Ken Thamert was born in Owatonna, Minnesota. He graduated high school in 1952 and enlisted in the United States Army the following year. He was sent to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he received sixteen weeks of basic training, training as an Infantryman. In April of 1954, he received orders for Korea where he served near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). His duty was to order rations for a regiment of soldiers as well as conducting patrols in and near the DMZ during the post-war era.
Reimagining the Incheon Landing
Ken Thamert recalls traveling to Korea aboard a ship with many seasick soldiers, learning not to take the bottom bunk due to all of the vomiting. Upon arriving in Incheon, he describes the overwhelming feeling when imagining what other soldiers experienced during the infamous Incheon Landing at the start of the war. He remembers seeing devastation all around.
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Military Duty and Patrols on the DMZ
Ken Thamert describes his duty of rationing the breakdown of food for an entire regminent. He recalls being stationed on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and seeing the enemy while on patrols. He notes this was despite the fact the Armistice had been signed.
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Prior Knowledge of Korea
Ken Thamert recalls being given a book about Korea from the United States military once he received his orders for Korea. He remembers the book containing information about Korean culture and the games Korean children played. He adds the book also included etiquette and protocols for the country.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Ken Thamert: K-E-N Ken Thamert T-H-A-M-E-R-T. I born in–in Owatonna, Minnesota, which is about 40 some miles away from here.
Interviewer: What’s the name of town?
K: I’m sorry–
I: What’s the name of the town that you were born?
I: Could you spell it?
K: O-W-A-T-O-N-N-A. Well, I had a twin brother, he was
Born a day after I was. He was born just after midnight I was born just before midnight and then I had a sister. And I went to Owatonna High School and then worked in a bank for about a year and then it was going into the service. My twin brother was rejected because of having rheumatic fever. And–and I was
I was able to go into the service and into Korea.
I: When did you graduate high school?
I: 1952. Did you learn anything from your school?
K: I did receive a small book when I went into the service.
K: Concerning Korea, because they knew we were probably going there, so.
I: Small book that actually they gave you?
K: It was a small book that indicated what you should and shouldn’t do in Korea.
K: I have that book even today
among my things.
I: Do you still have that?
K: Oh yeah, I’ve got, yes.
I: Do you have many pictures?
K: Oh yes. Oh yes I actually was involved with a program put on by the Scott Hosier Round Table here in town for World War II and then it has gone out to the Korean Veterans and I did a program in my–what I–I had–what I did in Korea. So, I had many pictures of that
And landed in Incheon.
I: Tell me about that book–booklet you received when you were about to leave for Korea.
K: Just a small one.
I: Small one.
K: It was probably six inches in height and about four inches wide. But it–it told all about the culture and even went down to the games that children played. And I was glad I had that because
I certainly was involved with something with the children where I was wondering why they were throwing sa–stones and that was certainly, was indicated was kind of game with them and–
I: Were you drafted or what?
K: Well, I was very close to the draft. Very close. And so one night my brother came home, and he wanted to get married when–as soon as he could out of the service. So, he asked if I would go in with him
to be drafted and I said yes, but I was half asleep, probably mostly asleep and I said yes and then he reminded me in the morning. And then he got rejected and I went to Korea.
I: When you enlist into the army?
K: November of ’53.
I: And where did you get the basic military training?
K: Okay I was actually —
Fort Riley, Kansas is where I had 16 weeks of basic training.
K: And then from there I went to Seattle.
I: 16 week?
K: I’m sorry, what?
I: 16 weeks?
K: 16 weeks, yes.
I: Uh-huh. And then you went to Seattle?
K: Yes, to go over to Korea.
I: Oh so year-old just has basic infantry military training for 16 weeks and then you were headed to Korea.
K: You got it.
I: W–were you not afraid.
What did you know about the Korea? You know that there was a war broke out, right?
K: Well, I–I knew that it was not in very good shape. The–certainly the war had done a ma–major amount of damage to the country and to the–and to the people living there. And certainly it’s so much different today. And we have a new book that’s sponsored by the Korean Government.
I: Yeah. Korea Reborn.
K: Oh it’s wonderful,
wonderful book. We thank the Korean Government so much for that.
K: I’ve–I’ve actually contacted several friends that served in Korea and they don’t–they didn’t belong to the club we have here in town, but I did contact them and gave them books. So that’s–
I: Mm-hmm. Mmm.
I: So, were you afraid to be sent to Korea?
K: Not a bit.
I: Not a bit?
K: No not a –not a moment.
K: I had good training. I had–I–I had wonderful training in Fort Riley. And actually the first sergeant that I served under at one time in Korea, he said I love, I like the veterans coming in that were in basic in at Fort Riley.
I: what was your specialty? Just infantry? Or basic–
I was–I–I was located in the Kuma and Cheorwon Valley areas all my time over there.
K: Which is part of the lower triangle.
I: Yep. Tell me about when you left for Korea. How was the–the– you know in the ship.
K: Oh the ship was–[laughing] well, everybody would have told you negatives and I would certainly too. Because we were down in the very bottom
of the ship and there were–I can’t remember three or four guys in a bunk above me.
K: I think I was the second one.
K: I think I was the second from the bottom. And everybody was sick. I didn’t get sick, I didn’t get sick but I came very close to it.
K: But everybody was sick.
I: Hm. Where did you arrive in Korea?
I: Remember the day that you arrive?
K: I wish I could.
K: No, it was–I believe it was April, about April.
K: Of ’54.
I: Okay and what was the scene that you saw what is the scenery? What is the people? How was it, the Incheon at the time, in 1954?
K: Well, certainly it’s the famous building we all saw when we
got over there. The [bravest] or whatever it was called, troops in the world, or whatever it was called. It was right on a–on a big sign on a building and we saw that. But we went right in and what I was–what I remember is that there were four of us that were called carrier group, at the time.
K: and we had taken our basic training together, the four of us, we knew each other like brothers.
K: Trained together for all 18 weeks and–and what I remember is that we were the last ones on this car–this carrier that took us in with the ramp coming down. We were the last four on and we were the first ones off. And I can remember getting off of that and thinking if there were machine guns in front of us we would–we would’ve have been dead. I know that during–during the war.
K: Because that ramp, when it went down, you knew–you had somewhat of a feeling what others had gone through when they–they were landed on that. Especially on D-day.
K: D-day World War II.
I: Incheon landing. Yes. so, how was Korean people look like at the time. Was it miserable? How–how was street and the people? What did you see?
K: Well, I went up on a train
that had all kinds of bullet marks in it. That when we shot out it was– it was the train that took a lot of troops right up to, probably into the Kuma area.
K: And years later, I would meet the engineer that was aboard that train, just about 10 miles from here. He saw my Korean jacket that I was wearing and he came over and said, when were you over there? And I told him and he said, I–I was the engineer of the train that took you up to–to the front. So that was,
that was amazing.
K: That. But the people were– I didn’t–I never really associated with the people because we were told stay away from the villages. Do not go into the villages. So, it was primarily in just going back now and then that I would see people in the villages, but we never stopped. We were told not to.
I: Okay. You knew that the war
actually stopped as a cease fire, right?
I: So, what were you told to do? What was your mission you think that you were carrying on there?
K: I was–I was put in charge of a company ration break down for food.
K: I started that immediately almost. They asked for typists.
K: And the tree other fellas that were in my carrier group all stepped
forward and I could only hunt and peck typing. It was a beautiful situation because one of the guys helped me out he typed out a full page,
K: and slipped it underneath the desk and–and looked at me and, so that’s–that’s the paper I grabbed and all of a sudden assigned S1, which would have been typing all day long. But luckily he–he asked if he could change with me, and the sergeant was
a good man and said, certainly.
K: So I, I typed one report a month.
K: But I was very, very good at what I did, and that was ordering food for 20–the– my last day of serving Korea, I ordered food for an entire regiment, and that was 2560 men.
I: How many?
K: 2565 men.
K: So that was–
I: What is the name of your regiment? What’s the number?
K: Its 17thInfantry.
K: Yeah. 7thDivision. I started in the 2ndDivision.
K: I started in a company in the 2ndDivision and then I was–I was assigned over to the 7th, because they didn’t–they did need someone to order food there in the 7thDivision for–for a battalion,
at the time and then I– from there I went to a regiment.
I: Regiment, what’s the number regiment?
I: Oh okay. And there were 2565 soldiers in that 17thInfantry regiment?
K: I–I’m trying to make sure that it–it was the 17th, but it was the 7thinfantry division, but I–I’m positive it was the regiment that I ordered the food for
and that’s–that’s about what they have in a regiment, 2500 men.
I: How was the situation in Kuma and Chorowon?
K: Very barren.
I: Always battle?
K: Oh yeah, we had, we had flights over us and–and we had every few days you had somebody calling down and saying this or that is happening and we never worried too much about it. But we could’ve been overrun probably. Today, I’d recognize we would’ve been overrun probably
within a couple of hours because we were up so clo–we were above the 38thright up on the DMZ.
I: How close were you to the enemies?
K: I don’t know. But just a short distance away, you had Heartbreak Ridge and you had Blood Ridge, you had all those areas
K: where our men fought and died right next to us. And we–we were told that–that–by–by one of our men that went there that–
that he’d just went up in the hill and he could see the Chinese–or the North Koreans on the next hillside. And they had one of our trucks. But they could see them right over on the next hill.
I: There was no major battle because it was after the ceasefire between China, North Korea and the U.N. forces, right?
K: Yeah, but they were doing patrols into our area all the time. One of the moments I remember, probably more than any other, was watching one of our patrols going out about
probably about 7 o’clock in the morning and they–I could see them going up this mountain side and all of a sudden they were hidden because of the clouds. The clouds were so low that they walked right up and through the clouds and I–you could not–no longer see them. But we had patrols out every day, as did the North Koreans. They–yeah, you had–at night.
I: Have you been back to Korea?
K: No, no I have not. I have not because we were–we were–I was
I was partially involved with the honor flights going back carrying World War II veterans. We had 10 flights out of Rochester and we were–my group, the Korean War Veterans of Rochester, we have 215 members, we were there in the morning to say goodbye to them, but we were not going on their flights because it was for World War II Vets. So I, no I have not
been back, but we–I can certainly probably sign up to go back. The Korean Government is so tremendous today in honoring and loving our American GI’s.
I: Thank you so much for your time.
K: It’s been a privilege.
I: Thank you for your service.
K: And I thank you, sir.
[End of Recorded Material]