"The Road to Korea"
Dolores, my mother, father and brother took me to the Sioux City Airport, as I would be flying to Camp Stoneman in California. After
hugs and kisses and handshakes, it was time to leave. It was a large four motored plane, as commuter jets had not been introduced yet. On the flight
to California I got a little air sick, and my ears were plugged. I remember a guy next to me was talking to me, and all of a sudden I
couldn't hear him. As I had never flown before I didn't know what to expect. I thought I was going deaf. But suddenly my ears popped and I could
hear again. The Korean War
We landed in San Francisco, CA in the early evening. Luckily, there were army busses waiting for us, and it wasn't long before we were at Camp Stoneman. This was another replacemaent depot. People going to Japan and Korea, as well as those coming home, came and went through here. We had to wait about a week for our troop ship to arrive. Our troop ship was called the General John J. Pope. Finally word came that our ship was in port. We were hauled on busses to a large ferry boat that was transferring us to the troop ship. They fed us some greasy ham sandwiches on the ferry boat. I was feeling kind of woozy on the ferry. The movement of the boat on the water and those sandwiches was not a good combination. The queasy feeling here was nothing compared to what was to come in the days ahead out to sea. I never could ride the thrill rides at carnivals because of motion sickness.
We left San Francisco in the evening for what was about a two week voyage to Japan. Within about an hour at sea there were many GIs seasick, hanging their heads over the rails. People vomiting all over, with some lying on the deck, too seasick to even stand up. It seems there have always been jokes about seasickness, but is far from funny. I have had the stomach flu, but nothing compared to that. After a few days, a lot of the guys got used to it. But I wasn't so lucky. I remember coming up on deck in the middle of the night to get some air and I found a place inside of a tower of some sort on the ship that I could get inside of with barely enough room to sit down. No one was supposed to be on deck after dark, but I seemed to be able to cope with the seasickness easier with some fresh air. I stayed inside of that cramped area because of the fear of falling overboard, as I was there by myself. I must have fallen asleep for a while, and when I awoke it was still dark, and I decided I had better make my way back down to the sleeping compartment before I was missed. There were five thousand troops on board, and the compartments we slept in were large rooms with canvas bunks about twenty-four inches apart, with bunks from the floor to the ceiling. We were really packed in.
The next day I was still very seasick and went on sick call. My throat was swollen from the dry heaves, as they are called. They weren't sure what was wrong with me (I knew: terrible seasickness), so they put me in what is called the isolation ward, because they thought I may infect others on board. This was a room that was on the upper deck and near the center of the ship. There wasn't near as much movement felt here, and after a few days I started to feel better. I guess one might say that I had it made in there. I had fresh-water showers. The regular showers that the troops used were salt water pumped out of the ocean. Soap absolutely would not lather, and there was no way anyone could get clean from it. The ship carried fresh water for the hospital section. I also got food from the officer's kitchen. It was good, even though I didn't feel like eating much. They would send up oranges, apples and bananas. Some of my buddies found out where I was, and I would hand the fruit out the little port holes that led to the main deck. They got so they knew what time to be there. I'll bet the doctors wondered how I ate so much fruit.
I'll go back a little and explain the mess hall, or the galley, as it is called on a ship. They had long tables which hung from chains that swung back and forth, and some that were fastened to the floor. As the ship would list sideways, everyone's tray would go sliding one way or the other. You were never sure if you got your own tray back or not.
The restrooms were something else, also. They had several long metal troughs that ran crossway of the ship. Then there were boards with holes in them to sit on that covered the trough. There was water running in them all the time so the wastes were washed right out to sea. I realize that this sounds harsh, but it has to be told to get the whole picture of life on a troop ship.
The rest of the trip was rather uneventful, other than after the fourth day out, the ship newsletter came out and said that something went wrong with the ship's navigation system. We had been going in a big circle and were only about ten miles from California. There were a lot of unhappy GI's until we figured out it was a joke. We didn't want to have to start out all over again.
About two days from Japan we started to see Japanese fishing boats. They were very small compared to our troop ship. They looked like corks in a bathtub bobbing around. The last day out we could see islands, and then we could see the coast of Japan. What a thrill it was, as I had heard and read a lot about Japan in World War Two. It always seemed so far away and so secluded from the rest of the world. You must remember that the time that I am writing about was only six years after WWII, so not a lot in Japan had changed yet.
I had been feeling pretty good for most of the voyage, but shortly before we docked I developed a high fever. Therefore, I didn't get released from the sick bay as I had hoped. They took me off the ship and into an army ambulance. Then I was transported to an army hospital in Yokohama, Japan. This was the city that we docked at. The building was an old three-story department store that had been converted into an army hospital. It was located in the heart of the city. I remember lying in bed, and after two weeks on the high seas, it looked like the whole building was rocking back and forth. It wasn't hard to get seasick all over again. That sensation lasted about a day, then gradually got back to normal. There were a lot of GI's that were wounded in Korea sent to this hospital. I saw men that were in pretty bad shape. After seeing them, my illness didn't seem nearly so bad.
I could look out my window and watch all the people on the streets below. All of a sudden, there I was, in the middle of one of the largest cities in Japan. There were rickshaws (a two-wheeled cart that could carry two passengers with a man pulling it by two poles attached to the front), lots of people on bicycles and on foot. There were some cars, but not like today.
I was in the hospital about three days, and then dismissed. I went to a place called Camp Drake. It was a Japanese army base that had been converted to a camp for American forces waiting to go on to Korea. My memory of Camp Drake is the small earthquake we experienced. Sometime in the early morning hours, the bunks started to shake and the windows were breaking. Someone was hollering for us to get out of the building. I was trying to put on my pants, but every time I stood up I would fall back down again. It only lasted about a minute, but it seemed like a lot longer. I learned later that there were a lot of small earthquakes in Japan.
We were there only two days, then received orders to leave Yokohama by train and travel to Sasebo, which is on the southern tip of Japan. We traveled by army bus to the train depot. The one thing I remember about Japan is that there was no wasted land. Even in the cities where there was open ground between streets or along railroad tracks, any place something would grow, there would be rice growing. With such a large population, they couldn't afford to waste their land.
The train we rode on was a Japanese Rail Line. The trains were smaller than we were used to in the USA. They were called narrow gauge railroads. The passenger cars were very elegant. The seats were covered with red velvet, with plush carpet on the floors. We ate a meal on the train, but the best part of the trip was that our mail finally caught up with us. I received letters from Dolores and my mother. Mail call was always the highlight of the day.
On this trip south we traveled through Nagasaki. This was the second city that was hit with the atomic bomb. Hiroshima was the first. After the two atom bombs were dropped, WWII came to an abrupt end. This was only six years after the bomb had been dropped, and there was a lot of evidence of it. Large steel beams and steel structures of buildings lay twisted and sagging from the terrific heat generated by the atom bomb.
On the rest of the trip we traveled through several tunnels, as southern Japan is pretty hilly country. We arrived in Sasebo in the early evening. We were hustled from the train to a waiting ship that would transport us by sea to Pusan, Korea, a trip that was an overnight jaunt.
Morning found us docking at Pusan. There was an army band on the dock playing what was a popular song at that time. "If I'd Known You Were Coming I would Have Baked A Cake!" We were held there only a couple of hours, and were then loaded on to trains for the trip north to the war zone.
What a change in the condition of the trains from Japan to Korea. The passenger cars were old wooden cars with windows either missing or broken out. The seats were wooden benches. We were so crowded, there wasn't room for everyone to sit down. We sort of took turns. Korean railroads were the larger size, the same as used in the USA. The trains were pulled by large steam engines. There were also tunnels to go through on this trip. The big difference here was that there were no windows to close to keep the coal smoke out of the cars as we traveled through those tunnels. It was hard to breathe, and we put handkerchiefs over our faces as we went through. The train didn't move very fast, so it took about two days to get to the rail head. The rail head is the term used for the end of the line.
We stopped somewhere along the way to eat. There was an army camp near the railroad. There were no buildings of any kind. Everything we did in Korea was done in tents; Food serving, sleeping quarters, field hospitals, etc. I remember hearing this loud rumble to the north of us, which sounded like a summer thunderstorm. All of a sudden I realized it wasn't thunder I was hearing, as there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We were actually hearing the big guns firing into North Korea. It wasn't a thunderstorm, it was war.
The Korean War