20 below zero
A Journey Into A Frigid Land
This story begins on the Yellow Sea. The Yellow Sea is between Japan and Korea. We are aboard Navy Ship LST 715. An LST is a landing ship tank. It was built in World War II for transporting Army tanks and / or trucks and Howitzers. It has a flat bottom as opposed to other designs of ships. Because of its design of a flat bottom, it can float in ten feet of water. Due to the flat bottom, it is a very hard riding ship. When out at sea, the back end comes out of the water. The propeller spins in the air causing the whole ship to vibrate with great force. About that time, the bow is out of the water and returns with a splash which makes a loud thunderous sound. This continues twenty-four hours a day while in transit.
LST 715 at Inchon Beach, Korea. 715 is on the far right
We had left Yokohama, Japan several days ago, bound for Korea. It is now January 7, 1952. Tonight we would be on Korean soil.
After supper, while still being on the ship, the orientation started. We will be entering the Inchon harbor at high tide, so as to get close enough to the shore for the trucks to disembark. We were also issued five more pairs of pants, the sizes getting progressively bigger so as to fit over each other to keep out the cold. We already had parkas with fur lined hoods.
At 8:00 PM, we slid onto the beach. The temperature was 20 degrees below zero. The truck drivers warmed their trucks up for an hour before. The drivers' instructions were to use all six wheel drives and to put the accelerator to the floor and keep it there until they reached the top of the hill. If they did otherwise , they would be in the ocean.
The ship's bow doors opened, leaving a huge gaping hole, and then the ramp was lowered. The twenty-four vehicles and six 105mm Howitzers came spewing out of the ship belly up the hill and onto level land.
There the Red Cross was waiting for us. They served us frozen doughnuts and lukewarm coffee. Now our trek to the front line was to begin.
Korea was a primitive country. There were no road signs to guide us and this would be a night time troop movement. The Logistical Command was ready for us though. There would be Military Police to take us to the front. This was a long trip so there were four different MPs to do the job. The MPs admonished all the drivers to "keep the convoy closed up, not to leave the convoy, or use the head lights. You will use the lights called' cat's eyes' ." With these instructions, we were ready to embark on this new experience. The kitchen crew, four of us, and the warrant officer, plus all of the kitchen equipment, were to occupy the back of the truck. This would be a bitterly cold trip . The cab of the truck was an open type. It did have a cloth top and side curtains. The back of the truck was entirely covered with a tarp . The only opening was a curtain which opened in the back.
After the convoy was assembled, we started to move. We couldn't see outside, but could feel the sensation of going up and down hills. We also could feel the sideways movement when going around curves. Although we were shielded from the wind, we could feel the cold creeping in. N ow when the human body is subjected to extreme cold, it protects itself by expelling the excess water. ..after two hours of rough riding, the convoy stopped to do this function. We all got out of the trucks to accomplish this task. After unbuttoning six pairs of pants, I began to search for this part of my anatomy. I knew it was there when I left, but had great difficulty finding it. But at last, ahhhh, there it was...I took care of the usual procedure. These were the days before the signs proclaiming, "Don't eat the yellow snow. " This activity happened about five times during the trip .
About six hours into the trip, I overheard the truck driver and the mess sergeant talking. The driver said, "I think we are lost. I can't see the convoy. " The mess sergeant said, " Just keep on driving. " I was very upset, as I could hear the rat-a-tat of machine-gunfire. Then I heard a familiar sound, a jeep motor running at high speed. It was the Military Police. Both vehicles stopped. The MP growled at our driver, "Why did you leave the convoy?" "I got lost at the fork in the road", the driver said. The MP said, "If you would had continued on this road, you would have ended in enemy territory and would have been prisoners of war before you could have fired a shot. " The MP got us turned around and told us to follow him back to the convoy, which we did. In spite of all the winter clothing, we were getting chilled to the bone. Such luxuries as heaters were not a part of Army vehicles .
After twelve hours enroute, we finally reached our destination. It was still 20 degrees below zero. The officers assessed the area and told the truck drivers, "You will have to put on the chains or you will never get into this place. "
After we got into the area, I got off the truck. I was going to look for the kitchen tent, when an officer came running over to me and inquired, "Where is the hot coffee, Arnold?" I was cold, angry , and very frustrated. My reply was, "Sir, do you see that water trailer over there? Well, it has 250 gallons of frozen water in it. The immersion heaters are all coated with cosmulene . When we get them cleaned up, we will begin to thaw the ice in the trailer. Then we will talk about making coffee. " It was mid afternoon before we had assembled a meal for the men. It was thirty hours since the last meal that we had on the ship. Two space heaters were brought into the kitchen tent to keep the canned goods from freezing .
That night we found a tent to sleep in. We slept in our sleeping bags on the frozen dirt floor. We were warned, !I Put your boots in the sleeping bag. !I But I ignored them, much to my regret. The next morning when I woke up, the tent ceiling was covered with thick frost, as were my boots inside and out. You can guess what happened the next night. The next three weeks were all below zero. We had little space heaters that bummed fuel oil. We would wake at 2:00 AM, as the fire had gone out because the oil had turned to jelly and would not flow. One of us would get up, take the fuel line apart, clean it, reassemble it, and try to restart the fire. Later we mixed gas and fuel oil, half and half. This did the trick until the officers heard about it and we weren't allowed to do it any longer. In the motor pool, during subzero weather, all of the vehicles had to be started every hour and warm up so as to be ready to go at a moments notice .
I HAVE NEVER BEEN THAT COLD IN MY WHOLE LIFE AND HOPE THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN!!!!!
Footnote: Before the country's name was changed to Korea, it was called "Chosen". We picked up on this and referred to it as "Frozen Chosen"