Robert L. Atkins
Robert “Bob” Atkins was born on July 25, 1930. He grew up in Lubbock, Texas, and enlisted in the US Marine Corps at the age of 17. He attended basic training at MRCD, San Diego, California, and was sent to Guam as a WWII replacement. In September 1950, he was deployed to Korea and was attached to the 1st Marine Division, 1st Engineers Battalion. During his 15-month service in Korea, he participated in several battles including Inchon Landing, Seoul Recapture, and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He was wounded in a skirmish and was rotated home after a 6-week hospital recovery. He was discharged from the Marine Corps in 1951 and went to school on the GI Bill, earning a Masters Degree. He worked for American Airlines for over 40 years and retired to Little Rock, Arkansas where he lives today.
Seeing My First Dead Marine
Robert Atkins vividly remembers seeing his first dead comrade after a night of fire fights. He remembers pulling the poncho back and seeing the body. He shares that this is something that has always stuck with him.
Share from this page:
A “Hot” Cold Place
Robert Atkins remembers that things were really “hot and heavy” from Thanksgiving to the first of December. He explains how they were ambushed often and how the Chinese crossed the Yalu River. Even though they were outnumbered, he shares that the Fox Company was able to fight the Chinese and it became a turning point.
Share from this page:
An Astounding Change
Robert Atkins has been back to Korea three times since his service. He describes his astonishment about how things had positively changed so quickly. He took his daughter back to Korea and remembers it being an “astounding place” that reflects the people of South Korea.
Share from this page:
ATKINS, ROBERT L.
Transcribed by Sarah Ibrahim on 06/12/2018
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Robert L. Atkins: Robert Louis Atkins.
R: A-T-K-I-N-S. I was born July the 25th, 1930. That makes me 86 years old.
R: Louis. L-O-U-I-S.
I: L-O-U–okay. Well, so yeah, I’m sure you’ve told Korean War stories before, many times. And so, I would love for you to share some with me today.
but maybe we can start from before you actually like went to Korea. Did you actually go to Korea?
R: I did.
R: and it was around the 4thday of August 1950, when I got on a ship here in San Diego. Way–they had several Marines on there and–anyway, the ship went out–started out
To sea and the–the water got wider and wider and I stood there watching it do that and I thought “what in the Sam hill is gonna happen now?”. And–you know–I–I–I was–I knew I was gonna go into [armor lay]–but if it had to be it had to be. And so I–I–I–had a–a
very solemn departure from San Diego, California the 4thday of August, 1950.
I: I see.
R: and I got to Japa–I arrived in Japan about two, maybe three weeks later. And they–they put me on a–a merchant ship, which is run by–by–you know
sa–sa–sa–sailors–sa–what I’m trying to say is that they’re– they’re not in the military, but their–their ships are banned by–by–
R: No, not–not the Navy but. . . by longshoreman who are people who are unionized and all of this and– but anyway it was a–it was a–a I enjoyed that trip as much as anything
because we–we had nine Marines on there and we went to– when we went to eat there–we ate in an officer mess. And you could, you know, order off a menu and all that. I never had to experience such a thing as that, but anyway. We unloaded all those ships. Unloaded the ships that had the big ships and,
in Kobe, Japan and this was– this was in–oh it was in August, late August of 1950. And then after we had all that gear unloaded we were dispatched off the-off of the ship and went to our regular units and I–I landed at Incheon
at about 5:30, 6 o’clock on the evening of the 15thday of September 1950.
I: And what military unit were you with?
R: I was with the–I was actually in the engineers, but we all went ashore at the same time because the tide–you–you know what the tide does out–get Flying Fish Channel it goes 40 feet high then–
it only does that once a year. And so, we–we unloaded every airplane, every airplane on– I used to work for an airline–I’m trying to get that out of my head now, but anyway, the–the–the material that we unloaded was–was put to good use right away. Anyway, so, we had HAM tracks
and tanks and ammunition and all that sort of things. And, anyway, I–I saw my first dead Marine at about oh–six o’clock the next morning they had had a big fire fight that was–that was– we were landed at a place that was high. That was a Korean cemetery at the top of the ridge. And the–a–
They–brought all of those people off during the night and they had–they had the Marine–lan–lined up in a stretcher with covered with a poncho. And I went over and pulled the pa–poncho off of his face and he looked like he’d been shot in the face. His skin was missing. And he was pretty well beat up and. . .
And that was the first dead Marine I saw. And I have–and it has stuck with me for 60 years. . . Anyway. To-t- I went from Incheon, we moved on up to toward Seoul and, as–as a matter of fact, entered that, entered Seoul.
And it was really–they had barricaded the streets with gigantic rice bags full of dirt or whatever. And I–it–it was difficult if you had a vehicle getting up and down the–the–through the city of Pusan. Eventually they were–regained that–what we had tried to take from em. But ultimately, we prevailed and
just–really tore that city up. Just devastated. Blowed up–you know blowed up all the barricades up and a-a- and then we went across the yellow–the not the yellow but the Han River. Was that it?
I: In Seoul?
R: Yeah. Yeah.
R: Yeah somewhere along in there. And th-things got, you know, we got the Kempo Air [dob] and there was just–an airplane in the hanger there, which was a Russian made–I can’t–it was like a P-40 that the Flying Tigers used during their period in China.
We– they took that airplane and took it out and disassembled it and sent it to the U.S. and I don’t know what happened to it from there. But anyway, they–there were some sharp battles at–at Kempo and, but it, it wasn’t all that bad. There was about–they had–had found five dead good guys
just strung out, you know. They come into a machine gun I guess. But–but anyway that was–after that we went to –we left and went to Wonsan. I don’t know if you– Wonsan’s in the North.
R: And the–the weather was coming on. The weather was getting colder and. . .
anyhow– We–we–just–just the irony of all of this is, is that when we landed at Wonsan, Bob Hope. You know who Bob Hope was? Had his show and was putting it on a [laughing] on the–on the– Wonsan– so much– we didn’t get to go, but we–we–we thought–we
got another job there. But anyway, Bob Hope was there in front of us and we–we’ve been ribbed about that for ever since. Bob Hope got there before you did. And anyway– it was after that that we moved to ham–hum–Haenam I guess it is, and spent about–oh seven or eight days there where we re-did–re-got things back together and– and then started North.
And I–I remember one–one night we were–we took the wrong road. Instead of going on the road we went on a levy–and–rice levy and had to back up and get off of it. And anyway, the next day, we came–we gotten to where we were going we got back down anyways–
We got pas this area where we’d slid off the road and everything else. Here come a guy running out–out from across this thing waving his hands. He was a–a GI and he had been– he hid himself overnight while this battle was going on and I don’t know what his name was, but they picked him up and took him back to his outfit or somewhere. I don’t know where. But anyhow, he escaped by
Hiding in the–in a haystack or something or other like that. So, anyway, we, from that we went up to–like Haenam and it really got cold. In October we were moving further north and they were passing out these parkas. You know what a parks is? It, you know
it’s a big coat. Got a hood on it comes down below your knees. Way below my knees cause–[laughing] so, but, anyhow. We got some cold weather gear and gloves and what–stayed with our duties to move on up. And then, had a–in December after Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving. From Thanksgiving to–
to the first of December it was really a hot and heavy place. Hot, by, I mean by being ambushed every time you turn around and you–you’re cold, you’re frozen you’re–it–it was awful and
we had a real tiger by the tail when the Chinese–you know–the Chinese came across the Yellow River. They’d been moving for three weeks or, for three months, walking from their home in China. And but at night they–they went to– sleep I guess. But because there was–there [wadn’t evidence that were supposed to be able to fire] you never saw em’ until they
got there down to–to the bridge at–. They crossed the Yellow River and it was–it was pretty much destroyed and so they walked across that and–and did not show themselves then for another few days. And–and–there’s they–they showed up one night.
I mean hundreds of them. And they came across the Yellow River and they–they–they blew whistles. They banged symbols together. They shouted “here they come” and they overrun oh Fox, Fox 2-7.
The–the first day in ca–that they engaged these guys they–. Fox 2-7 after they had–Chinese had totally withdrawn part of the way. Anyway, there was a 163 fellas that were in Fox Company that was–that still were able to fight. And they–
did a good job, even though they were, you know, they were far outnumbered and they–and by the time that they completed their– the Chines finally withdrew and so we–they were able to re–reinvent themselves, so to say. And the–then the–the–things
started different. We started back down out of–of on them and–not on them, but–yeah we was finally got on them good. But the–most of the way was–was what? Filled with bunkers, not bunkers, but Chinese who were attacking
from higher ridges and–and they–they dealed us, dealt us a pretty heavy casualty list. And then a lot of things that we lost and it was unbelievably cold. I wound up with a–a–call–what was called a–a cold injury on both feet and like I have no hair on either leg. No–
it–its bare. And, and then. It didn’t bother me until I was about 47, 48 years old and then my feet and– began to have funny feelings and–and–and be painful to me and that–I started to look back to the VA. Or, not back to it but, started with the VA and by, oh it took me about 48
months to get them to agree that that–that I had picked this up in–in Korea. But they finally did and things went better [and that] for me.
I: You say it took 48 months?
R: 48 months for them to decide that this injury I had on both feet.
I: That’s like so many years.
R: I know.
I: Oh my gosh.
R: And I–you know I– they just drug their feet. I’m sorry guys, but
they–they just didn’t really wanna bow down and do what they had to do. And there were hundreds of us that were– because of the cold weather have frost or cold injuries to your feet and legs. A lot of them have frost bitten hands that are–are gnarled and their fingers are crooked and and it was nothing at all but
from, from the cold weather and. Trying to get out of there.
I: How is it now? How are your feet now?
R: Oh they’re I–I–I take a vitamin for em and they’re still in the cold or winter time I still have a problem with it with it being a little tingling and even–even just like in 40 degree weather,
but it was–it was 40 below zero in the–in the winter first winter 1950. Or the winter of 1950. So, we had a heck of a time getting out of there. The–there were–there were road blocks about every mile and a half a block–the Chinese.
and they–the–some of my friends that we put dead people, we put dead folks on trucks. What we had room for. And then the frostbite. The Chinese tried to burn the trucks. They– [drum] like a hole in the gas tank put a–light it up.
Back–back the truck was full of wounded and hurt and dead guys–dead people. And it– I guess it was the worst experience I’ve ever had in my life. I know it was. I know it is or was or whatever. But, we–we finally came out of that and then what
has been about a month at a little place called Wonsan. Which is near Seoul and re-gathered ourselves. Got new dungarees, new coats new all that and then went back for the second round. And it–it’s really traumatic to me
and–and until I start to talk and it–then it gets really bad. I–I–I went to the–to the Veterans administration for 12 week–this is after I’d even gotten home, I–I–I had a job working at. . . always back there. It was always close by and you know, I could I–I’m really thank–grateful
to myself today because I–I went down there I’d just sit down and cry like a baby. [trying to hold back tears] [wiped tears from cheek].
I: Sorry, I don’t have good napkins. [hands Robert a napkin]
R: Oh thank you. Thank you. But–
It was–it was not a really good time in my life. There was a lot of–a lot of other Marines it wasn’t good for them either. But we–we just stuck together and we came–came out. Most of us survived even though–not most of us, but several of us who had
been in Korea from the onset and. You know? Go back to the when I first arrived in–in Korea and I was absolutely stunned because there were no houses over two feet–two stories high. There were honey carts running up and down the road with a horse being pulled. And then there were every kind of–of
thing–bad thing you could– could think of. These people were living under those circumstances. And I went back to Korea three times. I don’t know if I said that or not, I may have, I don’t know. The first time was absolutely the most stunning thing that ever happened. The capitol building had been moved or their new structure for it–it was beautiful.
There were paved highways. There were sky scrapers. I was absolutely stunned about what had happened from the first time I was there un– until then. And this was about–oh I’d been out of there about 10, 12 years by then. And I so, I went back one more time with my– I took my young daughter who was, well I guess she was about 35 at that time. And–
we went in and they–they had all of these things planned for us. We had trips. We went to eat and I have never tried this before or again. They had a table set up and [laughing] [leans down] and it was about this high off the floor. Which means you have to get down there and put your legs in [laughing] it was. And I–the Koreans were very
agile at zipping under there and right–having lunch and–anyway, it was a–it was a 60thanniversary I guess, when me and my middle daughter went back. It–it was just an astounding place. It was–it was so much more then than I had experienced it
the first two visits and I was–. You know, it–it was just reflected the people of–of South Korea what they were capable of doing and the [guy going] in the North and part of it was taking all of the money and spending it for war–to wage war again. And that is still a possibility right today. But the South Korean people were just wonderful.
I was talking to the young fella out there and I–my–my daughter and I had been to the M–the DMZ and on the way back, it was two three busses, but on the way back there was a little rest stop they said–called it and what they had sold–cold drinks and candy and,
you know? Little trinkets that you could buy souvenirs. And I–I looked out in the parking lot and here was a group of fellas, Koreans that were packing a–a–a cardboard box about like this and they were putting propaganda stuff in it. And one of the things they were putting in was a dollar. A one dollar bill–U.S. money.
And so I–I stood there and watched them and I–finally I said to a guy, I said–I took a piece of my pocket–I come out with a one dollar bill and–and I just asked this guy can I put this in there? And he– he was a–a Associated Press photographer. See he understood what I wanted and what I was doing. And then he told the guy who was in charge and, I guess.
And they just came and hugged me and I couldn’t understand all they was saying, but I knew they were happy about whatever it is–that $1 bill. And the–the–the photographer guy said well, you know they could feed one family for like a–a week for a one dollar bill. And I don’t know how they can do that because, you know, I guess we’re too–
We–me and my wife and our children well they’re all grown now, but–but we throw out more than–than those people up there would be fatter than the town pig if they had everything we threw away. [laughing]. But it was a–it was really a–a–and–a–a an experience to know that they were sending all that stuff and the–the idea was if you
release this balloon it would go up and the hope was that it would go North and that it would come down somewhere over there. And then it has all this goodies inside plus a lot of propaganda. And so, it was–it was another opening–eye opening experience because I didn’t know they were doing that. And I had a tiny, tiny part of put–helping them with it with that one dollar.
That–and they were so thrilled to get it. And I was–I was really happy that they were thrilled. But that was a –that’s a good side of that. But the–the visit that me and my daughter had was absolutely. They picked up our hotel bill. They fed us. You go to the–to the dining room and they had
lots of places that you can get, you know, the–you could get anything you wanted really to eat and you just got up and went– left. And that was–so I really thought that this is wonderful that we can come here and they picked up about half of my fare for her and me. So, it was nice, it was a nice gesture on the part of the Koreans. But they–
they–these people suffered awfully, awfully bad during the first days–first winter–first days of conflict because they–they–they really didn’t have anything. But now–oh man, its just unbelievable, unbelievable. It’s just night and day.
R: And I haven’t–I haven’t dwelled on any of the gore
and the bad stuff that happened to people and–and the reason I have done that is–sometimes I get so that I want to break down and cry like a baby. Because its–its people who didn’t come home. And–and it’s just a horrible time in their life and in my life.
because–and I was wounded slightly. And–in June of 1951 I was evacuated to the hospital ship Haven, which was in the harbor in Pusan. And I’d first
all they’d taken me to a–a–a Army MASH hospital. Where there were two guys, two–two surgeons in there they took me in and took all my clothes off me. I had a hole in this shoe over here and they–they threw that away and they took–threw the rest of my–took clothes off, threw them away I guess. And I–I was propped up on my arms like this and my foot was
out here and I propped up and I was trying to see what they were going to do. You know? They were–I was oblivious–they didn’t even know what I was there for. [laughing] So, but, anyway, they had a little disagreement they said. One guy wanted to take my toe off, completely off. It was just hanging by just a thread of skin. And the other guys said oh no we can save this. So the guy who wanted to save it won
and the–then I stayed in the hospital. Well, the worst part about it was I was I was in a–in the hospital looking out a port hole and the draft that I was supposed to come back to the States in left and I was still sitting there in the hospital. Anyway, they–they kept that toe.
And it has really been a thorn in my side for the most part, because it’s curled and knurled and–
I: You’re big toe?
R: No, the middle toe.
R: Like it would be right there [points to finger].
R: But they–they were only trying to keep me from being crippled, I guess. But it–it’s very painful from time to time. And if I get a pedicure, and I don’t get one ever–
my wife will talk me into going. And anyway, when they clip that toenail, I–I mean I have to grab a hold [laughing] because I think if its–they’re–they’re fixing to get rid of that toe. But its–its pretty, it–its its okay. You know, some 60 years ago it’s been there that long. But it’ll still get an awful long time to curl up.
I: How did you get that wound? How did you get–
R: I–they–we were building a–a– small bridge over a little spot in the and up in the up on the high skyline they were having a heck of a fire fight up there and so. Anyway, I was on that of the–where the–
looking up at those guys so I didn’t have a helmet on. So I had went back across the bridge to get my helmet and while I was over there, started back. And they–they–there was an aide station right there where we were and they–they popped that–they were shooting–the North Koreans were shooting at the–the aid station.
It’s got a big red cross on it but it didn’t make any difference. Anyway, more rounds came in and they were toting–I was on the–on the bridge and they were and these bridge–big still panes that you put under to help build a small bridge and I run–run–ran under the bridge because I thought I might be safe there and they dropped their stuff and it fell on this foot.
And that was–and that–it–you know–its– I’m not proud of that. I didn’t do anything extraordinarily–it just–it just did that. And I wound up in the Army hospital that night and they–these two guys they sewed it back on. And I waked up about 2 o’clock in the morning and I was in a tent and I–
asked the–the–the anesthetic had wore off and I was waked up and I–and there’s a guy at a desk up there. They had a little light bulb hanging down. And he was–I went squirming around and I needed to go to the bathroom. So, any–I finally got his attention and I said hey man, I gotta go.
He said well, all you have to do is just holler “Pee 38” and we’ll– I’ll take care of it. But–but anyway it was–I stayed another six weeks bef–above and beyond what I was supposed to be there. I wasn’t happy about that, but I–I–I’m glad I–you know I’m gald I did what I did. Even though it wasn’t all that bad the Army.
So, anyway, I just. It’s hard for me to talk about the grit and the gore and the guys that–that didn’t come back and that. And they–I was in this Army recovery room. The next day–room–tent– and there was a guy that was next to me. He was screaming and hollering.
It looked like somebody had just tried to take a saw and saw his leg off and it was all beat up and it was pitiful looking and he was screaming and hollering and they were doing the best they could. And then they come and got me–the Navy come and got me–and I don’t know how they knew where I was, but they did. But they brought me back and took me down to the ship. That’s where I got on that–that ship–
the Haven. So, it was not bad. I probably shouldn’t even have even said anything about it because I never– nobody knows that but very few people. So, but anyway, it was a harrowing time in my life and–but I’m glad I did it and at the time, I didn’t want to but.
And you know, but some of this has happened whenever. I–I– I get I’m nervous about talking about it because, you know, I have–it–its I just feel like I’m waving the flag for me. And there was too many guys in there that–that didn’t come home and they did come home with
more severe wounds than–than I ever had. But anyway, it’s–its– what time is it? Well, we haven’t been here all of the hour, but. . .
I: Do you have to be somewhere soon?
R: Oh my wife’s out there she’s just. . .
R: Okay. She just she’s waiting so.
R: Any–any I just don’t know what else
I could add. I could add a whole lot but I –I– like I said I just get so beat up sometimes when I do that.
I: I wanted to ask you though, how did you end up enlisting in the Marines?
R: Well, let me tell you, that’s a long–not a long story, but I had two–two friends where I grew up, in Lubbock, Texas. Both were brothers–two brothers–and
they were a few–a year or two older than me and they–both of them served in the World War II. And Larry, the oldest, was–was one of the first Marines that landed after they dropped the bomb in Hiroshima. And then Travis, his brother, was a–a flame thrower in Okinawa. And I idolized these two guys.
I said, you know, I’m gonna–when–and after the end of the war, when they came home. I waited until I was 17 and approached my father and mother and I said I want to do this, I want to go to the Marines. And so, I–they were both opposed to it, of course, because the war had been over just a short time.
But–well, 47′ and it–it was over with in 45′ I guess. Most of it was over in 45′. But they needed [unintelligible] minimal to be doing this. And so, I kind of kept after them and after them and finally, my mother said “well, okay if that’s what you want to do.” One of the things she was opposed to, my dad was opposed to
that I hadn’t graduated from high school. And so finally they acquiesced and–and I went to–to–enlisted. Enlisted of 19– August of 194-. Recruit depot out here. Here in San Diego and af–after I got done with my boot leave.
10 day leave at home I came back and I–I was put into what was known then as the 115threplacement draft. That was the 115thdraft after World War II that I was put into replace guys that had been in–in– Guam and other places. So, I–I was in the last–the 115threplacement draft was the last replacement draft
at the end of World War II. So, I went through that. Went to Guam. Spent 20–18–20 months out there. I came–came back to the States and was–was at Camp Pendleton. And until the Korean thing, I went and spent 15 months in Korea. And by the time
I–when my enlistment was up the–I got the extended year that I put in was actually all put in in–in Korea plus a little. And I didn’t get released when I was supposed to but–you know–that–I was–I came to San Diego here to get separated and
we– I found out one morning that they were ca–they were getting the guys that was going to the dock to re-enlist, but they–and they called everybody’s name but mine. And I said “Hey Sarge! What happened to me?” And he said, “What’s your name?” and I said, “Atkins.” And he said, “Oh, you got out of here last week!” [laughing]. I said no, I didn’t get here til last week. Any–anyway, they didn’t know what happened to my record books
or records or anything. They, they put me and two other guys into a–a–a barracks and we were called the suspense platoon. Because they didn’t know what–we were suspended until they found what was happening. Anyway they– about a week and a half, two weeks, they found my record book. I don’t know where it’d been. And he came and sent it in to–to the recruit depot
and they separated me on that. And tha–that was in September–the end–by the end. And so, but I don’t know what they did how they lost it, how they found it. So. . .
I: I see.
R: Record book. But. . .
I: What was your–what was your final rank in the Korean War?
R: I left Korea in–
in late August of 1951 and I was–like at the end–to wait for that–find my record book and it was somewhere around the 15thof September 1951 before I was actually separated. Now, they–a–they gave me a third examination when I left and they found out that I had some
bad teeth, but that was from nothing wrong, but from just not treating– just not treating–taking care of them like I should have. But I didn’t have an opportunity to take care of them, really. But they told me that when I got to Little Rock, or when I got to Lubbock, they, I need to go to the VA. And–and that they would finish up on my dental work. And, of course, like a lot of things, I didn’t do that, and here
it caught up to me in about 1963. And I–I had to have dental work and–and I–I just thought because I didn’t want to do it I just said heck with it, you know. And I made a big mistake in my life that time, but I made–made them before anyway so, I hope I haven’t bored you with this–
now that–that it’s been so long ago, it’s sometimes hard to dredge all that stuff up. Even though it’s–it’s there and my wife says, you know, you don’t understand you talk about it every day, but I don’t remember talking about it every day.
I: Oh really?
R: It just–I guess I try to get it out of my mind
for the most part. And s–s–so far I’ve done it. I had– I went to college when I come home from–from–well, not when I came home, because the GI bill didn’t take place until a couple of years later–
R: But I went to school on the GI bill. I graduated in 1956 with a Bachelor’s Degree in–a–a–a Bachelor of Arts and went to work for
American Airlines. I worked for them for 40 years, or just about 40 years. And went from a–just an agent all the way to Supervisor Airport Services, when I retired. So, all of that wasn’t bad. And I–I got–I got to fly around a lot, so, [laughing].
I: I see.
R: Never the less, it was–it was a horrific time and it, like I said it just harms me sometimes to get going on it. But and I–I can watch things on television, movies and–not movies, but the television–
I: Like news?
R: Its basically I did this during the Vietnam War and I can sit there at night and–
well they would be–show–they’d show mangled guys and people that were in bad shape and and I–tears would just run down my eyes, because I knew what they were going–I’d done the same thing. So, it was all the time for me. And then, then the Afghanistan War, you know, that comes in and I get all excited about that. I don’t mean I’m excited
to be there or anything like that–I just get excited about what’s–what’s going on and it’s so stupid. You know. To have–to send people in– and you know, it’s been going on 10 years. The Korean War lasted about 5 years. So, and, World War 2, it lasted about 5 years.
We’ve been going into the desert over there and the–well for over 10 years. So it’s–its really disheartening when you think about how many men is–and were injured during that 10 years. Well anyway, I hope it–I hope you may find something worthwhile in this.
I: Of course. I mean, I want to thank you, because you told me that
you have a hard time when you think about it, it makes you tear up, it makes you emotional.
R: Tha–it I’m sorry but it does. [choking up]. I may do it right now.
I: Aw. I’m sorry. Any–any names of any friends that you want to remember that you want also us to remember?
R: Well I–I had friends
that didn’t come home. I–some of them, but I can’t remember their names, but they. . . One friend was a fellow by the name of Bobby James who, Bobby and–and I were kids together and we both joined the Marines together and he wound up
going to Honolulu and I wound up going to Korea. Going to– he went to Honolulu and I went to Guam. You know, it [laughing] but it’s the luck of the draw, I guess. And Bobby stayed in the Marines and he–in his 16thyear they discovered he had diabetes. And, of course,
they–they wanted to discharge him then, he said, no, I’m not going. You’re not going to discharge me. You knew I had DB–T– diabetes and you knew it was in my family when you took me in and I’m not leaving. And so, he, one day he was working at the headquarters of the Marine Corps and he went in the barber shop to get a haircut.
So, they put the–the bib–there was a guy already in the chair on this side with the barber bib on him and. . . So the barber he–that was cutting Bobby’s hair and asked him how’d he–how he’s doing on his–were he going to get to stay in the Marine Corps long. And he, Bobby responded by, with an expletive. [Laughing]. That indicated that he was not leaving until
a certain thing happened. And anyway, when the–the guy in the chair next to him got finished with his haircut. They took off his–and here was a Colonel sitting in there. He had been talking [laughing].
R: And so the Colonel got out and straightened his tie and looked at Bobby and said, “When you get finished, young man, will you bring me–would you come by my office with your superior?” [laughing]
So, he did. And they went down and the–the verdict was, okay, we’ll keep you ’til your 20 years is up, but you won’t go here any longer. [laughing]. So, that was kind of funny, I thought. But he–he learned a valuable lesson. You know, if you don’t know who’s sitting in the next chair, don’t be talking about– [laughing] especially with the Colonel.
I: Did he go to–
R: B–Bobby, Bobby James and–
I: Did he go to Korea with you?
R: No, he went to Honolulu [laughing].
But we were boyhood friends. Chums. And we–we grew up–we enlisted at the same time. And he–he married his wife was a–a female, woman Marine and so they– you know, he was a Marine for a long, long time and so–. But Bobby or, let’s see, there’s–there’s more, but right now–I know it–I know you–
can’t–can’t recall em’ right now.
R: That were injured or that had–get–that were not well off when they came home. I had one other fellow was a guy named [Banika] who I went to boot camp with. He was in–he was a Canadian and had gone to the Marines in Canada–or for somewhere and didn’t–came to
to the U.S. And I run into him when I was in San Diego getting separated and I hadn’t seen him in four– I think its four years–and he had–he had been hit by white sulfurs–white sulfurs–whatever that is–what it burns a hole in whatever you’re wearing. Just–just like that. It burned him on his back and it–it was probably shot by our own guys.
And–but–I can’t remember his first name, but his last name was [Banika] at least that’s –something that sounded like that I’m–I–I’m not sure about that, but. But, there were a lot of guys that I–I served with that–. One had just died about three months ago. A guy by the name of–
of Cliff–see there it goes again–. Cliff, he lived in Sacramento. He–he was infirmed. He was in bad shape. He had the eye problems. He was living in–his wife died–he was living in a–a home for old guys. And I used to call to him on the phone.
And somebody called me after, when Phil–Phillip died and they called and said hey, Phil passed away and I just thought about calling him that day, because–but I didn’t and. We –we went to boot camp together and we’d been together in Korea. He was a wire man,
stretching telephone wires and I was with the engineers and we run across each other. I thought he was dead for a long–for–for a long time because I–I saw him one day and he was in a–a little old thing like a Jeep and he was–he was hanging wire out. You know, they just run a cable out on the ground and if–if they’d left it if they didn’t need it any longer. But, he was in this
little he and two other guys were in this little thing it was like a Jeep, only not a Jeep. Where they were pulling that wire out. And the next day, somebody—somebody I knew, or in the platoon or something said, “Hey! D’ya hear about ol’ [Mar]?” and I said “No, what happened?” he say, he says, “Well, the [gooks] jumped to him and–and
killed him and the both those guys that’s with him.”. I–I took that with me for–well, at the time it didn’t bother me that he’d been killed. But, I went a–a gathering like this in Reno, about 15 years ago now, I guess. And a guy gets up to makes the speech, and I said to Betty, my wife, who was there, and I said, “I know that guy, I know that guy”.
And I’d had–he wa–he and I were–the–the platoon, tank platoon going to boot camp. Anyway, I said I’ve got that picture. I went run down to my room, got the thing up. Went back in there and I said, “which one of these guys are you?”. And he–p–pointed and he says, “That’s me!” and–. So, we became fast friends from that.
Talked on the phones and–and then–then his wife died and things went bad for him. And he called me about a week and a half, two weeks before he died and said he was in Sacramento and he had some kind of a living quarter thing there–quarters. So then next thing I knew a guy calls me and said, Phillip Meyers–Meyers–Phillip Meyers,
I knew it’d come sooner or later–passed away yesterday or that–. So, you know, I knew it wadn’t gonna be a year, because he–. It was a hard thing to do [chokes up].
I: He was–he was at the Chosin with you?
I: I see.
R: He was–I–I had run–our paths had crossed. He
was–he was like, what they call a wire man. In a–stringing telephone wires. We didn’t have radios like that [laughing] like they do now, where they just click a button and talk to one another. And–anyway, it was [wipes tear from cheek]. [whispers] Ol’ Cliff.
I: Well, we’ll–we’ll remember him also with you.
I: We’ll remember your friends for you and with you.
R: That’d be–
I: Thanks for sharing.
R: That’d be good. Wonderful. [crying]
I: Thank you. Anything else that you want to tell all of the younger people that will be watching this now? Anything else that you want to say about the importance of the Korean War? Importance of remembering, commemorating the Veterans?
R: Well, I would say
to any of em’ that–that the Korean people–the time the Korean War broke out, the people in the North were the aggressor and the people in the South were docile and–and happy people, making–doing things–feeding their family. They were not warring and that–
when–when it’s all said and done, the North with–was really chastised–or–and were awful aggressors. And if you have an opportunity, you need to visit. You can–you can go almost to the wire, you know, and–and the only thing is you–you can’t make
any bad remarks or make any hand signs or like flippin’ them the bird or you’re gonna get in a real terrible if you do. [Laughing]. But I would say that–that–the–the pattern of what happened in Korea from the North to the South, the South was very–for what they were doing, they were just laboring working every day trying to keep a living–trying to make a living for their families, when the North
wound up–and came in with the idea that we were gonna re–they were gonna reunite the peninsula and–and it–it never happened. And because of that, the South has thrived. They–they’ve been helped by the United States. They’re wonderful people. They work hard. And–the just think of the South–as–
as you would think of the South in this country. You know? [Laughing]. So–well, well, there was a lot of good people in both sides. But any–any–anyway, they just–just thinking about what’s happened by–by the North to the South and the South is survived and has thrived and has big 40 story buildings and paved highways and
its just amazing what they have above what–what the guy in the North is doing. Besides that, he’s–he’s about one step away from being an idiot. Oh I’m sorry.
I: Well, thank you so much.
R: I–I just feel like I haven’t done very good job.
I: No, no, not at all. It was great. Thank you
R: Well, if it–it
could be the biggest flop you’ve had all year. [Laughing].
I: No [laughing] no please. What is–is that a tattoo? On your arm?
R: Yes it is.
I: Uh-huh. What does it–what–
R: It says, its–that’s the eagle–ba– eagle and the w–world. You know, that’s the–
R: Marine emblem.
R: is what it is. I was 17 years old I’d just gotten out of boot camp. And a fella
I joined the Marines with, I told ya, Bobby James. I said I’m gonna go get me one of them tattoos and I–I knew my parents didn’t really want me to do that. And–and so we went down–Broadway and–here in San Diego–and there’s this place called “Painless Nails”. It was o–right there off of Broadway, anyway, Painless Nails
I went into there said–I–I want to get one of those Marine emblems on me. And he said okay. And–and then stupidly I let him put that right there [points to tattoo on forearm] and I’ve regretted it ever since.
R: and I know I’d been gone on–and I hadn’t been to visit my parents for some time and I went home. My little brother was sitting in there. I was–went in my room–course I’d been–and was taking
my clothes off and he–that–and I didn’t–I was unaware of it and he–he said, “Mama! He’s got a tattoo!” [laughing]
R: So I–I–I’ve thinked a thousand times, if I had to have that, why didn’t I put that up here on my arm?
[rolls up sleeve and points to bicep]. I–I–I’m–you know, I love the Marine Corps. I–I–I appreciate what I did and while I was there, but I’m so ashamed of this that
I–I seldom ever wear a short sleeve shirt. I just had this so–nobody knows me here, so [laughing]. Any–any–anyway, I just don’t–and the Marine Corps they really gotta tighten down on these things. You cannot have a tattoo and be a Marine–
R: and be– enlist.
Because if you–if you have where you have to wear a shirt every day, it’s okay, but you cannot have one that shows. And the Navy is worse than that. They–if you have anything above your collar. I don’t–I guess it don’t matter about your hair–
R: [Laughing] but anyway, they, they won’t even talk to you.
R: The Army is– has
gotten a little bit easier with it and the Air Force doesn’t even care. So, it–it–it–I don’t know why, I wish they’d said I couldn’t do that, but I did and it’s there and it’s been there for 60 years–
R: or longer. And the only way I can keep it from showing and–is to wear a long sleeve shirt and, you know, you can’t do that in the summer time so. . .
Anyway, I’m–I appreciate you letting me be here I appreciate–
I: Thank you.
R: you guys. What you’re doing and y–what you’re trying to do with the–with– for the young folks of this world, of this country especially that we can understand one another better and that we can–get some–do something out of
R: And anyway. That’s–we’re done. [laughing]
I: Yeah. Thank you so much. Thank you.
R: Oh well. . .
[End of Recorded Material]