Rollo Minchaca was born in Richmond, California on December 2, 1929. There were seven children in his family. He was the youngest and his oldest brother served in World War II. Rollo joined the Marine Corp in 1947 when he graduated from high school. He served as a Browning Automatic Rifleman and experienced a lot of front line action during the war. Rollo Minchaca remembers a lot about the days of the Korean War and has nightmares about some of the events that took place during the war.
Rollo Minchaca describes arriving in Pusan and Incheon Landing. He talks about the 300 rounds of ammo he carried, while his assistant carried twice as much. He had a very difficult job at the age of 18.
Marine Corp Hymn and Japanese Whiskey
Rollo Minchaca talks about spending Christmas and New Years during the Korean War. Many of the men were collapsing due to the stress of being in the extreme cold and living in tents. They evacuated to Pusan and had to regroup because of the extreme temperature.
Two Chinese Soldiers
Rollo Minchaca is describing his interaction during the war with the Chinese soldiers. He witnessed a 17 year old machine gunner crying for his mother during the war when his division was ambushed by the Chinese. As a browning automatic rifle man, he almost died because they were running low on ammunition.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
R: My name is Rollo, R O L L O , Last name is Minchaca, M I N C H A C A
I: So unusual last name. Is it ethnically has
R: My, my father came from Mexico.
I: Um hm. So it’s Spanish?
I: Mexican. Mexican. I’m sorry. And what is your birthday?
R: December 2, 1929.
I: You born in year of Great Depression.
R: Yeah, I was born, yeah, in Richmond, California.
I: Um hm. And tell me about your family when you were growing up.
R: There was seven of us. I was the youngest.
R: My oldest brother was in World War II. I joined the Marine Corp., I joined the Reserves on my 18thbirthday in 1947,
stayed in the Reserves for six months and then joined the regulars in May of 1948, May 23, 1948.
I: So you were activated or how do I say it, joined?
R: Yeah. I, I, I, I enlisted into the
I: Enlisted, yes.
R: Yeah, into the Marine Corp..
I: Um hm.
R: Got a discharge from the Reserves, and I went into
I: When did you graduate school?
I: And what did, so you joined the, you joined the, the, the Marine Corp.,
I: And did you get the basic military training?
R: San Diego.
I: Okay. And what was your specialty?
R: They made me a BAR man.
I: What is that?
R: Browning Automatic Rifle.
I: Uh huh.
R: It’s, it’s like a machine gun, but it has a magazine.
I: I see. And what was your unit?
R: E Company, 2ndBattalion, 5thMarines.
R: Yeah. E Company
I: Uh huh.
R: 2ndBattalion, 5thMarines.
I: Okay. Did you
know anything about Korea at the time you joined the Marine, when you were in school?
R: Never heard of it. In fact, the day I was in Los Angeles on leave, and I saw a headline that said something about Korea. I didn’t think anything about it, never heard of it. And I got back to Camp, they were packing up.
R: And next day we took off for ships in San Diego, and the day after that we were gone.
I: When was that?
R: 1950, whenever the War started there.
I: Um hm.
R: I guess around August or ,this time of the year I think. I don’t know.
R: I think it was August or something. I can’t, it’s so long ago I, hard to remember.
I: From San Diego?
R: Yeah. We shipped out from San Diego, went to Japan, left our sea bags there
I: Um hm.
R: And then went to Korea.
I: When did you arrive,
R: We, we, we arrived in Pusan. The date I don’t remember.
I: Was it in August or September?
R: It had to be August because September we made the Inchon Landing.
I: Oh, you did?
I: When was it, September 5th
R: September the 15th.
I: On the day.
R: Yeah, that was the day, you’re right.
I: Tell me about it.
R: Well, the, they put us on these landing
tracks. We went down the net on these landing tracks, and we circled around for a while. I, We were supposed to the 2ndwave, and they had these ladders with a grapping hook on them.
I: Um hm.
R: The barge was supposed to come up to the sea wall and over the sea wall, and then we crawled on our stomachs to get over the sea wall. But before that happened, the cocksman of the boat, he, he
was looking around and too much going on, and he ran into a South Korean gunboat, and we had to change boats.
R: So, and, but we still, we were a little late, but we got over the sea wall and into Inchon, yeah, Inchon, yeah.
I: Were there any severe resistance?
R: Not too much that I, I know. We were at Inchon,
and we settled in a shack for the night, and I guess I was sound asleep, and I felt something rolling me over. It was a South Korean Marine rolling me over his bayonet. He didn’t know who it was. It was dark
I: Uh huh.
R: And one, one of our guys, I think his name was Sharkey, screamed at him, you know. So he knew that we were
friendly, and from there we went onto Kimpo Airfield,
I: Uh huh.
R: And we got there in the daytime, and as, as it started to get darker, all this traces, I had a, a guy with me. His name was Fred Polk, and he was my assistant. They don’t have that anymore.
I: Um hm.
R: And your assistant was, he’d carry just as much ammo as you did plus his own,
and, which was about 300 rounds, and the Sergeant put us in a, out in the middle of nowhere, and these tracers were coming at us, just over and around us. I guess the North Koreans saw us, and they were shooting at us. So I told Polk, let’s get the hell out of here, you know. So we picked up, dragged our stuff and went
to this big ditch, and it seemed like the whole company, E Company was in there, and the North Koreans knew we were in there because they were just, everything just flying all over. So what we did is Sergeant pulled us over with a, North Koreans were banzaiing us. I never thought, I just thought the Japanese did that. But at Kimpo Airfield, they were banzaiing us.
They’d scream and charge us, and our machine gunners are [inaudible] mow them down, and they had, our Gunnery Sergeant, Gunny Barnett, he was directing all the fire. He was a great big Gunnery Sergeant, and we had these, they were up on some sandbags, and he was up there directing all the fire, and that went on all night, and seemed like daylight they were all gone. They pulled out.
I: It was in the Kimpo.
R: What’s that?
I: It was in the Kimpo, Kimpo Airfield.
R: Yeah. Kimpo Airfield, right. Right. Kimpo Airfield.
I: So there were still remnants of North Korean soldiers there.
R: Oh yeah, yeah. They banzaid us all night. I, they, they’d scream banzai and the officers would scream, and they’d come at us and from there, we went on to Seoul, and from
Seoul we went, they put us on some flatbed cars, and we went north, and we got up to, I guess Yudamni.
I: How? From Seoul, how are you getting
R: Well, this was over a period of time.
I: Right. So from Seoul, where did you go?
R: Well, we, we, we, we kept going north, and we ended up at the Capital. I remember
the name is. I don’t know.
I: Huh. What is your unit?
R: E Company, 2ndBattalion
I: E Company
I: Uh huh.
R: 5thMarines. First Marine Division.
I: And, so your route is quite different from others. Many of them went back to Inchon and then go to Wonsan and go to Ch’ongch’on Reservoir.
I: Could have been, could have been. I, It’s so long ago, but I remember they put us on some
flatbed cars, and it was getting cold. This was after Seoul and everything, and we were going north, and we, we got to this one place, and I couldn’t believe it. The Red Cross was there handing out coffee and things like that. And, and we got back on these flatbed cars, and we kept going north, and I don’t know where we got out, off
this train. But we got off, and we were on trucks, and we kept on going, of course I, I, I didn’t know one town from another, you know. I
I: But, did you take another ship to get to the North Korea?
I: No. You just walk, walk, walk by the truck?
R: Train and truck and walking.
I: So you went up to north from Seoul.
R: Well, not right away. But that’s where we ended up.
R: Up there, this place called Yudamni. That, we stayed there that night. We just slept on the ground.
I: Where, in Yudamni?
R: Yeah. Just before we
I: When was it?
R: That was the, must have been the 26thbecause on the 27th, on the, on the, on the, we moved in on the 27th, and we moved into this kind of an alley like. There was banks on each side, and my fire team was right
in the middle, and that night, everybody took their shoes off and put them in the sleeping bag. We still had our summer boots and field jacket. We didn’t have the heavy coats. So we kept our feet warm that way.
But the thing is I was looking out to my left, and I saw something move, and I told Sharkey, I said, you know, I saw something move earlier. He said oh, you’re just seeing things, you know. And all of a sudden I saw three Chinese soldiers try to get by us, and I got them all with my BAR.
R: And it seemed like, then we had a machine gun on our right. He was a 17-year-old kid Machine Gunner. He was a replacement. He come in around Thanksgiving, and he opened up, and pretty soon the Chinese threw a hand grenade,
they wiped them out. And the kid was 17 years old. He’s, he’s crying for his mother. Mother, mother, mother. And that just made everybody feel real bad because he’s, you know, at 17 years old you’re just a kid. So then, then this artillery started walking in, and so where the machine gun was there was a bank
I: Um hm.
And his machine gun was up too far back, and they just went up the bank and tossed hand grenades and wiped that machine gun out then. I never knew whatever happened to him. So whether he got killed or, or he died later or he survived. I have no idea.
I: Um hm.
R: I couldn’t remember his name, but I remember when he came in as a replacement, he looked awful young, and I said how old are
you, and he said I’m 17, and, he was a Reserve and so Polk and I, I, I, I used all my ammo I had. I had over 300 rounds, I guess it was 300 rounds, I fired in there. I used his ammo. He had like 300 and I only had like two magazines left, and so we started hollering that we were low on ammo
and Polk and I were throwing hand grenades two at a time over these bushes where the Chinese soldiers were because I told him you’re gonna get more of an explosion if, with two rather than one. Of course, they were World War II hand grenades, and a lot of them didn’t go off.
I: You describing like you saw yesterday.
I: You have such a vivid memory.
R: Yes. I tell you why,
because two Chinese soldiers came at us with hand, you can see, with hand grenades. It was a moonlit night, and they had hand grenades in their hands, and I put my BAR down, and it wouldn’t fire. It froze. So I dream about that.
I: Still nightmare.
R: I, I still dream about that, yeah.
I: Oh my goodness.
R: I, I, I dream I’m there and I’m trying to fire and nothing happens. So
I hollered Polk. I, I started to turn my BAR around to use as a club. I don’t know what Polk was doing. He was, and I hollered Polk, and he turned around and saw them and got them both with two shots. And one had a British Bren gun, and then they had a Thompson submachine gun with a drum on it. And, and I figured they must have captured some, we had Royal Marines with the attack. They must have captured or killed some and took their weapons
because I don’t know why, they, I wouldn’t be here. They could, they had us because there was some brush about 60’ away in front of us, and that’s where they came from. I don’t know why they, they didn’t see us or what, but here they come, and we got them. So anyway, the, the runner brought some machine gun belts. They
couldn’t bring us ammo with, and the magazine. They brought us machinegun belt and a whole bunch of hand grenades. So we just threw hand grenades, and I couldn’t use my BAR, so I froze me, we didn’t have gloves. My fingers froze. It was like 35 – 40 below zero, and I was trying to take those bullets out of the machinegun, and they’re tight, and this little finger just froze up like that.
So I pick a pair of socks out of my bag, my pack, and I use them as gloves, and I started pulling them out, and it filled up maybe three or four magazines up. But my BAR wouldn’t fire. It froze. So the rest of the night, we just three all the hand grenades we had.
R: So daylight comes, and they’re all gone. So we go
back here we were throwing two hand grenades at, two and there’s probably 60 or more Chinese soldiers, and they’re just sitting positions, every position you could think of, just grotesque, frozen positions, you know. Just froze stiff. I mean, I, I guess if you got killed, you’d froze in minutes. It, it didn’t take long because I could hear, when we were throwing the hand grenade, we could hear them hollering and screaming
and talking to each other in Chinese, and you could hear moaning and groaning, and this, this went on all night.
I: It’s like a hell.
R: Yeah. And
I: Does that still bother you?
R; I think about it, yeah.
I: What do you think?
R: What, what really, I really think about is two things. When my BAR wouldn’t fire
I: That’s so frustrating, right?
R: The next morning when we left, we withdrew out of that area. I took the
I: When did you withdraw from there?
R: On the 28th.
I: Right away?
R: Yeah. The next, next morning we, we drew out of that where we were dug in there. But I took the Thompson submachine gun with me because I,
I fired them both. I fired the British Bren gun. I fired Thompson submachine gun, and that’s 45 caliber, and so it, it worked. I said well, I’ll take it with me for a few days, and I did. I dropped it off on my birthday. My birthday was December 2. I turned 21, and I tossed it, and my BAR wasn’t as cold, and it was firing again. So I never had any problems. That was the only time I had a problem with that BAR that ever froze. I, I just didn’t think it was gonna do that.
I: So what happened after you withdrew from Yudamni? Where did you go?
R: We went to a,
well, I don’t know how many miles in Yudamni, but we withdrew from that position where we were, and we got on this road
I: How many of you were there, on, on the way to withdraw?
R: Well, E Company.
I: E Company.
I: So about
R: Three platoons, the Company was three platoons and
I: So about hundred something, right?
R: Each platoon has 33 men.
R: But, excuse me, but they were down low. I mean, they wasn’t full strength. companies, platoons, We’re all, they’re all pretty shattered. But on my 21stbirthday, I was, we had to take this hill. It was like, like this going up like this,
I: Um hm.
R: And then there was a plateau,
and then the Chinese were up there.
R: So I stood there waiting to go up, and I’m so cold, like freezing to death, and there’s a motor company making hot coffee. So I told the guy hey, I’ll give you five bucks for a hot cup of water. I see. He says I’ll do better than that. I’ll give you a hot cup of coffee. I drank that coffee down. Boy, I was ready to go. I felt good. It made me feel good. We
got up there, and the Chinese were up there. They had night fighters come in and try to strafe them and flame throwers and, there was a, a Sergeant. I, I never did meet him, but I heard his voice. His name was Sergeant White, and he’d tell them, he’s, you could hear his voice, he says okay, boys, just aim at their bellies, and he, just a whole firefight. He, you
could hear his voice.
R: I didn’t know who he was, never met him.
I: You said White?
R: Sergeant White was his name. W H I T E I guess.
R: But I could hear his voice, just aim for their belly, boys. And then coming down the, the road, it’s another thing I’ll never forget. When we almost got down and into the mountains
R: In, almost to the ships that were waiting for us at Hum.
I: Hungnam you mean?
R: Hanhung or something like that.
I: Yeah. Yeah.
R: Ships were waiting for us.
R: It was before that. We’re still on the mountains getting close to the bottom, and somebody yelled, it was just starting to get day light, and somebody yells okay boys, straighten up
and here we were, cold, tired and hungry, and we, everybody’s carrying probably close to 80 lbs. of 100 lbs. on their backs, and we started singing the Marine Corp. hymn, and we sang it good. Everybody like this because guys were collapsing. I collapsed two times. Somebody picked me up. Somebody else collapsed. I helped him, you know, pick him up. But, we
started singing the Marine Corp. hymn.
I: So you were evacuated from Hungnam?
R: Yeah, we got on the ships.
I: Uh huh.
I: Where did you go?
I: Um hm.
R: There’s a place called the Bean patch.
I: And then what happened?
R: We kind of regrouped again. My feet were frozen. I still got frostbite on my fingers and my feet, but I didn’t know what I had because, I know my feet were awfully cold,
and, and I’d get in my sleeping bag and they burned and they get hot, and I’d have to take them out and, and the cold, we, we lived in tents there, and, until after the first of the year. We spent Christmas there, New Year’s there, and then we were gone. But
I: Gone to where?
R: We went to North Central Korea I guess. They put
R: We put, they put us on the LSTs, and somebody was selling
toys and whiskey, and I think every Marine on that barge was drunk. They was fighting each other. I didn’t drink anything because I don’t like whiskey.
I: So you were put into the LST and then
R: Yeah. We were put on LSTs and, and we went somewhere, I guess North Central Korea is where, where I ended up getting rotated out, went way up in the mountains somewhere. But, but
but they were selling this Japanese whiskey I guess is what it was, and they were, I think it was, they were selling it for $2 or $3 for a little bottle like that.
I: So you were shipped from Pusan to Central part of the Korea, you went to Inchon again?
R: No. I, I, I really don’t know. I, I just remember being on this LST, big boat or whatever, landing craft I guess is what it’s called,
R: And we went somewhere, but I think it was going North. North Central or somewhere in there.
I: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But you, from Pusan, you have to go to Inchon to get into the North.
R: I don’t know.
I: So you were in the sea, right?
R: We, yeah. We went into the ocean, yeah.
I: Yeah, okay. Good, good, good.
R: But I, But I’m not, you know, it’s so long ago that I didn’t, I wasn’t, I’m not a navigator or a sailor.
I: When did you leave Korea?
R: I left, I think it was April or May of 1951.
I: Um hm. And when you left Korea, did you think that Korea would become like this today?
R: No. I’m, I, I’m so proud of South Korea. I saw pictures of, when they h ad the Olympics there
I: Um hm.
R: What a beautiful city.
I: You never been back to Korea?
R: No, I haven’t. I, I would love to go there, but I don’t about with those North Koreans on the border, I don’t know. They’re so close at the border there. But when I, when I saw the, the, the pictures of the Han River and the, the bridges and the city, because when I was there, there was nothing. It was just devastation. Every building was down. We went to
that prison at Seoul, you know, and there were some bodies left in there.
I: Um hm. So you have a very clear memory of before, I mean, the War, Korea during the War and now, you saw the picture.
R: Yeah. Yeah. But you know, it, it sometimes when you’re out there and you have to take a, a hill or ridge, you feel like you got a big bulls eye on you, you know. That’s the way I felt sometimes,
that I had a big bullseye on. But I never got hit, and here I am, a BAR man, they say a BAR man
I: You were very lucky.
R: likes, likes, has been in a BAR fight is like two minutes or whatever, I mean, I had a lot of bullets come around me, but I never got hit. And Polk, he didn’t get wounded till I left. He got wounded after I left. So, he’s my assistant. I, I haven ‘t seen him in 65 years, but
my grandkids got him on, found him on the Internet somehow. He lives in Gainseville, Ohio, and I talk to him, I tell him I might call him after this reunion is over. He’s been awfully sick.
R: So he hasn’t been able to do much, but he didn’t know that this organization existed. He didn’t know that the Company had reunions every year for like 30 years, and actually we, we have out Company reunions in
Branson, Missouri every year. This may be our last one, I don’t know.
I: Um hm.
I: So you told me that you didn’t have any idea about Korea during
R: Yeah, before the War
I: And now you know. Korea is one of the 11thlargest economy in the world
R: Yeah? Yeah.
I: What do you think of the whole thing, that you didn’t know country that you fought for, now you know the Korea everywhere,
what do you think?
R: Well, I think Korea, South Korea is great place, and I, I just love it, that both sides got together, you know. And the North Korea executing people and families and putting them in prison for life like that, and I, I went over Korea because I was sent there. I joined the Marine Corp., volunteered for it, so I have no complaints, you know. I did what I
was supposed to do. So, and my grandkids are very proud of me.
R: A lot of kids aren’t interested in this War at all. My granddaughter wants to know everything that happened to me. Even my daughter never asked me. She probably didn’t even know I was over there. But my grandkids, actually she went to University of California. She got two scholarships from the Chosin Few, and she wrote some pretty good stuff on there,
and two years in a row they sent money to her, and she graduated from the University of California. So I’m so proud of her.
I: That’s why we are doing this.
I: As you know, the Korean War has been forgotten, right?
R: I know.
I: Why do you think it’s been forgotten?
R: I’ve had people ask me well, what, when did that happen, before World War II, you know, and and you just want to give up sometimes when people say that. They, they don’t under, know a thing about, and so
many people were killed there. I mean millions of South Koreans died there.
I: Exactly. But it’s been forgotten. This is my Foundation’s brochure. Did you have it? Do you have it?
R: I think your, is that your daughter?
I: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
R: Yeah. She gave me one of these.
I: Yeah. If you look at the center unfold it, unfold it.
I: And you will see the picture there, right?
R: Oh yeah.
I: Yeah. That’s 90 history teachers from
25 states attended our conference in, in, in Orlando, Florida June this year. This year
I: And they gonna, they learn about Korean War. They want to know more about it. That’s why we are doing this. We are using this interview so that teachers can use in their classroom to teach about Korea War.
R: That’s great.
I: Isn’t it?
R: Yeah. I, I’ll
keep this one here in case I lose the other one.
I: Yeah, please keep it.
R: But I, I just
I: Is your granddaughter still in University?
R: No. She graduated. Her idea is to save the world. She’s, she’s a compost expert. I, I don’t know what they call it, but she’s so smart.
I: Yeah, Environmental Protection.
R: Yeah, and my grandson, he’s going to college right now, but she, she has a girlfriend she met at the University of Cali from
Korea, and she’s invited my granddaughter to South Korea for her wedding, but she just doesn’t have the money. She’s got a job but just started this job and, you know, but
I: So as you mentioned, South Korea has accomplished simultaneous economic development and demarcation after you gave us chance to rebuild it. What is Korea to you now?
R: Korea to me is, seems like they’re, they’re just a lot of wonderful people, smart people, you know, and they had, they had a problem, and the problem’s over, and they’ve just skyrocketed up. So I’m, I’m 100% behind South Korea.
I: Would you, would you want to go back to Korea?
R: I wouldn’t mind going back. I, I, they had these flights over there at the time
but I couldn’t, I couldn’t make it. I thought about it, but I wouldn’t mind going back
I: You know the Korean government has a program called Revisit Program.
R: I, I, I thought that was over. I
I: No, it’s still there.
R: Oh, is it still there?
I: Yeah, and they pay for everything except half of the airfare.
R: Oh really?
I: And they have a one week, wonderful program that you can go back to the DMZ
I: Oh yeah. You can go around the Seoul city and other city,
and you can go to the, the, the part of, area that you might have involved in Spring Offensive in 1951
R: Oh really, wow.
I: And if you want to do that and, just let me know, okay?
R: Okay. How do I get a hold of you?
I: I gave, you don’t have my business card?
R: Oh, I, I don’t know. Did that,
I: This is it.
R: Oh, oh, okay.
R: I have a friend of mine. He’s here, too. This is my first Chosin Few because
I live in California in Napa, it’s called a wine country, and it was too far, usually it’s on the East coast or way over there so far away. But this is my first one, so I was close. It only took an hour and a half to fly here. But this other guy, are you going to interview him on Saturday morning. The name is Gentry. He’s probably on there.
I: Um hm.
R: Him and I have known each other since 1948.
We were in B Company 7thMarines. We made the movie Sands of Iwo Jima
I: Um hm
R: And we were in B Company ’48, ’49 and part of ’50. and then when we went over to Korea, I mean, sometimes B Company was turned into E Company 5thMarines, and, so we’ve know each other almost 70 years, before the Korean War.
So I don’t know if he’d gone over on that thing or not. But I don’t think he has. So I’ll mention it to him. You’ll probably mention it to him, right?
I: Yep, yep.
I: So please let me know if you want to go, okay?
R: Okay. How soon do I have to let you know?
I: Whenever. I mean they will have this program every year, so you let me know, okay?
R: Yeah. Well, am I done?
I: I mean, if you don’t have any other stories to share with me.
R: That’s about it. Oh, I can tell you one time coming down from the, from Yudamni, I, I, the Chinese had these snipers, of course I had all this weight on me, and the bullets were coming down, and I started running as fast as I could, but I
felt like I wasn’t moving. [LAUGHS]
I: Yeah. I know that feeling, yeah.
R: And it was very cold, and I, I, I didn’t think I’d ever get out of there really, particularly we were up on that hill, when I asked Sergeant Barnett are we gonna get out of here tonight? He says well, if we don’t get out tonight ,we’re never getting out. And so we could see the 1st
Marine Division, the end of it, moving farther and farther away. It’s getting dark, and all of a sudden you hear okay you assholes. Saddle up. That’s the way Barnett talked
R: And he was a iconic Gunnery Sergeant, and so it didn’t take long to throw your pack on, and we started down into the road, and I guess we were kind of like the rear guard.
R: So, but I got
out of there alive, and I have kids to prove it.
I: Thank God.
[End of Recorded Material]