50 yrs of Comradery
In 1950, the Korean War broke out. Little did we young know how much our lives and our families' lives would be changed forever.
It all began when the postman delivered a letter from our President, Harry S. Truman, declaring "Greetings from your President. Your friends and neighbors have volunteered you for the draft to help fight the Korean War with the United Nations Forces. "
We took our medical exams. The next stop was the induction center, where we received our first inoculations, medical indoctrination and orientations, plus introduction to "KP" -kitchen police, or in other words, washing dishes.
From the induction center, we were put aboard a troop train and had a four day journey west, across the United States to southern California, to join the Southern California National Guard, which had been recently activated to help fight the Korean War. We draftees were to be fillers, to bring the guard's manpower up to full strength. So now we were part of California's 40th Infantry Division, 143rd Field Artillery Battalion, B Battery. This was where we struck up our new friendships that would remain for a half century and hopefully more. Our new home was called "Camp Cook", which is now Vandenberg Air Force Base. We took our basic training there, and after a brief furlough, returned to find out that we were slated to finish our training in Japan.
In November, we were loaded on another troop train and were headed for San Francisco. When we got there, we were greeted by an ocean liner named "The General Meigs". It was a huge ship with twin screws (propellers). When we finished boarding this ship, there were five thousand troops and officers, plus other Army personnel and their families that were bound for Japan. It took us fourteen days to cross the Pacific Ocean. The last two days we had to make circles out in the ocean due to a dangerous storm. The waves were thirty feet high, causing the ship to shift positions, which caused many soldiers to become seasick. After the storm subsided, we finally docked and disembarked the ship and were on Japanese soil. Much to our surprise, another troop train was waiting to whisk us north, the full length of "Honshu Island", to our new home at Camp Haugen (Ha gehn).
This was an overnight trip by train. When we arrived, we were disappointed to find that we were to live in a tent city. But we were surprised to find Japanese civilians hired by the United States Army to do jobs like KP and other jobs as needed to relieve the soldiers so they could train full time. We lived at Camp Haugen for three months.
Our next camp was Camp McNair. This was an unusual tent city .The site was at the base of the famous Mount Fugi. The Army engineers had bulldozed streets into the mountain. They looked like steps on the mountainside. There were metal quonset buildings for the mess halls, supply, and shower units. This is also where I witnessed my first typhoon. It happened about 5:00 AM, and in a half hour we lost 440 twelve man tents. Our clothes and personal belongings were all wet and strewn all over .I was lucky .As a cook, I stayed in the mess hall. I slept on six straight-back chairs as a makeshift bed. I don't know where the others slept. We stayed at the camp for three months also. Then it was time to move again.
This time we moved to Camp Wittington in Japan, an established Army post. We couldn't believe it when we saw the barracks. No more living outdoors. It was almost like being a civilian again, with white sheets on our bunks .We also had a movie theatre, service club, and many other amenities that made us feel like we were home again. We lived at this camp for three months. Then on Christmas Eve 1951, the message came through that we all dreaded to hear. "Merry Christmas, troops. We are going to Korea after January 1st." This was one of the worst Christmas presents we had ever received.
On January 7th, we cleaned the barracks and at 9:00 PM said goodbye to Camp Wittington. We drove all night. In the morning we reached Yokohama Harbor, where the United States Navy was waiting for us. The ships that were to take us to Korea were called LST's (Landing Ship Tanks). When we first saw them, we didn't know what to think. The bow doors were wide open to accept all of our vehicles and our six 105mm Howitzers. After we were aboard, they closed the bow doors, which was a great relief to us. We couldn't feature going out to sea with them open. After seven days on the Yellow Sea, it was time to leave the LST 715 that had been our home. We arrived at Inchon Harbor at 8:00 PM when there was high tide. The weather was twenty degrees below zero. The bow doors opened, the ramp was lowered, and the truck drivers were told to put the accelerator pedal to the floor and not to release it until they were on the top of the hill. They all did so, and now we were on Korean soil. The Red Cross was there to serve lukewarm coffee and frozen doughnuts. The troops were sitting in the back of the trucks that had tarpaulins over the tops with a flap to close the back. We were issued six pairs of pants, one over the other, to keep the cold out, but we didn't have much protection for our feet. They also issued parka coats with fur-Lined hoods.
Seeing that Korea did not have any road signs, several groups of Military Police would guide us to the front, where we were to replace the 24th Division. All the truck drivers were warned to keep the convoy closed up. This was a night movement, so headlights were not to be used. Instead, they were to use the little lights called "cat's eyes". With these instructions, we started our trek up to the front. We were to be fighting the Chinese Communists on the central front on the famous 38th Parallel. Twelve hours later, in twenty below zero weather, we arrived at this location, chilled to the bone, hungry, disgusted, and angry. Being a cook, an officer came running up to me and said, "Where's the hot coffee, Arnold?" I was very angry. I snarled at him and said, "Do you see that water trailer over there, Sir? Well, that's 250 gallons of ice, and our immersion heaters are covered with cosmoline. We will have to get them cleaned, melt the ice in the trailer, and then we will talk about making coffee. II He gave a disgusted grunt and stomped off. We worked hard to set up the kitchen, and managed to get a meal put together and feed the troops at 3:00 PM.
For the next two weeks, we continued to have twenty below zero weather. The troops were complaining about cold feet. Finally one day the supply department issued us insulated boots. We called them "Mickey Mouse boots". After that, the weather warmed up and it was better. When spring came, we experienced the monsoon season. It rained for two weeks straight. Now we had to put up with mud and gumbo soil, which built up on the soles of our boots. We had to scrape it off every so often or you couldn't stand up. Also the trucks were getting mired in this mud.
The summer was hot, with very little shade. In September, I had enough points to rotate, to go home. What a relief to leave this country in 1952.
So now it is fifty years later. A half century, and the bond with these men gets stronger with each year. On June 7, 2000 we had a mini-reunion. Six men and their spouses, and Bill Arnold, accepted the offer to celebrate this occasion. Larry and Madonna Neis of Onalaska, WI graciously hosted this joyous occasion at their home. There were many happy greetings. Picture albums showed how young we were, and many new pictures were taken to show how we look now. Snacks and refreshments were served for all to enjoy. At noon we went to "The Old Country Buffet" for lunch. The Army stories kept coming as we ate. After lunch, we returned for more visiting at the Neis residence until about 6:30 PM. Our big day was over and we returned home. But the after glow will remain in our hearts and minds forever.
Those that came to enjoy this wonderful day were: Bill Arnold from Wisconsin Rapids, WI; Willard and Gladys Berringer from Plymouth, WI; Jim and Alice Craft from Hot Springs, AR; Joe and Charlotte DeCarlo from Ironwood, MI; Jack and Dianna Hubert from Northbrook, IL; Leroy and Sandy Narveson from Argyle, WI; and Larry and Madonna Neis (our hosts) from Onalaska, WI. Frank and Betty Wagner from Park Falls, WI couldn't be present due to an important appointment.