Korean War Legacy Project

Ellsworth Peterson


Ellsworth Peterson was born on February 26, 1933 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. One of 13 children, he dropped out of high school to join the National Guard in March of 1949. Early the next year, he enlisted in the Marine Corps and was sent to basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. He was stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina before being deployed to Korea in early 1952 as a part of the 1st Marine Division, 2nd Marines, 7th Battalion, “E” Company. He participated in many battles and returned to the United States after the war.

Video Clips

72 Days on the Front Line

Ellsworth Peterson talks about the difficulties of being on the front line without rest for 72 straight days. He describes the fear and experience of falling under the attack of heavy shelling. He elaborates on his unit suffering many casualties during these attacks.

Tags: Chinese,Fear,Front lines,Living conditions,North Koreans

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Alone on a Chinese Outpost Raid

Ellsworth Peterson talks about a mission in which he and others in his unit raided a Chinese Outpost. In the skirmish, he describes finding himself separated from the other members of his party. Surrounded by Chinese soldiers, he laid down and pretended to be dead before making his way back behind friendly lines.

Tags: Chinese,Communists,Fear,Front lines

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Recorded Material]


E:        E-L-L-S-W-O-R-T-H Peterson P-E-T-E-R-S-O-N


I:          So Ellsworth Peterson


E:        Yes


I:          What is your birthday?


E:        February 26 33


I:          You’re pretty young


E:        Pardon?


I:          You’re pretty young


E:        Yeah eighty-four


I:          Where were you born?


E:        Eau Claire, Wisconsin




I:          What?


E:        Eau Claire, Capital E-a-u then capital C-l-a-i-r-e, Wisconsin


I:          Wisconsin, and tell me about your family, background when you were growing up, parents and your siblings


E:        Well it’s not much to tell you; it was 13 children


I:          13?


E:        My family yes




I:          Wow and you are the…?


E:        Oldest boy


I:          Oldest boy, man!


E:        I have three older sisters


I:          Uh-huh, so that’s a quite a big family.


E:        Yes it is


I:          How was your relationship with your brothers, little brothers?


E:        Oh, fine.  I used to beat the hell out of them now and then, but outside of that (everything) was fine.


I:          Ha ha


E:        No, I’m I’m only kidding


I:          Yeah. How about your parents




E:        They were fine, good parents


I:          Farmers or what did they do?


E:        Huh?


I:          What did they do? Your father what was his job?


E:        He was a comptroller for the U.S. Railroad; he was in charge of supervision for at Eau Claire and Gillets (?) at that time


I:          Umm hmm.  So what school did you go through and when did you graduate high school?


E:        I never went to high school


I:          Why not?


E:        I wanted to go in the service




I:          Oh, you wanted to be in the military


E:        Right


I:          Uh-huh.  So when . . .


E:        I went to the high school for about three months [and the first?] and then I quit and I went to work full time


I:          Ah. So when did you join the military?


E:        Ah, well actually I went into the National Guard in March of 49…


I:          Mm-hmm


E:        …I’m pretty sure, then I went into the Marine Corps the 28th of February 1950




I:          So you enlisted as a Marine?


E:        Yes


I:          When?


E:        February 28, 1950


I:          You remember that date?


E:        February 28


I:          Wow, you remember that?


E:        Oh yeah


I:          Wow, ha ha ha ha. So where did you get the basic military training?


E:        Parris Island, South Carolina


I:          How was it?




E:        Terrible


I:          Tell me about it


E:        No it was fine, I didn’t have any problems. For 13 weeks and I never had a problem one when I was in boot camp. I just went along with what they said and that was…


I:          Umm hmm, and what was your specialty?


E:        Infantry


I:          And then from there where did you go?




E:        Well, from Parris Island I suppose I went to Lejeune, North Carolina, Camp Lejeune


I:          Yeah? And then?


E:        And then then I probably went to Korea


I:          From where and when?


E:        Well I went over there I think in February of 52 and I don’t know where where I went


I:          You were in Incheon?


E:        No


I:          Pusan?


E:        Pusan maybe; I don’t recall




I:          And before that did you know anything about Korea?


E:        Hell no


I:          You knew nothing about Korea


E:        Not a thing all I know is the guys were coming back from Korea with ribbons, and I wanted some ribbons so I volunteered to go to Korea


I:          Ha ha oh my goodness.  You are nuts you are – you wanted to go to war and you could have killed yourself




E:        Huh, that’s life, that’s part of growing up


I:          Umm hmm so you knew nothing about Korea – did you know where Korea was?


E:        Pardon?


I:          Did you know where Korea was?


E:        Actually not


I:          So now you are in Korea right now, Pusan


E:        Okay, might have been Pusan


I:          Yeah, how was that scene first when you were in first Korea what was your image? How did you feel about it?




E:        Shitty. Ah, the reason being were ah it was in the winter of course and we were going up into the mountains and you see tanks and trucks over the side of the mountain and you [might] and wonder what the hell’s going on here you see, so uh  that was my first…I remember I had some chicken soup and it was frozen – C rations – and of course you couldn’t you know you just had to let it thaw in your mouth.  But I do recall that.




I:          Umm hmm.  How was people in Korea?


E:        You know…


I:          How did they look, how did they behave, how was living conditions for them?


E:        How was what?


I:          Living conditions


E:        Well living conditions weren’t very good of course, living in a hole or a tent


I:          Yeah




E:        No, they were – I got along, I get along pretty well with everybody and I kind of took some of these Koreans under my, my arm, you know I’d give them cigarettes and food, and you know all this type of thing that anything that would help them out.  You know, I felt bad for them.


I:          Umm hmm




E:        You know they were going through hell and all you know coming down to the south if you looked you’d see as far as you could see you see people you know walking down these old dirt roads and pulling carts, this type of thing


I:          Umm-hmm




E:        So…


I:          Was it terrible?


E:        I thought it was terrible for the people; for the uh..


I:          So, from Pusan where did you go


E:        I don’t know; somewhere up in the mountains on the East Coast


I:          East Coast, mmm hmm.  Where was your unit actually?


E:        Easy Company, 2nd battalion, 7th Marines. First Marine division




I:          Second division and first first Marine division right?


E:        Yes, that was the only division over there


I:          Exactly. And you were just infantry, right?


E:        Right


I:          Okay.  So you were in the East Coast and what was your mission there? What did you do there?




E:        Well we were on the MLR at that time


I:          Mmm hmm


E:        And it was, wasn’t too much going on you know, a few firefights and so on and so forth but nothing real serious and then we moved over to the East Coast and that’s where I got into the, you know, the heavy combat.


I:          Where?




E:        I don’t know.  I wouldn’t have any idea, I could look on a map and then I probably wouldn’t know.


I:          Heartbreak Ridge?


E:        No. Um, Vegas, Carson, Reno – I don’t know if you have ever heard of them or not


I:          Yeah, yeah, yeah. They are, they are not in the East Coast, it’s in the middle to the West




E:        No they’re on the East Coast.  Vegas, Carson and Reno, they’re outposts.  Out in front of the lines


I:          Okay. So you were in that area


E:        Yes


I:          Okay. And tell me about the typical day of your heavy fighting there




E:        Uh, nothing to tell much; uh, I know we were up there on the line; yeah I think it was somewhat of a record for 72 days straight and that was the longest time that anybody had been up, you know, on the inner [line?]


I:          Gaw – 72 days? In a row?


E:        Yeah


I:          Wow




E:        Hey that got kind of drab, you know we spent a lot of time on the outposts which were bad news.  On the outpost one night we had 3,700 rounds of mortar rounds and artillery coming in on that outpost, and them outposts was no bigger than, you know, you can see them cars out there.  But out of them 3,700 rounds, probably half of them were ours, because there were so many of them back in the [lukon?] you know I didn’t count them




I:          Mmm hmm


E:        Well we were, you know, we were hit pretty hard and pretty often and we had a lot of casualties, but outside of that they uh, I don’t know


I:          Were you scared?


E:        You bet your ass. Uh, at times. I was really a-scared one night I was up, I was doing a raid on a Chinese outpost…




I:          Mm-hmm


E:        …and I don’t how many Chinese are up there probably 40 to 50 but anyway we pulled a raid on them we went and took over the hill, or whatever, and I was left out there by myself


I:          By yourself?




E:        and that was a little…I didn’t know whether I wanted to die or if I wanted to come become a POW – I was surrounded by Chinese and what the hell I didn’t want to be a POW I’d rather die so I took off and I got back to I was behind our lines


I:          Uh-huh




E:        So you so that was a little I don’t know how long I laid there, might have been only 5 minutes and might have been 30, I don’t know


I:          So you you made the decision to go back to the line and you were not killed




E:        Yeah right, yeah – there was Chinese surrounding that outpost of course but they were all taken off out of there – see the Chinese and the Koreans, North Koreans, they called us yellow legs because we wore leggings and they didn’t want to fight us




I:          What do you mean?


E:        Well they didn’t like us; they were afraid of us – they would fight the army, our army, but they didn’t like to fight the marines


I:          Ha ha ha


E:        No, that’s a fact


I:          What do you mean fact?


E:        We were the tough guys


I:          Yeah




E:        Other words we would take a hill and we would hold on to it where the army would get hit and they’d pull back off and then they’d go back up there take it again pull back off; where the marines would stay there, you know fight to the last man. So that’s why they would call us yellow legs, you don’t fight with the yellow legs




I:          Any other dangerous moment that you had?


E:        Oh, hell – you name it, huh, every day was, because you know every day we got incoming


I:          Mm-hmm. Any episode you remember?


E:        Huh?




I:          Any episode you remember?


E:        Oh, I don’t know; well, outside of being surrounded by the Chinese, not really


I:          Mm-hmm. What was the most difficult thing during that period, to you?




E:        I can’t really recall


I:          What was the most difficult thing for you to remember at the time


E:        I can’t remember anything that you know in particular


I:          How was weather? Cold?




E:        Yes, it was chilly in the winter; it wasn’t extremely cold on the East Coast; the uh, I mean yeah the East Coast got the mountains it got real bad yeah there; the West Coast wasn’t too bad weather-wise


I:          Right – so you were in the west side often not east side


E:        When I went over I was on the east side, up in the mountains




[End of Recorded Material]