Felix Byrd was born in Pilot Point, Texas. He graduated high school and attended a semester of college before deciding to join the Marine Corps in February 1947. He specialized in communications and was sent to China, where he served there until his discharge in Feb 1950 before being called back to Korea from the reserves in July 1950. As a member of the First Marine Division, he recalls being a part of the Incheon Landing. Because he was in communications, he considered himself lucky to serve behind the front lines. However, there was a week where he was moved north to the front lines in Hamheung, when he became part of the Chosin Few. He explains how cold and dangerous it was.
Ist Marine Division.
In July 1950, Felix Byrd was called from the Reserves to go to Korea, where he participated in the Invasion of Incheon in Sept 1950. He describes himself as lucky because was in communications, behind the infantry, which was not as dangerous. He landed in Incheon and proceeded to Seoul, where he helped run the telephone lines to each military outfit.
A Week as an Infantryman
Felix Byrd describes a week where his outfit moved north, and he served with the infantry until they reached Hamhung, where they were evacuated. He recalls being shot at. He says they had to sleep without sleeping bags in 30-below temperatures.
F: Felix O. Byrd. F E L I X- O – B Y R D.
I: What is your birthday and where were you born?
F: October the 1st1929, at Pilot Point, Texas.
I: P I L O T P O I N T.
I: Tell me about your family when you were growing, up your parents and your siblings.
F: I was the only child, my dad was always in the lumber business. My mother was a schoolteacher and housewife. She went back to college when I was called back to Korea, she had started college, but she finished while I was in the service in Korea.
I: Oooh, so, you were finishing your high school here?
F: I finished out in West Texas. Haskell, Texas.
I: Allan High School?
I: What is the name of the high school?
F: Haskell, Allen West Texas. Haskell Texas. H A S K E L L
I: Haskell High school.
F: That was my junior senior year. Earlier I was in Sulfur Springs in Texas, but my junior year I ended up at Haskell and senior year.
I: So when did you graduate high school there?
F: There in 1946 at Haskell.
I: Then, what did you do after the high school?
F: I went to college for one semester.
I: What college?
F: Arlington it was then in North Texas, Agricultural College at Arlington. And I didn’t do too well in school, so I made nine hours of credit my first semester that’s when I joined the Marine Corps.
I: When was it then, 1940?
F: 1947, February of 1947, not yeah right.
I: So you enlisted to Marine?
F: Right, right three years. Also during that time I extended a year to go to China. I got to go to (Seto) China and then we got run out by the communists and I got my extension knocked off.
I: So hold on, and you joined the Marine Corps February 1947?
F: February 3, 1947.
I: Where did you go to get the basic military training?
F: San Diego.
I: San Diego.
F: Camp Pendleton.
I: What kind of, what was your specialty?
F: I was in communications. I went to telephone school and that ended up what I did my whole career.
I: Um huh, And then you left for China from there?
F: Yes sir in China.
I: What was your mission?
F: I was still in communications over there. We were refurbishing telephone equipment from World War II over there.
I: Um huh.
F: And I got to play sports over there, so that was kind of spoiled me. I got to play sports over there. I got to play football and basketball. So that made me a little, I missed the hard military training. So that saved me a little of the military gun host.
I: Where you in China?
F: Tsingtao, China.
F: Tsingtao, Tsingtao. Looking on the map it is right across from Korea.
I: Yeah, Tsingtao, Tsingtao.
I: How long did you stay there?
F: Uh, probably about a little less than 18 months because the Communists we had to move out.
I: So, the Korean War broke off while you were in Tsingtao?
F: No sir, I got out of the regular Marine Corps and then I got called backwards. I got discharged February the 3rdof 1950 and then I got called back to Korea with a reserve outfit out of Dallas in July of 1950.
I: So when did you leave for Korea? From where?
F: Left from Dallas.
F: I was with a group out of Dallas that left out…
F: That left out February…
F: I mean July 1950.
I: Do you remember the day?
F: Umm, It was right after, yes sir I do because my dad got killed the 16thof July.
I: Umm hum,
F: So it was the last of July, about the 25ththe 25thof July.
F: Of July.
I: Did you flew to Korea or ship?
F: We left our group out in Dallas. Left probably by train and ended up at Pendleton.
I: And then take the ship?
F: From there, I was with the outfit with the first Marine Division with Koreans when we invaded Incheon and Seoul. I was with the first Marines when we landed.
I: So you belonged to the first Marines?
F: Right, Right.
I: And from Pendleton you went to Japan or Korea?
F: We went to Japan first then Korea.
I: When did you arrive and where?
F: September in Incheon. I made the Incheon landing with the 1stMarine Division. I was with the Headquarters 4 11. It was an artillery 1 5 5 outfit, but even then all that time I was in communication.
I: Where you there in September?
I: 15 or 16?
F: Whenever we landed it.
I: First day, right?
F: Right, right, right, right.
I: How was it, tell me?
F: Well I was lucky, you know. We were being in the communication part. We just went in after
F: The infantry did, but I was when we invaded there I was on the switchboard when we attacked in Seoul. I was on the switchboard when our lieutenant, our captain seized the phone with the artillery commission.
I: So you landed in Incheon and went to Seoul?
F: Right, right.
I: And were in charge of the exchange. Telephone change.
F: Yeah right. I was in the telephone. It was about our group had about 16 in it. We run the lines to each of the 105 outfits which was part of each First Marines, Fifth Marines, and Seventh Marines. So we had about 16 communicators running lines and maintaining the lines for the artillery missions.
I: How was it when you landed in Incheon?
I: Was it dangerous or were there any military resistance?
F: Well we saw a lot of bombing and all that but we didn’t really. It wasn’t bad for us because you know we were behind regular infantry so it wasn’t that bad.
I: How bad was it on the way to Seoul? Was it dangerous?
F: No sir. No sir.
I: So how was Seoul?
I: When you saw it?
F: It was just bombed up pretty bad. It was you know all the artillery and everything with the ships bombing. It was you know pretty bad really.
I: Were there Korean people in the street or how do they look?
F: Well we didn’t really, I didn’t pay attention you know.
F: I didn’t really notice any problem. I mean just after the bombing you know everything was scattered.
I: Were you scared at the time?
F: No sir, not then. Not during that time.
I: Were you nervous?
F: Not really, not at that time. Later we had some problems. I was part of the Chosen, later. That’s when I became different with the situation.
F: Then what happened with our outfit we moved a bunch of times from September to Thanksgiving and after Thanksgiving is when it was really Thanksgiving Day. We had our meal and our outfit moved up, part of our outfit moved up for 30 or 40 miles and I was left behind. After that, a week later,
F: As they had fought from the Chosen down to the airstrip I became an implement and I was in infantry for a week. From the airstrip from Hagaru-ri to Hamhung. So during that time I was an instrument and that first night we attacked the hills. We were thrown down the hills to the right side so they took on as they started their retreat.
F: We, I was with a guy, we left sleeping. We elected not to have a sleeping bag and we were up there at 30 below without a sleeping bag and that night. I won’t ever forget that night. We huddled up with somebody or somebody, but it was just 30 below and I was with the infantry until we got to Hamhung where we evacuated.
I: How did you survive that winter without even a sleeping bag?
F: It was tough, it was tough. I remember that night real well. And I was shot at immediately and I dove on the ground and I’ll admit not being the infantryman that it was rough getting up and I don’t know how long I laid there, but there was no doubt about it I was scared.
F: Then we had, I was with a group all the way and the warmest it got was when we were next to a tank, at night.
I: So after you recovered to Seoul, where did you go? Did you go to Wonsan or did you go to Korea?
F: Yes we landed in Wonsan, that’s where we landed.
I: So from Seoul, you went back to Incheon?
F: No no, when we left Seoul
F: we ended up landing at Wonsan. That’s where we landed for the Chosin outfit. That’s where we landed on the other side yeah, that’s where we landed.
I: Then you went up to [inaudible]?
F: Yes, but I never did get to the reservoir. That’s misleading, but I was part of the Chosin group. The Chosin group is all of the one’s from Hamhung up to the reservoir.
F: But I came I’m part of the reservoir. I’m part of the Chosin group out in Dallas but not all of the Chosin group made the mountains at the Chosin reservoir.
F: So that is real misleading.
I: So you only went up to Hagaru-ri?
F: Yes. I landed. I landed there in Hagaru-ri as they were coming through,
F: There that’s when I became part of the Seventh Marine unit, a replacement in the infantry.
I: Why did go up there? Why did you end up in Hagaru-ri? What was your mission?
F: Replacement for the infantry. That’s when I ended up being in the infantry and our weapons wouldn’t even fire. There were stacks and stacks of weapons that wouldn’t fire.
F: I had to get another one, due to the cold weather.
I: How close were you to the Chinese soldiers?
F: When he shot me, all I know. I imagined I’m gonna be honest with you. I imagined he was wounded because I didn’t ever see him. One of the guys shot him. But I dove in the snow. So I didn’t look back to look at him. I was too scared but I used my football,
F: agility to dive.
I: So you were not afraid, you were not nervous in the Incheon landing or in Seoul but you were really scared then in Hagaru-ri?
F: Right right right, well not exactly. That grew as we got in that mountain. I mean at Hagaru-ri I was part of the unit gathering supplies and all of that when I get there so the real action didn’t happen right at Hagaru-ri.
F: It happened as we left out of the mountains. We was up in the high part of the mountains, was part of our outfit that I was attached too. And believe it or not when I got out, I mean after all that, when I got the word to come home, I was with a Korean group, Korean Marine Corps doing FO and when I got to word to come home then
F: I was way away from everybody and I started hollering, it wasn’t anybody “Don’t shoot, Don’t shoot. I’m going home. No telling how many miles it was when I got that word to go home. I wasn’t any close to the outfit other than that group.
I: So how many nights did you sleep without a sleeping bag?
F: The whole seven days.
I: The whole seven days?
- Yes, yes.
I: And its been freezing the whole week?
F: It wasn’t as cold as we got further you know. The mountains was the worst that first day, first night. The guys elected not to carry their sleeping bags and that’s why we ended up with no sleeping bags.
I: What were you thinking when you were there?
F: Well, I had good duty up to you know. Well I did get in trouble
F: getting with running the wire one night when I had to replace the communication line and I got caught. I missed chow and I got caught stealing. So I got busted that night and I remember that real well. They had to go in the tent where they arrested me. They were having chow.
I: Why were you arrested?
F: Cause I had stole the chow. I missed chow that night and I missed the chow that day I mean that night because I had to repair the lines and so when I got back from the lines I didn’t get no food. Everything was late. So I stole chow from that night. So I got caught stealing the chow. So I got busted again. I got busted. I got busted.
I: What was your punishment?
F: The first one I went over the hill when I got back from China. I was spoiled because we had to have that military duty then real gung-ho and I was far from Korea, I mean China being in sports. So when you’re in sports you don’t have all that gung-ho stuff like that.
I: So, what happened to you after coming down from Hagaru-ri, you went to Hungnam right?
F: Yeah that’s where we evacuated.
I: You went to Pusan right?
F: Went there to start with you know.
I: You went, from Hungnam where did you go?
F: Ended up back to the uhh… oh we went in reserves at Masan probably about 30 days there in Masan. Then we went back to the other action all over Korea.
I: All over Korea again?
F: Well yeah. Yeah.
I: So there has been so many dangerous moments for you
I: during the service?
F: Well, to be honest with you it was three things. Number one, I was in the regular outfit but then I ended up with the infantry, and then I ended up with the Korean group and that got a little shaky. I was shot as I was in our little pup tent there
F: and the Chinese were shooting down on us so they won’t. That was the experience. Plus the mortars back there. So really there was three different operations.
I: Were you wounded?
F: No sir.
I: No. You’re lucky. So if you were asked what was the most difficult thing out of those? You’ve been to Incheon
I: landing. You’ve been to Chosin few and all other evacuations
F: The Chosin, the Chosin.
I: And other battles, and what was the most difficult thing?
F: Being in the infantry.
F: Being an infantrymen from communications. That one week. That one week was one you’ll never forget. And after that I was lucky that I got to be part of the Korean group. We were doing
F: FO with them, the foreign observer. But the main thing I was in communications and it’s what I have been in all my life. Now when I got out after retirement, I started my own company of communications.
I: What kind of company did you have?
F: I got one here with my daughter. I sold it to them. We did small telephone work.
F: Systems and what not. Businesses, schools.
I: So, your service was very positive?
F: Right right yes. That gave me a trade.
I: Tell me about, where did you go from Masan to where?
F: All over. From Masan. After we got out of there and we kept
going all the way not back to Chosen but back to different parts of the operations. We were supporting the different entry outfits with artillery. So whenever they moved, we moved. We was part of the 115 outift which shot longer range so we wasn’t as close, but we ran the telephone lines to each 105 unit
F: that supported each infantry outfit. There was three infantry regiments and we would run the lines to the 105 outfits and the 155. They in turn was part of the artillery for the division.
I: When did you leave Korea?
F: Probably, probably it had to be about May but I ended up getting out in July,
F: I was gone a year exactly. We were one of the first one’s to get rotated home. We were supposed to land first. We were pretty well.
I: Now after all those years, you didn’t know anything about Korea when you left for Korea right?
F: Not really you know. We felt it was just part of our job you know. We also was involved with a lot of civilians trying to get out of North Korea there in Hamhung. We saw a bunch of civilians, lined up trying to get aboard.
F: We saw that destruction too. That bombing of the harbor, we saw all that destruction.
I: How was it to look at those refugees in a miserable situation?
F: Well, they, there didn’t look so bad right then. I mean they had to many clothes on. That was probably one of the reasons because it was still cold.
I: Better than you guys.
I: You guys had summer outfits right?
F: Now we had our winter stuff.
I: Did you.
F: We just didn’t have our sleeping bags. With our shoes we had problems with that. We had to change the liners and all that. So we didn’t have that footwear in the cold weather that they do now. So we were that was kind of neat of us.
I: What do you think about now, looking back looking back all those years? How do you put it into perspective?
F: I think its amazing how Korea has looked. I mean how nice it looks now.
I: Have you been back to Korea? When?
F: Yes, no sir. I’ve just seen the pictures.
I: Oh you’ve just seen the pictures. Have you ever been to it?
I: Do you want to go back?
F: I hadn’t really planned you know. I’m getting aged. I can’t get around that good. I don’t think I’d want to go without my wife.
F: Cuz, I can’t hardly do too much by myself.
I: So then you mostly ate of C-rations?
F: Right, right. Well we didn’t have much there that week. We didn’t have much going there. Those tootsie rolls come in handy.
F: I was involved in picking them up. When I got there that day, my job was to gather the supplies and we moved out the next morning. And another thing I was lucky. Each part of the unit, I was in the hill to the right and after reading about it the hill to the left was worse. So I was lucky that way that I happen to be on the right side.
F: And a lot of that in the military was like your MOS being in our communication. That makes a lot of difference. If you’re in the infantry, that’s a whole new ball game. I got part of it so I know what they went through.
I: You know the Chinese soldiers were in North Korea in early October so?
F: Yeah well luckily they weren’t bothering us because they was trying to get the big people. Our infantry was down 30 miles back you know but they wasn’t trying to. They were hiding. They were hiding and they were moving at night. If they didn’t move, they hid. And to be honest with you if what bad on our organizations
F: the big wheels, not realizing my culture especially, how bad it was. He was acting like they just a few and they were more than a few.
I: There were intelligence that the Chinese soldier, they were in North Korea in early October and they didn’t do nothing about it until.
F: They acted like they were just stragglers. But that was bad. That was bad.
I: So if anything was done about the Chinese in early October or even in October….
F: Well the only time that I was run into them was that week after Thanksgiving, that’s when I was part of that. And we had a house boy that…[inaudible]…..and I kept thinking about [inaudible]
I: Tell me about it.
F: Well I mean he what I’m saying is he was probably the one that was fighting against, but I had a lot to deal with in Seto about how they were and what not.
I: Any other messages that you want to leave with this interview?
I: Do you have some pictures that you took during the war?
F: No sir, one of their guys but I’m not sure what happened to him to be honest with you. I know the sergeant. I just started to be a lineman when I was in the telephone and its big. Our sergeant at the time was getting know me about. That’s the way with him. I had trouble trying to climb up a pole right by the building
F: and I remember him getting on me about that. That’s the way Southwestern Bell linemen. He was the power lineman so but that climbing the poles you know he’s running the wires. I was struggling to get up that pole, but I hadn’t had that much experience because when I got called back I was only on telephone for about 3 months.
I: Do you want to go back to Korea? If they invite you?
F: Yeah probably.
I: Thank you sir.
F: You bet.
[End of recorded material]