Jim Duncan Transcription Beginning through 20:34
Duncan: My name is Jim Duncan. That’s d-u-n-c-a-n, the last name.
Interviewer: What is your birthday?
Duncan: October 4th, 1930.
Interviewer: So you were born right in the middle of Great Depression here, in the United States?
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Duncan: Louisville, Kentucky.
Interviewer: So tell me about your family when you were growing up. Your parents and your siblings.
Duncan: Well, my father, if I may, was a WWI and WWII veteran. And he was a reserve Officer and he was a Balloon Observer in WWI. He was Core of Engineers Officer in WWII.
Interviewer: So both WWI and II?
Duncan: The family, my grandfather, one of my grandfathers, ect., they all lived in Louisville, KY. And I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville for 2 years after graduating from High School in Louisville.
Interviewer: When did you graduate your High School?
Duncan: January of 1949.
Interviewer: Louisville High School?
Duncan: Louisville Male High School. And that male means just exactly what it would. All the girls could a High School and the boys had a High School.
Interviewer: And then you went to Vanderbilt?
Duncan: Vanderbilt in Nashville.
Interviewer: That’s a nice school.
Duncan: But it was more, really more than my mother and dad could afford and they were scraping and I was playing. And so.
Interviewer: But you were qualified academically?
Interviewer: What did you study?
Duncan: Liberal Arts. But I wanted to be, at that time the United States Air Force was going around recruiting people for Pilots. And I thought, man, that would be great stuff. But when I finished getting my 90 quarter hours, which is 60 semester hours, the recruiting team for the Air Force was at Vanderbilt and they took me into a room and said now read that wall chart, cause they said, your academics are fine. They said read line seven and I said I can’t see anything below line five. They said well your eyes are strained and all that and so rest up cause we’ll be here the rest of the week, come back, and maybe you could qualify to be a Navigator. And I said okay so I went downtown Nashville and had a guy, a doctor, wall chart said it doesn’t go past five. And I said but they told me I had to read line seven. He said there is no line seven. So what they were doing was just being polite they thought that was the wrong thing for them to do they should have told me I don’t know why but that’s their call. So I called my father and told him and.
Interviewer: So they thought that you are not qualified?
Duncan: To be a Pilot.
Interviewer: To be a Pilot. What was the main reason? They thought?
Duncan: What it really was that they had already met their quota for going around.
Interviewer: Oh, I see.
Duncan: And didn’t want, they thought they were doing the right thing I guess for the University. Blah, blah, blah about coming to them. But I didn’t learn all of the parts of this until about four years ago. But I called back to that was 1950, early 50, and I called my father and said I want to drop out of Vanderbilt cause I’m not learning anything and I can’t get in the Air Force, I want to join the Army. And he said okay but you gotta promise me one thing and that was if you decide to stay in the Army and you are good enough they will probably put you through College. But you gotta go to College. And he said and if not and you want to join and not stay in the Army but serve your time and promise me you’ll get your College education. And I made that promise. So that I enlisted and I’m very proud of the fact that I enlisted as an RA.
Interviewer: When did you enlisted?
Duncan: 19, well 1950, 1950.
Interviewer: What month?
Duncan: I was sworn in Louisville and I went was shipped to Fort Mead, Maryland to be in paper route. The papers and all of that.
Interviewer: Do you remember what month? Summer or Winter or Fall?
Duncan: It was probably April, April of 1950.
Interviewer: And where did you get the Basic?
Duncan: Fort Hood, Texas.
Duncan: And it was interesting that at that time at least in the Army they were taking and filling it with first armored division is what it was, and they were and you go through a 16 week cycle as a division. And so when I was I got to Fort Hood they asked me because I had enlisted I guess we kind of kind of got a little bit of better what would you like to be. What do you want to be? And I said I want to be a Tanker. And they said well more specifically what do you want to do? I said I want to be a Gunner. And so that’s what I did and Basic Training that’s what I was trained for so but then I was sent to Fort Knox which was the home of armor then totally different from what it is now because it’s a different format the Army has come up with these teams and brigades and all of that. I went to armor school for the armor course for enlisted men. I was then a Corporal and then.
Interviewer: That’s a big promotion.
Duncan: It was, it was. We, they the reason was and I’ve always said being a Corporal was the best rank in the Army. People say why. They get to go to the NCO club, non-commissioned Officers Club and you don’t have to pull KP. So but then I came back to Fort Hood which is where I was stationed and I decided I ought to try for OCS, Officer Candidate School, and did and I was accepted. And so then I went back to Fort Knox and went through I guess it was 26 weeks of OCS. And then I had a furlough of a week and reported back to Fort Knox and they put me in a assigned me to a basic infantry training company. Here I am I’ve been in armor all the time and everything. And it that was in June. If I could back up a step. I was in there as a second Leutinenant in the armor and the they was short on Cadrys, they really were. And that was a problem. A month after, maybe six weeks after, I was assigned to that company I had a great, great CO, he was Roy Morgan, and he reminds me a lot of John Jackson. Did you just interview John?
Interviewer: No, Ivy Bell did.
Duncan: Okay a lot of that but. The problem was like every war that I’ve been aware of as far as the US Defense Department. They immediately start to cut back. They start to cut back. Well then they had taken General, or listen to me, First Leutinent, Roy Morgan, who was my Commanding Officer and put him in battalion because he had been through three different basic training cycles with being a Company Commander. So I became a big Company Commander of a basic training company that a. Maybe I’m telling you too much here.
Interviewer: No, no, no. Keep going.
Duncan: You can shed out what you don’t want. But there I was and we had 275 trainees. We had two cooks, two, and we had our own Mess Hall. Now, you know, two cooks can’t handle that. What do you do is you break all regulations and everything and with these trainees you get them all out. Good but when we got run over the first time you know we we were buttoned up in that tank. But the guys in the trenches the infantry they got run over but then the artillery we got rid we got we pushed them back. So that happened now you’re in I went online on in early May and and went to the hill 854 and never got off of it until the cease fire. The 72 tanks and the tank battalion and medium tank battalion so and I had five tanks and each company, each company had 22 tanks I think it was and all of our tanks one company was held in reserve and the other three were online. With Rocks. The Rocks loved us and they loved that 50 caliber machine gun on top. Excuse me.
Interviewer: Tell me the situation. How intensive the battle between you and the enemy?
Duncan: Well basically we fought at night, night. We would, during the day if this is the MLR we were dug right in it so when they come up that hill that I brought that picture of they its like shooting fish in a barrel and then but then they had their artillery and mortars coming in on us. Well I my tank got hit once and it knocked off the communications and it hit the turret in the front next to the gun the 90mm so I they had to get me another tank and we went from there but the primary thing was is that the Rock infantry 51st regiment they really liked us because we were there and that’s a lot of help to them being in there like that. And as an aside, I went back to Korea on a Korea war visit that a visitor thing in I think it was 1993, 94 and the Colonel, the Rock Colonel, that was in charge of where we were online was somehow or another we found him in Seoul and we had dinner with him.
Interviewer: That have been very nice.
Duncan: It was and the first thing he did he apologize for having to call in the our artillery and I said Colonel if you hadn’t called it in none of us would be there to talk to you you know. So it was its hard to say did we go out on patrols that’s the job of the infantry.
Interviewer: Were any of your tank hit by the enemies?
Interviewer: They were hit?
Duncan: Yeah and I had to take that tank out. And they got me brought me up another one up on the hill.
Interviewer: Were you not wounded?
Duncan: Yes I was.
Interviewer: Where were you wounded?
Duncan: Thighs and stomach.
Interviewer: So you got People Heart?
Duncan: Yes, I have a Silver Star too. But I wear that Silver Star only because I wear it for 10 men or rather my I said 10 I wear it for my whole platoon. And they know it.
Interviewer: When your tank was hit was it completely destroyed?
Duncan: No. Let me tell you about that. They first took out the 50 caliber on top and all my antennas on the tank which we had two antennas I believe it was one for battalion and one within the company. When they that’s when I pulled the tank out of the slot and got back on the reverse side of the top and they when they brought the other tank up and like I said we were fighting at night that’s when we were fighting. And they dropped a lot mortar round or two and we had bunkers to sleep in when you can sleep on the back side of the mountain. But nobody went to bed at 10 and got up at 4, none of that crap. It its different but they brought me up another tank and the battalion maintenance officer came up with it and he said he called me after they put it in place and he said I want to show you something on your tank . If you had taken one more round in that front you wouldn’t be here talking to me and so.
Interviewer: What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?
Duncan: What was the most diff. From what standpoint?
Interviewer: Any standpoint. Anything you couldn’t stand. You know. What was most difficult thing if you are asked to answer?
Duncan: I don’t think I’ve ever bene asked that before but oh that’s well you take care of your men first that’s number one that wasn’t difficult but it could be sometimes. But I didn’t consider that, what was, how did you ask that question.
Interviewer: The difficult thing, difficult thing, the most difficult thing you experienced?
Duncan: Sometimes there would be some people that would come up during the daytime that were from battalion that were staff officers and not line officers and they you try to get let your men get some rest in the daytime. We had things to do in the daytime. There was one Chaplain that wanted to hold services to these men. Now these guys had been up all night etc. and I wouldn’t let him. That was probably the most difficult thing, cause they were sound asleep. They were sound asleep.
Interviewer: What were you thinking? You came to a country you never knew before much.
Duncan: That’s right.
Interviewer: You were fighting like a dog there during the nights, and you had been wounded. What were you thinking?
Duncan: I was thinking about my men.
Interviewer: You lost.
Duncan: My no one was killed out of my platoon but quite a few were wounded and it would be during the daytime they would get wounded because they weren’t in the tank. Yeah.
Interviewer: When did you leave Korea?
Duncan: That’s I left Korea in I think it was the first day of December of 53. They when I was commissioned at Fort Knox I signed up for three years but obviously I didn’t stay three years. Like I said, every time there is a war the Defense Department immediately cut back. And so what they were cutting back on was MOS’s that a where there were people that had just graduated college they didn’t have any money to put them on duty. So if you had counting my enlisted duty as a RA Corporal etc. counting my enlisted duty. If you had it was either two or two and a half years of active duty you could apply for a early release. And the reason there were three of us that fell out was in the same company with in OSC. He had second platoon and I had third and another fella that became a friend of ours we all had enough time in that at the time of the cease fire we qualified for early releases.
Jim Duncan Interview Transcript
Starts at 20:33
Interviewer: When you went back to Korea in 1993, it was a program, how was it?
Duncan: It was wonderful, it was wonderful.
Interviewer: Tell me about the detail, how-how why do you think it was wonderful?
Duncan: Well…One of my buddies in civilian life, his company…US company, they had a really was a joint venture with a Korean company making very…doesn’t matter what they made but through those connections we were… the three of us and our wives, we were allowed to leave the group go over for the trip and one day they took us back and these two men. They were…one was a colonel and two were officers of the Iraq army but they were all civilians.
Duncan: Then they took us and said,” Where do you want to go” and we said “Can you get us back over as close as we can get to where we were on line,” and they did.
Duncan: And you say which one of you had cooking experience in civilian life and work in a restaurant or has something to do within cooking? When you get those out of there and so then you what you do with those is you take them out to the rifle range and get them to qualify with a carbon copy and then you take them on a long 14 mile hoke with packs and all and then you bring them back and tell them you get back in the mess hall…you know.
Duncan: And then the next sergeant will take it from here but you gotta…you gotta do what you gotta do.
Interviewer: So you become officer?
Interviewer: That’s great.
Duncan: Yeah, that’s what old…OCS is officer candidate school.
Interviewer: So how much were you paid when you were corporal?
Duncan: God, I don’t remember. I really don’t remember.
Interviewer: Not more than a $100, right?
Duncan: Oh no.
Interviewer: How much were you paid when you become the second lieutenant?
Duncan: I think it was about $180 a month. I think that’s right. So…
Interviewer: So that’s a big promotion?
Duncan: Yeah but we started OCS with 300 men in our company in our class. We graduated 75. That’s a…
Interviewer: That’s a lot of competition?
Duncan: It’s just, it’s how much harassment you can take.
Interviewer: Did you know anything about Korea at the time you were about to hear the breakup of the Korean War? Did you know anything about Korea before that?
Duncan: Yeah, because I had a brother-in-law who was a regular army, he was west pointer and he married my sister of course. My brother-in-law and he’d been through World War II and he was in Korea with a…up in at the beginning as a staff officer and he was very…he was badly wounded on Okinawa and then…
Interviewer: So he went to Korea before the war?
Duncan: No he went there after…in the war.
Interviewer: In the war?
Duncan: Yeah, he…he…when he was wounded in Okinawa he was sent back to the States and he was a career soldier and he wanted to stay in and so he hobbling around in a leg cast for about a year…two years and so then he got back to active duty immediately assigned to the 10th Corp, I think it was.
Interviewer: Did he talk to you about Korea?
Interviewer: How…what did he tell you about Korea?
Duncan: Well some of the things he told me I am not going to tell you. I can’s because it would be…it would mess some people up.
Duncan: Since this is getting so much publicity.
Interviewer: So not much good about it but told horrible things about Korea.
Duncan: Well see my father was army, my uncle I was named for was a machine gunner in World War I. My dad was a parachute…a balloonist. That was dangerous balloons because they were filled with hydrogen not helium. So it was in my blood and sometimes, not now, I used to look back and maybe I should have stayed in but I went back to Fort Know to see my training commander and said you know sir I was trained and enlisted to be an armor and I am out of my program here and he said go back to your company. You have a company to take care of.
Duncan: I said yes, sir.
Duncan: Well I found out this com…section of the Pentagon in Washington was called career management and you could write directly to them if you…about what career and possibilities were there for you in you training and in you MOS. You know what and MOS is?
Duncan: Okay, and so I write…
Interviewer: Tell for the audience what is MOS.
Duncan: It’s a Military Occupational Specialty. And I wrote to them directly here is my MOS which was a tank platoon leader, which is what I was by MOS. And they said we have vacancies for your MOS in the Far East and we all knew what that meant, it meant Korea and I said sign me up. So I went to Korea.
Interviewer: When did you leave for Korea?
Duncan: I got to Korea in March of ’53 and going through late March of ’53, I believe it was, and going through all the processing and everything then I was lucky enough to be a…
Duncan: Oh one thing I do want to tell you … that battalion commander at Fort Knox, he chewed my butt one side down the other because he had to find someone to be the battalion commander.
Duncan: But back to what you wanted to know, the…I got to Korea in Pusan and went to all kinds of stuff and then I was put on a train to go to Chuchang and then from there, there were vehicles waiting for three of us and we were all Second Lieutenants at Fort Know and two of us ended up being in the same outfit and both NOCS.
Interviewer: In Korea, what camp were you in?
Duncan: We were in 140th tank battalion but that needs some explanation. We were…the American Infantry division were built around how they did in World War II and so there was…each American army regiment had a tank company. And in addition to that there was a medium tank battalion that was the 140th , that had a ROC, I was on line with ROC infantry and this was put on line there and we were dug in right on the MLR.
Interviewer: Where was it?
Duncan: East Korea
Interviewer: Is that…do you remember the name Heartbreak Witch? Don’t move, don’t move, don’t move, I’ll give it to you.
Duncan: I had a tank platoon, an M46 patented tank is what they were and you have a heavy section and a light section. The platoon leader is responsible for it all but the heavy section is 3 tanks and the light section is 2.
Duncan: We were…the guys in the two tanks and the platoon sergeant they said they could see the Sea of Japan. That’s how far east we were and the reason we were over there was we were dug in and nobody thought that the North Koreans could break through over in the center of Korea. One of the places they would try and come through would be eastern Korea.
Interviewer: So remember the name, was it Heartbreak Witch or Pope Shock Hill?
Duncan: It didn’t have a name. That’s why the picture shows Hill 854.
Duncan: And the division was the 12th ROC division.
Duncan: ROC, 51st Regiment and they were damn good soldiers. We got run over twice.
Interviewer: How was the situation at the time you were in the hill?
Duncan: I went on that hill in the end of May ’53 and I got off that hill at the cease fire.
Interviewer: Tell me about the situation at the time. Was it there were very intensive battery’s and combats, right?
Duncan: Yeah, yeah. Well I tell you what in a tank, it was all trench warfare…it was all trench warfare for the most part, and we were there in direct support of…I had infantry men here and infantry men here, we were just dug in and we didn’t anything like the tanks going across the desert and the dust flying and all that stuff, it was not what it was. It was direct fire support and M46 Patton tank had the main gun that was a 90mm and then it had a 50 caliber on the top and the assistant driver had a 30 caliber down there in his place and on the top there was a 50 caliber and that was exactly like the tanks were at the end of World War II.
Duncan: And that was predominantly for aircraft but they still have the 50 caliber machine gun in use of the US Army today. It’s a hell of a weapon.
Interviewer: How was the situation, how intensive the battle and you know?
Duncan: Right up out of the book a man named Rob Pechal, I think it was, he was a west pointer, he wasn’t a Korean war veteran he was a Vietnam veteran. He wrote in the closing paragraph, he wrote what the Korean war was really all about, you know. And we use it a lot in our chapter as a handout and its really good. The name of this book I think was Witness to War: Korea and what it was was a bunch of interviews he made with Korean verterans.
Interviewer: He wrote the book but he was a Vietnam war veteran?
Interviewer: He never been in Korean war?
Duncan: He wasn’t in the Korean war but he was in the Vietnam war.
Interviewer: And he wrote the book about what the Vietnam war or the Korean war?
Duncan: No, the Korean war.
Duncan: He was a West Point graduate and infantry just like my brother-in-law.
Interviewer: Anything you want to add in this interview about service?
Duncan: About my service?
Interviewer: Yeah, during the Korean war. How did it affect you and why was it important, what did you do, anything you wat to add about?
Duncan: I just hope United States appreciated the Korean government and the Korean people because we don’t have an ally better than those people. A lot of people think that its Australia and Israel. They’re both great.
Interviewer: Or Japan.
Duncan: I’m not high on Japan.
Interviewer: Why not? You are very close to Japan. You have many military bases in Japan and Japan is the frontline of the US Pacific National Strategy.
Duncan: Here I am talking to a Korean whose ancestors lived under the Japanese and you’re forgiving them and I’m not.
Interviewer: Why you don’t forgive them?
Duncan: For when they occupied Korea, murder, everything the did it.
Interviewer: How do you know that?
Duncan: By history, okay.
Interviewer: So you studies?
Duncan: Yeah, I’ve gotten my library upstairs in my house consists of World War II and Korea. You know like any other veteran, you don’t tell your story unless they ask. That’s why you’re coming around.
Interviewer: You didn’t really talk, right? Much about the Korean War before you asked.
Duncan: To other veterans I did. Yeah. To all the Korean War veterans. You find that all the time, don’t you? I probably think that’s true of World War II and everything else.
Interviewer: But especially the Korean War, people didn’t have any hope of the future of Korea because it was miserable, completely destroyed, nothing left and they didn’t know anything about Korea before they leave for Korea. So that’s what it is and you are very busy to follow up with your family and you have to…
Duncan: I went back to college.
Interviewer: Yeah, so that’s why people really didn’t talk about Korea but as you pointed out that’s an excellent point. Korea is a good ally to the United States. Yes, I absolutely agree with you.
Duncan: Somebody told me that the Korean government underwrites the cost of the troops that are there, is that true?
Interviewer Oh, yeah. Absolutely.
Duncan: Who else does that? Nobody.
Interviewer: No actually Japan does and many countries actually do now.
Duncan: What about the Middle East? They say that they don’t need them.
Interviewer: That’s a different story but I really want you to talk to your grandchildren and let them join this wonderful organizations called Korean War Veterans youth corps and we will have a lot of things done for them, okay?
Duncan: How much is half of the airfare?
Interviewer: Whatever from where they live right now. Now where do the live?
Duncan: Right here.
Interviewer: Texas A&M so that’s $400 airfare from here to Washington D.C. round trip. They pay $200 and we pay $200 otherwise everything free.
Duncan: I will pay for it.
Interviewer: Yeah, you chip in and everything free., okay?
Interviewer: Alright, Jim so nice to meet you and to hear from you direct witness about you tank platoon and your service there. Thank you so much again for your help.