Korean War Legacy Project

Charles Stern


Charles Stern grew up in Kentucky and enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in 1948. Prior to his deployment to Korea, he was assigned to special services as a recreation coordinator. Before shipping out, he quickly received training on machine guns and was assigned to the United States First Battalion, Fifth Marines. Weapons Company. He arrived in Korea a few days before the Inchon landing. Following the Inchon landing, his company was sent to Seoul and eventually up to the Chosin (Jangjin) Reservoir. After serving nine months in Korea, he returned to the states and married Leona two weeks after arriving home. Due to long periods of exposure, he suffered from long-term effects of frostbite. He served the final year of his service at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. During a revisit trip to Korea, he could not believe the transformation.

Video Clips

Never Laid Down to Sleep

Charles Stern reflects on his experiences with limited resources in the Chosin (Jangjin) Reservoir. He elaborates on the consumption of turnips found in the fields on the way to the Reservoir which landed him in the hospital. Due to being in the hospital recovering, he remembers not receiving a parka and relying on many layers of clothing to stay warm. After the Chinese attack on Thanksgiving, he recalls receiving orders to get rid of all of their supplies, including sleeping bags. After Thanksgiving, he shares how he never had a chance to lay down but it may have been a good thing. Even though he experienced long term effects of frostbite, he shares how frequently changing his socks saved his feet.

Tags: 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 11/27-12/13,Cold winters,Front lines,Living conditions

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Thanksgiving in the Reservoir

Charles Stern describes the evacuation from the Chosin (Jangjin) Reservoir. As they started out, he notes how no one told him they were surrounded by the Chinese. Since it was Thanksgiving, he remembers being told they were to have a hot turkey dinner, but they never saw any hot meal. He provides an account of the chaos during the Chinese attack on his unit and holding their position on the hill. After surviving the Chinese attacks, he recalls being promised time in the warming tent but only being allowed a quick walk through the tent.

Tags: 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 11/27-12/13,Hagalwoori,Chinese,Cold winters,Food,Front lines,Weapons

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Surviving the Chosin Reservoir

Charles Stern shares the tactics he used to survive the cold in the Chosin (Jangjin) Reservoir. Due to his shoe size being thirteen, he explains how they had to issue him a smaller size boot and he was unable to rely on the rubber shoe packs to keep his feet dry. Lucky for him by continually changing his socks and not relying on the rubber shoe packs, he states he did not lose any toes to frostbite. Along with protecting his feet, he discusses the inability to eat most of the food in the c-rations because they were always frozen and they were unable to build fires to heat them. After not eating for so long, he shares the challenge of keeping food down after he came out of the Chosin (Jangjin) Reservoir.

Tags: 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 11/27-12/13,Chinese,Cold winters,Food,Front lines,Living conditions

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The Memories Started to Come Back

Charles Stern reveals how he did not speak about his experience in Korea until later in life. Yet, he does remember one exception during his honeymoon when he woke up screaming in the middle of the night to take cover. He shares how reading about the war and visiting an old Lieutenant started to bring back his memories. He admits feeling as if he should know more names of the soldiers who fought at the Chosin (Jangjin) Reservoir, but they often were not around long enough for him to learn their names.

Tags: 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 11/27-12/13,Home front

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


L:        Leona Stern, and Charles Stern.

I:          Okay.  Leona, let me ask you first.  So, when were you born?
L:        Nineteen thirty.

I:          When’s your birthday?
L:        November 28.

I:          Okay. And where were you born?

L:        I was born in New York.

I:          New York City?
L          Brooklyn, NY, yeah.

I:          And you about you, Mr. Charles Stern?

C:        Three 28, ’28.



I:          And where were you born?
C:        Lexington, Kentucky.

I:          Did you guys by chance know each other childhood?
L:        Pardon?
I:          Did you know each other during childhood?
L:        No.

I:          Okay.  Then let me first ask you, Leona.  Tell me a little bit about your family, your parents, maybe your siblings that you grew up with.

L:        Well, we moved to Norfolk, Virginia when I was young.


And I went to school there.  And I have two brothers.

I:          How were your parents?
L:        They were just ordinary parents.

I:          Okay.  Charles, will you tell me about your family?
C:        I’ve got one brother.  Mother and father that were born in the United States.



And moved to Lexington when I was born.  And just normal people.

I:          Okay.  Then when did you enlist in the Marine Corps?
C:        In 1948.
I:          So, what made you want to enlist in the Marines?
C:        I was about to be drafted and decided the Marine Corps was better than the Army.

I:          I see.  Did someone give you that advice, or you just knew that for yourself?
C:        Well, I had a buddy and we talked it over.



And most of us joined the Marine Corps.

I:          Did your buddy also go to Korea with you?

C:        Yes.
I:          Oh wow.  What’s his name?
C:        Harold Barber.

I:          Oh, yes. I interviewed him.  Oh, that’s so cool.

C:        And we went to high school together.

I:          I see.  Alright.  Then how about for you, Leona?



What was your involvement with the Korean War?
L:        At the time the War started, I was working at the 5th Naval District in Norfolk, Virginia cause I’d grown up there and I went to school and high school.  And I went to, well, it’s called Old Dominion College now.  But it was an extension of the college of William and Mary then.



It was a community college.

I:          Would it be right to say you were part of a certain military unit?
L:        No.  But I worked in the Administration building of the 5th Naval District.  And part of my duties was a conference secretary.

I:          When did you start this job basically?



L:        As soon as I got out of school.  I had a teacher who said I could skip his classes if I passed an exam.  And it turned out that it was a Civil Service exam.  And I hadn’t got out of school yet, but I was in my last year, and I thought gee, that would be neat.  I’d get to skip all these classes, and I’d get an A for the classes that I was enrolled in.



And so, I got up and I took the test, and then I started getting phone calls.  And the Navy wanted to hire me, but they wanted, you know, they didn’t know where to put me.  But they finally, when I got out of school, I had my job waiting because they wanted me right away and I said no.  I had to graduate first.  So as soon as I graduated, I went to work for the Navy.



I:          Did a lot of students, your fellow students, were they in similar situations?  Or were you kind of, was this a rare case?
L:        No.  I think most of my class signed up for the test.  But some of them didn’t pass it.  I had all kinds of top security clearance.  So, they had to decide where to put me.

C:        The reason she had a job waiting for her, she took shorthand faster than normal people talk.



And she typed perfect, faster than normal people talk.
I:          Oh.  How did you gain that skill?
L:        I took Business courses in college.  One of the courses I took, Shorthand, Typing.

I:          I see.  Back then, it was kind of different, right, from what we have today.

L:        Well, we didn’t have recorders then.  When I went into a conference, I was allowed to, I was searched before I went in.



I was allowed to have a handkerchief in my watchband.  And I was allowed to have three pencils and a steno pad.  And I had to take all the notes.  There were no electronic devices that existed then.  And I had to take notes.  And when I left the conference, all the people, all the Admirals



At the conference sat back and relaxed, and I had to go to my desk.  I went with an armed guard, and I went to my desk, and I typed up everything that had been said and done.  And had to take it back and write a cover letter, and each got a copy.  So, I had to deal with carbon paper.  I had to make seven or eight copies.  And each Admiral who attended got their own copy, but they had to sign a letter saying that they had received a copy.



And then I put the, I had to type the cover letter and the original copy of the minutes and put it in a top-secret file.  And then the guard escorted me down to the incinerator, and I had to burn my pad and all the carbon paper that I had used.

I:          And when the Korean War broke out, did your duties change?  Did it affect what you did for your job?



L:        No.  Before the War, I had another job that placed me in a temporary job until this job became available cause I think somebody else was at it, and they were leaving, and they held the job for me.

I:          Just to clarify again.  What would you say your job title would have been?
L:        I have no idea.  It was something administrative.  I mean, it didn’t describe what I did.



Well, it, I think it did say Conference Secretary.  But then I was doing other things.  I was doing disbursements and writing checks and.

I:          So, many different areas of, aspects of kind of administrative.

L:        Yeah.
I:          With the 5th Naval District.

L:        Because I also was a bookkeeper.  I did bookkeeping, accounting.

I:          I see.   And when did you two meet then?  Was it after the Korean War?
C:        No, we met before the Korean War.  I got stationed in Portsmouth, Virginia at a naval shipyard there in Portsmouth, Virginia.



And went to Temple Family and found her and her girlfriend.  I dated her girlfriend for a while.  And then I dated her.  And actually, we had made arrangements for a marriage.

L:        We were engaged when the Korean War broke out, and we had just finalized our wedding plans which were to be in December.  But this was August.



And when the War broke out, he left in three days, and I had to postpone our wedding until he got back.

I:          Oh.  Do you remember when you first heard about the Korean War beginning?

C:        I guess

I:          Do you remember what you were feeling?  Did you know about Korea before?

C:        I had no idea about anything.  They called me in an office and said they were looking for somebody with a MOS of what I did.



And that was, I was in recreation.  And they wanted someone with that particular number to go, and I had to, I think, to Camp Pendleton.  And I said, well, and recreation, I would just get out there and issue basketballs and ping pong balls and wave bye bye to the crew.  So, when I got off the train, I became a squad leader of a machine gun.



And the next six guys was my squad, and that was it.  And none of us had ever fired a machine gun before.

I:          Wow.

C:        In two days, we were aboard ship, and they did let us fire the machine gun off the side of the ship.

I:          Oh.

C:        And we went into Pusan and made the Pusan Perimeter for two days before they called us out to go to the Inchon Landing.



I:          Okay.  Then you arrived in Pusan, would it be late August or, you said two days before Inchon?
C:        I got there two days before the Inchon Landing.
I:          Okay then.  Like September maybe 13 or something like that.

C:        Yeah. I don’t exactly know.

I:          Okay.
C:        We were attached to the brigade that was there.  And aboard ship going to the Inchon Landing, they changed our name to First Battalion Fifth Marines.



Weapons Company First Battalion.
I:          Wow.  Is that what WPNS stands for?
C:        Yes, Weapons Company.

I:          Okay.  So, you heard that you were going to go to Korea, and then three days later you went.

C:        Well, I don’t think, when I heard I was going to Korea, I was on the way.  I mean, they said one day, I might have had one night after they told me I was going to pack my stuff.



I mean, it was pretty quick.

I:          Yeah.  How did you receive news about him going to, your husband going to, well maybe I guess at that time your fiancé?

C:        How’d I what?
I:          How did you hear about it, that he was gonna go?
C:        Somebody told me about it.  I think somebody mentioned it in my office because they knew that, you know, we were engaged.


And the barracks were next to our building. And somebody said that they’re moving out.  And

I:          Yeah.  How did you feel about that, both of you?

L:        Well, we went to the railroad station.  And my father drove me down there to the railroad station to say goodbye.  We weren’t supposed to know about it.  But I went down there.  And everybody, all the Marines had stuff with them that they didn’t know what to do with.



And they gave us, everybody said, well, you can, can you mail this for me or can you, here are my car keys.  Can you send these to my parents and tell them where the car is parked and you know, just personal things like that.  And it took my father and me about a week to get everything sorted out and sent out and mailed out to everybody.



This one had a package they wanted, a picture that they wanted to send home and they were personal items that they wanted sent to their families.

C:        I mean, they didn’t waste any time from the time they said you were going till we were gone.

L:        Yeah.  The worst thing was all those car keys we got.  We said you know, we don’t know what to do.  Is this my parents address or my wife’s address? Please tell her where it is, and they wrote down where to find the car.



And here are the car keys.

I:          Wow.  Well, that’s so nice of you to do all that.  And you and your father.  And then maybe then now I’ll hear more about how it was like, what it was like in Korea.  So, you arrived in Pusan.  What do you remember seeing, maybe like the sites.  Did you hear things?  What did it smell like?

C:        Arrived in Pusan.  The first night, I slept in a concrete slab building.  The next morning, I got aboard a truck and headed to the Pusan Perimeter fighting.



But I never got off the truck.  It turned around, and sometime during that day or that night and took us back to the dock where we boarded ship to go for the Inchon Landing.

I:          Um.

C:        And



I:          Do you remember seeing local Koreans?
C:        I didn’t see anybody.  I just got off the ship, and that was it.

L:        You landed.

C:        Yeah.  I landed.

I:          I see.

C:        I guess they fed us aboard ship before we got off.  And from there on, it was C-rations.

I:          Wow.  What were some of the,



I know you were in the Chosin, of course.  What were some of the other battles or military

C:        We made the Inchon Landing, and then we went up to an airport, and I can’t tell you the name of the airport.

I:          Kimpo?
C:        Kimpo Airport I believe.  We were trying to take it.  And then they turned us, and we went into Seoul.



We, I don’t know whether we went north or whether we went back toward someplace after Seoul, we went back aboard ship and went around for the Wonsan landing.

I:          Um hm.  Can you tell me maybe about a few very memorable events, episodes or maybe even like the most more difficult memories that you have from Korea??



C:        Well, in the early days, I don’t remember any of it.  When we went around and made the Wonsan Landing, the area we were supposed to go in was mined in the waters, and we had to stay aboard ship three or four days while they cleaned the mines out.  And during that time, the South Korean Army came in and took over Wonsan.



So, we got to walk ashore there no problem.  And then we started going north.  We were on a train, and someplace along the line, the train slowed down, and I guess 20 or 30 of us got off real quick and went to a turnip patch, and we all pulled some turnips and ran back on the train.



And most of the people that ate turnips ended up in the hospital.  We broke out real bad, and they sent us to the hospital and poured Calamine Lotion over us and shot us with Penicillin for four, five or six days.  And I think I had a temperature of about 104 when they released me from the hospital to go back to my unit.



And the unit had received their cold weather gear, and nobody had bothered to get a parka for me.  So, I never got a parka.  So, I spent all the time in a regular field jacket.  But I managed to get many layers of clothing on, so I didn’t freeze to death.



So, even up in the Reservoir, you

C:        We went up into the Reservoir and

I:          No parka?
C:        No parka, just a field jacket and, as I say, many layers of clothes.  And

I:          Wow.

C:        It was cold. When the Chinese hit Thanksgiving, they pulled us off a hill.



And I don’t know who it was and whether he was what, but a group of us, he gathered and told us to get rid of everything we had except our ammunition and rifles.  And I asked him does that include sleeping bags, and he said yes.  So, I threw my sleeping bag away.  So, from Thanksgiving Day until I ended up aboard the ship after the walk out there,



I never got to lay down and go to sleep.

I:          Oh, my gosh.
C:        So, and if you look at all the people talking about it, there’s an awful lot of people that got shot in their sleeping bags.  They took their shoes off, and they couldn’t get out of the bag or they had it zipped up. And when the3 Chinese came, they were just stuck, and some of them killed in their sleeping bags.



So, I was kind of unhappy to get rid of my sleeping bag.  But thinking about it, I think it was a good deal. I did have two pairs of socks. I kept one on my chest and one on my feet.  And every time I had a chance, I would sit down and change socks. So, I’d still have my feet.  Even though they’re not good, I still have them.



But I never actually laid down to go to sleep.

I:          Wow.  I see you have pretty thick shoes.

C:        Yeah.  I’ve got.

L:        They’re molded to his feet.

C:        Molded shoes to my feet and an arch/ankle support.

I:          I see.

C:        And I’m doing pretty good with it.
I:          Yeah.  Is it because of like the frostbite?



C:        It was frostbite and just the mess down there.

L:        It’s nerve damage.  He doesn’t know when his foot, he can’t feel at the bottom of his feet.

C:        I’m not sure that I’m standing on my feet.  I’ve got to be careful when I stand up to make sure they’re there.

L:        He doesn’t know when his foot is on the floor.

I:          And it’s been that way ever since Korea?
C:        Yeah.

I:          Oh wow.



Have you, did you have any other wounds?  Were you wounded anywhere else?
C:        No, closest I came to getting wounded is a piece of shrapnel burnt through my layers of clothes and made a red spot on my leg.  But it didn’t break the skin.  And I feel very fortunate for that.  When we came out of the Chosin Reservoir,



And when we landed, I think it was the landing in the bean patches where they put us, the Red Cross gave us pencil and paper, and I wrote home then that I was alright.  I wrote to her that I was alright.  And the Red Cross somewhere or another, took it and got it delivered. No stamp, no nothing.



But they got it done for us.  Most of the time when I could, I would write home.  I like the rice that was in pots along the road and things where people had the, we used it for glue to glue our envelopes closed.

I:          Koreans did that.  They used sticky rice.

C:        I never put a stamp on anything.  I had no stamps.



But I threw it in the stack, and I’ve got quite a few of them at home without stamps on them that got mailed and delivered.  My parents saved them all.

I:          Wow.

C:        I’ve got a stack.

I:          Yeah. Oo, so you think that’s good that you saved them all.

C:        Yeah.
I:          That’s good.  Do you remember like the things that you wrote?  Do you remember things that he wrote/

C:        I couldn’t write anything.

I:          I think it was he would be glad to see me again.



C:        I mean, I couldn’t write anything about what I was doing or where I was.   Most of the time, I didn’t know where I was.  I was just, you go there with Company A, and that’s it.

L:        But I knew where he was.  He wrote to me; I got a letter the day before Thanksgiving.  He said where he was, you know.  It was up at the Reservoir.  And they were looking across the Yalu River into China,



And the next day, I heard, you know, the Chinese had attacked.  And I was sure he was dead.  And I started crying.  I couldn’t stop.  I went in to work the next day, and I was crying, just couldn’t stop.


And the Admiral came into my office, and he had some papers for me, something he wanted me to do. And he looked at me, and he went to somebody else; and he said what’s the matter with her?  And I told, you know, told him that I was sure he was dead because he was in Korea.  And the Admiral said it can’t be as bad, and he said come with me.



And we went up to his place at the top of the building, and it was a war room up there.  And they had a map of the whole world.  And they had pins in it telling where each unit was.  And he says okay.  Which unit did you say it was?  And I told him.  He looked at it, and he says oh.  He went to his desk, and he handed me a box of Kleenex.



And he says honey, he says.  If you think it’s gonna help you, cry all you want to.  And so, he said whenever I wanted to go up there, he gave instruction.  I had top level security anyway just to be in that building.  But he says if you want to come up you can see where he is, you know, where his unit is and, you know, you can go up there.



And so, I would check, and I could see day by day where they were, what they were surrounded by Chinese.  It wasn’t pretty.  But he said as long as you haven’t gotten a letter or a phone call yet, you know.

I:          And when did you finally get, find out that he’s okay?

L:        Well, after he got out, he wrote.  And I think they must have delivered the letters overnight.

I:          Do you remember how many days it had been?



L:        It was the middle of December.

I:          Like when you first realized he could be dead and then when you finally got the report that he’s fine?

L:        It was two weeks.
I:          Wow.

L:        I hope the guys had fun.

C:        It was a good two weeks.

L:        I don’t think I stopped crying the whole time.

I:          Yeah.  Wow.  I can’t imagine like what emotions you went through.



So yes. I wanted to ask you, you know.  What was going on now stateside, and you kind of started telling me about it.  What was it like?  What was the sentiment like back in the states regarding the Korean War and

L:        Well, everybody was on edge.  I mean, everybody knew what was going on.  The news was, got good coverage. I mean, they were telling practically minute by minute what was going on.



Because a lot of Marines had come from that area, and their families were there.  So, the local news coverage was very good.  They, you know, told it like it was.

I:          Okay.

L:        They wanted people to be prepared they were gonna get bad news.

I:          Did you want to say anything about this?  Okay.

C:        About what?

I:          You were saying before about the Korean Army.



C:        Yeah.
I:          Did you have close encounters?  Did you work together closely with the Korean Army?
C:        No.  I had nothing close with the Korean Army.  Being in a machine gun squad, we were always doing our thing which most of the time I was assigned to Able Company, and it’s not being in the mortars or anything in a weapons company.



We were just a little, two machine guns and 6, 12, 14, 15 people so that the rifle company didn’t have machine guns attached to them.  So, they attached the 6th Machine Guns and Weapons Company were assigned to Able, Baker and Charlie Company.



So, we were actually away from the weapons company people.

I:          I heard often the weapons would freeze up.

C:        Yeah.  In the Chosin Reservoir, the weapons would freeze where you had to take, to get a machine gun to fire, you had to take and kick the bolt and then fire it and then kick the bolt and then fire it, and you had to do this three or four or five times before it got warm enough that it would become a machine gun again.



I:          Do you think that would be like one of the biggest hardships, the weather affecting.

C:        Well, the weather was a hardship. That was, more than anything, the weather. I   mean, we were fighting a war that we were either uphill or downhill.  There was no level land or anything.



I was as far north as the Marine Corps went to Udam-ni.

I:          And then when did you finally come back to the States and rotate back home?

C:        It was May or June

L:        June, beginning of June.
C:        Yeah, the beginning of June, 19

I:          Nineteen fifty-one.

L:        Fifty-one.

C:        Fifty-one?




L:        Fifty-one, yeah.
C:        Nineteen

L:        Fifty-one, in August of ’50.

I:          Yeah.  Nineteen fifty-one.  Tell me about that.  What happened?  Did you come straight back home like right away?

C:        Well, I had enough points I guess is what you call them that they gave, evacuated me with seven other people from the unit that they evacuated.



And we

L:        That’s all that was left of your unit.

C:        Boarded ship and came back to the United States. I can’t really tell you where we landed.

I:          Yeah.
C:        Probably (INAUDIBLE)

I:          Okay.

C:        And

L:        You stopped in Japan.

C:        Oh yeah.  We stopped in Japan long enough to get off the ship.



And as we went back aboard ship, they debugged us.  They sprayed us from top to bottom.  But they got us off the ship so they could spray everybody.

I:          Um.

C:        And we got to walk around in Japan for four or five hours.  They had given us payroll when we left Korea.  And I said I didn’t need any money.



Ten dollars was plenty cause all I’d do was play poker with it and lose it.  So, I didn’t, I drew $10 and then they stopped in Japan, and I had $10.  So, I went ashore and spent it.

I:          Oh.

C:        Had a beer and bought souvenirs.

I:          Finally got some leisurely time.

C:        Yes.

I:          Were you walking okay then?
C:        Fair.



I:          And many veterans, many men must have been kind of in the same situation.

C:        Well, the ones that didn’t change their socks or had the shoe packs that they sweated in or something, I wore a 13EEE shoe, and they gave me 12B shoes to wear.

L:        Which didn’t help.

C:        And that didn’t help my feet.  But I didn’t get the shoe packs or the rubber shoe packs where my feet sweated and froze.



And I was able to just keep changing socks, and I got frostbite.  But I didn’t lose any toes or anything with it.
I:          Yeah.  Cause I heard some men did.

C:        Yeah.  Well, if you talked to Harold Barber, he’s got one black toe.

I:          Um hm.

C:        He laid on the stretcher for four, five, six days.



I:          Yeah.  Well now then back to coming back home, do you remember that day?  Can you tell me?

C:        Well, I remember when we landed, and they gave us livery.  I went some place and got a great big thick steak.

I:          Were you okay?  Was your stomach taking it in?

C:        Well, yeah. By then I was okay.  But coming out of the Chosin Reservoir was not okay.



Cause we had, I had practically nothing.  I had some Tootsie Rolls and the jelly roll that was in the C-rations.  But the C-ration was always frozen so hard you couldn’t eat it.  And the group I was with were not allowed to build a fire cause the Chinese would see the fire and know where we were and what we were doing.



So, I had. I think, some crackers, and they had half cans of fruit cocktail or pears that I was able to thaw out every once in a while by putting them next to my body and keeping them there for a day or two days. I got to eat that.  But then we went aboard ship, and they fed us aboard ship which if they hadn’t fed us, we’d have probably sunk the ship.



But they had no business feeding us like they did.  And we all got sick, very sick after not eating for so long.  And it took a while, and we ended up in the beans patch. It took three or four or five days of just trying to eat to get food in us.



I:          Do you remember what Charles looked like when you first saw him again?  That day when you reunited with him?

L:        We were just happy to see each other.

I:          I wonder if you, you know, looked so much skinnier or maybe, I don’t know, more buff.

C:        I mean, this was December, and the Chosin Reservoir was December.  And I had like four months to recuperate.


I came out of the Chosin Reservoir out of not eating, weighing less than 100 pounds.  And they didn’t think anything of that.  They just fed us.  I couldn’t eat, but I managed to get a gallon can of peanut butter of which I was able to eat all day long every day for three or four days till my stomach got to where I could eat food.



And then I put the weight back on pretty quick.

I:          Did you see Harold at all in Korea?
C:        No.  Harold got wounded and got put on a stretcher, and some way or another, he got to Hagaru-ri, and I was way north of Hagaru-ri when we started this out.  And he got aboard a plane.  He said the last airplane that evacuated everybody from Hagaru-ri.



And he got out.  He didn’t have to walk out.

I:          Right.

C:        But

I:          Going back to Leona, while he was in Korea, was there anything else that was going on.  You were working.  But also, were there other things that you did regarding, maybe like, were there, was there like a community where, like a support community you were with?



L:        No because I was still living at home.  And you know, I got out of school and got my job, and we were gonna get married in December. I thought well, my parents said, well, just stay here until you get married and then you can move on, get an apartment.  And so, I was at home.



Of course, I’d grown up in Norfolk, so I had a lot of friends there.  But I had a full time, you know, my job called full time.  And if there was an emergency, I was, they called me 24 hours a day if they needed something, something happened that they needed me for, and I think while he was gone, I think twice at one, two o’clock in the morning I was called in to work.



So different things had happened that they needed me for.  One was a hurricane that the building they thought the lower floor of the building would be flooding.  And nobody was allowed to touch my files.  So, I had to go and supervise the work crew to move the files up to the top floor so they wouldn’t be damaged. And that was like 1:00 in the morning.



So. And the other one was a top-secret thing that was going on that they wanted me for.

I:          How was life back at home?  Were you able to adjust well back home?
C:        After Korea, yeah.  I really had no problem.  I got transferred to Norfolk Naval Air Station, Norfolk Naval Base.



Did guard duty for probably two weeks till I got back into my recreation.  And then recreation, I was sitting at a desk all day and drinking coffee.  For the last year I was in service, I was just doing little paperwork.

I:          When did you finally discharge from the military?
L:        They kept him for an extra year because they froze the discharges.



They were short of troops.  They wouldn’t let anybody go for a year.  And he’d signed up for three years.  And he wound up doing four.

C:        June 25 or something like that

L:        Yeah

C:        That I got released, 1951.

L:        I think it was September before we moved.  Whatever.  It was an extra year that he was.



C:        I signed up for three, and Uncle Harry Truman gave me the fourth cause they needed personnel.  And I got out of Korea after just nine months there.  But the actual battle time I guess gave me points that I was able to get rotated out.

I:          So, 1952, sometime in 1952.

C:        Yeah.

L:        In ’52.



I:          Okay.

L:        He got out.

I:          And then, when did you finally have your wedding ceremony?

L:        Oh, about two weeks after he got home.

I:          I see.  Where was it held?

L:        It was in Norfolk.

C:        I wanted to get transferred to Norfolk Naval Base.   They did transfer me there.  So, it was very nice.



I:          And Leona, did you continue to work in the Naval office, district, Naval District?  Did you continue to work there?
C:        Yes, she worked.

L:        Yeah, I worked there until he got discharged.  Then we moved to Kentucky.

I:          Okay.
C:        And she was working more hours a day than I was working.

I:          Yeah.  What did you do in Kentucky before you retired?



What kind of careers did you have?
L:        Well, I got pregnant, and then I didn’t get a job, look for a job until after my baby was in high school.  So, then I started working.  I went to the University of Kentucky, and then I worked for a CPA firm.

I:          Is he your baby, one of your babies?

L:        That’s my son-in-law.  See, my daughter is our youngest.



I:          I see.

L:        We have two.

I:          How about you, Charles?
L:        Our so is upstairs somewhere asleep.

C:        My dad had a floor covering business, and I went and joined him to work.  My brother had come back from World War II and was working with my father, and I went to help

I:          Yeah.  And you still live in Kentucky?



C:        Yeah, we stayed.
L:        Kentucky in Florida.

I:          Oh okay.

C:        Cause he really can’t stand the cold weather when we go down there for the winter.

I:          I see. How about your hands. Are they also

C:        They’re, I notice every once in a while the coldness and the frostbite in my hands.

I:          Um hm.

L:        Really when it gets below 70, he really thinks it’s too cold.  And his feet hurt; and his hands hurt; and his ears hurt.



I:          Below 70.

C:        When it gets down to high 40’s, I’m very unhappy.

I:          It must be so difficult.

L:        When the weather gets cold, we go to Florida.

I:          That’s good.

L:        And come back in April.

I:          Yeah.  Have you been back to Korea, revisited Korea?
C:        Yes.  We revisited Korea

L:        Three years ago.



C:        Could not believe what we saw.

I:          Yeah.  You went together, right?
C:        Yeah.

I:          Okay.  Yeah.  What did you guys, how were you, what did you guys do there?  What did you do?
C:        We went with the group of veterans

L:        The Korean government organized.

C:        They had tours every year where they take the veterans.



They wined us and dined us and showed us a good time and drove us around.

L:        We went sight-seeing all over.

C:        Yeah, all over.

L:        South Korea to show what progress they had made.

C:        When I went through Seoul while we were fighting, we burnt and knocked everything we could down and burned it and didn’t have pity on anything.



Ands to go back and see what they have built in their 50, 60 years, it’s unreal.  I mean, they had one lane roads.  Now they got six lane roads.  It’s a big fancy city and big, tall buildings and everything.  They have done very well for themselves.

I:          I know that some veterans, they had a hard time adjusting back home when they returned from Korea.  And for many years, they didn’t talk about Korea at all because it just bothered, disturbed them.



Did you have any trouble like that?
C:        Yes.  I didn’t talk about Korea until 10 years ago.

I:          Really?  Cause I would, I thought maybe because Leona was also kind of following up with it closely that maybe it was kind of easy to talk about it together.

L:        No, he never talked about it.
C:        I never talked about it until I’d say recently 10 years probably, maybe eight years.



L:        Except on our honeymoon.  He woke up screaming in the middle of the night and he yelled incoming.  Take cover.  And he knocked me out of bed and stuffed me under the bed.

I:          Oh no.  I mean, you laugh now.  But I feel like I’d be so startled.  So, things like that I’ve seen.



Then what happened 10 years ago that you finally were okay?

C:        I started reading books I guess of what really happened over there.  And it brought back some of the memories cause I remember very, very little of the actual things I did.  For a fact, things I know that I did, but I didn’t remember very many.


And they were things you didn’t want to talk about.

L:        And he looked up his old Lieutenant, and we went to visit him, and he had all kinds of records that showed, you know, what they did and where they were.  And he was reminding him about, you know, and he was sort of remembering them.

I:          What’s the Lieutenant’s name, do you remember?



C:        MacDonald.

I:          Okay.
C:        Frank.  His name was Francis.  But we didn’t call him Francis.  We called him Frank.

L:        But he died several years ago.  So, he was

I:          Were you maybe also not attending any of the reunions either?

C:        Well, I didn’t know the Chosin Few existed until what, this is our fourth or fifth, I guess.




L:        Our sixth.

C:        Until 10 years ago or 12 years ago.

I:          Okay. And so, it sounds like you’ve been attending every reunion.

C:        Going ever since we found out it was.

I:          So yeah.  How is it when you always convene again?

C:        Well, I mean, it’s an organization that you belong to.  But actually, the number of people I knew was zero.



And the machine gun squad I had, I never learned anybody’s name.  They just didn’t stick around that long.  Either they got wounded or something happened to them, and I was getting all these replacements, and I just never learned anybody’s name.  And as far as I can tell, nobody, there’s some people from Weapons Company.



But they were in the other part of Weapons Company where I was not knowing them at all anyhow.

I:          Oh.  What was your rank in Korea, maybe the final rank?
C:        I went over as a Corporal and came back as a Sergeant.

I:          Okay.

L:        A Staff Sergeant.
C:        No, that’s when I, afterwards.
L:        Afterwards?  Okay.
C:        Yeah.  I went over as a Corporal, and I would not let them change my MOS number.



They wanted to change it to a machine gunner or an infantry squad or something.  And I said I’m going back to the States.  I’m not going to do that.  I wanna stay in Special Service.  So, they went up to Division Headquarters someplace and found they were entitled to one Sergeant in Special Service, and they brought it down and gave it to me.  I thought that was nice of them.


But they didn’t change my duties or anything.  I still had six people in a machine gun squad to, we operated together.

I:          Regarding questions, I’m out of my just regular questions.  Would there be anything else that you would like to talk about about your Korean War involvement, or anything related?



C:        Well, during the evacuation from the Chosin Reservoir, as we started out, nobody told me that we were surrounded.  They just said we were going down the road.  We always went down the road or up a hill.



L:        Around Thanksgiving when the Chinese attacked.

C:        Yeah.  Thanksgiving when the Chinese attacked, and somebody said we were supposed to have hot turkey.  But I never saw a turkey, and I never saw anything hot.  And when we came down off the hill in Udam-ni, we went up on the east side of the Reservoir into the hills.  And I don’t know how many days we stayed up on top of the hill walking south.



But when we came down and got on the road and

L:        The night that the Chinese attacked, you said you were running out of ammunition.

C:        Well no.  That was another, that, no.  The night the Chinese attacked, we were just on the hill up there.  It was, I think it was at Hagaru-ri that I shot 28 boxes of ammunition in one night with almost without stopping.



And that night, I’d sent two runners back to get more ammunition that didn’t show back up, and I sent two more runners to get more ammunition that didn’t show up.  And that only left three of us, a machine gunner, the assistant gunner and me.  And there was nothing to do but go get ammunition.


So I started to get ammunition, and I bumped into a tank, I guess two, maybe three football fields ahead of us.  And the tank driver or whoever was sitting there with his head poked out, and I asked him what he was doing.  He says I’d come down, but I’m afraid I’ll run over somebody.  I said will you follow me?  He says yeah.  And I brought him down and he probably had 200 cans of ammunition on the back of his tank.



And we helped ourselves.  But he spent the rest of the night there with us. And after he fired four or five times, there was no more Chinese trying to get through us.

I:          Did you also see the Chinese pretty up close?
C:        Well, if you say up close, probably five yards.



We just kept firing and firing and firing.  And they came in, you’d hear their whistles and their sounds and their bugles.  And then you’d see a snake coming at you that were Chinese.  And when the got fairly close, you started shooting, and you kept shooting until they weren’t anymore.

I:          Actual snakes?
C:        Well, they looked like snakes.  The walked in, not in a straight line.



L:        They were in a line.
C:        They’d zig zag in.  And that particular night, we shot, we had 285 Chinese in front of us when the sun came up in the morning that we could count.

L:        Bodies.

I:          Yeah.

C:        We don’t know how many were wounded and left there, how many of their dead they took with them.  But, and that was down, I’m almost sure that was down on Hagaru-ri when they did that.



When we came from Udam-ni down to Hagaru-ri, they promised us time in a warming tent.  Well, they gave us time in a warming tent, and we walked into the front flap of the tent and straight out the back flap.  We didn’t slow down.  If they thought we got warm, we didn’t.



I:          Do you often talk about the Korean War to maybe students, to others?

C:        No.  I’ve been available to talk about it.  But nobody’s really asked me to come and talk.  I have displayed some of my Marine stuff a couple of times at a meeting.  But I don’t talk Korean War.



I’m a member of the Korean War Veterans Association.  And still nobody’s asked me to come and tell about the Korean War there.  The University of Kentucky television station made a very good presentation of the Korean War



Starting at the end of World War II and describing why there’s a north and south Korea.  And that went all the way through with pictures of the Chosin Reservoir.  And it’s one of the best things, movies, I’ve seen.

I:          That’s good.  I should try to find that.  University of Kentucky.

C:        Yeah.

I:          Okay.



C:        Harold Barber was in one made by another University up there, and I’ve got copies of that.  But I believe the one the University of Kentucky is better because it has more history involved in it to tell you why things happened.

I:          Okay.  Maybe this could be my last question just seeing the time.  So, to me, you are someone that went through something so difficult,



And you’re still here, and you’re sharing your stories.  I mean, I hope that in our generation we don’t experience anything like the Korean War, whether it’s in Korea or in the United Staes.

L:        If the North Koreans have anything to do about it, you will have another one because they are preparing.  And one of the places we visited in South Korea was the tunnels that they are building.



And they’re not little tunnels.  They are using German mining equipment.  They are enormous tunnels that they are, they hope to put an Army in and raid South Korea again.  And that’s their aim in life.

C:        We did finish the War there.  We should have finished it.

I:          Right.



C:        I mean, when we were up where we were, they promised us to be home for Christmas.  And of course, the Chinese came in, and we didn’t come home for Christmas.
I:          Hm.  Anything that you, what would be something that you would definitely want the younger generations to learn from this Korean War and any,



And what would you really want us to remember and learn from you?
L:        Be careful and be prepared.

C:        I don’t know.  War is no fun for anybody.

L:        But they want another one, they really do.  They have nothing to live for.  The difference between us and South Korea is like two different planets.



C:        I think that the electronics, the internet is being introduced in North Korea.

L:        They don’t even have full time electricity.

C:        But eventually either the North Korean people will have to rise up and throw their government over or something will happen because they’re not feeding their people.

I:          Thank you so much.