Korean War Legacy Project

Russell J. Kolmus Jr.

Bio

Russell J Kolmus, Jr. was born in 1930 and graduated from Frankford High School in Philadelphia in 1948.  After graduating, he joined the Naval Reserves.  When the Korean War broke out, he was drafted from the Reserves in 1950.  While he never stepped foot on land in Korea, he made valuable contributions aboard three different aircraft carriers including as an Aviation Store Keeper aboard the USS Valley Forge.  He describes what living conditions were like on the ships and recalls an accident that caused him to suffer from smoke inhalation.  Though he rarely shares his story with anyone, including his wife, he is proud of his service.

Video Clips

Life Aboard the USS Valley Forge

Russell J. Kolmus, Jr. describes life aboard the USS Valley Forge. He recalls it was a congenial crew of about 2,500 men on the ship. He describes the sleeping arrangements: aluminum framed canvas cots closely spaced together. He goes on to note the poor quality of the food on a Navy ship.

Tags: Food,Living conditions

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkO2E6Yrst4&start=767&end=934

Boxer CV21

Russell J Kolmus, Jr. describes his last tour on the Boxer CV21. He explains that during the early morning, they were arming a plane before its take-off, but there was a miscommunication and the pilot fired his gun into a jet, causing a fire. He suffered smoke inhalation as a result and spent a week in the sick bay.

Tags: Living conditions,Weapons

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkO2E6Yrst4&start=1256&end=1335

Surfacing Submarine

Russell J Kolmus, Jr. describes how an enemy submarine surfaced near his ship as it was refueling. Though unsure of who the submarine belonged to, the tanker quickly left causing an oil spill in the ocean, which was never reported. He explains that destroyers were then called in to drop depth charges to take out the submarine.

Tags: Weapons

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkO2E6Yrst4&start=1350&end=1457

Video Transcript

 

[Beginning of Recorded Material]

R:        Russell J. Kolmus, Jr..  That’s R U S S E L L   J. as in James.  Kolmus K O L M U S, and I’m a Junior.

I:          What is the ethnic origin of Kolmus last name?

R:        It’s, uh, Germany.

I:          Germany, right?  What, what is your birthday?

R:        January 1, 1930.  1/1/30.

I:          1930.

R:        Yes.

I:          There is another member that has the same birthday, January first .

0:00:30

RESPONDANT:        How about that?

I:          How about that?

R:        Yeah.

I:          James Shuman.  Do you know?

R:        I think he’s from up the Masonic Village.

I:          He is also in Lancaster in your chapter,

R:        Yeah.

I:          And his birthday is January 1 of 1931.  So he’s one year younger than you.

R:        Just a kid.

I:          Right.  [LAUGHS] So please tell me where you born, old man?

R:        [LAUGHS]

0:01:00

Johnson City.

I:          This city?

R:        Johnson City, New York.

I:          Oh. New York City.

R:        No, New York State.

I:          State.

R:        Johnson, J O H

I:          N S O N

R:        S, yeah.

I:          And tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings.

R:        Uh, I had one sister, mother and father and, uh, well,

0:01:30

they took care and made sure I did the right things.  I don’t know.  Uh, but I, uh, towards the end of World War II, they sent my father to Philadelphia. That’s how I ended up down here.

I:          Well, what did you, your father do?

R:        He worked for IBM.

I:          Huh.  At the time?

R:        At that time, yes.

I:          Wow.  And what kind of work did he

R:        Uh,

0:02:00

actually it was repair their machines.  They were, uh, old electric magnetic at that time.

I:          Yeah.

R:        Not the new, uh, digital.

I:          So it was around the period of Great Depression, but you didn’t have any economic difficulties.

R:        Well they were glad to put food on the table.

I:          Yeah, right.

R:        That was about it.

I:          Uh huh.

R:        Um hm.

0:02:30

I:          And when did you graduate high school, and what high school?

R:        Frankford High School in Philadelphia.

I:          Frankfort?

R:        F R A N K F O R T or D?

RESPONDANT:        D.

I:          T.

RESPONDANT:        D.

R:        Uh, in Philadelphia.

I:          When?

R:        Uh, January 1948.

I:          And let me ask this question.  Did you learn anything

0:03:00

about Korea in the school?

R:        No.  I didn’t know it existed even.  Uh, we knew where China was, but that was about it.

I:          How about Japan?  You knew Japan because they attacked you, right?

R:        Japan? Yes.  Yes. We were on our way home from church, uh, that Sunday, and, uh, my father picked up a newspaper,

0:03:30

and it was there.

I:          So you didn’t know anything about Korea.

R:        Not a thing.

I:          [LAUGHS]  And now you are Korean War veteran.

R:        Veteran, yes.  I never set forth on the, the island or nation.

I:          Uh huh.

R:        I was on, uh, carriers, three different carriers all that time.

I:          You mean the aircraft carrier?

R:        Yes.

I:          But you are Air Force?

0:04:00

R:        Navy Air.

I:          Navy.  Right, and, so you know Carl Witwer?

R:        He’s a member of the Chapter I believe.

I:          Yeah.  So have you been back to Korea?

R:        No.

I:          Do you know what’s going on in Korea? Korean economy, Korean politics?

R:        Uh, I don’t know anything about their politics, but their economy looks good from what I can see from the outside.

I:          Tell me about it.  What do you know about the Korean economy?

0:04:30

R:        Just that from a bunch of, uh, uh, shacks.  They built a, a great infrastructure there

I:          Um hm.

R:        buildings and all.

I:          So what do you think about this transformation.  The country you never knew before and country was completely destroyed.  Now they are the 11thlargest economy in the world.  Can you believe that?

R:        Oh I think that’s great.

0:05:00

I:          Can you believe that?  That’s something, isn’t it?

RESPONDANT:  Um hm.

I:          Do you know how big South Korea is?

RESPONDANT: Um um.

I:          It’s just a little bit bigger than Indiana state.

R:        Um hm.

RESPONDANT:  Oh, Indiana.

I:          And we don’t have drop of oil.  Everything was destroyed.  Now it’s 11thlargest economy in the world.

RESPONDANT: Wow, that’s wonderful.

I:          And we don’t teach about it.  Shame, isn’t it?

R:        Yeah.

RESPONDANT:  Um hm.

I:          So that’s why we

0:05:30

are doing this. We want to report your service and teach our young children that the country that Russell fought about 70 years ago now become the most, one of the most prosperous country in the world.

RESPONDANT:  Um hm.

R:        Well, you grabbed yourself by the boot straps and got up.

I:          Yes.  Don’t you think that we need to teach about this?

R:        Yes.

RESPONDANT:  Um hm.

I:          Yes.

R:        I think you need to teach

0:06:00

our young kids about this.

I:          Yes.

RESPONDANT:  Um hm.

I:          And that’s why we’re doing this.  So after you graduate the high school in 1948, what did you do?

R:        Uh, I worked for a few months for Bell telephone. I started college at Drexel.

I:          Drexel College?

R:        Drexel Institute of Technology.

I:          Wow.

R:        And Korea came.  I went.

I:          I’m sorry?

R:        Korea came.

I:          Uh huh.

0:06:30

R:        I was; I had joined the Reserves making a couple dollars on the weekend.

I:          When was it?   During your high school, right?

R:        Well, no.  After high school.

I:          After high school you joined the Reserve? Navy?

R:        Navy, Naval Reserve.

I:          Uh huh.

R:        And

I:          About $20 a month, right?

R:        Every once, uh, once a, a month, yes.

I:          Yes.  That’s not bad.

0:07:00

R:        Yeah.  Uh, as I say, Korea came, I went.

I:          When was it?   By the way, what did you study in Drexel Institute of Technology?

R:        I started out in Engine, Uh, Electrical Engineering.

I:          Uh huh.

R:        But I did not finish that up.

I:          Um hm.

R:        Because I, after I came back, I switched to Business. I, I graduated with a BS in Finance and Accounting.

0:07:30

I:          So when did you, uh, join the Navy?

R:        Uh, I guess it was 1948.

I:          And?  No, no.

R:        No. Oh

I:          You joined the, you went to

R:        Reserves.

I:          No, Drexall Institute of Technology

R:        Yeah.

I:          After graduation,

R:        Yeah.

I:          And then, when did you join the Navy formally?

R:        Well, I was,

0:08:00

they drafted us.

I:          Drafted.

R:        Uh, uh, they draft, eh, drafted the Reserves.

I:          Yeah.

R:        I should say.  We were called up.  Would, I don’t know exactly how to put it.

I:          When was it?

R:        Uh,

I:          19

R:        Uh, late ’50.

I:          Late

R:        Uh, I guess September of 1950.

I:          Um hm.  So where did you get the basic military?

R:        Willowgrove Naval Air Station.

0:08:30

I:          How was it?

R:        Um, not hard.

I:          Not hard.

R:        Because it was, it was only weekends once a month, and I flopped around

0:09:00

different things there.

I:          Um hm.

R:        But we were drafted, as I say, uh.  We were sent, 200 of us were sent all around, and I ended up in Alameda,

I:          Alameda, yeah.

R:        Alameda, California.

I:          Um hm.

R:        Uh, from there, well, we spent the time until, uh, this air group who had been in Korea came back because they thought they had it won,

0:09:30

and they, uh, uh, had been recalled and were going to send over, and from Alameda, we were the, uh, replacements for the ones that couldn’t fly, and

I:          When did you depart for Korea?  From where?

R:        From, actually we, uh, from Alameda, we were put on a C-plane tetter,shipped

0:10:00

down to San Diego and put on the, uh, Valley Forge, U.S.S. Valley Forge, 47, or 45.  December of 1950.

I:          So tell me about where you were in Korea?

R:        Sea of Japan.

I:          East Sea.

R:        East of the, of Korea, yes.

I:          Yeah.  That’s, uh, East Sea.

0:10:30

R:        Yes, if you say so.

I:          Yeah.  Japanese call Sea of Japan.  Koreans call East Sea.  So

R:        Okay.

I:          I’ll be appreciating if you say

R:        Okay.  East Sea. Alright.

I:          Okay.  Good.

R:        That’s, yeah.  Fourteen months.

I:          So what was, what was your MOS?  What was your specialty?

R:        I was an Aviation Store Keeper.

I:          Aviation

R:        Store Keeper.

I:          Store?

R:        Store.  Yes.  S T O R E Keeper.

0:11:00

I:          What is, what is that?

R:        Well,

I:          Ex, explain it to the students.

R:        Yeah, well basically my, my job was to see that the parts for the planes that needed replacing were there and, uh, I could get them, and, of course other material, too.  But basically what we were concerned about keeping

0:11:30

the planes in the air.

I:          So it’s like a auto parts store where the people can buy the parts of the automobiles, right?

R:        Well, we, we hopefully have them all aboard ship.

I:          [LAUGHS]  Yeah.

R:        Otherwise you had an aircraft sitting there that, uh, was useless.

I:          Exactly.  Exactly. And what was your rank

0:12:00

at the time?

R:        Airman.

I:          Airman?

R:        Yeah.

I:          Like the what?  What is it, like a first class, first private?

R:        First Class nothing.  Uh, I finally made, uh, Third Class Petty Officer before I got out.

I:          Um hm.

R:        But, uh,

I:          How much were you paid?

R:        Not much [LAUGHS]

I:          Not much. [LAUGHS]

R:        No, at this point.

0:12:30

I:          And tell me about the life in the U.S.S. Valley Forge.  How was it? Eating, sleeping and shower and entertaining?

R:        It was fine.

I:          Give us detail, things that you remember.

R:        Well, uh, it was a very congenial crew, and, well, I was new at this, and, uh,

0:13:00

I:          How many people were there?

R:        Uh, aboard that ship, aboard the S. Class carrier, there was about 2500.

I:          Um.

R:        And everybody had their own specific job.

I:          How about sleeping quarter?  How many people were in the quarter section of whatever?

R:        Well, there were various sections around the ship. There were basically three high.

I:          Um hm.

0:13:30

R:        And

I:          Did you sleep at the hammock or what?

R:        It was in a little bit of frame with a, uh, canvas stretched over it with a, a, about a 2” ticking on top of that.

I:          Was it crowded?  How many men were there?

R:        Uh, well as I say,

0:14:00

each nook and cranny seemed to have a sleeping quarters, and some maybe had, uh, 20. Some maybe had two.

I:          Uh.  Only two.

R:        Uh, but, uh, it varied.

I:          Okay.  How about food.  How was it?

R:        Uh, I didn’t gain any weight on.  Let me put it that way.

I:          You were young, so you

0:14:30

you’re not gonna gain weight.  What was your favorite food there?

R:        I cannot recall.

I:          [LAUGHS]

R:        The, uh, I, I never was fond of shipboard food.

I:          Really?

R:        At least Navy shipboard food.

I:          Um hm.

R:        You go on a cruise, it’s a totally different story.

I:          Yeah, right.

0:15:00

We talking about the war, so the food was pretty good inside of the aircraft carrier compared to the Army people who were in the foxhole in the front line

R:        Uh huh.

I:          They skipped the meal.

R:        Yeah.

I:          And C-ration, you know?  So.

R:        Um hm.

I:          But anyway

R:        I can remember going through a chow line not getting anything, picking up a cookie and throwing that in the trash can.

0:15:30

I:          [LAUGHS] Spoiled man.

R:        Yeah.  Uh, but, well,

I:          So any, um, you, when you were in U.S.S. Valley Forge,

R:        We

I:          Were there any kind of occasion where that dangers or anything you remember?  You want to tell me some episode that you remember there?

R:        I steered clear of the flight deck as much as possible.

0:16:00

I:          And?

R:        Those fans weren’t forgiving.  Uh, we had no jets at that point.  We were on the Valley Forge until the Spring of ’51. Then they transferred the whole air group onto the Philippian Sea,

CB47.

I:          Why to Philippian?

0:16:30

R:        I understand the Valley Forge, uh, bent one of the screws, and there, the Air Group had been over there longer than ours, so they came back, and we, we were on, the, the Philippian Sea until, uh,

RESPONDANT: June?

R:        Well, early June.

I:          Of?

R:        And then we came back.

I:          Early June of 1952?

0:17:00

R:        ’51.

I:          ’51.  Came back and what did you do?

R:        They, we were supposed to go to Alameda, but they sent us up to this outlaying field in Santa Rosa, California which is 60 miles north of San Francisco for regrouping and retraining.

I:          Hm.

R:        They had, I mean, how are you gonna retrain this bunch of crazy pilots

0:17:30

and, we stayed there until, uh, well, uh, the beginning of, the real, really the beginning of February of ’52.  I had been married in the meantime.

I:          Married?

R:        Married.  And

I:          I men, before you joined the Navy, you, were you married?

R:        No.

I:          No.

R:        Engaged but not married.

I:          Wow.

0:18:00

So now I want to have a angle for your wife, too.  Two of you together.

R:        We were married, uh, June of ’52, ’51.

I:          [LAUGHS]

R:        She’ll keep me straight. And ever since.

I:          Ever since.  So you are endangered species.

RESPONDANT: Yes.

R:        I guess so.

0:18:30

I:          So Jane.  Tell me about, um, about his service during the Korean War.  Did he ever tell you anything about it or do you remember anything?

RESPONDANT:  Not really.  Nor really.  After, after we were married, he went back to California, and in two weeks he was back again to pick me up and take me to California.  So I was in California with him till February.

0:19:00

I:          But he didn’t tell you anything about his service during the Korean War?

RESPONDANT:   I find servicemen don’t really talk about their service.

I:          How about up to now?  Did he ever, has, has, has, has he ever told you anything about Korean War?

RESPONDANT:  Not really.

I:          Um.

RESPONDANT:  Not really.

I:          Russell, why didn’t you tell her anything about your service during the Korean War?

R:        She didn’t ask any specific questions. [LAUGHS]

RESPONDANT:  Uh, he would tell me

0:19:30

fun things.

I:          Like what?

RESPONDANT:  Uh, like when he, he brought some dishes back for me, and how he, um, rented a rickshaw to carry the dishes and ran along the side. Things like that.

R:        Well, that was in Tokyo.

RESPONDANT:  In Tokyo.  But that’s the type thing he

I:          So Jane.  What do you

0:20:00

think about our history textbook doesn’t tell much about the Korean War despite

RESPONDANT:  I think it’s a shame because each war, each, each different phase has something to do with history, and it’s possible to be repeated.

I:          So what do you think about this interview that we are recording his direct witness and then use it as a teaching material later?

RESPONDANT: Well, my share, I don’t know

0:20:30

that they want to know about a rickshaw.  But there were things that I think happened that were fun for the men, for the, at least the Navy men who could get back to Japan and have a bit of a rest.

I:          So Russel

R:        Rest?

I:          Any other story that you want to tell about your Korean War service?

R:        Well, as I say, that second, uh, last tour we went

0:21:00

out on the bossers, CB21.

I:          Oh.  Tell me about it, detail, detail.

R:        Well, uh, it was August.  We tried to burn it down.

I:          Burn down what?

R:        The carrier.

I:          Why?  Where?

R:        Uh.

I:          Tell me about the Korean War part.

R:        Well, we were, uh, the early morning,

0:21:30

they were getting ready, and they were arming this one, uh, plane, and the fellow in the cockpit said, uh, talked to the fellow loading the gun and said fire.  He fired right into the tip tank of a jet.

I:          Really?

R:        Um hm.  I put a week in sick bay after that.  Smoke inhalation.

I:          Um hm.

R:        But other than that, uh,

0:22:00

my job was to get the, uh, supplies they wanted and like that.

I:          Um hm.

R:        And each hatch was a different level, and I still have knicks on my shins from them.

I:          Any other story that you remember inside of the Valley Forge, about the War when you were in East Sea, right?

R:        Yes.

I:          Yes.  Were there any enemy attack?

0:22:30

R:        Uh, uh, no, I don’t remember which ship we were on, but one time a submarine started to surface right in the middle of the, we were refueling, you know.  We set back and refueled every few days.

I:          You mean North enemy submarine?

R:        We have no idea.

I:          Oh.

R:        We split the tanker, and we liked that. There was oil all over the ocean. Nobody ever reported the oil spill.

0:23:00

Destroyers went in and, uh, dropped depth charges.  We have no idea what happened.

I:          Hm.  That’s it?

R:        That’s it for that one.

I:          Um hm.

R:        But, uh,

I:          Another one?

R:        Uh, I really don’t know.

I:          Um.

R:        We were sent back and replenished, and cargo ships would come alongside,

0:23:30

reload, uh, bombs and other supplies.

I:          Had they bombed

R:        Yeah.

I:          Any part of North Korea?

R:        Uh, they would, uh, uh, put them aboard.  One hundred pounders they’d flip across the deck. We weren’t, weren’t armed.   They weren’t going off or anything.  They’d flip them across, and the, uh, guys on the other side would stack them

0:24:00

to be taken down below.  But, uh, things like that.  Then, of course, uh, they were brought back up from the Armory to load on the planes, and that was an early morning task.

I:          Um hm.

RESPPONDANT: Were ‘t your pilots on Inchon?

R:        Hm?

RESPONDANT: Weren’t pilots on Inchon?  I heard the pilots talk about it.

R:        I don’t know.

0:24:30

RESPONDANT:
Okay.

I:          Um.

R:        Uh, our, our planes were mostly up north bombing supply routes and like that and taking out, uh, that sort of thing.

I:          Um.  Anything that you remember about that operation?

R:        Well, I wasn’t on a plane.

I:          Right.

R:        Just on the ships.  You know, we sweated the, the planes back in

0:25:00

and patched up the holes in them and things like that.

I:          Um.

RESPONDANT: When was John taken?

R:        Huh?

RESPONDANT: When was John taken prisoner?

R:        Oh, I don’t know.  One of our pilots.

I:          Um.

R:        We had a, a couple, what, two or three, uh, were, ended up as POWs.

I:          How?

R:        From my air group.

I:          Air group?

R:        From the Air group, carrier Air Group 2.

0:25:30

I:          Um hm.  Anybody wounded?  You were not wounded, right?

R:        Oh no.  I was, uh, overcome by smoke.

I:          Smoke, yes.  You mentioned that.

R:        Smoke inhalation.

I:          Um hm.

R:        Uh, no.

I:          Um hm.

R:        Uh, we almost got the, uh,

0:26:00

the executive officer of the ship, you know, like, uh, with the, uh, fire, uh.  Somebody let off a string of 50 calibers, and

I:          Um hm.

R:        He was in the way

RESPONDANT: Didn’t somebody die in that fire?

R:        Yeah.

I:          What happened?

R:        During that fire?

I:          Um hm.

R:        We lost, aboard ship I think there were nine.

I:          Um hm.

0:26:30

R:        And the Marines were coming up out of the, uh, below deck just as, well, there was a, a 500 pounder laying on the deck that was split. But it went off and, uh, killed two of them.

I:          That’s bad.

R:        Yeah.  And a few others.  You know, I don’t really know

0:27:00

much more about it. As I say, I was just a peon amongst 2500 there.

I:          Yeah.

R:        Uh huh.

I:          Um, any other story that you want to tell?

R:        You’re not interested in, uh, flying around Japan or like that?

I:          [LAUGHS]  We you flying around Japan?

R:        Getting my flight pay.

I:          Uh huh.

0:27:30

R:        Yeah.  Yeah, uh, I was telling you, uh, I, we went down around Sugiand were flying.  The first thing I know we’re flying about 10’ above the water while, uh, the pilot’s checking out the bathing beauties on shore.

I:          [LAUGHS]

R:        And I said hey, this a fixed, uh, landing gear plane. Those wheels hit the water, and we’re gonna flip.

I:          Uh huh.

0:28:00

Next thing we’re flying it back to Yokosuka, and I thought he was gonna try to land on the ship and dock.  You don’t do that with the old Essex Class Carriers.

I:          Um hm.

R:        Now, other than that, uh, real dull whatever. We didn’t do that, eh, eh, did our job and we’re glad we got home.

0:28:30

I:          One piece.

R:        Yeah, in one piece.

I:          [LAUGHS]  Russell, you were the U.S. Navy

R:        Uh huh.

I:          And part of the Korean War.

R:        Right.

I:          And you deterred Communist expansion, and that’s why South Korea is now 11thlargest economy in the world.  We were able to build it because you deterred it. So we are doing this to preserve his memory,

0:29:00

and we going to use it in the classroom.  And I want to thank you on behalf of Korean nation for your fight

R:        Um hm.

I:          for the Korea.

R:        Well, let me put it this way.  You people got up and went to work.  I wish other people would do the same.

I:          Um.   That’s right, Russell.  Thank you very much for that point.\

R:        Thank you.

I:          Thank you.

[End of Recorded Material]