Korean War Legacy Project

James Creswell

Bio

James “Jim” Creswell was drafted into the Army in 1951 and served in Korea as a radio operator. He recounts his first impressions of Korea after arriving in Pusan and details the poor civilian living conditions. He describes a typical day for him during his service, sharing the dangers of his work advising soldiers and dealing with guerrilla fighters. He describes an incident where guerrilla solders ambushed a supply train, massacring roughly 400 civilians, which made U.S. headlines. He speaks of the difficulties faced by American and British soldiers while on the front line and adds that the memories from war influenced his quality of life after returning home.

Video Clips

Conditions in Pusan

James Creswell describes his first impressions of Korea. He recounts the horrible living conditions civilians faced in Pusan. He shares that people were living in river beds, freezing to death due to lack of clothing, and had no food or money.

Tags: Busan,Seoul,Civilians,Cold winters,Food,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Poverty,South Koreans

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNKVwoLUxg8&start=469&end=594

Typical Day of Service

James Creswell describes how he served as an advisor to three or four South Korean Majors and Colonels. He recounts offering radio signal, leadership, combat, artillery, and tank advice and training to other soldiers. He explains that there was significant guerrilla warfare, and due to the successes of the advisory support he was involved in, he shares that there was a bounty on his head. He expresses the level of danger, adds that no logos or insignias were worn, and recalls having a rifle in his hands at all times.

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

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNKVwoLUxg8&start=751&end=905

Guerilla Clearance (graphic)

James Creswell, in somewhat graphic detail, describes the Guerilla Clearance as a dangerous and deadly time in Incheon and around the Pusan Perimeter. He details the banding together of Chinese and North Koreans troops and their plan to attack his location. He offers a visual of witnessing a mass shooting in a rice field, of beheadings, and scare tactics used by the South Korean soldiers to keep opposition at bay.

Tags: Busan,Incheon,Chinese,Fear,Front lines,North Koreans,South Koreans

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNKVwoLUxg8&start=908&end=1059

Supply Train Ambush

James Creswell recounts a supply train ambush where guerrillas had dynamited the track, forcing the train to stop roughly twenty miles from its destination. He shares that the civilians on the train got off, and the guerrillas then gunned down around four hundred of them. He recalls the event being so horrific that it made headlines in the U.S. and believes it to be the largest civilian massacre in 1952.

Tags: Civilians,Front lines,Letters,Physical destruction,South Koreans

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNKVwoLUxg8&start=1060&end=1148

South Korean Soldiers "Bugging Out"

James Creswell describes how he went up to the front line several times to see how the South Koreans were fighting due to having helped train them. He shares that two other men along with him would communicate via walkie-talkie on the status of the line. He recalls that the South Korean soldiers, when scared, would leave the British and American soldiers in the middle of the night without warning. He refers to this as "bugging out" and adds that it left the British and American soldiers vulnerable to attack by the Chinese.

Tags: Busan,Daegu,Chinese,Fear,Front lines,South Koreans

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RNKVwoLUxg8&start=1239&end=1372

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Video Transcript

Sage Stulak

Interview Script

James Creswell

Creswell: My name is James Creswell. I was born in Dalton, Nebraska. March 22nd, 1930.

Interviewer: March 22nd, 19…

Creswell: 30

Interviewer: 30, what school did you go through?

Creswell: I grew up in Southern California. Burbank High School. Nebraska and my father was from Oklahoma, so as a child we moved to Oklahoma until I was nine years old and then California.

Interviewer: When did you graduate high school?

Creswell: 1948

Interviewer: From May, right?

Creswell: June

Interviewer: June

Creswell: I think

Interviewer: And then what were you doing?

Creswell: I went to junior college, my father was an automobile dealer, and I grew up in the automobile business. But I went to junior college for two years and was drafted out of junior college, so I didn’t get to complete it until I got home.

Interviewer: what was the college’s name?

Creswell: uh, Glendale Community College, Glendale California

Interviewer: And what did you study?

Creswell: Business and pre-law

Interviewer: How did you like it?

Creswell: Well I liked it when I wasn’t studying; I wasn’t the best student in the country. In fact my fathers attorney told me, I wouldn’t be I couldn’t be an attorney because I couldn’t study long enough to learn the procedures. So I think I would have been a good lawyer if I would have stuck with it but….

Interviewer: So you were in the college when the

Creswell: I sure don’t remember about it.. I had broken my leg in 1950 right at the time the war started and I was in a cast and tried to join the army air force and they told me to come back when my leg healed up.

Interviewer:   Hmmmm

Creswell: while I was waiting for my leg to heal up I got drafted into the army in January 1951.   I did not know where Korea was of course.   But, I don’t remember the exact moment I was aware of it but people were talking about it.

Interviewer: what were they talking about?

Creswell:   well, that was long time ago. I can’t remember exactly.   There was war going on in Korea, or conflict going on in Korea.   I was really not that interested in it at that time.

Not thinking I would be involve in it.

It did not take long before we all realized some of my older friends where getting drafted. And going into the service. I don’t know if any of them went into Korea. Out of my high school there were 25 of us that went into the army the same day. That was the largest group.

Interviewer: Wow

Creswell: that we all went in at one time.

Interviewer:   25 of you in one day

Creswell:   yes, 25 of us in one day

Interviewer: what were your friends saying about being drafter and dragged into Korea

Creswell: we had no idea what we were getting in to.   I had grown up for World War II and we did not know anything about Korea.   It was suppose to be a small conflict.

In fact the organization I was in in Korea was the only one when the war started.

Korean military advisory group. When they came across I thought it would just be a little scrimmage.

Interviewer: uh huh

Creswell: did not get all excited about it.. We did not know about it. Did not care as a teenager. Did not know.

Interviewer: where did you go for base camp training?

Creswell:   I went to central California

Interviewer; what kind of training did you receive.

Creswell: my basic training. I qualified for officer’s candidate school. ICS.

And I said that is fine. You are drafty so you have to sign up for one more year.

Interviewer:   uh huh

Creswell: well I did not want to stay in army so I said I wouldn’t sign up for 10 more minutes.   Then they said I would be a rifleman.

I said I wouldn’t sign up for another year. They started offering my schools and classes. Cook and baker school. No thanks.   They were going to teach me how to climb telephone poles. I said no thanks. Couple of other things. One was radio.   I thought I could learn career. They were twisting my arm to keep me out of infantry.. I said put my on radio.   Assuming it was radio repair..

Interviewer:   they did not know

Creswell:   they did not know what it was

Interviewer: How was the basis military training? Did you learn enough?

Creswell:   after I got out of basis training. I had 6 weeks of radio operation. I learned morse code.

TV morse code

Interviewer: so you know the Morse code

Creswell:   not any more.. I know the SOS>

That s all I know

It is interesting …back tracking my sister was with the FBI. Her boss found out I was going in army.   Top security clearance.   Lets get your brother into Core Intelligence. CIS     so, he contacted me and I met with him a couple times. You cannot tell anyone. The army cannot know you are in the CIC     undercover.   Went on with basis training.   Got out of radio school. Found out we were going to Korea.     So, I called FBI in LA and asked them about going and what they are going to do about it.   WE have not asked army to cooperate so we have to see what we can do. Go to Korea and call us when you get home.   I went and 35 of us from class were in Okanawa.

Interviewer:   when did you leave for Korea?

Creswell: sometime in May

Not exact what day.

Interviewer: Where did you depart from?

Creswell: from San Francisco we got to Okinawa

And Okinawan. Went to other places.   Ucipan for a couple days.

Interviewer:   asking about Ucan. How was it?

Creswell: it was sad ……millions of people in riverbeds   freezing to death. People running around half naked. Terrible experience in Pucan. Everyone was pushed down to pucan.. Traumatic..   I was there a couple months.   Operated a radio.   And so they kept us there. A lot of free time. So sad and devastating .. frozen to death in doorways. Very sad …very traumatic.

Interviwer: then what happened to you.

Cresswell:   well, after a couple months in Pucan… and seol and Hawaii could not get their raidos working so I was assigned to Kamac. Korean advisory group.   And at that tiem pucan was headquarters.   Kept me there another month or two.

Then, we moved to west coast of korea..   Fanju…… raild road station.   Had been a Japanese base at one time.   That was basically our headquarters.

A team working with south Korean army.

3 of us was assigned to the batalian and go up to front line with them.

And stay with them for 2 or 3 weeks while they fought.     Go back and stay about 2-3 months and take another group up. Back and forth .   So, fortunately for me I got to travel a lot of south Korea.   And got to see coast to coast.

Interviewer:   what was it like to be there in 1951? What is the scenes you saw.

Creswell:   Everything was pretty well blown up.   Trees were all dead. Bridges were all blown up .   It could have been a beautiful country.   And I went back years later and it was a beautiful country but at that time not much beauty.

Everybody was in Pucan and the perimeter ..no bridges ..everything was devastated…but, 20 years later I went back and it was beautiful

Interveiwer:   what was your mission. What was your main work   Describe A typical day of your service.

Creswell:   well, a typical day of I was working with 3 or 4 Koreans Majors and Colonels.. and I was not their right arm.. and they did not take orders from me, but, I would advise on different things.. A lot was signal core advise as I had the signal core training.   I had also had leadership course in the arm and combat course.. so, I worked with the tank battalion.   We taught them how to drive tanks.   Taught them artillery..   a little bit of everything. We would go with them and see how they function in combat.     Konju was the center of gorilla battles all the time.   Wewere out hunting down gorillas.

And that was , found out later.. knew about it in 1951. It was gorilla territory.. eisenhauer would never see.   Dangerous.   As Korean advisors we found out we had a reward out for us dead or alive ..because we were doing so much good for Korean soldiers so they wanted us out of the way.     It was dangerous. We went no where without a weapon in our hand.   We did not go to the cantine. Or bathrorom without a rifle ….we slept with rifel on chest.

Interviewer:   so you were involved in the gorilla clearance.. right?

Creswell: gorilla …gorilla warfare..

Interviwer:   how dangerous was it.

Creswell: pretty dangerous..   When the army cut the troops off . They left a bunch of them down there and they banned together..

Interviwer: Chinese too.

Creswell: sure sure. They were banded together and they could not get back to their homeland.   We went out and got word that a band of them were going to come to our camp. A group of prisoners.   So we went out and intercepted them.   Me and about 3 other americans.   And we captured the gorillas that were heading towards us.   The officer in charge said .. “we captured them. We know they are gorillas …..we have no room for them:.. :”   they shot them all right there in the rice patty.   There was a chinese general and his wife… and we found out that their headquarters were across from our camp They shot all these gorillas..   and his wife and melt them down and chopped their heads off .. south Korean soldiers.. they put the heads in boxes and sent the boxes and put news in the box that this is what would happen.

My first experience with small arms fire.

Big encounter.   Another time we got a notice that the train.   Our supply train was coming and it was heal up and the gorillas had divided the track.. civilian train and 5 of our guys.. were on the train.   They got off and machine guns killed about 400 of them. We heard about it in our town.   It made the news.    They had to go collect the 400 bodies. I had told my mother I was in a safe place. Not to worry but she read about that in newspaper.. and the article made a liar out of me.

Interviwer: so your mom knew that from the article.

Creswell: yes, that magazine and article in newspaper.. largest massacre of civilians in one area.

Interviewer: so your mom was really worried?

Cresswell:   I know she was

Interviewer:   I wrote letters …she kept them?

Cresswell: she kept them then I got.. we started numbering the letters cuz the mail was really bad.

You would write a letter and number 1.. then, 2, 3, 4.

Number 10, number 11.. we could not get stamps and like in world war III we wrote free instead of a stamp.

Interviwer:   you said you kept the letters?

Cresswell: yes, a whole shoebox stored away.

Interviewer; important for young children to know about the letters and exchange between you and your mom.   If you can please find them

Creswell:   I told it pretty much like it was as it broke my heart.

Interviwer: you stayed in Young gee

Creswell:   but I went from sangangee up the line several times with batallions.

Interviwer: Why?

Cresswell: there were 3 of us ..to see how they were fighting. Very dangerous role. They did not look out after us..   front line of 1,000 group and there were 3 of us..one on each end and one in middle and we kept in touch on walkie talkie radios. And many times we ran for our lives..   they would bug out and leave the ranks and leave a hole and they did not tell us when they did it..   we would wake up and hear voices and grab rifel and head south.

Interviewer: you are saying that the soldiers would leave without notifying any Americans.

Cresswell: they were scared ..they were afraid. I contacted an amercain general and don’t know who he was … that they would take me offline and give some rest and relaxation..   one on one side… troops behind us..   the south Koreans could not bug out.

Interviewer:  what was your rank?

Creswell: well that is interesting .. I made Private first class. I was working with major and colonels .   General and colonel in charge of my outfit..   they gave me what they call a field promotion.   Major.. so that these majors would identify with the major locals.   They would respect my rank.   Then one stripe on my arm   so they took a stripe on my arm and put a major shield on my arm.

Interviwer: what do you mean. You were promoted from PFC to major?

Cresswell: yes, major and I was paid for it.

Interviwer: how did it happen:

Cresswell:   because there was nobody between me and them.   The majors were all busy. They were very few non commisseed officers in my group.   Now when I got out of the arm I got back down to PFC.   So I did not retire as a major. But, my rank was major in Korea.   Temporary major.

Pretty rare I think.   I don’t know anyone else ….

Interviewer: so how much were you paid.   When you were Pfc

Creswell:   When I went in and recruit we got 21 dollars a month.   Then we got to korea we got combat pay.. went up to 50 dollars a month.

That was 60 years ago.   Then, with Major probably up to 200 dollars.

Sent the money home   I could not spend it..   there is no place to spend it.

Interviwer:   how was the living condition in Som jung yang. Tent or ……

Cresswell: we were in tents to start with… uh.. then we built huts for us.. and an interesting story about the hut. We had one hut that was our kitchen and dining room and it was not insulated and huts are cold in winter… time..   freezing cold.

Well, the chinese were not to far ahead of us and they had some huts.

The gorillas had some Concha huts.

Interviwer:   really

Cresswell:   we could see them with our binoculars and they had insulation and paneling.

Interviewer:   warmer then yours.

Cresswell: warmner then ours.. so, we went and stole them one night.

Take a wire and hot wire car very easily… so , I had a piece of wire and we went and stole this Nissan truck.. Japanese truck with insulation and paneling and brought it down.. to our concha hut. Christmas eve on 1951, we got to bed and that night the gorillas came over to the concha hut and burned it up.

Interviewer: laughing.

Creswell; so they got even with us..   I am sure about this

And the mess sergeant was sleeping in a loft up in the concha hut and he had a lot of ammunication and we could not get close enough to put it out.

It had been a prison camp.

And underneath the hill was a large tavern… down at the cave at bottom on hill was a dungeion and the dungeon had concrete floors and steel iron bars like a prison and the Japanese apparently kept the prisoners down there and that is where we kept all of our guns and amm lunition . and hand granades and shells cuz it was very cool …

I understand shong lon lee is now a college town.   Beautiful college town.

Interviewer: when did you get back ….leave Korea

Cresswell:   I got on a flight.. in 1952.. December 25th.. Christmas day we got on the ship.

Interview: from sassbel. In 1952 and left for the states

Cresswell.   14 days to get to san Francisco

Interviewer: What did people say about your service when you got back

Cresswell: well, they were just happy to see me.

Basically iwas happy to get home.   We did not talk much about it.

Interviewer: why not?

Cresswell:   well, there is the other thing Post traumatic stress. I apparently had it. I did not realize what it was.   One time I watched a movie …a real good movie. Bridges of tokaree.   Korean story.   This pilot got shot down and mickey rooney was flying a helicopter to recover him. And they were in an irrigation ditch.   I saw that movie and that night I went to bed. I was single parent for two daughters… and that next morning and I woke up and my daughter said “daddy”.   Who were you hollering at last night.   ?   I said I wasn’t hollering at anybody… well you were making a lot of noise,,     Well, my bed was a mess.   And I had realized I had been in that same irrigation ditch and the gorillas chasing me. And it brought back all of that relived it.   And so I guess I had that PTSD.. whatever it is called.

Interviewer: PTSD

Cresswell: years later in san diego , California… a commercial airplane and a small plane collided over a residential district of san diego and this was in the 60’s and they talked about bodies being hung up in trees and I got sick.. I could not eat or sleep …I did not know what was wrong with me… and I realized seeing the 400 bodies and looking for my buddies…this mention of these other bodys brought back memories… so I guess I had it.. I still have it.. I had to sleep on floor… bed was to soft.

Interviewer; when did you go back to korea

Cresswell: I went back in …. They had a celebration in tagoo for us.   It was absolutely beautiful.   Trees had all grown back.. it was in Seol with nobody in it.. in my collection. That stuff is all buried.

Interviewer: why did you not bring it.

Cresswell: now there is 11 million people l iving there.

We crossed the river and pontoon bridge..   four or five bridges across there.. we crossed the river 4 times.   We would , one time.. we had to deliver a message from pooson up to tagoo and the fighting was still going on up there.   A buddy and I in a jeep and it was about 15 miles each way.. 50 miles round trip. And we would have to stop and see red flag on hillside and would have to wait for white flag. We would go a little further and wait for white flag.. red flag , white flag… took us 13 hours to cover 100 miles.   50 miles up and 50 miles back.

Interviewer: do you have any message to our young generation

Cresswell;   well yes.. I don’t think they will listen.   The younger generation is so involved in electronics that they are not associated with their parents.   Or with other children on a game.. they are all playing with their ipads or electronic gear. We used to play kick the can in the streets…. We used to play football and baseball. Around the neighborhood

Interviewer:   but, not they are just texting.

Cressewell:   with the electronics they don’t know what we are talking about.

So that is kinda sad but that is the generation … and talk about war ..they don’t know anything about war.   They just know Afganistan.     They see it on news. But, they don’t have association with it unless they have a relative.. involved in it.. then, they get a little closer.   They are caught up in their own growth that they don’t, they aren’t interested.

Interviewer: thank you so much for your fight. Sacrifice. Korea is not what it is and we all thank you and the Korean war has never been forgotten in the minds of Koreans.

 

Thank you.