Jack Howell was called upon to serve in the Korean War from the Marine Corps Reserve in 1950. He recalls landing in Wonsan shortly after the Marines had gained control there. He shares vivid memories from combat against Chinese troops at Hill 1080. He expresses how gratifying it is to know that he and other Americans were helpful in South Korea’s plight. He shares his impressions of Korea after having returned in the year 2000 for the 50th Anniversary of the war.
Morale in Wonsan
Jack Howell describes landing in Wonsan, Korea, shortly after the Marines had taken over Wonsan. He recounts the morale of fellow soldiers and shares memories of a commander greeting them on the beach with a pep talk once they had landed. He recalls scenes of Wonsan and shares that there seemed to have been little resistance as there was no major destruction to observe.
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Screams from Hill 1080
Jack Howell shares his memories of combat against Chinese troops as he and his fellow soldiers fought to control and defend Hill 1080. He describes the encounter as overwhelming due to the mass number of Chinese soldiers attacking them. He recalls unnerving memories of frozen Chinese soldiers in their bunkers as well as the screams and taunts of the Chinese.
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The Rise of South Korea
Jack Howell offers his thoughts on Korea when he left in 1951 and then returning in 2000 for the 50th Anniversary. He recalls thinking that Korea would recover but not to the degree it has in such a short time frame. He expresses that it was amazing to see the country in 2000 and how the country has evolved as a world power.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
J: Jack Howelll, J A C K , middle initial E. Howell H O W E L L
I: What is your birthday?
I: And where were you born?
J: I were, I was born in Omaha, Nebraska.
I: Omaha, Nebraska. And tell me about your family and your sibling when you were growing up?
J: Well, I had two brothers,
older brother and a, a younger brother, and there was three boys, and we grew up and usually in the summertime, we spent the summer with our grandparents down on the farm. It was probably about 50 miles south of Omaha that, so we had that experience of working on the farm and. Other than that,
I graduated from Technical High School in 1950.
I: Technical High School?
I: What kind, what is it?
J: Well, it was a high school. I took, my, printing is what my, what I took. I was a printer when
I: And let me ask
this question. When you were in the school, were you taught about Korea at all?
J: No, I didn’t know anything about Korea.
I: What about Asia?
J: Just, Japan was the only thing that
I: That was it?
J: Some of the islands, you know, during the War, World War II, but not Korea.
I: Not Korea. And what did you do after the graduation?
J: Well, after the graduation, I graduated in June, and I went on a trip to Colorado with my parents and brothers, and August 4 of 1950, I was in the Marine Corp. Reserve, and they activated us to go to Camp Pendleton for training.
I: So you were in,
I: Marine Corp. Reserve
I: During your high school, right?
I: Yeah. And then you were activated when?
J: August 4, 1950.
I: And how did you came to know about the breakout of the Korean War?
J: Not till we got to, well, seen it on radio and television, of course. But that was
about all that I, I really knew about Korea so.
I: And when you were reactivated, you didn’t go to basic military
J: I never had
I: training camp, right?
J: I didn’t have boot camp. I went to Camp Pendleton.
I: Right away.
J: Right, I got there on the 14thof August, 1950.
I: And what happened?
J: We went through rigorous training, combat training.
I: Could you tell me?
Well, we had, let’s see, two, two months of, probably of what a lot of the boot camp is and, and the, the training with weapons and, and marching, amphibious landings, all of the special training you need to, to go into combat and
I: And did you know that you were headed to Korea?
J: No. We didn’t, we kind of thought that, but we didn’t know until we got out in the international waters, and then that’s when we told us we was going to Japan, which we did, and we went to Yokohama, Japan, and then we went to Camp Kobe in Kobe, Japan, and we did some amphibious training landings
and so forth, and I guess that’s when it kind of really formed in our minds that we would be going to Korea.
I: So until then, you, you haven’t had any idea where you were headed?
I: You never heard about the Korea that was going to be
J: We heard about it, at that time, we didn’t know the Korean War was going on, and then.
and, and we, we landed in Wonsan, North Korea.
I: So before that, when did you leave for Japan from Pendleton, or San Diego?
J: San Diego, I left on October 10th, 1950.
I: Yeah. And then you went to Yokohama, Kobe, and then when did you leave for Korea?
J: Well, let’s see. We landed in Korea on November 7th.
I: And tell me about the morale at the time, the soldiers. They, they were headed to Korea.
I: Were they kind of afraid or, or some sort of, kind of heightened?
J: Well, I, there was a few of them that were
afraid. Personally, I wasn’t afraid, but we didn’t know what really we was getting into at 18 years old. It was kind of a, you know, just a different experience then when we, when we landed there.
I: Um hm. Tell me about Wonsan. You, I, I had an interview with other Chosin Few veterans,
and they said that they had to stay in the ocean because of the, the mines.
J: That’s, that’s right.
I: So tell me about the details.
J: Well, when we got ready to go in, they had to bring ships in there to check out for the mines.
I: Um hm.
J: But, and then when we did land, we, it wasn’t really a battle right there landing because the 5th, I think it was the 5thMarines or the 7thMarines had already
come through and, and taken over Wonsan.
I: Uh huh.
J: And then we, we landed, and then we did patrols around there to make sure it was, was secure, and we run into a lot of fire there on patrols.
J: which was our, which was our first taste of somebody shooting at you.
I: Um. By the way, what was your
J: I was in Baker Company
I: Uh huh.
J: 1stBattalion, 1stMarine, 1stMarine Division.
I: Yeah. And what was your specialty?
J: I was in machine guns. Infantry was.
I: Was it heavy, right? Machine gun?
J: Yeah. I seen one yesterday out of Camp Pendleton. It didn’t look heavy yesterday, but it, yeah, it was pretty
heavy when you had to carry the gun yourself.
I: What the ammunition?
J: Thirty, 30 caliber.
I: Thirty caliber.
J: Um hm.
I: Could you describe the scene of Wonsan? How was it at the time? The, did you see the people? How did they look, and what was the condition of the city and harbor and the people?
J: The city, I, I don’t recall even really seeing the downtown part of Wonsan, just around the beach area is where we were set up,
and I remember Chesty Puller who was a Regimental Commander crated us and walked with us there and gave us a little pep talk. He told us that he wouldn’t send us anyplace he wouldn’t go himself.
I: Um hm.
J: And then he said, with a little bad language, there’s no place on Earth I wouldn’t go.
J: So that kind of took care of that message for us and, but there wasn’t a lot of, like they didn’t do a lot of bombing and stuff like that on. Evidently they had very little resistance when they took over Wonsan because it didn’t show a lot of, you know, a lot of buildings blown up and that kind of
I: Uh huh.
J: But there wasn’t really a lot of buildings there, either.
I: So you met, you were under the leadership of Chesty Puller?
I: The famous
J: The icon.
I: I, I went to the Quantico Marine Corp. Museum, and I saw his monument there.
J: And he lived just south of there in Georgia. He, his, he’s buried in, on their plantation down there.
I: Um. So you remember him?
J: Oh yes.
I: And from Wonsan, where did you go?
J: From Wonsan, we got on the flat bed train just, and it was, I remember it was very cold, and they had two 55 gallon drums on each end of the, the flat bed we was on to keep you, but, you know, when it was loaded with people, you couldn’t get close to the thing, and we went to
Hamyang by train. Then we, they put us on 12 by trucks, and we went to the base of the Chosin Mountain. I think it was, well, that wasn’t the name of the mountain, but I think we was at Chinni
J: Is that, was that the right name?
I: Yeah. Chinhung-ni.
J: And that’s where my unit was stationed during the, at that time the supply and ammo depot at the base of the hill.
I: This is the map of Chosin Few Battle.
J: I’ve not seen one like this one before. I’ve got a map, but it’s not as clear as this one.
I: Is that clearer?
J: well, it’s, it shows, mine doesn’t show, well
it didn’t show Chinhung-ni on there.
I: So you arrived in Chinhung-ni, do you remember when you arrived there?
J: We arrived there around the 25thof November,
I: Um hm.
J: Or 24th, some, some place in, at the end of November, in the 20’s. It was maybe 21.
I: So on the way up to Chinhung-ni, did you see any Chinese soldiers?
I: No, not at all?
I: No skirmish or
J: No skirmish.
I: or no battle?
I: And describe the Chin hung-ni. How was it at the time that you arrived there?
J: Well, there wasn’t anything there. Where we was at, it was just a couple little shacks. But no population of people.
I: No, no North Korean people at all?
J: No. Not where we were at, no. It was, like I said, a couple little houses.
I Uh huh.
J: But no. And then we had Thanksgiving dinner there. I remember that, on the 26th.
J: And then we got our orders to leave, I believe it was on the 27thor the 28th, to go up to Yudamni.
I: Oh, so you didn’t stay there.
J: No. We stayed there, and then that’s when they started getting in some serious
trouble up there. The 5thand 7thMarines
J: And then we went up, our unit, the 1stBattalion of the 1stRegiment
I: Um hm.
J: We went up and took hill, and it was either 1080 or 10008. Our job was to go up there and take that hill over from the Chinese and maintain it until the rest of the people come up.
I: Wasn’t that in Yudamni?
J: Yeah. Right as you come out of the war.
I: So when did you arrive at Yudamni?
J: I, I want to say probably around the 28thof, of November.
I: So that was after the first initial attack by the Chinese.
I: Against the 5thand 7thRegiments in Yudamni.
I: Yeah. How was it when you arrived in Yudamni? How was the situation there? What was the scene? Can you describe in detail?
J: Yeah. Well I can describe what I seen.
I remember going up there, and we walked up there, of course, or marched up there, I, I, I don’t say marching up, but we walked up there, and it was really, really cold, and snowing, and we took a break to get our orders to go up on the hill 1080, I think it was 1080, and that’s when we
was open fired on. We did, we did not see the Chinese at that time, and it wasn’t until we dug in there. Well, we didn’t dig in because it was all rock. But that, that’s where we stayed that night, and then the next morning we pursued to take over that hill, mountain.
I: What about other 5thand 7thRegiment
of Marines there. Did you see them?
J: We didn’t see them until they come out.
I: Come out from where?
J: from the reservoir and further north Hagaru, up in that area. We, our, our job was to take that hill and hold it because
I: But you said it was in the Yudamni, right?
I: Yeah. Hagaru-ri is south of Yudamni. east, southeast of Hagaru-ri there.
I: Yep. Hagaru-ri is there
I: Oh, so it’s not south. It’s actually west, east.
I: This is Yudamni there.
I: Um hm.
J: But it’s below.
J: Yeah. That’s where we was at, Yudamni.
I: Um hm. And how close was it between Yudamni and Hagaru-ri?
J: I don’t know because we never, when we got there,
we took that hill, and we stayed there until all the troops got out.
I: Uh huh. So tell me about those, the first initial attack by Chinese to your unit.
J: It was, well, how the hell did it, overwhelming. Just one after another. It was like, it’s hard to put in numbers, but
it was mass, and we know that every one of them did have a weapon. They just charge d in mass and, and they, at, a lot of them had weapons, but when the, then when you’d get up in the morning and, of course, they were still all laying there. But it was pretty
overwhelming. And kind of scary.
I: How close was it?
J: Oh, they would get as close probably to the edge of that
I: So it’s like 10 meters away.
J: Yeah. And we had, there was barbed wire strung out there to slow them down.
I: Just 10-minute distance.
I: You were that close.
I: And so many.
J: And so many, and when we went up there and took the hill, there was a lot of them in their, oh I guess you’d call them maybe bunkers, and they was froze to death, you know. They were dead. We didn’t know that. Their eyes were still open and
J: Yeah. And their little white quilted uniform
I: Um hm.
I: What were you thinking?
J: I was, you know, it was just, I was in machine guns and that thing, and I was just thinking I hope I don’t burn the barrel up on this thing, you know. And, and at times you’d would thought we was never gonna get out of there.
I: Do you often remind,
I mean do you see that nightmare or do you see some of the scenes that surrounded by Chinese and being at tacked?
J: At times. Sometimes, I, I, one of the things I remember sometimes is vividly seeing the, the ones that were froze to death, just, you know, with their arms on the bunker with their weapon.
J: And, and then some of the yelling, screaming,
chimes, vehicles. Tonight you, tonight you die, Marine. Some of them could speak pretty good English, yeah.
I: How do you think you went through all this and survived?
J: The good Lord. It was nothing we did. The Lord
brought us through that for a reason.
I: How many were, of you were there in the unit, when you defending the 1080 hill?
J: We had, we had two companies I think so, probably
J: Yeah, I would say, well, maybe, no, not that many. Probably about 300.
I: Three hundred.
J: And I’m not sure on that, but that
I: And how many survived?
J: Well, a lot of them, out of our outfit, we probably lost about 15%.
I: And I read that every single Marines who killed there were
retrieved, and you carry all of them, leaving nobody there. Is that
J: Well, that’s true to some degree. At Hagaru-ri, I wasn’t there but I had friends there, and I have pictures now of, they couldn’t get them out of there because of the air, couldn’t get them out because of trucks
I: Um hm.
J: So the ones, and I think it was the 5thor the 7thMarines, that they just bulldozed and had a mass grave there.
J: And, but the rest of them, yes, we took out all our trucks, and I have pictures of that at home where they would just look like a pile clear up to the top of the truck.
I: I think I made wrong comments here. Of those who injured, all of them were carried back, right?
J: Well, yeah, the injured. Right, yes. And
all, there was a lot of dead that we brought out, too.
I: Um hm. And
J: all come out of Yudamni.
I: Yudamni, and then from there, where did you go?
J: We went down to, headed down towards Hamhung
I: Hamhung, yeah. But how was it when you withdraw? How was the situation?
J: We had fire all the way down because they was still, you know, the ridges,
and we walked from Yudamni down to the bottom to Chinhung-ni, and then they picked us up in trucks there and, and took us down that mountain or we got on a ship
I: Uh huh.
J: And went to Pusan.
I; And were you there at the, the Trentway bridge was
J: Yes. We was still out, we couldn’t get out until they put that in there.
I: So describe in detail, because I heard about
this Kotori, and suddenly, you know, that sky was really cloudy and then was dark. But somehow it’s been cleared
J: It’s just a, like a, just an open spot, you know, like you’d see in a movie where it just, and it was fairly bright.
I: What time was it?
J: Well, it was in the morning, but it was like, it wasn’t
Well, I, I don’t know. But it wasn’t like 4:00 or 3:00 or something.
I: So it’s like the dawn, and when was that?
J: Well, I don’t know the exact date on that because we left on the 13thI think, of
I: From Hamhung.
I: But you were, you were there at the hill until when?
J: Well, we started out of there on, I think the, the 12thor the 13thof December.
I: No, no, no, no. The 1080 hill.
Okay. Well we was on there until they got the bridge in, and then we let, you know, the troops come through, and then we followed up on them.
I: Um hm. So pleases describe again the, the scene that you saw when the, the sky was suddenly cleared and the bridge was
J: That, that thing parachuted down, and the, and they, well, I don’t, it wasn’t a Seabees but the
Army thing. They put that thing in place, and it just, it was like a miracle the way it fit in, the way it was dropped in there.
I: So the Chinese destroy the bridge, and then U.S. came and just parachuted down the new bridge, like a new bridge
J: Um hm
I: and that just fit into the right place?
I: I cannot believe it.
J: I, it was, they, they, you know, it was like, I don’t know how to say it. There, there was very little effort, you know. There was effort, but I mean not something, it was unbelievable.
I: And you saw that?
I: You were awaken?
J: Yeah. We was, we was up on that hill. That was a hill lashed out, and then the
5thMarines come, or 7thMarines come through, the 5thMarines come through, and then the 1stMarines come through.
I: Wow. It’s, it’s like a miracle that God performed.
J: That’s exactly what it was. I, that’s what I told you before. Just by the grace of God we got out of there.
I: Without that bridge.
J: We wouldn’t have been able to get out of there.
I: It’s amazing story.
J: Because the ravine was deep, yeah.
I: So, from your arriving Chinhung-ni in November 25thand then go up to the hill and them coming down and that happened, this whole thing, how do you put that into perspective right now?
J: It, it’s just like, it, like it was unreal
that I, I guess we, you know being, most of us had severe frostbite, the walking out of there, and I know one thing. When we got to, down to the bottom and seen the trucks waiting there for us, was quite a sight.
I: Hm. Did you regret at the time that you were there?
You mean like feeling sorry that, why am I here?
I: Um hm.
J: No, I never, I just know when we got down to Hamhung and I went into, they had stages for different 5thMarines and so forth, to see some of my friends and found out several of them were killed up there,
That was kind of a tough, tough thing.
I: Describe the coldness that you experienced there. How can you describe it?
J: Well, you know, we would, we had shoe packs, and when you’d walk, your feet would sweat. When you stopped it, then your feet
were like being in a refrigerator. When I got out to the bottom, that I couldn’t, my shoes I couldn’t lace them. My feet was swollen up that bad, and we used to, when we’d stop we’d change our socks and pink them, the wet ones underneath our arm and, and,
And I think most of us from today, I have neuropathy all over from, from the cold. It didn’t hit till my 50, in my 50’s. So. But it was just, well it’s a, I don’t know how to explain it. It was just, the C-rations were frozen, the, it was a tough, tough fight.
I: Why did it happen to you?
J: I don’t know. That’s, the Lord wanted me there for a reason, and I, that was part of my life plan. So.
I: Um hm. What is Korea now to you? The Korea that you saw 1950 and the Korea that you know now. What is Korea to you?
J: Well, Korea’s a, I was over there in 2000
to the 50thanniversary in September of 2015. It was unbelievable to see, it’s like going into any, in the town like Seoul was just like a metropolitan area here in the U.S.. Very busy, gratifying to see that they, that what we did over there
was helpful to them.
I: Absolutely. Without that opportunity to rebuild our nation, we are not here. We are not here.
J: Um hm. And they was very, The people there were very open to us and treated us really very well for the time we was there.
I: Let’s go back to the park. So you arrived in Hamhung and then Hungnam, and then you evacuated, right?
J: Evacuated on ship, went down to Pusan
I: Um hm.
J: And I think that area where we was at was called Masan.
J: And we was there. I know we had Christmas dinner there.
I: Um hm.
I think we pulled out of there like the first part of the year, like January, the end of January. February then started back up.
I: Back up to 38thParallel?
I: Spring of, Offensive.
I: Where did you go? Do you remember?
I: Well, I don’t know the name of the towns. I know some of the Battles was a Triangle
J: Yeah. I don’t know the name
of the towns,
I: Um hm.
J: Just the, and then I think it was another one, I got wounded in June of 1950.
J: Artillery, shrapnel.
J: In the back of my legs and back, nothing that, just pain but not enough to get me
out of there.
I: Oh. [LAUGHS]
J: Yeah. I was willing, because the replacement drafts wasn’t coming so they just kept us there, and they had a sick bay or whatever they called it then. It’s not like the old MASH you’ve seen on tv.
J: But then, then we went back up the line.
I: To where?
J: Back where we, up in the triangle
I: Triangle area?
J: Then it was two up above that
and I can’t remember what
I: Jackson Heights?
J: It may have been.
I: Is it familiar?
I: Jane Russell? No.
J: Was it Heartbreak Ridge?
I: Heartbreak Ridge is in the right side of the triangle.
J: Okay. And then there was one above that.
I: One of that to the right or to the east
J: To the right. To the east. We was on the east, well
I: Uh huh.
J: Well, further to the East.
I: Punch Bowl.
J: There you go.
I: How was Punch Bowl battle there?
J: We had a lot of casualties, and so we went all the way up. In fact, when I left to come home on, I think it was November 6 or 7, we was in North Korea
and I can’t think of the name of, it’s not like S k o
I: When did you leave Korea?
J: 1951, 7 November. I was there just a year.
I: You mentioned that you, you went to Korea through the Revisit Program, right?
I: And you saw the Korea in 2000?
I: So you have a very clear picture of before and after.
J: Oh yeah, very clear.
I: When you left Korea, did you have any hope about the future of Korea? Be honest.
J: Yes. I, you know. It was very gratifying to see
I: No no. When you left Korea in 1951.
J: Oh, in 1950?
I: ’51 you left, right?
I: Did you, did you think that the Korea would become like this today?
J: No. No I did not. I thought they would be, they would recover, but I, not to the degree that I, it was unbelievable to see all, you know the Samsung and the Hyundai. We went through the Hyundai factory down in, is, was that around Pusan area some place.
The Hyundai car
J: Yeah. I just would be glad to see it. It is a forgotten war, and, and it’s good that it’s being, people are being made aware of what went on over there, and, and how it is today, yeah. It’s a,
It was amazing to see that country with, in 2000 to me. You could still see up around the hills the, the bunkers are still there, and you could see the grass, but you couldn’t see in, in the area down around
I: Um hm.
J: The southern part of Korea.
I: But still, we are still divided by this stupid idology
I: And we need to reunify those
J: That would be
J: Brothers and sisters
J: Yeah. That would be good.
J: But there’s no interaction between North and South now.
I: We have done some, but it’s been closed again. So it’s very unfortunate.
I: Jack, you can go back to Korea again. Korean government will do, reinvite you again because you’ve been there in 2000.
I: So if you want to, let me know.
I: Yeah. I want to thank you because some of you
does, do not want to talk about it because I understand that was too much things.
I: But I think still you need to tell this things to your young generation.
J: Yeah. Yeah.
I: Otherwise it will be forgotten, you know?
J: Well, I met a young man here from New York, he was here by himself. His father just passed away, and he came here to see, because he didn’t know anything about what his dad did. So.
J: That’s the sad thing.
I: Thank you so much again.
[End of Recorded Material]