationed. You had A, B, and C cards. [My dad] was the doctor, so we got gas. He couldn’t go driving around- he felt that it was his duty not to be driving around, joyriding. He didn’t go anyplace. 

Did the Great Depression effect your family?

My father was a doctor, so we ate very well, because people paid him in food. We didn’t have a lot of clothes, we didn’t do a lot of things- an exciting thing for us was on Sunday evening, to go downtown and get what we called a brick- it was probably a pound of ice cream, always Neapolitan because that’s what my mother said we had to have. That would be our supper, and it would be a big splurge when we did that. We’d listen to the radio as a family, and we did that quite a bit.

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What sort of things did you hear on the radio?

I remember riding in a car with my father and hearing Hitler speak. I didn’t understand German, my father did! He would tell me what he was saying, but it was just like listening to a lot of noise. It was obviously some kind of shortwave, but they broadcasted Hitler’s speeches in the United States.

Did you notice there was a wartime sense of Nationalism or Isolationism in your hometown?

Very much so. Both. We lived way out in the country, but this little town I lived in- there were three people killed at Pearl Harbor. Just out of this little town. Two of them were brothers, on the Arizona. That made a big impact, right away. Of course, right away, all the able bodied men went away. Boys like me, by the time I was 10 years old, I was working in the fields, because there was nobody else to do it. The brother next to me, by the time he was 9, he was out in the fields, too. There was just nobody around. Was there a sense of fear in your town? Not where we lived, but I think if you’d been in a city there might’ve been. Where we lived, we were so isolated that it was really exciting if we saw an airplane fly overhead. We were 100 miles from Chicago, but yet it was like we were cut off from every place. A railroad ran through town- it was not a very big and important railroad. The name of it was the Chicago Attica, and it was designed to haul coal from southern Indiana to the Chicago tenements. It wasn’t very good coal either, but every now and then, during the war, a train would come through with military equipment on flat cars. Not very often, but it did happen, and when it did, over the grapevine of boys in the town- we’d all go see them, because they always stopped for lunch in our town.

Tell me about high school.

I started in this little town in Brook. My high school class was eight girls and three boys. Very small. When they had their 50th reunion, they invited us to come. We went, and I was very surprised to find out that I was the only one of the three boys who was still alive. I was the only one of the three who had been in the military. The other two had been gone for a long time. It was quite an experience. Then, when I went to Culver- Culver is a prep school. Military schools- a lot of them- are for bad boys. Culver won’t take a boy with a problem. In my day, it was all boys- now, they have girls, but the girls are not military. They’re on a prefect system which is more military than what the boys are in, but that’s beside the point. {Laughs} Of course, WWII was just over; I went to Culver in the fall of 1947. WWII was just over, and most of the instructors had been in WWII. They still wore their uniform; sometimes they wore civilian clothes, but most of the time they were in uniform. But, that isn’t the reason I joined the military. It had nothing to do with that. Culver is designed to send people to college. Culver was originally established way back in 1894 to train young men for business. Back then, a college education wasn’t a ticket to get into business. That was the original goal. Today, they do send people to military because they are an honor school, and they get two appointments to the major service academies, but that’s not the goal. The goal is to send them to college. They are very proud of their college graduation rate.

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Were you drafted, part of ROTC, or did you enlist?

{Laughs} I had this little problem. I was 17 years old and girls didn’t want anything to do with me. I didn’t quite understand that. I didn’t realize that my voice hadn’t changed. WWII was just over, and I decided that if I had a uniform, the girls would pay attention to me. So, when I faced my junior year of high school, I joined the Army reserve. The bad part was, I did it three weeks before the Korean war started. By definition, a reservist is trained. The Army, in its infinite wisdom, called my unit, which was located about thirty miles away. Gave me an excuse to drive every week, to go to drill. Three weeks after the Korean war started, the unit was activated, and I was in the Army. I’d just finished my junior year of high school. There was no getting out of it- I didn’t try. My parents basically said to me, “You got yourself into this, you’re going to have to fix it.”

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Did you know what you were getting into?

I had no idea. I’d been to a military school; I knew how to take my rifle apart and put it back together, I could do it blindfolded, that kind of stuff, but I had no idea of what I was really getting into. The military was the military of pre-WWII, in terms of rules and regulations and how they operated. I really had no concept of what that was, and I didn’t get into a lot of trouble.

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

I didn’t have any, because I was a reservist, and reservists by definition were trained. This unit was in an artillery unit; the unit was about 60 people, and it was supposed to have 100-and-something. Probably 20 of us were teenagers, and the rest were WWII veterans. The WWII veterans, and our battery commander, had a training program, because they knew we needed to learn a lot. We were kept busy all the time. We were [in] what they called the ‘School of Soldier’. We did that all the time. We stayed in Fowler, Indiana, which was where the unit was, for about a month after we were in the Army. Well, that was not the real Army at all, because we were near most people’s home. I did KP in the local restaurant that fed the soldiers. Then in September they put us on a troop train to Camp Rucker, Alabama. It was down in the southeast corner of Alabama. Camp Rucker had never been a military base; it was a German POW camp. It was pretty neat, because we walked in and we were the first unit in there, other than some people who were the gatekeepers. Everything was in German- there was nothing in English on this whole base. We had our area, and we started cleaning it up- changing all the signs to English- and started training and going running in the red clay. About six months after we were there, they put us on another train and took us to North Camp Polk, in Louisiana, which was also a camp that had been closed after WWII. We opened that one up, too. It was miles from anywhere. We didn’t get out of there very often. From there, I went to Korea. A very interesting thing happened as I was leaving; because the unit was so small, there were lots of vacancies for promotions. They knew all the young guys were gonna go to Korea. The old guys were gonna go to Japan. I didn’t know that, but somebody knew that. When the time came for me to go to Korea, they stood up at the morning roll call and read the mail and orders. After the roll call was over, the first sergeant called me and took me out behind the barracks. He beat me, he literally beat me until I couldn’t stand up. Then he picked me up off the ground and told me, “You’re a corporal now. One rule: take care of your people.” And he threw me up against the barracks wall and walked away. I finally got up and staggered out. I’ve never forgotten the rule- I always took care of my people.

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Where exactly did you go during the Korean war? Do you remember your first days there?

The first place I went was the 3rd infantry division Reppo Deppo, which was replacement depot, as a replacement. I wasn’t with a unit; it was just me. Eventually they screened out fourteen of us, all artillerymen, and we were in the replacement depot two, three days. Then we went on a truck, and we got up on the front lines at night. I was one of the first fourteen white replacements in an all-black artillery battalion. The officers were all white, and the enlisted were all black. The officers before knew we were coming, and they decided, on their own, that we couldn’t get along with the blacks. Nobody asked us! We get there, and they decided that what they’re going to do is send us up on the actual front line, which was a thousand yards forward of where we were, to be with the forward observer and be his assistant. That was all well and good, so we spent the first night with these blacks. Anyhow, during that night, a North Korean tank- it’s the only tank I saw in the war, I didn’t even see this one, I just heard it- got through the front lines and came up on top of the front lines where we were, and started shooting down into the emplacements where we were. We did a lot of scurrying around, but the next morning, I went up to the front lines, company I of the 65th infantry. I was still an artilleryman, but I was with this infantry company to call the artillery fire for them. The officer was the one who really did it, but as it turned out, because we lost so many officers, we the enlisted tended to do that. In the beginning, there were two of us, myself and a guy named Peterson, who had come all the way from Indiana with me. We weren’t in the same unit in Indiana together, but we were in the same battalion, so we went to Alabama. We didn’t know each other until we got to Korea, and we were together. I don’t even remember his first name! The 65th infantry happened to be the Puerto Rican national guard. We already had culture shock from sleeping with a bunch of blacks- which was a new experience, and not a problem- now, we’re suddenly with 200 Puerto Ricans! {Laughs} The first two days were more culture shock socially than anything else. The black guys were great; I would never say a bad word about them. I wouldn’t say anything bad about the Puerto Ricans, either- they were good. They had no use for a Puerto Rican replacement who came from Chicago.

What was the weather like?

Yeah. {Laughs} Cold! I knew it was going to be cold, but the ground wasn’t frozen when I got there. It got really cold at night. The temperature swings were like [Oregon], because you’re so far north the angle of the sun, you get a 45° or 50° temperature swing. Even in the summers, the nights were cold. It got cold very quickly after that, and it really got cold. It got so cold that your rifle wouldn’t work. If you had oil on it, it would sludge up, if you didn’t have oil on it, it wouldn’t work. The only thing to do was pour hot water on it; hot water is a precious commodity on the front lines. You could get it, but then after the first few rounds, you didn’t like the smell.

What was your job or assignment there? Did it change over time?

I did two things. They called me a reconnaissance sergeant- I was only a corporal, but they called me a reconnaissance sergeant. That didn’t mean I went anyplace, it just meant that the forward observer was the guy who spotted the targets on the bad guys, and called the artillery fire. My job was to assist him, to be his radio operator, and to protect him. That’s what I did. If the infantry unit was sending a big patrol, myself and the officer would go. I’d carry the radio and the rifle, and myself. I’d be puffing along, and we’d go out and call fire on the radio right there. A lot of times, when we didn’t have an officer, one of us would go do it. We learned to call fire. About every six weeks, they would take us off the front lines and we would go back to battalion and worked in a place called the Fire Direction Center, where they do the calculations. In the front, we would say we have a target bearing such-and-such a range, and they would calculate what the guns needed, and how they needed to be elevated and trained, and the powder they had to choose to shoot what they wanted to shoot. We’d go back and do that; we were all trained to do that anyhow.

Did you see any combat at these locations?

{Laughs} It’s sort of like being at sea- I find it to be hours and hours of boredom and ten seconds of stark terror. It’s hard to talk about it; it’s hard today to talk about it. It’s as hard today to talk about as it was then. I think the sound and the smell are the bad things. The smell that sticks with me, when you mention combat, something I think about, is the smell of burning flesh. Shrapnel, bullets- they’re all hot, because they’re shooting out and get hot. The smell is not pleasant. The second thing I think about is the noise. In the movies, you see these guys yelling at each other- the noise is so bad, particularly in the beginning of any action, there isn’t any way to yell at anybody. It all has to be done by hand signals. If it’s at night, you just gotta hope that everybody does what they’re supposed to do. It was hard, and it was really hard. I was very lucky- Peterson and I stayed together through the whole thing. We had two guys that we lost, so we had two other guys that came. Those two guys survived with us. He was nuts. We all were. They all went off and did different things. I think that looking at the four of us, we were a pretty good team. Pete was the guy in charge, technically, but if he was back at the back then I was in charge. There were only two of us on the front lines at a time. In the front lines, you go back 1000 yards and you are essentially still on the front lines, you just aren’t getting sniped at. It was different. I spent the bulk of my time in Korea in North Korea. While we were moving, [there was no static front established.] We were lucky to have what we had behind us. There wasn’t anything like guys running around the camps.

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Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out.

There are lots of them. I can talk to you about wading the Imjin River in the winter, the night the Chinese attacked us the first time. We hadn’t seen a North Korean in days, so we were too relaxed, probably. We’ll start with the night the Chinese came in.

The traditional infantry company, when it’s moving and stops for the night, takes their three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon. They take a position where the two of the three platoons cross in the front, and the weapons platoon is scattered. Where I was was closer to the back, that night. It just happened that way. We fit wherever we could fit. It was shortly after dark when the company commander wanted a meeting. We didn’t have an officer at that time, so I was like the observer. I left my rifle, something I never did. I left my rifle in my hole, and I went up to this meeting, and they attacked. They attacked through the back, not from the front. We immediately broke up the meeting, and I’m running back to get my rifle. This Chinaman’s running the other way, and we pass each other and keep going. That was the beginning of my involvement with the Chinese. It turned into a long night, a hard night. We started pulling back shortly after that, and the next morning, we did pull back. It was a very bad night. Then, once we got the static front, once we came back up, that was a little tough. As we came back up and pushed the Chinese back- we pushed the Chinese into North Korea. The static front, which was basically the 38th parallel- we were probably eight or nine miles north of the 38th parallel. The Imjin River is a very large river that flows down from North Korea. It’s a mountain river- very shallow, very fast. It was winter, and we would wade that river on patrols. Then, your feet would be wet- it made no difference what you wore, your feet would be wet anyway you did it. I remember very well [that] after the patrol, the sergeant, the Puerto Rican sergeant, would always make everybody take off their boots, their socks. You don’t think about this, but where do you do laundry on the front lines? So, we carried our spare socks in the hem [of the underside of a shirt sleeve]. We had one sock hanging on each side, and it dried there. It was not very comfortable in the beginning, but it worked. Theoretically, you always had a pair of dry socks to put on. It’s a little thing. When I left high school to go to the Army, an old colonel told me, “You do two things. You put your socks under your armpits, and you carry a bunch of safety pins off the bandoliers, [because] they’re good for pining flesh together.” I always did that. I did do that, and there wasn’t anything else! It was hard.

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

Probably the most difficult was the last morning I was in combat. It was early in the morning, just before false dawn, and we were way up on a hill. We had a listening post- that’s a couple of guys whose job it is to listen into no-man’s-land and hear what goes on. We fought a big battle over a cow that got loose in no-man’s-land one time. Everybody was shooting at the cow- both sides, the company next to us, everybody! Anyway, we could see the Chinese coming, and we realized they were massing for an attack. They weren’t my men, but I volunteered to go down, because the infantry guys needed to be doing their thing. I ran down and got these guys started, but the Chinese attack started before I got back inside the wire. About the second or third mortar round, they blew me off this little trail. I ended up on the wire, and I got hit by the shrapnel. The one that got me bad was in my eye, but I ended up on the wire, about [two] feet off the ground. Well, every time a mortar round went off, it would slam me into the ground. Do you remember how you felt? What you were thinking? I was thinking I was in deep trouble, is what I was thinking! By the fifth or sixth round I was unconscious, and I was still unconscious three or four days later. I’d been through the MASH and I was in an evacuation hospital in Inchon when I woke up. When I woke up, there was a girl, a nurse, and she was about six inches from my face. My first thought was that I was dead, and that she was an angel. Then, I went back out again, and the next time I woke up I was on a ship going to Japan. That was probably the worst. There were other moments that were really bad, but that’s the one I wake up dreaming about. The other one I wake up dreaming about is this guy coming at me with a bayonet. I told the VA doctor that the bayonet seems to be getting longer over the years. I figure that when I’m ready to die, he’ll get me. It was real, and it did happen, and we did do the thing, and I’m here and he isn’t. That’s it.

What were the best memories of service?

There were lots of happy moments. First of all, when you survived a fire fight. I suspect it’s a lot like using drugs. The adrenaline pumps, and you’re really going. When it’s over, you crash. Coming out of that crash- it took patting each other on the back and saying good things to pull everybody up. That was always a good time. I didn’t say, “I relish this time”, but it was a good time. We’re all still here. Even the ones who weren’t still here, we didn’t talk about them a lot- it would be three or four weeks later that we’d say, “Oh, Joe did something…”, but we didn’t talk about it at the time.

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Were you injured during the war?

Oh, yeah, I got little scrapes and things, but nothing serious. Did you have any after-effects from these injuries? I think so. I think I spent my first two and a half years in college drunk. Half-drunk. I think that was why. I had a really hard time. It was hard. We’re off the war now- I had the G.I. bill, I worked two jobs- I theoretically had money. Well, that wasn’t true! I never had any money! I couldn’t figure out- I was sort of besotted in a way, couldn’t figure out where my money was going. In the summer between my junior and senior year, I kept track of all my expenses. Well, when the G.I. check came the first of the month, I would go down and buy a case of whiskey and about 12 boxes of cigars. I smoked cigarettes for two weeks in the Army and that was it. I never, ever, smoked cigarettes again, before or since. I started smoking when I was 10 or 11 years old- it was common. Tobacco was totally different back then than it is now, so bear with me. It wasn’t a bad thing. Anyhow, I kept track of all of my expenses- I’m still broke, but I’ve got all of these expenses. My big expenses are whiskey and cigars. Now, I look at them, I ponder it a few days, and I decide the whiskey has to go. I like the cigars better. When I ran out at the end of September, I just stopped. Oh, my goodness! {Laughs} It was probably eight or nine weeks later that I met [my wife]. I was just over the shakes by then, so it worked well. That was probably the worst thing about it- the VA said I had PTSD, but they didn’t call it that back then. I just tried to avoid them like the plague. I really had no intention of going back in the service, but the one thing that I did that I really enjoyed was when I got mature enough to learn how to talk through younger people, and make them be accountable citizens. I wanted to do that, so when I finished college, I went to work for Dow chemical. Dow chemical with a bachelor’s degree was no place for anybody, because there was a glass ceiling with bachelor’s degrees. Didn’t make any difference if you were a man or a woman, it was there. I went to graduate school, and while I was there I said, “I just can’t go back, and go into that same chemical plant the rest of my life.” I just wanted to lead people. By this time, we were married, and I finally convinced her that I could go back in the Army and be an officer, and lead people. This was before Vietnam started. I marched down to the Army, “Here I am! Here are my credentials, and I want to be an officer.” “You’re too old, sergeant. We’ll take you back as a sergeant, but you can’t come as an officer, you’re too old.” So, I used to drink beer with this Navy guy, and he was a recruiter. I teased him about the Navy, he’d tease me about the Army, and we’d get along pretty well. By this time, I’d started drinking again- I was very careful because I didn’t like beer. I thought it was the worst thing ever made; I could make a beer last three or four hours. He talked to me about being a line officer in the Navy. I had no idea what the Navy did; I knew they went to sea and all that, but I had no idea of what life was like. Finally, one day, we got in the car and went to Detroit, Michigan, and I joined the Navy, and went home and told [my wife]. It was very quiet around here for a few days! {Laughs} She finally agreed that was probably a good thing.  That was 1958, the spring of ’58. In June of ’58, I went to Newport, Rhode Island, with the Navy as a seaman. I went to Officer’s Candidate School to become an officer. 

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On the Cold War:

My career in the Navy- I was very much involved in the Cold War. Once I left this ship after four years, I went back to Vietnam much later. I went to another ship, then to shore duty, then back to Vietnam. When I went to Vietnam the next time, I taught in ROTC, navigation, seamanship, and leadership, at Columbia University in New York City. When we were having an awards ceremony at the end of the year, the anti-Vietnam students disrupted the ceremony and trapped [my wife] and a whole bunch of people in the big library. The New York City riot squad came and took them out. She didn’t go to New York very often, and that sure didn’t help. 

I’m going to talk about the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was on a minesweeper, and the minesweeper’s job is to remove mines and keep the sea lanes open. I went to this ship in September of 1962, and the first thing that happened was we went to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Minesweepers always travel in a group- there were four of us. I was the second in command in the navigation. We got to Halifax, and we were taking part in a NATO- National Atlantic Treaty Association- exercise. The ships from Europe and Canada, Norway, Britain, Belgium, Germany, Holland- all minesweepers. We were doing exercises under the NATO hat. We came into port in Halifax, Nova Scotia, after we’d been at sea a couple weeks during these exercises. We came in fully expecting to spend three or four days at port, and we gave the crew liberty. The next thing that happened was this guy came running down the pier, and we knew right away- the captain and I just happened to be standing on the foc’sle when he came down the pier. He was an officer. He had what we called chicken guts- we knew it was an admiral’s aide, but we had no idea what admiral. It turned out to be the mine force admiral’s aide, and he brought us a set of orders that said, “Get underway immediately. You will get orders on where you’re going after you clear the harbor.” All our crews were on the beach, so we got the Canadian Navy, and the Canadian mounted police- everybody around helped us. Everybody knew it was a real deal, because there wasn’t any, “This is a drill.” We had no idea what it was. We got to sea, and luckily this ship was the flag ship for these four ships. We had the guy in charge of all four on our ship. We always knew thirty seconds before anybody else did what was going on. The first thing that happened was, we get a set of orders by radio that we’re going to invade Cuba, and to go to this point. It told us to go through the Windward passage, not to go the way you would normally go. That was so we didn’t have to go by Havana. Minesweepers only go about 13 knots, which is about 14 miles an hour. That’s when they’re really pushing! They normally steam around 8 knots, which is about 9 miles an hour. We cranked it up, and we’re pulling 13 knots. We have no idea- we know we’re going to do a pre-invasion sweep, so that the landing craft can go into Cuba. But we have no idea what’s going on. The first thing the president did, the first order, was that we’re going to Cuba. It took us almost a week to steam from Nova Scotia to Cuba by way of the Windward passage. By the time we got there, and the invasion was to start that morning, we were three miles off the coast of Cuba, sixty miles east of Havana. I was leaning on the bridge rail, looking through the binoculars, and there was nobody on the beach. It was a nice beach radiant, little palm trees and stuff- but there was nobody there. That was the point at which the president said, “No, we’re not going to invade. We’re going to blockade.” The American people never knew that they’d gone through this, “We’re going to go in and whack them!” Right in the beginning, that was the initial reaction. I don’t know if they felt they could do it without- anytime you can accomplish your goal without putting people at risk, it’s a good thing. Then, we went to the blockade. Our blockade station was off Jupiter Light, off the coast of Florida, up north of Miami. This was typical- our blockade station, there was only one little gun on that ship! {Laughs} It wouldn’t have stopped anybody! But we were three miles off the coast- no Russian is going to come three miles from the United States coast at this time! We just stayed out there and fished. That was a tough experience for a lot of the crew- there were very few out of the crew who had ever been in combat, in really tough situations, and so it was hard for them to take. I tried very hard to take care of the crew, and keep them up to date, and keep them going. I managed to do it pretty well, and I felt pretty good about it, but it was an exciting time, and a very tense time. From there I went to Columbia University, and from there to the Special Forces School down in Fort Bragg. I was 35 years old at that point- I’m down there with 22 year old second lieutenants. I’m dying everyday, doing all the physical! {Laughs} Sailors don’t do that! When you’re at sea, you are physically exhausted at the end of the day, at the end of your work time. The ship is moving, you’re moving to counter the ship- you’re constantly moving, and you don’t think about that. It’s not like a cruise ship- warships, they move. They don’t run in straight lines. I went through Special Forces School, and went to Vietnam. 

On Vietnam:

I was in Vietnam four times. The first time must’ve been early in January or February of 1959. I was aboard ship. I was a brand new officer, so I was a division officer. I had about 30 sailors that worked for me. I was the damage control officer, assistant engineer. I stayed on this ship four years and went to Vietnam three other times on this ship. We were up in the Gulf of Tonkin long before the Gulf of Tonkin incident; we were not harassed then. Other than trying to stop any transportation of  material or ammunition to South Vietnam- that’s all we did. We didn’t have any exciting adventures. The weather was probably the worst adventure we had! The monsoon season, the typhoons- we were at sea in them. We didn’t leave, we stayed there. It got pretty rough.

In Vietnam, there were two Navy officers out of the school. We flipped a coin; one of us took the North side of the country and one of us took the South side of the country. I was very lucky I got the South half. I was stationed on an island called Phu Quoc. Phu Quoc was an island in the gulf of island; a very large island and the home of Nuoc cham, a fish sauce that is very popular. I was a political warfare officer; my job ran the whole gauntlet of political warfare. I arranged for schools to be built, got pigs for people- we would take a pig to a farmer and it would be pregnant. The deal was that he had to give us two of the litter. I wasn’t into pig farming, but I had guys who worked for me that were. We built schools, and I built a few dispensaries- most of these little villages didn’t have any medical treatment at all except for maybe a midwife. She was the medical experienced person in the village. The village of Antoi was a mixed village; it had a maybe 4 or 5 hundred Roman Catholics, a couple hundred Buddhists- the Buddhists had been there for generations. The Roman Catholics had come from North Vietnam when the country split.

My favorite person in all of Vietnam was a guy named Matthew. I can’t remember his Vietnamese name, but Matthew had been a professor of Japanese at the University of Hanoi before WWII. Matthew was an old man in my eyes, when I was at the ripe old age of 35. When WWII started, and the Japanese came into Vietnam, they took this whole Japanese language department and put them in the Japanese army as telegraph operators. The Vietnamese people thought they were all collaborators, so they were not well liked, they didn’t get along well with the people. He insisted to me that they never- it was all done because they were forced into this. I never had any reason to doubt him. After the war, as the communists took over, as Ho Chi Minh took over, they took all these Roman Catholics and they locked them up in warehouses in Hanoi and Haiphong. Literally, took the whole village and locked them up! When the French were forced out and the country spilt, they took this village and gave them the opportunity- anybody who was in North Vietnam and wanted to go South could, and anybody who wanted to go North could. The Vietnamese in the North were very happy to get rid of all these people in warehouses, so they took them all South. The people in the South took them and locked them up in warehouses! The United States, and France, really pushed on them, and they eventually got them to let all these people out. The people from this village, who had been the Japanese collaborators, they didn’t want to do that, so they put them on a French LST, took them down to this island of Phu Quoc, and literally drove up, put the ramp down, and forced them out. By the time I got there- of course, these Roman Catholics just overwhelmed these Buddhists- they had a Catholic church, and I spent a lot of my time [with] the Buddhist monk- he had all these drawings. He wanted a temple. The Catholics had a quonset hut- I didn’t want to know where they got it. Matthew could read and write English, but he couldn’t speak it. I would go down at night, sit on his earthen floor- you know those blue books you use for examinations? I had too many of those, so I would go down and hand him one of those books, and we would start a conversation. We really did pretty well! His counterpart was a young officer who spoke very good English, so it was pretty good. They were very upset [because] I kept telling them they had to bring a Buddhist into their city council. I finally got them to do that, and of course they brought the guy in and didn’t talk to him. That was not good. 

These guys, they wanted a hospital. I arranged for the CBs to come built a three-bedroom type thing for the midwife- there wasn’t any other medical treatment. The last thing the CBs did was paint a red cross on the roof of this building, an international symbol. Well, the red cross is also a Buddhist symbol. These guys were not happy! They were really unhappy. I spent an entire evening explaining to the city council why this red cross was on the building roof. Next door to the building was the building they used for town hall. The next day, I went down, and lo and behold, on the town hall there was a red cross. They didn’t want to be bombed either! {Laughs} That was how my life was. 

What was the biggest difference between Korea and Vietnam?

First of all, it was difficult to tell who the enemy was. Second of all, there was no front line. In Korea, I knew if the guy was north of me, he was probably not a friend of mine. In Vietnam, that was not the case. You had no idea. I was very rarely in combat in Vietnam. When I was, it was nothing like combat had been in Korea. It was like nickel/dime, if you will. It was still bad, not very nice, but it was nothing like. I was down in the Mekong River Delta- all rice paddies, and just little clumps of bad places here and there. The people who were down there were not professional North Vietnamese soldiers; they were not as good as the national guard, below that, like the local- militia type people. We talk about the black pajamas and all that- I wore black pajamas! My counterpart and I were in a village one time, and we tried to make rounds of all the villages, particularly the ones that were friendly. We also tried to go to the ones who were not necessarily enemy, but not necessarily friendly. We were in one of those one time- I had a very good tan, because we were not too far from the equator, and I was in black pajamas, as was my counterpart. All the sudden, these guys come into this room where we were, and we’re talking to the village chief. These guys come in, and they’ve all got AK-47s. I knew right away that I had a problem. My counterpart leaned over and said, “Do not speak. This is the enemy.” I sat there, mute and dumb. He negotiated with them- we would each leave at one end of the village and not shoot at each other until we were out. That’s what we did, but that was a pretty scary time. That was probably the most scared I was anytime in Vietnam. I was in a position- I had a weapon, but if I’d have made a move towards my weapon, across my legs- if I’d acted like I was going to pick it up, I’d’ve been dead before I could get there. That was that. I did a lot of political warfare type things. 

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The other very bad incident- it turned out okay, nobody got hurt. I spent a lot of my time on the mainland. There was this place called the Hanoi-American canal. Believe it or not, the French had named it that. I was on a Vietnamese junk with my counterpart- we were going up this canal, and there was a farmer driving two water buffalo on the dyke of the canal. We were just standing on this junk, watching them as we’re going up the river. All the sudden, one of these water buffalos goes ass over teakettle. It made no sense at all, and then we saw two guys in black pajamas, jumping right out of the bushes. I didn’t know, but I suspected that it was not a good thing. I insisted that we go ashore, and look at this water buffalo. By this time, the water buffalo had run away, the guy was screaming and yelling and chasing him- we go up there, and we find that the water buffalo had tripped over a wire. We followed the wire back to where these guys got out of the bushes, and there was a detonator. We followed the wire the other way, and it went probably 300 yards to the pier we were going to go into at these South Vietnamese base. Then, we had to get a diver to go down, and it was only about four or five feet deep- we found the wire was hooked to a 500 pound bomb that had been dug. We were parked right over it! That was another hairy time, but those kinds of things happened. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

I retired in 1985. 

How did you feel?

I felt badly. I really, always enjoyed what that old sergeant told me- taking care of my men. I feel that a man between 17 and 21- he’s not a man, he’s not a boy. I used to call them boy-men. They’re going through the emotional change that makes them men, and if you can lead them, and make them accountable for their actions, and make them first-class citizens, you’ve done a great thing for them, for the country, for everybody around them. That’s what I always tried to do. I very rarely talked to my soldiers about staying in the Navy- I always talked to them about being good Americans. When one wanted to stay in the Navy, I’d sit down and talk to him and tell him the bad and the good. There is bad- you’re away from home. It just happened that I actually loved going to sea. I hated leaving home, but I really liked the work. You live in a different world. When you went to sea when I was a young officer, when we went over the horizon- there was nothing. No communication with the land- no phone, no nothing. You had the undivided attention of those men. It was really something. When you saw one develop, and you watched him over a couple of years, it really was a great feeling. That’s what really kept me going. All in all, my career turned out really great. When I started out, I had no idea what a Navy officer did. This guy convinced me it was all leadership, and that’s what I did. I had very few jobs with a desk, I was always involved in some kind of leadership role. I’d do that tomorrow, I’d go to sea tomorrow. But I also know that I’m old, and I’d break something the minute I went to sea.

Did you have a family after the war? 

Yes, I did. I wasn’t married when I went to Korea but I was married when I went to Vietnam. I was married when I went to sea. When we went to Hawaii in 1958, [my wife] was pregnant with the first child. I went to sea and left her. We used to talk about leaving them barefoot and broken pregnant. Anyhow, she did well. She’s a very tough lady. {Laughs} We didn’t have Navy housing right away, so we lived down in Waikeke, back from the canal. We had this little apartment, and it was upstairs. I was gone, in Japan by this time, and [she] was pregnant, so she was making clothes for herself. This guy broke into the house, and she jumped up, grabbed her pinking shears, and chased him out of the house. I never worried about her after that- it was a long time before she told me about that, too. It did make a difference, and I felt that difference in Vietnam. By that time, there were three children, and that crossed my mind. I’d never had that kind of thought in Korea. I never worried about my parents; I knew they’d get along fine. I didn’t know what would happen to my family. It didn’t make a difference in what I did; I went out and did my thing anyhow. 

How did your military service affect how you think about wars today?

I feel like war is something you want to avoid if you can. I realize that there has always been wars and there probably always will be wars. On the other hand, I feel that the military itself- the military’s goal is not to go out and kill people in war. First of all, if you kill everybody, you don’t have anybody to run the country for you. Second of all, it’s hard on the people doing the killing. You can talk about the German and Nazi setup- that people could do that, to kill hundreds of unarmed people without some remorse, some feeling. That bothers me a whole lot. I feel very strongly that if we could do without war, that would be good. I don’t think we can; I don’t think that human nature is such that we can do it, but it would be nice. 

What do you think the general public should know about war?

I don’t know. My general public, as I was growing up, were guys who had been in WWII. They knew about war. When I came back from Korea, in that little town, the first place they took me was behind the barbershop. It was the only place in town you could get a drink, and that’s where they took me. They didn’t care that I wasn’t 21. They knew. My mother was just aghast that I would go in that place. They took good care of me. I don’t know of any magic thing that would be good. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about the Korean war, or Vietnam war?

The reason we went into Korea was that the American policy at the time was to contain communism. It wasn’t to free North Korea, or anything like that- it was to contain communism. So therefore, if we said that north of the 38th parallel communism could be, we were going to defend that. There were other countries there besides the United States, and people forget that. Great Britain didn’t have as many troops, but they had 20,000 troops there. One time, there was a battalion of Philippine soldiers next to us. It was a United Nations thing, and it worked. Vietnam was a whole different issue- it was still the policy of containment. The same thing happened. We probably were wrong in Vietnam, before we ever got there and they spilt the country. We probably should have just stepped back and said, “It’s not our stream of influence.” We didn’t do that. When I was teaching in New York, I knew when I was ordered to go to Fort Bragg that I was going to Vietnam. So did all the bad guys who were protesting the Vietnam war. They would call up [my wife] and tell her not to sleep with me until I refused to go. Well, if I was mad before, I was really mad then! {Laughs} That’s not what it’s all about. I feel that we made a lot of mistakes in Vietnam, and one of the big mistakes was the fact that they basically made it a war of the White House. I never bothered to do all of the things they told me I had to do to get permission to do something- I always just did it, and made it happen. I’d get chewed out once in a while, but usually it worked. 

Have you found adequate resources and connections in Portland?

Not until recently. When I first got out of the service, I was directed by the Army to go see the VA service officer. Every county had one, at that time. He gave me a card with a VA claim number that matched my serial number. I never used it. I felt I was rough and tough, and I could do my own thing. When I moved out here 10 years ago, the doctor told me to go to the VA and get a shingles shot, because Medicare won’t pay for it. I go to the VA, I lay down my card from 1953, and they look at it, and they’ve never seen one like that. They threw me out. I was a little biffed, so it just happened that the next day, I went to a meeting called MOAA, which is a Military Officers Association of America. It’s basically the old retired officer’s association. I went to a meeting, and it just happened that the speaker was the head of the Oregon VA. After it was over, I said, “I have this little problem.” He said, “We can fix that. I’ll have somebody contact you.” A couple days later some guy told me where to come, and I went to see him, and turned out he was a retired Navy Master chief petty officer. We hadn’t even gotten around to talking about me. We’re talking about the Navy, and a Master chief petty officer is a big deal in the Navy. This guy was no slouch. All the sudden, he turns around and starts typing on his computer. I say, “What are you doing, Master chief?” And he says, “I’m typing you a disability request.” “What for?” He says, “Captain, you can’t hear shit!” {Laughs} It took them two years to decide I really was disabled, and I was amazed, because they sent it, and I wrote about the combat I’d been in, and the fact that I’d been an engineer and exposed to lots of loud noises. So why did they give me disability? Because I had a ribbon that said I’d been in combat. It didn’t have anything to do with anything I said. They did, and I went down and got myself signed up and got my shingles shot. I’ve heard very good things and I’ve heard very bad things about the VA treatment. My own personal experience, once I got into the system, was good. People who are disabled- it’s a matter of income, how they can be seen. I don’t disapprove of that at all. I think if you’re making a lot of money and can afford to be seen by somebody else, you should do it. It’s the guys who haven’t done well, who haven’t been able to cope- they need that more than I do. I sometimes feel a little guilty when I walk in there, because now I’m required to go every year. I do go, have a good time with the doctor.

How did your service affect your life?

As a whole? I always felt pretty good about my service, that I’d done something good for the country. I feel that the Constitution, the first three words, are probably the most important- ‘We the People’. I think that means we the family, we the congregation, and we the nation. Congregation doesn’t necessarily mean religious, but a group. I feel that I’ve done really good things for all of them. I feel very bad that it appears to me that maybe I just wasted my time, now, because I feel that I look at the elitism of groups, and I just think that that’s wrong, that that’s not what the country is about. I feel badly about that, and sometimes I feel that I wasted 35 years trying to protect that, namely the Constitution. I heard a guy say the other day that we’re in a post-Constitutional phase. I sort of reared back- I hadn’t thought about that, but in some ways, that might be true. I’m very happy that I served, that there are young kids- they are now old men- that call me, and say how much I mean to them. Some of them are guys that I disciplined, some of them are guys that I put my arm around and walked down the deck and talked to them, and some of them are guys that I just growled at- and they’re all talking to me. My last two jobs in the Navy I had a lot of women working for me. The next to the last one, I had women officers, and I had officer candidates. The women were all college graduates- every eight weeks, we got a group of 800 in, and by law, 10% of them have to be women. The women joined the Navy not because they were all hot to go to sea- they joined the Navy because it’s equal pay, equal opportunity. Rightly so. The women would come in, and because of the competition, because of the limited number, they would have SAT scores up around 1300. The men would come in with SAT scores around 900 or 950. Those women ran circles around those guys! They would have run the whole show if I would’ve allowed it. I didn’t allow that, because it wouldn’t have worked. At my last job in the Navy, I had about 5,000 people, and about 1,000 were women. I had two women bodyguards- of my six, two were women. I saw one of them every day, because I sat her in the corner of my office. The other one was the officer in charge of the bodyguards. I did a lot with her, because I did a lot of things with governors and mayors. I wanted somebody who had some couth with me. That way, she took care of me and I didn’t have to worry about my back. It was very interesting. My daughter was a senior in high school when I had this first group of women. One of the first things I did, after I’d been there about three days, I made all the women wear skirts. Everybody thought I was a dirty old men, but my experience with women in the Navy at that point had been that there were a lot of them who were trying to look for this equal thing. The Navy took a long time to get to that. When they were trying to look for it, they became wannabes. They wanted to be like the men, so they dressed like the men. The first woman officer I ever saw was sat smoking a cigar with cowboy boots and her feet up on the table. I put them all in skirts, and I told them why, because I didn’t want to be around any wannabes. Now, they didn’t wear skirts when they were doing firefighting, but on a daily basis, they wore skirts. I did it to the 1,000 other women in my command; and I never heard anybody complain about it, except my daughter, who said I couldn’t do that! 

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Author’s Note: This project was recently featured in Portland’s Street Roots Newspaper. Read the article here: http://news.streetroots.org/2017/11/10/these-veterans-have-lived-something-extraordinary-portland-student-listens-shares

This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from:

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

One thought on “WWP: “I can talk to you about wading the Imjin River in the winter, the night the Chinese attacked us the first time…we’ll start with the night the Chinese came in.”

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