Harold Bill Christenson
Harold Christenson enlisted in the Army in 1948 with two friends after having heard it was a good job. He soon found himself, however, in the middle of the Korean War. He describes the loss of his friends within the first two months of combat and the burden of his promotion to Platoon Sergeant. He details the importance of nightly guard duty, adding that the Chinese were stealthy and would take advantage of a situation that presented itself. Despite the brutality of war, he does recall better times in the service as well which included visits to bars and experiencing rickshaw rides in Japan. He is proud of his service and hopes that the youth of today continue to develop patriotism.
The Loss of Friends
Harold Christenson describes moving towards the fronts lines, escorted by ROK soldiers, and the fear he felt hearing small arms fire and artillery and seeing the flashes associated with the weapon fire as his company pressed inland near the mountains. He shares that within the first two months of arrival, the friends he went to Korea with were gone. With sorrow, he recounts the loss of one friend when his company was overrun by the Chinese at Gibraltar and remembers the injuries another friend sustained from a landmine.
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A Bad Part of War
Harold Christenson describes being promoted to Platoon Sergeant and having to assign men every other week to go on patrol. He shares of his attempt to be fair with the men by rotating their assignment to the duty. He describes one particular assignment where a soldier, despite nearing his rotation home, insisted that he take his turn patrolling, and he was killed while on duty.
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Harold Christenson remembers the fun he had with friends in Japan, going to Japanese bars and buying women drinks. He recounts one experience in particular where he gave a woman $20, which was a larger sum of money at the time, to buy drinks, and she did not return with his change. He also shares of his experience riding in a rickshaw.
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Harold Christenson describes the location of bunkers near the front lines and communicating with them each night. He explains guard duty rotation and his role in making sure someone was awake and alert throughout the night at each bunker to avoid being overrun. He details the stealth of the Chinese and recounts instances where men out on patrol who had fallen asleep were found dead in their sleeping bags.
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Harold Bill Christenson. I have been in Nobely all my life practically and I worked for the American Legion for over fifty years there. Before that I worked for the Railroad for 10 years and I was in the military for two years active and two years with the Guard. I came back and went back to the railroad until 1958, I guess it was, and I went into the Legion in ’62 and I worked there until I was sixty-five years old. I’m eighty-five now. I’ve always liked the Legion. I’ve been working with them for many years. I take care of their Honor Guard, all of the military funerals we have, and I take care of their Bengal, bar Bengal. That’s about it.
So, how many siblings do you have?
I have four children. I have a wife and we have a son still here in town. We have two daughters in Rochester, and we have a son-in-law over there. And we have a daughter in Ohio. She’s a registered nurse, but is in a two year college in Ohio. They’re all married, well one is not married right now, but they have been married, they have families on their own accord, and we have quite a few grandchildren. We have nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren, so we have a big family.
How old were you when you enlisted?
When I enlisted, eighteen.
What was that date?
June 16, 1948. We were my friend and I, we were working down here at Warehouser, and another friend that was in the Guard came by and he said, “You guys should join the Guard. It’s a pretty good deal. You get part time good work and a check every month of about ten dollars or something like that.” We met every Monday night and it was about three hours. We had two weeks of camp in the summer time at Camp Piperly in north Minnesota. Then we trained inside of Yarbury with classes and drills. If the weather permitted, we would be outside in the parking lot drilling. There was a lot of classes in calisetics and stuff like that. We did that until we were called in. Regular service in January of ’51, we knew we were coming in December. The Korean War broke out that year in ’50. So we knew we were coming in. They waited until after the Christmas holiday, so we went in January 16th of 1951. We loaded and we marched from Yarbury down to the deep wood of Rockhill and loaded and trained. They eventually got down to Camp Prickter Alabama, and that’s where we were stationed. We left here with about fifty percent of our strength. You know as far as personnel. We fueled up down there with draftees and recruits. We got full strength down there and we trained again. We trained them. That was all summer. In the fall they started asking for people to go overseas. You know, I mean they didn’t ask, they told us. They called it FECOM- Far East Command. So we got a lot of our people that we had- recruits and draftees- that we had trained, that’s where they went. Then they started asking for the sergeants at Top Greeters and that’s when I got it. There were quite a few of us from Yarbury here that went about that time. I went with my Sergeant McCade and Sergeant Mattson. We left- Sergeant Mattson had a car, so we drove back here. We had a delay at route, so we drove back here and we had 10 days to report to Camp Stoman, that’s in California. So we came back. We were here for as long as we could. I remember our first plane ride was from that. We flew out of Minneapolis to San Francisco, all three of us. We got into Camp Stoman in just about, we weren’t late, but we were pretty close. We stayed there for, I had an aunt and uncle out there, so they came and got us a couple times and took us. We were there maybe a week or ten days I would suppose. Then we started getting orders that we would be shipped out, and we had to check the bolt of order, in the morning of course, to see when. Joel and Marlin Mattson, they went on one ship and I went on another. I was on the U.S. Polp and they were on it was a big. They left before I did, a day or two before, but the Polp was a little bit faster, so I got over to Japan before they did. We landed in Japan, in Yokohama, its right close to Tokyo right there, and we went to Camp Drake. We were stationed there, it was a temporary station. We had classes on, we knew we were going to Korea, of course. They orientated us on the conditions, more or less of what to expect. They told us most of it. Then we loaded on a train across Japan and went to Sesible. That’s another city on the north end of Japan. We were there two days, maybe three days. We loaded on another ship that took us into Korea. We went into different ships again. We weren’t on the same ship, but we went into Inchan. Inchan has a very high tide, one of the highest in the world. We had to go in, there were no docks. Inchan was all leveled, you might say, so there were no docks, no piers. We had to go to the side of the boat and down to the landing craft. In there we went to the shore. You know, one air craft at a time, maybe quite a few of them. From there we were lowered into, there was no resistance there at all, it was all taken by that time. We got into our train again; it was a narrow gage train. Evening, a lot of them had to stand up I remember. It was about maybe thirty, forty miles, fifty miles maybe to Seoul. That’s where the basement got me. In there we sang to that. We are in a turbulent placement company until you got orders of what unit you were going to be in. We knew we had third division; we weren’t sure what regiment or what company. I got assigned to Company A of the Seventh Regiment. My other two buddies, Joe got assigned to Easy Company of the Seventh Regiment, and Marlin got assigned to Fox Company, I remember, of the Seventh Regiment. We were all in the same regiment. We got assigned, we got to move up, and so they came and got us at night. Everything is at night you know. We went up there, and they took us in as far as they could take us of the Third Division. I remember how scared we were. We could hear small arms fire and flashing and things. “Man this is going to be something!” We were met down below at the mountain and we had to walk up by and Iraq soldier. We had Korean and Iraq soldiers with us. They escorted me. I was one of the first ones of my company, so me and three or four other guys went up to our assignment. The other two guys got their East Company and Fox Company at the same night. In there we were in a combat situation, but at that time it was pretty quiet. You would hear small arms fire and things. There was always artilary. We got some time in the rear; we had maybe a week or so in the back. It was like Division Time. I’m trying to think of the word, I can’t say it. Anyway, we got back in line and we got into some action. That was November. [Name] got overrun and that’s where my friend Marlin was killed. [Muffling cries] That night the Chinese overran us and his company was overrun. There was a lot of archilery. He was really killed by a direct hit. [Muffles about sand] I didn’t find out for sure until later, but he was killed that night. We had to defend ourselves, you know. We finally got the Chinese off that mountain Marlin was killed. We got established at the same time we had before. I was fine until December, and McCade, my other friend there; we had a lot of patrols. To go to out through out on patrol, we had to go out on a hill and they were marked. You had to be real careful that nobody made a mistake. It happened and Joe was a master sergeant lieutenant. He had people in front of him.
Harold Bill Christenson Interview Transcript: 2nd 15 Minutes (15:03 30:
By: Calise Hammonds
“And uh…Lieutenant lost his leg and Joel got hit really bad. So he was…that was in
December… middle of December. So the two guys are over with…in less than two months they
were gone. Yah know. And then from then on uh I was in a lot of…I was uh promoted from
machine gun squad to the platoon sergeant which in charge of the whole platoon there was
about 40 some men yah know but we had a lot of patrols so we had to assign men sometimes
to go and patrol and I had uh…I would have it every night but sometimes we had to assign men
maybe every other week to go and patrol. And I was uh…deciding one night, this one night I
remember they needed um a mortar with them, an assault mortar we called it, to go and patrol
and establish uh outposts out there. So I kinda took turns…try to be fair with the guys and tell
them that uh…well he went last week so you go this week or you know it got to be, his name
was Chico, it was his turn but he was supposed to go rotate home and I said well “you don’t
have to” “I want to!” He got killed. …outpost he had went over and I had to identify a couple of …
and it’s a bare part of war. But after that it was um…kind of the winter set in and uh it got cold
and the Chinese kind of quieted down and we did too of course. So we our biggest concern was
a lot it was keeping warm. We were never in any real danger of anything you know. We were in
holes in the ground like a picture of it here of uh…bunkers that had sandbags you know which
were better that being outside but sometimes when we went on patrol we had to stay out all
night and that was pretty tough. Winter’s cold. Trying to keep warm and uh…remember one
night especially we didn’t have any uh…sand bags we didn’t have any sleeping bags or…and
we’re trying to keep warm and we kind of piled together like you see animals do sometimes. But
uh…lot of patrol was mostly reconnaissance where you are looking for any action out there,
anything the enemy was doing and uh…it was contact sometimes alright but uh…and in the
spring we were we were here once or twice in the wintertime but nothing like we did in the fall
there and um…in the spring uh we had it was pretty quiet. They had a ceasefire or about that
time and we had about two weeks of that was no really strange for us because the Chinese in
front of us where you couldn’t see them before they were always in underground you know that
was different but the ceasefire was broken of course and uh we went back to patrols and stuff
like that and um it was mostly just after that I went home and the first part of May I came back
from…he rotated you know he had the point system at that time where if you were in a combat
situation you got four points um I think it was and if you get thirty six points you rotate home so I
got that and uh waiting for orders to go and it finally came and I went down through my train
down to … and down to the ship and went through … again and uh we had a shower. We didn’t
get many showers over there. I had three showers that last time I was over there we were I
changed clothes four times in nine months. It was uh really something. I uh…I…we got to Japan
they treated us real well they said “what do you want? What kind of steal you want?” you know
we see ration most of time you know once in awhile they try to get a hot meal up to us if things
were quiet and we went down like maybe a platoon at a time and down below the mountain we
were on and uh the best which is the kitchen would serve us what they had. That was quite a
treat for us. So after nine months over there, I wrote my discharge was coming up so I got back
to came back on the U.S. … to Yokohama again we were on the U.S. … and it took us fifteen
days to get back and I ended in Frisco and it was a band there or salvation army or something
or some kind of band there and it was I remember my aunt and uncle seen posted who was
coming on the ship and they watched for it and they were down there too which is very nice and
I see I was there maybe like a week and I would load on train again and go back to the McCoy,
Wisconsin here and I was discharged from there 22252.
That’s about it except I had some a
few good experiences it wasn’t all bad. Oh yeah I had fun with in Japan with my friends. Here
we go happier and really strange we weren’t expecting something like that or to a place that had
beer and liquor and there’d be Japanese girls anybody you know and … but you couldn’t
communicate but you’d buy them a beer probably three or four of us take turns buying three or
four beers and I remember this one time there was the girl that sat by you used to take your
money and go up to like a cashier you called her … I gave the girl twenty dollars that’s a good
bit of money in those days and she forgot to come back with my change oh well that was
something I remember that but we rode in rickshaw over there you know humans fully new and
two wheel buggy. It was fun just being there going to Japan was good experience because they
were still struggling with World War II you know and this country was in pretty bad shape yet. I
remember little tots running around without any clothes on and it’s things you don’t forget in a
way but I had a lot of fun in service at down proper training with the guards and all the guys
ahead from every year. We had many parties, many good times and a lot of those guys went
overseas. When we trained we had World War II veterans with us a lot they were the sergeants
when we first came in they were the sergeants and they were training us and we had fun with
them and heard all the stories they had of course and we had a lot of fun on passes we’d go
down camp … goes right through the Florida coast so we’d go down to Panama City beaches
you know my engage my wife but my fiance came down with a friend of hers another her fiance
was a friend of mine he came down there too and three … came down there one was married
and two was engaged and we had a week with them that was kind of nice we had before we
went overseas and of course we came back here like I said. I remember those times in Florida,
the beach, swimming, you know a lot of fun. I was discharged June 22nd and we had to come
home it would have been the last part of April I left Korea and we spended some time in … and
getting back took fifty days getting back on the ocean pretty slow trip but had to come back took
a couple days I think it took three days to come back from Frisco to Ripley. So in Ripley for
maybe a week before I got discharged something like that. Quite a few of the guys well … here
he was in division 21A he got discharged way before the people got discharged at Ripley it was
still used over there a lot.”
“Can you describe to me just a little bit more what were your job duties while you were in
“Before I went?”
“Well while you were in Korea.”
“While I was in Korea. My job was responsibility was taking care of the platoon I mean as far as
I usually the platoon is spread out in a line like the bunkers were maybe it varied somewhat they
were maybe ten yards apart or more you know so I usually had to go and visit everyone and
when everyday we should ok and I had inform them of when a patrol was coming up and I
would meet with the officers and they would tell us to tell them who is going to be going and who
is gonna be reconnaissance or whatever. …”