Richard Franklin was born on July 30, 1929 in Los Angeles, California. After graduating from the University of Southern California as a pharmacist, he was drafted into the US Army in December 1950. He attended basic and infantry training at Fort Ord, California before being sent to Brook Army Medical Hospital to become a medical officer. He was sent to Korea and assigned to the 3rd Battalion Medical Company, 35th Regiment, 25th Division as a 2nd Lieutenant in February 1952. He served as a surgeon and later as a kitchen inspector in the Punchbowl area and Heartbreak Ridge. He returned back to the US in March 1953 and was discharged from military service. He began a successful career as a pharmacist and owned many pharmacies in the Los Angeles area. Today, he is an active member of the KWVA.
Introduction to the War in Korea
Richard Franklin describes the first night after joining his medical unit in Korea. He talks about sleeping between two oil drums and waking up to wounded soldiers.
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Life in a MASH Unit
Richard Franklin describes life in his MASH unit during his tour in Korea. Specifically, he mentions his experience during the summer of 1952 and the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.
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Inspecting Kitchens on the Front Lines?
Richard Franklin talks about his duties as a mortar, mess, and supply officer during the later stage of his tour. Describing his duties, he recalls inspecting kitchens on the front lines, requesting doughnuts to be made, and traveling the Korean countryside.
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"Don't Shoot, It's the Major!"
Richard Franklin tells a story from his time working at a medical aid station near the Punchbowl area. One of the few times that kitchen personnel were ordered to carry their weapons, he recalls a major that was afraid of friendly fire.
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Richard Franklin talks about revisiting Korea. He mentions the graciousness of his Korean hosts and the unique opportunity to witness a speech by President Barack Obama.
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Coming Home from War
Richard Franklin recalls coming home from the war. He talks about how little fanfare or appreciation was shown to returning soldiers outside of close family members.
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Richard Franklin: Richard Alan Franklin, July 30th 1929.
Interviewer: And where were you born, and can you tell me briefly about your family background?
Richard Franklin: Sure, I was born in Los Angeles. My mother was born in Los Angeles. My father moved here as an infant. So I have seen Los Angeles from 1929 forward. My basic ancestry is from Russia. I grew up here. I’m a pharmacist, and my father was a pharmacist in quite a few pharmacies in the LA area.
Interviewer: Yeah, yes, we are in LA for those that are watching this that don’t know. So before we get into your background- military background- can you tell me about your educational background leading up to the moment you joined the military?
Richard Franklin: Well I went to school at USC, University of Southern California College of Pharmacy. Graduated in 1950, passed my board exams in July of 1950. Korean War started in June of 1950. I was drafted into the military in December of 1950.
Interviewer: What kind of basic training did you receive, and where was it held?
Richard Franklin: Okay, as everybody in this area went to military basic at Fort Ord, California for 6 weeks, I think. Infantry basic, then because I was a pharmacist, they sent me to Brook Army Hospital to receive medical basic training. While I was there, I contracted the measles which was going around the camp. Went to the medical isolation ward, where I received information that went around that if you were in one of these categories, you could become an instant officer. And rightly or wrongly, being a pharmacist, I decided why should I be a private? I’ll be a second lieutenant. Which, of course, was the start of my downfall.
Interviewer: So, tell me which military were you a part of, and what unit was it called?
Richard Franklin: Well, how far back do you want to go, the start?
Interviewer: Yes, well, Korean War, yes.
Richard Franklin: Well, I was assigned- when I became a second lieutenant I was assigned to the First Army Division, which was supposed to go to Germany, but by the time December of ‘51- anyway- ‘50. Because MacArthur decided he was going to go to the Chinese Border, and instead of the war being over, the war intensified, and my unit was in a replacement unit, I ended up in Korea late February, early March 1952. Was assigned to the 13th Battalion, Medical Company, 35th Regiment, 25th Division which at that time had just moved to the Punchbowl region of Korea which was in the dead of winter.
Interviewer: Yeah, February right?
Richard Franklin: Very cold.
Interviewer: So you said Punchbowl area?
Richard Franklin: 1952, March 1st, and at that time the 35th Regiment was on line, the 3rd Battalion, which I was the assistant battalion surgeon, at the aid station was there. And although they were doing- the war had stabilized somewhat in March ‘52 they were always running patrols and climbing over hilltops. And actually, the first night I was there, my doctor said- who was a very nice guy from Boston named Joe Connors, he was my doctor and I was the executive, CEO I guess, of the medical company, or whatever you want to call it. And I said, “Where will I sleep, Joe?” And he said, “Well we’re gonna give you a good spot to sleep.” I slept on a litter between two oil drums. That was the good spot. Went to sleep, in the middle of the night I woke up and there were about 4 or 5 soldiers bleeding in the middle of my aid station. So that was my introduction to the war in Korea.
Interviewer: Before you got to Korea, did you know anything about Korea?
Richard Franklin: No. I knew there was a war obviously, but I knew nothing about Korea. Other than where it was, basically. I didn’t know there was gonna be a North and a South and communists and democracy and all this stuff.
Interviewer: And when you were there did you also interact with korean war- korean soldiers
Richard Franklin: Not very much though we had a Korean Division on our right flank when I first got there. We had a Turkish Regiment on our left flank. We were much more secure about the Turkish soldiers than we were about the South Koreans at that time. The Turkish soldiers had been soldiers for a long time, South Koreans were new at this war business, unfortunately.
Interviewer: And what was your first impression of Korea? You just shared about your introduction to being to Korea was-
Richard Franklin: My introduction was not very good. It was ten below zero, people bleeding around me. And I just- you know, I was a young guy, 22-21 years old, right out of college and I was just hoping to survive this experience. Which fortunately I did. But we did have some Korean nonmilitary associated with our medical company. They did odd jobs and stuff. And unfortunately, actually, one of them got hurt and we took care of him.
Interviewer: And when did you leave Korea? How long were you there for?
Richard Franklin: Middle of March 1953. I was there two winters and one summer.
Interviewer: So, thinking back can you tell me any details about maybe, what were some of your most difficult times that you remember, most dangerous times?
Richard Franklin: Well when I first got there it was quite dangerous. We had a lot of casualties in our battalion, and we, of course, had the helicopters come in and take these patients back to the MASH hospitals, the mobile army hospitals. And whenever a helicopter would come in, mortar rounds would come in from the Chinese and the North Koreans. And there was always danger of course. We did have only- fortunately only one medic was killed while I was there, which was unfortunate, but at least only one. And he was at a full aid station that we had up on a mountaintop. And then we had- I was in Heartbreak Ridge area in June, July and August of ‘52, which was also not a very pleasant place to be. The front lines were on a hilltop and the opposite hill were the Chinese. And to get back to company headquarters- the battalia- you had to go across this valley where the Chinese were always throwing mortar rounds and artillery rounds, we had a few tanks sitting in there. We had casualties there.
Interviewer: Were you, yourself wounded anywhere?
Richard Franklin: No, no.
Interviewer: That’s great. So you mentioned Heartbreak Ridge and the Punchbowl?
Richard Franklin: And then we went into reserve, and we were in Colby Dough Island or Colby Island. Where they had a Prisoner of War camp. We were there- our regiment was there guarding the prisoners- part of the group, part of the prisoners there for- I think we were there about two and a half months. And then we went back on lines someplace, I don’t remember, some area, and it was winter again. And then we went into reserve the rest of the time I was there.
Interviewer: So the whole you were there, was it just always hectic and busy or did-?
Richard Franklin: Well no, after the first 7 months then I wasn’t with the aid station anymore. Then they made me a mortar mason supply officer at the Medical Company headquarters. So then the only time I was around the front line, I had to climb up the mountain and inspect the kitchen to be sure. I couldn’t believe that I had to do that. But in any event, inspecting kitchens on the front line was ridiculous. These guys were glad they had something to eat; they didn’t care if it came out of a clean or a dirty kitchen. But anyway, it was the only time I was there. And we had missing trucks, I’d have to go out and find them. Once and awhile I’d ask the mess sergeant to make doughnuts, which was fun. And I drove through the countryside, you know, did see some of the Korean countryside, which was basically very pretty.
Interviewer: Yeah, I wanted to ask, did you get any chances to just kind of tour that area? Kind of leisurely?
Richard Franklin: Well, just as part of my job, basically. I did have some tours of the countryside, and saw some people on the road and working farms and selling produce. And it was, you know, from that point of view. Did Pusan, I was in Pusan for a while, because that’s where you took the boat to the island we were working. And, course, it was just a very busy, full port at that time and now. And of course, Seoul was nothing but rubble. There was no Seoul. When I went back to revisit, it was a gorgeous, modern city.
Interviewer: Yeah, because you mentioned you went back five years ago to visit. Yeah, I want to ask you more about that in a bit. So you said you met some civilians, Korean civilians?
Richard Franklin: Well, briefly. I didn’t- the only ones I knew were the young boys that worked around my aid station or around the Medical Company headquarters, and they were doing odd jobs.
Interviewer: Any other service men, any of your colleagues that you remember, that you were working closely with?
Richard Franklin: Well I remember, of course, my doctor Joe Connors, who was a very, very good doctor- young guy and very efficient- did a good job. Master sergeant I knew very well, who was sergeant at the aid station. Billy Drake who I did see on my return briefly, he was at Brook Army Hospital, where I spent the last three months of my service. And I did locate him briefly in North Carolina, and talk to him briefly four years ago, and then he subsequently passed away. But those were the only two people, really. I mean, I knew them, but after the fact I didn’t really know anybody. We just did our jobs. I knew everybody I worked with. We had an ambulance lieutenant, we had all these people, lots of- I think we had about 30 servicemen with the aid station. Between the jeep drivers and the litter bearers, you know, the aid station people, the medics.
Interviewer: You mentioned that- You showed me a book earlier, saying it has the details of the punchbowl, and the places that you were at. Anything that so far you have not seen written in books that you know?
Richard Franklin: Not really, I don’t think so. Well, there’s a few things that happened, of course. It wasn’t funny at the time, but when I was in the Heartbreak Ridge area, they had a machine gun at the entrance to the canyon to where these hills were. And one night the machine gun went off, so the battalion commander, a major, said, “I can’t seem to reach them on this phone, I’m going to go down and see what’s going on.” He said, ”I want all the cooks, the medics, the people to be out with their weapons.” So all of us are lined up- God forbid, we’d have pulled the trigger, we’d have killed all our own men. None of us knew what we were doing with these rifles. And when the major came back he said, “Don’t shoot, it’s the major coming back.” He thought he was going to get shot to death, but thank God no one was there. But there were wounded but it was from the tanks- the machine guns were from the tanks- but they did have some wounded, actually. Which is in this resume that I have that told about that area, that time. Other than that, one time I had to take inventory at the Px because they were missing things. So they thought someone was stealing stuff out of the Px, so that was a job. One day a truck was missing, I had go see if I could find the truck. One time they had an accident, I was the one who did the investigating of of accident report. But basically, you know, that’s what I did.
Interviewer: Okay, thank you, can I ask you how was it to go back to Korea? How did it happen, and then what was it like when you were there? What did you do?
Richard Franklin: Well, I finally decided to join this Korean War veteran’s association, and they had a magazine. In one of the issues, they said there’s still room to go to revisit Korea and i didn’t know what they were talking about. So I called up this number and they said, “Yes, since 1975 the Korean government has been bringing one hundred veterans with their family, if they have anyone- one to two people.” And I mean, it was amazing. They paid for the airfare, the hotel, the food, the tours. We got so many gifts that some of us had to buy an extra suitcase to bring the gifts back. It was amazing, and the people were so nice and appreciative- the Korean people. I mean, I got pictures standing next to the vice president of the country. They gave you medals. And- I don’t know if I told you I was there during Veteran’s week at a GH conference. And on Veteran’s Day, Obama was there at the GH conference, so the President of the United States gave a speech on Veteran’s Day for the soldiers and the veterans who were there. And actually, we did have a Medal of Honor winner in our group, which was very unusual.
Interviewer: Who is that person?
Richard Franklin: I have his name someplace, I don’t remember his name, but the President did come over and talk to him.
Interviewer: And so when you- going back to 1953, I guess- when you came back, what was it like coming back home?
Richard Franklin: It was wonderful. The only problem was my last 3 months I was assigned back to San Antonio, which at that time was not the greatest town in the world. But basically people- I mean it was not like coming home from World War II. You know, nobody seemed to really care very much about the returning veterans. We came home, we went back to whatever we were doing, and basically that was it. Only the families of the soldiers who were there really cared a lot. I mean, there may have been some, but we weren’t aware of it. Which was kind of sad, actually.
Interviewer: After coming back have you thought a lot about Korea?
Richard Franklin: Occasionally, yes actually. You know I have a bunch of pictures, of course, and every once in awhile I’d look back at the pictures and think about it. And of course it was very rewarding that South Korea really became a wonderful country, and had we not been there, they would have been under the communists like North Korea. And it wouldn’t have been the country it is today. Which is probably why the South Koreans realize that, and have been so appreciative, which is very nice. And actually, as far as I know, South Korea is the only country which has said thank you this way to the United States for helping them save their country, which is very nice.
Interviewer: To you, does- what impact did the Korean War have in your life?
Richard Franklin: Well it was a very maturing experience for a 21 year old. That’s basically it, and also I was certainly glad to get home.
Interviewer: And you said after you came back you worked in LA as a pharmacist.
Richard Franklin: Then I had my own pharmacies and owned many pharmacies in Los Angeles, actually.
Interviewer: Great, anything else that you would like to say to the camera so that the younger generations can continue to learn about the Korean War history?
Richard Franklin: Well there are numerous books. There is a Korean War Veteran’s Association which they can look up on the web, which can give them a lot of information. Now there is, of course, a Korean Memorial in Washington, DC, which I haven’t seen, but I understand is very, very nice. And there’s many places to find information and it was quite a dramatic part of American history, and I think all young people should have some understanding of what was going on at that time, you know, that was the Cold War and all this stuff was going on. Basically that’s about all I can tell you.
Interviewer: Thank you so much for your time.
Richard Franklin: You’re very welcome.