James "Jim" George Morrissey


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MORRISSEY, James George

James George "Jim" Morrissey was born April 22nd 1930 to Thomas Henry & Eleanor Johanna [Kraft] Morrissey in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Jim was a decorated veteran. He enlisted in the Army in 1946 at the age of 16. He served in the Army Occupation of Japan and he was honorably discharged in 1948 because he was too young.

He then joined the "B" Company Marine Reserves in 1949. He entered into active service and was shipped to Korea in 1950. He was with Charlie Company, 1st. Battalion, 7th. Regiment, 1st. Marine Division from Inchon through Chosin Reservoir Campaign. He went through three major battles and was wounded in action Wonju, Korea.

After the war, he returned home and on June 11th 1955 he married his love, Janet Kae [Johnson] and they started a family.

Mr. Morrissey died on September 19th 2015 at 85 years of age. He is buried at Park Hill Cemetery in Duluth.


Duluth News Tribune

           B Company Marines Korean War Oral History Project

                            Narrator: Jim George Morrissey (b. 1930) JM

                         Interviewer: Gina Temple-Rhodes GTR

                                      (Cedar Story Services)

                                   Recorded January 29, 2013

                              In Mr. Morrissey’s home, Duluth, MN

GTR: Can you tell me a little bit about your background; when and where you were born and when you first came to Duluth?

JM: I was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1930. Lived there till I was six, then moved to La Crosse, Wisconsin. My dad switched jobs. I was there until I was eight. I moved to Duluth when I was nine, in the 4th Grade.

GTR: And you graduated from High School in Duluth?

JM: Graduated from Duluth Cathedral High School and UMD.

GTR: What was your experience during World War II? What was your life like?

JM: I had three brothers who were in WWII. One in the Army and two in the Air Force. My oldest brother went in on Normandy, so I had figured I had to live up to the family tradition. My dad was in WWI, in France. So, I told my mom when I was 16, “I’m going to join the Army!” She said, “No, you’re not!” Well, one day, I went to school and I didn’t come back. I went down to Fort Snelling and I joined the Army when I was 16. I lied about my age and forged the documents and everything. So, I joined the Army. I was in there for 18 months. Went to Japan for a year.

GTR: What was that experience like?

JM: That was great! I was in the infantry. I joined the 11th Airborne. Was in the first Calvary division. That was a real neat experience. Because when we got over there in ’46, the Japanese people were not quite ready to accept us yet. They had just lost the war. We had dropped two Atomic bombs on them. So, they really weren’t appreciative of us. But, eventually, they accepted us. I really enjoyed their culture, the Japanese culture. I took Martial Arts over there. I had some old 70 year old Japanese guy teach me Martial Arts. I’ll tell you, he taught me! He beat the daylights out of me.

GTR: You would have been, what, 17?

JM: Yes, I had turned 17, then.

GTR: What were you doing mostly in the Army?

JM: We were training. Mostly training. Standing Embassy guard. Parade duty. We would work with the Australians, and we worked with a Gurkha unit. They were something else, those Guerkas.

GTR: Where are they from?

JM: They were from India, in the jungle. The Gurkhas from Burma. They were tough, tough people. I’ve got a knife, a Gurkha Kukri knife. It’s hanging in there. I’ll show it to you if you want to see it. Anyway, their philosophy is that they cannot draw that knife unless they draw blood. I was standing guard duty with one night. Him on this side of the door, and me on this side. I had my M1. That’s all he had, was his Gurkha knife, his Kukri knife. We got to talking. It was kind of slack there. So, I asked him, “Can I see your knife?” He spoke, “Yes, Sahib.” But, he says, “I can only show it to you; I have to draw blood. I can’t draw it unless I draw blood.” So, I said, “Well, how do you do that?” He said, “I would have to cut you!” I said, “Okay.” So, I gave him my hand, he cut me, drew the knife out, let the blood flow into the groove, and then he let me look at his knife. And I let him look at my M1.

GTR: So, it was a fair trade? {laughs}. You didn’t have to do anything to him, huh?

JM: No, uh-uh.

GTR: Wow, that’s an interesting custom. Hadn’t heard of that. Do you have a scar?

JM: No, no.

GTR: That’s good. So, then, how did you come back and graduate from High School? Did you graduate after that time?

JM: When I left, I was half-way through my Junior year. So, when I got back, I went back to school and finished my Junior year and my Senior year. They took me back!

GTR: And you mom took you back!

JM: My mom took me back. Glad to see me, and I was glad to see her.

GTR: So, you had just disappeared?

JM: Yes, I went to school one morning… She packed my lunch, and I jumped on a bus and went to Fort Snelling.

GTR: And you didn’t come back for a year?

JM: No, I came back after boot camp. So, I was there for three months in Boot Camp. I phoned her. She knew where I was. So, anyway. She got over it.

GTR: And that was 1946?

JM: 1946.

GTR: So, you came back and were able to graduate. So, what were you hearing about Korea? How did you end up there?

JM: Oh, we knew nothing about Korea, then. In that time, all we knew was that the Koreans… actually the Japanese had made slaves out of them. They looked on the Koreans as dirt. They wanted nothing to do with them. We had no knowledge of what Korea was. So, when I came home… And all our buddies. There was 227 of us who left Duluth to go to Korea. So, there was a lot of us in the same companies over there. We came home… my best buddy, he lives in Cloquet. His brothers and his dad, they owned a painting company. We had nothing to do, you know, there were no jobs available. So, we went to work for his brothers as house painters.

GTR: After you graduated, in the late 40’s.

JM: Yes. In ’49. I graduated in ’49. So, I did that. He quit; he couldn’t stand the smell of paint. So he went and got on the telephone company. So, he became a lineman for the telephone company. And I stayed on for, oh, about 14 years. Then I went back to UMD and got my degree in teaching, and became a teacher. I started teaching in ’72.

GTR: So, this was after Korea. We kind of jumped ahead there. How did you end up with the B Company Marines? If you were in the Infantry before that… came back, graduated… then how did that work?

JM: That’s kind of an involved story. I don’t know if you want to hear it all….

GTR: Well, yes. We want to know the background of how you became part of Company B.

JM: When you’re in high school, these reserve officers come through, trying to recruit you. Right at that time, they were just starting the Duluth Air National Guard. I said, “Boy, The Air National Guard! I think I’ll get in there and learn how to fly!” That was my intention. So, I joined the Air Guard to fly! I joined; I was one of the first 22 guys to enlist. We met out at the old Amory on London Road. I had had previous military service, so they made me a drill instructor. At first, that was okay. I taught the guys how to close-order drill and how to handle a weapon, things like that. But that got to be…. I said, “When do I learn how to fly?” They said, “Well, that’s down the road.” I said, “Whoa. In other words, I’m a drill instructor.” Then one day the Marine recruiter came through. I said, “You know, if I’m going to be a drill instructor… I’m Infantry. The Marines are for me.” And I joined the Marines.

GTR: This was still when you were in high school?

JM: I was still in high school. I was in my senior year.

GTR: Okay, 1949. So, you were able to switch?

JM: Yeah, no problem.

GTR: That’s great. So, you were still in High School. Did you expect, then to be activated at any point?

JM: No, they had summer camps, you know, for the recruits. But I didn’t have to go because I had a year and half of military duty, so they figured I didn’t need boot camp anymore. So, I was excused from going to summer camp so I could work. I worked on the railroad during the summer. Then, of course, I was working out in Montana on a section, when I got a letter, in August, saying you’ve got to come home. We’re activated for the Korean War.

GTR: August 1950?

JM: Mmm-hmmm.

GTR: Was that a surprise?

JM: Yeah, it was. Of course, we knew about… I was way up in the mountains in Montana. We didn’t get much news up there. What was going on in Korea, we heard hearsay. We didn’t have a radio or a TV, nothing. So, whatever we heard people talking about. And all of a sudden, you get this letter, and go, “Whoa!”

GTR: So, you had to leave Montana and come back? What was that first process like, when you were activated?

JM: After I came home, and checked in, let them know I was back, they sent us another letter saying we’re going to meet on a certain day, get on a troop train, and go out to California. So, take care of all your business now. So, we did. Got down on Park Point, where our base was, and got on the train at the Depot. So, that old Depot brings back a lot of memories, it does.

GTR: Is that the day that there’s the photo, on the Memorial on the Lakewalk? Of people marching. You were there, marching?

JM: Going down Superior Street. I know exactly where I am in that picture. Oh, yeah. {laughs}

GTR: I suppose you have a copy. I should bring a copy with me! I can picture it.

JM: I’ve got my album over there, somewhere. I’ve probably got a picture of it, I’m sure I do.

GTR: Okay. So, you’re marching down. Were most of the other men… had they had service? Or were they younger than you?

JM: A lot of us did. A lot of us had what they called “enough summer camps” to qualify to be combat ready. The rest had to go to advanced training for like four weeks, and then some had to go to boot camp. When we got down to California, at Camp Pendleton, they had a big building there. We were all filing in. They had a desk just like this. They had a Lieutenant sitting at that table. As we came up to him, he would say, “Able, Baker, Charlie, Weapons. Able, Baker, Charlie, Weapons.” That’s what company you were going to. If he said, “You’re Able,” you go to the Able company, over there. Baker company, over there. They came to me, and they said, “You’re going to San Diego.” I said, “What do you mean, I’m going to San Diego?” They said, “You’re going there to play football.” They wanted me on the San Diego Marine football team. I said, “No, I’m not. No.” “Okay,” he said, “If you want to go get your butt shot off in Weapons company…” So, that’s how we got put in companies.

GTR: So, split up. It was just random?

JM: But most of us were put in the same Battalion. First Battalion, Seventh Marines. Some of the guys, the replacements that came after four weeks, went to the Fifth Marines. So, most of us, when we first got there… because the Seventh Marines… there were no Seventh Marines. They had disbanded that after WWII. Now, they were reforming it. It was all us who formed the Seventh Marine regiment. Three Battalions in every Regiment.

GTR: I have to learn a little bit more about that. So, what was the feeling in the group? You marched down Superior Street, you took the train… how were people feeling?

JM: Oh, we were excited. You know, we were gung ho! Hot to trot! We couldn’t wait to get there!

GTR: Once you got to California, why did you say “No football”? You were just going to stay with your buddies?

JM: I’m going to stay with my buddies, yes. That’s what I trained for. I played football; I made the all-State team and things like that, and all-City, but I didn’t want to play football then. There was a war going on! So…

GTR: Interesting that they would try to send you that way! So, then this Company B. You were B Company…

JM: We were B Company, Fourth Regiment of the Reserves.

GTR: That wasn’t all the Duluth people. Some of the Duluth people ended up in a different…. You were all the same battalion but a different regiment?


JM: Some of the guys were not combat ready, so they had to take four weeks of training. And some had to go to boot camp for eight weeks. They came over afterwards. Some of them went to the Fifth Marines, and some of them went to the First Marines.

GTR: So, most of the people you stayed with had had some combat experience already? Were they older?

JM: A lot of our guys… If it weren’t for them guys… a lot of them were WWII vets, and they knew the ropes. We didn’t know what was going on, once we got into combat. And they showed us. If it wasn’t for them, a lot of us wouldn’t be here today. They took care of us, showed us what to do. How to stay alive.

GTR: Did you feel like you should have had more training? You hadn’t really been in combat before that?

JM: No, we trained on the boat going over. They made me a bazooka man. Do you know what they call the rockets? It was the assault platoon. It was our job to take out tanks and bunkers. It was a new bazooka. It was a 3.5. Brand new. It had never been used before. We learned how to shoot them off the fantail of the boat. Shooting at garbage cans that the sailors would throw. So, that’s where we learned. None of us had never heard a bullet snap by us. When a bullet comes close, it snaps like a firecracker. The first time we heard that, we said, “What the heck was that?” “Get your head down! Those were bullets!” That was the old-timers, you know. “Get down!” So, they clued us in in a hurry.

GTR: That’s good. Was their attitude a little different, going over? Not quite so gung ho?

JM: No, not quite so gung-ho, because some of them had families. Some of them had been on Okinawa or Iwo Jima and had a rough time. Guadalcanal. So, a lot of those guys had already had rough duty. But they were good about it. Never complained. Never complained.

GTR: So, they were sort of the mentors?

JM: They were our mentors.

GTR: So, what did you do when you first go to Korea? How did that all happen once the boat landed?

JM: Well, we went in on Inchon. Inchon got secured. Then we went to Hungnam. Then from Hungnam, we proceeded North, up into North Korea. By that time, we had the North Koreans on the run. The Chinese hadn’t gotten there yet. So, the North Koreans were on the run. We moved pretty fast. We moved 17 miles in one day by foot. So, that’s basically what we were doing. Taking these villages and kind of liberating the people. The people there didn’t want anything to do with those North Koreans. Then we went through Seoul, and on up to the 38th parallel, which was the dividing line between North and South. We got to the 38th, and all of our commanders, our Marines, said, “Hey, we’ve got them on the run, let’s just keep going!” But, McArthur said, “Nope, you’ve got to stop there. We don’t want to invade North Korea.” We said, “Well, they invaded the South. What are we doing here?” So, we stopped at the 38th and regrouped. The Army came up and took our positions. So, we went back to a little town called Pohang and regrouped. We got our replacements because we had lost a few guys, you know. Our replacement draft came in. Once we got settled there, we moved on up, got on the trucks, by foot, and went up North. We ended up eventually in the Chosin Reservoir.

GTR: What was your role in that?

JM: Staying alive! {laughs}

GTR: How? How did you stay alive?

JM: Well, you know, at times it was pretty tough. The Chinese had the same problem we did. If we didn’t get them, they would get us. So we made sure we got them first. That’s how we stayed alive. They hit us. I’ve got a tape up there that I made for a guy. They hit us November 2nd in a place called Nightmare Alley. Down by Sudong. The Chinese hit us that night. I remember there was a river going through. We were on one side of the River. These big mountains were on the other side. Our Baker Company, and other live companies were up on those hills. They needed some anti-tank. They needed a bazooka. So, the Lieutenant came and said, “Okay, Morrissey, you and Bones…” (Bone’s picture is up there; he’s no longer with us). He said, “You go with Charlie Company.” So, we went across the River and started up this mountain. It was steep! Really steep. There were a lot of Marines coming down, sliding down on their backsides.

GTR: On snow? Was it snowy?

JM: No, no snow then. This was in November. We were still in our summer uniforms. We got up to the top of the hill. That was where we first met the Chinese.

GTR: It was a surprise at that point?

JM: Oh, yeah! We had no idea. We had heard rumors that the Chinese were coming across. That they were coming down from Manchuria. Some of the Army guys said, “Yeah, it’s just a bunch of laundrymen,” you know. But we found out that they were far from that. They were good soldiers. In fact, the outfit that hit us on November 2nd was called the Chinese Black Diamond Division. They were all US-trained from WWII. All their officers and non-coms had trained and fought with the Americans in WWII. So, they knew our tactics. They were good.

GTR: Did they have the same weapons?

JM: Their weapons were a little different. They had Russian weapons. They had their own. They had these “burp guns.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with a Tommy gun. It’s a sub machine gun. Only the Tommy gun had a magazine, where these burp guns had a round drum that held 72 rounds. In about 5 seconds, those 72 rounds were gone. That’s why we called them Burp guns. ‘Cuz that’s how they sounded. “Brrrp!” 72 rounds. So… they weren’t very accurate, but they sprayed the area. They hit a lot of people.

GTR: Did you company take casualties in that particular battle, November 2nd?

JM: We lost a lot of people. If fact, I lost one of my best buddies. Got his picture on the door, there. Lost him that night. I almost got him home, but I couldn’t quite make it. They caught up with us.

GTR: You were carrying him?

JM: I was carrying him, yeah. He was hit through the leg.

GTR: What do you do with casualties at that point? (Gently) What did you do with… him?


JM: As you can see, he’s a big guy! He’s way on the left, on the end (referring to picture on the door). When they caught up with us, we were almost to the River. They were coming down this railroad track, and we were out in the riverbed. The moon came out. I told him… his nickname was Bones. I said, “Bones, get down! Don’t stand up. Get down! They’re coming!” But he stood up, and they cut loose on us from the railroad track. He went down. I went over, and there was nothing I could do. In the meantime, they came pouring out after us. So, I was there by myself. He was gone. There was nothing I could do for him. Just take care of myself.

GTR: Mmmm. You said there were more men lost that day, too.

JM: Oh, yes. A lot of men from all the Companies.

GTR: Bones… was he from Duluth, or was he…

JM: No. Let’s see, I think he was from Virginia. He was a Southerner.

GTR: Okay. But there were some casualties from Duluth…?

JM: We lost ten KIA’s. 87 percent of the guys who went over there either got killed or wounded.

GTR: Was that in many different battles?

JM: Oh, yeah, many different engagements. There’s names for them. There’s Operation Killer, and there’s operation this and that. I don’t remember all those names. The biggest one of course was being up in the Chosin Reservoir, getting ourselves out of that mess.

GTR: Right. That was weather-complicated, too, correct?

JM: Oh, was it ever! {laughs} You know, that was really cold. Yep.

GTR: So, how did you get out of that?

JM: You know, to this day, we don’t know how we stayed alive. We did what they call the Chosin Reservoir Two-Step, you know, trying to keep your feet warms. Knocking them together. You couldn’t zip your sleeping bag up, because if you got trapped in there. We lost a lot of guys who got bayoneted right in the sleeping bags. Because they had it zipped up and they couldn’t get them (down). And the Chinese always attacked at night. They couldn’t get their sleeping bag down and it was too late. So we learned in a hurry, just zip them up as far as your waist. And carry your rifle in there, too.


GTR: I suppose. Would they get frozen? Would the zippers freeze? Or was it just too much?

JM: Yeah, if they got moisture on them, they could freeze. At least if they were only up to here, you could get out of them. You weren’t trapped in there.

GTR: So, the Chinese would get that close when you were asleep?

JM: Oh, yeah!

GTR: You wouldn’t hear them a ways out, or something?

JM: Oh, no. No…. No. At night, a lot of them wore these white uniforms. So, they blended in with the snow, you know. You couldn’t see them. We stood out like a rock. We had these green (uniforms).

GTR: I suppose, sneaking up. Was it moonlight?

JM: There was moonlight, yeah. Thank God for that! At least you could see the movement if they were coming. If the moonlight was bright enough, you could see the movement. Then, there were always two men in a hole. You had 50% watch all the time. One guy was always awake in your foxhole. One guy could grab a catnap. You’d stay awake for four hours, at night, and then wake your buddy up so you could crawl in your bag, half-way in your bag, and maybe get some sleep for a couple hours.

GTR: Was it snow holes, that you dug in?

JM: Oh, yeah. You couldn’t dig in very deep because the ground was frozen. So, as far as the snow went, that was about it. You just dug a hole in the snow. The snow does not stop a bullet. But it was shelter out of the wind. That was the main thing. When we went to get Fox Company, that’s where our battalion commander… Colonel Davis… he got the Congressional Medal of Honor for relieving Fox Company. They had held the road open for us for four days and four nights.

GTR: In the Chosin Reservoir area?

JM: Uh-huh. We were ordered to go across the hills. We were ordered to go across the Chinese lines to get to Fox Company. We couldn’t go down the road, because that would be too open. We’d never get there. So, we went overland. The night we left Yudam-ni, it was 42 below, with about a 30 mile and hour wind, and snowing. Meteorologists say it was one of the coldest winters in 100 years. So, then we had to put all our gear on, because everyone had to carry extra gear. If you’re an infantryman, you got bandoliers of clips for your rifle, and your cartridge belt. But on top of all that, you had to carry extra machine gun ammo for the machine guns. Or, extra mortar rounds for the mortars. So, everybody was loaded down with about 60 more pounds of equipment than they normally had. Then, Colonel Davis came down the line and he said, “All right, absolute quiet is mandatory. The Chinese cannot know we’re going through!” So, he made everybody do jumping jacks in place. If he heard anything rattle, you had to get rid of it or quiet it down. So, he wasn’t satisfied until everyone could do jumping jacks and you couldn’t hear a thing except your feet hitting the ground.

GTR: How do you do that? Do you just tuck things under?

JM: Yeah, you cinch them down real good. Tuck them under your armpits, or wherever you could put them to keep them quiet. Then, the snow was blowing so hard you could hardly see the guy in front of you.

GTR: And then gloves… were people getting frostbite?

JM: Oh, yeah.

GTR: The gloves wouldn’t have been very warm, I imagine.

JM: No, they weren’t. And you can’t fire a rifle with a glove on, or load it. With the M1 rifle, you push that clip down in there and the bolt goes through, if you’ve got a glove on, usually that will catch you in there. So, you’ve got to use bare hands to load your clips.

GTR: Did people have permanent issues with the frostbite?

JM: Oh, yeah. We all do. I do to this day… frostbite. Both my feet and my hands. And it’s all residual. A lot of the arthritis you get stems from being frozen like that.

GTR: I suppose. And there was nothing you could do about it right then, right?

JM: No, not a thing. Not a thing you could do.

GTR: Did they just end up solid frozen, and you couldn’t feel it?

JM: Well, you tried to keep them under your armpits or at night, if you were up to there (with a sleeping bag), you’d put them down in your crotch to get some kind of warmth. You know, take your gloves off. And then your socks would get soaking wet from sweat from moving during the day, and then at night they would freeze. So, you’re feet would be like two blocks of ice in your boots.

GTR: I suppose.

JM: It was not fun.

GTR: No…. Down sleeping bags.

JM: Down, yes.

GTR: And only one pair of socks?

JM: We were issued two pair. You tried to keep one pair dry inside your shirt, right next to your skin. But, there was very few times that you had time to take your boots off and change your socks.

GTR: I suppose. And when you were out there in the field, there was no break, no building to go into…

JM: No, nothing.

GTR: How long at a stretch would you be out there?

JM: Sometimes for a week, maybe longer.

GTR: And eating. What were you eating? C-rations?

JM: Well, that’s a long story, there. They issued us C-rations. But of course, they froze. Everything in them. They froze, and you couldn’t eat them. You could take your bayonet and open up a can and chop it up with your bayonet and eat the pieces. Suck on the chunks of food. Then, one day, two C-47s came over. Transport planes. {laughs} Line outfits had ordered more ammo for their mortars, for their 60 mm mortars. And the code name was: “You’re gonna drop Tootsie Rolls.” Which meant you’re gonna drop mortar rounds. Well, the guys in Japan that loaded the planes loaded Tootsie Rolls. Actual Tootsie Rolls! Hey, they saved our lives! Those things saved our lives!

GTR: {laughs} Wow!

JM: You can’t believe it!


GTR: Were they little?

JM: Just regular Tootsie Rolls, just like that. The old-fashioned Tootsie Roll. In fact, I’ve got a can up there.

GTR: Oh! Wow.

JM: Yeah. We picked them up. First, when we went out to get the parachutes that they dropped them in, we looked, and “Tootsie Rolls?!?” {looks incredulous, laughs}

GTR: But a good misunderstanding, huh?

JM: But then it turned out, that was what we ate for over a week. Then, in the motor pool, some of the trucks, some of their tanks would get shot out, you know? Bullets would go through their fuel tank. The drivers could take a Tootsie Roll and put it in their mouth and chew it, get it soft, and plug the hole. Put that Tootsie Roll in the hole, and then it froze there. And it stopped the leak! Even the Chinese were eating them.

GTR: So, you found them?

JM: Well, some of the dead Chinese, we’d go and see if they had any information or anything, and we’d find Tootsie Rolls on them.

GTR: I had no idea that Tootsie Rolls played that much of a role!

JM: Oh, they saved our lives, they did.

GTR: Do you still eat them today?

JM: Oh, yes, I do. Not as a habit, but I’ll have one now and then, just for old time’s sake. When we have our… the survivors of the Chosin Reservoir, we meet every two years. We have a reunion. At every reunion, everyone gets a can of Tootsie Rolls.

GTR: That’s great. How did the Japanese have access to them? They loaded them in Japan. Did they sell them there?

JM: Well, they were at an American Airbase. It was in Japan. They were using a Japanese airport to load these transports, but it was all Americans that were doing it, no Japanese involved. Unless they were using them for labor.

GTR: So, was it really a misunderstanding, or?

JM: I think it was a misunderstanding. Instead of mortar rounds…. They said “Tootsie Rolls, OK, they’re going to get Tootsie Rolls!” They didn’t know that the code word meant mortar rounds. 60 mm mortar rounds. So, somebody dropped the ball somewhere along the line, but we’re glad they did. We needed them more than we needed the mortar rounds.

GTR: I didn’t know that detail. That’s great. I suppose they’d freeze solid?

JM: Oh, yes. You’d keep them inside your shirt, as best you could, or in your pockets. Anywhere. Then, you could take your Kbar, your belt knife, and whack off a piece and put it in your mouth and let it thaw out until eventually you could chew it, or just suck on it.

GTR: I should have brought some Tootsie Rolls! Didn’t know that! So, anything else about the battles, actual engagements or other significant events in Korea that you’d like to share.

JM: Oh, you know, a lot of different things happen in combat. There’s a lot of funny things that happen, too. It’s not all doom and gloom. There were some things that…

GTR: Like what? What’s funny?

JM: Well, like one night. The word came down, up in the Chosin Reservoir, that we could actually light a fire. And we hadn’t had a fire in over three weeks. We said, “Whoo! We can light a fire?!” “Yeah! We’ve got a safe perimeter. You guys can light a fire here.” Because we had just come off the line. So, there was about six of us gathered around. We found some old branches from trees and stuff. We built a little thing there, and built a fire! We’re sittin’ on our helmets, trying to get our feet and hands warm. Some of the guys had their C-rations with them. They said, “Hey, maybe we can thaw out our C-rations!” So, they took some of the C-rations out and put them by the fire to get them to thaw out. We’re sitting there, and all of a sudden there was a BANG! An explosion! I got hit right in the forehead. It knocked me right off my helmet. I was all red. The guys came running over. They thought, “Jim’s hit through the head!” I’m looking: “Yeah, it’s all red, must be blood!” But I felt okay. Except it stung, you know. Then the guys were looking. They got a little closer. They sat me up. And they said, “You’d go good on a sandwich!” It was a little can of strawberry jam that was in the fire, and it exploded and hit me. It was strawberry jam! So, things like that.

GTR: {laughs} Yeah! But if you’ve had nerves, and then something like that happens….

JM: Yeah, it really scared the daylights out of everybody.

GTR: I suppose! I guess at that time it would have all been metal? It wouldn’t have been plastic?

JM: Yeah, there was a real thin… a metal can, about that big around (shows a couple inches with fingers) and about that thick full of strawberry jam. It had a real thin metal cover. What happened was that the metal cover must have blown off and the can with the jelly in it, hit me!

GTR: I’m trying to think of c-rations I’ve seen, and they were all plastic sealed. But back then they weren’t sealed in plastic, were they? Was it all metal?

JM: No, it wasn’t all metal. The canned goods was all canned. They were metal. The hamburgers and the sausage and the chicken and noodles, chicken and vegetables. They were in cans. The only thing that wasn’t is that you had a round bar of chocolate. And that was wrapped in cellophane. Some of that was from WWII. It had a real old date on it, but you ate it anyway. And then little packs of cereal and you could chew on that cereal. Every C-ration had a ration of two cigarettes. And they were cigarettes that nobody liked; they were Old Golds, that brand. Everybody hated them. But in those days, in that situation, they tasted really good.

GTR: I suppose, when you were allowed to light them?

JM: At times. When they say the smoking lamp is lit, you could light a cigarette. If the smoking lamp is out…(A Marine expression). Well, if someone’s looking out and they had a match! You know…

GTR: I suppose. Good to have those little stories. Anything else? JM: Oh…. A lot of things happened that to this day…. I don’t know how religious you are, but I know for a fact that there were some miracles worked on me!

GTR: In Korea?

JM: Oh, yeah. I know for a fact that things happened that were not normal. Even the ballistics expert tell me, “That can’t happen.” And I say, “Well, it did.”

GTR: Really? Like what?

JM: Well, in Nightmare Alley, after Bones got killed, this Chinese officer stood up. He jumped on top of a rock right next to me. I stood up. Not much farther away from me to that wall (about 6 feet or so). I pulled my trigger and nothing happened. I had either a misfire or… it wasn’t empty! I had a misfire. He heard that click and then he cut loose with his automatic weapon. Every one of those rounds… every one! I figured, “Well, I’m dead!” I still had my rifle pointed at him. Every one of those rounds, hit that little barrel of my M1. And a big blue ring went around the front of my rifle. He fired, and every one hit that blue ring. None of them got through to me. He blew the rifle out of my hands. He blew my belt off. And when I went into the river… that was my only way out of there, going in the River, they had all their guys lined up shooting at me…. Not a bullet hit me. I could hear them hitting the water all around me. But, nothing! As I was getting out towards the deeper part of the River, they threw two grenades at me. One landed over here, and one landed here. And they both went off. All they did was blow me out of the water onto the far beach. Of course, this was a night. It was pitch black! Nothing touched me! Then I got up to the top of the bank and I had no idea who was up there, because there had been a big firefight over there while I was on the other side of the river. So, we had no idea. I’m standing behind a tree, trying to keep the water from falling out of my jacket because it makes noise, you know. And I see these three guys coming through the woods. I said “Uh, oh. Well, I ain’t going to be taken prisoner. No way.” So, I figured when one of them got close to me, I’d jump on him and do what I could. But then one of them knelt down and pointed his rifle at me and said, “Who’s there?” Sweetest words I ever heard in my life! Marines. So…

GTR: Was it somebody you knew? Or a different company?

JM: No, they had heard what was going on across the way. They were wondering what the heck was all that firing? As it turns out, when Bones and I were laying there… we laid there for quite a while at the bottom of that railroad track. These Chinese were going up and down the railroad track. Sometimes 50 in a group. 50 at a time! We were counting. Then, the moon would go down behind a cloud and we’d try to inch our way when it was dark. If the moon came out, we would lay down. Until Bones got caught standing up…. But, anyway! They had the heavy 30’s situated along the river, but they were pointing at the road because a Gook tank had come down the road during the night and fired right into our lines. So, we didn’t know where the Chinese were. We didn’t even know they were Chinese! So…. They had all the machine guns facing the road. I told the guys, “You better turn those things around! They’re all over there!” They said, “Come on, see the Captain,”so they took me to the Captain, the company commander, and I told him, “Yeah, Captain, there’s a ton of them over there. Get those 30’s turned around.” So, he did. He turned all the 30’s around. About an hour after I got there, you could hear the whistles and the bugles and everything go. And they came flying off that railroad track, into the river. And those heavy 30’s just took care of them.

GTR: How did you end up separated, by yourself?

JM: Taking care of Bones. The Charlie Company… he got hit on the way down. He was laying off to the side when I got by him. I said, “What’s the matter, Bones?” He said, “Got hit through the leg.” So, I went up, bandaged him up and did what I could for him. As the company filed by, it was getting dark. I said, “Pass the word up! I need a Corpsman.” Marines never leave anybody behind. Well, they did this time. The word never got up. So, there I was. Him and I. We could hear the Chinese coming down. So, I said, “We’ve gotta get out of here.” So, we made it as far as the railroad track, and got over, and got down in the rocks there, and that was it.

GTR: That’s when he stood up, you said?

JM: Mmm-hmmm.

GTR: Sounds like you were able to do some good….

JM: Did what I could.

GTR: For him and for the other Company?

JM: Yeah. Well, the Captain says, “You know, Jim, I’m going to recommend you for the Silver Star.” I said, “Captain, I don’t want no Silver Star.” That was the last thing on your mind. Just give me a rifle!” So, he made me put down in writing what had happened. I don’t know where he sent it, Division or someplace. But word came back… He called me in about two weeks later and he said “I tried, but you couldn’t get the Silver Star because of lack of witnesses.” That’s what Division said. For everything, somebody’s got to see it happen. Well, that didn’t bother me at all.


GTR: Hmmm. And that was because of your buddy, not because of what you helped with, the next company? Because you gave them some good information!

JM: Yeah. But, still. That’s your job.

GTR: So, how did you ever catch up, so they could give you a rifle? Because you had lost your rifle?

JM: Well, in the meantime this firefight was going on. The Chinese were still trying to get across the river. One of our guys got hit and I took his M1. We continued to fight till the Chinese tried to get away. They took off and went up the hill. We’d pick them off as they’d go up the hill. But anyway, it was over with. Then, the guys from Charlie Company came down looking for me and Bones. I said, “Well, thanks a lot, guys.” So, it was kind of touch and go there for a few days. I didn’t want anything to do with those guys.

GTR: I suppose. How did you end up with them, to begin with?

JM: That was the company I was assigned to. I was assigned to Charlie Company, so I had to go back with them.

GTR: Nightmare Alley… was that the particular battle? What was that night called?

JM: That was what they called Nightmare Alley. That was the night of November 2nd. That was the night that the Chinese hit us. That was when we first found out we were fighting Chinese.

GTR: Because you’d actually seen them. You’d had some pretty close encounters!

JM: Yes, we did. {laughs}

GTR: Wow. That is amazing to hear about the blue ring (on the gun). Was it just something reflecting off of something, or did you feel like it was a presence of something else?

JM: You know, my first thought was, “Hey, I’m shooting!” because the flames were coming out of my rifle. But it was his rounds that were…. But anyway, there was that big blue light. I’ll never forget it. Just bright, about that big around (a foot diameter?) right at the muzzle of my rifle. And every one of his rounds hit that. Ballistics (experts) tell me, “That’s impossible! Nobody could sit there with an automatic weapon and pull the trigger…” Because they’ll traverse. They’ll move. They can’t hit a little thing like a barrel of an M1! I said, “Well, it’s a miracle!” And the fact that I got across the river, nobody hit me, grenades didn’t do any damage… She had her arm around me. I don’t know if you know the Blessed Virgin Mary, but she’s my Mother. She’s my gal!

GTR: That’s great. You were raised Catholic? You went to Cathedral? That’s great.

JM: You know, it’s hard to believe, but she actually grabbed a hold of me one day. This is hard to believe…

GTR: In Korea?

JM: Yes. We were taking a village. There was this one building that we were catching a lot of fire from. So, my partner and I were assigned to take that building out. The way we’d do it would be, one guy go around the back, and one guy in the front. The guy in the front would kick the door open, because those building were pretty flimsy. You could kick the door open and throw a grenade in. When the grenade exploded, the guy would come in the back and I would go in the front. We would take turns, front and back. In this particular building, it was my turn to throw the grenade. We were catching a lot of fire. As we got approached to it, the firing stopped. I’m crouched right by the door, under the window that they were shooting out of. So, I says, “Give me about ten seconds, and I’m going to throw the grenade.” So, he went around the back. I kicked the door open, and I pulled the pin on the grenade. I still had it in my mouth. I pulled the pin on the grenade, I was going to throw it in there…. And something grabbed my arm. I mean, physically. I felt… Geez! I felt like a Gunny Sergeant had grabbed me. I looked around; nobody there. I could not move. I could not move. But I had not released the pin yet, you know. I said, “Sheesh!” I couldn’t throw it, so I put the pin back in. I got my rifle and hollered at Bud. I said, “I’m going in!” So, I went in there, expecting to get blown away, you know. Nothing happened. He came in the back door. It was all dark in there. I’m standing there, looking around. I heard this movement over in the corner. So, I’m ready to cut loose at that corner. I didn’t. I just sat there and looked. There was some shuffling. Then I heard some crying. So, I thought, “What the heck’s going on over there?” So, I got a little closer. Here, crouched into this corner, were a bunch of school kids. All girls. They had their little school dresses on. They were all in this corner. Their eyes were this big! They were all crying, you know. Bud was there. So, I handed him my rifle to let the kids know, “Hey (it’s OK)”. I had chocolate in my pocket. I {shows reaching forward, offering} Chocolate? {shakes head, showing their reaction: Uh-uh, no}. Because they didn’t trust me. What we learned afterwards, from the interpreter was that when the North Koreans left that building, they had told them that if Marines come in, they’d kill and eat kids. So, you could imagine what was going through their minds. Anyway, I threw a piece of chocolate over there. One of them reached out and grabbed it. Okay… she shared it a little bit. So, I pulled out some more. Got a couple steps closer to them. Then they call came up and I gave them each a piece of chocolate. But, to this day, what if that hadn’t happened? What if I had thrown that grenade? I couldn’t have ever lived with that. Killing ten kids? {shakes head, chokes up a bit} So, you know, something’s working.

GTR: That’s true, yeah. How did you know that someone wasn’t going to shoot at you?

JM: We didn’t.

GTR: There had just been someone? Recently?

JM: They had been just shooting! But I guess they left. The kids told us that they ran out the back door before Bud got there. When they saw us coming, they took off. Then, the kids… boy, we brought our interpreter in, and they cut loose on these. They said, “Yeah, there’s weapons over there, over there (pointing)”. So, we dug up all the weapons that we had. So, those kids were really happy to see us. Then!

GTR: Wow, it’s amazing. There’s definitely a force out there.

JM: There was one more, if you want to hear it.

GTR: Yes! Quick thinking in that one, on your part, too?

JM: Well, I had no choice. She had a hold of me. I couldn’t do a thing. But yeah, we were up in the Chosin Reservoir. We were on patrol. Gooks ambushed us. We were in snow up to our waists. We were chugging up the side of this hill. They had the high ground. They cut loose on us. The guy right in front of me; he got hit through the neck. We were in a kind of little gully. I crawled up to him. He rolled over and he said, “I’m dying!” I looked at him. He had a hole in his neck. I said, “You’re not dying!” Okay. So, I took his first aid kit, and I bandaged his neck up. I looked around. There was no exit wound. So, the bullet was still in there, somewhere. So, it didn’t do a lot of damage. That’s what I figured, anyway. I said, “You’re fine!” I said, “Get out of here! Before we all get killed!” So, he rolled over and last time I saw him he was hustling up the hill. He made it to the aid station. I found out the next day that he was fine. But then, we were sitting there, another guy from Duluth and myself. Lieutenant said, “You and Kirsch take the rear guard” because the Chinese were coming up the hill. It was our job to slow them down while the rest of the company got to the top. They called in an air strike. Two Corsairs. So, we’re laying there. They said, “When we start waving the air panels, to the Corsairs, you guys come on up.” Take a few shots, slow them down, then come on up. Well, in the meantime, we did that. We were going to start up the hill when this one Corsair came down. They come low. You could almost reach up and touch them. He came down and took a look. The second guy came down and opened up on us. Actually, he opened up on me! Because my buddy Kirsch was on the other side and I’m here. And he had zero cover. One little old pine tree over there. He cut loose on me and then he went around. I told Kirch, “If he does that again, I’m going to shoot him down!” And he did. He took another crack at me!

GTR: Why? Did he not know?

JM: No, he thought I was a Chinese! A Chinaman. The other guy didn’t. The first pilot always came down and looked and looked. The second guy, he was gung-ho. So, on his third one, I figured, “Well, this is gonna be it.” So, I got behind that little pine tree and I took my M1 and put it down along side of me. I figured, well, those 50 caliber bullets will hit that rifle first, before they hit me. There’s a 50 caliber bullet, sitting up there (on shelf). So, that ain’t gonna stop him. Sometimes they shoot 20 mm rounds. So, anyway, he came down and he opened up. There were two rows, machine gun bullets. Like if this is the tree, I’m behind that tree, standing like this (arms at side). There were two rows of bullets, coming like that (hits table repeatedly). I thought, “There’s only one thing I can do! When that last row of bullets gets here, right next to the tree, I’ll roll. And maybe he’ll miss me.” It was the only hope I had. So, he come up and those two bullets came, and I’m just getting ready to roll, when all of a sudden he pulled up. I could reach out… closer than me to you… I could reach out and touch the last bullet hole in the snow. The last hole. So, there was… something made that guy pull that plane up. Or something pushed that plane up! For no reason at all. He just went, “Whoop!” (moving upward). If he had come one more second, that would have been it.

GTR: Wow.

JM: So, I was blessed.

GTR: That’s great. I’m getting a lump in my throat. I couldn’t talk after the story about the schoolkids. That’s amazing. I assume that could change things when you get back, in the rest of your life, having felt that presence?

JM: Oh, yes. Every night. Every night that stuff goes through your head. Why am I here and he isn’t? You think you’ve got your blessings. You thank God. There was a reason. I guess the reason was: my becoming a teacher. In my mind, that justifies it. You’re helping other kids. Give them a little bit of Marine Corps discipline.


GTR: That’s great. Thank you for sharing all those events. How did you come back? How did you come out of Korea, and how did you return home? What was it like to return home?

JM: Just a normal kid. Just a normal kid.

GTR: You were just a normal kid when you came back?

JM: Yep. Well, the memories are with you. But I’m not a person to dwell. For me to acknowledge all this is…. You’re probably the first one I’ve ever done it with except for one other person. None of my kids know about it. I’ve never said a word to any of my kids. And they’ve never asked me.

GTR: About the war in general?

JM: Nope. Not a thing. They know I was in Korea. They know I was a Marine, and they appreciate that. They wish me happy birthday on the Marine Corps birthday… you know, that kind of thing.

GTR: You definitely have a presence… I see the Marine (materials on the wall).

JM: Those (pictures) are all our reunions. B-company reunions.

GTR: I always hear that Korean War veterans were not necessarily acknowledged as much, or appreciated as much. The return was different than after WWII, for example, right?

JM: Oh, yeah. Korea was the forgotten war. Nobody made a big deal out of it. There were no parades. There was no nothing. You just came home. Found a job and went to work.

GTR: So, when did you start meeting with the other members?

JM: I think we started our first… I’ve got another whole wall of those upstairs (photos of the first reunions). These are of the latest ones that we just had. Some of those are the older ones up there. That’s my rocket squad, those three pictures there. That was my assault platoon. Bones… he’s in that picture. But yeah. I think we first started in… the 50’s? We started having our… at first we were having them every couple of years. Now, with some of the other guys, they want to have them every year. So, we have them every year now.

GTR: Whose idea, or how did it kind of start?

JM: The one who started it was Ed McKeever. He’s dead. I’ve got his picture in my albums, too. He’s the one who first started. In fact, I ran into him at Hagaru, coming out of the Chosin Reservoir. Him and I went to high school together. We played football together. He got the idea: Let’s have a reunion! So he’s the one who got us started.

GTR: What was the thinking? Just…?

JM: Just to get together so we stay together. And we never forget. So, we’ve been doing that for 50 some years.

GTR: The longevity is great, and somewhat unusual, from what I understand. What role do you think the meetings play for people, or for you?

JM: Brotherhood. We’re all brothers. Every Marine’s a brother. You’re never without a brother. If you meet a Marine on the street, you’ve met a brother. That’s the thinking of all Marines. We’re a special band of brothers. I guess we’re one of the biggest and only groups in the country that do this.

GTR: I think so, too. That’s partly why we’re really interested in hearing about that. Even for veterans returning today; they have all sorts of challenges, and what can they learn? What advice would you have for that, that coming back into society? Or about having reunions?

JM: You know, I really feel for these young kids. Because their war’s not like ours was. Half the time they don’t’ even know who the enemy is. Then they have these suicide bombers and IED’s, roadside bombs and stuff we didn’t have to contend with. We knew where the enemy was. They were on that hill and we were on this one. It was our job to get them off of that hill, and there was only one way to do it. So, it was more of personal, hand to hand combat. Whereas, these guys, they don’t know what hit them half the time. I really feel for them. I really do. Like there’s so much PTSD with these young kids coming out. We didn’t have that big a problem. It never occurred to me…

GTR: Why not? What’s different?

JM: I don’t know. Maybe it’s your personality. I know what happened to me. So, that’s it. Whatever happened to someone else, that’s their business. You don’t carry it with you daily.

GTR: You don’t dwell on it?

JM: You don’t dwell. Sometimes I’m by myself and sitting in a chair at night, or sitting in a chair, and these thoughts will come across. But they’re gone, and they don’t bother me. I don’t get all uptight and upset. I just say, “Well, that happened, so okay. Tomorrow’s another day!”

GTR: How do you think Marine discipline played into your future professional life, or your family life?

JM: It played everything. It played everything. The Marines just… well, for one thing, they teach you how to survive. They teach you to respect your brothers. Respect your enemy. You can hate them, but you better respect them, because if you don’t, you’re dead. And just the idea of embracing the younger people, and hoping that some of that stuff can rub off on them. The fact that I had a lot of projects for my school kids. They’d say, “Mr. M, we can’t do this!” And say, “What do you mean, you can’t do this? There’s no such word as can’t! The Marine Corps manual is that thick and the word can’t does not appear in it!” It isn’t in there. You know, that’s one word that you should strike from your vocabulary. So you’d try to teach them that you can do anything you put your mind to. Just stick with it and never give up. Never, ever give up. Oh, I’ve got lots of stories I could tell you about school kids, where that philosophy brought some kids back from the brink and made super good students out of them. I coached high school football at Central. I even had a few of them that asked me to write them letters of recommendation for the Marine Corps. I’ve got one of them living right down here, by the church. He’s retired Master Sergeant. 25 years in the Corps. Still calls me Coach! {laughs}

GTR: Did you think you would be a teacher before you were in Korea, or did that occur to you when you came back?

JM: You know, it was always in my mind because I had such good teachers growing up. You know, the Catholic school, most of my teachers were nuns. But just because they were nuns didn’t make… they knew what was going on. If you crossed them or misbehaved, or broke the rules, you paid the price. They had no mercy on us. They know how to use a three-edged ruler. We had some priests, too, and my high school football coach. All of that stuff made a huge difference. It was the fact that my football coach instilled in me the idea that you are never a loser. You may lose the game but that does not make you a loser. It depends on how you played the game. If you played the game to the best of your ability and you look in the mirror and say, “Hey, so we lost. I played okay!” You’ve got it made. That’s basically one of the things that kept me going in Korea. The fact that he says, “No matter how big your opponents are, they put their pants on the same way you do; one leg at a time.”

GTR: That was your Cathedral coach?

JM: Vucinovich. John Vucinovich. He was a manbuilder. And a character builder.

GTR: That’s great. I wonder if anyone has ever written a history of that. Cathedral is now Marshall. Interesting. I’ve heard that before. The connection between football and Marines. Having that football experience helping you to survive.

JM: Absolutely.

GTR: Interesting that they wanted you to play football, the Marines.

JM: Yeah.

GTR: But you said when you came back from Korea you worked for the paint company for 14 years. Was that some after Korea? But then you went to college in there?

JM: Yes, I had started college. Then, we got married and started having kids. I had to go to work. I couldn’t afford to stay in college. I had gone two years. Then I went and became a painter. I decided, “This is not for me!” I went back to college and got my degree.

GTR: Was there GI Bill to help?

JM: I had GI Bill, yep.

GTR: 1972, you said?

JM: But I was using my WWII GI Bill.

GTR: Was there not for Korean War Vets?

JM: I don’t know at that time if there was or not. But I had the WWII GI Bill, because I was a WWII Veteran, so I qualified for that.

GTR: And you could still use that as late as the 60’s and 70’s?

JM: Yes, I used it all the way through ’72. Without that, I would never have been a teacher.

GTR: You said it was in the Duluth schools. Was it always at Birchwood?

JM: Yes, I always taught at Birchwood. When I retired in ’94, I went substituting. So, I became a substitute teacher for about 14 years. I did a lot of it in Hermantown. Duluth and Hermantown.

GTR: I’ve actually done that. Hermantown felt easier to me. JM: Hermantown is a great school district.

GTR: And you still help out with a class, you said?

JM: Every Wednesday. I meet with this gal. She’s a super teacher. She’s a Finlander. Katie Kyyhkynen. She’s got a 5th grade. I’ve known her for years.

GTR: Oh, is her husband Ken Gilbertson?

JM: That’s her husband!

GTR: He was my advisor in college.

JM: He’s a great guy. Yep.

GTR: This was just someone you know?

JM: I knew Ken when he was an intern at UMD. I brought one of my 4th grade classes up there for an Environmental Ed on trees, whatnot. He was the intern! That’s where I met Ken.

GTR: Small world. He was kind of one of my mentors.

JM: He’s a great guy! (more chatting about Ken and Katie). She’s just an outstanding teacher.


GTR: That’s great. We need good teachers out there.

JM: Yes, we do. And she lets me do my thing! When I go there, it’s “Mr. M time!” And the kids all know it’s going to be some kind of a fun project. That they’re going to get their hands dirty!

GTR: That’s great, that you’re able to do that for them.

JM: Oh, yeah, I look forward to it.

GTR: I’m writing all over my paper so I can’t read my questions! Let’s see. Anything more about the reunions or the group meetings that you’d want to share anything about? The role it’s played, any advice for veterans returning today? Would there be any connections or lessons there?

JM: You know what we really wish? And I personally really wish? That these young kids, especially these young Marines, would get in touch with us! They’re welcome to come to our luncheons on the first Wednesday of every month! We’d love to see them. They can interact with us. They can share their experiences with us!

GTR: Do you think they would? Is there enough of a connection still, with the generations?

JM: Oh, I think they would. Because most of them… they appreciate what we did and what we went through. And we just want to show them that we appreciate what they’re doing.

GTR: Is there any group (meeting today?). Just the B company? JM: No, no. You don’t even know they’re here! I run into them on the street. “Oh, yeah, I’m a Marine!” I’ll be wearing a Marine jacket or something and someone will come up and say “Semper Fi!” “Are you a Marine?” “Oh, yeah…” Well, how come we don’t know you? There’s a bunch of them in Duluth that are just hidden. They don’t come forward.

GTR: Forgive me, I don’t know all this. Would they be from a reserve here, or would they have been…. There’s no central…

JM: No, no. Because it’s an all volunteer service. So, they all joined. They don’t belong to any specific group.

GTR: So, there’s not that cohesion when they come back?

JM: There isn’t that connection. If they’d let us, they could sure be connected with B company. We’d love to have them. We really would. So, I guess we have to get the word out. I’ve told every Marine that I’ve met, that, hey… (about their group). But you know how that goes…

GTR: Yeah. I wonder if there could be some other event or other meeting….

JM: Well, there could be. I’m not that good of an organizer. We do have some guys in our outfit. My suggestion would be to maybe put an ad in the paper, saying that we would welcome all Marines at a certain certain time at a certain certain place. For lunch… or come to our luncheon.

GTR: Just a Marine reunion?

JM: You could even put, “Attention All Marines! Now Hear This!” We would love to know you and have you join us, because we are all brothers. Join the brotherhood. In fact, you did that when you became a Marine.

GTR: So, I’m trying to understand… there are all these different groups. When they come back, they’ve had all these different enlistment times, return times… nothing specific?

JM: They all just melt into the fabric. Yep.

GTR: Well, one of the goals of this project will be to get more information from you guys about the reunions and the meetings and seeing if there could be anything that would help the younger generation.

JM: We would love to have that happen. The main thing is… a lot of these kids feel, “Well, geez, you went through the Chosin and this and that. You’re real combat veterans.” It doesn’t make a bit of difference. Not every one of B Company was overseas. Some of our best Marines are our guys who are our organizers, like Fred Peterson. He never went overseas, and he’s the greatest Marine you’ll ever meet!

GTR: What was he doing here? I was going to talk to him yesterday.

JM: I think he was in boot camp, but he never did go over. He was a tanker. He rode the tanks. But he is a super guy.

GTR: I was hoping to interview him, actually today, but he said he had to reschedule. I don’t know if he has health problems, or something.

JM: Yeah, he’s not been feeling too good lately. He’s up and down. Some sort of bug got him. But he’s an organizer. He could tell you more about B Company than (most of us).

GTR: I’m realizing I need to learn a bit more about Companies and Regiments and how it all worked, when you were separated and went into battle. That was all a bit new to me.

JM: That was one of the toughest parts, because we had so many guys from Duluth in the First Battalion. Like Bob Olson and a bunch of guys were in Able Company. There was a bunch of buys in B Company. Some in Charlie. Lot of them in Weapons Company. You’d have a mission. They’d say, “Okay, Baker Company is taking off, going to take that hill. You and you and you; your squad, go with them to give them their firepower.” Bazookas and whatever we could give them. Then, you’d be gone and the rest of the Battalion would be dug in and holding the perimeter. Then, you’d come back, and some other Company had to go. You’d see all your buddies, that you knew, going down the road. You knew where they were going! Because you had just come from there. You’d say, “Keep your head up and your butt down. Just come back alive!” That’s all you hoped. “I want to see you back here.”

GTR: That’s wild that you weren’t all together. But is that just standard practice in the military to just spread people out? Why exactly did everyone get assigned that way?

JM: I don’t know. That was just the Marine Corps way of doing things. There is some policy that they don’t want too many people from one family, after what happened in WWII. They had no choice. They had to build our regiment, and they did it with all reserves. We had some reservists from Tennessee, some reservists from Minneapolis. Then ours was 227.

GTR: 227 from Duluth?

JM: Mmm-hmm.

GTR: And that was the 10 that were killed in action. And there was no draft, after?

JM: No, no draft. See, in the Marine Corps, everything is divided into threes. The smallest unit is a squad. There are three squads to a platoon. There are three platoons to a Company. So, a Company is usually about 250 men. Usually 50 guys to a platoon. Then, there are three Companies plus one support Company to a battalion. Then, three battalions to a Regiment. Three Regiments to a Division. So, it’s all basically in threes.

GTR: Interesting. It’s kind of funny that I’m doing this project, because due to various historical and odd things, I don’t have relatives in the Military. My grandfathers weren’t in the Military, my father wasn’t in the Military, so it’s all a little bit new to me. So, thank you. And I will do some more research on that.

JM: Then, in the squads, there were three fire teams to a squad. So, there was another three. You’d have nine guys, nine-ten guys in a squad.

GTR: And there would be three guys in a fire team?

JM: Yes, and three fire teams to a squad. Three squads to a platoon.

GTR: And you get to know those guys…

JM: Oh, yeah, you get to know them real good! You sure do.

GTR: And that’s when you said you’ve have the two on (watch) in the hole, alternating sleeping?

JM: That was the fire teams. You were the guys in the fox holes.

GTR: I’m sure these things are so different with the way the wars are now…

JM: Oh, it’s much different. The basic unit makeup is pretty much the same. There’s still the Seventh Marines! How they’re organized I don’t know. That I couldn’t tell you, if they’re organized like we were… They have altogether different equipment than we had. They have all this high-tech stuff.

GTR: And like you said, the enemy is very different.

JM: Oh, yeah.

GTR: So, is there anything you hope is different… it’s such a different time, but anything you hope… Did you feel forgotten when you came back? Is there anything specifically that you hope would be different for people coming back today?

JM: No, I didn’t feel anything. You figure, “Well, we did our job!”

GTR: You didn’t want parades?

JM: We didn’t want parades. We could care less about a parade. We just wanted to get on with our lives!

GTR: So, you had been in in 1946. So, your brothers… were they in D-Day, or coming back?

JM: They had all that. My oldest brother, he was Infantry. He went in on Normandy, and D-Day. He went through Germany. He went through a lot. He was decorated. He had the Bronze Star. Anyway, when I came home, him and I had more to share than the rest of them. My other two brothers were Air Force, so they didn’t get into any ground combat. Whereas, my brother Tim, we had more to talk about. He talked about it. I listened. He taught me… he treated me with a lot of respect. Even after what he had gone through. He appreciated what I had gone through. He just flat-out… He came in one night, and I was sleeping on the floor, because the bed was soft. He says, “Okay, come up and sit down.” So, I got up off the floor and sat on the bed. He said, “Let’s talk. Let it out.”

GTR: That’s great that you had that, right? Not a lot of people had that?

JM: I did. Yes.

GTR: Then, what medals did you end up with?

JM: Oh, I got the Purple Heart.

GTR: Okay. Was that mostly for hands and fingers injuries?

JM: For this (indicates left hand). From a machine gun. Bullet went through there. Took off the middle finger.

GTR: From enemy fire?

JM: Enemy fire.

GTR: And definitely frostbite, I’m sure. Like you said, you have residual…

JM: Oh, yeah…

GTR: But people don’t get medals for that?

JM: {laughing} No, you don’t! Although the VA does compensate you for it. You do get compensation.

GTR: Well, anything else? This has been wonderful. It’s a great learning experience for me, so thank you! Anything else? My plan for this is to do one main interview, and then maybe do a group interview. So, maybe if other things, you remember other things you’d like to share…. I’m going to have to talk to Dan (Hartman), because photos and other things… Have you ever given materials for the archives?

JM: He’s got some. Some of the guys have given him stuff. I don’t think I have.

GTR: It would be interesting to have, to support this interview.

JM: Oh, you can have all the copies you want, as long as I get the photo back!

GTR: Even with my camera right now, I could try to take a photo of it and see how that works out, if you don’t mind.

JM: Might be kind of shiny!

GTR: Or we could look at scanning later. I don’t want to take it now before I talk to Dan, if he wants to do a scan.

JM: Yes, because if you wanted me to bring any in to your place, I could do that. Then you could do what you want.

GTR: I’m just a little outside person, a contractor, so I don’t really have a place. But I’m working for Dan.

JM: I’m sure he would supply you with a room! I’ve got a tape up there, my good friend Jerry Couture. He’s from Cloquet. That’s him there. Him and I. That’s after we got back from Korea. That top one is before we went to Korea, and that one is IN Korea. I had just come off the hill from a mission. So…

(Jan, Jim’s wife comes in, introductions, discussion of memorabilia in his basement room; Chinese bugles and mortar casings, photos and certificates from his time in the Marines, more recent copies of a Minnesota Public Radio interview, etc).

Albert J. Amatuzio Research Center | Veterans Memorial Hall (vets-hall.org)

James George “Jim” Morrissey (1930-2015) - Find a Grave Memorial

Minnesota, U.S., Death Index, 1908-2017 - Ancestry.com

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