Joe D. Slatton
Joe D. Slatton was born in Tennessee. After he was drafted in 1953, Joe D. Slatton entered the Army as a tank mechanic. He worked on M46 and M47 tanks. While in Korea, Joe D. Slatton transported officers (captains and colonels). He recalls driving an officer into a ditch to avoid incoming fire in the Kumhwa Valley. During the armistice, Joe D. Slatton evacuated stalled tanks above the 38th parallel. He has never revisited Korea, but would love to one day.
Inchon in 1953 and Driving Colonels Crazy
Joe D. Slatton landed in Inchon, Korea in April 1953. He recalls hearing guns shooting all around him. First, Joe D. Slatton became a driver with the 703 Ordnance for officers (captains and colonels) until he drove a colonel down a goat path, and into a ditch, to avoid incoming fire in the Kumhawa Valley.
The Most Difficult Time Above the 38th Parallel
Joe D. Slatton recalls three difficult events while he was in Korea. He reflects on the passing of his father, how Howitzers ruined his hearing, and getting lost in no-man's-land.
Slatton and the Time of the Armistice July 27, 1953
After the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, Joe D. Slatton's was assigned the job of collecting all military items that were above and around the 38th parallel. He recalls being scared because North Koreans continued to walk around armed.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
J: Joe Slatton, 82 years old. I was born October 24th, 1931 in [Quebec], Tennessee.
J: I went to school there until third grade, and then we moved to Sparta, Tennessee. Then. . . up there in World War Two, we ended up in Akron, Ohio, which is where I did most of my schooling.
J: In Akron,
J: I joined [unintelligible] into the army. [unintelligible] Both of them [are] passed away now, but they were — and I had two brothers and one sister.
J: They’re all deceased; I’m the only one left in the family. I met the girl that I married — for 58 years we were married, and I met here while I was in the service.
J: Went to Korea in ’53, went to [unintelligible] vehicle mechanics in Camp [Breckenridge], Kentucky, track [unintelligible] —
I: Let me ask you this question —
I: what were you doing when the Korean War broke out in 1950?
J: I just got — I left school.
I: You mean the high school?
J: High school, yeah.
I: You just left it?
J: I just left school, yeah. [BOTH LAUGH] I was
J: one of them guys that [thought] I was a big shot, I didn’t need to go to school. I was smarter than that, so — [BOTH LAUGH] I was working — at the time, I was working at a gas station.
I: Gas station? Did you know anything about Korea at the time?
J: No, nothing at all. Never heard of it.
I: So what did you think about you going to Korea, to the country that you never knew before?
J: Well, I was a little bit scared, but I was going for a reason, going. . . for my country and your country, I guess.
J: I was just one of those raggedy [LAUGHS] young, young guys that was looking for adventure, I guess.
I: Did you know at the time why you [were] going there?
J: I think I did, yeah.
I: What is it?
J: We were fighting to [avoid] communism. I guess that was the main topic, main reason.
J: I didn’t know it was gonna be as mean as it was, but — [LAUGHS]
J: I. . . wasn’t an infantryman; I went as a backup man for tanks, and I was a tank mechanic but I didn’t get through that until it was almost over with.
I: Mm-hmm. Tell me about where did you get the basic military training, and when? When did you actually — did you enlist, or —
J: No, I was drafted in 1952, and I went to Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky —
J: and did my basic training there and my wheel vehicle mechanics. Then [I] went to Fort Knox, Kentucky for track vehicle mechanics.
I: Mm-hmm, truck?
J: And from there, I went to Fort [Louis], Washington, and then to Korea.
I: Ah. What kind of training did you get for the tank?
J: It was intensive training for. . .
J: we were third echelon maintenance, which wasn’t really getting into the technical part of it, but [we did] everything to keep them running.
I: Tell me about the details. What kind? Did you actually [drive] the tank?
J: I did for testing, but that’s all — I didn’t have it for [combat]. We worked on the M47s and M46s most of the time, and there was M4s, but the M46 and 47s were what we used over there
J: most of the time, or the 90-millimeter gun mounts. Big engines — when we worked on the engines, man, they [unintelligible] anything else that went wrong with them.
I: What was the name of the tank? M —
J: M46 and M47, most of them. I don’t know exactly what they were — Sherman [perhaps]. . . .
I: Was it used during World War Two?
J: They were used in World War Two and Korea.
I: How did you feel that you [were] driving those [tanks]?
I: Did you ever imagine that you would drive [them]?
J: I never imagined I’d drive a tank, but it was easy to drive.
I: Was it?
J: The big old M46 and M47s drove with one wobble stick in the middle. You shifted with it, you drove with it, you steered with it. The gas and the brake [were] all you had on the floor. I had some good experiences with it, though.
I: Did you fire a shot?
J: No, I never fired one of them. I fired the 50-caliber on top. . . a couple times.
I: So they didn’t train you [on] how to fire the shot?
J: No, that wasn’t my job.
J: I wasn’t a tank driver; I was a mechanic.
I: Right. Did you have any skill before, prior to the military training that you — [did you] have any skill to do with, something to do with tank mechanics?
J: Not tanks. I was a mechanic, backyard mechanic, but that’s about all I did.
I: So [do you] remember when did you leave for Korea from Fort Louis, Washington?
J: It was in April of ’53,
J: and I would’ve got out in May of ’54, so I was in Korea for about a year is all. I did several jobs there — I was —
I: Where and when did you arrive in Korea?
J: Exact date I couldn’t tell you.
J: It took seventeen days to go across the Pacific, I know, in the little boat we went across [in].
I: And where did you —
J: Incheon, yeah.
I: Mm-hmm, so it’s gotta be April that you arrived in Incheon.
J: I’m sure that was the date, yes, mm-hmm.
I: Do you remember any scene of Incheon when you arrived there at the time? How was it?
J: Not except they — put us in the LSDs, the landing craft that scared the dickens out of me.
J: You could hear the guns going up in the distance.
I: Still at the time?
J: In the distance you could, yeah. Then they put us on a little train that went someplace, I don’t know where the heck we went. [LAUGHS] We ended up in a placement company.
J: A placement company that —
I: Replacement company.
J: Yeah, so they started me out, they shot me into 65th Infantry [Regiment] but. . .
J: I wasn’t trained to be an infantryman. That lasted just a few weeks.
I: So you belonged to the Second Division?
J: Third Division.
I: Third Division.
J: Yeah. I ended up in the [Ordinance], 703 Ordinance.
I: 7-0-3 —
J: Ordinance, mm-hmm.
J: Right. I started out, I drove a captain, I drove a colonel — and he fired me. [LAUGHS]
J: Well, we were driving close to — I think it was near [Popson] Mountain, I believe is what they called it.
J: A mortar shell hit over to the side of us, and another mortar shell hit on the other side of us. I was taught in basic training that the next mortar shell’s gonna be in your lap,
I: [LAUGHS] Yup.
J: And I thought my lap’s not gonna be here. There was a little gorge in front of us, and I took off down a little trail that was made for goats I think in a Jeep, and the colonel turned white. He said, “Slow this S.O.B. down!” and I said, “Yes, sir, just as soon as I get to the bottom.”
J: He stayed that way all the way
J: until we got back to the C.P.
J: Rolled out of the Jeep, went into C.P., and the next thing I saw was a [unintelligible] sergeant with all the stripes on him. He said, “Corporal Slatton, you just got transferred.” [LAUGHS] so at that point I went into the tank mechanic part of it.
I: But you saved him actually.
J: I did! I was worried about me, I wasn’t worried about him. [LAUGHS]
I: Yeah, but why did he fire you?
J: I don’t know. . . I scared him, I guess, to death. [LAUGHS]
J: But anyway, that’s the last time I drove him. [LAUGHS]
I: So do you remember where that was? Was it in the —
J: Not exactly, but I know the road we [were] on — north of it was shielded by a permanent smokescreen, I guess is what they call it. A smokescreen [unintelligible] north of the road.
I: Was it [the] east or west side?
J: I think we were going — west.
J: Mm-hmm, but exactly, I don’t
J: know exactly where it was.
I: You don’t remember the name of the camp?
J: The name of the camp?
I: Yeah. [Chop] Hill, or —
J: The only thing I remember was Popson Mountain.
I: Popson Mountain?
J: Yeah — and there was — from hills and that, they call it John [Urn] and Jane Russell Hills, too, they called them.
I: Jane Russell?
J: It was two peaks that looked like Jane Russell [laying down in her bed]. [BOTH LAUGH] [Kuhnma] Valley is basically where we [were] at.
I: Oh, okay! Kuhnma Valley.
I: Yeah! How was the situation there? Was it — I mean, it’s April, May and June, right?
I: How was it?
J: I wasn’t really in any fighting I think. It was — it was kinda rough. I saw a few things that I’d never expected to see, like [unintelligible] rows of bodies brought into the. . .
J: I don’t know what they [call] it now. I think it was — it was rough. I kind of enjoyed it, being there. If I had been in the actual fighting, I guess I wouldn’t have enjoyed it, but I was behind the scenes.
I: Mm-hmm. [LAUGHS] So what was your typical
I: day as a tank mechanic?
J: We would go service the tanks. We’d fix them if they were. . . . My basic job was [to] repair and replace major items. I didn’t work on the engines; if there was something wrong with the engines we pulled the engine and transmission out and replaced it with another one. We worked on the tracks, broken tracks or [alignments]. That’s basically what I did.
J: We worked on several different kinds of tanks.
I: Mm-hmm. What was the most difficult thing for you?
J: Well the most difficult thing was when. . . I got word my father died while I was over there.
I: Oh. When was it?
J: It was right after I already got there.
J: I don’t remember what day it was, but —
I: How did you know that?
J: I was notified, and he was already dead and buried before I
J: knew it.
J: I didn’t get to come home. Of course, they wouldn’t send me home at that time, anyway.
I: Could you speak up?
J: Yeah. I said they didn’t send me home, but I was notified and it broke my [heart]. I was pretty close to my father. He passed away, and that was basically — well, we had a few things that — I drove this colonel that they were talking about.
J: We went up to headquarters
J: every day. As we were passing by, some 105 howitzers a couple of times. There were about six or seven of them on the side of the road, and they started firing 1-2-3-4 right as we passed them. I have a hearing problem now. [LAUGHS] Then we were sitting out waiting for the colonel, and this other guy said, “Let’s drive up to the [MILR].” Bad deal. We drove up that way but there was no MILR.
J: We ended up. . . in No Man’s Land. [LAUGHS]
I: Oh really?
J: I didn’t realize it until we turned around and came back, and there [were] bodies. We said, “Let’s turn this thing around and go back,” so we went back and met a tank that was dug in and he says, “There is no MILR at this point. The chinks have just made a push, and this is the MILR.” That kinda scared me. [LAUGHS] It took me away from [driving] north;
J: I wanted to go south as far as I could go. [LAUGHS]
I: Ah yeah, right.
J: This young man [who] was with me, he got out and took pictures of some North Korean bodies, and — I said, “Let’s get out of here!” [LAUGHS]
I: Did you see many dead bodies?
J: There was about six or seven of them we saw, that was — I thought, “Let’s get away from here!”
J: At that point I didn’t even have a helmet on. [LAUGHS] Like I said, I was a teenager — well, not a teenager, but I was. . . I don’t know what you’d call me. [BOTH LAUGH]
I: Were you scared. . . doing those —
J: At that point I was very scared.
I: Mm-hmm. What were you thinking?
J: I was thinking we were gonna get shot, [LAUGHS] that’s what I was thinking, but I didn’t see anybody — any [black] people, anything at all, except we’d come back to the tanker,
J: and he was there, dug in with his gun facing north. There was [unintelligible] along the roads eating. That’s about the most exciting thing I had. [LAUGHS]
I: Exciting in the war, right?
J: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
I: How was your life there? Where did you sleep, what did you eat, and how much were you paid?
J: [As far as] I remember, I got 76 dollars plus
J: combat pay, I did get combat pay.
I: Around 40, right?
J: Around 40, it was a little over 100 dollars a month we [were] getting.
J: We ate good. We ate with the 65th Infantry Regiment; we were attached to them.
I: Sixty what?
J: 65th Infantry Regiment. We were attached to them, and that’s who we supported — their tanks, their vehicles — all their vehicles. We ate good, we slept in squad tents, ten-man squad tents.
J: We had a good time. . . all of us were close.
I: What is your official unit name? You belonged to the Third Division [in the war]–
J: Third Division, 703 Ordinance.
I: Oh, Ordinance.
I: Okay, yep. So did you go out of your camp and go to the cities and —
J: I drove to Seoul
J: a couple of times.
I: How was it?
J: It was a — mess. [LAUGHS] It was still —
I: Tell me about those details — what you saw and what —
J: Some of the buildings were down, and. . . we went down to pick up supplies for the officers’ nest, whiskey and that kind of stuff we picked up for them.
J: I know we had to chain our Jeep, because the Jeep would run off without us
J: if we weren’t there. It was pretty much — I went to school there at [Yongdonpo], too.
I: What do you mean, “school”?
J: Advanced track vehicle mechanic school. That was kinda fun. . . all the girls were outside waiting for us. [LAUGHS] We had a little bar inside that they had built. We’d take the girls into the bar, and we’d have a ball in there.
J: The whole — I didn’t travel too much to get involved, too much inside the city, but the bridge was still there. From Seoul to Yongdonpo I believe was the one that was shot, down for a while. It was just — buildings were a mess. I [wasn’t] really involved too much with being in the city, but that’s the only city I went to. I went from —
I: So you were lucky, actually.
I: You could get out of that Kuhnma Valley area and enjoy some of the city — atmosphere, right?
J: Yeah, some of it we enjoyed. We had a pretty good time. Like I said, I wasn’t in the actual fighting, but I was involved in supporting it.
I: Right. Had you [asked] yourself, “Why am I here? Why am I here in [a] country that [I’d] never
I: heard of?”
J: I suppose I did. I don’t remember some, but I just — I guess I was kind of enjoying myself. I was away from the United States for the first time, and it was an adventure for me. I don’t think I. . . wondered why I was there or anything, I don’t think I did.
I: Mm-hmm. What were you doing when the armistice was announced [on] July 27th?
J: I was still working on tanks,
J: but at that point we helped demilitarize the zone, the Demilitarized Zone, and that —
I: What did you do?
J: We were up in there, picking up everything. It was the military that scared me to death, too, because the North Koreans were still armed,
J: and we were retrieving some old tanks that had been blown up. Ammo was all over the place. They were walking shoulder-to-shoulder with the North Koreans, and that kinda scared me.
J: Nothing happened, but — it was a couple tanks we retrieved [to] pull back, and that’s — that’s about what we were doing.
I: What did you feel when the armistice was announced?
J: I was very happy about that,
J: [that] the firing and shooting was over with, even though I wasn’t involved in it. It quieted down quite a bit — you didn’t hear the guns going off, and it was [unintelligible] going after that.
I: Even after the armistice there was a gunshot fired?
J: I’m pretty sure I heard, firing, yeah,
I: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
J: but not very much of it. I couldn’t really say for sure, but I’m sure we heard some —
J: after the armistice, I’m sure we heard firing.
I: Mm-hmm. Did you have a chance to write a letter back to your family?
J: Almost every day I wrote this girl that I married.
I: Oh, really?
J: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
I: Do you —
J: I used to write her letters, write her poems, and — in fact, she saved them all. I [had] them all at home, my daughter took them.
I: Your daughter took it?
J: Yeah, my daughter has them now, but all the letters I wrote her from Korea, she had —
J: she had stored.
I: Do you remember any specific letter that — or you said that you wrote [poems], right?
J: I wrote her some kind of a poem every time I wrote her a letter.
I: Can you introduce them a bit?
J: No, I don’t remember any of them, no.
I: Would you be willing to share the letters with my foundation? We have a website, and we have more than 6,000 [pieces of] memorabilia that [I’ve] collected from Korean War veterans.
J: My daughter’s on the other coast, I don’t know —
I: She can mail it to me.
J: I don’t care, I could if she’s willing to let them go.
I: Yeah. I mean, no, no — I can send it back to you.
J: Hey Dave! [addressing someone in the background]
Male voice: Yeah!
I: You send it to me, we scan it, and then I’ll send the original back to your daughter.
J: There’s a lot of them, though. There’s a box about yay big [hands are not visible], and about that wide [hands are not visible], and the letters are all in there.
I: So, you had —
J: There wouldn’t be anything that personal — yeah, you can scan them, I wouldn’t care.
I: You met the woman. . .
I: before you went to Korea.
J: Correct, yeah.
I: Tell me about her. Where did you meet her, and how did you meet her?
J: Well, we were. . . in training at Camp Breckenridge, and we went to Evansville, Indiana from there. We went up there to pick up girls. [LAUGHS] There was a skating rink, and I went into the skating rink, and there was a whole bunch of — I guess there must have been 60 or 70 skaters there, but there was only one I saw,
J: and that was her.
I: Only one you saw.
J: Yeah. I saw her — I stopped in about three or four different times and finally introduced myself, and from that time we —
I: That’s it.
J: that was it. I carried her picture with me all the way through Korea and showed her off to everybody. Every day I wrote her a letter.
I: So she waited for you?
J: Oh yeah,
J: she sure did.
I: That’s nice.
J: We got married. . . I got out in
J: May of ’54, and we got married in June of ’54.
I: June, so when did you get back to the United States from Korea?
J: In early May.
J: Early May of ’54.
I: Of ’54?
J: Yeah. I think I was discharged on the 7th of May of ’54.
I: Did you have a camera at the time?
I: Did you take [a] lot of pictures?
J: Some pictures, yeah. Matter of fact, my wife scanned a lot of them — not my wife, my daughter scanned a lot of them on the computer. I don’t know if she’s given them all to me yet, but she took all — there were slides, and she took the slides.
I: You know what? I will show you my foundation’s website which has more than 6,000 [pieces of] memorabilia — 6,000, and — here,
I: this is the [passes something to Joe] stars and stripes that I made with the pictures and other artifacts that I’ve collected from other Korean War veterans. So I think [it] would be great if you can get your letters that you wrote back to your —
I: lover at the time.
J: I don’t think I told her anything you wouldn’t [know] about [unintelligible]. [LAUGHS]
I: Hey, we’ll get those out, but the pictures that you took — if you can,
I: I mean already your daughter scanned it, so if you —
J: She scanned them, I don’t know if she scanned, she got too many of them there from Korea, but. . . .
I: Alright, so how did your service affect your life after you returned from Korea?
J: Well, it made a man out of me, [LAUGHS], I’ll tell you that much. I was a kid when I came in, I was a man when I went out. It formed my life, because I got married right afterwards with the girl that I
J: fell in love with.
J: Other than that, I don’t know how it changed me. Like I said, it made a man out of me, and I knew which direction I had to go in. Got married and had children, had five kids and —
I: Do you have grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the age of high school or. . . college?
J: I have
J: two grandchildren. I had three grandkids, and one of them was killed recently,
J: in the last few years, he was 20 years old. Now I have five kids and only have two grandkids.
I: Anybody in. . . high school or. . . college?
J: Not now.
J: No, they’re out of school.
I: Oh. Have you been back to Korea?
I: Do you know what happened to Korea after you left?
J: Well, I know it’s a hell of a different place right now than it [was] [LAUGHS] — I don’t know.
I: Tell me about it — how did you know that?
I: Tell me about what you know about Korea.
J: We go to Korean dinner at the Korean Presbyterian Church every year —
J: [there’s] one coming up two weeks from now —
J: and they showed us movies — a slide, or whatever they had —
J: of the new Korea, which amazed me. Everything is just — you wouldn’t think there was ever a war there.
I: So what do you think about your service there? Do you regret, do you —
J: No, I’m proud to have been in the service. That’s one of the highlights of my life. I mean, it changed me from a boy to a man. [LAUGHS]
I: Mm-hmm, and the country you fought for and you never thought that it would develop like this, but now they are the seventh-largest trading partner, the 11th-largest economy
I: in the world. South Korea is very small — it’s a little bit bigger than Indiana. . . .
J: Yeah, I know.
I: In 50 years, this country from the ashes became one of the strongest economic strongholds in the world.
J: It’s amazing what they’ve done. I would like to go back but I can’t afford it.
I: Do you know that the Korean government has a program called Revisit Korea?
J: I know they do, but it still costs you money.
I: No, no, no, if
I: you want to go, and if you contact me, I can get you there without — I mean, there is no money that you have to spend for it.
J: Well, take it right now — I’m contacting you, I’d like to go. [LAUGHS] I’d like to go.
I: So you want to go, right?
J: Yes, I’ll go, yes.
J: But I can’t afford it, I can’t afford to pay for it.
I: Mm-hmm. You don’t have to actually pay for it — as long as I know.
J: Well you know, I’m telling you right now, [LAUGHS] okay.
I: What is Korea to you now?
J: What is Korea to me now?
J: Korea is a country that I fought for, I like. I like the people from Korea.
I: Why do you like Korean people?
J: They’ve been very, very good to us since we came back. I’ve never seen a country that’s so pleased with us. You can’t say that about France or
J: Germany or any other country that we fought for. They’ve done so much for us. The Korean Minister of Defense was over here a few years ago with a big dinner and presentations at the hotel over in Tampa. We have this Korean church that has a dinner every year, has a dinner and a show for us every year. I don’t think the Korean people could be more appreciative than they are right now.
I: Mm-hmm. Yeah, we really appreciate that you fought for us, and that’s why we can do [the] things that we can do now. You know, the Hyundai motor vehicle, Samsung,
J: Yeah, oh yeah.
I: all these big names, right?
J: I know all of them, yeah.
I: I came to the United States to study political science, and I’m teaching here. I couldn’t do it without you guys coming to fight for us.
J: No, you’re right there. I agree.
J: I’m proud to [have done] it, I’m glad we did, and I’m glad to be a Korean veteran.
I: What is your chapter? What is the chapter name?
J: Sun Coast Chapter.
I: Coast Chapter?
I: Number 14?
I: In Petersburg?
I: Any other message that you want to leave to this interview?
J: Not really, I’m just —
J: glad to be here, glad I made it back from [BOTH LAUGH] your fine country, but other than that I can’t think of anything else.
I: Okay. Thank you very much again, Joe, for arranging the interview for me today. Thank you.
J: Thank you for having me.
[End of Recorded Material]