Korean War Legacy Project

Marvin Ummel


Marvin G. Ummel was born in Arnold, Kansas, on March 4, 1932. He worked on his parents farm as a young boy and later graduated from Arnold Union High School in 1949. He recalls never being taught anything about Korea. After high school he worked on a lumber yard, and after being encouraged by his superior, he went to school in Omaha, Nebraska, to learn Morse code. After finishing his training, he immediately found a job transcribing Western Union telegrams in Pueblo, Colorado. He recalls being paid less than one dollar per hour, which necessitated him finding other odd jobs to pay his rent. After a few years working for Western Union, he was drafted into the army in 1952 and went to Camp Gordon in Georgia for basic training. In 1952, he traveled by ship from San Francisco, California to Japan, and from there, sailed to Incheon, South Korea. He served as a private in the 8th Army Division, 304 Signal Operation Battalion, spending a lot of time listening to and trying to decipher Russian Morse code. He recalls a lot of it being propaganda against the United States. He returned to the United States in December 1953 and immediately married his girlfriend. His father was a WWI veteran and his brother also fought in Korea.

Video Clips

Landing at Incheon, Impressions of Korea

On August 1, 1952, Marvin Ummel's unit made it to Incheon, South Korea. The entry into Incheon was challenging due to bad weather and the fact that the communists had destroyed most of the harbor. The ship captain had to improvise their landing. Shortly after landing, he boarded a railroad car to his first duty station near Seoul. He noticed garbage and destruction all over the landscape of South Korea. He acknowledges not knowing what it looked like prior to the war, but his first impression was a total mess. There was no building that had not been at least damaged by the war. The condition of Seoul was pretty distressing.

Tags: Seoul,Yeongdeungpo,Communists,Front lines,Impressions of Korea,Message to Students,North Koreans,Physical destruction,Poverty,South Koreans

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Prisoner of War Exchange

Marvin Ummel recalls witnessing the exchange of prisoners of war (POWs). He remembers the released prisoners changing clothes once released and many Korean locals picking up and taking the clothes back to their homes. Doctors would inspect the released POWs before sending them back home. Often the POWs were in poor condition, some even being sprayed with DDT insecticide to kill off vermin. He recalls that while the soldiers were thrilled to be back, the condition the POWs arrived in was poor and very depressing.

Tags: Civilians,Depression,Front lines,Living conditions,Message to Students,Personal Loss,Physical destruction,Poverty,POW,South Koreans

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Impressions of South Korea, Then and Now

Marvin Ummel revisited South Korea in 2017. He reports that the opportunity to travel back with Revisit Korea was incredible. He recalls the development in Seoul being impressive, as there were no undamaged buildings present when he was there in 1952. Now, the buildings, houses, and roadways are numerous and well-constructed. He rode the bullet train from Seoul to Pusan and was impressed that it went over one hundred and eighty miles an hour! He also remembers just how thankful the South Koreans were to Americans for their help during the war.

Tags: Busan,Seoul,Civilians,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Message to Students,Modern Korea,Physical destruction,Poverty,Pride,South Koreans

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Why is the Korea War the Forgotten War?

Given the wonderful transformation South Korea has seen between the 1950s and today and the deep gratitude Koreans have for American Veterans, the Korean War is still known as the Forgotten War. Marvin Ummel recalls people not knowing much about Korea, even after he returned from the war. Many people were still thinking about World War II.

Tags: Impressions of Korea,Message to Students,Modern Korea,Pride,Prior knowledge of Korea,South Koreans

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