Clarence G. Atzenhoffer, Jr.
Clarence G Atzenhoffer, Jr., joined the United States Army Reserve assuming he would never be called for duty. Shortly thereafter, he was called to serve in Spokane, Washington. He describes running drills for homeland invasions from North Korea or possibly Russia. He recounts one of his duties in the special service guarding squadrons of fighter jets during blizzards in Washington. He offers his opinion on how unprepared the American military was during the Korean War and on why the Korean War is forgotten today.
War Ready at Home
Clarence Atzenhoffer describes being trained and running drills for a homeland invasion in America during the Korean War. He recounts red alerts and being given guns with no bullets for practice purposes. He adds that while they knew the North Koreans did not have long range airplanes, the Russians were also a factor they had to worry about.
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Freezing on the Airstrip
Clarence Atzenhoffer describes the weather in Spokane, Washington, and dealing with the harsh conditions during his duties. He shares his experience guarding jet squadrons during blizzards as part of the special service. He details the scant clothing they were given to carry out their duties and the lack of warmth they gave.
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Poorly Prepared for War
Clarence Atzenhoffer describes his opinion on the Korean War and how unprepared he felt the United States was for the conflict. He expresses that American soldiers lacked training and were under-equipped. He describes flying to differing arsenals across the United States gathering weapons to send over to Korea.
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The Forgotten War
Clarence Atzenhoffer shares his thoughts on why the Korean War is seen as the Forgotten War. He explains that many young people do not know about the war and many of the Korean War veterans are no longer alive now to tell their story. He describes the South Korean government's efforts to help spread awareness regarding the war.
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[Beginning of Transcribed Material]
C: C. Clarence G. Atzenhoffer, ATZENHOFFER, Jr.
I: And that’s a German name?
I: Ah ha.
C: Pure German.
I: Pure German.
C: Pure German, on both sides.
I: So, your parents are from Germany or your descendants?
C: Great grandparents were all from Germany.
I: Um hm.
C: My parents were from the United States.
They were born and raised in the United States.
I: Um hm. And tell me your birthday.
C: July 22, 1931.
I: Where were you born?
C: Here in Victoria.
I: And tell me about your family, your parents, and your siblings.
C: My grandparents were farmers and ranchers.
My father was a dairyman. Both grandparents were farmers and ranchers. My mother was a housewife and a mother. She did not work. She worked a lot in the house.
C: She worked a lot because she helped my dad in the dairy business.
I: That’s right. That’s the right way to say it.
C: We got up at 3:00 in the morning, and I went to school at nine.
I: So, tell me about your siblings. Were you the only child?
C: No. I have a sister, Patty Jean. She’s married and has three children. And she’s still living. Her husband worked for
Not Dowd but
I: It’s okay. So, only sister? You didn’t have brothers?
C: No other brothers or sisters, no. Just one sister.
I: Uh huh.
C: No other.
I: And what high school did you graduate from?
C: Do what, sir?
I: High school.
C: St. Joseph’s High School. It’s a Catholic Parochial school.
I: Um hm. When did you graduate?
I: And then what did you do?
C: Then I went to Victoria College, Victoria Junior College for two years.
I: Um hm. What did you study?
C: I was in Business Administration. I majored in Business Administration.
I: Wow. That’s nice. Um hm. So, when did you join the military?
C: Well, immediately after we graduated, my father and mother had rental property.
And so one of the people who were renting from them told me that there was a squadron out at Alofield which was a local air, government, United States Air Force Base, and this squadron was kind of like a well, we met on what would you say,
Give me a, we were, they called us Sunday soldiers. What?
C: Yeah. It was a Reserve unit.
I: Uh hm.
C: So, I joined the Reserve unit. And I went to work for them actually. I went to work as a supply supervisor.
And I told a lot of my other buddies in school about it, and they joined. I said they were here all during World War II. So, I said it’s very unlikely that we would be activated. That was in May when we graduated.
And I forgot, it was June or July we got out notification that we were activated to report September 9th to Spokane, Washington.
I: In 1950?
C: It was 1951.
I: Um hm. So?
C: So, you can understand how popular I was with my schoolmates.
I: Ah huh.
C: You know. So, but anyway, it was a good unit.
It was, we reported in September to Spokane, Washington was our first base, Geiger Field. And there were a squadron of F86’s I think. They were fighter jets. We were an air control and early watch radar unit.
I: Air control?
C: Air control, ACNW which would be
I: Early watch.
C: Early warning if we were
I: Radar unit.
I: And so, you enlisted.
C: I enlisted, yes. I volunteered.
I: Yeah. Army Air Force.
C: Army Air Force, yes.
I: In nineteen fifty-one.
C: Summer of 1951.
I: And you did work, served in the Spokane air Washington.
C: Actually, I worked like under civil service until we were activated as a supply
I: That’s right.
C: manager, supervisor.
I: And did you know that the Korean War broke out?
C: Do what?
I: The Korean War was there.
C: We knew we were at war. I knew we were at war. Is that your question?
C: Yes. I knew we were at war.
I: Uh huh.
C: But I wasn’t expecting to be activated as soon as we were.
C: But they needed an early warning radar unit in Spokane, Washington where they had fighter squadrons stationed. And so that’s where, that was our first assignment.
I: Then what happened?
C: We stayed in Spokane, Washington. We were there
We got there in September of ’51. And we never saw the ground again until June of ’52. It snowed, it started snowing in September, and we never saw the ground again.
I: What do you mean by that?
C: Snow on top of snow. The only thing where we saw ground was they kept the highways clear. But the base, snow was as high as this, piled up as high as these.
I: But what is your service? Did you go to Korea?
C: I’m sorry.
I: Did you go to Korea?
C: Never, wanted to but never did.
I: Um hm. So, you stayed in Washington?
C: We stayed in Washington, and we probably stayed there about a little over a year. Oh, I can’t remember now. But it was a little over a year because it was in June of the following year when we cleared the base and went to Portland, Oregon where we were, that was where we spent the rest of our assignment in Portland, Oregon.
And then of course at the end of the War, they discharged us. They sent us home.
I: What was your main mission there? What did you do? I mean, there was no enemy there, right?
C: There was no enemy.
C: No. We were there as an early warning radar site.
C: We scrambled the fighters many times. I was.
I: Why? There was no
C: Because we saw blips. We saw blips on the radar. And if they were enemy fighters or enemy planes coming over from North Korea.
See, there wasn’t a great distance between North Korea and the northern part of the United States, northwestern part of the United States which Washington and Oregon is the top northwestern states.
I: But at the time, there is no way the North Korean aircraft can reach that area. At the time, there was no technology. No North Korean enemy airplane in Washington State.
C: I know this. This was more, they didn’t tell us. But I was, we were smart enough to know, I volunteered for Special Service. And that was, they taught us how to machine gun, take down machine guns. We had Browning 50 caliber rifles that we practiced with.
Now, I don’t think they could have reached the United States either. But the United States wanted to be prepared in case,
C: Just in case.
I: That’s the point.
C: Just in case.
I: Yeah. So
C Because many times, we had red alerts. I was a member of a Special Service group. We were the guards. We actually would fight if we were ever invaded.
I: So, it was training.
C: We were, we went through kind of like an Army basic training, yeah. We learned Ju Jitsu. We learned hand-to-hand combat and how to take down rifles, how to shoot. But anyway, my point was this. They gave us rifles at these red alerts.
And we went to our guard stations. But no bullets.
I: Um hm.
C: So, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that it was just a training.
I: Um hm.
C: But to us, it was the real thing.
C: You know. And, but we knew that the North Koreans didn’t have long range airplanes.
They would have to have stopped along the Aleutian Islands.
I: Maybe Russian.
C: Who knows, yes.
C: They had, the Russians.
C: At that time, we had Cold War. So that was more than just the North Koreans that we had to worry about.
C: It was the Russians, maybe more so than the North Koreans.
I: North Koreans were busy in the Korean Peninsula so that they
I: North Koreans were busy in the Korean Peninsula, so they never paid attention
C: Yes, exactly.
I: What was your rank?
C: Airman Second Class. Or it was, in the Army, it would be Corporal. Two stripes.
I: Uh huh. And how much were you paid?
C: Not much. But I can’t remember. I really don’t. Honestly, I don’t remember what my paycheck was. It might have been, what, maybe $100 a month. Something like, I really don’t know.
That’s just a guess. It’s been too many years ago.
I: How was life in Washington and Oregon? How did you, where did you sleep?
C: I loved, Spokane, I did not like. But Portland, Oregon I loved.
I: Why didn’t you like Spokane?
C: Because the weather was more like Texas. It was not so much ice and snow like it was in Spokane. Spokane was bad weather. Thirty days a month, you know.
I: Thirty days a month for what?
C: A month. It was bad, snow, ice, rain, freezing rain. And I was in the Special Service. So, we had to guard the squadron of fighter jets. We had to be out on the line. And there was blizzards, you know, there were times when we went out, and it was warm. And we went out in just fatigue jackets.
That’s all they, and a blizzard blew in, and we like froze to death out there on that flight line. But I did not like Spokane. But I did love Portland, Oregon. It was just like a garden. It was a beautiful, it was the, the time that we were there, the climate was just, the weather was great. And the people were nice. The people were much nicer to us in Portland, Oregon than in Spokane.
C: But the soldiers had earned a reputation in Spokane that when we got there, and we didn’t help things, we didn’t help things out. They didn’t like us; we didn’t like them. So, we were not over friendly to the Spokane, Washington residents.
I: So, you never been in Korea? But you are the Korean War veteran era, Korean War era veteran, right?
C: Yes. I was never in Korea. But during that era, I spent 2 ½, I think you’re right, 2 ½ years between Spokane and Portland, Oregon.
I: What do you think about that? Korean War era veteran?
C: My opinion of the Korean War was pathetic.
C: Because our government sent our troops over there highly untrained, highly, lowly equipped, and the men, they were very courageous, the men that were over there. They were massacred at that Reservoir.
I: How did you know that? It’s been really not trained.
C: Oh, we kept up with the War. We kept up with what was going on across. We knew when they were surrounded by the North Vietnamese, and they had to fight their battle.
And I forgot what percent. But it was a tremendous percent that were killed. And another thing, they sent the troops over there, I always said they sent them over with broomsticks to fight machine guns. That ain’t the way you fight a war. You equip your men for fighting.
I: But how do you know that there is very poor equipment there?
How do you know?
C: Because we had to try to fly around the United States to different arsenals and send them weapons. I went on C47s.
I: Uh huh.
C: And that’s what we did, different arsenals in the United States.
I: Tell me about the details. Where did you go and what did you collect? How did you send it?
C: That’s been over 60 some odd years ago. I already,
I do remember one time we went down to Phoenix, Arizona
I: Um hm.
C: And it was snow and ice when we left Spokane. And when we got to Phoenix, it was about 110 in the shade.
C: And we had on our woolen uniforms, and we liked to die. We got back in the plane as fast as we could. We picked up whatever we were supposed to pick up.
And we signed the paperwork for it, and we headed back north.
I: What did you pick up? Do you remember the weapons?
C: It was probably, we tried to get machine guns, automatic weapons, Browning, 50 calibers, whatever they would let us have, whatever they could spare.
I: And you sent it to Korea?
C: (NODS HEAD)
I: So, you know that the equipment was
C: We knew they were ill-equipped. We knew that they didn’t have the fire power that they needed to fight a trained Army of North Koreans. They were soldiers that were sent over there ill equipped, clothes wise.
There were many soldiers’ bodies came back with not a bullet hole in them. They were froze to death. It was 40 degrees below zero.
C: Koreans had all that quilted uniforms and stuff, cold weather stuff, you know. They were prepared. We weren’t.
I: And such importance of the Korean War, protecting Communism. But why is it forgotten in the minds of American people? Why?
C: Too many years. Many of the young people don’t, they never probably heard of the Korean War. All of us are, the people that were the children that were, when we were enlisted,
Most of them have passed away. Most of them have all died. And very few veterans left, very few veterans that are physically able to function good and healthy. But we certainly didn’t forget it. We certainly haven’t forgotten. But the children, the younger generations that came after us,
They never heard of, you know, of the Korean War. Now the Korean government just recently, and I really thought that that was fantastic of the Korean government, the South Korean people, they, are we through?
I: No, go ahead.
C: Okay. Anyway, the South Korean people sent us a book on the Korean War.
And I took it, I took two copies and took it to our Catholic Schools because St. Joseph’s where I graduated, I put two copies in the library so that the children can, the 15, 16, 16-year-olds now can read about it.
I: Um hm.
C: I took it to Nazareth Academy who is another Parochial school.
I: Do you know any History teachers there?
C: They were the ones, they’re the reasons why I asked our Commander, the Korean government sent a bunch of books to us, a bunch. And so, the History teacher there was the one that happened to be, I was just in the Office talking over a different subject with the Administration, sisters there.
And she said were you in the Korean War? She asked me because we had just had a parade, a veteran’s parade. And they were right in line, so they let school out. All the children got up in line and had flags and anyway, she asked me were you in the Korean War? I said yes.
And she said tell me about it. Well, I started. And then I said I’ll tell you what. I’ve got a better deal for you. I’m gonna bring you some books that you put in the library, and you encourage these children to take these books out and read them.
I: Thank you so much again for your interview, okay?
C: You’re welcome.
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