Korean War Legacy Project

Paul Frederick Steen


Paul Fredrick Steen was born in Dakota City, Nebraska, and volunteered to serve in the Army in 1960. He shares how he feared he would not be accepted into the armed forces due to being diagnosed with polio at the age of thirteen. He recalls questioning his decision to join the service at the beginning but adds that, looking back, it was a good decision. He describes some of his duties while in Korea and recollects a risky incident that occurred while on the USS Gaffey headed home after his fourteen months of service. He recounts how he and other soldiers risked their lives to help a fellow soldier who had appendicitis onto a helicopter during a storm. He shares his memories of his revisit Korea experience in 2005 with the 2nd Armored Division and comments on the warmth and gratefulness of the Korean people.

Video Clips

Polio Prior to Service

Paul Steen shares how he discovered he had polio as a child. He chronicles the story and details what he saw while being treated. He admits that he was worried he would not be accepted when volunteering for the draft years later due to his bout with polio.

Tags: Fear,Home front,Living conditions

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Reason for Volunteering

Paul Steen explains his reasoning for volunteering for the draft. He shares that he felt he was no better than anyone else and that he had a fondness for the military as a child. He admits that he questioned his decision as soon as he entered the service but adds that he was glad he made the choice to do so.

Tags: Basic training,Communists,Home front,Pride

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Tied to the Ship

Paul Steen recounts his return to the States aboard the USS Gaffey, experiencing fifty-foot swells. He describes how knives, spoons, and forks were flying everywhere below deck. He remembers a soldier having appendicitis and being chosen with a few others to take the sick soldier to the deck to have the helicopter pick him up. He shares that they tied themselves to the side of the ship before the helicopter arrived, and after securing the sick soldier inside the basket, he recounts watching him spin around and around hooked to the cable, stating that if he was not sick before, he would definitely be sick by the time he reached the helicopter.

Tags: Living conditions

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Revisiting Korea

Paul Steen recounts his revisit Korea experience. He describes the contrast between the Korea he saw years ago and modern Korea. He comments on the warmth and thankfulness of the Korean people.

Tags: Impressions of Korea,Modern Korea,Pride,South Koreans

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Video Transcript

Paul Frederick Steen

My name is Paul Steen and I was born in Dakota City, Nebraska. And my parents my dad he worked scooping coal in the winter time for railroad cars and then the rest of the year they would look for jobs on farms in the area and so I spent the first years of my life down in that area and afterwards we moved over into Iowa and worked on another farm but my parents never were able to farm as far as for their own that people would pay them so much to farm it. And so I went to school about in, say we moved up into Minnesota in 44 so about in 44 there. I went to school at Cleghorn Iowa which is south of Polino and its course not too far from Sue City it too from my folks to go right where they had been and me tottleing along behind them. But uh so that kind of give you an idea there and then in 45, the spring of 45, then we moved up into Minnesota and my dad was 41 years old and it was his first opportunity to farm there and so. They were a little hesitant at first because it was a different adventure but uh so then I went to country school there for a couple years and then those consolidations on uh came about and to that school in Storton, Minnesota. And of course that’s where I uh graduated from and of course I had been on the farm but there was always plenty of things to be doing and I evolved the old way, sawing weeds, milking cows, feeding hogs, and stuff like that. Um so uh. I think that kind of gives you some of an idea you know uh and what I was exposed to and so but I graduated then uh and then I bout in 57 and then uh 3 years later is when I left for the service. So but my dad being a Scottish German that he was I had no problem entering the service. Um any how uh I went to Camp Carson

Can you tell me quick uh where you busted or drafted?

I volunteered for the draft okay and um I didn’t know whether they would have taken me because I had polio when I was um younger bout 13 years old and I was up in sister Kenny up in Minneapolis. And um that was quite a situation there at camp and about how when I got sick I couldn’t lean my head against the cow when I was milking her and my mother came out and I don’t know she was getting some milk for the cats or what is was and she says is something wrong and I said no I my neck is stiff I think I got polio. Well that evening there I didn’t eat no supper. They called the doc and that’s when the doctors came out to the farms and pretty soon they took folks out of the room where I was laying and uh said uh talk to them in the kitchen and before I knew it my dad was carrying me in the car. I wasn’t able to walk after that and then they did a spinal pap at the local hospital at Windilmill, Minnesota. And I remember yet the nurse was dying on the floor on her knees praying but the spinal tap said yepp so that’s when I wound up going up to sister Kenny and well spent some months there and I finally got out I felt the verse really lucky for all the ones that were in there. I spent a week on a gurney just waiting to get in a ward so there was a lot of and I would’ve been in 51, 52 yeah so uh and then yeah after wearing all the hot packs they put hot packs on ya and said you know that night 24/7 and I kept thinking it was around 128 degrees packs, a gummy sack packs and so then from there on without contagion where when you still had feeling during stuff like that and the doctor came along and I my eyes did open up a little because I was feeling a little better and were covering these young kids up left and right you know that passed on. So but I prayed to God in my own little words you know and uh finally got out of contagion and I went into rehab. The traveling that was done back and forth was by train. Um my mother Helda was her name and Bernice Shnorice you know they would come up together cause Bernice’s daughter was in sister Kenny also at the same time and um the reason I say that is that she was a Thorsnip and she was Leo Thorsnip’s sister. Okay so uh they couldn’t come in and see me but they could wave at me through the windows but there was a close relationship that could bump between us and uh the Thorsnips’ and then Leo wound up being uh a prisoner warrior in Vietnam and uh he was a weasel pilot and he got shot down on his 93rd living. He lives in Alabama so we fought once a year just back and forth. He does have a book out on surviving hell. So as far as that you know getting into my Korea um I left Camp Carson because they couldn’t must up a good group of people of guys so they put me on a train to Fortreilly, Kansas. And so that’s where I took my initial trading down in Fortreilly and then from Fortreilly I went from AIT over to Fortgordon, Georgia where I became um with gold and blood type climb poles, you name it and then after that I was offered to go to the second armor division in Texas. And I was in the 48 medics there and I was there a few months and then I had orders to go to Germany. Well I was home on leave and a guy drove in and he gave my mother a telegram because I was out in the field and when I came in for supper she was like there’s something for you to read and then she talked to my dad about it, he had already read it. And I was to orders have been changed. She says you’re frozen chosen bone, you’re in Korea. I think we only had 3 days of my leave left, a bus wouldn’t get me there in time. To get on a plane at that time I don’t know if there was a strike at the time too but graciously down in Omaha, Nebraska they bumped a guy and he found out that I had to get down there. So I flew I got down to Omaha flew down to Oakland. Did some processing there and then I got out to the travis. Let’s see how was that travis and then I flew from there to um Chikawa, Japan. And then from there I went over to Ibecooney and I processed uh some of the processing I had to go up through and then from uh Ibecooney I don’t remember if I flew or not I think I flew over to Korea.

When you signed up for the draft why did you volunteer for that?

Well uh I knew that eventually even though I knew I had polio and stuff like that and uh I just felt that I wasn’t any better than anybody else and you know and I know at home im working there with my dad and there were always some things that we had and I think itd be a good time in my life to do this and to square myself away and that’s kind of the reason I did and I know I in my heart that I liked even when I was small and I was always making up a cannon or gun or something and playing an army or stuff like that too as a child but uh but I just felt that uh the reason for that is because I wanted to be part of it and I know that this communism and the things that were going on and I didn’t hanker and honker much you know. Okay so um and I think that was my best thing and I know it was the best thing I did after I got out. Although when I did get in there at first I looked at the ceiling and the building I was in and what did I get myself into. You know but I was really glad that it really wound up okay so. When I arrived there first I wound up getting on the ducenhalf and the duffle bag in there and went out to uh a company area there which was six ordinance company and uh then at the gate they told me to report to the CP which I did and that uh the captain you know helped out and stuff like that. And uh I was assigned uh the person that was there had left to go back home and so I took over the mail route which I thought well hey that isn’t the worst scenario here at all you know. So I had done that for about 2-3 months and then a replacement came in uh another clerk and of course that was the end of that. And then our lieutenant that was there, lieutenant he was a second lieu and he uh decided that I better get into the commel part of it communications because I was an O53 school in Gordon down there see. And oh yeah I went over there and they had a commel room all soul so nobody could break into with steel from the selvage yard they built up to encase that commel room because they uh it included dull. And of course I had uh I wound up getting a top secret clearance. So that became my little place of or home I should say and I had a generator that incase things went fluey I could have electric.

Can you tell me a little bit like why they chose you for that?

Well because of the schooling that I had down in uh Gordon in Fortgordon, Georgia. And uh and of course I got my uh TS clearance in its infancy it all came through for Fortgordon and so I had top secret clearance anyhow and in order to avoid uh the enemy who were to ever intercept they wanted to have the cryptal to go with it. And uh because I had coal you know diddy dumb dumb diddy and all that and uh and then also tell type so I would communicate between the headquarters not too far from us was first quarter and then we would communicate with that also and uh and then also with the supply point we had up in the moonson area which is up where they got carry up western end of the DMC. So I would maintain the communications from our unit from up to that unit up there and they were at cavalry but they were still under six line six ordinance company you see so that was the thing there and maintaining communications. We had eighth ordinances with EOD explosives and ninth EOD had our same local decal we had on ASP56 and so I did some uh communicating for them and worked the mine fields and stuff like that okay. Um so then after a few months the captain ordered me to go up to uh the ASP63 and I had to get a bunch of empty cans which would be from the halts or the 105 cans and so I did. Anyhow I went up to get that load of empty casings from the 105 and then I had to take it down to 83rd ordinance hall that down to sal the soul. And there was only 2 ways in and out of soul at that time, the east gate and the south gate and naturally going through the east gate and then uh they had that the gates they had their MPs and also Korean MP and a GI MP. And so I go through those 2 points and then out south of soul down 83rd ordinance to empty the truck out. And so then I went and left and went back through the south gate and as soon as I got through the south gate it was mass humanity. I thought what in the world and this would’ve been around the 21st of May of 61

What do you mean by mass humanity?

Uh a lot of people lot of the Korean people I mean uh the they were tight against my truck even I couldn’t even move anymore. Well anyhow I didn’t have my radio in that truck cause I use another truck to get these cans with see they all have a radio call back to the company so I just sat there. And what was happening there was an overthrow of the government there. So for the better part of the day until the people dispersed so that way I could get going again. Then I had to report to the captain and I told him he said what’s going on down there and they had everything everybody had their helmets and riffles they didn’t know what was going on they had heard because uh while I’m trying to reverse back hospital west soul was taking hits over there when the gun fired and then later on I even got an email from an individual and he was bringing in a downed age 21 that there what we called an open chopper and he was coming in the north he was on the north end of soul and that’s a big truck trailer and there’s chains hanging on the side it was the chains making all the noise he soon was getting bullet holes in his foot. But I got it. He sent me an email once and I got his testimony on and also the guy on 120 first but I told the copter commander and said hey I just couldn’t move and uh well he says he wanted to know how I felt about him and I said well I don’t know if they doubt decided who is trying to be the king pen there you know and then the crowd dispersed and then I was able to go. Um well then they said then you just go back to your comma room and then uh I’ll take care of matters now and I think some of the other companies around here because as far as he knew or they knew around that I probably was the only army guy in soul at that time you know when that happened. But hey I got thinking uh too what I really know what was happening at first then you get to hear the story a little bit more later on see. So but then I went back to my up and communicated and so I went from there um anything after that uh after some months there uh I went on RNR which kind of was a little bit of a relief and another friend of mine he was he worked in the C there and then went to uh Hong Kong and uh a lot of the guys uh even in the earlier years they went yet points that they’re up online so many points you know and are offline and wherever they were and if once you get so many points then you could uh you could go home earlier. Now the one I went uh my tour over there wound up being about 14 months so um these uh things that transferred that during that time uh I just felt relieved that goal and so we went to go to Japan and then down to Philippines and we flew over with the Marines. And then we landed in Hong Kong and then we went on kind of a tour exploring trip in Hong Kong and Coloon and stuff. We came back you know uh I forget this how many days better part of a week almost you know but from traveling and stuff couple days and I arrived back at the county area and I more or less uh finished out my tour there. Uh while I was in the camp I uh had to wear lending uh in our clothes because of the hemorrhagic fever. Um I didn’t really know what they really called it at the time I just called it DDT or whatever it was but I could tell it you know when they laundered the clothes you know and they hired the Korean civilians to do the laundry work and they always had someone to do that you know to see. So that was part of it too. Um what other question would you have otherwise I uh finished it out in the next. I went over there in 19 January 1961 that’s when I went over there. Uh and I came back in the end of March of 62 and of course then uh as I have even written on we but I was going to leave Sean the USS man was a hip I was to go disembark on and that was sunk in Angine Harbor

Why was it sunk?

It’s goose bumps couldn’t keep up with it as far as I understood from that thing the situation because there isn’t any ship that don’t leak, there’s just that sometimes they can leak a little more in the heavy seas and stuff and the pumps couldn’t get rid of it see but they had pulled in the harbor of float that’s where they bumped and uh and the tide change in that harbor was 33 feet and when the tide goes out it’s all mudflats. So be in military and that white army operate sometime they put us out for those uh landing bolts to go out to that USS man. Well evidently somebody got lost in the command of communication that that ship wasn’t going to be able to get out of there and so they brought us back in and the next morning then the USS gaffe came in and well we had our duffle bags ready to go and out we went and up the ladder on the side ramp up that ship. And uh so then there was more of uh because I was going to be getting out of the service when I returned home, my tour was up. So I don’t know if they called it a mail run and usually the guys that were short uh I suppose I don’t know they had to make all these runs from the Philippines and back up to Japan. After we left Japan we hit some heavy seas. Oh about the third day I bet about 50 foot uh swells and the knives and forks and spoons were flying around down there and um and so one of the guys got sick I don’t know if it was appendicitis or what it was. So lil serge he come along and says you and you and you and you and you you’re ready to get up on the deck and mind you those rough seas has water coming across the deck maybe in a foot or two you know. And so we tied ourselves to the bucket was a this individual had to be transported out meanwhile the ship is lifting back and forth and the chopper finally came in it was raining too at the same time and it’s a good thing we were tied up on otherwise we would’ve washed right off of there. So then we got the basket he dropped the cable down and we hooked it and of course there’s always some pipes and stuff on the ship so we finally got him hooked in the basket kind of spun around and I said to the one guy standing there in the water and uh I said boy he eat some when he gets up that chopper he’s going to be sick you know see so that was an even transpired by I return back home so and of course uh it all leveled off uh after that and then we got back to Hawaii, stopped there and picked up some anchor crankers on some Davy guys and we weren’t allowed to get off then of course we proceeded to go uh under the golden gate. And that was good. That felt good. So uh I wanted to have myself a good meal and I processed and then in another day I had to go back in processing and then I left on an old turtle plane to fly back to Minneapolis. And then my neighbor that grew up he came and got me and uh I got back home and I dropped and I was in my greens and my mom hugged me and uh and uh yeah your dad wants you to listen to the radio you know there was no tv you know. It’s this box thing and then uh to me to me in depths there were fights and so he’d always get the they’d always get the sued journal that’s where we had come from when we met up there. So the fight was over and my mom had welcomed me home and sat there waiting so the fight was over as he turned the radio off he slipped the su diddy journal and he says sit down and then I don’t mind he said something I think you better somebody here and so he turned around and oh welcome home kid and that was the end of it. The next morning, I was out milking cows. Uh so that kind of gives you uh the whole sequence I don’t know if I’ve missed on some of the things maybe that I had written down here over but uh I think that um what other questions would you have?

What was your military unit?

The military unit? Well it’s at 69 and 6 ordinance company hammel that’s the first military unit and it was under first core and first core more or less had the western scene from Pussan up north um then uh a lot called it I core. It’s the bullseye catch that you see on the cap you know and uh then of course the other unit up there were the cavalry patch but they were all under core. There’s a lot of numbers under a division sometimes. There could be first core tenth core and so forth uh wherever it is that the country and so contingency that type of contingency situation you know but uh that was it uh bossy under first core uh in 6 nine 6 ordinance company. So uh that’d be bout uh all I could tell you on that

So could you paint me a picture of Korea, what was it like, what was a normal day like?

Well uh hazy kind of a dismal uh cause I arrived there in January first part of January and uh it as cool cold uh and I know that uh there were sometimes a certain amount of aroma that comes about that you’re not quite used to you know uh but uh otherwise I uh I just more or less disregarded it now because that’s just part of what the country is you know to so I guess that king of gives you an idea you know uh in regards to that of what it was like um sometimes I was a little apprehensive of course because it’s a whole new thing. Uh before I had left home I rarely uh heard about Korea but I really didn’t know exactly where it was at I didn’t know either so um and of course in my family it was all one and I was the only one in the family only child you know. Um but there was no silver spoon or silver challises or stuff like that. Um well stepping back when we were in Nebraska and my mother would want to take a picture and she had to go over to the neighbor and because they didn’t have the money to have a camera. And so I had my infants in my infancies there starting in my younger years that uh if you were going to go uh if they went shopping once a month they’d take eggs in or something like that and I to get a scoop of ice cream would’ve been something so. But getting back to that being a little apprehensive of a different scenery of course uh but that was okay with me you know so what else is there?

Can you tell me kind of what it was a typical day like what were your duties?

My duties well uh we had to get up and in the company area there and we had roll call and stuff like that we did every day and uh then I was a squad leader there and uh so uh then we would go chow down and then we had part of our company worked in part of what they called a selvage bard there were different things. In motor pools uh mechanic work and stuff like that. I would of course do my stuff in the communication shack over there and uh then would see what messages would come in and then count up the system for the day you know two because sometimes when I had to get those empty cans at a time I couldn’t just leave that commel room because of a 24/7 situation so then lieutenant McClelon was a signal officer so then he would fill in and take my place. Otherwise I was pretty much well uh in that communication shack in my time in taking messages and receiving messages and stuff like that um unless I was called out like previously said going up to we had to pick up a couple soldiers. He said pick up and strap your 45 on I don’t know what they did I had a commander call me and one of the guys from PS63 up there Stein was his name, we’d become real good friends. And so we brought these 2 individuals down what they did I don’t know we haled them down there to soul you know and uh we kind of looked at each other and we got one of the MPs stuck or whatever they did we never knew so there were some things that come about like that. As far as any walking the wire I never did walk the wire really up there. I was close in proximity many times so uh otherwise the daily activities were more up and with the cryptal I had to there were certain things you had to do with the equipment each day is you line things up for your trees that you’re on and stuff like that you know and so I just mainly maintaining communication.

What is Korea to you now?

Well uh back in 2005 my wife and I went back they had a second division they had on this return trip for the guys that had been in Korea and I went back with the second division, I should say we did. And uh there was 9 of us and uh and when we went back and we started out when we landed at um Kimple, Itchan airport which was altogether different. There were only a couple bridges over the Han river more or less when I was still there and my wife said when she counted around 20 something bridges. Everything was black built and modern, big screens you know and soul up on the buildings and I said wow and the rest of the guys, the other 8 guys. Well we had some that were along that were sons that was killed in Korea and there was man and his daughter was along with him and he went back to Creote 3 or 4 times to find out the proximity of where his father had been killed. Well in this tour, Roy Montgomery and his wife it was a Korean wife they guided and would uh narrate on the bus so we left soul the very next day after we went to the museum and on Dam and we went all the way down to Tagu and Nakedownbald and all the way back around up. For about the 10 to 11th probably about the 12th day when we came back and the soul but getting back into the people and what had transpired and I know I talked to Coronel Gilles was on Pork Chop Hill and he said what do you think and I said well I am just flabbergasted compared to what it was even when I was there and you guys were there a little bit before I was. He said yeah we got the same thing. I mean hey they made good didn’t they and I said yes they did they really did and that was a plus you know as far as us and that they uh been over there and they were always and even to this day polite and thankful and um this was the number one thing.

What kind of life lessons do you feel like you’ve learned from your military service?

Appreciation. Extreme appreciation for what we have in this country and we know that there is the supreme being our father up in heaven and uh and being thankful really thankful um for what we have by seeing what was over there at that time and then how they turned around and made good with what we had done for them too. Uh I just um, I just marveled at that. Uh so and what I come away with there is that I know that the back of communism was broken even though it had always been called the forgotten war I always felt it was a forgotten victory. And uh because of the things that had in my exposure and my country, myself. But a lot of respect too um and even to this day whenever you would see and so uh I say that uh and we all know that freedom is not free and that goes of course in any other wars as far as that goes and with Korea uh not knowing exactly what I was really going to get into and then from what I surmised from what I had going through there. So that, that’s about it. I mean it’s just the respect that they showed for us and knowing that we should respect them for it.