Marvin “Sam” Bass
Marvin “Sam” Bass was born in Vernon, Texas in 1928. He was farming and raising cattle in Roanoke Texas when he was drafted in 1950. In February 1951, he arrived in Pusan and was stationed on the front lines. He participated in Old Baldy and the Punchbowl. He was captured by the Chinese and held prisoner for 40 days. Bass credits meetings of KWVA Chapter 215 as being the first time that he spoke at length about his experiences during the War. He is grateful to the VA for its help with his long-term ailments related to his service.
Sam Bas describes what it was like watching napalm being dropped. He explains how the planes flew in. He remembers hearing people screaming from ten miles away.
Captured by the Chinese
Sam Bass was captured in September 1951 around the Punchbowl or Old Baldy area. He describes how he was arrested by the Chinese who had cut them off through the line. He explains the living conditions during that time, including the marching and sleep conditions.
Not Drafted the First Time
Sam Bass says that he wished he had been drafted during WWII. However, he was eighteen at the time and states that they stopped drafting 18-year-olds. He remembers when his mom got the letter saying that he would not be drafted.
S: Uh, my name is Sam Bass, and I was born in Vernon, Texas on January the 6th, 1928. I went to school at the Roanoke High School, that’s just out of Fort Worth. I went all through school and graduated, 1946. Uh, I got a brother, and he was born the same place I was outside Vernon and uh, he went to Roanoke High School with me right there. He’s 18 months older than I am and we both started school the same time.
S: ‘Cause my mother wouldn’t let him walk to school by himself, and we was walking to school at that time. So anyhow, we, he graduated with me right there and my mother and daddy lived in uh, Roanoke, Texas, and, we lived down there where the Grapevine Lake is. We had 400 acres down there and we farmed it all with mules, never had a tractor.
S: We farmed cotton, corn, and peanuts.
I: Any animal?
S: Uh, yeah, we had about 200 head of cattle.
S: We didn’t have no angus right there, but I was at a sale the other day at my wife’s cousin down in, down at Willis Point right there, and they had a big sale down there, all registered black angus right there and the morning show was pretty right there.
I: So you are very good at raising this cattle, right?
I: So what did you do when you graduate from high school in 1946?
S: Uh, I, I um, me and my brother had a combine and a truck.
S: And we was uh, has a friend that had a combine and truck right there and he was my friend right there. He and I was drafted in the Army the same day and we on grain harvest every year. We went north every year right there, and went to Watford City, North Dakota.
I: When did you drafted?
S: I was drafted yesterday.
S: Uh, the twentieth of September 1950, and I like to got drafted in World War Two, but uh, they quit drafting 18 year olds right there.
S: My mother was coming in the mailbox after an old country home, and, she was crying and I went down to see her, meet her right there, and she said we got papers right here showing that you don’t have to report tomorrow right there because they quit drafting 18 year old boys.
I: Oh. Your mom was crying, right?
S: Yeah, uh huh.
S: So, she was so happy right there that I didn’t have to go, ‘cause my brother, he was already in right there and if it had been both of us gone, and my dad needed some of us right there to, you know, help him farm right there, you know, so.
S: So uh, but anyhow, she was glad that I didn’t have to go.
I: Uh huh.
S: But I was uh, I was ready and right for that Korean deal right there and I was drafted in 1950, and my friend right there that we went on grain harvest with, Ray Henderson, he and I were drafted the same day out of Denton County right there and we went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Took basic training right there, and, uh, shipped out from there and his, his unit went to Germany, and uh,
S: my unit was all split up and went all over the United States and I went to uh, uh, out to California and thought I was gonna be in a training camp out there and got out there just about the time they was uh, ending up training right there and uh, there was 250 right there and uh, you got your orders to go overseas right there so uh, uh, we uh, uh, we uh, uh, uh, had our draft notice and everything so anyhow, he uh,
S: I stayed out there about 2 or 3 weeks and so they decided uh, they weren’t gonna have a bunch come in for a good while. So they got all of us right there that was left right there and put us on order and we shipped out. We went to uh, Korea from there, right there.
I: Okay. Before, did you know anything about Korea?
S: Uh, I just heard about it is all right there. I didn’t know nothing about it.
I: So, you didn’t know where it was and where was the (inaudible).
S: I knew just about where it was, right there, because I seen it on a map but I didn’t have no idea, you know, what was going on or what the deal was on it right there.
I: Were you afraid that you going to the battleground and you may lose your life?
S: Uh, I knew, I knew I was going uh, to the battlegrounds whenever I left California, whenever they was gon’ ship me out because they tell me to go home on (inaudible) and come back, and report to Camp Stone in there. And they told me that I would be shipped out to Yokohama, Japan
S: and I’d be going in as a replacement in Korea right there where’d they lost so many guys right there.
I: Mm, mm. Did you tell your mom that you were headed to Korea?
I: What did she say?
S: Oh, she cried right there you know and, and uh, her and my dad right there they, they uh, they, they were sure disgusted that I was going right there you know and I was leaving and my brother just got back home right there. And he got back just a little while before that right there and
S: So he gon’, was taking my place and helping there you know. And so he, he took my, he kept on the combine right there and going, going uh, North every year with a with Mr. Henderson, Ray’s daddy. And they took both combines and went on right there after we left right there.
I: Do you remember the date that you left for Japan and Korea from California?
S: Uh, let’s see uh, uh,
S: it must have been, it must have been about the last of December, first of January, ‘cause I got to, I got over to Yokohama in uh, the last of January and I was on the boat 28 days and uh, uh, I got to Yokohama, Japan and I stayed there about 10 days and I went on to Korea from there.
S: And I ended up at Korea on February the 15th, 1951.
I: What was Busan like? How was it?
S: Uh, well it was kind of a, a tore up situation right there and uh, it had been, been uh, you know. It’d been bombed and shot up and fires were still burning on some of the trees that had burnt right there and uh, it was, all around there Seoul and Busan. And all right there was kinda jiggered around a little bit.
I: So what happened to, to after that? After you arrived in Busan, what did, you take, took a train to go somewhere?
S: Uh, I took a, no I took a truck. They picked uh, a good many of us up in a truck and we, took us to the front lines in a truck right there, then uh, they put so many of us here and so many of us there. They were short handed but we still didn’t have enough to fill
S: all of the vacancies of the boys who got killed and wounded right there and uh, uh, I was uh, I was there right there and uh, I had a Corporal and uh, uh, and (inaudible)… a nine man squad and whenever I got there they put me in Fox Company. And uh, then I, we, had about four or five other guys filled in there. But that wasn’t near enough right there and, we was trying to hold position
S: Uh, there was about uh, 102 or 3 of us right there trying to hold position for 142, I mean, 242. And we had the radio man and the medic right there and so uh, but uh, whatever, I was on and we, we fought it out right there you know. We take a push right there for about 12 days and uh, we, we, we push off right there and, and uh,
S: hit those Chinamen right there and boy I tell you what, they was thicker than flies right there and uh, had horn and whistles were blowing and (inaudible) coming right there you know. The more you fired the guns and shot right there, the thicker they come right there. And I mean it was hard to stop. The only way we got ‘em to stop and slow down any right there was uh, there were American planes coming in and straight the front lines with napalm.
I: I just interviewed George Wolfe and he was uh, in Korea
I: as Air Force, and he was reconnaissance mission and he told me about the power of Air Force, right, and you just told me about it, do you, did you see actually the Air Force coming in?
S: Yeah, yes ‘cause we was about uh, we was about 10, 10 miles off right there and you could see the planes coming in and the way they come in right there, the two front planes. There’s three of ‘em, the two front planes right there was carrying uh, 85 gallons of, of napalm, there was barrels, and uh, that back one back
S: there was, had a machine gun, .50 calibers, and they dropped them barrels out. And when they drop the barrels out, and whenever they dropped the barrels out right there, there was that machine gun back there, was firing into those barrels and make sure they burst right there before they hit the ground right there and boy you could. We was off there about 10 miles right there (inaudible), and you could uh, you could hear them some of them squealing, they squealing like pigs right there you know cause it was burning so hot and everything and killing them right there and
S: They, they, they slowed them down right there you know and so they drop another barrel and they fire into it and keep going, just moved on up the line, going to, covered a good bit of territory with them two 85 gallon barrels of napalm.
I: So all Chinese, you were seeing that the napalm. How was it, the napalm when it exploded, what was it like?
S: Uh, well it was just, uh, it, it was just like a big ball of fire, it just, you know, it just, and whenever,
S: whenever they hit it right there and it dropped down right there and finally got down closer to the ground. The more they exploded right there and it just, it exploded in the miles right there, up and down the line right there.
I: So you were, were you able to see those things right?
I: And you were able to see the Chinese dying?
S: Oh, I no.
I: Mostly is the enemy, the Chinese?
S: We didn’t see them dying right there, but we did later. Right there because we pushed on off.
I: Uh huh.
S: And we, we went over a good many uh, of the uh,
S: you know the Korean and the Chinese people right there, and uh, we’d see them laying down and you know and had this old boy that was uh, he was a (inaudible) man right there and uh, uh he was from Detroit right there and boy he was mean and boy he didn’t have a heart for nobody right there and we walk over to them guys right there and he’d holler and say “Reckon he’s dead?” And I say uh, I’d say I don’t know right there. I was platoon. I was uh squad leader,
S: and I said “I don’t know whether he is or not right there”, and he’d punch him and hit him right there to make sure he was dead, ‘course he didn’t move right there.
S; First one that I wrote back, uh, was about, oh it must have been about 20 or 30 days after I got over there and uh, the Red Cross was supposed to bring us up paper and pencil to write home on and it didn’t, it didn’t uh, they never did come up that far on the front lines. They was back, you know,
S: a good bit far back right there and so, I found an old brown piece of paper out in, and it had been wet and I put it in my pocket and let it dry off. And I wrote to my mother on that right there and there’s a lot of things they cut out on you that you, they wouldn’t let me, you know they wouldn’t let me tell right there and when I got home, my mother still had that old letter right there and she showed it to me.
I: What they say that you cannot write about?
S: Well, uh, you can’t tell uh, uh, the, the place where you’re at.
S: You can’t tell how many Chinamen you shot or how many you killed, and that’s something you know it’s hard to determine right there actually because, um, me, I was up on the front line and everybody was shooting .30 calibers and .50 calibers and everything right there, and you could see them a-dropping right there, but you didn’t know whether you shot any or not, but boy I was laying the ammo on them right there, that was a BAR.
I: Do you still keep that letters?
S: Uh, no, my house burned, and when the house burned right there all my, I had lost some pictures and stuff in that house right there.
I: Let’s go back to the point where you were captured.
I: Where was it and when was it?
S: Uh, it was in uh, September of uh, 1951. Uh, it might’ve been last of September,1st of October, I can’t remember the exact date right there, and uh, we, we was uh,
S: somewhere around uh, the, the punch bowl, uh, uh, (inaudible), somewhere in there cause we been fighting back and forth all through that part of the country right there.
I: And, can you describe, uh, how you end up being arrested by the Chinese?
S: Whenever there was a Chinese come in and come through, why, the tail end there was a little space there ‘cause we was short of men, and whenever that little space was left
S: in there, they cut us off right there, all down through that line right there there was uh, spaces in there, that had uh, spaces in it. And they cut ‘em off right there and there was about 4 or 5 bunches of us that got cut off and when we got cut off, they’d push us on towards, out and had uh, we had uh, they had us out-numbered right there you know. I could’ve turned that BAR right on them you know but we n-, we never woulda lived right there if we had right there, so.
S: We, but they took us and took us on towards Chinese land and they told us that uh, that, one little Chinese boy could speak English. He told us that we might be headed towards uh, up at uh..
I: Prison camp?
S: Prison camp, right there.
I: So how long were you captured there?
S: Uh, we was there, uh, about uh, 28 to 35 days. It was going 40 days, 41 days in all,
S: but the las 15 of it was walking back to out lands right there.
I: They’d feed you?
S: Uh, very little. Uh, they give us a little bit of rice in one of them little old sacks right there you know, and it was just very little. And I knew it was going to be awhile before we ever got back and boy I was very scared with it right there, and uh, another thing I didn’t like right there we had our canteens full of water right there and they told us to pull out our canteens in front of them and turn it up and pour
S: all the water out of ‘em. And, so I said that won’t be no problem right there. There’s snow here and everywhere and I said we can drink ice and snow and right there to have, to quench our thirst so yeah, anyhow they, they kept marching us on up and they’d march us around here and there, and had these little shacks right there made out of grass right there and we, we sat down beside them, not in ‘em. We sat down beside them at night right there, and they’d march us a night right there
S: where they wanted us to go, not in the daytime and so whenever we’d march right there, we sat there all night long boy and it was cold right there sitting in that ice right there you know and, but uh, we, we lived through it and it was a hard situation, long fight with a hard stick.
I: Did they beat you?
S: Oh yeah, they tried to interrogate you, you know and, they’d uh, they roughed you up pretty good right there you know so.
I: What did they ask you?
S: Uh, they asked us, uh, where, where was the first place that we started attacking them and why did we attack them for whenever they had the best living deals as anybody. And they wanted us to come and, and live with them and uh, not uh, not have that American way uh, style of living right there you know. And if you didn’t tell ‘em that you uh wanted to live with them
S: right there, you know, they just beat you that much more.
I: Oh, how did you see the Chinese were well equipped…… conditions of Chinese soldiers and their, their, their lives.
S: Well, they (inaudible) had us, they was about uh, they was about 8 or 9 of them that had uh, they was one or two Koreans and most of ‘em Chinese, they had out of that bunch, they had one little Chinese boy that could speak English and uh,
S: They, they was uh, they looked very good and everything, but there was one thing I could not understand, as cold as it was over there, they didn’t have, they didn’t have regular shoes. They had little old tennis shoes, and uh, their, their, they looked like to me they’d froze to death. I had them old combat boots, them on right there, and that’s when my feet and hands got froze is that first winter I was over there.
S: And uh,
I: You are very lucky to
I: be set free.
S: Oh yeah, and I got the uh, we was on a, there was a the squad of us was on a, my squad was on a reconnaissance patrol one time and it wasn’t very long after I got over there and we was crossing a valley right there and so, we, we, you, you, uh, reconnaissance patrol is you go to hit the enemy right there and that let them know in Rear Echelon where the enemy was on the front lines, and so whenever we got out there
S: uh, and here come mortar rounds in. And boy and I mean they’d lay them mortar rounds right in your hip pocket. If you wasn’t real, real careful, and we would start out across that valley right there, and uh, we had this black gentleman right there from Jackson, Mississippi right there. It wasn’t long until he got to go home and he, boy he said, and I bunked in the bunker with him right there and whenever, whenever he uh, whenever we went across there, he come over and grab my BAR right there and said let’s go Sam, come on, let’s go.
S: And uh, whenever we uh, we finally made it over and none of us didn’t get hit, there was one or two of us got hit by uh, shrapnel. I got hit in the leg right there and right on the side right here. And so he uh, he grabbed my gun and said let’s go Sam and, but uh, that little uh, that shrapnel hit me and (inaudible) boy I was scared and I was scared to death right there. There was some of us that some of us would get killed right there.
I: Why do you think that the Chinese soldier let you go?
S: Because, whenever they dropping that napalm, he, he thought that he was gonna, something was going to happen to him right there you know and uh, this little Chinese boy told his boss right there, said let’s go and said we gonna get hit with that napalm right there and they left out. And they went right, kinda (inaudible) from where them place was heading, coming in right there, I don’t know how far they went right there but, anyhow, whenever they went around the corner I seen them go around the corner up there getting behind a bunch of rock right there and that’s the last I seen of ‘em.
I: Do you remember his face?
S: Yes, I remember his face, that big ol’ Korean guy. I remember his face very well right there because you know, he was looking right at us and had that gun right there on us and he was closer than me and you right here, and they was, had us, you know, squatted down in that snow and ice right there beside that little Quonset hut right there, grass still right there and uh, they was sitting down, he was, we was sitting down in that right there and, and whenever they got the word right there, that little Chinese boy hollered at ‘em
S: and told ‘em we gon’ have to go right there, that napalm is gonna get us. And when they done that, that, that, Korean, y’all go. So and they…
I: If it is arranged, somehow, what would you say to him? If you are arranged to meet with him again, ok? Let’s say that he is still alive and somebody’s trying to arrange the meeting with you and that Chinese soldier, what would you say right now?
S: (Laughs) It wouldn’t be good right there.
S: So, because uh, he was trying to get me, you know, to tell a bunch of lies about the American people and American lives, they way we was living and the Chinese and Korean were living a lot better lives than we were.
I: But he didn’t kill you.
S: No, no.
I: He was able to kill you behind your back right?
S: Yeah, he, but he could have got ten all 5 of us, 6 of us, he could’ve got all 6 of us right there and he, if he’d had an automatic weapon he could’ve. I don’t think there was an automatic weapon.
I: … uh your friend that was captured
S: Uh huh.
I: Their name?
S: Uh no. That’s something I never did remember, ‘cause most of them guys all them guys was new. They just would come in from the front lines and were replacements right there. I do know one thing, one little ol’ boy that was there. He was 17 year old, and he’d, his mother had signed for him to join the army. And he, he done took his basic training and he’d been over there a little while and he was in there with us boys right there and he told me right here he
S: said, if my mother was here, she would come and get me.
S: And, he, he was just so pitiful you know it was just a pitiful story.
I: What was the happiest moment during your service?
S: When I got to, whenever I got my uh, orders to go back to Yokohama, Japan, and ship out home.
I: When was that, when did you leave Korea?
S: Uh, I, I left Korea uh,
S: the fir-, first or second of September, 1952.
I: Wow, you were there long.
S: You see but, whenever we went back, we come off the front lines on uh, July the 28th which was my mother’s birthday, and the only Korean division they had come up and took our place right there and we come back to Rear Echelon and some of the, most of them guys was going back to Japan.
S: I was platoon sergeant at that time, and when we got back there, they started splitting the guys up and say you go here and you go there because this bunch is going to Japan, and this bunch right here is going to Yokohama, Japan right there to guard prisoners. And uh, they, I asked them all why? I’ve been over there just as long as Ben Hogan right there, me and him come over at the same time right there, and I said that’s my buddy right there and he said, well, said he’s just a squad leader, and he said you’re a platoon sergeant and we gon’ need platoon sergeants over there to, to
S: train these guys how to, to uh, um, h-, how to handle these um, people. So when I first got over there, we uh, checked out, uh, 100 guys right there. I did. I went down there to the prison camp down there and behind there was (inaudible) down there, checked out me a 100 and brought ‘em up right there, and they had a great big hill up there where the CP was at right there. And they was making a nice roadway going up to it, and we take
S: them, them Chinese and Koreans and they lay them locks all the way up the side of the road right there and they could lay ‘em just like they was brick right there. You’d think they was brick the way they was laying them right there. They lay ‘em and here come a bunch behind them, and they would uh, uh, they, they would white-wash em. And boy you talk about a, and I stayed there, I stayed over there 22 days. Then my enlistment time in service was coming up because it was the twentieth of September, and the time I got to
S: Japan, it was, uh, the 1st or 2nd of Japan and um, so this here, this, this Sergeant up on the hill up there he come down and says who’s in charge of all these men right here and that, that squad leader says Sergeant Bass is. He says can you leave these guys just a little while and come here and talk to me and I says yessir. And I told them guys right there, I said, each one of you got 25 guys, I said uh, keep ‘em working, and
S: until I get back and then said we’ll see right there. Whenever I, I did, I went up to talk and he was up in the kitchen up there and he had me a big steak, baked potato, and fed me and that’s the first meal that I got right there since I’d been over there
I: What people say to you?
S: Uh, they was, when we got off the boat there at Fort Lewis, Washington, right there, uh, they was uh, 3600 of us on that boat and whenever we got off that boat,
S: I thought I’d be one of the first ones to get off because my name was Bass and it was going by alphabetical order calling ‘em, going on, and whenever they call my name, I was number 50 and so, it was long time before I come off the boat and down that ramp right there you know and, of course they was uh, they was mothers and daddies, brothers and sisters there to meet their folks right there whenever they come off that boat right there you know, but I knew my mother and daddy or brother couldn’t come right there ‘cause you know they couldn’t afford it.
S: Whenever I was at Busan I get on that deal to go to Yokohama. I wave that and I said, I hope I never see you again. No and I haven’t. Don’t care to. You know, but uh, you know if all the guys had hit it as hard as I did over there and all through the fights and everything right there, they’s uh, they’d be glad to say what I said, ‘cause I just don’t care nothing about seeing it anymore.
I: So what do you think is the legacy of the Korean War and Korean War veterans from your perspective?
S: Well, I, I think uh, they, they deserve everything that they can get right there, the American boys right there you know, for what they went through.
I: Uh huh.
S: I know my feet and hands was froze, and uh, I been to the VA hospital they give me all my medications and everything over there. All I got to do is call them in whenever, and uh,
S: I get that appreciation from them, and uh, I got uh, feet and hands froze, and I draw 100% disability.
I: Was it helpful for you to join the chapter?
S: Well, because whenever I joined that chapter I never had talked about Korea and all getting in among those guys right there. They was telling one another about this and that so, they’d ask me my story right there and you know of course naturally, I was ready to talk a little bit about it right there.
C: Carol Bass, Roina Bass, um, I’m Sam’s wife and we have 2 grandchildren and we have 5 great-grandchildren. We never did talk about his trip to Korea until after we got into KWVA. When we got into KWVA, he began to open up and talk about it. You asked if he ever had nightmares? Uh, he cannot stand a war movie. He will have nightmares
C: everytime. We have several of our members, KWVA members, that have gone to Korea and visited South Korea, uh, I would love to. But I wouldn’t dream of it unless he agreed too. I mean he is the one that is holding back. We may someday, but.
I: Would you be willing to talk to your great-grandchildren or great-grandchildren to, to help him scanning his pictures and
I: learn more about it and send it to me?
C: Of course.
S: You know some of the stories just bring tears to the eyes right there you know and, and uh, uh for the hardships that you went through with right there you know. And uh, see so many guys get killed right there you know and I got three bronze stars right there for dragging back boys that was wounded, and uh, that was uh, killed and wounded, and I’d bring back uh, I’d bring back
S: uh, uh guys right there in the rifles and hook my arm right under them and drag them back right there, run the chance of getting killed myself right there but I couldn’t stand to see my buddies laying out right there you know like that. And the ones that we bring back they was already dead right there, little Johnny Adams the medic right there, he just leave ‘em there right there and the ones that were still alive right there were the ones he’d work on right there. And, we brought back a-many a guy right there and we tried to help in that way right there.
S: It was just a hard fight right there you know but, we, we still made it right there and when we was, when the 24th division part of it on the side there, on the side where was at right there was up right on Old Baldy, it was one of the hardest rights right there or all right there, hitting the punchbowl.
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