A Haven for Vee

Sunday, May 25, 2008

An Interview with My Father on His Korean War Service

Memorial Day is for remembering the military dead or wounded. In the United States, we commemorate the day by visiting the graves of not only our servicemen and women, but of family members and friends. It is also a time of welcoming summer and of having a barbeque or picnic. Although it can be a very solemn day, it is often interwoven with fun activity. Such will be the case in my own family.

In 2003, when I found myself teaching a senior high school American History class, I did an interview with my father on his Korean War Service. This was to set an example for my students whom had received an assignment (from me) to find a veteran and interview him or her. What a profound experience it turned out to be for all of us. If you ever have such an opportunity, grab it!

My father wishes to forget these events. In fact, when I asked him for permission to share the interview here, he said that it was better to forget. I assured him that it is better to remember. It's always better to remember. We, he and I, have purposely skated past the more troubling parts of the story, but I hope that you might find this little interview with one of the three million who served in that war of value or interest.

Interview with My Dad on His Korean War Service

What dates did you serve?
September 15, 1950 to November 6, 1951

How old were you then?
20 to 21

What branch of the service were you with?
The United States Marines. I had been serving with the Second Marine Division in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina when the call came to go to Korea. There was not enough man power in the Division so we were sent to Camp Pendleton in California to get reserves and build up the man power. We weren't all ready to go. Some of the guys were not even finished with boot camp yet. I saw some guys break down while trying to pack their seabags because they hadn't been trained to do even that. I was switched to the First Marine Division. We were part of the Inchon landing.

You were part of the Inchon landing?
Yes, I landed on an island off Korea called Wamedo and we went running and zigzagging across a causeway into Inchon. There was plenty of gunfire. The Seventh Time Division, they had an hour glass as their insignia, was with us. (Army)

What was your spiritual condition then? Did you ever pray?

Not very much...no time to pray. I didn't know nothing about religion or the Lord then. I went to church three times. There was a chaplain with us all the time. I knew about four Christian guys. I knew that they were Christians because they witnessed to me all the time. They were all killed and I wondered why the Christians would be killed. Now I think I know the answer. They went because they were ready to go home; a lot of the rest of us weren't.

What kind of equipment was issued?

We were issued summer gear the first year and we went through the winter with only summer gear except for winter socks, mittens, and caps with earmuffs. We had a lot of frostbite casualties. We had summer sleeping bags that did not break away. That's why 37 men had their throats slit in Kojo while still in their bags sleeping in the trenches. The bags did not release them. They were cold and bundled up tight; they were sitting ducks. By the way, Truman issued an order that no one who had served in the first winter in Korea would serve a second one so that is why I was out in November.

What was the climate and terrain of the country like?

The 38th parallel is equivalent to the middle of Maine, the same sort of climate and terrain. A few times in the mountains it got to be -40 and -50 degrees at night. If we got a sore throat or something the medic would just give us a shot of penicillin. I became allergic to penicillin in Korea.

Where did you sleep? Were you actually fighting from trenches?

Yes, part of the time, sometimes fighting on our feet. Some men saw hand to hand combat, but I did not. Yeah, I saw combat, but it didn't go like you think. The fighting was not constant. It would come in spurts. You'd never know when. A major attack could mean a pounding of 36 hours.

What kind of food did you eat?

Sea rations and every two weeks you got a chance for a hot meal and a "hot" shower.

Did you ever run out of food or ammunition?

No, but I was hungry and without food for a day or so when we marched out of the Chosin Reservoir to Ham Hong to board a ship to Pusan. They did not have enough food on the ship to feed us so we were really hungry when we got off the ship in Pusan. We were very happy to see the Red Cross there with hot coffee and doughnuts, but they were not free; they were for sale. None of us had any money. It was very disappointing. Then we walked a little further and there was the Salvation Army with hot coffee and doughnuts for free. [To this day, my father will not donate to the Red Cross; although, he will always support the Salvation Army. The reason for the Red Cross' decision to sell coffee and doughnuts has been widely documented.]

How did you and your family feel about being in a war with North Korea? Did you see it as a just cause? (Dad grins) Well, I didn't have much to say about it. I think the country accepted it because North Korea was Communist and China supported them.

What was your opinion of General MacArthur?

Didn't like him. Most Marines didn't like him. He was a show-off. He was dressed up in a leather jacket with clean khakis, sunglasses, and a corn-cob pipe. He never looked like he did anything and I don't think he was a very good commander. General Matt Ridegway was a far better leader. [Ridegeway replaced MacArthur.] When we landed in Inchon, I could have reached out and touched him [MacArthur]. He bounced us Marines around a lot. Truman was right to fire him because he usurped Truman's authority by purposely going beyond the 38th parallel three times when he had been ordered not to. This is what we used to say about MacArthur:

With the help of God
And a few Marines
MacArthur will retake the Philippines

Hey, (my dad says brightening) this is a funny story! Bob Hope beat the Marines into Wan San! No, I didn't get to see the show because I was sent off to secure Kojo. [My father found Mr. Hope's beating the Marines to Wan San highly amusing.]

What kind of fighters were the North Koreans?

We said that that they were 'killers [killas] by day; guerrillas by night.'

What did you do with your dead and wounded?

The Marine Corps had a policy that you never leave your dead for two reasons: 1. The morale of the men stays up if the dead are gathered and 2. The enemy never knows how many have been killed. The Chinese never left their dead either. (Marines don't believe in retreat — we just advanced to the rear.) We saw lots of blood, but no dead. The wounded were usually helicoptered out just like in the tv show MASH. I liked that show because it was pretty realistic and they had all the correct equipment.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Well, yes, it doesn't appear that we accomplished anything, but at least we held on to what we had against tremendous odds...China had become involved. We even heard that Russian pilots had bombed...after all, we were only 38 or so miles from the nearest Russian city. Maybe they were worried for their own country. What would we do if that was going on just 38 miles from us?

My father went on to serve his country for a total of nine years. He was in Okinawa when I was two and three. Thank you, Dad, for your service to your country. I honor you for it.

Hope that you will find someone to thank, too. Maybe he or she lives at your house, in your town, is your neighbor. God bless them all!


  1. Wonderful and insightful post! I wish I'd had the opportunity or rather the thoughtfulness to interview my father-in-law about his Korean service. He was in the Navy and served aboard the USS Halsey. Have a restful Sunday!

  2. Vee,
    Wanted to add a correction, the ship was the USS Halsey Powell.

  3. A big thank you to your father and to all who served. My Dad was in WWII and the only thing he would talk about were the fellows that served with him. Sadly he has been gone 32 years.

  4. Vee, please tell your father thank you for serving our country and sharing his story as difficult as it may be. Men from these wars are getting harder and harder to find because of their age, it's important to remember these wars.

    Those men and women are true patriots and hero's.

    I too always donate to the Salvation Army and had a bad experience with the Red Cross years ago, I'll leave it at that.

    Have a wonderful Memorial Day, thank you for sharing, I hope you get to spend time with your wonderful Father!

    Kathi :)

  5. Most interesting to hear a first-hand report of someone who has served for your great country! Thanks for reminding us what this holiday is all about...and for giving recognition to your dad and all those who served faithfully.

  6. Wonderful entry Vee. Good that you could get him to talk...

    I had/have a lot of military in my family, but never talked to them about their service. Except I know of my husband's, since he was called up in the 'Berlin Crisis.' {Does anyone remember that one? Probably not, but we do... since it was 'hell' on our brand new young family.}

    But I doubt I could get or have gotten any of the older ones, to talk much. But then, I never tried...


  7. What a wonderful, wonderful post! Tell your father he is my hero! Please thank him for his service to our country. I don't believe in war and I know it wasn't very many peoples choice to go back then. I don't know how the young guys like your dad had the courage and strength to do all they did. I honor and salute all of them. I wear a poppy today in rememberence of all of them.

  8. What a wonderful way to pay tribute to all those who fought by interviewing some one who was there. My Father fought in this war but he would not talk about it either.....Have a great weekend...Mary

  9. That was a fascinating interview, Vee. Thanks to him and all who have served, from the bottom of my heart.


  10. Vee! I so enjoyed reading your father's Korean story! His memories and your wonderful prose truly set the tone and painted a vivid picture for me!

    I thank your father for serving his and our country! And, thank you for sharing it with all of us!

    My father and oldest brother both served in the Army, but, thankfully, neither came near any fighting.

    God bless all our soldiers, from old wars and new wars.

  11. Vee...Interesting hearing your father speak of war..I have several family members that seldom say anything at all. I think they want to forget. God bless them all..most went above and beyond the call of duty. Please thank your father for his service to our country...Blessings...

  12. Thanks for sharing the interview Vee. It was very touching. I lost my dad this past fall. We are going to a service tomorrow where his name will be read and added to the memorial wall for the service men. My dad served in the Navy for WWII. I am so very proud of him and all that have served our country.

  13. Vee,
    Thank you for the wonderful post! God bless all those who fought and fight to keep our country free. Your dad's words are very similar to my Uncle's (Army) about WW2. Same opinions. We have to remember!
    Hugs, Sherry

  14. Wow. That had to be an amazing thing...to interview your own father about war service. I mean, I'll be not too many folks think to do that. Thank him for his service for me, would you?

    I was a VISTA volunteer for the Red Cross and I heard SEVERAL times from vets how they resented being charged for coffee and doughnuts. Just another example of how political correctness will bite you in the butt every time!!

    God bless.

  15. Vee - Thank you for this interview. I'm glad your father agreed to do it. We should all be recording this family histories.

    I wish I'd asked my dad a bit more about his service. He served in World War II on the aircraft carrier Midway and he was in the Sea of Japan with the fleet when the peace treaty with Japan was signed.

    He was called back in to serve in the Korean War, so he served twice! His brother served in WWII and spent two years in a German prisoner of war camp. That was quite a terrible experience for a young farm boy. He has spent the rest of his life on meds to help him sleep and calm his nerves.

    Thanks Vee.


  16. God Bless men like your father, and all the fathers sons and brothers who do what they do as long as they do while they can...beautiful interview, sad and poignant. I don't blame him for wanting to forget, but if we don't remember we are doomed to repeat history...as we are now...
    hugs to you dear Vee

  17. Vee, the interview with your Dad is fascinating. You are right to be proud of him. I could nearly invision you sitting side by side. . jotting down the notes.
    Such a wonderful legacy of courage and determination amidst unthinkable times.

  18. This was one of, if not THE BEST, story I've read in a very, very, very long time. What a great interview. Tell your father his memories have served to teach many, many people about the human cost of war. And tell him thank you, as well.


  19. What a wonderful interview with your Father!

  20. We went to the Tahoma Cemetery today and we decided that next year each of the 4 of us are going to bring our own bouquet to place at graves where there are no flowers.

    Thank you to your Darling Father for all that he has done. My father, and James' father as well as 2 of my Grandfathers served in our US Military also.

  21. Please thank your Dad for letting us read about his time in Korea. Personal stories make things real, and as a history graduate, I can't emphasise enough how important it is to actually talk to people who have lived through events.

    Wonderful post, Vee!

  22. I love hearing was stories form our brave men. My Dad and his 4 brother all served in WWII and all made it home.
    Thank you Vee's Dad

  23. That was a great post and I thank your father for serving and sharing his experiences.
    My father was in WWII and didn't speak much about it.
    My dad was Jimmy Stewart's driver for a while in the Army.
    My husband Ken, was in the Navy for 20 years. We got married 2 years after he was in.

  24. What an honor to meet your father through this interview. While it was probably not a pleasant thing for him to remember that time, it is important for the rest of us to understand and appreciate the service to our country that everyone in the military, past and present, has provided us.

  25. What a wonderful interview with your father! A treasure, indeed.
    Thanks for including his smiles...etc. Great job!

    Glad I popped over from Bittersweet Punkin today!

    Becky K.

  26. My father was also in the Marines. He too was in Korea as well as Vietnam. He is a Lifer. He agrees with your father both about MacArthur and the Red Cross. To this day our family will not do anything for the Red Cross. We to use the saying about MacArthur and the Philippines only a little different. My daughter interviewed my father for a class project. He told her about the Marines that were coming out of Frozen Chosin and that the Marines were not only bring out their dead and wounded but the Army's as well. Sorry for the small book, but it is great to find another Marine brat. Katie

  27. Vee, I am catching up on my blog reading... busy week... but just had to tell you how wonderful this interview with your dad is. In our family we are very intent on making sure our children appreciate those who have sacrificed so much for our freedom. I spent this Wednesday in my hometown with my dad... going through countless pictures of his dad in uniform upon his arrival home from WWII. It was so meaningful to share that with my dad, as my grandfather would never talk about his military experiences until just the last few years of his life. Consequently, we don't know as much as we would like to. What a blessing that you took the opportunity to get all of your dad's comments down on paper for you and your family to have and pass down. Thanks for sharing them with us, too, so that we can know and be thankful.


  28. Thank you to each and every one who read this interview and left a comment. I have been blessed by them. It is important to remember lest we forget the sacrifice and courage that it takes to leave everything behind and go. My dad says he didn't have much choice, but, of course, everyone has a choice. I think of those who gave some and, most especially, those who gave all so that we could enjoy the liberty that we have today.

  29. I ran across this when looking for information on the red cross selling donuts. Thank your dad for his first hand account.

    1. I would love to thank him on your behalf except that my dad moved to Glory two years ago. Glad that you found this post of interest.


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