Dick Lien enlisted in the American Marine Corps with a group of friends in 1951, thinking the experience would be fun. He soon found himself shipped overseas to Korea and in the middle of a war. He describes using white phosphorus as a defensive maneuver in caves, though recalls feeling guilty about it afterwards. He details meeting a Turkish soldier who would go headhunting at night and recounts the anger of losing comrades on the battle field. He explains that when coming home from war, the only people who truly understand are the soldiers who served with you. He shares that he is proud of the development that has taken place in South Korea since the war.
Dick Lien recounts moving often while out in the field with his artillery unit. He describes defensive firing that his unit conducted while in the Marine Corps and explains that white phosphorus would be thrown into caves. He describes feeling guilty about it afterwards.
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A Turk on a Mission and Losing Friends
Dick Lien describes meeting a Turkish soldier and shares that the soldier was dedicated to collecting an enemy's head every night. He recounts that the Turkish soldier would come back with the decapitated head and place it on a stake in front of his pup tent. He adds his thoughts on losing comrades while serving and states that the losses increased his anger.
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Forgotten upon Arrival Home
Dick Lien describes what it was like to come home from war. He explains that it was perceived just like coming home from college. He says that the only people who can understand what war is like are the people serving overseas with you.
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Worth His Service
Dick Lien expresses his thoughts on serving in the Korean War. He shares that he is proud of the development that has taken place in South Korea since the war and feels that his service was worth the effort. He points to South Korea itself and what it is today as the legacy of the Korean War.
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[Beginning of Transcribed Material]
D: Dick Lien.
I: Could you spell your last name for us?
I: Great. And when’s your birthday?
D: Eleven, 17, ’28.
I: And where were you born?
D: Canton, South Dakota.
I: You’re right at home.
D: Right at home.
I: Could you talk about your family at the time?
D: My family, [INAUDIBLE] April 8, 1951, same time I went to Korea.
I had seven kids and one had passed away six months ago. My wife and I have just [INAUDIBLE] living on a base in North Carolina [INAUDIBLE] water. I got my award a year ago after struggling for about 10. So, we were rewarded for what we did.
I: Oh wow.
I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m gonna go close the window now. I’m so sorry to hear that. And I’m glad
D: It’s just one thing that happens, you know.
I: Yeah. Could you talk about your siblings at the time.
I: Okay. Could you talk about your family background at the time, any siblings you might have had?
D: I had seven children, two boys and five girls. And all of them live in Denver
except two. They live in Canton. So, they’re around quite a bit.
I: What about your siblings? Do you have any siblings, or are you
D: No, I’m the only boy left in the family.
I: So, were you in high school?
I: Where did you graduate from?
D: Canton High School.
I: And when did you graduate?
D: Nineteen forty-six.
I: So, did you draft or were you enlisted?
D: No, I enlisted.
I: And where did you enlist?
D: Sioux Falls.
I: Why did you decide to enlist?
D: Well, I was [INAUDIBLE] to college, and the War broke out. And so, I decided to do something. So, I went down to the Recruiting Office, and there were about 40 other guys from this area. They were trying to get them all to go in the same day. So, we decided we’d do that. And so, the day came to go in, we went up to the Courthouse, and they told us
that you couldn’t get in the Navy cause they were full. So, the Marine Sergeant came walking down the aisle, and he said I’ll take every one of you guys. So, we ended up in the Marine Corps.
I: Wow. So, that’s very unique. You knew about the Korean War, and you decided you wanted to do something about it?
I: Why did you want to, and what kind of emotions kind of brough you to enlist?
D: I don’t know. Maybe it was all that bunch of guys that wanted to go.
And the enthusiasm was there, and we took off together.
I: So, did you know where Korea was?
D: No, never looked it up on a map.
I: Wow. So, you wanted to go to fight for this nation that you didn’t even know about.
D: That’s what you’d say, yeah.
I: Wow. So, where did you go for basic training?
D: We went, they took us to Omaha, Nebraska.
And we were inducted into the Corps and we loaded a freight train from Omaha to San Diego. [INAUDIBLE] ocean. And it was quite a ride. I’d never been on a train like that before. But we rode the train down there. We spent 12 weeks of training down there as the one platoon from South Dakota. So, it was quite unique in itself.
I: And when was this?
D: That was 1951, January [INAUDIBLE]
I: So, it was cold.
I: Yeah. So, after basic training, did you go straight to Korea?
D: No. I got leave, and I went home for a month. And I got married. Left about a month later for Korea.
I: And where did you arrive in Korea?
D: Inchon. Pusan was supposed to be the landing area.
But we ended up in Inchon where they had that invasion.
I: Were you part of the Inchon Landing?
D: No, that was prior to my coming there.
I: Um hm. And so, when you arrived in Inchon, what unit were you a part of?
D: Eleventh Marines. It was artillery outfit 105.
I: So, what was daily life like?
D: It’s not too much like home. I mean, we had to live outside like. It was different.
We had our mess tent and everything set up where we went. So, we had pretty good food. But like I say, it was different.
I: What was your impression of Korea?
D: Well, to me, it was about like at home because we didn’t have running water. We didn’t have tv yet. We had tv, but not too much. And you were kind of in the same category as we were, but not quite that. You had no nice homes
And stuff like that. I mean, it was different.
I: Did you feel sorry for any of the Koreans you met?
D: I did. I mean, it’s kind of a backward way to live. But since then, after being there and then reading a book you put out or somebody did on, I can’t imagine what Seoul and some of them places, beautiful, you know. Big highways and factories and new homes. It’s just amazing.
I: Yeah. We’re gonna talk about that later in the interview.
So, after you landed in Inchon, did you go anywhere else?
D: We was all over the country. We were a support unit for all infantry and other units like the Army. We stayed with most of the First Marines. But we moved a lot.
I: Do you remember any of the towns you visited?
I: Do you remember any of the names of the towns you visited?
D: A lot of just Inchon and then up on the Reservoir. And then we went down to Seoul. So, we did a lot of puttering around Seoul.
I: So, you went up to the Chosin Reservoir?
D: Yeah. We went through there afterwards, yeah.
D: We’d set up in there because they dissolved some units, you know.
I: So, Inchon, Chosin, Seoul. Where else?
D: Well, most of them were just in that area. But we had a lot more towns. But I never really got the names. Some we just moved through. So, but those are the main ones.
I: And, no problem.
And what was your main duty? What was your everyday routine like?
D: What I was just saying. Everybody would get up in the morning and do the things you had to do. Like when we moved a lot, you’d have to take most of your time. And then you would set up the perimeter defense, you know. That would take a lot of your time. And just get it set up. And then they’d tell you to move
some other place. So, it was kind of moving outfit.
I: Did you ever participate in combat?
D: Yes, ma’am. We were all firing most of the time. They would spot us, and they would zero in, and we’d have to move.
I: What was that like having to always
D: Well, it’s part of life. It got to be.
I: Do you remember any specific battles that you were a part of?
D: Well, a lot of them were back a ways because artillery isn’t on the front line.
But it’s pretty close. And I don’t know. We had a lot of, at night they’d assault us quite heavy. But flares and all got off. And they’d take off out of there. But most of all, we had to pick up machine guns and fire at them. But by that time, we were ready to move again.
I: Do you remember participating in Punch Bowl or Old Baldy?
D: I was at all of them basically that had the First Marines there. We supported the Second was there. And whenever they had a problem, of course we had to move in and help them. We did a lot of defensive firing like we put a lot of white phosphorous into the caves, stuff [INAUDIBLE] to hurt somebody like you know. That’s bad stuff. But that’s the way life is, too.
I: Did you ever feel guilty that you had to do that?
D: No. I felt guilty. But I mean, that was, you get to the point where you get made and you just let go. And so, it works on your brain a lot. But it’s interesting. I learned a lot while I was there.
I: What did you learn?
I: You said you learned a lot while you were there.
D: Well, I met a lot of people, like different units. Like I was with a Turk regiment
There right alongside [INAUDIBLE] They had a young recruit that, we had to take to [INAUDIBLE] just go over to Viet Nam. Our outfit was to go out and get us ahead, opposite the firing. So, at night he would go out and go ahead and came back and he put a stick in front of his pup tent. [INAUDIBLE] That’s the way they did things.
I: Do you remember any other friends or close comrades that were with you?
D: Well, there was a few that got killed or snipers, you know, he was sitting having dinner or something along that way. But it was quite emotional that way. But you get over it after a while I guess. Try somehow.
I: How did it feel to watch your friends die right in front of you?
D: It makes you madder.
I: Did you want to do anything because of that death that you saw?
I: Did it make you want to do something?
D: Well, you want to get then all I guess. Then you should have no mercy [INAUDIBLE STATEMENT] If somebody shoots you, you know you better do something about it, too. It makes you quite angry.
I: Did you tell anybody at home about what you were going through through letters?
D: No, not [INAUDIBLE] I didn’t talk about it.
I: Did you ever send anything back home to your family?
D: I don’t know where they’re all at anymore. But a lot of pictures.
I: So, what do you think was the most difficult or the most dangerous experience that you had when you were in Korea?
D: They were all dangerous. They had us zeroed in and they’d [INAUDIBLE] and we’d have to move or. Actually, it was basically a supportive unit. So, whenever we were under fire, I don’t know if Infantry was.
I: Did you meet any other foreign troops or interact with any foreign troops?
D: Only that one Turk regiment.
I got to be good friends with them. They were nice people. Very vicious people.
I: So, when did you leave Korea?
D: It was in ’52, the middle of ’52.
I: And where did you leave from?
D: [INAUDIBLE] I was supposed to go in there to start with. Not Pusan.
I: You left from Inchon.
D: Yeah. We went aboard ship. It took us 19 days to get there from Frisco and same coming home. We didn’t fly like they do today.
I: How did it feel to leave?
I: How did it feel to leave?
D: Pretty nice. I mean, it was kind of a joyful thing you leaving. But I left a lot of memories there.
So, what did you do when you got back to the States?
D: Well, I went back to where I started in San Diego and then they shipped me down to Camp LeJune, North Carolina. It was a swamp LeJune when they trained you for swamp warfare. And I was there until I got my discharge.
I: And when was your discharge?
D: Nineteen fifty-four, January.
I: So, have you been back to Korea since then?
D: No. My friend has. I think he’s up here being interviewed, Ray Mitchell.
I: Oh yes. He came in this morning.
D: I knew him when he was about, wherever I went I’d see him or surrounded somewhere. So yeah. He was in a different outfit of course. He was Army. But, we supported everybody. So, it didn’t make any difference.
I: So, have you seen pictures of the new Korea?
D: Yeah. He brought them back.
He’s been over there.
D: I don’t know if he told you that.
I: I think he might have, yeah.
D: He brought them over and showed me.
I: Yeah. So, are you aware that Korea is now the 11th largest economy in the world?
D: Yes, I do.
I: And you heard of how stable the democracy they are. How does that make you feel that Korea that was nothing back when you were there has become this amazing new country?
D: Well, I really think you deserve it, and you got it. And we want to help you.
I: Thank you. Well, do you think that your service was worth it?
D: Oh, yes. At the time it wasn’t. But, after I’ve seen the pictures, I do believe really. I feel that we were worth doing what we did. We stopped Communism and gave you a chance.
I: Yeah. That’s so right.
At the time, it’s hard to see what the point is. But now afterwards, it really is.
D: From when I was there until you started developing like this, it’s unimaginable. I mean, I can’t believe that you came thar far because there was nothing there. You had your huts. There was oxen pulling the trailers. And you had [INAUDIBLE] The things you did, I couldn’t believe it.
And the way you eat the rice and how you put it in and different things, I was amazed. Everything sure worked out great.
I: Would you do it again?
I: Are you proud of your service?
D: Yes, I am.
I: What do you think that the ultimate legacy of your service and the Korean War is?
D: What do you mean by
I: Well, what do you think came out of your service?
D: What you are today. If you had been overrun and taken over, you’d never be what you are today. And I don’t know what Russia is like today. But they’re a very bad country. And I feel some day they’re gonna try their best to destroy you. But I don’t think they can. But you never know.
But you can’t estimate an enemy.
I: Would you be in favor of reunifying the two Koreas?
D: If it’s possible. I don’t know if it would be possible with the leadership they have. It could be changed or they put a different man in there, I believe they might. His goal is to take the world, I think.
And I don’t think that’s the way to live.
I: So, how does it make you feel that after over 60 years, the Korean War is forgotten?
D: Well, it was forgotten when we got home because nobody knew. It was just that way. Come home, and it’s just like coming back from college or going somewhere. So, it was, except the fellow you were there with, and they lived around here. So
I: Did you want to forget about the Korean War?
D: Yes, I would like to forget what happened, but you don’t forget.
[END RECORDED MATERIAL]