Larry Stovern

Larry Stovern of Duluth, Minnesota was a staff sergeant and a squad leader with the Bridge Platoon of the 65th Engineer Battalion of the Army's 25th Infantry Division during the Korean War.

When North Korean forces pushed American and South Korean troops into a small area of the Korean Peninsula in the first month of the war, the 25th Division was among the units that finally ended the retreat at the Pusan Perimeter.

Stovern talks about that time:

"In the perimeter there were divisions of our Army and remnants of the ROK (South Korean) army. The U.S. forces consisted for the most part of the decimated 24th Division; the First Cavalry Division, which was pretty badly beaten up; and the ROK forces, which were in just terrible condition.

Just before Aug. 1, the 89th Regiment joined us after being stationed on Okinawa. They were poorly trained and had terrible equipment. They were put in a hole on the line and, as I remember, they were almost totally wiped out. I consider myself to have been very fortunate. I was with the 25th, which was fairly intact and pretty well trained. We had excellent leadership starting with Major Gen. William B. Keun, our division commander, and on down to people who wore only two stripes.

Along about Aug. 1, a brigade of Marines joined us in the perimeter. We were pretty well stuffed in the perimeter. For example, our division tanks were spotted behind our battalion headquarters. The tanks were to be used as artillery support. We spent our days waiting for the call to go on line, and our nights were spend spreading rumors and listening to the radio broadcasts of 'Seoul City Sue.' She nightly played very droll music while she read the day's casualty list, which came from the names of the GIs killed by them. It seemed that most casualty lists consisted of names of guys from the 89th Regiment. They really got smacked very hard.

Our food was pretty bad. But my outfit at least got two meals a day of what we thought of as food. But we used our "engineer ingenuity" to beg, borrow and steal melons and other foods from the South Korean population. A better word for stealing is known as "midnight requisition."

The attitude of the guys in my platoon that there was no way we were going to end up like what happened at Bataan during World War II. We had a great fear of becoming POWs of the Joe because they treated prisoners in a nasty manner. We were in a small port town, Masan, so we put about eight platoons into the water and had gas, food and some water on board. We figured that, if we were forced out into the Sea of Japan, we would head for open water and either get to Japan or get picked up by our Navy. Fortunately, we never had to leave under those conditions, but we were ready and had it pretty well planned.

Aug.1 things got real bad, and our 65th Engineer Battalion was committed to the line as infantry. Almost everyone knows that engineers do not belong in that type of situation. But as a group I think the battalion did a pretty good job. We plugged some small holes in the line and did not run and give up territory. Most of the month of August my platoon spent day and night on a hill, and it seemed like every day we were on a different hill. Our primary job was to block spots that were avenues used by Joe to infiltrate behind our lines. We heard that we did a fair job.
We spent a few days and nights as security against infiltrations for the 159th Field Artillery Battalion.

In 1950 the Army was not yet integrated and the 159th was a great outfit. I never knew or heard of a bunch of guys who could pump out so many artillery shells in such a short time. The 159th had a good way to handle infiltrators. The artillery outfits were generally in a small valley surrounded by small mountains, so the 159th, when they got word of Joe sneaking in, would lower their 105's and blast away with what they called "Charge 7." They were a good outfit but also very noisy.

Regardless of what the Marine Corps historians say, it was the 127th (Wolfhound) Regiment of our 25th Division that was the true fire brigade. They had it all, starting with excellent leadership from top to bottom and a strong "esprit de corps." They probably had the best-trained outfit in Korea. The 27th Regiment spent a lot of time jumping from gap to gap to plug holes in the line and beating back the well-trained North Korean regulars.

Then suddenly, in the last couple days of August, my platoon was pulled back and sent to assist the 24th and First Cavalry divisions in their crossings of the filthy Naktong River.Then we were told that the Marines and the 7th Division had landed at Inchon, which took the heat away from the Pusan Perimeter. After the crossings of the Naktong, it was "go for broke" to keep up the chase to the north. We even had some humor during the crossings. We built a bridge so the First Cavalry could get across without getting their feet wet, and it was pretty comical to see Gen. Hobart Gay cross the bridge. I think it burned his bonnet that his outfit needed help from the 25th. He didn't like the sign we put up, so he just sat very stiff in his Jeep with his arms folded and didn't look left or right.

I was a squad leader in our Bridge Platoon and attained the rank of sergeant first class. I had MOS numbers of a basic rifleman, pontooneer (bridge builder) and demolitions expert. I look back on my year in Korea as a great experience. We had some very bad times, but we even found time to laugh once in a while. I was regular Army so, in effect, I asked for anything I received, good or bad. I have no regrets except I think we could and should have finished the job without using atomic weapons.

To this day, President Truman is a hero of mine. He had to make some tough decisions, assuming the blame when things went wrong and not taking much credit when things went good. He had courage. I firmly believe that one of his best decisions was to fire Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who was insubordinate and disobeyed an order from his superior, the president. He could have been court-martialed for that offense. We were given a directive not to discuss the matter, but we did anyway and my guys believed that, if MacArthur would have been allowed to have his way, we very likely would have been buried somewhere in Manchuria.

Thank you, President Truman."

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