Reflections of a Korean War Draftee

By Roy W. Lilley

The Korean war started when I was a sophomore at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Being a land grant university it had ROTC and I was in the second year of my mandatory two years.  I had never considered the military for a career and had chosen the Air Force option over the Field Artillery for no particular reason.  All the cadets drilled together on the oval once a week and you were required to wear your uniform that day.  I don’t remember anything from the classes, but did enjoy the close order drill.  I had already opted not to take the second two years necessary to get a commission.  I knew I would be drafted eventually like every one else and since the fighting was going badly in Korea I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect.

Both my older brothers had served in WWll, one in the Army Air Force and one in the Navy and I was very close to them.  They often let me tag along with their friends and since I was really wrapped up in the war I kept track as they graduated from high school and enlisted in the various branches of the service.  After graduation my oldest brother went down town with some friends to enlist in the Marines.  He failed the physical and I’m not sure why, probably his eyes.  He was later accepted by the Army. One of those buddies was killed on one of the pacific islands and another wounded twice on Iwo Jima. Charlie was disappointed but the rest of the family will be eternally grateful he was turned down by the Marines.

My brother Frank was only seventeen when he got out of high school and immediately enlisted in the Navy.  When he got out of boot camp he was assigned to a destroyer in the engine room. When he was on his shake down cruise the war ended so they were called back to port and proceeded to decommission the ship.  One of his jobs was scraping asbestos off pipes and the result was mesothelioma forty years later and an early death.

The reason for this side trip to WWII is that my feelings about war were developed then. We were all extremely patriotic and consumed by the war.  My Junior High classmates and I loved the excitement and usually managed to hide our fears for our loved ones. After the war I was left with the feeling we all owe something to our country not the other way round.

The summer after my sophomore year I received a form letter from CSU that anyone wanting to go on and take advanced military who had already opted out would have the opportunity to reconsider.  They needed more 2nd Lieutenants I guess.  In any case I had decided I hadn’t wanted to be an officer before the war started, so I naively thought I still didn’t. Also the minimum tour an air force ROTC officer could serve was four years and a draftee served only two.  I was having good success riding bulls, bareback horses and saddle broncs in college rodeo competition and wanted to continue to rodeo after graduation

I kept my grade average up to the level required by the Draft Board and got to finish college with an Animal Science degree the spring of 1952.  I had done very well at the Intercollegiate Rodeo Finals that spring in Portland, Oregon and won a fair amount of money rodeoing that summer.  I was drafted October 1, 1952, later than expected, and took my basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas after processing at Camp Crowder, Missouri.

My first exposure to the supply rooms at both Camp Crowder and Fort Riley left me with a loathing for Supply Sergeants who I blamed for all the indignities bestowed on us recruits at what was basically our first exposure to Army life.  But the army evidently had all the meat inspectors they needed so they sent me to SUPPLY SCHOOL at Fort Riley for eight weeks after my mandatory eight weeks of infantry training!

After graduation at the top of my eight man class in Supply School and receiving an engraved cigarette lighter for the honor I was immediately ordered to go to Korea.  After a delay in route through Denver I left by troop ship from Fort Lewis, Washington for assignment to what unit I knew not in Korea.  After two weeks at sea the first three days of which a violent north pacific storm caused two thirds of the troops on board to be violently seasick we arrived in Yokohama harbor.  We spent a couple of days picking up our rifles, two wool blankets each and field equipment at what was said to have been a Japanese officers training school during WWII.

We re-boarded the same ship and headed for Inchon where we disembarked over the side on rope ladders into some kind of large landing craft.  We immediately boarded a train headed somewhere straight east along the 38th parallel.  We arrived at the replacement depot for the Second Infantry Division, the first clue we had as to where we would be assigned.  We heard that we had either just taken or lost “Baldy” again and there had been quite a lot of casualties for that late in the war. Rumors were that most of us were going to end up in a fox hole on line.  I wasn’t too thrilled at that likelihood since if I had to be a rifleman (every draftees’ primary MOS) I sure wished the army had given me more than eight weeks of infantry training!

After a few days I was assigned to Baker Battery, 38th Field Artillery Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division and we headed north in a jeep.  Soon we saw a sign on the road saying tops down and helmets on.  A bit later we could hear what must have been 50 caliber machine guns in the distance and I knew we were going to be close to the front lines which had pretty well stabilized close to the 38th parallel by March, 1953.

When we got to the battery area I was turned over to Sergeant First Class Duke Zakowski, a stereotype of just what you would expect a supply Sergeant to be.  I was given a canvas cot and told to bunk in the supply tent. Everyone else still had their down filled sleeping bags but I had to make do with my blankets and nearly froze for a few weeks .We had a fire mission that night and the sound kept me wide awake.  I was told we were a fully mobile 105 mm howitzer battalion. In a few days I hardly heard the roar of the firing.

I was trained by Zakowski’s assistant, a corporal who forgot to show me the 2nd Divisions SOPs, so I proceeded to set up the records like I had learned in supply school.  I soon found out half of what I was doing was unnecessary. This greatly amused Zakowski and his assistant, neither of whom had been burdened by any supply school training.

Duke Zak, as he was called, soon rotated home and I learned what I could from the corporal whose name I can’t recall.  Soon he rotated too and I was left in charge of Baker supply.  I was given a duce and a half 6X6 truck to drive back to service battery to leave boots for half soling, field kitchen burners for repair and various other stuff for replacement or repair. I was supposed to have a three quarter ton which was like a pick up which I could drive fine….but I was given the truck and fortunately learned to drive it as we moved eight times in eight weeks during one stretch.

Our Battery was on the forward slope of a hill facing the Chorwon Valley. Able and Charlie Batteries were on the other side of the hill south of us. We all got few rounds in from time to time, but our biggest bombardment came as a result of a careless accident.  Our dump blew sky high, probably from powder sacks left from fire missions.  A few days later we got one white phosphorous shell in a few hundred yards out in the valley to the north. The day after that we got creamed.  The shells were coming from about twelve miles across the valley from the Chinese equivalent to our 155s from caves dug into the forward slope of Whitehorse Mountain across the valley.  Fortunately we shortly got effective counter battery fire from behind us by 155s, eight inch guns and a new gun that I think was a 240mm monster.  My supply truck got a little piece of shrapnel and one covered gun emplacement was hit.  Able Battery’s  mess tent was burned and one of their officers was wounded.  To my knowledge there were no other casualties.

When the 2nd went in reserve we supported either the Marines or a ROK division.  We felt more comfortable having the 2nd or Marines in front of us, but the ROK units held their own.  Our only real scare was when a self propelled 155 battery bugged out on our flank when there was a push. Fortunately the infantry got the gap plugged and our never before needed perimeter of defense wasn’t tested.

The night the truce was to go into effect we had a lot of rounds coming in and had a full bore fire mission in return.  We were to stop firing at 10:00 p.m. Both sides stopped at ten till and there was an eerie silence for a few minutes. I don’t remember any celebrating, just a general feeling of relief and some skepticism.

We immediately moved back just behind the newly established demilitarized zone on what was called bulldozer drive, one of the amazing roads built in Korea by the engineers.  We also appreciated their bunkers which we sometimes had to use. We stayed in this location until I rotated home in early June of 1954.

Boring would best describe our lives after the war ended.  The gun crews did go out on what I think was called RSOP every few weeks. These were training exercises.  We continued to live in the same squad tents for the next ten months we had occupied during the war and other than getting a Quonset hut for a mess hall it was like being on bivouac back in Fort Riley.

Being a supply sergeant during the war was much different than after the truce. My first job was helping our battery commander, a Captain whom we all admired and respected, get rotated back to the states. He was replaced by a first Lieutenant already in our battery and they had to have a joint inventory of all the equipment and/or supplies in Baker Battery.  I was accountable for everything, but he was financially responsible. This wasn’t too difficult except for a fifty caliber machine gun that had disappeared just before the war ended. We had picked up an extra BC scope somewhere along the way and I was able to trade it to a Greek unit nearby for the needed machine gun and our Captain got his well earned trip home.  Before I went home I had to rotate two more company commanders and had to learn most of the tricks of the Supply Sergeant trade to get it done as the joint inventories got more and more detailed.

Of course we got to brush up on some military etiquette like saluting officers and shining our boots. I can’t complain as while working with the Battalion supply officer in order to get our records more in tune with peace time GI requirements instead of getting busted as I feared might happen I advanced from PFC at wars end to SFC, the proper rank for unit supply, by the time I rotated home.

Thanks to the various periods of incoming rounds I had enough combat points to rotate home about a month early and when I got there my two year term was close enough to over I got out in twenty one months and twenty days.  Two days later I was entered in a rodeo and rode both my saddle bronc and bareback horse, not well but I made the whistle on both. The next two months of the summer rodeo circuit I bucked off more stock than I had in the two years I had ridden before going into the army. I was so bad I had to continue riding for two more years to get good enough to quit the profession with some pride.

*As previously  mentioned I had no artillery training whatsoever…..  I did run into a college class mate attached to FTC back at headquarters company and visited him a couple of weekends and got to see how fire direction control worked.   I also caught a ride up to visit our forward observers a couple of times during the war and got to look over the bunker through a BC scope across Chorwon valley at Chinese soldiers doing much like what we did during a lull in firing. Another time I was down by the howitzers delivering a pair of resoled combat boots to a gunner when they were firing H and I (harassing and indirect) in the general direction of the enemy to let them know we hadn’t forgotten them.   My customer suggested I pull the lanyard on tbe next round which I did: my only round fired at the enemy was a 105 mm howitzer that I never had a moment’s training on.*


Categories: Issue 3, Korea | Leave a comment

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