Robert M. M. Johnson

Photo of Robert M.

Company B Marines Oral History Project

Narrator: Robert M. Johnson (b. 1931) RJ

Interviewer: Gina Temple-Rhodes GTR Cedar Story Services

Recorded March 1, 2013

At his home in Esko, MN

GTR: Thanks very much for letting me come out here and talk to you. Can you tell me first a little bit about your background, like where and when you were born and how you ended up in Duluth?

RJ: I was born March 20th, 1931 in Duluth. Except for one year in my childhood, I was literally an infant, I think. My dad had started at the Steel Plant. I was the first child born in the family. He didn’t have any work. So, a couple that was a friend of my parents, they were given a house, barn, a cow and 10 dollars a month to take care of this lake. It had beaver and muskrat in it. The lake belonged to a fur farm company that was later involved in the great Minnesota Fur Farm scandal. I still don’t know what that is. But anyway, his job was to make sure no one trapped or poached it and put logs and what through the ice to feed the beavers. We lived there. My dad literally hunted and fished for all of our protein. And they had a big garden and that cow for milk. Then as work increased at the Steel Plant, we came back to Duluth. As I was about 3 or 4. When I was about 5 or 6 we bought this store, a grocery store in West Duluth. We were there for many years. I went to Fairmont school, which was just like a block away from the store.

GTR: What was the store’s name?

RJ: Rudy’s Kozy Korner.

GTR: Was your dad Rudy?

RJ: Yes. Then, I went to West Junior High School. I was scheduled to go to Denfeld, but at the end of my ninth grade year, my mother, who was Catholic, as all the kids were. My dad was Lutheran. She insisted I go to Cathedral (High School), a Catholic school. There I did. The only thing really good about that was if I hadn’t gone there, I wouldn’t have met my wife. While I was there… I think I was 10 years old when WWII started. I was kind of a curious about it. I read the news and watched the news, or listened to it, I should say. No television. I was an admirer of the Marine Corps. I thought if I ever have to go to war and fight, I want to do it with the Marine Corps. So, the chance came up. I heard about this Marine Corps Reserve. I thought that would be a good way of going. Besides, I had worked on a railroad section in the summer. A few of us were able to work on Saturdays over the winter, which gave me a paycheck of 15 dollars every two weeks. Which covered everything! Probably wouldn’t have if I needed to buy my cigarette, but they were real cheap. I just took them out of the store! But you know, I could take Virginia out to eat once a week or a movie, pay for gas in my dad’s car. But anyway, when I heard about this… I heard, you know, you get these uniforms, a couple pairs of dungarees, work clothes, boondockers are good boots. But I really was thinking about, well, if there’s another war, that’s where I want to be. So, I joined at the age of 17 when I was a junior in high school. That summer I went to camp for two weeks at Camp Jejune in North Carolina. That was kind of fun, but up until there that was probably the hottest place I’d ever been. The most humid. I’d sweat right through my T-shirt and dungarees, and ruin cigarettes in my breast pocket. My pants would be all wet with sweat. That had never happened before. But we had a good time, anyways. It was fun shooting. A lot of shooting on the musket range.

GTR: So, it was more of an adventure at that stage? The training didn’t seem too tough?

RJ: No, it wasn’t too tough. We met once a week. There was some training and that. You got paid a little bit. Then the next summer, I think that was after my senior year in high school, I went to Little Creek Virginia for amphibious training. What we did there was first, there was a tower with netting, the rope ladders that was on a ship. You’d climb down to get in that landing boat. Eventually we ended up staying on an attack transport, an APA they’re called. We stayed there like three days and three nights. That was neat at night. We’d sit around and talk on the deck of the ship. It was nice and pleasant temperatures at night. But in the daytime it was that hot and humid stuff. We made two landings a day. The tough part of that was all that gear in the heat, and then rendezvousing with the boats. You’d get in a circle until all the boats were ready, then you’d line up and go in. We had blanks. There were people on the beach that were opponents. We had to fight them, squad tactics, I know. I think I was a fireteam leader at the time. Then, I think I worked. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I worked at the Klear Flax, which was across the way. I worked in the boiler room, he kept the heat on. We burned both flax and coal. We’d go outside and load a wheelbarrow full of fuel and bring them in and dump them. Or sometimes I’d go upstairs and it was all quiet. There were these bins where the flax straw and dust accumulated. Full of rats and mice. They had a big sucker kind of pipe that pulled that stuff into the furnaces downstairs. I’d use a pitchfork. I could hear the rats and mice screaming as they’d go down there to their fiery grave.

GTR: Was that down in the Canal Park area, or was that…

RJ: No, that’s West Duluth. Klear-Flax. There used to be, right across from the store. There was a yardsman. I had worked there in the summer, that’s right, after I came back from Little Creek. I as working on the Section, but I didn’t inform the section Foreman, so he fired me. So, then I went to work at the Klear-Flax. They brought these flax bales in. I think they weighed like 110 pounds. They brought them in in box cars. We had these hooks and we’d hook them. Then they had these tractors and they’d pull up there flatbed trailers and we’d put the flax on there. Then they’d go over where they put them on these huge piles; they’d be as big as a barn and shaped like them, too.


GTR: And that was the summer after you graduated from High School?

RJ: Yes.

GTR: Did you ever play football?

RJ: A little at Cathedral, yes.

GTR: Jim Morrisey, I interviewed him first; he remembered his coach quite a bit.

RJ: He was a good football player. He liked John Vucinevich. He was an Iron Ranger.

GTR: Did you ever think, when you graduated from High School, that you would ever be brought into a war or a conflict?

RJ: No, not at that time. But over the winter then is when I went into the boiler room. I put in for that, because the rest of them were closing down for the winter. Then they quit in the spring, about March. I decided that I was going to try accounting, so I went to Duluth Business University, DBU, and I made friends there with Wayne Pickett who was in our Unit. He was an old China Marine. Him and I and one other fellow used to play cards every lunch hour. Then I didn’t want any more of that. That wasn’t what I was cut out for, I guess. Although I had a cousin who was in it, my cousin Ron Johnson. He was really good at Math. He became an accountant. He worked mainly for the Steel Company, Oliver Iron Mining. He moved out to Joliet, US Steel had a couple of lines around Chicago. Anyway! My cousin Ron was one of the only cousins who didn’t go overseas. His younger brother, my cousin Glenn was a paratrooper in the Army. He was a career man, until he got hit in Korea and screwed up his arms so that he couldn’t stay in the Army any longer, which really hurt him. But the Army was kind enough to give him some sort of civilian job, some sort of explosives transport expert. Another cousin, Jerry, this is all on the Johnson side, was wounded, I think in Korea. My cousin Tom from Superior, his name was Tom Flaherty, he had been in the Army when they had those two-year enlistments in the late ‘40’s. He was in in 1947 and 1948. Then he came out and he got married and his wife was about to have a baby, and the Korean War was going on. They kept bringing him back and he would go AWOL. Finally about the third time they just picked him up and shipped him to Korea, and he got killed in about two weeks.

GTR: Hmmm. So, this was all happening before Company B was activated?

RJ: No…

GTR: That was during, at the same time?

RJ: Yes. It hit June of that year, and the North Koreans invaded, and I was hoping to be called up. I was pretty sure we were going to be, because things weren’t going to well down on Pusan.

GTR: So, you’d been reading the news a bit, and you were familiar with this?

RJ: Yes, and I was pretty much hoping we’d go. And we did. It was August before we got called up.

GTR: Do you remember marching down Superior Street?

RJ: Yes.

GTR: Dan Hartman wants me to ask more about what was the scene like on Superior Street? Did you have family saying goodbye? Were you married yet at that point?

RJ: No. But I was going with Virginia. She was there of course, and my family. Doug Michaud, we had been buddies, he lived in my neighborhood. He always blamed me for getting him to join. He died about a year ago, down in the Twin Cities. My Dad had an 8 mm movie camera, one of the few around, so he took pictures of us marching down Superior Street, a really good movie. We can’t find it anymore! I find out that my brother’s doing something, he took care of things. He had possession of it, supposedly had given it to one of his sons who made it a project to put all those 8 mm on one videotape.

GTR: It never happened, though?

RJ: They never found it, no. I asked him, and he said, “I gave it back to my dad.” And he said, “I gave it to Lenny.”

GTR: Oh, no. I’ve never seen one. That would be interesting to see.

RJ: Yes. I really wish I had that. Because I had seen it, you know, after I got back.

GTR: Were people fairly cheerful in it, or was there kind of….?

RJ: Pretty somber.

GTR: It seems like it. But you had no idea what you were getting into, did you?

RJ: No. I’d seen war movies, things like that.

GTR: So, it was pretty somber at that point. Well, if that movie ever shows up, or you ever figure it out, I’m sure Dan Hartman would be very excited to see that!

RJ: Oh, yes.

GTR: So, you had seen it. How did you feel when you watched it when you came back?

RJ: I really can’t remember or recall. Probably very interested in seeing everybody that you could make out. Quite a few people had been hit, and a few died. Virginia and I had gone to school with Jerry Caldwell, I think he was a year behind us. Peanuts? (his nickname). He was the most upbeat person I had known. Of course, his sister Pat was in my class. I don’t know if you’ve met her?

GTR: I’ve seen pictures of Jerry when I interviewed Walt Iverson.

RJ: He was in the same platoon.

GTR: He has a book that his wife put together before she passed away, and it has quite a few pictures. Even on the boat. Jerry was the one who is still missing?

RJ: He was killed. Pat says she knows…. I don’t know if they found his body or not. Someone said he has been wounded that first night at the Reservoir and was along side of him, and didn’t know what happened to him after that. But there’s no doubt he was killed. He wasn’t among prisoners, we know that. Some of those platoons or companies got hit pretty hard that first night.

GTR: What Company were you when you got there? We skipped over that, when you got there. Did you go to Camp Pendleton?

RJ: Yes. They tried to make it like a boot camp in a way, and include combat training with that, and a rifle range and all that. I had a good friend out there, Don Kjellman. Don went on to graduate from the U of M with a civil engineering degree. He went to work for the Soo Line Railroad and he retired from there. He was a bright guy. He won a Bronze Star.

GTR: Which Company were you assigned to? Were you considered combat-ready when you got there?

RJ: Yeah. We had like two weeks advanced combat training at Pendleton, and then we went to Japan and we had like another month of training. Then we went in October, into Wonsan. That was supposed to be an amphibious landing like Inchon, but the Armies or the ROK’s had already bypassed it. We stayed there in an old schoolhouse in the town. This is North Korea. I can remember, we were going to go up to join these units, but the train that would take us up there, a North Korean train had been ambushed a day or so before. So, they wanted to get that straightened out before we went up there. So, instead of doing anything else, these merchant ships in the harbor, the sailors were getting dangerous duty pay, overtime pay. So, rather than give it to them, they put all these Marines on board these merchant ships to help unload them. We stayed aboard them. We didn’t have any weapons or anything. We went back to the schoolhouse under guard, of course. Then we ate C-rations while the sailors ate steaks and pies. They’d put the pies up so we could see them and smell them. I think they were kind of ticked at us, taking away their good pay. I developed something I never had before. A carbuncle, back here. It was kind of painful. The work was moving like this (moving arms) a lot. So, we went ashore and got on the beach. There was an Army Doctor there, a Captain, I think. He was seeing people. So, we got in line. Jonell had cut himself on a C-ration can (laughs). I saw the doctor first, and he looked at me and said, I think a corpsman was there from our Unit at the schoolhouse, and he said, “It’s not ready yet, but it will have to be lanced when it comes to a head.” Then Janelle stepped up and said “I cut my hand on a C-ration can.” It was a pretty good gash. The Captain said, “Ah, I suppose you Marine want a purple heart!” I remember Jonell looked at him and said, “Batshit!”

GTR: He didn’t help, huh.

RJ: The guy didn’t know what to say. A day or two after that we got on a train and headed northeast. 7th Marine Regiment was already on the move up towards the Reservoir. We were initially, the 1st Marine Division, scheduled to drive to the Yalu on that side, but as events turned we had a different mission. But, anyway, when I got on that train, there were some Marines who had been there for some time. I think regulars. They were talking about, “Where are you guys from?” There were two, three of us from Duluth here, and they said, “That guy up there…” Because of the ambush they had sandbagged it, like a machine gun nest on top of the car, a guy up there sitting behind it with a water-cooled machine gun. “I think he’s from Minnesota.” I had gone to high school with his younger brother, Tim. Harney, that was the name. Pat Harney I had met years before at boy scout camp. I didn’t know him before that. I knew he had enlisted in the Marines, about 1948 or something like that. He was a buck sergeant. I went up, and sure enough, it was Pat! We had a good conversation about it. We got to some destination. We went through a little village on a train where the train had been ambushed before. They were in the houses and they popped out of the windows and shot it up. But anyway, we were certainly ready in case that happened again. We got into trucks and they took us. Bob Bennet from Duluth. Tom Jonell. Lenny Johnson, myself and Don Kjellman, all from this area, joined the 1st Platoon of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. They were bivouacked in tents, so we joined them there. Then our work was generally patrolling. We’d go out on patrol. A lot of times we’d have Corsairs with us, ground patrol. I kind of enjoyed that. We were looking for stragglers. In North Korea, the Army wasn’t together then. They had been put on the run and were pretty scattered. We’d get up in the hills and it was real covered, like here. It would be like pines, more like spruce I guess and balsam. Looked to me like there’d be deer tracks in the snow. Kind of felt at home {chuckles} there. I wondered if they hunted and that sort of thing. Then we got in trucks one day and I can’t tell you the dates, but we got in trucks and we moved up all the way to Koto-ri. I remember the ride up there in the back of a six-by. It was cold. I was glad to get out of there and into the village. We were in this little village of Koto-ri. I don’t know where the people went. They were somewhere around. They weren’t in these huts; they probably moved them out. Because I did see some people now and then. Our fireteam, it wasn’t a squad, it was in this little hut. And the walls were plastered with manure! It was like an insulation. We got these big, call ‘em pickle cans. We’d cut out a little part on the side, at the bottom, and then we’d put a fire in there. That was our stove, there. I remember our watch was like two hours, each person in the fireteam, each night. I came out for my watch and he told me, a squadleader JJ Collins, he was called a Marine’s Marine, he wanted the sentry to stoke his fire and keep it going. Being a smartass, I said “JJ could stoke his own fire!” Well, what it ended up that he figured out who didn’t stoke his fire and I had to go down with all the canteens in the platoon and go down to the river and break ice and fill the canteens and bring them back. He wasn’t very happy with me, then. He was a guy who I grew to respect more and more. He had been in three Pacific campaigns. I think he had enlisted in 1941. I think that would be about right, because he had nine years in the Corps. He was Backbay Boston Irish. Has still a PFC. He had nine corporal warrants and three buck sergeant warrants. I’ll probably talk more about him later. Anyway, we went up to Koto-ri. We had an outpost up on top of a hill that night. It was mainly our fireteam. But different fireteams went up there for like a two-hour stretch. It overlooked the village and that. We’d sit by a fire. Of course we didn’t have chairs, but we’d BS. Those shoepacs would heat up and suddenly you had to dance around because you couldn’t stand on one or the other before they cooled off. We’d patrol during the day in jeeps up the road. The 7th Marines were already in Hagaru, which was like nine miles up the valley. Then I think we were in Koto-ri about a week. We moved up through Hagaru up the right-hand side of the reservoir. About five, six miles north of Hagaru. I think it was that road that would take us to the Yalu River. But because our 2nd Battalion was strung out in a line from the Reservoir to the end of the Battalion, about a couple miles, I think, with no flank protection.


They put people out on listening posts, and our squad and a machine gun section went way out on the flank. There was a farmhouse there, with North Korean farmers. We stayed in their house. They accepted that. You came into the kitchen and it was dirt. Then it went up and the rest of the house was like on a stage, about that high (a couple feet), all the other rooms. We stayed in a room right off the kitchen, the squad and the machine gun people. They heated under the floor with these long pieces of brush. It was so warm in there. At that time, it was getting down there, pretty cold. Jonell and I had the same shift, we had a shelter half out there, we’d go there out in the front, and then the machine gun, two guys on that, on our right. Some guys on one or the other listening posts said they’d seen some guys in white go by at night. Then, one day we got the word that our platoon was to go on patrol. We still had this bum of a Lieutenant, the guys had been with the platoon after Inchon and north of Seoul said they were on a patrol where they were supposed to get information and get in touch with the enemy and not get into a fight, but he got into one right away and got people hit. He wasn’t supposed to do that. We went out on that patrol, inostensibly looking for guerillas. It was a river that went through that valley. I was on point for the platoon. The platoon at the time was Phil Calvert, he was a five-year PFC. Then, Lenny Johnson was assistant BAR, and Tom Jonell was BAR. I got way up on a bench, a hill went up. It was all flat once you got up on that hill. I could see for miles, it seemed. Then, these people were below me. Calvert kept waving me wider and wider. I was way out, seemed like a half a mile from the closest man in the platoon. Then, along the creek it got to be real brushy. All of a sudden I see a white flag coming through the brush. I yelled and everybody got ready. Then they just walked out, surrendering. Well, there were two North Korean soldiers with their burp guns, PPS’s. I remember the Russian burp gun during WWII; they had drum magazines, air cooled barrels. They each had one. The rest were villagers surrendering. They took these two guys and their weapons and sent them back with a fireteam. We moved up into the village. There were chickens and apples. We got some eggs and I think a chicken, too. We cooked over the fire, ate some eggs. Kind of fried them in our mess kits.

GTR: What village or area was that? As you were moving up toward the Reservoir?

RJ: That was north and east of Hagaru.

GTR: I haven’t heard stories from anyone else about being in farmhouses or getting food, necessarily. I wonder if that was unusual?

RJ: A lot of times, when we were patrolling in North Korea, we’d come into a village. It was kind of funny. These old patriarchs, with their high hats and their long pipes, would stand there in a line and bow to each Marine as they went by. And being behind some of these Marines, it was kind of funny watching what they’d do. Sometimes they’d bow back, just a little one, or a big one {laughs}. Then we’d get into the village sometimes, and there would be a couple of women with baskets full of apples and that kind of thing.

GTR: So, they were happy you were there?

RJ: I really don’t know about that. I think they were wanting to make friends with any troops that were there so they wouldn’t hurt them. They had banners across the road that said, “Welcome UN Soldiers”. And I wonder what they did with them when the Chinese came. They probably had on the other side Welcome Chinese People’s Army. But anyway, that was kind of neat. We always appreciated an apple or an egg or two. Going back to his patrol, when we took that break in the village to eat, we resumed patrol, continuing east along the river. All of a sudden, it began to look like the American West. You know, mountains and pine trees. This river came out of a valley. There was a path along side the river, but otherwise the valley had a lot of brush. Even a green Marine like myself, thought, “Boy, that’s the perfect place for an ambush!” But, I wasn’t sure who would ambush, then. We had a light airplane with us, like a Piper Cub. It was in touch with our radio man. He flew up that valley and came back and said about a mile up a valley, he’d come across about 600 or 800 people making like they wanted to surrender! Boy, this Lieutenant we had, “Oh boy, let’s go after them! Wouldn’t it look good if my platoon brought in 800 people!” Then, he went back up there (the pilot). He came back and said “Further on up, there’s about 900 people! More people looking like they want to surrender.” Boy, then he’s really excited. The Gunny, the Platoon Gunny, a grizzled veteran started arguing with him, swearing at him and everything. The discipline of enlisted vs. officers didn’t apply then. That Gunny was mad! Finally, we didn’t go up in there. Right at the edge, I’m looking. Finally, we returned, headed back. We were taking a break and that river had changed course. It wasn’t a river, it wasn’t much bigger than the Midway (creek), maybe a bit shallower. It looked like a good trout stream down in there. We were walking up where it change course, a river bottom, sort of sandy. I laid down, put my face right next to that. I looked down, and there was gold in there! I know it was real gold, because it was dull like a gold watch, not like fool’s gold that I’d seen a lot of out west, which is a much brighter gold color. Coming up there, we’d seen North Korean sluice mining for gold, so we knew it was in the country. I thought at that time it probably hadn’t been explored, totally. The motherload was probably up in those hills. There seemed to be grains of it, they weren’t very big. Little nuggets. Anyway. Then we went back to the farmhouse. I think not too long after we got back, they said we were moving up the next morning, to lighten our packs. So, I lightened mine by changing shirts. I had a spare wool shirt and things like that. Some things I gave to the North Koreans. I gave the wool shirt I had been wearing to a guy in my platoon. Then, I don’t know, the North Koreans spoke no English, and I spoke no Korean. We’d talked and been friendly, gave them the cans and stuff from our C-rations. They used as utensils. Then, the old man; there were three generations there. The old man, his son who would be about 30’s or 40’s, and he had three kids. A baby and the oldest was a girl about 13, 14, 15. We didn’t know. Somehow, he got the word that… the old man was kind of retired. The son was the farmer. He didn’t know he had this, but we had to get up kind of early. We had our stuff ready the night before. He’d come out in the morning and he had his oxen out there. And it had a travois on it, those two poles that come back, like the Indians used to use. I should tell you, the night before, he had his daughter, this teenager, sang a song for us. It turned out to be Ari Dong, an old Korean song. A beautiful song. And she was shy, so she turned her face into the corner of the house {laughs}. But everybody gave her a big hand. The dad waited for us with the travois. We put our sleeping bags and stuff we had to carry. Our packs of course were on our backs. It was two miles down the road, and he led his oxen all the way down to the trucks. The trucks were there waiting. He solemnly shook hands with each one of us. I thought, “What a great family that was! Nice people. What happened when the Chinese took over that area?” Because they did. We said before we left, we learned that we’d be, the 5th Marines would be advancing through the 7th Marines at Udam-ni. We stopped because we were still behind the Yalu. Our platoon leader, I don’t think it was our Company Commander, had changed. They got rid of that bad guy, and they got a Reserve Lieutenant from Minneapolis or St. Paul, McLaughlin. He had been a WWII veteran. Some major campaigns. He started talking to us about what we’d do. He said they’d chosen the Fox Company to lead the advance, and the first platoon out of the Fox to lead in the first squad, to lead in the first fireteam to be the point. Well, that fireteam was Calvert, Lenny Johnson, Jonell and myself. I was Scout, rifleman, they called me, so I’d be first. Going back, we came up the Udam-ni. We set up for the night right behind a 155 Battery who was firing all night. Not rapidly, but kind of an interdiction. You could see in the daytime where they were hitting, on a big hill. That may have been to discourage them from taking that hill or something, because we were marching right by that. The next morning we went out and we waited. I saw kind of a tragic thing. Across the road and up on the top of the hill, a group of Marines up there, and all of a sudden I think a short artillery round hit up there among them. About six or seven people seemed to be hit. Then we moved up, and it was kind of flattened out. The creek was running on our side of the road. We stayed off the road because someone said it might be mined. Lenny and I… it was open, and there was a series of these bunkers. We’d approach them as a team. One from the front and one behind, and clear them. I noticed that they must have kept vehicles, because there were branches spread laterally across the tops so they could hide them. Well, we got up where the creek crossed the road, it went to the right. There was a bridge, like a stone bridge. I got up on the road, I’m out in the middle of the bridge, and all of a sudden I’m under automatic fire! I leaped over the side and onto the ice, up against the embankment. The next thing I knew JJ Collins was there. He said, “You take Jonell, the BAR man”, and he said “You watch that house up there.” You’d go up on the hill and you could overlook where the road still continued on. There was a house. We had to watch that in case any fire came from there. We were there. Someone was firing out of the brush a little ways away. Jonell, who was really gung-ho, said, “Let’s go get that guy!” I said, “No, I’ve disobeyed JJ enough!” So, we stayed. The fact is, I didn’t want to go there.


Then we went on top of the hill. It was really high up there. We spread out. There were no holes. It wasn’t very much of a flattop. The ridge went down. The Marines Headquarters were set up in the valley along that road, there. We tied in my squad with Easy Company. I heard it referred to back then as “Easy Alley.” It was a natural roadway through the hills that came out right onto the road where it was real narrow between the hills. The creek ran along the road with the brush on it. I’ll get into more of that later. But anyway, we set up in the hill, and I was sharing a position. We always did a buddy system when our holes were dug. They set up a 50% watch. I went into my sleeping bag first. It must have been about 5:00 at night, it was dark already. So, I went to sleep. Jonell was on watch. I don’t know how long it was before I felt Jonell shaking me and whispering, “Gooks are coming, Bob! Gooks are coming!” So, I rolled out of my sleeping bag and I started to put on my… I think I had taken my cartridge belt off, because it’s kind of hard to sleep (on that). I was putting that on. I had my field jacket on in the sleeping bag, not my parka. I think I got the cartridge belt on and all of a sudden… I was moving kind of slowly. There were Chinese yelling right close to me! So, I jumped up, ran a little ways, flopped down; I wanted to see if my rifle worked, because it was God-awful cold. I fired two rounds. It worked perfectly. So I went back I think, and then I put on my parka. The fireteam leader came over and put Lenny Johnson and I near each other, spread out just on top of the snow. We waited there. Then, on the right, there was all kinds of carrying on. Jonell went in there with his BAR. And I think Phil Calvert, our fireteam leader was down the hill a ways, because he apparently got a piece of shrapnel in his back. He came back up and then I carried out JJ Collin’s (?) squad leader. He had been hit, I think it was through the neck. He was hollering, “Don’t let them through, men, don’t let them through!” We didn’t. He was evacuated. {Oh, look at it snow!... interruption to talk about the weather outside the window}. Just on the hill down from us, they’d broken through from the top of the hill and were going down hill. We assigned one of our fireteam, Bill Daley’s fireteam to spread out down the hill to prevent them from outflanking us. Bob Bennet had a tussle with a Chinese soldier down there. They came around a rock and met each other. The guy hit him in the eyes, as he was holding onto his rifle. I don’t think the guy had a weapon. Broke his glasses. Anyway.


GTR: Bob Bennet?

RJ: Yes. He died about five, ten years ago. He was living in Hermantown at the time. One more story; Lenny and I were laying, facing this way, towards the side of the hill that the Chinese were coming from. This grenade came out and landed right between us. We’re looking at each other and I don’t know, it just didn’t go off. It was probably too cold. That seemed to interfere with some of the weapons. Thank goodness, because we were too close to do anything. It became morning, and the little knoll the Chinese were coming over, they were coming over with these Russian rifles.. It had been in the Russian army in WWII, WWI. It was a good bolt-action rifle and a bayonet about a foot long. They were coming just at a crouch, not running very hard. Of course, with a bolt action rifle, you don’t fire as you’re advancing like you might with a fully automatic or even a semi-automatic weapons. Anyway, they were stopped. A lot of them died out there. I saw our Lieutenant McLaughlin, who was standing behind a tree, I could see him silhouetted. I heard him yell, “Someone get that SOB!” And it was him. He stepped out with his .45 and shot the guy dead. Apparently the guy was carrying a Thompson, a sub-machine gun, American made. We recovered a lot of those.

GTR: They had been captured? Or how did they have them?

RJ: Yeah. They had, like, thousands of them. They were given to the Chinese 8th Route Army, Chinese nationalists. And when the Communists defeated them about 1947, they got all their weapons. I think whole armies of them turned themselves over to the Communists. You know. On the weapon, “Colt Firearms, Hartford, CT” or something like that, on them {laughs}. Anyway, both Jonell and McLaughlin ended up with Thompson sub-machine guns. Jonell’s BAR didn’t work in that cold. I don’t know about McLaughlin’s. His TO weapon was the carbine, and I don’t know if that would work. In morning, in daylight, I went on top of the knoll. I could see down into the flat part, over the knoll, was one of their heavy machine guns. Someone crawled up on it, on the ground, with a sniper down there watching him. Fired, knocked one of the wooden handles off, right by his head. He was bounced back by the impact and started to shoot at the guy, just at the sound of the guys firing. I couldn’t see him. My M1 wouldn’t work, the semi-automatic. After he’d shot, it was like a bolt-action. That kept up. Then we were called to run a patrol. Apparently our second patrol was overrun in the night. There were weapons all over. No casualties, no guys laying around. Chinese or Marines. But there was a Chinese man sitting, probably had been a machine gun position. Well, it was, but it was down, dug in kind of. He was sitting behind the gun and he was bent over like this. Apparently had a pressure bandage on his stomach, was apparently hit in the stomach. McLaughlin walked over to him and talked to him. McLaughlin apparently knew some Chinese. Anyway, he pointed to his gun and shook his head “Yes.” And McLaughlin shot him with his pistol. Mercifully. The guy probably asked him to do that. He was asking him about it. Sitting there with no help. We couldn’t provide him with medical help up there at that time. So…. Anyhow. We went over, further along the ridge. But first of all, I should tell you… Don Kjellman picked up in the snow, a cartridge belt that had two 45’s and holsters on it. Of course, nobody gets a TO weapon, a 45 1911 but officers and machine-gunners and people like that. But anyway. He said, “Who wants one?” He wanted to keep one {laughs}. I said, “I do!” So, he gave me one, another one in the holster. I put it on my cartridge belt. So, I had that. Then, I picked up a carbine. It was an M2, which means you had select-fire, semi- or fully-automatic. Well, I put it on full automatic because it had a 30-round magazine. And I cut down a tree with it! {laughs}. I was enamored with that. Boy, it’s nice in fighting to have that.

GTR: Just left by somebody?

RJ: Yeah, they were just overrun, so…And I think the Chinese were run off, so they didn’t get a chance to pick up the weapons. They must have taken their dead and that, though. I went over, and Corsairs… you looked down the hill that we were on, next to one of them. They were in a patch of thick brush. Just patches. The Corsairs were flushing Chinese soldiers out of them. They were running toward the next one. And this whole line of Marines were firing. It was about 500 yards. I got over there and I wanted in on that. I still had my M1 and I kept that, and the carbine. So, I unlimbered the M1, and I figured my eyes were starting to go bad. I couldn’t see anyone at that distance, or maybe I just didn’t know where to look. It was over before I had anyone to shoot at. Then, we were pulled back. We went down off the hill. I was carrying both my carbine and the M1. I saw a big truck of ours. The whole back was filled with weapons, a lot of M1s. I threw my M1 in there and kept the carbine. Meanwhile, while I was up there, carbine magazines, all I could find. There were quite a few 30-rounders. A few 15-rounders. Then, we started going back into Udam-ni. This place I mentioned, Easy Alley, where it came out, I’ve never seen so many dead people. They were piled on top of each other, honestly. The bodies into Easy Alley as far as you could see, were piled up. Then they came out and they were fanned out, like that. And they went quite a ways to the right, into Udam-ni. But along that creek, in the brush, I counted 10 machine guns, just firing up into Easy Alley. One of the Chinese tactics was to split units into smaller and smaller (bits). If they could have held that point where Easy Alley narrows, they would have split the 5th Marines from the 7th Marines. They were prevented from doing that, but the whole 5th Marines pulled back into Udam-ni the next day. The thing is, about that, going up that way, they didn’t tell us this, but…. Later on, we heard it, a day or two later. The whole 8th Army was in retreat. They were across the mountain range, it would be to the west of us. The mountain range was Taebak. It looked a little like Tobacco. What they wanted us to do, this damn outfit of MacArthur and his chief intelligence guy and his idiot, what was his name, in charge of the 10th Corps, Edward Almond. He said he wanted to take the first Marine Division to advance over the Taeback mountains to the west, and hit the Chinese flank to relieve the pressure on the 8th Army. One Marine division, spread out for about 60, 70 miles along one mountain road. Narrow, one lane. He wanted us to go across a mountain range in the winter and attack a huge Chinese force on their flank, about 3000, or 4000 people, when it turns out that we had our own 100,000 to deal with, it was just insane. Our division commander knew that. He kept stalling, going the long way up there. He knew the situation. He kept putting provisions in places like Koto-ri and Hagaru. When they cut us off, they were ready to hold out! The first position was a good way down the mountain, at Sudong. That was held down there by a battalion of the 1st Marines. That’s a regiment, and a regiment has 3 battalions. 2nd Battalion of the 1st Marines was at Koto-ri. They held that perimeter defense there. The next one, the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marines was at Hagaru. That’s the only real infantry that they had at the time. They had some tanks there, they had a couple, three artillery batteries, they had motor transport guys. But as you’ve probably heard, every Marine’s a rifleman, first! So, when they were hit at Hagaru, every third man in the artillery and motor transport people, chefs and cooks and all those people with division headquarters went into line as riflemen, and held that, against vastly superior odds, there.


One company, of the 7th Marines, stayed at Toktong Pass, the pass between Hagaru and Udam-ni in a heroic stand, and held that pass. If they hadn’t, it would have been difficult for us to get out of there. I know Captain Barber, there, got the Congressional Medal of Honor. He was hit twice up there. I think 90% of their company was either wounded or killed, there. A lot of the wounded that could walk or fire a rifle were still on the line. Wayne Pickett got captured there, the first night, when they were overrun, I learned later. The first night back in Udam-ni, we were set up on this bare hill. We could look across and all day long, could see this clearing across the other side of the valley. Chinese were just making suicidal attacks against Marines on the right. They would come from the left. They were always in white, so we could see them coming across. You’d hear the bop, bop, bop and see what was left run back. Then a while later, more would come. But as we’re there, we’re digging in slowly, we’re told to dig in. It’s kind of hard and frozen ground, but we’re getting there. All of a sudden, we start getting artillery rounds, right in our position, which hurried up the diggers quite a bit! {laughs} We got in there. It was a single gun. I don’t know where it was coming from, but it must have fired 15 or 20 rounds. It was right in our position, where the holes were. But nobody got hit! Just one of those luck of the draw things. So, then, McLaughlin told us that we’d have to hold there. We might as well die here as down in the valley. He said there was nothing down there. So, we waited all night, and nothing happened. I don’t think all around the perimeter, I don’t remember hearing or seeing. You’d hear that and see that. Nothing. The next day, we went to a different position, almost like a reserve, and we waited there. Then, our company jeep driver, who I think thought he was a WWI pilot like Snoopy, he wore a kind of white scarf around here, and an aviator’s leather helmet on his head. I thought he was a little goofy, but there was a radio on the jeep, and he said, “The 8th Army is in full retreat and the 1st Marine Division is 10th on the airdrop priority list.” To me, that sounded bad, being 10th. But that wasn’t true. We did get airdrops. There were some pyramid tents. I remember parachutes coming down {laughs}, and one of them landing… you know, they come pretty fast! Landing on this pyramid tent, and the guy… I don’t know how he escaped before it fell on him, but he came tearing out of there! But anyway, we were there until actually the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines went overland by night. Another heroic thing. Their Battalion commander got the Medal of Honor for that and later became a 4-Star General. He came up, we had him at one of our luncheons. So impressed. He was wearing that Medal of Honor around his neck, those four stars. He was quite a guy (Davis?). Morrissey and Jerry Couture were in that outfit. The radioman for him was LeRoy Pearl. He was a WWII veteran. After the war he joined B Company and was the 1st battalion radioman. When they got within range of Fox Company at Toktong pass, Pearl caught them on the radio. They said, “Fox Company, do you want us to send out a patrol to bring you in?”

GTR: So, you were Fox Company…

RJ: Fox Company at Toktong Pass was Fox Company, 7th Marines. I was in Fox Company, 5th Marines. Then the 1st Marines would have a Fox Company, too. There was a first Battalion in each company, and each regiment would be Able, Baker, Charlie. 2nd Battalion would be Dog, Easy, Fox. The 3rd Battalion would be George, Item, Howe. They use all different names. Three fireteams to a squad. Three squads to a platoon. Three platoons to a company. Three companies to a battalion. Three battalions to a regiment. Three regiments to a Division. Now, these are all rifle regiments, rifle companies, rifle platoons. There’s also Artillery regiments. In each battalion there are weapons companies that assigns machine guns, mortars, to the platoon. I think they have the heavier mortars as part of the battalion headquarters, like 90 mm. The big one is 120, with the regiment. But anyway! We pulled back. We pulled back into where the road leaves the valley of Udam-ni. Already, a lot of people had been pulled out. We were there overnight, laying out in there. There was some activity on our front, but mostly something like, maybe it was an officer or something, yelling at us in Chinese and firing a sub-machine gun towards us or in the air. They were trying to gain an idea of our positions or where we were, what guns we had, but nobody fired. It’s called fire discipline. The next day, we were there. I know if we pulled back anymore, or went forward. The first thing they did was send some of us up on the hill on the right. Before that, where we pulled, they had burned a food dump. They just poured fuel oil on it, lit it on fire. Well, it didn’t burn up anything. So, the Chinese were in for a treat when they got there. I remember getting cans of peaches and putting condensed milk, call it peaches and cream. We were real hungry for stuff like that. I remember doing that, and then there was an old ROK Marine, looked like an old Elder from the (Indian) Reservation. I was just on the road, and he pointed like that… Udam-ni valley was down there. I couldn’t see anything. So, I went and got Kjellman; he had the platoon commander’s binoculars. He gave them to me. I looked out there, and there were these long skirmish lines of Chinese coming, some with their machine guns on their shoulders, hobbling along. So, I told Kjellman to look, and he told the platoon leader. So, we moved up and spread out across the valley. Then, we went up in the hill on the right. I think at that time it was starting to get dark. I was alone. A couple Marines were ahead of me. They got together on my right, and got into position. I went ahead till the hill went down. There was a little road there through the brush. I thought I saw a Chinese soldier run from one side to the other, but I really wasn’t sure. I don’t know to this date whether I hallucinated that, or not. Anyway, we got called back. I went to the other two Marines and was babbling incoherently about no flank protection, and so forth. Then we got sent up on the other side, the whole platoon, our machine guns and so forth. Already, I think it was Fox Company up there. We got up to the first bench, a flat spot, and then it went way up. There were slit trenches and bunker or two there. It was up and down. In that hillside. I remember it was so cold, we crawled inside the side of the trench. There was a hole that went in. I crawled into the end of it, then two guys after me. Then I started feeling claustrophobic. I was so cold. It was pitch black. I said, I want out of here! As I said that, firing started up! I went out. There was bunker right at the end of that slit trench, and a light machine gun set up on there. They were firing. There was some yelling noise. But up on the hill, there, I could hear their heavy machine gun up there, like a WWI Maxim gun. They’d start out slow… boom, boom, boom and go off faster and shut off until the next burst. I had that little carbine. I remember looking at that hill in daylight, so I knew there was no cover up there. Our machine guns were firing back , and they were pretty accurate. But the rounds were going over our heads. They had no way of telling. They couldn’t see. Just once, I saw a little wink of the machine gun’s flash, so as quick as I could I raised what I thought was my carbine, about 10 yards above it, and fired a long burst, and never heard from the gun anymore. So, I figured I either scared him or hit someone up there, which would have been pure dumb luck. It was too far for a carbine, for one thing, and that kind of wind, you don’t know where it’s going, pitch black. But I did see that wink.


Then, we had been attacked. We were coming down. Above us on the top of the hill, it turns out, was our second platoon of Fox Company. I went over… This Marine had come down, shouting “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot, I’m a Marine!” I think he was later killed. But anyway, I went on listening to McLaughlin talk with the second platoon leader, a second platoon leader, a newbie. I wondered myself, “What is he doing down here, not with his platoon?” McLaughlin was pretty much aware they had been overrun. I heard McLaughlin ask him, “Where are your machine guns?” And he said, “Down here.” So, I asked Kjellman later on when I saw him, what happened to him. He said he wasn’t court marshaled. He was just told he had no career in the Marine Corps, forced out. Which he should have been. It was a terrible thing to do.

GTR: That he lost the machine guns, or that he was down?

RJ: That he was down and his machine guns were down. They weren’t with his platoon. There would be two of them, platoons in a position usually got two machine guns each. I think the Company got 2 60mm mortars each. We called for air support, and a couple Corsairs came in. They didn’t even use their bombs or rockets. They just machine-gunned ahead of us. These guys are in the pitch black, and they’re flying into a hill that goes up like that. They’re shooting bursts from their… I think they had 650 calibers. Then, we made an attack on the hill, a counter attack if you will. There was a bunker ahead of us. It was really dark. We could hear Chinese talking in the bunker. Again, McLaughlin went up there and yelled something Chinese. I was right behind him. It all went silent. I think he was asking them to surrender, to come out. No answer. He finally threw a grenade in there, and we resumed our attack on the hill. I was first on the right side, or the center. On top, I could see one grove of bush sticking up against the sky. So I went to the right. A little later, Tom Jonell, Lenny Johnson, Bennett and another person, a guy named Unger approached that in a group, in the dark. It was a burp gunner hiding in there. He shot all four of them. They shouldn’t have been bunched up like that. No one was killed, they were all winged. Jonell right across the hand, this way. Lenny, in the elbow. Unger, across his butt, and I think Bennet across the stomach. I didn’t know about that because we stayed up there until day was breaking. I finally got the word to pull back, and there was enough daylight and I could see all these guys way down from me. I was the last guy on the hill. I thought, “Well, if they pull over and start shooting, I better sort of back down for quite a ways. Then we got down to the bottom. Oh, I should say, that night before… can I go back? To when they were still attacking us. There was a hole, right up in front of us, a foxhole. In front of that foxhole, going into that bunker that the Chinese were in later? In front of it it dropped off. There were two marines. One with a BAR and one with an M1. The one with the BAR got hit, I think in the shoulder. His buddy pulled him back. I think it was McLaughlin, wanted two marines up there. Jonell said, “Let’s go!” So, we went up there. It was black again. I said, “You take them in front of you, to the right, and I’ll take them in front of me.” Well, I heard, I was listening, and I heard, “Uh, uh, uh” on the skirmish line. The Chinese, they kept intact with each other. So, I motioned and people began throwing grenades up to me. You have to pull a pin, and then when you throw them, the spoon comes off, that thing that lays in your hand. Once the spoon is off, the fuse starts burning. So, they kept throwing them up at me and I kept throwing them down there. When I ran out of grenades, I just sprayed with my carbine. Nobody made a noise anymore. After that, we attacked. I know Tom was firing, because he had the Thompson instead of the BAR, firing to the right, there. But then, we went up the hill and came down. Then we were going to make an attack at daylight. Then they had Corsairs bombing up on top, there, with bombs or napalm or something. We were pulled out. We should have been in a Company force, but we lost what was our second platoon up on the top, there. Our third platoon was hit pretty good, and we had been hit pretty good. In other words, when we gathered Fox Company, there were probably 12 or 15 people who were going to make the assault up there. As we were standing there talking, we were standing by one of the Marines that ran down and got shot. It pissed me off. He had a rosary around his neck. They had pulled it off and broken it up. Beads were scattered. I thought that was a symbol of something at the time. Anyway, while we were standing there, a couple of Corsairs came. You know, there was an air controller who was a pilot, in the Marines there, ground support. It was a pilot from their squadron, talking to them, giving them the word where to hit. Well, I don’t know where he was at this point, but one of the Corsairs peeled off, and he came in right toward us. People are picking up air panels, you know, those bright things that show him these are friendlies here. Anyhow, I’m looking up to see if his machine guns are blazing. They weren’t. He let go a napalm tank. Everybody at that moment just ran down hill, as hard as they could. It hit, and you could feel the warmth of it.

GTR: He didn’t see the air panels, or something?

RJ: I don’t know. There was an Air Marine Reserve group from Minneapolis, a base down there. They were in WWII, and then they were still there when the Korean war came up. Some of them wrote a book, each taking responsibility for a chapter or two. They were at our luncheon one day, selling their book. I was talking to one of the guys, and telling him about that. He had flown close air support, up on the Reservoir. He got really mad. He said, “Where was your air controller?!” I said, “I don’t know! I didn’t have anything to do with those people.” Maybe the company commander was with him.

GTR: Were you injured at all in that process?

RJ: No, no. I just felt the heat from it. Nobody was hurt. Except that Marine was burned, that dead one burned up. It landed right by him. Then, we made after that, feeling it was a good omen, we made the next assault on the hill. Me and Iverson went over on the right flank. We were all alone there. The other guys were spread towards the center of the hill, just below the crest of it. I don’t know who did first. We fired a couple rounds over the hill there. I think we threw a grenade or two. Then we got a grenade or two back! {laughs} Typically, they couldn’t throw their grenades as far as we could throw ours. Ours would get over the top of the hill, blow up…. A couple times, we saw uniforms blow up in the air, and then we’d fire, and they’d fire. We were firing full automatic. When they’d throw grenades back, they wouldn’t make it. They’d be 10 yards short of us. I remember a Chinese soldier stood up! I don’t know why to this day. He was only about 20 yards away at the top of the hill. Had that typical fur hat on, a quilted uniform. It wasn’t white, it was kind of a greenish. While this was all going on, we looked over to the left, and McLaughlin, at a crouch, went over the top of the hill. “Brrrp, brrrp, brrrp” (guns). He toppled backwards. I thought, “Oh, God! We lost our platoon leader! And he was a good one!”

GTR: He was hit?

RJ: Right through the helmet. He rolled down. I saw him take off his helmet. He said, “I’m keeping this!” {laughs} Anyway. We didn’t do anything on that hill. Maybe killed a few people, but didn’t do anything. We were going up there to try to see if there were any survivors from the 2nd Platoon. But then, we pulled out. We didn’t stay there. We moved down the road, went up on another set of hills, kind of a bench. There was a bridge across from us. We were on kind of like a nose, stuck into this U-shaped valley. We could see Chinese almost all the time, up on that ridge there.


They had bunkers up there. There was a guy shooting a machine gun, on a ridge on the other side. He’d shoot at us, then he’d shoot down towards the road. Then, we saw him run up the ridge. It was about 200 yards away. We figured he ran out of ammo and was going to get some more. I didn’t shoot at him. I didn’t think my carbine had the range. The other guys did with their M1s and that; never touched him. Towards dark, Kjellman had an M1. McLaughlin had borrowed one. These guys on the ridge were coming down. They were shooting at them, about 400 or 500 yards away. I guess McLaughlin hit a couple. Kjellmen, I don’t think so. That reminds me of a story, way before then. When we were on the exit area of Udam-ni, on this hill that looked into Udam-ni. We were pulled back, and these tents… someone had left some tents up. Of course, the Chinese were scavenging. One of our guys in the machine gun platoon had a 1903 Springfield, which was a bolt action rifle that we used in WW1 and the first part of WWII while they were switching over to the M1. He hit two people, and McLaughlin estimated the range as 7-800 yards. That was fancy shooting! One knocked down and stayed down. The other, after being knocked down, jumped up and limped away, so obviously hit in the leg. Anyway, these guys were sniping at them, some other riflemen with M1’s, too. Then, we figured they’re coming down at us tonight. So, then we just got the word, we pulled off the hill, and marched down the road. I think we were headed toward Toktong pass, because we marched and marched and marched. Finally, there were all kinds of lights on, up on the top at Toktong. They were pulling artillery pieces up there out onto the road, in the convoy. I think they had been stopped there and hooked and fired a few missions while they were up on top. The rest of the artillery was coming from Hagaru. It was the weirdest thing. Then we left Toktong, started a long downhill stride. It was kind of surreal. You could hear machine guns down below you, once in a while. I’d fall asleep walking! I wouldn’t wake up until I walked off the road. I’d wake up and start walking again, and do the same thing.

GTR: Did you end up with any frostbite issues, like the other people had?

RJ: Yes.

GTR: Did you have any other injuries?

RJ: Yes. I was coming to that. Am I too long here, too wordy?

GTR: No, I’m just trying to keep track of things, questions and things.

RJ: Okay. We’re headed towards Hagaru. Then, while we’re on our way, it got light. We come to a spot, someone said it was called the Valley of the Shadow of Death. It was long, about 100 yards, I suppose, kind of soft ground. It was an open swamp, wet, all was freezing and whatnot. Then, the hill up on the left, the snipers up there were picking off Marines as they crossed that kind of open area. So, everybody was stopped at the edge of it, and sent across one person at a time. I remember running across there full tilt. Then, we came into Hagaru. They were serving pancakes, and you’d get a couple strips of bacon, three or four pancakes. And I think a little orange juice or something. I was hungrier than hell. I hadn’t eaten in a long time! It wasn’t because there wasn’t food around, you just didn’t think about it, or I didn’t. You go so long, and then you just don’t seem to get hungry anymore.

GTR: I suppose. And was that a time when you weren’t supposed to have fires, things like that?

RJ: Yes. You couldn’t have fires, because obviously you’d be a target. When we got into Hagaru, and they had the big kitchens going…. But the line! It was single file, like a half mile long. I seemed to wait in there for two, three hours before I got up and got my stuff. And you didn’t come back for seconds! Anyway, that first night, we were in a tent, a heated tent. A big pyramid tent with guys from the motor group. They were all so solicitous of us. Listen, you guys fought and held this place against great odds. Just an aside, where we had been up on the right side of the Reservoir, up on the post? When we left, I think it was the 31st and the 32nd Regiments, an Army division, moved in there. The first night they were hit, they just collapsed and went to pieces. Hardly any of them made it from there into Hagaru, because they were surrounded. But a lot of wounded ones that made it out onto the ice, Marines started on patrol out on the ice there, rescuing them. They even went as far as the line of trucks. The Chinese would let them, if they left their weapons behind. They would take the wounded on trucks across the ice to Hagaru. They built an airstrip at Hagaru and they could get the two-engine planes in there. They flew a lot of wounded out, both Marines and those people. But anyway, we got in there and slept. The next night, we had to take watches. We were right at the foot of East hill. I remember, they must have sent people down off East Hill which they held at the time, because some guys started, a Chinese soldier insulting me in English. You know, I tried to insult him back. Anyway, nothing happened that night. The next day, we tried to make it up East Hill in an assault. It was so steep, that the higher part of it… they had big heavy ropes from tree to tree, it was so icy. So, we could hang one and pull yourself up. We didn’t make it that time. Then we had to go back down because they had an air strike up there, the Corsairs napalming and that. Then, the next push, we did make it up onto the top. They were burned up in their holes. Then we started digging in for the night. There was another parallel hill, across the valley, between our hill. Our Dog Company went over to that hill. Iverson and I were digging into the side of the hill when this huge, it had to be artillery, white phosphorous went off, and hit our Company Commander, and killed his radio man who was with us, and killed another guy, it was his executive officer. That stuff blossomed above Iverson and I. That will burn right through your clothes, through your flesh, and it won’t stop until you cut off the oxygen. Then, if you let up, it starts burning again. So we looked down like that, hissssss, all over the snow. Never touched either one of us. It was a miracle. But then, apparently, they sent up a platoon of Army signalcorps men. I don’t know where they came from. They must have been in Hagaru. They were set up to defend that area in between the hills. Kjellman, who was with me at the time, they came up there filing by. He said he thought their platoon leader would be coming up , and he wanted to introduce him to McLaughlin, our platoon leader, who was now Company Commander. He asked a couple soldiers, “What’s the name of your platoon leader?” One of them…. what’s his name? Couldn’t think of it). Bitching…. “We’re not infantrymen, we’re signal corps!” I think they got done in that night by a white phosphorus grenade. After it got dark Iverson and I could look down. They didn’t have a hole. We’d worked all afternoon, digging this hole. It started out as a Chinese hole, big enough for a Chinese man. We widened it, in the frozen dirt, for the two of us. Then Capelli and a guy named Frenchy from our platoon were above us, kind of like that (above). Anyway, in the dark, we could see these guys. They had just shoveled up some snow, about this high (a couple feet). They were laying in there like it was a four-man foxhole, smoking and talking. We were hearing… it was snowing kind of softly. We could hear the bugles start blowing. Real pretty. We listened… it was a nice evening. But we knew what was coming. But then those guys weren’t defending themselves. They got what looked like a white phosphorous grenade right in among them. I don’t know where the rest were. There were four of them down there. But…. Then, during this period, I smoked. Iverson didn’t. I was huddled down in the foxhole. He could see all over the countryside, something like that. I said, “No, you can’t!” I’m down there having (my smoke). Then one of our white flares, that float down on a parachute? I was down smoking. Iverson was up looking. He said, “The whole Chinese army is coming!” {laughs} I guess there was skirmish line after skirmish line. But they didn’t hit us! They hit down below us, lower in the valley. They hit all along Dog Company. But we’re just sitting there, listening. I hear in the snow… you know, you can’t see. You couldn’t see anything, it was dark. You couldn’t shoot at anyone right there. I heard walking….(crunching). So, we had a grenade between us. To keep it safe, he’d take the pin, like a cotter pin, and spread them wider. I couldn’t get the pin out! I had the grenade, and Iverson had the pin. He finally got it out. Because Capelli and our guy was above me, I thought they might be in the range of the grenade, so I threw it where I last heard that guy, and yelled “Fire in the hole”. So, they ducked down, too. I ducked down, but I think the guy that threw his grenade at my voice. I heard mine going off, and I popped up and looked over the parapet, and all I remember was an orange… didn’t hear anything. When I came to or whatever, I realized first thing that I couldn’t see. I panicked and started firing my carbine. Iverson said, “What’s the matter, what’s the matter?” Capelli said, “Just go uphill and take a left at the top and you’ll find the CP.” So, I did. I told him what happened. My friend Kjellman and the platoon leader was there. He said something to me. He said, “You weren’t watching, were you?!” Like I’d been asleep, or something. I couldn’t argue with him. Then, the platoon leader of that signal platoon, he came over and he said, “About 30 of them got through us down into the valley.” He said something disparaging about his platoon. McLaughlin said, “Yeah, I know what you mean!” I knew he was talking about me. But anyhow! I ended up getting a purple heart for that. McLaughlin had to make that out (the application). I just figured, he had to take over this company, there’s hardly anyone left, we’re being attacked from several different directions, and now they’re in the valley between the two different companies. Where are they going to come out? So.

GTR: Did your vision come back soon?

RJ: Yeah, it came back. Not right away. But I told them that I was good enough, and he sent me down to watch for…. So, I laid on the snow. I thought there were hand grenades landing around me. Turns out, they had those Japanese knee mortars? You didn’t put them on your knee, because they’d break (your knee). They thought you put them here… (the knee). The people in WWII who tried them broke their leg. You’d put them around, and just one man could operate it. I remember saying, “Well, this is the first time I’m not afraid!” There was a chaplain, a Catholic chaplain that came up during the day. I had always wished… I have a couple of grandsons who are real artistic. I wanted to describe to one… I knew Engel Lamar who was a real good artist… she was originally from Sweden. If she were around, I’d ask her to do it, because she’d do a real good job. But anyway. I remembered, I was waiting in the snow. He went to McLaughlin first, who was Catholic. I apparently at the time was the only other one. To look at the guy… he was a lantern-jawed Irishman. Carrying a Thompson submachine gun, and that helmet with a hole in it. He was kneeling on one knee. It was snowing, nothing but white. I always retain that picture in my mind. I thought of that, and thought, “I’m in a state of grace, I can die. I don’t have to be afraid anymore!” Because I thought they’d come on me. I couldn’t hardly see. It was so black. I thought they were coming when these things were falling around me. I thought they were hand grenades. But anyway, we survived the night. Dog Company came back over. A friend of mine, from Tennessee, Leonard Little, was a machine gunner in Dog Company. He came by and said, “What the hell happened to you? You look like you’ve been in a fight!” He told me, “I had the only machine gun working in the company, because I pissed on it when it froze up!” {laughs}. I guess that was the thing to do.

GTR: Then it would thaw?

RJ: Yeah. Anyway… I later saw him in the hospital in Korea, down in the Red Cross hospital, the Swedish Red Cross. Then, we went down… by the way, we had British Royal Marine Commandos on the hill with us. I’d run into him first somewhere at Hagaru. They’d come from Malaya, where they’d been fighting Communists for a couple years. They were funny. Every other word was a curse word. They never wore anything over their ears. I thought, God, I’m from Minnesota and I had my earflaps down. They had those green berets with that gold badge on them. I think their enlistments were for six years, minimum. They were with us. They had some casualties. We went down… we had a couple of guys join the platoon that were flown in by one of the planes that was coming in to take out casualties. They got killed that night. They had been wounded before, then recovered and came back from the hospital. I didn’t know about that till a little bit later. Then, we went down, moved out to Koto-ri. Came in there just at night. We slept… I slept in my sleeping bag, no tent or anything, that first night. It snowed, covered me with snow till morning. The next night, we were on outpost watch. The next day, we formed up and marched out down the mountain, all the way down to a railhead. That was something! Someone said it was like going from Minnesota to California, because when you got down lower, it got warm, not snowy.


The General I was telling you about, I couldn’t remember the name of him, he had some people. The Army had a tent down there that was full of boxes of Tootsie Rolls. They had it guarded. He instructed one of his Marines to go to the back of the tent and cut through and steal Tootsie Rolls. We all got an abundance of Tootsie Rolls, I think a whole box apiece. We got in these gondola cars. They had these gallon cans of dill pickles. We sipped on the dill juice because we didn’t have any booze. It was kind of sharp. This was the greatest day that had ever been! Then we moved on… They had tents set up for us at Hungnam. I don’t know. We were there just overnight. I think it was just one night. They were evacuating us. I remember, they were taking us on amtracks, those amphibious vehicles. We went down to the beach on the amtrack. We had to wait. It was dark. It was just me and Kjellman and this other Marine, waiting at this amtrack, there. Something, I’ll never forget it. This guy started singing Christmas songs. I think he started with “A White Christmas.” We thought he sang like Bing Crosby. Really good! We kept asking him to sing more songs, and he did, until we got called to the LCI, a kind of larger landing craft. We were the first ones coming into it. The sailors kept yelling at us, “Get in the boat! Get out! The whole 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines is getting aboard. He kept yelling that as troops were coming in.


When the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines got aboard, there wasn’t enough to make a Company. I didn’t know this, I have no memory of it, but Kjellman told me that I really got nasty with that soldier. I don’t know what that was. I still don’t. I guess I don’t have any regrets; I don’t remember it.

GTR: It was just a regular evacuation, or this was from being injured? Or was this when everyone was leaving?

RJ: A regular (evacuation). I was on my feet. My feet were frozen, as it turns out. We got aboard the ship. My friend Doug Michaud, on the way out, got dysentery. He was in a bunk. He said he saw me go by a couple times, but was too weak to do anything. I got my first ice cream aboard the ship. The first night we were there in the ship’s mess, we had to sleep in shifts and eat in shifts because of the number of people in there. All it was was talk about fighting up in the Reservoir. There was one Gunney whose machine gunner was talking about it, and I know he was in that group that was defending Easy Alley, because he talked about the hundreds in front of his gun. It didn’t last too long. We had pretty good food. Then, we got down to Mason, to the Bean Field, where the Marines when they first got there spent their first night, near Mason. It wasn’t too far from Pusan. That’s where the Swedish Red Cross hospital was, near Pusan. Anyway, we got… McLaughlin took over a weapons company, machine guns. Balbustie, who had been with the platoon originally, was hit in Inchon or Seoul, and was recovering, so he came back. He took the platoon back. I don’t know. He said to me, a kind of inspection, he said something to me about the carbine. Where was my rifle? I told him about that. He said, “Your carbine is so dirty!” I said, “I didn’t know how to field strip it, to clean it”. Probably what I did was absolutely wrong, in cold weather, but I kept my oil and thong kit from the M1. They fit in the butt of the M1. Every night before you could get into a firefight, I’d put a little oil in it, and I’d work it back and forth, back and forth, so when I’d fire it, it would work. And it always did. It never failed. But a lot of them did. He said something about going over and seeing a Corpsman, to check my feet. He put a tag on me to be evacuated. I went up to the Battalion aid station, which was in an old schoolhouse, and laid on the floor in my sleeping bag for two days, without anything to eat. Well, then we got put on a train to go to the Swedish Red Cross hospital. But the hospital itself was like an American hospital. It was a big brick hospital. It was, I assume, a Korean hospital, a civilian hospital. But that was all full, so they had these half tents, half-sided long tents. There were about 12 patients in each one, with a woodstove in the middle, tended to by a ROK soldier. That guy was funny. He said to me…When we got there, the Chinese were still chasing the 8th Army down. The ROK soldier says, “Today, Taegu. Tomorrow, Pusan!” Like they’re going to run us off. I said, “Maybe they will! I better get the hell out of here.” On the train coming down I had traded some cigarettes for some Korean pears. You’ve seen Japanese pears? Like almost perfectly round. They don’t have the taste our pears do, but they’re real juicy. They’re bigger, too. Then, some peanuts on a string, and I suppose some homemade taffy. Well, I got there and I got dysentery from that. I wouldn’t eat all day. Then, I’d finally get someone who was going to chow to buy me a candy bar or something. That and a glass of water. That would cause me to go both ways all night long. I had to go out in the head, which was long, about 4 or 5, 6 holes in a row. I’d be sitting on one, throwing up in the next one. Then I heard a group from my… I thought they were being evacuated to Japan. So, one of the soldiers who had some kind of sickness in addition to his wound… the Red Cross nurse didn’t speak anything but Swedish, for the most part. She said, “Don’t go to Japan.” So, I wasn’t going to tell her I had dysentery. But I worried, when it was my turn to get evacuated, that I’d get on that plane and have no place to go. But it didn’t happen and I did get evacuated. I said once to the nurse, my dad was Swedish and he talked Swedish. He never taught me but I knew a few words. I said to her “Tack salket” which means Thank You. Oh, she started jabbering in Swedish to me; I didn’t understand a word {laughs}. I did go to Japan. I got on board the transport. I got in there in the evening. I went to sleep, something they gave me, and when I woke up in the morning; nobody woke me. All the Marines had been evacuated from there. It was 199 in Sasebo Japan. It was an evacuation hospital. You went there first and then they directed you to where you were supposed to go. Well, all the Marines went to Yokuska, that big Naval base. The naval hospital was taken over. They all went there, but nobody woke me up. Maybe because I got in late in the evening or something, I don’t know. But then I was evacuated to the 395th Air Station hospital, in Nagoya Japan. That was like an American hospital, a civilian hospital. I think a lot of the employees were Japanese. When I was going to… when I got in to Sasebo, the first one, the evacuation hospital, I said to the nurse, “I have dysentery, can you give me anything for it?” Yeah, she gave me two little white pills. It stopped it! So, then I went on to the 395th. The first night there, I think it was coming back. I went in to see this nurse, the night nurse, a great big mean-looking woman who was probably in the Air Force forever. I said, “I have dysentery, and I was in Sasabo, and they gave me two white pills that stopped it for a couple days.” She said, “She didn’t give you two little white pills for dysentery!” and I being innocent, said “Oh, yeah, yes she did!” She said, “Nah! See your doctor in the morning.” The first morning I see him, and he prescribed two little white pills and a big coal black one. I think the coal black one, a sizeable lump of coal, was a stopper, because I didn’t have anymore. But the two white ones were probably temporary. But anyway. A couple of funny stories happened there. The doctor was a Navy doctor, of all things, because it was an Air Force hospital. “He said, “Do you know Chesty Puller?” I said, “I don’t KNOW him, I know of him.” He said, “I was stationed in Pearl, and I played in the softball team. We habitually played the Marine garrison there, their team.” He said, “This one game, Chesty was first base umpire. He says, “Look at that guy!” He said I hit the ball and I ran, and I beat it out at first base. And Chesty called me out!” And he was Colonel at the time, and the doctor was a Lieutenant at the time. He said, “I argued with him. Clearly, I was safe. Chesty pulled rank: you don’t argue with a superior officer.” He said he put him in the brig! Chesty put a Navy doctor in the brig. He (the doctor) said he didn’t like Marines. {laughs} I don’t think that was really true. The other funny thing that happened to me was they said, “Anyone having any ammunition on them, go down to the business office and turn it in there.” So, I still had my parka. In my parka, I had an arsenal. I had two grenades, yet. I had about 8 or 9 30 round magazines. 7 or 8 15 round magazines for my carbine, and for my pistol, I had an extra magazine, and some loose .45 cartridges. So, I went down to the business office, on the first floor. I said, “Where do you want this ammo!” They said, “Oh, there, on the table.” So, I sat at the table and put out my grenades and ammo. Finally, they were looking at me! I said, “You don’t know Marines. We come to fight!” {laughs}

GTR: That’s good.

RJ: Then the doctor said, would you like to join your buddies at Yokuska? I said, “I should would!” So, they shipped me off by train. I didn’t have anything to travel in, so I think a WAC captain up on the top floor, gave me a uniform, an Army uniform. That’s what you want? I had to roll them up. The Ike jacket, I guess they call it, was too big. I didn’t have any tie. I had to go through a major train station, change trains with that on. Some Army Captain: “Soldier, soldier, you’re out of uniform!” I said, “I ain’t no soldier!” Told him the story, then he just walked off. So, I got to Yokuska, ran into a lot of people I knew. They’d sent people out that got liberty right away from the hospital. There was Japanese whiskey. It came in a bottle like scotch, or Johnny Walker. We were in a little alcove, the three of us. The beds went around like that. Then we had this, it would be like a bedside thing in the middle; we could all reach it. We had our whiskey inside there, and our water glasses on top. They didn’t know what was in it, except when they came around, and we were half-drunk most of the time {laughs}. We finally got leave, or liberty, to go out on the town. Eventually, I got transferred to Otsu hospital annex. You should have seen when I walked in there. I still didn’t have a uniform, I was in that damn Army uniform. I walked across the whole compound. Well, all these Marines were barking at me. Then I ran into Sergeant Gail Gates. He was from Duluth. I think he was a WWII vet, too. He was running the supplies. He had a little office all by himself, a little building by himself. He could get into the EM club and buy whiskey, so, we used to have good times there in his office, drinking whiskey, several of us.

GTR: I’m sorry, I realized, I have to go in about 10 minutes to another appointment.

RJ: Should I sum up as quick as I can?

GTR: Yes… I wonder about coming back to Duluth, how you felt about that? How did things go?

RJ: I got on a Guard company there, so I could stay a lot longer. They were taking people for Subic Bay, Philippines, and Guam. I didn’t want to go to either. I wanted to go home. So, I eventually got to go home, in April, shipped across. Went into San Francisco, had a hell of a liberty there for a long weekend with a couple of guys I knew from the ship. I called my wife, my girlfriend then, and she had decided to get married. I came home and we did that.

GTR: Had you gotten mail back and forth, when you were in Korea? Had she been writing?

RJ: Yeah, I think she wrote every day. She told me she went to mass every day, too, which is really something.

GTR: Then you married shortly after you got back?

RJ: Well, yeah, on a 30 day leave from overseas. Then, from there, after that, I was transferred to Portsmith Naval Shipyard, which was tough duty, because it was so important. While I was there I went to the hospital a couple times in Portsmith for my feet. Eventually in Portsmith Naval Shipyard, where I served on light duty. The recommendation from the hospital was that I serve on light duty in a warmer climate, so I went to Pensacola Florida, a Naval training station, and I was on the guard company there, the main gate. I was there until I got discharged in April of ’52.

GTR: Then you came back here, but you were already married?

RJ: Yes.

GTR: I’ve been kind of curious about the homefront in those years. Duane Booker (another Company B member), he was married by the time he left. His wife is pretty active, but she said it was such bad memories for her that she didn’t want to talk about it. It sounds very hard, that they weren’t getting any aid or anything.

RJ: Oh, the people at home? Well, of course Virginia and my families were here, so she had that kind of support. She worked at the old Providence Loan, then. Her boss was the father of one of the kids we went to school with and really liked, Jerry Gleeson who was a born comedian, I think. He was so sympathetic to her, with my being overseas, that he did a lot of nice things for her.

GTR: It wasn’t the same as WWII, right, because not as many people were overseas, and people didn’t know what was happening as much. When you came back, did people seem to realize what you’d been through, or people didn’t know?

RJ: I had a brother-in-law who had been in WWII, not in combat, but then he was in the Air Guard up here. He eventually went to Korea and flew a Saber and was shot down. He was there only for the last month, before the cease-fire, but he shot down two MIG 15s, and had two probables on top of it, that weren’t confirmed. He asked me what was it like. I know several people did. I really didn’t know what to say. I probably said some pretty dumb things, like I think I said to Tom, like deer season but the deer shoot back! I didn’t know what to say.

GTR: I suppose. And there weren’t any parades, or welcomes…

RJ: No, it wasn’t until fairly recently that they started getting accolades for that. I know my dad told me, they sent a telegram. It was December 6 in Hagaru, 1950, that I was hit with that grenade. They got a telegram that I had been wounded in action, but the extent or the nature of my wounds was unknown. I guess my mother went to pieces.

GTR: That would be… I saw the copy of Walt Iverson’s, that had been sent to his parents. It had that same wording.

RJ: Did it? I know Walt was hit, I think in the leg, a rifle.

GTR: That would be a worrisome message to get, as a parent! That’s too bad. And then you all started the reunions. Have you been active in the reunions?

RJ: I didn’t, initially. I lived in Illinois for 11 years out of the 12 after. I got home here; I didn’t go to reunions right away. I don’t know why.

GTR: I apologize. I have to start wrapping up myself. I have to head out. I thank you very much, though! Not everyone has had as many details! So, that’s good to have both. If I could take your picture, too? Thank you!

RJ: You’re welcome!


Site by 3FIVE