Raymond W. Guenthner
Raymond W. Guenthner enlisted in the military for two tours of duty, the first following WWII where he was stationed in Japan and the second for the Korean War. He describes his basic training which includes being shelled. He explains his wounds from a mortar attack and becoming trapped in barbed wire. He discusses helping a fellow regiment after an attack and being rescued himself. He opens up about his PTSD that resulted from his military experience.
Raymond Guenthner describes what they learned in Army Air Force basic training. He explained how they had to learn to care for the weapons. He also discusses his Infiltration Training, which included live ammunition and explosives.
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Mortar, Machine Guns, and Multiple Hits
Raymond Guenthner describes the fear of fellow soldiers and the advice he provided to them. He explains what it was like being in the middle of a mortar and machine gun attack. After being hit, he tries to make it to safety while being targeted by Chinese machine gun forces.
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PTSD and Bronze Stars
Raymond Guenthner describes his memories of being injured during the war. He discusses his PTSD and therapy. He explains how his commanding officer was angry that he lost his weapon while trying to save his own life and his disappointment in not reaching the top of the hill. He also highlights earning the Purple Heart.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
R: My name is Raymond R A Y M O N D W G U E N T H N E R.
I: Thank you very much. What is your birthday and where you born?
R: My birth date is July 23rd, ’29. You know I was born in South Dakota. July the 23rd, 1929.
R: 19 29
I: and you born where?
R: in South Dakota.
I: So, please tell me about your family, your parents and your siblings.
R: Well, my family, actually were immigrants to the U.S. and they were, they came from a German, German colony of Russia. They came to this country and my dad was a farmer and uh they raised ten children.
I: Ten children?
R: Yes. Five boys and five girls.
R: And five boys signed up for the service every time there was a war, and they all came home. One of those wars was Korea.
I: Uh huh. So, is there any other brother who came to Korea to fight? Except, other than you?
R: I had two brothers that were stationed in some sort of an ammunition, we call them ammunition dumps, somewheres around Pusan. I guess they call it Busan now.
I: Yeah. So, not just you, but your two brothers were in the Korean War too?
R: They were in World War two.
I: Ah World War two, not in the Korean War
R: Not in the Korean War.
I: Okay. So, what school did you go through in South Dakota?
R: What school?
R: Well, uh, in those days, we just, we were a pretty poor family, and uh, so we just, most of us just went through grade school.
I: Uh huh.
R: They moved, we moved a few times. Uh, and so my brothers, older siblings, went to school in Bridgewater, South Dakota.
R: Bridgewater, like bridge.
I: Bridgewater. Yeah.
R: The girls, uh, the younger ones, they went to uh, and the younger boys all went to elementary school in Armour, South Dakota.
I: Okay. 1929, the year you born was the Great Depression, right?
R: That’s correct.
I: Yeah, so must be very, very hard right?
R: Yes, it was.
I: Was your father farmer?
R: Yes, he was.
I: So, actually, you were able to get some food, right?
R: That’s correct right. We had food but no money, but food was the main thing. [laughs]
I: Right, yeah. You have to, you had to survive.
I: Yeah. So when did you graduate high school? Did you graduate high school?
R: No actually, I did not.
I: Did not? Okay so what were you doing?
R: Well first of all, when I, when I came, left the service, then I got my, then I got my high school diploma. Then I got my high school diploma, and uh, some college. I went to night school and worked during the day, and that’s how I got most of my education. And I also got an education being in the military. [laughs]
I: Military? So, when did you join the military?
R: The first time I joined the military was in 1946.
I: 1946, and you enlist or drafted?
R: No, I enlisted.
I: Uh-huh. Was it army or..?
R: At that time, it was the Army Air Force.
I: Army Air Force?
I: Wow, that sounds very interesting. Why is it the Army Air Force?
R: Well, because they were under the Air Force, under the Army.
R: and then about 1950, somewheres around there then they were just like the Navy. They separate, separate, uh, a separate defense.
I: Okay, so, where did you get the basic military training program?
R: San Antonio, Texas.
I: San Antonio, Texas? For how long?
R: About 16 weeks.
I: What kind of military training did you receive?
R: Well, of course, we had uh, classes, what to do and gas attacks, and how do defend ourselves, how to use our weapon how to take it apart, to clean it, and of course we, we went through what we call [infiltration] courses. That means we, we had to crawl underneath barb barbwire or barbed wire keep our heads down below about 36 inches.
They were shooting machine guns over our heads, then every once while they had other places but had explosives, uh, shot off and just to give a little bit of a taste what it would be like if you were in combat.
I: What was your specialty?
R: I was in, first of all, after basic training I was sent to Japan.
R: I was to Japan for two and a half years and of course it was right after the war, and I was a supervisor at the box factory. They had Japanese carpenters mak- making crates to send aircraft parts, wherever they’re supposed to go.
I: Oh. So, it was part manufacturing company for the aircraft?
R: They would just uh, they would send the parts for planes to where our base was, and then uh, that needed repair or salvage or whatever, and we send them to the States. Or, if they happened to have a new part that they say needed in Okinawa, or something like that, then, then they box it up and send it to Okinawa.
I: Mm-hmm. So, how did you like staying in Japan?
R: It was a good duty. Yes, they were very polite there. They respected the GIs there, right after the war they were very poor.
I: So, then what happened to you did you go back to the United States or did you go to Korea from Japan?
R: No, I went back to the United States.
I: When was it?
R: This was in uh, 1949, and then I got discharged. I took the discharge and then about eight months later the Korean War started.
R: and then my two brothers and two of our friends I said well they’re going to sign up for the service.
I: Your own brother?
R: Two of my brothers. One older and one younger than I.
R: and two of our friends. The five of us signed up, of course I reenlisted and so uh, so they had to go through basic of course, and then since I had basic they sent me to Europe at the time.
I: At the time?
R: At the time.
I: So, what happened to your two brothers?
R: Okay, well after a few months, probably a year or so, they were sent to Pusan.
I: Your own two brothers, elder, older brother and younger brother, went to Pusan?
R: That’s correct,
I: Do you remember when they left for Korea?
R: You, know, I really, uh…
I: Was it 1950 or 51.
R: No, probably, probably late, very late 51, early 52
I: Ah. So, and then you where did you go to in Europe?
R: Okay. I was stationed at Trieste.
R: Trieste, yes.
I: In Italy? Where was it what country is it?
R: Well, actually it belonged to Italy during the war but, Italy lost it after the war and they divided between US and British and Yugoslavian zones.
I: Do you remember when you left for Europe?
R: Well, Pretty much. Lemmie think.
R: Well, yeah. It was in 1950, I went to Europe. And uh, I was there, oh about 18 months. I was a rifleman in the infantry and so we trained everyday.
We had fewer problems and classes, and then when I heard my brothers were in Korea, then I volunteered for Korea but when I got to Korea they tried to get me transferred to their outfit, and they said no we need him he’s a rifleman [laughs].
R: And so I, so I was assigned to um, I forget the name of the outfit, but anyway, I was at Masan and we were guarding POWs, and today, they may have been called detainees. They didn’t know if they were on our side or the other side.
R: and uh, then I was there few months, oh and of course one weekend had a pass so I went to Pusan and saw my two brothers, and we had a, you know GIs, we had a big party and then we, they took a picture of the three of us.
R: Actually, I have a picture. It was printed in our hometown in Armour, and over the years, it’s kind of dark but I still took some pictures of it. I brought some pictures with me, in case anybody would like to see them.
I: Yeah. I would like to see that, okay?
I: So how was it to see your older and younger brothers in the country that you never knew before?
R: Oh, well. It was a good feeling. We were always a close family. In school, actually when we, when World War two started, we had just moved to an English town.
We used to live in mostly German locations, and so you know kids when the war started they said oh, we’re Germans, they used to try to they used to try to beat us up [laughs], and sometimes they would succeed, however, since there was three of us and we spoke German, we could talk and they wouldn’t know but we’re talking about, and we sort of had a an edge on them and eventually, one by one they came over to our side and then we were friends. We were friends, and we are still friends.
I: So, when you left for Korea it was, what when was it?
R: That had to be sometime in ‘5.- it had to be sometime in ’52.
I: ’52. How often were you able to see your two brothers?
R: One time.
I: Just one time.
I: That was it?
R: Yeah, and so, see after Masan, I was transferred to Cheju island.
R: and we guarded POWs there for a few months, and we just got over a typhoon, all the tents were down, and all I had was my sleeping bag, my rifle, my belt, my helmet,
and uh, in other words, just the clothes on my back, and my sleeping bag.
R: and then out of the blue, they sent us up North, and then I was assigned to the 7th division.
I: 7th division?
R: Yeah. 17th regiment. And uh, it was a hot spot.
Shelling every day, we on patrol one night, we got under friendly fire. Anyway, a lot of crazy things. This one guy that was new, whenever a round started coming in, he’d yell, “I don’t wanna die! I don’t wanna die!” I’d calm him down. I said you put your head down and you’re not gonna die.
But then they took him off and put him in the rear. This one night, you know, we were always on the move, and always being shelled, and so, they said, “Guenther! Guenther! They’re coming! They’re Coming!” So, I said, “Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!”
We didn’t have any attacks on our hill, just shelling every day, and then they decided they, to take back Charlie’s outpost, that they had lost and taken back a few times. And, uh, that night, well, they took us off the hill to get some sleep, I thought, uh, they’ll probably so much shelling going on I wouldn’t be able to sleep, but I slept like a baby.
When I woke up everything was so quiet, I didn’t like it. I knew they must not have put any artillery on that hill at all, and so then we started walking, going up the hill.
And then after a certain distance, we started charging up the hill, fixed bayonets, and then all of a sudden, all hell broke loose. Mortars, and smoke, and you couldn’t see where you were going. And I got hit. And it burned, it burned so bad.
I: Where were you hit?
R: This, well, I got hit here, there and there.
I: Your legs.
R: My legs and thigh area.
R: And, so I thought maybe it was white phosphorus, so I took the lid off of my canteen, put up the hill, let the water run off, pulled my pants down, I was going to put mud on, to cool it off, and then when I saw I was split open, I said, “Thank God its not white phosphorus.”
and before I could pull my pants up, another barrage came in, dirt flying all over me, so I just rolled out of there as fast as I could, and then I rolled into barbed wire. So I was trying to get myself loose, and a Chinese machine gunner saw and started shooting at me, I had bullets flying around me as I was trying to get loose, and I was getting exhausted.
I could have just gone to sleep right there. I said well, I just gonna try one more time. I’m just gonna pull the roll as hard as I can, and if I don’t make it, I’ll just go to sleep right here. I, hooray, I made it.
and I keep started rolling again, and I rolled into another strand of wire, and I had the same thing happen, fortunately, I think God got me out of it. I got loose, I got loose and I saw t a big shell hole and I rolled into that and then I was finally able pull my pants and sort of rest up, and then uh, I heard just a whole lot of mortars, mortars coming in above me.
and I think there was a trench up there, I heard some guy saying, oh there’s a trench here, and I said to myself, If I’m going to get killed I’m going to do it my way, and so when I saw the [borders], uh, hammering that trench, I uh, I was, [stammers] in not too long, a medic came by, and so, so then I told him to go up the hill, I said, I’m okay, somebody probably worse off up there.
Then after that, it looked like another squad coming up the hill, then one guy, he left ranks and came running down to help me, of course the officer was yelling at him to come back, and then when he got within communications with me I told him to get back in the ranks or you’re going to get court martialed.
I said I’m okay, so then he turned around and went back in the ranks. Then not long after that, somebody came down the hill wounded, and he was from Ohio, from my squad. So I helped him get into my position, my position, and he was almost in, then he got hit in the leg, and then the blood came rushing out, so I took my belt off and I put a tourniquet on his leg and I got the blood stopped.
Some time went by and then another medic stopped by, a see, we were still getting mortar fire every once in a while, and then this other medic came around, and before he could help anybody, he got hit.
and then, oh probably an hour or two, something like that, they managed to get up and lean on each other and hobble down the hill. So, I just laid there, I don’t know how long.
and uh finally a couple of Americans, litter bearers, came around, they picked me up, and carried me a little ways then they turned me and picked me up and they probably carried me about 15 yards or so, and the machine gunner spotted us again and he started shooting at us, and they dropped me and started running, I didn’t blame them of course, and then uh, any way so they came running back picked me up and carried me a little ways and the same thing happened.
they finally got me into a trench and then they, we were going down the hill, every time we got to a corner, they had to pick up the trench, the littler, to turn it around. Every time they raised it up to turn it around the machine gunner was there shooting at us.
I: Its like a nightmare.
R: Like a nightmare, yes.
I: You speaking like you did fight yesterday. Your memory is so vivid, huh?
R: Probably stay there too
I: So vivid. Feel like you did fight that happened yesterday?
R: Yeah. Yeah.
I: You still remember everything?
I: Does that bother you?
R: Well, [stammers] I had some therapy on it.
I: You have PTSD?
R: One of the things that was a real downer was when the rocks finally got me down the hill, they had all the litters waiting there, probably at least ten, and then officer said, “Where’s your weapon?” and uh, only how can you have a weapon trying to get through barbed wire?
I: Did you get the purple heart for your wounds?
R: Yes I did. Actually I talked to uh, PSD therapist, and he said, actually you should a get a bronze star for helping the uh, being wounded, helping your buddy, and uh, talking to that soldier to get back, fall back in the ranks. But uh, I feel I really was the hero, I was disappointed because I didn’t get to the top of the hill.
I: Yeah, so when did you leave Korea?
R: Yeah, okay, first of all, I went to Japan for three months.
I: for treatment, medical treatment.
R: yeah, for three months then my outfit was in reserve in pork chop hill and
I: so all these things happen in the pork chop hill?
R: [stammers] you know, they moved it…
I: Where were you when all this combatant happened?
R: You know something? I really don’t even know that.
I: Was it close to pork chop hill?
R: Well it had to be close to Pork Chop hill.
I: Do you remember when you left for Japan?
R: Well it had to be October, after October 14th. I guess they put me on a train. It seemed like the slowest moving train I was ever on. There was a lot of wounded on that train, and I think it seemed like two days. and then uh, we went to a large hangar, then we all waited to get loaded up to probably fly us to Japan. Oh and then I got back, uh, they were uh, in reserve, and then also I didn’t have any r and r yet, so they sent me back to Japan for r and r.
I: So what are you saying is you went to Japan for medical treatment for three months and then came back to Pork Chop hill?
R: That’s right.
I: Okay, then back to Japan for r and r.
R: Then back to Pork Chop hill again for probably two or three weeks. Then I, actually someone came around and said, “Guenther you’re going home”. I said, “No, I don’t have enough points. I don’t want to take anyone else’s turn.” and so the guy laughed, so then about a week later came back, same thing, and so then he left, then about a week after that he came back again, so, I’m going, and so I went home, when they were processing me, I found out they were giving my four points a month for being in the hospital. I didn’t think I’d get any points for being in the hospital.
I: Okay, so when did you finally left Korea?
R: okay, October, I mean, November probably about the first week in December, something like that.
I: Now you are back to Korea?
R: back from Korea, yeah.
I: What do you think? what what do you think what you’re seeing?
R: Oh, now that I’m back in Korea? I tell you one thing, it sure is a heck of a lot nicer than the first time I was here. [laughs]
R: And I, I never dreamed there would still be this much green around here.
I: You had such intensive battle experience you were wounded and it was a really really critical moment in your life but when you came back to Korea, to the United States people will not really know about, they were not really aware of what happened there.
R: That’s right, and you know it took me 55 years to tell anybody what happened to me.
I: 55 years?
I: What do you mean by that?
R: Well, I never told anybody everything that happened to me in Korea. They knew I got wounded but they didn’t I didn’t tell all the details because unbelievable to me, I didn’t think anybody would believe it.
I: And when did you first talk about it?
R: mm, well, this is uh, probably about 2010.
I: To whom?
R: To uh, a veteran representative.
R; Well because, I wasn’t this might sound selfish one, one reason is because I wouldn’t get any much pension ,like about a hundred dollars a month for I went through and so I got to thinking I’m going to speak up and see if they can do better. [laughs] and they did. Eventually about it took me about two years.
I: So, what happened to your two brothers?
R: They came back safe okay. Elmer and Clifford,
I: Elmer, E L M E R, and
R: and Clifford, C L I F F O R D.
I: Clifford. So, there are three Korean War veterans in one family?
R: That’s right. Three Korean…
I: Are they still alive?
R: Well, one passed away about two years ago.
I: So, your younger brother still survive?
R: Yeah, my younger brother and I, we’re still kicking.
I: Where is he, where is Clifford now?
R: Well he lives in, see I’m from California, a city called Palmdale, and my brother lives in Chatsworth, which is about sixty-five miles away.
I: Why didn’t you come with him this time?
R: He just didn’t want to.
I: He just didn’t want to?
R: He just didn’t want to. And also he had uh, problems with his leg, he had a kneecap replacement, and problems with his hip. and uh, felt it wouldn’t be a good thing but I told him well, they have wheelchairs, and you could get help, but he’s really not a traveler.
I: Okay. What do you think you did good?
R: Uh, well, I hope I did some good, I think that I probably, probably save the guys life, and I probably saved my own life too, by not giving up.
I: Anything else you want to add to this interview?
R: So beautiful now. Where I was, the was not a blade of, green grass anywhere it was all dirt
I: Well, we really Koreans really appreciate what American soldiers did sixty years ago and we really want to thank you.
R: Well, thank you.