Don McCarty was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 2. 1935. He attended high school in Kentucky, and enlisted in the Marine Corp in 1952 when he was 17 years of age. He was a member of the Paris Island First Guard Company out of Brooklyn, New York. His military speciality was a Machine Gunner (Heavy Machine Gun). He is in awe of the evolution of South Korea after the war, its people, and their everlasting gratitude to American soldiers for their service in the Korean War.
The Nevada Campaign: Bloody Nevada
Don McCarty fought North Korean and Chinese soldiers during the Nevada Campaign. He experienced battle fatigue and fear while fighting at the front lines. Don McCarty still thinks about the death of his assistant gunner and ammo carrier.
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Go to Jail or Go to the Marines
Don McCarty joined the US Marine Corps when he was 17 years old because if he didn't, he would have ended up in jail. With is mom's permission, he was sent away to Parris Island, SC for boot camp. After growing up in Chicago, Illinois and Kentucky, he said that he received the positive push in life that he needed once entering boot camp.
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Big Muscles were Needed for Machine Gunners
Don McCarty's specialty during the Korean War was a heavy machine gun operator. The tripod was 54 pounds and the gun with water was 40 pounds. He left for Korea in March 1953 and landed in Inchoeon. Once he arrived in Seoul, it was devastated and there were children begging for candy and cigarettes.
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Fear on the Front Lines That Led to PTSD
Don McCarty was afraid every minute that he was in Korea. Even after the Korean War ended, North Koreans continued to surrender to the Marines by crossing the 38th parallel. Don McCarty feels that he has a better understanding of life once he fought in the Korean War because there were so many Marines that lost their lives. Every night at 2 am, he wakes up with nightmares from his time at war. PTSD is a disease that Don McCarty is still living with 60 years after the Korean War ended.
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[Beginning of Transcribed Material]
D: My name is Don McCarty. I was born in Chicago, Illinois.
I: Um hm.
D: On April the 2nd, 1935.
I: And please tell me about the school you went through.
D: I went to Falconer Elementary School in Chicago. And once we moved then to Kentucky, I went to Eastern Senior High School.
I: Uh huh.
Senior High School.
D: Eastern Senior High School.
I: Yeah. And when did you graduate high school?
D: I graduated high school in, oh boy, so many years ago.
I: Nineteen fifty
D: I graduated from high school in 1950.
I: Nineteen fifty.
D: Yeah. Cause I went in the Marine Corps in 1952.
I: You enlisted?
D: I enlisted in the Marine Corps, yeah.
I: Um hm. What was your goal?
D: I got into a lot of trouble when I was a kid. And the only alternative for me was either go to jail or go in the military. So, I selected the Marine Corps. My mother was against it, but she signed for me. I was 17 years old when I went in.
I: So, how did the Marines treat you?
D: Boot camp, I went through Paris Island. I was used to giving orders and pushing my weight around until I got to Paris Island, and they started pushing their weight around.
I: Ah. So, you are the boss. But now they are the boss.
D: They’re the boss.
I: You didn’t like it.
D: For 12 weeks, I thought my name was Shitbird. After I got out of boot camp, I went to the First Guard Company in Brooklyn, NY.
I: Um hm.
D: Brooklyn Navy Yard.
I: Um hm. What did you do? I mean, what is your specialty?
D: My specialty when I was in the Marine Corps was 0331, Machine Gunner, Heavy Machine Guns.
I: Heavy machine guns.
D: Yeah. I operated a 30-caliber water-cooled machine gun.
I: Um. How heavy is it?
D: Well, let me put it this way. The tripod is carried by the machine gunner. The assistant gunner carries the gun.
So, when I throw the tripod down, he drops down and drops the gun into the tripod.
I: Um hm.
D: The tripod is 54.5 lbs. I’ll never forget it.
D: Fifty-four.five pounds.
I: That’s the tripod.
D: That’s the tripod.
I: How about the gun?
D: The gun with water is probably close to 40 pounds. And, of course, because of the weather we had in Korea,
we had to use anti-freeze in the gun. Otherwise, the water would freeze up.
I: Um. So, you were a strong man at the time.
D: Seventeen years old. I was hell.
I: So, when did you leave for Korea?
D: We left for Korea the first part of March of 1953 and got there about two or three weeks later, and we landed again just like David,
we landed in Inchon.
I: Um hm.
D: And from Inchon, they trucked us up to Munsuni. We went through Seoul. And of course, Seoul at that time was devastated. There was not a hell of a lot left. A lot of kids in the street begging for candy and cigarettes.
D: But there was not an awful lot left of the city. My daughter and my son-in-law several years ago when they had the
World Fair in Seoul, she brought back pictures. I couldn’t believe it. The city was just incredible. It was just a major, major city.
I: So, you’ve never been back to Korea?
D: No, I haven’t.
I: But you know what happened to Korea, right?
D: Absolutely. I spent four months, actually from March of 1953 until the War ended
in July of ’53, and they extended me another six months for the grace of the Marine Corps. So actually, I ended up spending 15 months in the country.
I: Um. So, please tell me about the typical day of your service in the Korean War. How was it? How close were you to North Koreans and the enemies.
D: We were in North Korea.
Tell me about those.
D: We were approximately three to five miles; it would be northeast of Panmunjom. It was an area called Nevada Cities Complex.
D: There were actually three small hills. It was Carson, Reno and Vegas. I was on Carson with my crew. In late March, I think it was towards the 23rd or 25th of March,
Reno and Vegas were overrun by a Chinese regiment. And about three weeks later, I think it was either Vegas or Reno was able to take it back. Carson, we held our positions.
I: So, did you ever fire?
I: Your heavy machine gun?
D: Yes, quite a bit.
I: Tell me about it.
D: Well, we were in a bunker, and we had trench lines, you know.
The North Koreans and Chinese were lobbing mortar shells in, and the troops were digging the trench lines deeper than three or four feet. They were trying to get them down to seven feet. But in the wintertime, you couldn’t dig because the ground was frozen. You take your trenching tool and end up wrecking the trenching tool the ground was so hard. But with my bunker, what we would do at night, we’d put up chicken wire in front of the bunker so any hand grenades that would be lobbed at us
the chicken wire would hold up. But as we were firing, it would just blow the chicken wire away.
I: How close was the enemy to you?
D: We’ve had them as close as 50 to 60 yards.
I: That’s it.
I: Do you still see that scene in your memory?
D: The reason why I see that scene is because my
assistant gunner and also one of my ammo carriers were killed by a fragmentation grenade. I was lucky. I wasn’t scratched. But both these guys, they didn’t make it. And 60 years later, I still think about that. Fortunately, I don’t have PTSD like David has. I was one of the few guys that got out without PTSD. At that time,
During the Korean War, we didn’t call it PTSD. It was Battle Fatigue. And of course, the weapons that we had in Korea, and Dave will probably tell you about this, the weapons we had in Korea were actually World War II weapons that we used for the Korean War. The machine gun that I was operating, they were using that on a small basis in Viet Nam. But most of those weapons were extinct, you know.
I: Were you afraid at the time?
D: I was afraid from the time I got there until the time I left. Even after the War was over, we did patrols across the DMZ. We had people infiltrating across the DMZ. Most of the people coming across the DMZ, they wanted to surrender, you know.
I: Surrender to whom?
D: To us, the Marines.
I: You mean the North Koreans?
D: North Koreans, yeah.
I: What do you think about the Korean War you served? You didn’t know anything about Korea before you left for it, right?
D: I didn’t know where Korea was, never heard of it before in my life. Until I got to boot camp, until we got to Paris Island. And our drill instructors told us at that point in time while we were going through boot camp that some of you guys are gonna make it, and some of you guys are not.
And we still have people buried over there. They were never found.
I: What do you think about this Korean War? Why were you there? Why do you think that you were there? Who made you be there? And why did you fight, for what? And how did it affect your life?
D: I was there because I was sent there. I was under orders to go to Korea, and I went to Korea.
D: How did it affect my life? A better understanding and feeling for a life today that I did before.
I: I don’t understand. What do you mean how you come to understand better?
D: Well, just with the Nevada City Complex. We lost 1,000 Marines on those three hills.
I: Uh huh.
D: And I didn’t realize how many were lost.
But it’s something that I don’t think about anymore. For the first four or five years after I got out of the Marine Corps., I thought about it a lot. And it affected me a lot.
D: I didn’t sleep well at night. I was up at 2:00 in the morning. In fact, I’m still up at 2 and 3:00 in the morning.
That’s 60 years later.
I: So, when you wake up, what do you do? What’s in your mind, and how do you deal with it?
D: Well, when I wake up now, the first thing I do is get a cup of coffee. Then I generally go on the computer, and I play around with the computer till my wife gets up.
But I don’t have the feelings now that I had 50, 55 years ago.
I: Do you want to go back to Korea?
D: I’d like to go back to Korea to see what it’s like today. I’ll say one thing about the South Korean people. They are wonderful, friendly people. My wife and I were in Maui a couple years ago. And we walked into this one
I: You mean Hawaii.
D: In Hawaii.
I: Um hm.
D: We walked into this one little shop in Maui, and we were buying some t-shirts for our grandkids. And this woman came up to me cause she saw my tattoos, and I had a Marine hat on. And she said I wanna thank you for what you did for my people. It affected me so much, in fact even today,
I start tearing up. They’re wonderful people. I think in conjunction with the Korean people, I think the United States and the allies were helpful in building that country up to what it is today. I have a great respect for the Korean people.
I: Do you have grandchildren the age of high school or college?
D: My grandson
is a teacher. He has a master’s degree from Purdue University.
D: Purdue University.
I: What does he teach?
D: He teaches computer sciences.
D: And he teaches in a college in Kansas. The only other thing I can remember is when the War ended, 23rd and 25thof July at midnight, the War ended.
And it was so quiet. I couldn’t believe how quiet it was. There were no mortar shells going off. No hand grenades thrown, no small arm fire, no machine gun fire. There was just deadly silence. That’s one of the things I’ll always remember, how quiet it was.
I: What was the most difficult thing for you?
The most difficult thing for me was losing my assistant gunner and my ammo carrier. That was the most difficult thing for me. I helped your economy. I had a Hyundai until I bought my truck last month.
I: There will be a lot of ways that we can work with your descendants. For example, we can introduce them to an internship into the Korean companies. Or we can bring them to Korea. There is a Peace Tent program
run by the Korean government, and they cover almost everything there, and they have 10 days of tours and learning from things that you have sacrificed and the good thing that came out of your service, okay? So, please ask your grandchildren, all of you together here, to contact me of Sunni Lea, okay?
D: I can tell you on a personal basis, I have a great respect for the Korean people.
A great respect. They’re very appreciative of what the military did in your country. Even today, 60 years later, we have people come up and thank us for our service.
I: Um hm.
D: It’s gratifying. It really is.
I: I’m trying to find out why the only Koreans who are saying thank you back to the American soldiers while not the Europeans during World War II.
D: Well, you know, I have to give you a comparison between Viet Nam and Korea.
I: Uh huh.
D: When we left Korea which really upsets me, when we left Korea, we were trucked down to Inchon. And while we were waiting to board ship, there was a Red Cross trailer there with coffee and donuts. They actually sold us donuts and coffee from the truck, didn’t give us coffee or donuts. They sold it to us.
From that moment on, I didn’t give the Red Cross another dime, and I never will.
I: Again, thank you so much, Don, for your precious time here sharing your story with me.
D: Thank you for what you’re doing for the service. We appreciate it.
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