Korean War Legacy Project

David Heine


After exploring all of the branches, David Heine joined the Marine Corps in 1952 without really understanding anything about the Korean War. He describes the experiences of a young man who is scared, but follows orders, even when defending territory close to the DMZ.  He remembers how anxious he was when they arrived in Incheon Harbor. While serving as a forward observer with other mortar companies, he was under constant threat of attack or infiltration by the enemy. However, he is proud of his work as one of the “Four Deuces.”

Video Clips

First Impressions of Incheon Harbor

David Heine describes the early morning sight of Incheon Harbor and the feelings he experienced that stayed with him during his time in Korea. As a young man, he remembers being very scared because he didn't know what to expect. He describes how they disembarked the ships and were then sent off to their units.

Tags: Incheon,Seoul,Fear,Impressions of Korea

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Dangers at the DMZ

David Heine faced many dangers while stationed near the DMZ, including one night when he worked to restore communication lines that had been cut every 20-30 feet. He describes the anxiety he faced not knowing what he might encounter.

Tags: Panmunjeom,Fear,Front lines

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Four Deuces

David Heine explains the makeup of the troops that were assigned to his area near Panmunjom, near the newly- created DMZ. He said that he was the only one from his company, representing what he called the “Four Deuces” (4.2) Mortars. He explains how they would risk their lives in pairs to sneak across about two miles to get a good meal.

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Video Transcript


[Beginning of Recorded Material]

D:        My name is David Heine, I’m a Korean veteran, I live in Las Vegas, and I’ve been here for four years, and I came in from California. I lived there for 50 years, and prior to that I joined the Marine Core in 1952, and got out in 1953. My birth date is 4/14/34, that’s April 14th, 1934.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        and I was born in Columbus, Ohio.


I:          Yep.




D:        I grew up there, and I quit school in the tenth grade. I decided to join the Marine Core because that was one of the things, to be honest with you, I went to the Navy and they said that their billet was completely filled; I went to the Air Force and they said that they were not recruiting; I went to the Army, and they weren’t looking for [anyone] — I didn’t wanna go in the Army.




D:        So I stuck my head in the Marine Core door and the recruiting sergeant says, “What are you lookin’ for?” And I said, “I just want to submit a [unintelligible] –.” He says, “Boy, you’ll never make it!” And he just pulled me in, and I joined.


I:          Did you know about the breakout of the Korean War?


D:        Only as an 18-year-old boy would know at that time. You hear about the Korean War, you see things, but you don’t really understand at that time what was going on, and I was in that category.




I:          Oh.


D:        So I was dumb and young and full of chewing gum.


I:          So where did you go to receive the basic military training?


D:        Well, I joined and I swore in in Cincinnati, Ohio, and they flew me to San Diego, California, a Marine Core recruit depot, and that’s where I went through basic training.


I:          Mm-hmm.




I:          And what was your specialty?


D:        Communications.


I:          Okay.


D:        When I got out of boot camp, it was at Communications of 2311.


I:          So what does that mean, Communications, here? The radio, or wiring?


D:        Well, I learned that basics of communications — of wiring, of telecommunications, just the basics of how to operate a PRC-10 radio. That was basically it, the Communications part.




I:          Now where did you go to go to Korea?


D:        Where did I go in Korea, to Korea?


I:          No, no, no. Where did you go in the States to leave for Korea?


D:        San Diego, aboard the MSS — well, the ship, it was a maritime ship, I’m trying to think of the name of it right now, I can’t think of the name of it. But we went directly to Korea —


I:          Oh.


D:        At Incheon. To Incheon.




I:          So you didn’t stop by Japan?


D:        Yes. Yes, we stopped by Kobe for three hours to re-fuel, I believe,


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        and then we — it was Kobe, and then we went to Sasebo,


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        and that was another three hours.


I:          Mm-hmm.




D:        I think they picked up troops, I’m not sure. And then we went straight to Incheon. Because I spent my 20th birthday aboard ship, my 19th, no, it was my 20th birthday aboard ship, but then when I came home 13 months later, I spent my 21st birthday aboard ship, so there was a 13 month — at the beginning of the April, you know, my birthday’s on the 14th, and then I came back, in the middle of the ocean, on the 14th of April.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        Now you wanted to know what my feelings were when I came into Incheon’s harbor? I think it was about 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning,


I:          Mm-hmm.




D:        and there was a mist on the ocean, and like in many of the Oriental islands that are just sittin’ there, it looked very, very eerie, and I was scared, very, very scared because I didn’t know what to expect. It was the anxiety of the unknown, ok? And then, when we got to a certain point off of the coast, they anchored, and we went down the side of the ship.




D:        We — MST [unintelligible] that comes later, it’ll come to me — on the ropes, what do they call the — the rope ladders. . . .Cargo net. And the cargo net, we went down with everything we owned to fight battle, and our sea bags came up about three days later, ok, to catch up with us.




I:          But there was no resistance from enemies there, right?


D:        At that time, we could hear a lot of action going on, ok?


I:          Just here, but not —


D:        Not there, not at Seoul. This was in Seoul — we got off at Incheon harbor, so we went directly to Seoul.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        And then from Seoul, we went into, um, a little town called [Monsanee].


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        And that was. . . Monsanee Railhead. And from there, we shipped up to our units at the front, and I was assigned to the 4.2 Mortar Company.




I:          Four?


D:        4.2.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        Now let me describe what a 4.2 — we called them Four Deuces — Four Deuces?


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        It’s a mortar that is about, I don’t know, 42, 45 feet —


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        off the ground, and it has a [projectory] — you know, a shell — that’s 4.2, ok?


I:          I see.




D:        And it is a big shell that’s one meter. . . well, there’s a 405 howitzer that’s way back of the troops, but the 4.2 Mortar Company is 106 millimeters, so by just one millimeter, that’s how big the shell is.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        I think the maximum range is about 1,2-1,500 miles.




I:          So what part of [the] front line? Do you remember the camp name, or. . . ?


D:        Well, we were in Headquarters Group —


I:          Okay.


  1. the Headquarters Company, and there were mortars assigned to each of the battalions down to the companies. Our company was to be in support of the battalion — First Battalion, First Marines — and I was assigned to Fox Company —


I:          Mm-hmm.




D:        as a Forward Observer.


I:          Oh.


D:        Are you familiar with a —


I:          Yep.


D:        [Forberserver] was?


I:          Yeah.


D:        I was by myself as far as representing the Four Deuces, but in a little. . . um. . . ok — where I was assigned, it was. . . two people, from the four-oh. . .of, uh, the four. . . [four]. . .let’s see, the 105 howitzers, there were two people from the 80 mortars, and there were two people from the 60 millimeter mortars.




D:        And then there was only myself in the 4.2 Mortar Company, and we shared, you know, going out on watches and on patrols and things like that.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        [unintelligible] if there’s any action, and I was stationed at the DMZ, about two miles east of [Pamoonjon].


I:          Oh.


D:        And I’d say about a half a dozen times we took our chances going through the rice paddies to go over to Pamoonjon to get a good meal.




D:        And all the North Koreans were there, the South Koreans, the representatives from the First Marine Division were there — they were in negotiations that never resulted in any positive action.




D:        It was quite eerie in a way of going in and having dinner — it was usually lunch, because it was a time, it took us about. . . now this is two miles to go through the rice paddies, about two and a half hours.


I:          Why was that? Why did it take so long?


D:        Because they had land mines there that were not registered, and we were not supposed to go over there anyway, but we did. Just one of those things that you take your chances [on], and we would go in pairs of two or three, ok?




D:        Then at night, we saw a lot of action going over on the north side of the DMZ. Actually, the DMZ had just been created by I think it was a colonel that made negotiations to designate the 38th Parallel at that time in 1952, the latter part of 1952.




D:        So the way it was, you had the North Koreans over here, and then you had barbed-wire fence — you had a road that was right here, and then about 100 yards. . . they had the barbed-wire fence that we couldn’t go over, and they had 100 yards over there that we couldn’t go over. They had this road that would go between, and the North Koreans must’ve had about 20 or 30 times a day and at night that they would go through the DMZ.




D:        It was like they were testing us to go ahead and fire on them. And then today, when I said 100 yards from the DMZ, today it’s about three miles wide.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        And they’ve got buildings there and everything, but there were several times when we had firefights. The North Koreans would come across the DMZ at night and spook us.




D:        I can remember one incident where I had to call in by what we call landlines — landlines were the actual wiring — and then we would have to crank the telephones and this type of thing.


I:          Yep.


D:        The communications of it. We went, let’s see. . . what [am I] trying to say? Oh, I went out one night after I tried to contact Division about what was going on, and my phone didn’t work, so I had to check the lines.




D:        I went out, and about every 30 feet they were cut.


I:          Oh.


D:        I’d fix that and go to another 20 or 30 feet and fix that. I think that night I fixed about 10 connections, and I was just scared as hell because I didn’t know when I was going to be able to get through [or] if there was anybody there that was going to stop me. You know what I mean?




D:        That’s the fear, the anxiety of everything. The night watches, the days — we didn’t know what was going to be happening, and all these anxieties were very high with me. [I was] scared, in other words.


I:          So you said you were scared when you landed in Incheon, and that continued —


D:        That continued from the day I left, because we just didn’t know what was gonna happen.


I:          So three miles from the DMZ to North and South, right?




I:          And —


D:        That’s today.


I:          Right.


D:        Back then, it was all a —


I:          A hundred yards?


D:        It was 100 yards on our side, and 100 yards on their side.


I:          Yeah, so 100 yards is about three miles, right?


D:        No.


I:          No?


D:        No. 100 yards is uh. . . oh, let’s see. . . .


I:          What is the mileage?


D:        Well, let’s say meters. . . uh. . . in a mile. . . oh golly. . . uh. . . .




Director’s Comments:             100 yards is. . . kind of 100 meters.


I:          100 meters.


D:        A little less than 100 meters.


Director’s Comments:             Yeah.




D:        About, I’d say 60 meters. But from that — is that right? About 60? It’s five-eighths of a mile?


Director’s Comments:             [unintelligible]


D:        Yeah. Now where we were, we were about nine miles from the Imjin River.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        They had the Freedom Gate Bridge Crossing, and then they had the Imjin River Crossing.





D:        That’s two major bridges that we could fall back on, but we only had. . . if they had a major invasion, then we had about 15 minutes to get back nine miles. . . and that’s the best way we could do it. In other words, we were expendable.


I:          So it was so close, right?


D:        Yep.


I:          You were able to see every. . . activities of enemies.




D:        Absolutely, we had binoculars, but these binoculars were what we call BC Scopes. They started here [at eye level], and they came up here [above your head], and they went this way [outward] for about ten inches.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        So you could see for 20, 25 miles. So the answer to your question was when we were on duty, we had a bunker that we could go into, and we could look and see what the enemy was doing.




D:        One day, we see this beautiful, you know. . . village over here, and the next day the village would be gone. They were playing mind trips on us. They were doing everything. At night, they used to blow the horns and beat the drums, and they’d have music that would come up in the middle of the night. Something to, you know, play on our minds. And they did a good job, I have to say that.




D:        Those kinds of things are what bothered me, so how do you explain that? I can’t.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        And I can’t explain the cold weather that we went through. No cold weather here in the United States [has] any comparisons that I know of. It was just cold, and we didn’t have the cold weather clothing to go along with it.




D:        So I mean, these types of things, you’re cold, you don’t know how to get warm. There’s just no way of describing it.


I:          Were there any dangerous moments that you might have lost your life?


D:        Yes, there’s a couple of them — more than that. I think about six times. . . we had firefights with the North Koreans. A firefight is when they would come over and start shooting and we would shoot back.




D:        I was afraid that I was gonna get killed, and I don’t know if I killed anybody. That’s just one of the things, the unknown. . . you know, you fire at what you see at night at a fire or flash over there, so you shoot at that hoping you hit it, who was ever [dead]. That happened about six times, and then there was another time, and this was about maybe 6 o’clock, 7 o’clock in the morning, we were in our bunker, where we slept.


I:          Mm-hmm.




D:        There was a knock on the door, and there was a voice saying, “Captain Black! Captain Black!” So one of the guys said, “Come in!” Well, they opened up the door, and here were two North Koreans with their hands up high, and six of us, just, there was 45s and M1s looking at them with our rifles in our hands. . . weapons ready to shoot them. That’s how it hit, and we were half-asleep, but we knew what to do.




D:        We all slept with our rifle, everybody slept with their rifle.


I:          But what do you mean by Captain Black? How did [the] North Koreans [know]. . . .


D:        We found out later, when we called back to Division, that there was two that were captured by us — we didn’t capture them, they just come over. They sent Jeeps over there, and they interrogated all of us. We found out that Captain Black was a codeword for North Koreans to come across to give information, but we didn’t know that at the time.




I:          How did [the] North Koreans know about it?


D:        I don’t know. I don’t know how the North Koreans knew about it. That was at the Division level; it wasn’t at my level. In other words, they apparently had somebody over at the North Korean side that they could communicate with, and how, I don’t know.


I:          So you’re saying that these two North Korean soldiers [who] said, “Captain Black! Captain Black!” [were] by themselves, right?


D:        That’s right.




I:          So they knew that this code — when they say this, that the Americans will recognize it, they won’t be —


D:        That we learned later, but we were not told [that] until it happened, so in other words that was Communications. . . from the troops, from the. . . up level.


I:          So you were scared to death. . . you were just about to fire them, right?


D:        Absolutely, that was a very traumatic time.


I:          And nothing [was] done until they [were] near your bunker?




D:        I don’t know, I can’t answer that question — how they recognized where we were. I just don’t know. You’re asking a very good question, because the upper echelon didn’t tell us anything until later. We had personnel on duty watching, but apparently it slipped by there because of the knock on the door. That’s scary as hell — they could’ve thrown in a grenade, or they could’ve shot us, or whatever.


I:          Well you’re lucky, actually.




D:        Well, you asked me [what] a traumatic time was, you know.


I:          I mean, you’re lucky, if they threw the hand grenade.


D:        Absolutely I was lucky, that’s why I’m here.


I:          When did you leave Korea?


D:        It was 1953, it was April 1953.


I:          How was life there?


D:        My paycheck I think was about 52 dollars a month, now that’s what strikes me.


I:          What did you do with that money?




D:        I never got — well, we had what they call MPC,


I:          Military —


D:        Military script.


I:          Yeah.


D:        Yeah, but you didn’t get that unless you wanted it. In other words, you say, “Can I have 20. . . ”


I:          Right.


D:        The only time that I used that money was when I went over to the Pamoonjon headquarters, and I think I had to spend 35 cents for a meal.




D:        I thought that was really cheap on their part — they should’ve given it to us, but they didn’t, you know how that —


I:          Who sold the food to you?


D:        Yeah, that’s what they did.


I:          Who, military?


D:        Yeah, the military!


I:          T-bone steak?


D:        Steak, turkey —


I:          Are you sure?


D:        I’m absolutely sure — I ate it and I went back for seconds. Good, hot mashed potatoes with a lot of butter on [them], fresh milk — not powdered milk, fresh milk — and a nice salad that you don’t get.




D:        Now that’s what I got at the Pamoonjon headquarters. You wanted to know what my meals were?


I: Mm-hmm.


D:        My meals consisted of a can of sausage,


I:          Right.


D:        or, uh. . . .


I:          [Sea] ration.


D:        Yep, that’s it. I tell you what, for one solid. . . well, I guess it was about forty days, that’s all I had: just sea rations and that was it. This is a period of time when monsoon season comes through.


I:          Yeah.




D:        The roads that you go through, the mud was like this [really thick] — you step in them and you stepped out of your boots, so that’s how it was.


I:          Where did you arrive in the States when you returned back home?


D:        San Diego.


I:          San Diego again.


D:        That’s right.


I:          Were there any welcoming bands?


D:        Oh, there was a beautifully welcoming band, and there was the people that had their relatives that had their — people’s sons or daughters, I mean sons, there wasn’t any women in that time.




D:        That was the only welcoming committee, the band. And then they put us on buses, and the buses looked like cattle cars.


I:          [Laughs]


D:        They did! And from there, we went to our bases on Camp [Penneland]. We were first at Las [Pogas], and then we went over to another base called San Mateo, they had just built it.


I: Mm-hmm.


D:        That’s where I spent the rest of my time at that point in time.




I:          So looking back those sixty years, what is the Korean War to you?


D:        I’m very disappointed that there has not been a. . . settlement between the North and the South Korean people. They call, well anyway, it’s a war that’s forgotten, as far as I’m concerned.




D:        A lot of people, even my own son doesn’t know about the Korean War. My daughter doesn’t know anything about the Korean War. They haven’t asked me about the Korean War. I have tried to talk many times about the war, and the conversation shifts to another subject. Afterwards — this is the afterthoughts — why were we there? That was the first UN involvement at that time.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        Nobody ever heard of the UN.




D:        Who in the hell ever heard of Korea?


I:          Right.


D:        Yeah! So in other words, we were the first to — but that never hit me until after, I’m talking about 20, 30 years afterwards. Why were we there? And Harry Truman was the one who wanted to get into the Cold War; well that’s how he did it. You’re talking about an 18-, 19-year-old brat,


I:          Yeah.




D:        That didn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground,


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        Join[ing] the Marine Core, and they took over my life for four years!


I:          Yeah. So do you regret [it]?


D:        No, I do not regret joining the Marine Core.


I:          How about being in Korea? Fighting there?


D:        I did what I was told to do. That’s the only way I can express it.


I:          Have you been back to Korea?


D:        No. I’d like to go.


I:          So you still don’t regret [it]?




D:        No. You mean the Marine Core? Korea?


I:          No, being in the Korean War.


D:        No, because I grew up. I grew up. After I got out of the Marine Core, I worked three jobs for a long time, and I went to college, trying to buy a house, had three kids. My sleep pattern was about four hours a night for five years. Then I got into another job, and [unintelligible] go I was the manager at a plastic company, as far as. . . well, manager.




D:        Then I had my own business in a sense — I was a regional director out of California with an invention company.


I:          What is the legacy of [the] Korean War and Korean War veterans?


D:        I know this, that the South Koreans have a better economy than the North Koreans. In other words, I mean that they are a living. . . even better than sometimes we are here in the United States.




D:        I really appreciate the South Koreans. In other words, I give them this [applause], because they have done something with their lives. They [re-]built from ashes. . . . I saw those ashes.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        When I was there, there wasn’t a tree standing, and only bushes about three or four feet high, if that high. It was all blown away. Little villages, no villages.




D:        Monsanee Railhead, that was just a lot of. . . it was. . . I can’t describe it, it was. . . two or three buildings for. . . that was where we were, away from the DMZ. Most of my time in Korea was spent at the DMZ.


[Audio Gap]


D:        I give them [South Koreans] all kind of honors, I love them. They have been so courteous to me when they’ve been here. I wear this hat, and they come up to say, “[Were] you [in the] Korean War?”

“Yes, I’m [a] Korean War [veteran].”




D:        “We want to thank you.” They come up to me and recognize it. They can’t speak good English, but they recognize it.


I:          Mm-hmm.


D:        That in a way just gives me chills. [You] get goosebumps. That’s appreciation. They recognize it.


I:          Any other comments that you want to add to this interview?


D:        No, not really, I’m just really happy that you have come around to give an interview to Korean veterans.




D:        I’ve tried very hard to line up a bunch of them. And I’d say thank you very much.