A Node your homework enterprise.
In eleventh grade I interviewed a Korean War veteran, transcribed below. I, of course, am C. Naim, and the veteran is D. Warnock.
Please excuse the lack of talent on the part of the interviewer. The interviewee is much better.
C. Naim: Just in general…Let’s start at the start. How did you get there?
D. Warnock: Well, I was drafted in January of ’51. And I’d been living at Kann’ City, Missouri, at the time. And I was married, got married just about six months before. So anyway, I got drafted, and I got sent to Camp Cook, California, which is now Vandenberg Air Force Base. But I got sent out there and assigned to the 40th infantry division, which was California National Guard Division. And as a draftee, well they put about five thousand of us in that division to bring it up to strength. So I got my basic training at Camp Cook, California, and then I got a leave, and after that I got shipped from San Francisco to Japan, northern Japan, for six months, and I did training there, and then the 40th Division we all went to Korea, and I was there ‘till June or November of ’52.
C. Naim: Just about two years.
D. Warnock: Yeah. At that time when you got drafted it usually was two years. Yeah, the month I got drafted, the war started in June of ’50, and they instituted the draft that fall, and I think the month I got drafted there were about 70,000 young people were drafted for the army, because of the Korean War.
C. Naim: Did you believe in the cause of it? I mean, did you want to go there? I don’t mean it the way it quite sounds. I doubt that you wanted to go there—
D. Warnock: (laughs)
C. Naim: But if you, would you have, if you could have stayed home would you have preferred that we won? Do you know what I mean?
D. Warnock: Well yeah, to put it in perspective I was, well, probably about your age during World War II, from 1941 to ’45, so I was used to the war and a lot of our friends and relatives, of course, in fact everybody, able-bodied men were all drafted or went into the service, so in that sense it wasn’t anything new. And, I think my attitude probably was well, if you got called, why, you just went and served. The war itself, well, yeah, you know, it was kind of built up as fighting communism, and by 1950 communism was perceived to be the big threat to our country, and in Korea, the idea was well, if it was communist there, they would take over all of Korea. And of course, Japan was still recovering from World War II and so it would probably take over Japan. And in that sense, yeah, I felt it was a justified war. Of course it helped too, that this was the first war that we’ve ever been in the United Nations as a group was involved in. There were soldiers from a lot of different countries. So it was kind of an interesting, multi-national armed forces. But yeah, the cause was perceived as something as, you know, communism was considered the big evil, almost on the level of Germany, or you know, Hitler.
C. Naim: Almost. (Laughs)
D. Warnock: Yeah, almost. But there was nobody that knew too much about Korea. I mean, you know, I knew it existed. But there wasn’t nobody who knew too much about it really. (Laughs)
C. Naim: Just about as much as I know. (Laughs)
D. Warnock: Right, yeah. (Laughs) Probably.
C. Naim: What were your first impressions when you got there?
D. Warnock: Well my first impression was when we got to Japan, and of course, there, I think I was twenty-one, being a young guy, in the service, my first impression was that the country had a horrible smell. Both Japan and Korea smelled like fish. You know, it really did, and after you were there for a month, you didn’t, you know, you didn’t notice it, but I guess it was a different culture. But yeah, that was a big thing, that and, uh, they all looked alike. I couldn’t tell a Japanese from a Korean or a Chinese. (Laughs) You know, after you were there for a while you got so you could tell people that were Japanese, and when you got to Korea they had a, you see they had a distinct little different look, and their language was enough different that you caught on. But initially they all (Laughs) looked alike to me. They were Oriental. What was your question though?
C. Naim: Just your impressions in general.
D. Warnock: Oh, yeah, that was kind of my impression. And they were very misfortunate in Korea, because the people, they all didn’t have a thing. We landed at Inchon and that, and all the towns that we went through were just demolished. I mean, there was nothing there. And we worked around the—I was a combat engineer—and we worked around some Korean army units, and the South Korean government at that time. Course they were, they were fighting for their lives. You know, with all the fighting going on. So they had national conscription. And they would just go through a village and load people on trucks, all able-bodied men. And you were either in the army or in what they called the Korean Service Corps. And it was kind of like civilian, Korean workers, but they worked under army authority. They had army sergeants and officers over. But they did a lot of helping. They helped the engineers helped us build roads and things like that. So, I had a lot of contact, probably more than a lot of people did, with the actual Koreans themselves. So that was interesting.
C. Naim: Are you ready for a really broad question?
D. Warnock: Okay. (Laughs)
C. Naim: What did you do there?
D. Warnock: Well I was in the fortieth infantry division, and I was in a combat engineer company, and our duties—they assigned one company of engineers to every infantry regiment, and we did all the engineering work for that regiment. We had to make sure all the roads and bridges were intact, we laid minefields, and we took up minefields. The Chinese laid minefields—Their army was different from ours. In the American army, if you laid a minefield, you had to shoot azimuths, it had to be plotted, and you had to get approval very high up, at division or corps level to lay a minefield, and you kept good records of it. And we did some of that. But the Chinese, when they laid mines, they just laid them. They thought, well, the Americans or the Koreans or will be coming through here, so they might just lay mines across an area, but they kept no record of it. So you might be going down the road, and, you know, a truck might get blown up or some soldier might get blown up, and that would be the first knowledge you would have of there being mines there. Americans, when they built, we fought in the European style. If we laid a minefield, we strung barbed wire around it with triangular signs that had a death-head on it, which was the international symbol, “This is a minefield, stay out.” (Laughs) And we did that, of course, to protect our own troops, but also if the enemy would know well, if you go in there, there’s mines. The Chinese didn’t do any of that, they just buried the mines, and that was it. If they retreated, they laid mines, and if they came back and took that land again, they just took their chances. They lost a lot of their own people because they had no idea where the mines were. Even the ones they laid. But anyway that’s the kind of work we did. We were usually stationed back where the field artillery was. We were usually a mile or two behind the front lines. By the time I got to Korea there was a main line of resistance. In other words, there was a whole series of trenches and strong points all the way across Korea. There were the North Koreans on one side and we were on the other. It was kind of like World War I type fighting. We had a lot of trenches, mountain, a lot of outposts, but generally you knew that the enemy was up here and you were here. When Korea first, before we got there, before I got there, six months before, they were fighting up and down Korea, so nobody knew where the front lines were. I mean, you know, it would just change every day. So, you might end up with the Chinese and the Koreans in back of you, on each side of you, nobody knew for sure where the enemy was until you started, until they started shooting at you. But by the time I got there it had gotten stabilized. Generally you knew where the front line was defined. In our sector, the American sector, and I imagine in others, there were no civilians allowed within five miles of the front lines. If you were caught there, you’d be shot. You were just assumed to be the enemy. So they didn’t want scavengers or farmers or anybody else roaming around, because a lot of American and United Nations troops had no way of identifying a North Korean from a South Korean or a Chinese. It was kind of like in World War II, when the Japanese Americans were, you know, looked like the Japanese, so people said “Well, you look Oriental, ergo we’re fighting them and you’re the enemy.” It was kind of—But anyway, that’s what I did.
C. Naim: Were you ever involved in any actual attack?
D. Warnock: Um, yeah, once or twice, nothing major. Yeah, the sector we were in, we were attacked several times, but as I said, we were kind of back where the artillery was. We got shelled a few times. The Chinese were very good with mortars, and they would lob those mortars shells back where the artillery was, in the front lines and right in back of it, trying to disrupt our line of communication and supplies. And mortars don’t make any noise. They shoot a high trajectory, and they shoot up and they come down. There’s no whistling or nothing. All of a sudden there’s just explosions. It’s not like an artillery gun—an artillery shell you can hear it coming. If you’re on the receiving end of it it’ll whistle going through the air because it’s going so fast. But a mortar shell just goes straight up and then kind of, kind or goes like this. (Arms move in an arc to demonstrate.) And it doesn’t make any noise. So you never know when it is coming. (Laughs) It just explodes.
C. Naim: That’s pretty scary.
D. Warnock: Yeah, well we didn’t—we had a few people in our outfit injured, and we had a few that were seriously hurt trying to deactivate enemy mines. You had to go in and—Chinese would set up these anti-personnel mines that would have a mine and would have a trip-line out, and, you know, if a soldier walked across it and tripped it, it would have a little shotgun shell which would kind of shoot like a hand-grenade, shoot it up in the air about six feet and it would explode. Come down like that (demonstrates with his hands) with shrapnel, and the Chinese like to lay those little rascals. And the engineers, we went in and get in an area where we knew they had those, and go in and try to locate them and disarm them. They usually had a—once you knew what they were and you saw the tripwire, then you could carry little pins, and you could stick one of those in a mine to prevent it from firing to deactivate it.
C. Naim: So was it a difficult thing to do?
D. Warnock: Yeah, it was nerve-wracking. (Laughs) Once you could find it you knew where it was you could put a pin in there, but it was the fact that you were working around other guys in the area and somebody accidentally set one off. It could hurt people for, you know, fifteen or twenty yards around; throw shrapnel on them. They called them Bouncing Bettys. They would just shoot up in the air about six or eight feet and then they would explode. They would just shoot shrapnel down like that, so that anybody that was within range of it would get hurt. But, yeah, we weren’t in any—we were in several smaller campaigns but no major major battles. By the time we got over there the front lines were pretty well stabilized. We didn’t have too much trouble. But, yeah, there were people getting killed, but usually the infantry had it the worst, because they were right up on the front lines. Engineers spent some time up there, built bunkers once in a while or we would be building roads right up to the front line. Because that part of Korea, around the thirty-eighth parallel it was all hilly like this (demonstrates with hands), small mountains, so usually you tried to—the idea was that you wanted to have the high ground so you could look down and see where the enemy was. It was a lot of fighting to take these hills and ridges. By the time I got over there, there was a lot of fighting, give and take, taking a hill, or getting knocked off a hill, or having to take it back. We were trying to negotiate a peace or a truce, so, the Allies and the United Nations and the Koreans and the Chinese were meeting and discussing a truce. At the same time both sides were jockeying to be in the best position militarily, because they knew that the ceasefire would take place wherever each side was.
C. Naim: Greatly help negotiations.
D. Warnock: Yeah, I guess it would. Yeah, the Chinese wanted to see how—they were testing us, what our resolve was, how much we really wanted peace. I read this later, but I knew that the Chinese, the Americans, and the United Nations would get tired of the war. But that didn’t happen. They got an armistice, but that’s all. They’ve had a state of war in Korea I guess ever since.
C. Naim: Still?
D. Warnock: Yeah, they have an armistice, but there’s still no peace. They just agreed not to fight, but they didn’t end the war (Laughs). At that time, 1952, the presidential election was coming up, and Eisenhower, Dwight Eisenhower was running for president. One of his positions he was running on was that he would end the war in Korea. And of course if you were in the army in Korea, that was—you were all in favor of that. (Laughs) And Eisenhower said he would come to Korea if he got elected, and he did. He was elected in November of ’52, but, you know, he didn’t go into office until January. But right after he got elected, in November or December, or first part of January, he flew over to Korea. And that, I think that helped influence the Chinese and the Koreans, because Eisenhower had a reputation as the big general in World War II. You know, that helped.
C. Naim: Did you know MacArthur? I mean, not personally, but did you have anything to do with—
D. Warnock: No, no. MacArthur was—I was in Japan I think he was relieved of his command. Harry S Truman, President Truman, relieved him. I was serving in Japan, but no, I didn’t know him. He was not—he was thought of as a great general. Most GI’s thought he was good. He had done a lot in Korea. The Chinese, Koreans, the North Koreans, were about to throw us out of Korea. MacArthur turned all of that around. He was a pretty brilliant soldier, and he helped stop the Chinese, we were able to drive them back up North. But the time I was in Korea, most of the fighting we were doing was around the thirty-eighth parallel, which was a line that separated North from South Korea. At the end of World War II the Japanese had occupied Korea for forty years. At the end of World War II, part of the unconditional surrender of Japan, was that Japan gave up Korea. So, when Japan gave it up, the communists were the dominant political party in northern Korea, and the southern part was more democratic. So there was a big hassle, we wanted a free Korea, but was it going to be communist or was it going to be democratic? So they couldn’t—the politicians didn’t know what to do so they split it. So they used the thirty-eighth parallel and divided the country in half. Everything north of it was North Korea, communist controlled, and everything south was basically democratic, and was supported by the United States, and England and Australia. That’s kind of what the situation was at that time. Yeah, it was a long, it was a long war. 1950 probably until the armistice in ’53, November of ’53. There were about three years of heavy fighting, then after that when the cease-fire came they just sat down and looked at each other. There would be some little firefights once in a while. The United States for years had twenty to thirty thousand soldiers stationed there, ever since 1953. There were three army divisions that were there all the time, usually up around the thirty-eight parallel. Just to keep the North Koreans—keep them honest. (Laughs) Because South Korea was shattered; it took them a long time to rebuild their economy. Pumped a lot of money in themselves. Of course, today it’s big—basically democratic—but it’s a big country. Well developed, industrialized, big rebuilding.
C. Naim: So what was it like down there? I mean, the atmosphere. Was it constant fear, or you just didn’t think about it?
D. Warnock: Yeah, you really didn’t think about it that much. Our outfit, all the guys I was with, we had all trained together, we were all in the same outfit for two years, which helped. We didn’t, I mean, none of us didn’t look upon the war like World War II, like we had to be in this thing to win or lose. I think we all sensed that, probably, it would be a standoff. And of course, knowing that it’s a standoff is—you get a little of the feeling that I suppose came along in Vietnam. Which was, you were there, but you didn’t necessarily want to sacrifice your life, I mean, you would do it for your friend, or for your buddies; your outfit, you felt a strong loyalty to them, but outside of that you didn’t have a desire to conquer all the rest of North Korea or anything. You just wanted to get the thing over with and get out of there. But yeah, there was some fear, but once the line got stabilized, it wasn’t too bad. It had periods of time when there’d be a lot of action and people would be scared, but other times it was like—it had some advantages, because you were left living out in the field. You know, we lived in squat tents, we had foxholes and entrenchments dug, and that was just kind of the way you lived, but by the same token we didn’t need to have any parades or spit and polish, if you know what I mean. It was kind of like being on a big campout, so you didn’t—the military— the brass and all the military—discipline and things that were in a regular base wasn’t there because everybody knew their job and so, you know, you were enlisted men and officers basically worked very close together. It was kind of like a job really, especially for the engineers, because everybody usually had a skill, we had carpenters, we had guys that knew how to run bulldozers. It was like construction out there.
C. Naim: Some job, huh? (Laughs)
D. Warnock: Yeah, yeah, it was what life was like. You always had enough excitement that it never got too boring. But, winter was kind of bad because it would be awful cold, but the summers were nice, reminds me of the weather we get around here. As I said, it was all hilly where we were, small mountains.
C. Naim: Did anyone you knew die?
D. Warnock: Yeah, yeah we had three or four guys in our company that got killed, two of them by mines that blew up while they were working on them. And then we had a couple—one of our platoons was up on the line doing some work, and a couple of them got killed, got hit by artillery. And in Japan, one guy in our company committed suicide. That was just before we left for Korea. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it or not. He was in the bunk right next to the one I was in, and he stuck a gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. I remember because we all had to go to the funeral. (Laughs) They just shipped the body home.
C. Naim: How would you deal with the death? I mean, if they were your friend—
D. Warnock: Well you’d, yeah, you’d miss them, and you’d feel bad about it, but at the same time you knew it could happen. Kind of like the police, today. You’re there in a normal everyday life, you know that something can happen, and a shell could land on you, you could get shot. After a while, you don’t think too much of it really.
C. Naim: Next day you just go on?
D. Warnock: Yeah, you just go ahead and do your thing. And I think it helped a lot being with the same guys, because you knew them, and in the service you would have a lot of camaraderie, a lot of closeness. Like if you and I were together, in the same squadron, and spent six months to a year together, I would know you, you would know me, I would know the people that I could depend on if something happened, and vice versa. And I think that cohesiveness in the military was one of the strongest assets we had. You had a lot of pride in your outfit, if that’s the right word. Well, you had a lot of feeling of support. You get comfortable because you know these people around you. But, no, everybody was pretty careful. At that time in Korea, people got rotated out of Korea based on points. And you got points based on how long you were in the service, if you were in Korea you got extra points for that, if you were up in the front lines you got extra points for that. And that’s how you got—once you got I forget what it was, I think it was thirty, thirty-five points, then you would be rotated home, go back to the states. Or if your enlistment was up, then you’d go back. For draftees like me that was usually two years. They could have kept us in for the duration if they wanted to, but they didn’t.
C. Naim: So you were expecting it when you finally got out.
D. Warnock: Yeah, you knew—it wasn’t like World War II, where, generally, you were there for the duration of the period. I think the army air force was the only thing in World War II where you could get shipped back to the states for training. But that was—for most of the army that didn’t happen. You were in the army until the end of the war, period. Which gave you a lot of motivation. (Laughs) To end the war and get it over with, because you knew that you weren’t going to get sent home. But I knew that I was going to get sent home, and the closer you get to that, the more you get a feeling of “God I hope nothing happens,” and you don’t take a lot of chances. You don’t really, you don’t have the sense of “I really need to get this thing over with, because that’s the only way I’m going to get sent home.” So in that sense, it was probably a little like Vietnam, I imagine. And then, when we came home, it was a lot like Vietnam. The Korean War generated a lot of economic activity in the United States, a lot of economic well-being, and it wasn’t a total war, so not everyone was drafted into the service, so when you came out and came home, I mean there was no fanfare. You were sent to a base and discharged and you went home, and you went back to the job you had or found a job, and that’s it. I mean, there was no—It wasn’t like World War II where you got all these millions of veterans becoming civilians. We just blended back into—Got on with our lives. It wasn’t any—I don’t think most people at that time felt like it was an unjustified war or didn’t feel like Vietnam. But, the time when I came in, there were a lot of World War II veterans, so there were a lot of veterans out there, so when you got back it was sort of like “Well good, Dave, I’m glad that you’re back.” But I mean no, there wasn’t anybody; they’d all been in the service too. So it wasn’t any big deal. You just put in your time and served your country.
C. Naim: When you left did you have any—aside from being happy, did you have any feeling like you accomplished anything, it was all a waste…
D. Warnock: Yeah, well, at that time, with the peace talks, it was pretty obvious that it wasn’t the objective of the United States government to win that war, it was just to stop the Chinese from taking over South Korea, and in that sense, yeah, it was satisfying, but it wasn’t in the sense that you won a war. None of us really had a sense of total closure, it was just; “All right, I was in there and I did my part and now I’m coming home and somebody else was going over there.” (Laughs) That type of thing. But no, there really wasn’t any sense of closure. You got to remember that a lot of the people that were drafted and called up in the Korean War never went to Korea or Japan. A lot of them were sent to Europe, to bolster the English and French and the German army, which was very small at that time, and they were very afraid that the Russians might start a war in Europe, to conquer the rest of Europe. So, during the Korean War there were a lot of soldiers that were sent to Europe, rather than to the far east. In that way it was kind of a world war against communism from a military standpoint.
C. Naim: Anything else you want to add?
D. Warnock: No I don’t think so. It was quite a long time ago. We have reunions quite often, the guys that were in my outfit. After we got out of the service, there was about twenty or twenty-five years that I knew a few guys, because they lived around me, but then we got on with our own lives. Getting married and having families and jobs, and being transferred here and there. For about twenty-five years I never really heard much from anybody else in our outfit, and then, about eight years ago, several of the guys in our outfit kind of got a, got some information about who was where and got together and made a reunion, and we had them for about six or seven years afterward. But we have, yeah, we get together, in Texas, or the Ozarcs, or wherever. A lot of our guys came from the Midwest. Missouri, Kansas, Texas, Alabama. We have reunions, it’s amazing the continuity. Our last reunion we had thirty-five, forty guys from our company. And one of the things that statistically was amazing was that all of them were still married to the same person. There had been very little divorce. It was kind of interesting. I think politically, that most of us are conservative, and I guess that proves that you get more conservative as you get older. (Laughs) We did believe that communism was a threat to our country and our way of life. So in that sense we had a more clearly defined sense of where we stood, but there was no animosity towards the North Koreans. And I think that those of us that were in the war better understood the people there. We had a lot of contact with civilians, a lot of contact with children. A lot of their parents had been killed and been separated. And we used to hire these kids, we had a squad of ten, and we would hire these Korean kids to be kind of like houseboys, to come in and keep the tent clean and they would wash clothes and do things like that. You know, kids ten, twelve, thirteen years old. No parents. They helped a lot of those kids. Gave them employment, something to do. And I was surprised in there, the churches had done an awful lot in Korea. There were a lot of missions in there. They usually became the orphanages. And some kids, some of them lived by themselves in packs. They’d steal you blind. You know, the houseboys would work for you, and you knew them and all of that, but when it came time for them to leave, you’d come back one day and they’d be gone and they would have taken the shoes or what ever was lying around. But I mean, that was part of their survival. At the time we would get a little upset, but then we’d start thinking, what do they got really, what do they got to look forward to. And uh, well, anything else?
C. Naim: No. Thanks. You’ve been a great help.
D. Warnock: Good. I hope you can get enough out of that.
C. Naim: Oh, I’m sure that I have plenty.
(End of tape)