Duane Trowbridge describes landing at Inchon in September 1950 as a Marine. He describes his experiences in Korea, which took him to Seoul and the Chosin Reservoir. He recalls how his time there was cut short due to two injuries. He discusses leaving high school as a junior to join the war and returning to school to finish his high school diploma and his college degree in architectural engineering. He is proud of his time serving in Korea and describes the opportunity he had to return years later.
Landing at Inchon and Fighting to Seoul
Duane Trowbridge describes nearly non-stop activity after arriving at Inchon. He explains, in detail, coming under mortar attack on the way to Seoul and receiving shrapnel in his knee. He explains how his injury sidelined him for a little while but shares he was soon back in the line of fire. He explains the struggle of a fellow soldier who got trapped in a foxhole and how a friend, Bill, lost his eyesight due to a mortar attack. He shares how he received his Purple Heart.
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Korea Then and Now
Duane Trowbridge discusses the changes he noted upon his return to Korea in 2010. He shares differences between how Korea was and how it has changed. He expresses his amazement in the quick growth not only of the people but of the infrastructure, including roads and buildings.
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General MacArthur Gives Korea to Syngman Rhee
Duane Trowbridge discusses the handoff of the key to the city. He discusses the devastation he saw as he went back to Icheon. He explains his trek back to Wonsan and then to a town between Wonson and Seoul where his regiment captured North Koreans. He discusses how he captured one thousand six hundred North Korean (NPKA) soldiers in October and November of 1950.
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Duane Trowbridge discusses how when he was stationed in Hamheung, he would play a trick on his fellow soldiers. He describes how he would remove the powder from grenades and then pretend to ignite them by pulling the pin. He explains how fellow soldiers would run, but the grenade would not detonate. He describes how he found it humorous but others did not.
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Duane Trowbridge: My name is Duane Trowbridge I am a United States Marine I was born in La Crosse Wisconsin
I: Great thank you
DT: then I moved to Virginia when I was a small kid
I: aah I see. So then when you aah oh before When were you born?
DT: I was born September 19, 1931
I: okay and so when you enlisted where were you?
DT: I was in Portsmouth, Virginia
I: aah I see so when was it that you enlisted?
DT: December 27, 1948.
I: What made you want to enlist?
DT: Just because I wanted to
I: oh yeah
DT: well you see one reason during the second world war I was young but I always read the papers about the war in the Pacific and the Marines but I also knew about the European cabinet but I just thought the Marines
we’re doing such a good job over there and I watch them all the time so that’s one reason I joined the Marines Corp
I: Were you in high school when you
DR: yes I was I quit my junior year
DT: and of course my parents had to sign but my momma didn’t want to my daddy was glad to get rid of me but then she finally signed so then I joined when I was 17
I: I see
okay well do you remember the first time you heard about Korea and that there is now a Korean war and what were you feeling?
DT: Well I tell ya we were at camp Lejeune North Carolina and we had just come back from the Mediterranean on a cruise I was on a midway and also the Roanoke the lake cruiser when we got back in June and we were at the rifle range and we heard something about Koreans,
North Koreans attacking South Korea well nobody knew where Korea was I mean I didn’t you know I knew where Japan other places but not so much Korea and a lot of people just said where is that so that’s where I first heard about it about the middle part of well end of June after the attack June 25, 1950 so I had no idea where Korea was.
I: and when you were told you were not
going to go there
DT: well I just we were at the rifle range with the call snapping in and I told my buddy I said you know Robert L they’re going to come out here and tell us to back up our gear and come back to the main base so we did and when we did they told us we were going to be shipping out to the West Coast but not telling us exactly what we’re gonna do and we got ah I had we got on a crook train and rode to the
west coast to Pendleton over here so that’s how we got in and out of course. We were there a couple weeks and then got on a boat, Simon B Buckner, and went to Kobe, Japan. Well we really knew we were gonna go to Korea, but not know when or where, because they were kinda keeping that a secret. So we end up landing in Inchon on September, 15
I: You know right now there’s a movie out?
I: Did you hear? Were they talking about- oh no you weren’t there?
DT: No, I didn’t go to that movie.
I: Yea, there’s a Korean blockbuster movie about the Inchon landing.
DT: Oh is that right? Well you know what amazed me, I did a return trip there, and where we landed, that’s filmed in, that’s where the airport is!
I: When were you there?
I: Ok, a lot changed right?
DT: My gosh, I was there, there was one bridge across the Han River and of course that was all grown up. Now there are 24 bridges over there, and 11 million people who live in the city. But I mean, I was just amazed at the difference. When I was there, there might have only been 500 people in the city if that many. Cause there was a lot of street fighting going on you know.
I: Yea, can you tell me more about,
what was the Korea that you saw back then? What did you see when you first arrived? What was it like?
DT: Well, of course, landing in Inchon, I was a little skeptical but we went over and we had the buildings laddered because on land we had to go up a wall. And we went up the wall. And I was just kinda walking along, next thing I know I see dirt getting up around me, right.
I said, “Somebody shooting me! I gotta get moving.” So I started running, but it gave you an eerie feeling right away. Then of course we went and took a hill off to the right that night, but it was kinda an eerie feeling. And of course, in the night time, we just stayed there that night, and the next day we jumped off again.
We’d land like 5 o’clock in the afternoon. We had to wait because the tide was 30 feet, so the next morning we looked out and that whole bay there was not a mud. And the the LSTs and the LBTs just sitting on the bottom. So that was to me amazing, I never saw anything like that before. But then we jumped off and started going towards you know-
and I had one guy that was in the army with me. He got buried in the fox hole and he dug all night long. He said, ‘I’m not going to get buried again.’
DT: So, it was eerie, a little scary, but we had a job we had to do. Then, as we advanced, going over to
Seoul, the third day, September the 18th, we came in under horrific mortar attack and I got trapped with this knee and shin, and that was the day before my nineteenth birthday. My birthday was the 19th of September, but a friend of mine, Bill Tyson, got completely blind, lost his eyesight from the mortar attack, you know, and that day
I think we lost probably about fifteen people in the platoon, from the mortar attack. And then, of course, I went to an aid station, got fixed up, and stayed back there for about five or six days, went back and when I joined back, ever heard of Chestie Puller? He was my regimental commander. So, he gave me my Purple Heart when I came back and then, of course, I went back with my outfit and we was setting on the Han River
before we made it to go over to Seoul but we went in through (inaudible 7:36*) and in there in the meantime, we were doing a lot of fighting and one thing we had was the T34 tanks that they had from the Russia.
DT: The army couldn’t seem to knock them out, but we had 3.5 bazookas. We hit those and they
would knock them tanks out in a heartbeat and we did that and then they had like some elevated railroad tracks and under they had taken rice bags and filled them up with a sand or something so you couldn’t go under. You had to go over the top so they had the things zeroed in with a machine gun when you went across the top. This guy will tell you about the fox that got shot in the rear end. He said, ‘Lord I’m going home.’ But anyway,
then they came up with tanks and blew those things out so we could go underneath and we fought in the Seoul. Up there, there was a school I think upon a hill or somewhere and we ended up there after street fighting and things like that and I don’t know about the end of September, thats when McArthur came in there and gave
Syngman Rheethe key back to the city but it was still devastated, I mean everything was blown up and stuff like that. And after they did that then a few days later we headed up going back to Incheon and got on LST’s and went around and landed back at a place called Wonsan and that was about in October and then from there we went from Wonsan
to this place called Majenawhich is halfway between Wonsan and Seoul and what we were doing there we were capturing a lot of the North Korean coming up because when we landed at Inchon that made a cut off from there for people coming in from the south and so we capture about the 1600 North Koreans there and we were there from about October to well probably
November maybe around 20th, 23rd something like that. And we left from there in the meantime there. When the trucks were coming in to bring supplies from Wonsan over they would get ambushed a lot of times so because it was a high hill on either side like a valley and they will get ambushed. So that happened a lot too.
And we went from there, we got on a train and went up to Hamhung and then we got on trucks and headed up to the Chosin Reservoir. And first we went to Coteriwhich was at the very top and that was the headquarters for the 1st Marine. then we went from there to place called Hagaru ri and we got up there about November the 25th
somewhere in that neighborhood but it was getting pretty cold. And so at Hagaru ri we set up a division headquarters and then they started making an Airfield so we only had, we had two companies there. The 5th Marines and 7th had gone further north and on the east side of the reservoir was the army group
7th division, 31st and 32nd I think it was army battalions, and of course we had a group at a place called Toktong pass which was about three miles four miles outside of Hagaru ri. So the held they accompany, held that pass that pass and everything in it was getting colder and colder getting plenty of snow every day and
It would get, in night time, minus 40 degrees which is chilly, and um snow every night every day but I say I’d do it all over again no hesitation that I have um done a lot of talking about the Korean war to school. We found, around Seoul one time, in a ditch were they had tied
like some of the big officials their hands behind them and then killed em. And that happened a lot cause the north Koreans did it.
I: Do you remember any interactions with the local Koreans or Korean soldier during the war?
DT: Umm I’ll be honest you know, I never served in a ROK, and I never really, until after the fact I met quite a few of them. But I never served with anyone that was there
so I can’t say too much but I do know that they fought with em but I never I fought with any of them. There were maybe with the army, I know the Marines had some too but I never had a fight with them ‘cause they were there helping too.
I: You mentioned a few close calls and difficult moments when you were in Korea. Do you have any kinda more happy stories, rewarding
DT: Well, I guess maybe. About, we used to dump the powder out if our hand grenade and you put the screw the thing back in, and you’d be around the talking so what’d you do was pull the pin on the hand grenade and the guys would be, don’t be doing that stuff that thing will blow up, and you go oh so what then you drop it the pin goes off but nothing happens cause the powders gone and they start scattering,
so later on they say, I don’t think that’s very funny, I thought it funny, and we did that a couple times.
I: When did you leave Korea back for the US?
DT: Well you see when I got shot in the head June 3rd of 1950 and I end up
that’s when I started my travel back. Cause I got operated at Tagou army hospital and I went to Tokyo and I wasn’t able to walk or anything. This leg had paralysis in it.
I: Your right leg?
DT: Yeah. From the shot in the head. And so eventually I end up in Portsmouth, Virginia at the naval hospital there that where I joined the Marine corp and so, that’s eventually where I got the plate
put in my head and then I got a medical retirement from service.
I: When was that?
DT: November the 30th 1951.
I: 1951? Ok. And you said the head shot, head gunshot was in June?
DT: No, it was March the third 1951. It was after the reservoir course.
I: Where was it then?
Where did it happen?
DT: Well up above Hanju in a place called Yongsan
I: Wow, oh my gosh. I can’t imagine. Any friends from when you served that you want the rest of us to remember. Any names you can recall?
DT: Well you know I’ll tell you about this one guy, Bill Tyson, of course he passed away. He was the one that got blinded and he was from Akron Ohio.
And I went to go visit him when I came back because I had gone up to Wisconsin. He lived in Akron so I came back to visit him in Akron. He had gotten married and had a couple of kids too but he was missing some fingers. I said what happened to your fingers Bill. Well he went out to this blind school to learn how to operate a lathe and I cut my fingers off. I said lord have mercy. But him,
another guy named Robert Scoggins from Alabama, and they used to call use the three musketeers because we were always together. Even in (campagema) and all that stuff. And it’s a couple of guys like a guy named Jerry Plonka, Mike Telarelo and all these guys were the ones that I really kind of interacted with when we were in (campagema). But those guys. Yeah. And of course all of them have gone. Their gone.
I: Your part of which unit?
DT: Well the company I was with was called H3 1 that’s How company 3rd battalion 1st Marines and that was Chester puller group.
I: What did you do after you got discharged from the military and were back to regular life?
Well, I got introduced to this lady I’m married to for over 63 years
and she talked me into going back to school. I quit school to join the marine corp. So I went back to school and I was the only veteran back to that school at that time. So I graduated I doubled in history and took all this stood just to get out of there. And when I graduated the whole class got up and clapped for me.
… and the principal said “Duane,
“I’m sure glad you finally got out of here”, because he knew me from before.
I: High school, right?
DT: Yeah, and then I went back, went to college, and studied architectural engineering.
I: Wow, all those- well, I guess you were a few years older than all the rest of the kids.
DT: Well yeah, see, I was like, let’s see, 22. I’d try to date my high school classroom teacher, she would- “I don’t date my students.”
“I’m not a student.” She was like looking, too.
I: How did you feel- So wow, you were really going back to where you were, high school. How did you feel going back to where you were before after having experienced all this in the war. Do you remember what you were kind of thinking, what you’re
DT: Well, no, I don’t. I just, I just went and took care of it, that’s all. I did go to work, first, you know, I got a job, went back to work,
but- And then, of course as time went by, and I met my wife, I got married when we were going to college. I went to a place up in Richmond for college, called RPI – Richmond Professional Institute – and it was an extension of what they call a VPI, a college, which is now Virginia Tech. I see, and you went for Architectural Engineering. Architectural engineering, yeah. I got smarter.
I: What kind of job did you have?
DT: Well I end up in construction, but I was- I quit working, I was the vice president of a construction company and I was in charge of all the outside work, when we worked all over the state of Virginia. So sometime we’d have 300 people working for us in the summertime, yeah. But that’s I was with them for 22- 21 years.
I: What are some of your hobbies?
DT: Well, I’m a certified scuba diver, I own an aircraft, I’m a private pilot. Let’s see, and, well, a skydiver. And, in organizations, I volun- I’m on a mayor veteran committee. I do the Veteran’s Day parade, 1st Marine Division Association, I’m the treasurer.
I’m- of course, belong to the Chosen Few. So I just, I stay busy, and especially around where we live, I do a lot of volunteering with VFW. So, I stay busy, because I quit working. I am retired, I quit, because my wife was working. I see.
I: Wow. You seem so healthy and you seem so young.
DT: Well, yeah, I mean my health is pretty good, I have, sometimes, little
skirmishes. But other than that, I’m in good shape, compared to some of the guys I’ve seen out here. I always tell them, “I see all you guys with these kiddie carts. We gonna get y’all alive, let’s have a race sometime”.
I: Oh man. Yeah, I mean, I only have just a few more questions. What does the Korean War mean to you in your life. What kind of impact had it had.
DT: Impact? Like I said, it was a great lesson, for one thing. And then going back and meeting so many of the people, it was so- I mean like, honored, because I helped save the country. That was a big thing, and I, I mean just, I just could not it believe when I was there. How nice they were.
I: Well thank you for that.
DT: You’re welcome.
La Crosse, Wisconsin – City in which Duane Trowbridge was born before moving to Virginia.
Portsmouth, Virginia – City in which Trowbridge was living in when he was enlisted into the army.
Marines- Formerly known as the Marine Corp which is the specific army branch that Trowbridge enlisted.
Seoul, Korea- Capital of South Korea and place that Trowbridge frequently was in.
Han river -Location that Trowbridge was at during the war and visited after the war and saw the difference of how the place had changed.
LST -Naval ship that carried tanks also known as the Tank Landing Ship
Mortar attack -Used as a weapon to launch explosive shells called mortars rounds in arcing trajectories.
T34 tank – A Soviet medium tank that had a profound and lasting effect on the field of tank design.
Wonsan -Location in North Korea thats near where Trowbridge captured many North Koreans.
ROK -Republic of Korea
Richmond Professional Institute -College that Trowbridge attended after the war.
Duane Trowbridge was born in September 19, 1931. He was born in Wisconsin but at a young age he moved to Virginia, which is where he grew up. Trowbridge was just in his junior year of high school when he enrolled in the marines. Trowbridge didn’t really have much motive besides wanting to enroll into the war which his mom found heartbreaking but as he said, his father was glad to get rid of him. Trowbridge has an impressive memory and is very educated on war tactics which allowed him to thrive in the war. Later he returned from the war he decided to finish high school and everyone was very happy for him.
This transcription is about Duane arriving at Inchon, his first couple of weeks, and going back after 60 years. The most meaningful part of this transcript is how Trowbridge decided to finally finish high school after the war and how everyone was happy for him even his teachers and fellow students. Later he went to college and decided to major in Architectural Engineering and ended up working in construction. this is very meaningful because it shows how he strived to finish what he never did before he left to the war and later found a career and lived his life.
My favorite part was listening to him talk about the differences between the airport before and after, and how much it actually changed from his perspective. This was very interesting because he talks about how when he went back he was amazed how much had changed and he remembered the Han river and how there was only one bridge and how it was destroyed but when he later returned he was astonished to see 24 bridges and a massive increase in population from before.