Korean War Legacy Project

Robert H. Pellow


Robert Howard Pellow enlisted in the Marine Reserves in the fall of 1947. He served in the military band until he was called to serve in the Korean War, which meant he had no basic training. He explains how cold it was during the war, including the freezing of his feet with frostbite. He describes how food would freeze, causing the Marines to survive on Tootsie Rolls. He also explains being hit by enemy fire while feeding ammunition belts into a machine gun.

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It Was Colder Than Hell

Robert H. Pellow describes the cold winters of the Korean War. He explains how his feet would freeze despite protection from the cold. He describes that his feet still hurt him to this day from his time in Korea.

Tags: Cold winters,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions

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You Ate Tootsie Rolls

Robert H. Pellow describes hunger during the Korean War. He describes how food would freeze and that the Marine Corps would survive on shipments of Tootsie Rolls. He explains that the last good meal he had was at Thanksgiving.

Tags: Cold winters,Food,Impressions of Korea

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I Knew I'd Survive

Robert H. Pellow describes his weapons job during the war and describes loading an ammunition belt into a machine gun. He also describes being hit from three to four thousand yards away by enemy fire. He states that he never doubted he would survive.

Tags: 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 11/27-12/13,Wonsan,Chinese,Front lines,Impressions of Korea,North Koreans,Weapons

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Video Transcript


[Beginning of Recorded Material]




Robert Pellow:            My name is Robert Howard Pellow. My birthdate is 12-3-28.


Interviewer:                 ’28. Where you were born?


R:        I was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        And I’ve lived there for the 95% of my life.


I:          [laughing] so where–what’s the 5%?


R:        Marine Corps.


I:          Marine Corps.


R:        Yes.


I:          And in Korea too.


R:        Yeah. And in Korea




for three months.


I:          Ah. Only three months?


R:        Only three months.


I:          So, you were–you must be wounded.


R:        Yes.


I:          Oh.


R:        A very lucky wound.  What they call a million dollar one.


I:          So, tell me about your family, you parents and your siblings.


R:        I grew up in–in the very late 30’s.  By getting older. My parents were




Morris and Litha Pellow and my dad manufactured ice cream


I:          Ah.


R:        And back in The res–Depression, very few people had ice cream. But we had ice cream, because he made it. and–


I:          What kind?

R:        Pardon?


I:          Vanilla?


R:        Vanilla mostly, yeah.


I:          Yeah.


R:        They didn’t have a whole lot of this stuff that they have now.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        But it was good. And I graduated from high school in 1947.




I:          What high school?

R:        Edison High School.


I:          Edison?

R:        Edison E-D-I-S-O-N.


I:          Edison, yeah.


R:        Edison, named after Thomas Edison.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        Yeah.


I:          What did you do after your high school graduation?


R:        I had a couple of jobs. In the fall of–of ’47 I joined the Marine Corps Reserve.  And there–I was– til 1950.  1950 I was activated.




I:          Mm-hmm.


And I was sent over–sent over to Korea and I never went to boot camp.


I:          Oh you never went to boot camp?


R:        Never went to boot camp.


I:          When did you–did you volunteer enlist or drafted?


R:        Volunteer enlisted/


I:          When?


R:        1940– Fall of 1947.


I:          1947.


R:        Yes.


I:          Fall.  As a Marine.


R:        Marine Reserves.


I:          Marine Reserve.


R:        And I made all the




encampments that they had. Once–once a month and then once–once a year in Camp Lejeune.  And I did not get any military training because I was in the band in the reserves. So all I did was sit in the room and play trumpet.


I:          Did you know anything about Korea when you were in high school?


R:        I never heard of it.  Not a word




or a name.


I:          You didn’t know this beautiful country?


R:        I–I–I did not. Never heard about it. I knew where Europe was, but the Pacific part I knew Guadalcanal, but I did not–never heard of Korea.


I:          Hmm.  So, did you–did you know when the Korean War broke out?


R:        Yes.


I:          How?


R:        Newspapers and radio. There was no television at that time. And that’s




I think nothing of it. And then on–we heard reserves are going to be called up and it was in August we got called up and it took us three days to get to California. 10 days later, we shipped out on the ship–on the ship to Korea.


I:          So, do you remember the month or the dates that you left for Korea?




R:        Se–September I believe we left for Korea.


I:          1950.


R:        1950.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        and we–


I:          From where?


R:        From San Diego, California.


I:          Were you instructed anything about Korea at the time that you were departed?


R:        Not a word that I can remember of.


I:          Mm-hmm.




R:        I never heard of nothing.


I:          So, you haven’t received any military training…


R:        Basically no.


I:          No. and you’re about to go to war.


R:        Yeah.  Weapons company se–second bat 7thMarines First Marine Division.


I:          Were you afraid?


R:        No.


I:          You didn’t know how–


R:        I didn’t worry a day. Or a minute about it.


I:          Oh my goodness.


R:        Because I didn’t know what I was getting into. You don’t worry about what you–what you don’t know.


I:          Mm-hmm.  Wow.




R:        And when we landed at Incheon, a week after the initial landing, all we did was walk, walk, climb a hill, walk some more, walk some more, walk for two weeks.  That’s all we did was walk.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        Never s–never fired a weapon. We went back to Incheon and re-boarded a ship and went down around Korea




and–and up on the other side.


I:          Where were you headed after you landed in Incheon? You said that you walked for two–two weeks.


R:        I don’t know where we were going.


I:          Huh.


R:        We just kept walking. We–maybe the officers knew where we were going.


I:          Uh-huh.


R:        Us grunts, we just went where we were told to go.


I:          No battle at all.


R:        No.


I:          In the middle of walking.


R:        No combat at all at South Korea.


I:          And then you came back to Incheon again?


R:        Incheon. We spent a week there. And got re-boarded on a ship. Went down around the peninsula




and–and landed at Wonsan.


I:          Huh. So you were completely blinded about what you were doing.


R:        Yeah, really didn’t know what we were doing, actually.


I:          Do you remember the dates or the month that you arrived in Wonsan?


R:        It was August, I think.  It was still warm.


I:          No, you–you came to Incheon–


R:        Wait a minute– not August, no


I:          Week after the September.


R:        I–I goofed something up–you’ll have to eliminate that. I landed October.


I:          October.




R:        At–at Wonsan.


I:          Was it mid-October, or–


R:        It–probably mid–mid Oct–15thor something like that–


I:          Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.


R:        I don’t, I’m not too clear on that part of it.


I:          How was Wonsan when you arrived there? Were there any registers?


R:        The Army was already there [laughing].


I:          U.S. Army there.


R:        The Army was already there.  Because we spent so much time on ship board.  They were clearing the harbor of mines. And I think one ship got




sunk clearing the harbor.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        And anyway, we just–there was just nothing there.


I:          Nothing.


R:        Just Army boys, really.


I:          Okay.


R:         Army. And I think– I think something–I think Bob Hope was there already and, but then we walked from there up to–I forget the name of the town, but we just kept walking again.




And finally we–we kept walking and walking and then we got on trucks. And we got up to the Reservoir, by Hagaru. And–


I:          Uh-huh. You talking about Changjin Reservoir?


R:        Yeah.


I:          Yeah.


R:        And there–there I stayed.


I:          So you–can I say that you were at–in Chungjin Reservoir area by the end of






R:        Maybe not, I think more about the middle of November.


I:          Middle of November.


R:        We got up there.


I:          Huh.  Okay.


R:        And we spent all this time walking. You can check into the chronicles and find out the exact–


I:          Yeah.  So, what happened there?


R:        Well, basically I stayed there.  But the two other units, they went up to–where was it?


I:          Chungjin?




R:        No.


I:          Hagaru?


R:        Hag–no Hagaru, North of Hagaru.


I:          Yudam ni?


R:        Yudam ni. I keep forgetting that name.


I:          Yeah. Yeah.


R:        Because I didn’t go there.


I:          Right.

R:        Yudam ni and that’s were all the crap broke loose.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        And we–we tried–they threw together kind of a rough platoon of cooks and bakers and MPs and m–my machine gun to get up to Yudam ni, but we couldn’t get there.




So, we went back to Hagaru. Couldn’t get there because of road blocks. And we had no tanks or anything like that with us.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        and then we just stayed on the Northwest side of it and then we were transferred to the Southeast side of–of the roadblock.


I:          Uh-huh.




R:        And then–


I:          Was it around Koto-ri?


R:        Koto-ri.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        And I was in Hagaru. They was up in Koto-ri.


I:          So, there’s a Yudam ni, and then Hagaru-ri and then Koto-ri down.


R:        Okay Koto-ri was down below Hagaru-ri.


I:          Down below.


R:        I don’t get these


I:          Yeah right.


R:        These down straight.


I:          Yeah.  So, when there was a real battle combats between Chinese and the Marine there in Yudam-ni you were in the Hagaru-ri–


R:        I was in Hagaru.


I:          Yeah.


R:        Yeah.


I:          Mm-hmm.




R:        We could hear it.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        Because we could hear the big cannons going off. And some of the–they tried to break through to the–into the Hagaru, but not where–where I was located.


I:          Mm-hm.


R:        I could see the tracers over down by the airfield and then–but nothing where I was at.


I:          Mm-hmm. What were you thinking and




when you were in Hagaru-ri and hearing all about the combat and the killings and the death of your own soldiers.


R:        We didn’t hear a lot about that. All we knew is it was colder than hell.  It was cold. You spent all your energy trying to keep warm.  That’s–long as you weren’t fighting, you was trying to keep warm.


I:          Did you have a winter uniforms?


R:        As good as it was, yes.




I:          Huh.


R:        I had shoe packs on, but when your feet got warm and you stopped walking or stopped using them, they froze.


I:          Yeah.


R:        And my feet to this day bother me very much.


I:          You have the frost bite?


R:        Frozen feet, yes.


I:          Can you give me an example how cold it was?


R:        Well, they were saying it was about 30 degrees below zero and we didn’t have




wind chill temperature, at that time.  And it was quite windy, so you can imagine how cold. You get 30 below zero even with a five mile an hour wind, it’s really cold.


I:          Did you have enough food?


R:        I had enough. You wasn’t–you really wasn’t very hungry. But, you ate Tootsie Rolls.


I:          The candy.


R:        Tootsie Rolls.


I:          Yeah.


R:        You know, the candy.




I:          Yeah.


R:        Cause they shipped a whole bunch of that up to us. That’s what the Marines lived on was Tootsie Rolls.


I:          You didn’t have C-ration?


R:        Because you could–food froze.  I didn’t have a good meal–last meal I had I would say was Thanksgiving it was November.


I:          Mm-hmm. So for how long did you survive with the Tootsie Roll?


R:        And they–well, I survived until December 6th.


I:          Where were you?




Were you in the fox hole? In the bunker, or?


R:        We were–we lived in–we had kind of a–we were in this road block South of Hagaru, just coming into Hagaru, and basically that’s where we lived.


I:          What in the fields or where?


R:        Oh out in the fields, yeah.


I:          Out in the field?


R:        Well, we were on the edge of a road. And we’re–


I:          And it wasn’t fox hole?


R:        Pardon?


I:          It wasn’t fox hole?


R:        No, it wasn’t a–


I:          A bunker.


R:        It was a bunker-like.


I:          Bunker-like?


R:        A bunker-like, yeah.




I:          And you didn’t have a fuel to burn?


R:        No.


I:          To warm you.


R:        No.


I:          It was hell.


R:        No, it was too cold to be hell. And when am I going to get done–get out of here and how is my buddy doing?

I:          Buddy means home?

R:        The guy–no the guy I was in the bunker with.


I:          Hanger–


R:        The gunner on the gun that I was man–I was manning.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        Everybody was in the same boat,




the whole squad.  See, we were–the gun was stationary here and the other people were–were up above us. We were in a– this road block, and that’s–. We never even seen them most of the time, we just sat in this fox hole or bunker.  And in December–then we heard that they–they had gone on out–had gotten out of




from North and they got back–they they got back to Hagaru on the 3rdof December and they rested up and the 6thon December we all got on the road to go South.


I:          In a–Wonsan again.


R:        Yeah.  Yeah. And we was just standing around waiting to get going and they yell, heavy machine guns forward. So, we–we trotted up maybe 100




100 yards where they wanted us.  And this officer, I don’t know who he was, he said put that gun here and fire over across this valley.  So, we set the gun up. We got in operation I was in the squat position, feet in the belt, into the gun. One second I’m doing that, wham! the next second I’m laying behind me–against a fallen telephone pole screaming my bloody head off.




It hurt.  I got hit.


I:          From who? Chinese?


R:        Yeah.  It must have been three four thousand yards. It was across this valley. I didn’t get the slightest idea how far it was.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        But it was across this valley.


I:          The cannon, the–the mortar?


R:        No, it was probably another machine gun.


I:          Machine gun?


R:        Yeah. Probably yeah, because


I:          Where did you get hit? In the shoulder?


R:        I was hit in the left thigh.


I:          Uh-huh.


R:        and–and it came out down here.




And I could not move it. My leg was totally paralyzed for at least four, five weeks.


I:          Uh-huh.


R:        And about a ha–half hour after I got hit, they put me on a plane and I’m out of there.


I:          Were you thinking that you could survive?


R:        Never doubted it.


I:          Hm.


R:        Wasn’t happy about, but I was never doubted that I was going to get out of there.




Some people say– say they know they’re going to die and that kind of stuff, I’d never doubted I was going to get out of there.


I:          Mm-hmm. What made you so confident about it?


R:         I do not know. No I–just the way I was.  –oh definitely.  But he never even came into the equation. I just knew I was going to get out of there one way or another I was going to get out or there.


I:          Mm-hmm. So, by plane meaning helicopter or what?


R:        Plane.


I:          You were hit in Koto-ri?




R:        No, I was in–


I:          Hagaru-ri.


R:        Hagaru.


I:          Right. On the way down to Koto-ri?


R:        Yeah.


I:          And you were hit.  Then you was transport to Koto-ri


R:        Yeah.


I:          And from Koto-ri to Japan.


R:        Koto-ri to Japan. I didn’t call anybody until I got to Great Lakes Naval Hospital.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        And they had just received–this was on a Saturday and they had just received




notification–my parents did– on Friday that I–I was wounded in action.


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        And then Saturday I get–called them.  And then Sunday afternoon, they were–my fiancée and my mother were there in the hospital.


I:          How do you feel now with your left leg? Do you have any problem now?


R:        I, yes I do. My both–both of my feet bother me and sometimes they hurt like crazy and it just–they can’t do a thing with it.




I:          Because of the–the


R:        Frostbite.


I:          Wounds?


R:        No, the wounds not–


I:          The wounds.


R:        The wounds it–the wound– the wound gives me no problem at all.


I:          Oh, okay.


R:        And–although they give me 10% discount–in–inability for it. But it’s mainly my feet frozen nerve damage. Sometimes I get it all the way up to my hip. I’ve never really thought about it in a perspective.  That was my life and that’s what it was.  It was what it was.




I:          You don’t regret.


R:        No.


I:          No.


R:        Actually, I’m very glad I went through all that because I have met an awful lot of very nice people because of it.


I:          Hm.


R:        And my life, right now, is governed by that.


I:          Who are those good people?




R:        Oh, there’s so many I don’t even know their names.


I:          Hm.


R:        But you know, Ed Valley, very nice people. A guy by the name of Wayne Pickett, who has since died. And there are so many.  And I know–an awful lot of people on the– Fort Snelling cemetery. I’m on the rifle squad there.  All of that stuff I do would not have happened




If I had not been gone through that.  Basically my whole life right now is governed by what I did in Korea.


I:          What is the impact of your service upon your life?


R:        It had no bearing on my life actually until about 1988. Otherwise, I was just a plain ordinary civilian


I:          Mm-hmm.


R:        Living a civilian life.  Nothing to do with the military at all. Then, I started joining these organizations and that’s been




my life ever since.


I:          You mean your chapter?


R:        My chapter. Different units I belong to. I belong to a half a dozen different military organizations.


I:          Why does that change your life?


R:        Because I enjoy it.


I:          Oh you–


R:        I enjoy being the people.


I:          People who–who share the collective memories.


R:        Who share the– mm-hmm yeah. Yeah.


I:          Have you been back to Korea?


R:        Twice.  I was very impressed Seoul when I seen Seoul, or the




outskirts of Seoul, you know, it was just a mess. Now, they’ve got these big buildings and… but we still went to old, old Seoul where they lived the way the old ways–you know


I:          Oak Village.


R:        Yeah whatever it was.


I:          Yeah.  Yeah.


R:        And, but Seoul and Incheon at them times, my–when I was there–they’re miles apart. Now, they’re just like this,


I:          Yeah. Yeah.


R:        They’re but–they but up into each other and–and there’s no separation.




So, you know, that was very remarkable change for me.


I:          Were you proud of yourself, witnessing all those developments?


R:        Yeah, well I really didn’t really think about it that well, being rewarded for it. I just–it was interesting to me how over this period of this 40 some years, 50 years


I:          Mm-hmm.  Mm-hmm.


R:        Things could change so–so dramatically.


I:          Great. Thank you, Bob, again.


R:        Okey doke.


[End of Recorded Material]