Korean War Legacy Project

Bernard Lee Henderson


Bernard Lee “Slim” Henderson, after graduating from Milby High School in Houston, Texas, in 1949, received an academic scholarship at the University of Houston in mechanical engineering. Originally a cook for the National Guard while in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, when the war broke out, he was reassigned to the Marine Corps in San Diego before his deployment to Pohang, Korea in February 1951. He moved to the 5th Marine Regiment, weapons company, as a 3.5 rocket launcher during Operation Killer. His company was met with extreme resistance from the Chinese and North Korean forces, but they were able to hold a steady line against the enemy. Having secured several mountain ranges along the Taebaek Mountains from the Chinese, he shared life as a Marine and how proud he was of the Korean people’s engineering feats following the armistice. Additionally, he has enjoyed sharing his experiences in the Korean War with several schools and future generations.

Video Clips

Care Packages from Family Members

Bernard Henderson shared he would write letters to his parents requesting fruitcakes and breads. His mother sent care packages to the front lines. He said he was able to carry the food along with all of his military supplies (almost 88 lbs of ammo) on A-frames that were designed to carry the amount of bullets and supplies.

Tags: 1951 Battle of Bloody Ridge, 8/18-9/15/,Food,Front lines,Home front,Living conditions

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Fire In The Hole

Bernard Henderson shared his experience of being struck in his chest with shrapnel. Puny Wilson, one of the members of his regiment, was pulling guard-men one night and yelled, "Fire in the hole" five times. After throwing the second grenade, he stood up from his fox hole and the grenade hit him right in the chest. Although it did not penetrate through his clothes, he started tearing his clothes off yelling for a corps men to help him.

Tags: 1951 Battle of Bloody Ridge, 8/18-9/15/,Fear,Front lines,Weapons

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Life as a Soldier During the Korean War

Bernard Henderson slept in his foxhole with his clothes on in a sleeping bag in shifts with other Marines. As a Marine, they did not shower often since they were stationed up in the mountains. The most difficult time he had was trying to escape from a Chinese attack by running down uneven railroad tracks. All he could think of was to just stay alive. He joked before the Marines were issued flak jackets, the ponchos did not do much to stop the bullets.

Tags: 1951 Battle of Bloody Ridge, 8/18-9/15/,Chinese,Fear,Front lines,Living conditions,Personal Loss,Physical destruction,Weapons

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Most Dangerous Moment

Bernard Henderson was never injured in the Korean War. He joked it was because he was so skinny and his nickname was "Slim" that all he had to do was stand sideways and nothing would hit him. He did note one time the Chinese launched a mortar that landed next to him. The only thing that saved his life was that it failed to explode.

Tags: Chinese,Fear,Front lines,Weapons

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


B:        Bernard Lee Henderson, Jr.

I:          Bernard.
B:        Bernard, yes.

I:          BE

B:        BERNARD.

I:          NARD, And so Lee is your middle initial.

B:        Right.

I:          What is your birthday?
B:        March the 29th, 1930.

I:          Where were you born?
B:        Houston, Texas.

I:          Ah, so this is your hometown?
B:        Right.  I’ve been here except four years in the Marine Corp.

I:          Well, tell me about your family, your parents and your siblings when you were growing up.



B:        Well, I only had two sisters.  And they went to college and got to be teachers.  And I went to the University of Houston to get my education. Then I was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.

I:          Hold on. What high school did you graduate, and when?
B:        Milby High School.

I:          Could you spell it?

B:        MILBY.

I:          Alright.  Where?



B:        In Houston, Texas.

I:          Um hm. When did you graduate?

B:        Nineteen forty-nine.

I:          And then you went to the University of Houston?

B:        One year, yes.

I:          What did you study?
B:        I got a scholarship on the School of Technology.

I:          Wow.  So, what did you study?

B:        Well actually it’s machinery that we make tools with and machine shops.

I:          So, Mechanical Engineering  Yeah.



And what happened to you? When did you go in the Army or Marines or military?

B:        Okay.  Now on July 31st, I went in the Marine Corps because of the fact that

I:          In 1950?

B:        Nineteen fifty.

I:          Um.
B:        I was 20 years old.  And I went in the Marine Corps cause it was, a War started at Fort Sill, I was at Fort Sill, Oklahoma when the Korean War started, in the National Guard.



And they said that there were gonna send the National Guard to Korea. I was a cook.

I:          Ah.
B:        So, I got back to Houston.  I tried to join the Navy, and I took my physical down at the old Navy hospital which is now the VA hospital.  And I couldn’t pass because I was too much underweight.

I:          Um hm.

B:        So, I went ahead and went back, started the Marine Corps, and I passed everything, and they said that, the doctor that examined me said well, you’re underweight.  But the Marine Corps will put weight on you.


So, I went to boot camp and tent camp, too, in (Mare Mountain).  And then we got on board ship, the JC Breckenridge, and went to Korea.  And I got there on February the 14th I believe it was.

I:          So, you were a cook in the National Guard?
B:        Um hm.

I:          And, where did you get the basic military training in (Murray), San Diego?

B:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  And what was your specialty there?

B:        Infantry.

I:          Infantry.



B:        0300.

I:          Um hm.  And when did you leave for Korea?

B:        On, I think it was February the 14th.I got all my paperwork here.

I:          Fifty-one.

B:        Fifty, no fifty.

I:          Nineteen fifty-one.
B:        Yes.  That’s when I got to Korea.

I:          Yes.

B:        Fifty-one.

I:          Fifty-one. Did you know anything about Korea before you left?
B:        No, I didn’t because we heard what was going on over there.



And I decided that’d be the best place for me cause I didn’t want to go in the National Guard or be drafted.
I:          But you were in the University of Houston.  You were

B:        That was, the Korean War started in

I:          But you didn’t learn anything about Korea before?

B:        No.

I:          So, when you knew that you were headed to Korea, what did you feel? How did you feel? I mean, were you nervous?
B:        No.

I:          No?
B:        No.

I:          Not at all?

B:        See, I got Marine training, you know.  I guess it’s the fact that everybody’s your brother.



You know the saying I got your back?  Well, that’s the way we felt.

I:          Um hm.

B:        I was in a cruiser weapon which was a line machine gun.  And it was 5 ammo carried, each man carried 1,000 rounds, and the gunner carried the tripod, and the assistant gunner carried the machine gun.  And we all trained on the machine gun in case someone was wounded in action.  We’d just move up one or move up to.  I never got hit the whole time.

I:          Well, where did you arrive in Korea?  Was it Pusan or Inchon?



B:        Pohang.

I:          Pohang?
B:        Yeah.

I:          You arrived in Pohang?
B:        Yeah, by an LST from Japan.

I:          Um.  And what was your mission?

B:        Well, we was gonna sign up to one of the outfits which was the 5th Marine Regiment was there. And they assigned me to Weapons Company.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And then later during the War, I went to the machine gun, and we had to track casualties.



But in Weapons Company, we used 3.5 rocket launcher. And I fired one at Fort Sills, Oklahoma. So, I told one of the officers there that I fired the 3.5, so they put me on the 3.5.  One round I fired.

I:          Um.  So, you stayed in Pohang throughout the whole service?  No.

B:        No.  We jumped off at Wonju.  We went from Pohang to Wonju on a operation killer.

I:          Operation Killer.



B:        And then we went from there all the way up till we got to the Chongging Reservoir.

I:          So, you were in Jangjin Reservoir.

B:        Well, we got to the Reservoir when the 5th Chinese Offensive started on the 23rd of April.  I tell you why I know all these things.  I went to 152 schools here in Houston talking about the Korean War.

I:          No.  Were you in Wonju?

B:        Yeah.
I:          Were you in Operation Killer, right?

B:        Wonju, Hoengsong, Chinchin, and then we got to Wonju.



I:          And then you went up to Jangjin Reservoir?

B:        Yeah.
I:          Yourself?

B:        Well, the 5th Marine Regiment did.

I:          Yeah.  So, tell me about this Operation Killer.  How was it?  I mean,

B:        Well, it was snowing still in March, February and March.  And my birthday was on March 29.  It snowed on my birthday. I’d become 21.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And we went behind the line cause we were in Weapons Company.  So, when we got there, the Chinese hit us pretty hard.



They hit us with 250,000 Chinese and North Koreans.  And they drove us back, and we tied in with the people behind us and stopped them.  And then we followed a little bit going up further, and then the 6th Chinese Offensive hit us on May the 15th.  So that didn’t hurt us because there was a lot of night lights on Wonsan did because, let me tell you about Wonju now, not Wonju but Wonsan.



We had a

I:          Where?
B:        On the river there at

I:          Where was it?
B:        In Wonsan.

I:          Hongcheon.

B:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.

B:        They had a dam there.  And so, they hit us pretty hard.  We pulled back and we got alongside the river.  And we set in with our tanks and artillery.  And the next morning, we had one guy said I wanna see my platoon leader.  And he says what for?


And he told him.  He said just a minute and I’ll go see the company commander.  So, the company commander heard of that, and he called the regimental commander, and they got the division commander on the phone, and they come in with a helicopter and picked him up and took him out.  He was only 15 years old.  But he was a Marine Reserve, and nobody knew that his birthday was like that.  So that was very, from then on, we trusted everybody we was with.


But if you ask them, you been to boot camp, cause (INAUDIBLE) didn’t go to boot camp like we did.

I:          Really?
B:        So, but I thought I’d throw that in there because that was something for people to realize when your son’s in Korea or any War, be sure that he’s about right age because it’s bad.

I:          Tell me about the Chosin Few, Jangjin Reservoir.
B:        That was before me.  That was in  November and December of ’50.

I:          Right.  Yeah.  So, tell me about that.



You were not there?
B:        I was not there, no. I got in the in February ’51.  That was in 1950.

I:          That’s right.  I’m sorry.  I’m confused.

B:        I was in boot camp and combat infantry training.

I:          I know.  So, you were in Wonju, Hansung, Kwachon,

B:        Yeah.

I:          And there was mostly Operation Killer.

B:        Right.

I:          And, were you wounded?

B:        I’m sorry?
I:          Were you wounded?

B:        No.

I:          No.  Not at all?

B:        No.  That’s why they called me Slim Henderson from Texas cause when it hit the fan, I just turn sideways, and they couldn’t hit me.



I was real skinny, just like I am now.

I:          Were there any dangerous moments?
B:        Well, we took Hill 610 on June the 2nd.

I:          June 2nd?

B:        June 2nd, 1951.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And we was going up a hill, and a mortar shell, 120 Chinese mortar shell came right next to me but didn’t go off.  And that’s the only time I had any fighting.



They chose to back off because, you know, they didn’t know when it was gonna blow up.  So, we took the hill 610, then we had 615, then we had 670, all three hills.  Then we come back and went in reserve.

I:          How high was that hill?
B:        Six hundred and 10 meters.

I:          And there are so many hills there in Korea, right?
B:        Yeah.

I:          And a lot of mountains.

B:        That’s a pretty big  mountain on the east coast.


That whole range is Taebaek Mountain, and that’s where the Marines were.

I:          So, it must have been so difficult for you, right, climb up and fighting and shooting?
B:        Well, you know,  you get trained for it.  You get your muscles set up for it. And you know, they give you breaks and things like this.  But it was hard.  When we got back in reserve, they said well, you’re a Marine.  No.  I want mountain climbers, U.S. amphibian, safe mountain climbers.



But we always had the ROKS on our side. And they held their ground. In fact, one of the ROK outfits went up on the Punch Bowl and secured some of the, that’s where I was also.  My last battle was on the Punch Bowl.

I:          Were you, oh.  So, you were in the Punch Bowl.
B:        Right.

I:          Um.

B:        That Punch Bowl was to the right toward the East Sea.

I:          Yeah.  Were you able to regularly eat?



B:        I’m sorry now?
I:          Were you able to eat regularly?
B:        Well, my parents sent me all kinds of stuff in packages, you know, fruit cakes and bread and anything.  I’d just write it, and they’d just send it back.

I:          But were you able to store them?  Where?  Were you able to carry them?
B:        We had C-rations.  We could eat the C-rations.

I:          Right.  But how did you carry all the food that you received from your parents?
B:        A frame.  We had A frames.



You know what an A frame looked like?
I:          Yeah.
B:        Well, that’s what we got on the line.  See, I was in Cruisewear Weapons.  So, by the time you get, four cans of ammo weighed 80 pounds, so they’re 22 pounds a can.  Well, if you balance yourself with that plus your sleeping gear and your rifle.  I had a carbine, I had four clips of ammunition for my carbine which was an AM 2 which was fully automatic or semiautomatic.  And we had hand grenades.  We had flares.  They knew when we’d get tired, you know.  Some people would be falling down.  They’d just stop and let us take a small 15-minute break and take off again.



I:          Where did you sleep?
B:        Where did I sleep?  Make a hole and get into it.

I:          Foxhole?
B:        Foxhole.  I slept there.

I:          Did you have a sleeping bag?
B:        Yeah, we had a sleeping bag.  Summer bag and a winter bag.

I:          So, how do you sleep in the sleeping bag?  Did you take off your boots?
B:        Yeah. You’d take off your shoes, but you leave your clothes on.  And you zip up the bag.  And then you always have your weapon close by hand.


And we always had it loaded.

I:          How often were you able to sleep?  How often were you able to sleep?
B:        Well, what we had was a three on, three off watch, 50%.  And all night long anywhere we were, there was three on and three off.  So, if you started at 6:00 at night, 6 to 9, 9 to 12, 12 to 3, and 3 to 6.  And that’s what the Marines had. I don’t know what the Army had.  But we always had somebody awake.  And if we was only gone and you hear something down below you and you challenge him, we’d say Mickey.



If he didn’t say mouse, we’d throw a grenade at him.

I:          Were you able to take a shower?
B:        Not till we got off the hill.  If it, you know, they didn’t have no showers up on the hills.  We stunk pretty good, yeah.  They put the Marines in the mountains.  In Nevada, they had shower locations and you know, it was a different operation.



I:          What was the most difficult thing for your service in the Korean War?
B:        The most difficult?
I:          Yeah, most difficult thing during your service in the Korean War?

B:        Well, I didn’t have anything difficult. I just did my duty every day.

I:          What was the most hardest thing to endure during the War?  What makes you feel like oh, this is really something that I really don’t want to do or it’s really hard.



B:        Well, when we got hit on the 5th Chinese Defensive, we had to pull out.  And we had to go down a railroad track to get past the enemy.  And we got back to the rear.  And then it was pretty well secured.

I:          So, that was the most difficult thing to you?

B:        You had to, you were kind of on that railroad track, step on every cross ties with that pack on.  And they’d say if you fell out, you’re gonna get captured.  So, nobody fell out.

I:          So, what were you thinking there in the Punch Bowl area? You’re dealing with these enemies all the time and engaging in combat.



What were you thinking to yourself?
B:        Just to stay alive. See, we didn’t have flack jackets like they had later on in the War.  We had ponchos, and we had our field jackets and things like that.  But the Marines, after I left, they got the flack jackets and the things like that.  But you always had your helmet.  But that didn’t stop too many bullets.



We had a gunner get killed on 610 with a 50 caliber.  And I saw him get killed that time.  Bothered you.  But I didn’t know him cause I just joined the outfit.

I:          How much were you paid?

B:        PFC, $78 a month.

I:          What did you do with that money?

B:        I sent it home.  I got a lot and sent it home cause you could go to PX and buy stuff real cheap, you know.



And that’s all you had.  You didn’t, we didn’t go down to villages and t things like that because that’s the way the Marines were.  We had a base camp called Angie, and that’s where the big base camp was.  And we had PX there and all that.  And you could buy anything you want a lot cheaper than you could in the States.

I:          Um hm.  Were there any Korean boys, Korean people working for  you?

B:        No.

I:          No.  Not at all?



B:        No.

I:          Oh.  When did you leave Korea?

B:        I left, I think it was the 21st 1951.  Fifty-two, I’m sorry.

I:          July?

B:        February.
I:          February.

B:        Of ’52.

I:          February, what date?
B:        I think it was the 21st or 22nd.  I got it

I:          Nineteen fifty-one.

B:        Fifty-two.

I:          Fifty-two.



When you left, what were you thinking about the future of Korea?

B:        Well, they were pretty well under United Nations control.  They were pushed across the 38th Parallel by then, on the DMZ.  And so

I:          Do you think that Korea would develop like this today when you left?

B:        Well, when I was there, they had oxen trails.  They didn’t have freeways.



And they didn’t have electricity.  You had generators.  It was, I mean, that was 60 years ago, 64 years ago.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And they had a chance to get into world trade, like Samsung.  The monument there in Austin.  They helped build that.  So, I think they did alright.

I:          Um.

B:        Like Germany did after the War, you know.  They rebuilt themselves up good.  They didn’t have to fight no more wars either, you know.



I:          You didn’t know Korea when you left for Korea.  And you never thought that Korea would develop like this today when you left Korea.  Now you know what happened to Korea, right?

B:        Right.

I:          Yeah.  What is Korea to you personally now?
B:        Well, I got to see parts of the world I never would have got to see, Japan.  But after I come back from Korea, I went to work, and I joined, back it up.



I come back from Korea, and I went to Washington, DC, headquarters of the Marine Corps. And then I went from there down to Camp LeJune, Able Company, First Battalion Second. I went on a Mediterranean cruise, and I seen the whole Mediterranean in six months.  And you will never get to see what I saw, you know, nothing, you know.  I mean you had to sign up, you know, you just did your Marine duty.

I:          Um.



Have you been back to Korea?
B:        No.

I:          No.  Do you want to go back?

B:        It wouldn’t be the same.  See, I was in a mountain.  Where the mountain was, it was a big mountain, it’s a ski resort.

I:          Yeah.
B:        And things like that.  And I saw, I collect a lot of things about Korea, books and magazines and

I:          Um hm

B:        When I can. But they, it’s changed, you know.  It’s just like going to Mexico, you know.  You expect, I’ve never been to Mexico, never been to Canada.

I:          But don’t you wanna see that the Korea that you left,



Completely devastated.  Now it’s completely one of the strongest economies in the world.  Don’t you wanna see that outcome?
B:        Well, right now I’m 85 years old.  And I’ve got five kids, 10 grand kids, and 4 great grandkids.  And I just had my 85th birthday last Sunday.

I:          Congratulations.  Happy birthday.

B:        At my age no.  I don’t think I wanna go back.

I:          But you are very healthy.

B:        Right.

I:          You don’t need any cane or any supporting for your work.



So, I think you can go.  And Korean government actually pays for it.  You know that, right?
B:        Part of it.
I:          Yeah.

B:        I know what you’re saying.  But you know, we have this talk all the time when we meet with the guys.  Some guys went back.  Many all seen what I seen.  But you know, you haven’t seen what I’ve seen.

I:          Um hm.

B:        You know.  Like the gentleman that just left. I was gonna give him the PUC, bribe him with a medal on his chest.  And I come across some and he said I can’t wear it.



But me, I can wear my combat infantry badge.

I:          Hm.

B:        It’s just like his.

I:          Hm.
B:        But then when I come back from Korea, I wore it until ’92.  And I retired from Arco Chemical. And then I joined, in ’93 I joined the Korean War Veterans Association.  And I’ve been doing the newspaper, a newsletter.

I:          Ah.

B:        For 17 years.

I:          For Lone Star Chapter?
B:        Right.

I:          Yeah.



B:        I did the, I’ve been to 152 schools talking about the Korean War. And I had 43 people out of our unit go with us at different times.  I kept a record of when they went.  So, if somebody said well, I went to school right there, no you didn’t cause you’re not on the list.  And every day I wrote their name down and kept a log.  And the school was, they hadn’t heard of Korea, you know.



And I had overhead projection with a  map of Korea and would show them where the towns were. I used a laser to show and educated a whole bunch of people, including teachers.  (INAUDIBLE) They would come into last period and listen to us talk.  So, we had about five or six people there, and you could talk to them.  And I had a hand grenade that would pop caps.  And they what I had.  But their kids didn’t. And I’d be talking about a grenade, and I’d pull a pin out.



I’d hold it stiff.  I was gonna bring it, but I (INAUDIBLE) But when I let that spoon go, it would pop the cap.  And you oughta see the people jump.  Well, that’s what I enjoyed about Korea, that I could relay what I had. I brought all that stuff there in that thing.

I:          But why has the Korean War been forgotten in the minds of the American people?

B:        Too close to World War II.  It was, World War II was over in September of ’51, of 1945.

I:          Um hm.



B:        Korea started in June of 1950.  And everything was gone back to the Armory, you know.  They didn’t have the system that we have now.  The Marines only had one division.  When the Korean War started, they built to make it two divisions.  Now we’ve got three divisions because of the fact that wherever it happens, they’re gonna send the Marines.  So



I:          How did your military service in the Korean War affect your life?
B:        Not one bit.  When I come home from the Korean War, I slept every night cause it was behind me.  You know, some people said they had nightmares and things like that.  I never did.  I got talking to schools and teachers wanted to know how I could do this.

I:          Tell America Program?
B:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.
B:        Well, we didn’t, we’d just speak (INAUDIBLE) cause we was down here in Texas.  But we did the same thing they did, you know.



But I had over 500 transparencies that I taped.  And Home Depot, Office Depot would print them for me, you know, like only $.50, it’d be $.50.  They cost me a nickel cause I was doing it.  So, I had all that to show, all the weapons, everything we had I took to schools in containers that whatever they wanted to talk about, I showed.  If the person was in tanks, I showed them the tanks we had.



The one thing that, I was real tickled when they said BAR, Browning Automatic Rifle.  But a lot of people didn’t know what a BAR was.  I’d show them what it was, and they’d say did you all hunt with that?  I’d say no, we didn’t hunt.

I:          I don’t know why they needed semi machine guns here.

B:        That was in 1984 light machine guns.

I:          What is the legacy of the Korean War to you?



B:        The legacy?  Well, with North Korea like it is, I’ll put it this way.  If they start anything, just do what we did to Japan in 1945 just like they’re gonna have to do in Iran.  They’re gonna have to do something.  But they got better things now to do it with than what we had back in the early days.  See, MacArthur wanted to use atomic bombs on the Yalu River to stop the Chinese.



And he got kicked out.  I was there in Korea when he got fired.

I:          Any other message you want to leave to this interview?
B:        I don’t know.  It’s, I was proud to come down here and talk about my time in Korea and that I was pretty lucky that I never got hit.  I got hit by a piece of shrapnel by Kenny Wilson.  But he, now Kenny Wilson was on our side.



He was a guardsman on one side.  We had another one on the other side.  The inside was a dead space.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Okay.  One night Kenny Wilson said fire in the hole five times.  Well, he threw the first grenade, and it went off.  He threw the second grenade over the barbed wire. And I didn’t know he threw the second and I stood up and got hit right here in the chest.  But it didn’t penetrate.

I:          Oh.

B:        And I fell back in my position.  I was hollering for a Corpsman, and I’m tearing off clothes, and it didn’t even penetrate my clothing.



But it was too far down the hill.  But everything Kenny Wilson would throw a grenade; I was way deep in my hole.

I:          Bernard, thank you so much for sharing your direct witness of the Korean War and

B:        I wish I had a longer time, but I know you’ve got to stop here.  Let me show you something.

I:          Yes please.  Thank you very much for your interview.




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B Henderson Photo 11

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B Henderson Photo 11