Ralph Howard was twenty-three years old when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952. As a trained Airborne Paratrooper, he was sent to Korea to perform air drops while fighting the enemy, to cut off main supply routes, and to support the U.S. Marines in battle. He fought, provided protected, and was stationed throughout Korea. He was dropped into the Battle of Sukchon-Sunchon, the assault at Kot’o-ri, and the Battle of Triangle Hill. Throughout his time in the military, he described the waiting time before the jumps as the most nerve-racking, but he enjoyed the camaraderie with fellow paratroopers. He recalls receiving an extra forty-five dollars a month due to serving on the front lines on top of the additional fifty dollars a month for being a paratrooper. He shares he did not mind the C-Rations provided to the troops and adds that his favorites included beanie weenies, sausage, and hamburger meat. After returning home to his job in Texas and joining a Korean War veteran organization, he received the Ambassador of Freedom Medal.
The U.S. President Wants You for the US Military!
Ralph Howard recalls being in Alaska when the Korean War started and listed as 1-A (available for military service). He mentions he was disappointed after being drafted because he was making good money. He recounts being sent to training as a paratrooper after having his hair cut, passing the aptitude test, and taking a physical.
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U.S. Paratrooper Training
Ralph Howard discusses how he was trained to be a U.S. paratrooper in January 1952 after being drafted into the Army. He emphasizes that a great deal of physical training and practice using the parachute was needed. He recalls how his job was to drop into battles, cut off supply routes for the enemy, and support the U.S. Marines who had been fighting in the war since 1950.
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Paratrooper Battles During Korean War
Ralph Howard recalls traveling all over Korea. He recounts how he performed airdrops into assorted battles including the Battle of Sukchon-Sunchon, the Battle of Triangle Hill, and the assault of Kot'o-ri. He described a mission where he was supposed to stop an enemy train carrying Allied POWs; however, the enemy had killed all but twenty-six POWs right outside the train.
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Chute-Packing Races, C-Rations, and Poor Civilians
Ralph Howard discusses how he was scared until his parachute opened. He recalls not having to pack his own chute but adds that during training, they would compete to see who could pack his chute first. He remembers how General Westmoreland tried to ensure all men on the front lines received a hot meal once a day. He recalls enjoying beanie weenies, sausage, and hamburger from C-Rations. He notes that during his downtime, he would share some of his rations with Korean civilians as they were very poor.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
R: I’m Ralph Howard I was drafted in January 1952 and.
I: How old were you?
R: I am currently 86 years old.
I: How old are you and you were drafted?
R: I was 20…23 when I was drafted.
I: And what branch was that did you say?
R: It was the hundred eighty-seventh airborne regimental combat team. That was a regiment out of the 11th airborne division, which was based at Camp Campbell Kentucky.
I: Tell me a little bit what were you doing around the time that you were drafted?
R: I was in Alaska working in a cold storage and processing halibut fish.
I: Ah I see you’re fishing and process and fish and you’ve got word that well….
R: And my wife was there she worked in the hospital.
I: So what did she…was her reaction whenever she found out you’re being drafted?
R: Well we hadn’t had been drafted then I was I was A1 and I went back to states after the season and they weren’t drafting anybody right then so I worked at Union Carbide for about a year or so and they finally drafted me they drafted me in January 1952. I was up in Alaska, up in Alaska in 1950 when the war started.
I: Oh I see I see, did you know what was going on in Korea? Did you know there was a war going on?
R: Yes I know there’s a war go what I was A1 one girl (laughter).
I: Oh what does that mean can you please tell the audience.
I: Will you please tell the audience what that means.
R: That means I was going to be drafted as soon as I come up at the draft, come up at the draft board.
R: They didn’t draft you unless you were 1A
I: Okay so did you know where Korea was?
R: I don’t know at that time, whether I knew where it was or not. I’d heard about it of course though the news and everything
I: So whenever you were drafted what was your reaction? Were you nervous? I mean what was going through your head?
R: Well I was working making pretty good money and I didn’t want to go just like anybody. When I got my notice and I, we, got the letter the mail and said, “Greetings with a president of United States your friends and neighbors have selected you to serve for them in the army in the United States. You are to report in Jackson County Armory on 8 O’clock on the 15th, 14th of January.
I: What a letter.
R: For induction.
R: And you go, you go to get inducted and they said oh go to hell back, and bring underwear or something you know its about all you take because you’re not going to be in one city much longer. And they gave us a physical and as soon as the physical was over they took us out and put us on a train to Fort Meade Maryland. And there they, they issued as the clothes and they cut all of our hair off and then the next day or so we took an in depth test, an aptitude test that the army gave everybody.
R: To see how smart you were I think. And uh after that, and they put me on a train and sent me back to Kentucky to, uh to Breckenridge Kentucky which is the old One-hundred and First airborne training camp, where they stayed.
And so I did my training at uh an airborne facility. They had been an airborne facility they had the first airborne museum there and a with the old training there and then toward the end the training being a draftee, uh they came up from (Fort) Benning, they uh, they send some people up there and they showed us a bunch of movies about paratroopers and stuff, they were looking for people to volunteer for airborne they were having trouble getting enough volunteers I guess. Anyhow I didn’t listen to him very well until right at the end uh they said, “There’s only one regiment of airborne going over seas” and of course I was married and uh (laughs) I didn’t want to go over there.
But uh, uh when I heard that I just stuck my hand up. And then we had to take a physical, and uh we had to take a physical fitness test to qualify.
R: They picked you on how well you did and how healthy you were. And the end of training I had a choice of going to leadership training or going to airborne, and I choose airborne. And the reason I went, I wasn’t going to leadership training, I was an acting corporal, a temporary corporal all through our basic training. So I had uh about three days of travel time to get to Fort Benning and my wife, I had a car, and my wife picked me up and she went with went to Fort Benning and she got her job, and three weeks later I was a paratrooper (Laughter).
I: You’re a paratrooper?
R: And I found out after the first week of training, uh during the first week of training what it took to get your wings. If it didn’t kill you, you got your wings.
I: Tell me a little bit about what that is, tell the audience.
R: You want to know about training
I: Yeah sure tell me about it
R: Well, when you get there and you walk in the area for days that’s the last walking you do for a while. You can walk in the barracks, but when you hit the front door in the morning you had to be running when you come out the door, you’re doing push ups and you ran in formation and stop in formation, and when they turned the formation to take you down to the training area, you did a right face and you double timed in formation to the training area and you got there and it was a sawdust pit, a rather large pit and you took your field jacket off, with your bare chest.
R: and you got out there and it would have sawdust in the pit and you do a dozen physical fitness tests and of course you get through and got sawdust all over you and you put your shirt back on and they run you three miles to the next training site.
I: Eww that’s got to be itchy.
R: It was, but it was intentionally that way. Then we did a few PLF (Parachute Landing Fall) Platforms, which was a low platform where you have a harness on and you’re, you’re going to exit the aircraft and make a landing, its called a PLF, parachute landing fall and uh and from there, in the first week you went up to 34-foot towers they have towers that’s 34 foot, and you went up to the top of the tower, and you went up in a line at the tower and there they hooked you into a into a parachute that would have the harness on.
R: They had a pulley on the cable outside of the tower. And then you had to exit, when they told you, exit the aircraft and you when they tapped you exit out and you fell about 50 feet and that harness hugs on the cable and you slid down the cable to another sawdust pit.
I: Ah sounds fun.
R: And uh to test your reaction to that you had a reserve on, another reserve and it had a rip cord handle on it, and if you pull that after you got your opening shot when you jump you’re supposed to look up to see if your canopy open or if it had malfunctioned, and if you did you had to observe if it was too bad. So to train you for that in the tower, they took a piece of parachute silk.
R: Of camouflage silk and it had a little slip on it and they hook you up and every once and awhile they would put that on your harness and its up above your head on your harness and when you went out before you got your opening shot when you come to the end of it, if you didn’t look up and check for that and you, you’ve been all the way without noticing it. Then you were standing under the tower and you didn’t see those people anymore. They did not want somebody who didn’t do what they were told.
I: Tell me a little bit about your actual job, about so you’re, as a paratrooper you to jump out of airplanes, so tell me what the purpose of that was.
R: Well it was, they would usually they would jump in to fight, but they didn’t in Korea, they would move you from one regiment to the other wherever you were needed. When we, got when we first got there they fought with the Marines, when the outfit got there, it was in 51’ they fought with the Marines when they took Inchon Landing.
R: They went in there to cut off the supply routes because they (North Korean Army) had them cornered down in Pusan. And so McArthur took the Marines in there and they fought through to Seoul, to free Seoul and when they did they cut off the main supply route to the south, and so the troops down there, the enemy, couldn’t get the supplies so they had to retreat, and that’s one reason they did it.
I: Where were you being stationed at in Korea?
I: Where were you being stationed at in Korea? You said you were moving around a lot.
R: They took the outfit out the 11th and they put them on a ship and sent them over there and they were supposed to get there and uh they came into Pusan, they were supposed to make a jump into Gimpo Airfield, and take the airfield.
R: But the ship ran into a hurricane on the way over, and we didn’t get to Pusan on time to do that, cause by the time we got there the Marines had already taken Gimpo. So they flew us into Gimpo, and we got to Gimpo we got organized and they put us in and we fought with the Marines to take Seoul. Then somewhere in there after we took Seoul, they put us out back to Gimpo, where our planes were. And uh then they planned that Sunchon/Sukchon Jump later on and we made that made that the first combat jump of Sunchon/Sukchon, and Sunchon/Sukchon was up above Pyongyang, the capital, and the reason we made that was, one reason was there to cut the reds off who were retreating and take prisoners and also to stop a train from going North.
R: That intelligence found had a bunch of GI prisoners on it going to prison camps.
I: How would you stop a train?
R: Well (laughter) we had airplanes that stop the trains if we needed to but anyhow they when they saw us jump the train apparently stopped the train and took the prisoners out and shot them. And we got the train and we had people who got the bodies, and we I think they got 26, I believe 26 people who weren’t killed out of a whole bunch.
I: Out of how many?
R: About 26, out of the whole trainload we found alive.
I: But how many do you think were in the whole trainload?
I: How many do you think were in the whole trainload?
R: I have no idea. Don’t have any idea. And when we jumped and they had a tank outfit and there were some troops coming north to relieve us.
R: And as soon as they got there and took over then, then we helped them; we also held the capital Pyongyang. They took it over from us, and then there was some fighting over to the, on the inline from there, through the mountains and we walked and traveled through the mountains to another area and went on fighting. And uh, they pulled them out I forget just when they pulled them out. They went from there down to Daegu when they pulled them out of the fighting and the reason I think they sent them to Daegu is I think they were going to try and make another airborne assault. And I think that’s when they did the assault on Munsan,
R: They made a common jump in Munsan, and that jump in Munsan was a lot later than the first one. That’s after the troops had come down and we were pushing them back again and the (….) and after the Munsan fight and everything we were about down, we went down in the interior fighting with the Marines, we moved from one regiment to the other helping wherever we were needed, but those two jumps were the only combat jumps we made. Now we did make a jump later on… that was, we, they pulled us out and took us back to Daegu off the line and that was 1952. And the point of taking us out there was they were planning a combat jump.
R: Behind the high ground of where we were stationed on the front lines is a mountain called Obongsan and they had us in a bomber compound at K2, a jet F86 base and they were had a tent up and mock up of the landscape and the generals would come and go and everything and plan the jump, and at that time the peace talks had heated up, and they decided we might disturb the peace talks, so they canceled the jump, and all of them flew back except me and I got he duty of going back with a convoy of our vehicles to the tide flat on the east coast of Korea and somewhere and got loaded on an LST, I was guarding the records, the company records, going back to Japan.
R: And we got back of course before everybody else. And we took an LST from that tide flat…
I: And what’s an LST?
R: Landing Ship Tank, we had our vehicle equipment on it. And we slept up on the deck, though they had beds down on the side, and some people stayed below it, but I stayed on deck all the time. It was about two days trips back to Oita Japan which is about 10 miles from Beppu Japan, and that’s where our base camp was Beppu Japan. And Beppu was south and east of Ashiya Air force Base and we had another part of our outfit, the artillery stuff across the island at a place called Fukoka, and so we had our regiment separated that much, but uh our planes would carry us, the 315 Troop Carriers.
R: And the 1-19 aircraft, and so if we moved we went there and they would fly us where we were going to go, and we also had C-46s and Brady Field and they had a C-47 over at Fukoka.
I: What’s the difference between the two aircraft?
I: What’s the difference between the two aircraft? A C-46 and a C-47?
R: Well the 47, its uh DC-3 on the civilian line, it used to be a passenger plane, the DC-3 is the one that dropped all the troops into Normandy, and they didn’t have the 1-19 on the Normandy Drop, they would get those later, but they might have been there when they made the jump in Belgium.
R: But that was sometime after Normandy. They also made, uh, I think it was the 82nd, they also made a jump on Sicily, during the African Campaign, and then they moved them back to England with the 101st and 82nd and prepared them for the assault on D-Day. I had a cousin who was in the 82nd airborne and jumped into Normandy.
R: And my commander in Korea made the jump into Normandy, and my uh, brigadier general also made the jump into Normandy; General Westmoreland made the jump into Normandy. We had a lot of, we uh; I had a man that was a corporal in my company and my squad, made the jump into Sicily.
R: He made the jump into Normandy, made the jump into Belgium, fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and made the two jumps in Korea. He had 5 combat jumps to his credit. I stayed close to him (laughter).
I: (Laughter) so how dangerous was your job? Were you ever scared to you know….
R: Well the chute opening wasn’t bad; it was like going to the circus. You hit the ground and you’re ready to do it again. And right up until you jump you just sit and sweat it out. Early on in training a guy advising me said we had to check our chutes when we drew them, and feel them. Each chute had a little booklet in the back of it saying the day it was repacked and who did it. And the people who worked the rigging crew and packed those things, every so often, they take them into the storage where they stored them and they had them pick a chute that they packed and had them jump it, so it keep them honest (laughter).
I: Wow, is that still true to today you think?
I: Do you think that’s still true today?
R: Probably so if they’re still rigging. See when they first started out you had to pack your own chutes. But during the Korean War they did rigging, with individual packing, where we took our training they had packing tables, to pack chutes there. And they used to pack their own chutes. I had a story from one guy, there were 3 or 4 people packing their chutes on a table together, and the last one to pack their chute had to sweep and clean up the whole place.
R: So these guys were racing another group you know to see who could pack faster.
R: But they took short cuts they just balled it up and stuffed it in and listed in (laughter).
I: Oh my goodness. So not too good of an idea?
R: It worked though.
I: Tell me a little bit about your living conditions, as far as what were you being fed, what were your sleeping arrangements?
R: Well we got fed good in garrison. Where you were short on food was the trip over on the ship. You eat good on the ship starting out, but there’s a lot of people on that ship and so before you landed food got pretty scarce and pretty bad. But in Korea we had, each outfit had a headquarter. And they had food back there fore the people who were not combat, who were not in combat, you know the generals back in their headquarters and stuff. In Korea we were on the line, General Westmorland tried to get hot meals up to the front every day.
R: Depending on what the action was, so people in the trenches were getting hot meals once a day. Otherwise you had C rations, which was a standard can of food like corn beef hash, or they had beanie weenies. They had one that was sausage, and you need to heat that one, because you open it up and boy there’s nothing but white grease in it. And they had a hamburger one, and C rations were pretty good I liked C rations.
R: And we served, we fed, we had, we jumped down in Seoul, and there were some children around the dz when we jumped, after we jumped and got over there and there’s little girls around there who couldn’t get to food, and we were throwing them rations, bread rations and stuff like that.
R: And they were fighting over them, and this little girl wasn’t doing much good and she had her mama with her. And me and one of the rigging guys we called her over and we fed her two cans of our corned beef hash. And she sat on my lap awhile while I was eating, and I don’t know how she got down, but she was just a little mouse, all she had on was an old ragged t-shirt, nothing but a t-shirt she didn’t have shoes, she didn’t have underwear or nothing. Her mama ate, and we threw her a bread ration. She’d feed her, but she got, that was one full kid we got.
I: Was that common to see starving children and families in Korea?
R: No, where we jumped there in Seoul it was after (truce signed? Pusan?)
I: Oh Okay
R: And that why they were around, up front you couldn’t, well if a civilian got within 3 or 4 miles of the front they got arrested
R; And taken back to a concentration camp, a premade prison camp. They were not supposed to be up there so you did not have anything but soldiers up there.
I: How much were you getting paid for your duty?
R: Not enough (laughter)
I: (Laughter) Was it enough to….
R: Well I don’t know what the standard pay was, it wasn’t very much, but airborne got 50$ more a month for hazardous duty pay. And up on the line when people were fighting at the front, soldiers got 45$ of combat pay. And now they make what we call Leg Outfit, make them mad because we make more money than they were.
I: Was it enough to support you though and to send money back to your wife?
R: Well your wife got an allotment.
R: Off of your pay, you didn’t get all of your pay; they sent a lot of it back home.
R: (Showing map) And this is Ashiya Air Force Base where our planes were stationed, right here.
R: (Shows drawing) And that equipment here and a rifle there I drew.
I: You drew this?
R: (Shows picture) Right here.
I: You’re a handsome young lad.
R: Well I had hair back then.
R: (Shuffles with pictures) This is when we first got to Korea, uh Seoul, in 53 when we went back into Korea. That guy with me there got killed in Vietnam. That’s [Ponder Zinn].
R: (Shuffles with pictures) That guy got hit in the chest with a 76 recoilless rifle round.
R: They had a boot with a foot in it and some entrails and stuff. But we couldn’t find his dog tags so we had, 3 people, had to sign an affidavit that he got hit so they could notify next of kin.
R: (Shuffles with pictures) This was the LST when we were leaving, the second time out of Inchon, going back down the Yellow River back to Japan.
I: Did the war impact you in any way after returning home? Your participation did it reflect you, or not reflect you, impact you?
R: Well you just try and forget everything and go ahead and do what you’re gunna do. I went to work, back to my job at (Union) Carbide. In fact when I got out of the service I down here a week later in Texas, my boss, who I was working for when I left, he came down here with Carbide
R: And he told when you want to come back, come back. And he said they had my job for me, and so I came down and went to work, and you work and keep things off your mind.
I: Have you been back to Korea?
R: No, no if I went back now. They gave us a medal here, I don’t know how long, quite a while ago for our service over there. They called it a master of freedom medal. A bunch of us here, at our local chapter got it. And they then gave us a book at that time that had a bunch of picture of Korea during the war and at the end they had Korea now. When I last saw Seoul, and was going through it every day.
R: The only thing that wasn’t damaged in the whole town was a pagoda. It was in down town Seoul and I think its still there. Religious pagoda and I wouldn’t know it, the capital was good and everything, and I crossed the Han River on a pontoon bridge, all the bridges were in the water. And now it looks like a city, a big city, and it is a big city. All the bridges have 4 lane roads; they got a road from Seoul all the way to the tip of Korea and its paved! All we had was gravel and mud roads.
I: It’s uh…
R: There weren’t any paved roads; well they had some paved roads in Seoul.
R: But right at the end of the book, they had a picture that’s made from a satellite of the Korean Peninsula, and you can tell were the 38th Parallel is.
I: Yep, because one side is lit up.
R: Because the whole south end is lit, and at the top there is a little light around Pyongyang and that area, and another place east of there, and that about all the light you saw in North Korea and that tells you how much Korea has come since the war. And seeing that sort of make you, back then, well why am I fighting for this thing you know, but seeing that and the way they have come up and everything, make you feel more like it was worth it all.
I: Well sir is there anything else you’d like to share, any other memories or stories, messages?
R: Well I don’t know if this does any good or not, but I’ve enjoyed talking to you.
I: I’ve enjoyed talking to you and I really appreciate it