Charles Fowler was born in Koscuisko, Mississippi, and after enlisting in the Air Force in 1949, he served in the military until September 1956. During his service, he went to Pusan, Korea, and was stationed at Masan from July 19, 1950, to July 1951. Serving as a combat engineer, he recounts his first impressions of Korea and the horrors of war. For his commitments, he earned five battle stars as well as the Korean Medal. After returning to the United States, he owned a barbershop and served as a pastor for 40 years.
Orders to Korea
Charles Fowler describes returning home on a 30 day leave after being in service a year only to find that he had received orders to serve in Korea as the war had broken out. He recounts arriving in Korea and his unit receiving orders to fight its way to Yeongdeungpo to meet the Marines coming from Incheon. He admits that he his knowledge of Korea prior to being sent was limited.
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Pusan Perimeter in July
Charles Fowler describes the intense July heat at the Pusan Perimeter when he arrived in Korea. He recounts suffering severe blisters due to taking his shirt off as he attempted to cool down while digging a foxhole. He also recalls helping build the "Al Jolson Bridge" which he later helped blow up during a retreat from enemy forces.
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Horrors of War
Charles Fowler describes the devastating effects of the war on women and children. He shares that the North Koreans even used children as decoys. He also recounts images of those afflicted by napalm as being some of the most difficult for him.
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The Biggest Apples and Frostbite
Charles Fowler describes how the North Koreans used human waste to fertilize their crops and recalls the apples being the biggest he had ever seen due to this fertilizing method. He recounts accidentally eating a cat once as well while trying to stave off hunger. He describes the cold winter and shares his encounter with frostbite. He details being flown to Incheon, put on a ship, and a doctor telling him he could go home if he signed to have his feet amputated.
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South Korean Effort
Charles Fowler briefly describes how the South Koreans were basically fighting for their lives, freedom, and country. He emphasizes that South Korean soldiers fought just as hard as the United Nations soldiers and served on the front lines as well. He recalls verbal communication being a barrier at times due to a difference in languages but adds that soldiers found other means to communicate.
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Charles Fowler recounts a fellow soldier's torture experience during the Korean War. He shares that the soldier had been captured and tortured by the Chinese. He describes how the soldier endured his eyebrows and eyelashes being plucked out, his finger and toenails being removed, and being buried up to his neck with insects crawling in his ears.
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Life After Korea
Charles Fowler reflects on life after Korea, his time in the war, and the change it brought to his way of thinking. He shares he is more appreciative of life and is thankful to be an American. He states that history has proven democracy works and points to South Korea today as a perfect example, sharing that its success would have never happened under a communist type of government.
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Legacy of Korean War Veterans
Charles Fowler emphasizes that Korean War veterans should be honored has other veterans have been. He shares that the Korean War should be characterized as an event that proves Communism does not work as it enslaves people and their freedom to act. He also adds that it will take a strong leader to bring both Koreas together in the future.
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CF: My name is Charles Fowler, F- o-w- l- e- r. I was born in Attala County, Mississippi. The closest town was Kosciusko, Mississippi. Uh, born of mother of 12 children.
I: Twelve children.
CF: My father died in 1938 and left my mother with 11 children and 1 on the way, and we moved to the city of
Kosciusko in 1939. And I had 5 brothers in World War II, and they all deceased now…. Uh, in 1944 our home burnt up. Everything we had burned, and then in 1946, my mother build a grocery store. And in 1949
I went into the service with the Keesler Air Force Base with, uh, uh, 5 other, uh, uh, high school students, and, uh, two of us passed to go in the Air Force. And 4 didn’t. And then 4 persuaded all of us to go in the Army. The Army and the Air Force was together in 1949.
CF: And so we went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina,
and it was, I remember, I took 18 weeks of basic training. And went from there to Fort Benning, Georgia, the 3rdInfantry Division. Stayed there till the winter of, uh, 1949. We went to Little Creek, Virginia, and took amphibious training and left there and went on, uh, a ship and went to, uh, and made an
amphibious landing on the Vieques Island off the coast of Puerto Rico. And then we come back into, ow, to, uh, South Carolina. And came back to Fort Benning, and I took a short discharge after being in service for a year and went home on a 30-day leave. And when I come back, I had orders to go to Korea. The Korean War broke out at 19thof July of 1950.
CF: Right, 1950.
I: So, 19thof July?
CF: Yeah, the Korean War broke out June the 25th.
I: Right, so, it’s been just several weeks.
CF: Right, and the, the Marines loaded up on ships. We didn’t know, we thought they were fixin’ to evacuate and go back to Japan because the war doesn’t push back that far. And, so, we that didn’t know there were going around to Incheon. And, and, I’m not sure about the dates,
but sometime in September, last of September of 1950, we got orders to fight our way to, to, Yeongdeungpo, and, and meet the Marines that coming from Incheon. They landed at Incheon, and I think it’s about in October of 1950. I’m not sure there bout the dates. I was 17 when I went in service.
I: And when you heard about Korean War broke out, were
you aware of Korea at the time?
CF: Never, never heard of Korea.
I: You never heard of Korea.
CF: Never heard. Well, I could have in, in, you know, studying history, but I dis a young boy, I dis wasn’t, you know, uh, hadn’t been out a, too much out of, uh, hadn’t been nowhere out of the United States, primarily was, uh, the Southern states I’d been, been, in. I’d been in Florida and different places as a young boy, traveling.
I: So, would you please
describe the . . . the front line of the Pusan Perimeter when you arrived in, in July 19?
CF: In Korea . . .
CF: Very hot; it was very hot. I remember I pulled my shirt off. I had to dig a foxhole and course our line was there. We had to dig a foxhole and, uh, cause I end up combat engineers, and, uh, I got blistered all over. I’m [unintelligible] light skin, and, uh,
one of the officers got mad at me because I got blistered. And I never would forget what he said, he said, “You know how you can keep that from happening?” And, dumb me, I said a, “How?” And he said, “Keep your clothes on.” And, so, you know, I never, I’ve never got sunburned since that day; I remember those words, and, uh, so, I dis, I don’t someday. Only thing I can remember basically was we, we, fought our way through, up through
Tae-Taegue, Taejeong; I don’t know which one first, um, there, um . . . One of, one of the cities got destroyed real bad. The enemy was there, and we pushed them back, uh, all the way back to, uh, Kimpo Air Force Base. I remember that. And, uh, I helped build a bridge across the, the river there at Seoul. It was the Han River, the Han River there.
I: Han River, yes.
CF: They, they called that bridge the, I believe I want to say the Al Jolson Bridge or something like that. I’m not, not sure the name of it. And, later, this is way later, when we, after the war, and everything, I mean after the me being in the Haven hospital ship and coming back, I helped blow up that bridge when we, when we were retreating back.
CF: That, that’s back in 51 I guess, I’m not sure.
CF: Uh, but anyway, we went all the way to, to the Manchurian border, and the mistake we made probably was fighting our way up the highway, the roads, and didn’t, didn’t, didn’t go into the, uh, mountains as much as we should have. And, course, the enemies got behind us. Uh, especially when the Chines came in, and, uh, we went all the way. Course went through the capital of North Korea, Pyongya-
what was Pyongyang?
CF: Pyongyang. We went through that, and, and, uh, it’s like when I went through Seoul. Uh, wasn’t nobody in Seoul, a few snipers in the, those high buildings. And, uh, shooting at us, you know, but, uh, other than that, everybody had evacuated. Can you imagine that city as large as it is, nobody in it, you know. Course, people going for their lives, with Manchurian going south, you know. When we were
going north, everybody was going south. And, uh, course, I guess the hardest thing I remember is, the North Koreans even used children as decoys wanting us to kill children. And I didn’t, I never killed a child, but I mean, uh, I seen one throw a hand grenade in on a friend of mine. And uh, someone else shot him
after that. I didn’t, I didn’t shoot him. But some horrible things in war, women and children. And then I guess probable the most horrible thing was when, when our planes are, uh, begin to put, uh, shoot, uh, the napalm.
CF: And, and people that it hit, would be just like that, dead, just burnt, just, just like that.
I: Do you still see that image?
CF: Yea-Yeah, yes, I can, I can see it as it was today. And, uh, then, then one time, seem like I remember that our airstrikes hit us, hit not my company, but hit a company right beside of us, an artillery company, and destroyed almost half of them by mistake. Cause war does that.
CF: And, uh, uh, but then we went all the way, like I said, went all the way. And then the other thing I remember about North Korea was, course you know, you know anything about the country, they, they fertilize their, their trees with stuff with human waste. Anyway, they had the biggest apple I ever seen in my life, and we were told not to eat them. But we were hungry; we eat them. They were good. They were delicious.
CF: Yeah, it didn’t hurt me. I’m still alive at 80 years old. But, uh, the best ap, I never seen an apple that big. And, uh, and, uh, I guess one of the things that, uh, when you, when you in war like that, you don’t, you do lots of things that you don’t, you don’t think about. I guess the awfullest thing I ever eat and knew I eat it. Didn’t know I was eating it when I eat it was, uh, I eat a cat.
CF: Uh, some kids skinned a cat, and we didn’t know it was a cat. And we bought the cat and cooked it and eat it. But it was delicious. And what I remember was it it was so cold coming out of the climate it’s in July where it was so hot, and then it was so cold, and then begin to rain, then it begin to freeze, and then begin to snow. And we was in foxholes,
and the water was in there. And it, my, my, my clothes begin to freeze to my body. And my shoes, I took, I took my shoes off and bathe my feet in the snow. Put my shoes back on, tried to wipe them clean. And then my feet froze to my shoes, and as well as I can remember, that’s, course the Chinese had came in and cut us off. This is sometime
in, in December or January somewhere, and I don’t know exactly.
I: Think that is December
CF: And, and, it was so cold, and they, they brought a helicopter in with a little capsule on the side. It was the only kinda helicopters they had back then, and they put me in that capsule and flew me out to a back to Incheon, well, to Ascom City. And then it took me out to Incheon, and then I went out on a landing craft out to a, a,
hospital ship. And I stayed, I got on that, and a big ole, an Army doctor was on there. And I never will forget what he said. He said, “I’m going to give you a free trip to the United States.” I said, “Well, well, that’s great.” And course I wasn’t but 18 years old. He said, “Sign this paper.” I said, “What is it?” He said, “I’m going to amputate both of your feet.” When they, when they, one of the most horrible things is we got, we go orders to lay down and let them overrun us
in one occasions. And I can’t remember this day whether that was the North Koreans at the time or the Chinese cause they came in about they, they, came across on ice, across the river. And it, I understand, I was told they had a tunnel also under the river that they came across. But it was just like masses of them, hundreds of them, just, we, and they run over us. I was in a foxhole dug, dug in, in, in and they, they run over us
just like we wasn’t there, didn’t know we were there. And, uh, uh, if you, when they come in those masses like that if you shot them, there was somebody behind them picking up their weapons that didn’t have a weapon. Yes, it was unbelievable. You know, you look back on it, it just as a young boy, I was just a young, 18 years old. We didn’t, all we knew it was the enemies, you
know. At the time really, I can’t remember where they even, uh, where they even, uh, uh . . . Probably didn’t know that they were a Chinese a right at that time. I told rumors begin to push between us peons I call it back during that time.
I: Were there rumor?
CF: Yeah, they were telling at that time, they were telling us, you know, the Chinese is in, and then we got word that, uh, that, uh, well we
knew that the MiGs were coming across and shooting at us from, from China. And our, our jets would only come in, uh, to the Yellow River and had to turn around; they couldn’t come back. And we got, we got word, this is sometime in that period, I don’t know exactly. We got word that MacArthur wanted to go over and bomb them. And we were all for that, you know, as a young soldier.
Uh, and we thought it was awful that the President Truman fired MacArthur at the time. But now, look back in retrospective, uh, he couldn’t do nothing but that because we couldn’t have . . . That’s what makes our country because, uh, the president, no general tells the president what to do. In other words, uh, that’s how these countries get military takes over the country. And so he had to do what he did. Politically it was [suifide], suicide,
but he had to do it. But as a young soldier in combat, knowing what was going on, we couldn’t, we couldn’t rationalize, uh, only coming to a river and couldn’t go across that river to, to, to get the enemy that was shooting at us. And, uh, the only way we could shoot the Chinese was after they got in, in the, in the bad with us then they,
you know, they was on our side then. Long as they was on this side of the Yellow River but couldn’t go across the Yellow River. In which, militarily, that’s not good, good, military, uh, defense.
I: Told me you went to Bible college, and you worked as a barber, right?
CF: Yeah, yeah.
I: And then you went into seminary?
CF: The Lord, the Lord saved me in 1964. I trusted Jesus Christ as my personal savior in 1965 64 at the
age of 32 years old, and then God called me to preach. And so I knew that, I knew that I needed some formal education that I didn’t have vividly. And so God opened up the door for me to go to the largest seminary in the world, Southwestern at Fort Worth, Texas. And I went there in 1965. I graduated in 1969. I later, uh, get extended from work and got my doctor’s degree in Orlando, Florida,
but, uh, you can’t buy a cup of coffee with that, you know. It’s just something that title that people put on you that, I don’t, I don’t make mention of it too much. But, uh, anyway, I pastored from 19, 1967. I pastored while I was in seminary at a church in Fort Worth, Texas, first church I ever pastored,
Melody Hill Baptist Church. And I pastored in Mississippi, Tennessee, uh, uh . . . Pocatello, Idaho.
CF: Yeah, I pastored there for 3 years I Pocatello, which is the large second largest city of the state of Idaho, uh, 70% Mormon people. Uh, I had, uh, ministry, I started a ministry on the campus of Idaho State University while I was there and had a great response from there and, uh, uh,
the only Southern Baptist church in the town of 50,000 people. And, uh, uh, I pastored till I turned 70 years old, ten years ago. And I resigned and retired from pastoring, but I still preach. Because the South Korean soldiers really fought to preserve their freedom, and lots of times we fail to make mention of that. They died.
And they bled. And they fought to try to save their country. Uh, it wasn’t just the, the, the United Nation soldiers that preserved South Korea. The South Korean soldiers fought right, right on the front line all the way up North Korea.
I: That’s important point.
CF: Yeah. Uh, course, they couldn’t speak English, and I couldn’t speak Korean.
So, uh, I couldn’t communicate, but we communicated in many ways, dis a, dis a young boy. And, uh, and most of the soldiers it probably dead now of the older generation that were there when I was there. The one guy that — I didn’t tell you this while ago — when I was in Germany, the only person that I met that was in my outfit in
Germany, I mean was in Korea when I, when I got frostbitten, got flew out, he got captured. And uh, and uh, he was take into, into China. No, he might not have been taken into China; he might have been just North Korea. But, anyway, they, they took all his toe, fingernails and toenails, and eyebrows and eyelashes, and he came to Germany and, and shared, going around to the different military bases, and sharing this.
And he didn’t have any toenails and, uh, eyelashes and eyebrows.
I: Was it part of torture?
CF: Oh, yeah. He was, he was buried up to his neck; insects just crawled all in his ears and everything. He shared that. That’s the only person, and I can’t even remember his name. But he was a master sergeant, and he was my platoon sergeant. And when, when I flew out, he got captured. And that’s the only person I ever
met since the Korean War that was in my outfit then. I, uh, and, uh, and most, uh, and he was older than me, he was, he’s probably, dis, well I don’t know his year. He’d have to be in his 90s now if he is living, and uh . . . Most, most of the most of the Korean that were in there when I were in there are dead.
I: How would you characterize the impact of Korean War upon your life after you came back from Korea? You become pastor, right?
Korean War upon your life after you came back from Korea? You become pastor, right?
CF: I think, I think it matured me and, and made me more appreciative to be alive and more aware of the cruelty of war. And, and the more
thankful that I am that I live in America, that live in a country of freedom. Uh, most Americans take it for granted, uh, the younger generation especially. Uh, uh, and the wars are so different now. I couldn’t, I’d have a hard time being in Afghanistan,
simply because you don’t know who you fighting. And if you kill the wrong person, you’d liable to get prosecuted for that. Terrible situation. I don’t think the Korean War was, un, I mean, forgotten. I mean, I don’t see, I don’t detect that. I think, I think it they didn’t never declare it a war, and that was probably the worst thing. Uh, you know, lose 50,000 people
and, uh, the biggest critic can’t, uh, can’t deny that we saved, uh, South Korea from becoming a communist country. And, and, uh, history’s proven that democracy works. Uh, it’s probably one of the growingest. And 2 things that’s really out played South Korea, one is, uh, the Christian faith
has been spreaded there. Uh, the Presbyterian Church really growed in, in,, uh South Korea.
CF: And, uh, the, uh, the, uh, the economy, uh, on democracy of how the economy’s worked is probably one of the richest countries. And, uh, how long it’ll last that way, I don’t know, but, you know, it’s been open up to free market
and, uh, the individual unit ingenuity, you know, of created things, vehicles, different things. Uh, that woulda never happened under communist control, so, uh, so I feel like it, uh, I don’t, I don’t feel, I mean I don’t know of any, I never have listened to a nut that would talk about the Korean War was wrong, you know. I’m sure there’s people out there
cause we got some real liberal people in the United States, that uh, that uh, any kind of war where you defending somebody or what they, you know, opposed to it.
I: So, how would you characterize the legacy of Korean War Veterans?
CF: Well, I feel like it, uh, they’d be characterized
as, uh, people that, uh, defended, uh, a sovereign nation, a country and that, uh, they ought not be put on a pedestal, but they ought to be honored. Uh, just, just like my brothers that were in service year World War II, they were honored when they came back to the States. Uh, uh, it was a horrible war. Uh, had to drop an atomic
bomb on. I’ve often thought in my mind, you know, if MacArthur would have been given the go-ahead, he would have dropped an atomic bomb on China, you know. And that country now is probably one of the growingest countries in the world too academically. And, uh, uh, I think the Korean War in history ought to be characterized as, uh,
as an event that ought to be a showcase to the world that communism doesn’t work. It enslaves people and their freedom to act. And democracy is a right of the free mind, gives a
person to be created, that God has created us all to do be. I, I wish the 2 countries get together, you know, and, uh, and, you know, they both Korea, you know. And, uh, philosophy of life separates, you know, one on, on a, uh, tired type thing of rule [unintelligible] people,
keeping people down, and the other is lifting people up. Some way somehow they get together, and, and, uh, the might not, uh . . . Well, I believe, I believe I’m not, uh, away from the military now. I believe the North Korean people, I believe the South Korean people love’d to see a unified country.
Uh, it’s just like Germany, you know, uh, when, when, uh, it takes a leader though to do this. You take when, uh, when, uh, Reagan went says, “Gorbachev, break down this wall.”, you know. He’s willing to take a chance in, in, in, uh, in a world leader and say this is wrong. Somebody’s got to do that in Korea. Now where they got somebody that, that powerful, somebody with a
voice, you know, not in a demanding way but yet, uh, uh, in a, uh, I don’t know how to say it, uh, in a coming together way, you know, not one side over against the other side. Uh, I don’t think, I don’t think they going to do it by I’m going to lay my arms down; I’m gonna let you lay your arms down. That’s not gonna happen.
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