William “Bill” Whitley was a member of the Arkansas National Guard when he joined the U.S. Army as an eighteen-year-old on December 7, 1949. He arrived in Korea as part of the Incheon Landing on September 15, 1950. He would spend the next sixteen months serving with the 2nd Infantry Division, 15th Field Artillery Unit, A Battery. Although trained as an engineer, his duties in Korea included serving as a switchboard operator for a few months and then as an ammunition truck driver for the majority of his time in Korea. Nearing the completion of his three years in 1951, he found himself just days shy of being ready for separation when President Truman announced he was adding an extra year to everyone’s service. Accepting the extra year, Whitley decided to reenlist for six more years. His military service would take him to Ft. Polk in Louisiana, Germany, Vietnam, Alaska, and finally Ft. Bliss. He retired with over twenty-one years of military service on August 1, 1970.
Beginning of His Military Career
William Whitley shares his initial orders were to Japan, but these orders were changed to Korea at the last minute. He recalls participating in the Incheon Landing on September 15, 1950. He shares that even though he went through training to become an engineer, he served as an administrative NCO early in his time in Korea. He recounts being a few days shy of separation when President Truman gave everyone another year, so he signed up for six more years. He notes this was the beginning of his over twenty-one year military career.
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Landing in Incheon
William Whitely recalls taking a LST to transfer from his ship to the shore since the harbor was so shallow. He states that no one he knew was killed during the landing. He notes, however, that his close friend from his tiny hometown died near their base when he drown in water near the base.
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William Whitley shares the names that many of the Korean War soldiers were called when they returned home following their time in Korea. He notes that many of them were ashamed to even share they were part of the military for fear of people's reactions. He recollects occasions when he would be out with his wife and recalls feeling like everyone was staring at him and wanting to do him harm. He recalls it taking over a year home before he could overcome this feeling.
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Dangers of Hauling Ammunition
William Whitley spent much of his time in Korea hauling ammunition to the front lines. He notes he worked with a 105 company which meant the boxes of ammunition he would drop behind the guns weighed one hundred five pounds. He recalls that while they were unloading ammunition, each of the six guns were ordered to fire one thousand two hundred rounds at will. He adds that the repercussions of these guns resulted in him suffering broken ear drums and damaged hearing which he just accepted until 2012.
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Desolation: No Houses, No Building, No Nothing of Any Kind
William Whitley shares he spent much of his time in Korea as an ammunition truck operator. He recalls how when he first arrived in Korea, the country was dominated by forests, but these forests were soon destroyed by napalm bombers to prevent the North Koreans and Chinese from using them as cover. He recalls the desolation of the area at the time. He notes that he does not remember ever being in a building while in Korea.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
B: I’m Bill Whitley, or as the Army says, William L. Whitley. Born Wilmington, New Mexico, raised Gillam, Arkansas. I joined the Army December the 7th, 1949. Spent 21 and a half years in the service, a year and six months in Korea and a year in Vietnam and am a resident of El Paso county
B: El Paso Texas.
I: And what was growing up life like? What did your parents do for a living?
B: My dad worked on the railroad as a section foreman and my mother was ill. She spent about the first 12 years of my life in bed, and we finally found out she was anemic and the doctors treated her, cured her of it, and when I was about 14 years old she was able to be up and around and we,
the rest of her, our my time at home mother was always up with us and taking us to church raising us the way the Lord commanded and we really had a wonderful life.
I: So what were you doing right before you enlisted?
B: Going to school. I, was in my senior year in December, I lacked one credit finishing school
so I went and joined the army, took GED test finished high school in military. So I’ve never known anything but farming, school and military life up until I retired.
I: How old were you when enlisted?
B: I was 18 years old on 23rd day in November and I joined the military December the seventh. Just barely, hey I wasn’t dry behind the ears,
yeah, just a young, young guy.
I: So what made you decide to enlist?
B: That is a funny story. Me and two more boys in our high school were member of the Arkansas National Guard. We went to a meeting one night, we would always go up
on the highway and hitchhike into DeQueen which was ten miles away and this time, the first car that come by
picked us up and took us all the way to town. So we got there rather early. We’s walking down the street before time for the meeting to start and we passed the Army Recruiting office and all three of us at one time says let’s go in and give this guy a hard time. So we went into the Recruiting office. The guy gave us three sheets of paper we went and took tests
and he come back and says all three of you maxed your test.
I can put you in any organization anywhere in the Army you want to go. So we went along with him. He gave us tickets and sent us to Texarkana 54 miles away. Next morning they called us up to the post office there in Texarkana and the fourth floor was the Recruiting office. Well when we got up to the Recruiting office man come out and gave us their physical and gave us more tests and he says I’ve never seen
people that could take tests and make scores like you three have. Where do you want to serve and what do you want to do? And we all three says we want to be engineers. So we got orders send us to Fort Riley Kansas, Camp Funston, 10th Infantry Division, which is my plaque here [SHOWS FRAMED BADGES] shows the 10th Infantry Mountain Division [POINT TO BADGE] is where
I took basic training at Camp Funston, Fort Riley, Kansas in 49 and early 50. Then after we got out of basic training we went to Fort Belvoir Virginia for engineer school. After we got out of engineer school my two buddies, one’s name started with a B and the other with a C, they both got Panama. Hard service [PUTS FRAMED BADGES DOWN]
very rough service. Mine starting with a W, I was assigned to Japan. Well when I got to Camp Stoneman California for my trip to Japan they tore my orders up and gave me orders for Korea. The war was just getting wound up and going strong. So I went to Tokyo and spent
two months in Tokyo preparing. Then we got on the Alexander M Patch ship, troop ship, in Pier 5 in Yokohama Japan. Three days later we stopped in the Inchon Harbor and the Mighty Mo, I don’t know whether you know what the Big Mo is or not but it’s a gunship, they have eight inch guns and all night long we sat in Inchon Harbor
hearing that big battleship behind us firing and seeing the results when it hit in Korea. I mean they really bombed it all night long with those guns. The next morning at daybreak we went over the side of the ship on the ladders down into LSTs and we went ashore. I made the Inchon landing September the fifteenth 1950.
Spent 16 months in Korea and came back home, was discharged, reenlisted and went to Germany for three years. And from that time on I was known as a military man because that’s all I ever done for 21, next 21 and a half years.
I: So when you arrived at Inchon that was your very first landing in Korea?
B: The Inchon landings were MacArthur. All of the big wigs of the Korean War went in on September the 15th 1950. That was known as the invasion of Korea when the Inchon Landing.
I: So when you first enlisted did it cross your mind that you might be in a war?
B: Never and I wound up in two [LAUGHS]. No I just figured I’d go in and stay
three, first three years and get out and just do everything else but when I got out back to the states in 1951, Harry Truman was the president and I lack three days being ready for separation and he made an announcement that he was giving everybody another year, especially ones that was just fixing to get out.
So I says if he can give me three, I can take, or one, I can take five more, so I went down and reenlisted for six years [LAUGHS] and the rest is history. I would up being there twenty-one and a half years before I got out.
I: So the engineers, what branch of the military?
B: What I learned to do is take four aerial photographs and lay them down on the table and put a scope on them and draw
military maps fro, with all of the terrain, ups and downs and the depressions and everything on it you could draw a complete map of everything on there and show the elevation of all the hills, the low of all the valleys, everything on military map we, we drew. They spent fifty thousand dollars back in 1949
to send me to engineer school and I never spent one day in the engineers. I reenlisted for it three times and never did get it [LAUGHS] but I learned to cope as an administrative NCO. We call them paper shufflers. I did that for 20 years.
I: So what branch of the military was it?
B: US Army, Field Artillery is what I wound up in instead of Engineers.
I: And what was your unit?
B: In Korea? I was
with A Battery 15th field artillery, 2nd Infantry Division [PICKS UP FRAMED BADGES AND POINTS TO BADGE] the Indian Head. That, that was my unit in Korea was Indian Head. [PUTS FRAMED BADGES DOWN]
I: So when you arrived at Inchon and you were part of the Infantry or?
B: No, I was in a replacement depot when I first arrived. Nobody was assigned,
none of us that went over was assigned to a specific unit, we just all went in to replace other units that had lost personnel, was in need of build up for the services that they was supposed to be doing and I was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division when, oh, probably about two weeks after I was in country I got assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division.
I: So can you tell me more about the Inchon landing?
B: When the Inchon landing happened, the, I don’t know how many troops was on the ship, but we didn’t go in far enough because the ship’s keel is so low that we it couldn’t go all the way into the harbor. So they had LSTs which is landing
vessels, and you go over, they throw, you’ve seen him throw the rope over the edge of the ship and drop down and you climb down the ladder into the water? Well we went down that we had our duffel bag across our chest [GESTURES TO SHOW RIFLES ON SHOULDER] and our rifles on our shoulder and our helmets on and we went down that ramp or not ramp but rope until we got to the bottom and then we swung out and fell down into this LST
and when it got full there was several of them setting there and one got full it would take off, go toward the shore and when it got 50 to 100 feet out from the shore the front end of that LST would drop down [GESTURES] and when it dropped down everybody took off running, hitting the water up to and [GESTURES] wading into shore. And luckily we never lost any troops there but I had a good friend
that I had known that lived just, my hometown by the way is 177 population, metropolis, so when we got over there this one gentleman that lived less than two blocks from me at home went in with me and we were assigned to the same unit. His name was Tracy Roden and when we took off for the place where we was supposed to bivouac, there was a river
between where we were and our bivouac area and Tracy Roden went into that river. Tracy Roden has never been seen or heard from since. We don’t know what happened to him. His mother passed away several years ago and never knew the fate of her son. We went in and it was just a school yard. Little classrooms all the
way around and then nothing but a big field in the middle of it and that is where we camped for two weeks waiting on assignment, and when we were assigned we went out and got on trucks and took off and went to the unit that we had been assigned to. But as a 18 year old, I didn’t understand anything that was going on. Everything was new to me. I had gone behind mules and horses plowing all my life
raising cattle and pigs and the chickens and this was all new to me and as a 18 year old I wasn’t comprehending anything that was going on. Now that I look back I have spent all the time I did in the military I fully understand what was going on but at that time I was just like a cow [LAUGHS] they told me go here and I
went there. They says do this I did that and I had no idea what I was doing or why I was doing it until I spent quite a bit of time over there and it after a while I got to realizing that we were fighting a war and I’m sorry to say, that when I got home, back in 1951, all we heard from
everybody, was rapists, baby killers, murderers. We were called everything you can imagine. Everything you can even think about people being called bad names we were called that. And actually we were ashamed to even confess that we were members of the military because
we knew what was going to happen if somebody found out that we was military. They would fight us because we wore the American uniform. When I first got home in 1951, I got married about eight to ten days after I got back home with a girl I’d gone with in high school and we would go to a restaurant
and when I would sit down in that restaurant to eat, having spent the 16 months in Korea, I would look at the next table over and those people were looking at me and I felt that in their mind they had weapons and they wanted to shoot. And I would eat maybe five or six bites of the food I was eating and
I would tell my wife here’s money to pay for the food, I’ll be sitting in the car outside when you get done. I was so frightened that I could not sit down and sit there for any period of time. I couldn’t converse with anybody. I spent so much time by myself that it took me over a year
to get to where I could go into restaurants, sit down and enjoy a meal. If you haven’t been in the situation you can’t understand how the feelings is that everybody that’s around you is against you. And that’s what a lot of suicides have come up over, military that went over and you cannot explain
to a civilian that haven’t been in it what it’s like for a young 18 year old boy to spend that much time in the war zone and be expected to come home and resume a normal life. It will never, ever be normal again. Even after, next Sunday, I’ll be 83. I was 18 when I was in Korea
and I still have periods of time when, leave me alone, I don’t want to be involved in anything you’re doing, just let me be alone for a while until I can get over this. And it’s still, even today, people, that have served in war zone, I can fully understand the problems that they’re having today.
I’m thinking of all the young people that’s coming back from Afghanistan, Iraq, all even Desert Storm back a few year before this went on, and I actually understand the anxiety that they suffer from having been in the war zone.
I: So can you kind of tell me your journey, your time during Korea, what types of places did you serve [WHITELY LAUGHS]
what battles were you involved in?
B: We landed at the Inchon [COUGHS] pardon me, and it was assigned to the Division [COUGHS] and we went all the way north. Chinese crossed the border, we went all the way south and after regrouping in Pusan, we started back north again. For 16 months I never saw the inside of a building.
We had sleeping bags and I drove a five-ton ammunition truck and I slept every night under that truck.
I: So were you up near the, Pusan, sorry
B: Yalu River?
B: Yes ma’am
I: When the Chinese enter the war?
B: Yes ma’am.
I: Can you tell me about that?
B: We went all the way up north and I still hold Truman accountable for this.
MacArthur said let’s go across the river and completely annihilate all of these people and the war will be over. And I truly believe even to today if Truman had left MacArthur alone we would have never had a Vietnam. We would never had the Desert Storm. We’d never had Afghanistan, Iraq. But
Truman says come home you are relieved of duty and Matthew B. Ridgeway come in and took over the command that MacArthur had. As soon as he did that, the Chinese started blowing all kind of trumpets, every kind of noise that you can think of. They came across that River and we turn and ran like dogs, and we ran all the way
to Pusan, the entire length of the Korean Peninsula. We went from north of it to the tip of the south of it. We lost many, many good fighting men during the, well I’m going to say it, retreat because that’s what we really did we retreated and we ran all the way back to Pusan regrouped got new people assigned to replace
the ones we had lost and started north again. And we got to the 38th parallel and Truman says that’s it, don’t cross it. We’re going to create a buffer zone at the 38th parallel North Korea will stay north, South Korea will stay south and we’ve had nothing but problems in Korea ever since. If he had left MacArthur alone
we wouldn’t have the problems in Korea that we’re having today. Now I’m off, I’m getting off my pedestal now. [LAUGHS]
I: Can you share any stories or describe more about what it was like?
B: Well when I was hauling ammunition we’d go back to the dock and pick up all this ammo and come up and the guns would be setting in this position, six of them, and we’d pull down and pull in behind the guns
and start unloading ammo. The ammo boxes, I was in a 105 outfit and the boxes of ammo weighed 105 pounds and it was a box about so high [GESTURES] so long and about so wide [GESTURES] and it had ropes on each end and you reach down pick the ropes up and set ’em off. The Gunners was there to pick up ammo and take it to the guns. Well we’d get behind the guns
and I’m like this, the guns are all here, [GESTURES] and when you picked up on those boxes, about the time you’d start on loading ammo we’d get 1,200 rounds fire at will. That meant each gun, six guns was firing 1,200 rounds apiece. They didn’t wait on any commands when they got the, breached the round, they pulled the lanyard and fired it, and you’re sitting there
in a truck about 20 yards away from the guns and every time a gun fires, it recalls, and all of the blast of that gun comes right back and slaps you right in the side of the head. Unknowingly I got my eardrums busted, and about three years later I was assigned to an outfit where I was radio operator, and I could not hear the radio.
And this was in 1953. Then all technology had never occurred and they told me, don’t bother trying to get hearing aids, they will not do you a bit of good. So I went without hearing from 1953 until about 2012. My wife’s family come over one day and they sit there in the house visiting, and I’m close to ’em
as I’m sitting to you now, I didn’t hear a word going on. I got up next morning and went over on the south, east side of town and went to a hearing aid center and told him what I had been told. He says, sit down on that chair and I’ll see if I can help you. He tested me and says, I definitely can help you, and I said well that’s good news. So he ordered me a set of hearing aids and I got ’em two weeks later
and he says now I want to show you something and be prepared because you don’t know what you’re fixing to hear. He took a sheet of paper just like you’ve got there and just crinkled up like that and popped it and I come out the chair. I had never heard a racket like paper makes. I didn’t realize that wadding up paper and pulling it out made a sound. I’d never heard birds in singing in trees. A lot of things I had never
experienced and it took me about six months to get accustomed to those hearing aids. But now with modern technology I can hear wonderful. They, they whistle at you when you touch them but they work. And I can I can hear now, I can carry on conversations with people and enjoy it, but for years and years I never had the privilege of hearing what was going on. Grandbabies,
[SHAKES HEAD] I didn’t realize noises some of them make. [LAUGHS] But it’s wonderful to be able to say I proudly served my country and I’m sorry it’s so many people, but this is a new experience to us. About five years ago I went back home and I’m sitting in Walmart and
being disabled, I can’t stand up walk very often or far. So when my wife went over to shop I went over and sat down out in the vestibule and this woman come out with two grocery carts completely rounded up with groceries and me sitting there with my hat on she walked out of Walmart and stopped and looked at me setting over and she abandoned her two buggies of grocery and come over
and says sir, thank you. And that was the first experience about five years ago that I had with someone saying thank you for your service. But now it has become so ordinary, very seldom do I go anywhere in town or anywhere out of the area somewhere else that we’re not greeted and told
Thank you and it is greatly appreciated.
I: So when you were in Korea, what was your duties?
B: I was a switchboard operator for about three months in communications and then we lost the man that was drove an ammo truck and they asked me if I’d consider driving an ammunition truck and the rest of the time that I was in Korea I drove ammo truck. Go back, pick up ammo,
bring it up, unload it, go back and get another load and we had four trucks and they was going just as hard and fast as they could day and night hauling ammo into fire.
I: What did it look like when you’re hauling ammo can you kind of paint a picture for me what that scene would be?
B: Well when we got over there the country was a lot of forest. Trees growing everywhere. But
the North Koreans and the Chinese started hiding in these forests and they come in with napalm bombers and they started strafing all the grounds everywhere and all you would see is just things sticking up no leaves no branches no nothing they had burnt everything. I never saw a village. I don’t know
I guess where we were going up and down country that we never went into a village area of any kind. It was all desolated country, no houses, no buildings of any kind, no nothing. Just they would make roads we had graders as we had to engineer outfit in our second division and they would go in and make roads
for us to go up and down and we went up and down roads that our own units built all the time I was over there but the countryside that you went down through, there was nothing. Rice patties oh, they had rice patties all over the place, muddy knee-deep water [CHUCKLES] mud but I never saw inside of a building all 16 months that I was there. It was,
you lived outside. So that’s, that’s where I got my traveling. My wife and I have owned four RVs since I got out. We’ve driven over 250,000 miles. There’s not a state we haven’t been in. England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Netherlands, Belgium. We’ve traveled all over I’ve driven to Alaska and back seven times.
But that’s the freedom that I spent all my time to earn, to be able to go and do and we do it.
I: So what was the date that you left Korea?
B: The date? It was the last part, don’t remember the exact date, but it was the last part of November, 1951.
I: And when did you actually arrive back in the U.S.?
the first or second of December of 51.
I: And what did you do after that?
B: I was assigned to Fort Polk Louisiana, until I was discharged, re-enlisted, went to Germany, spent three years in Germany, come back from Germany, two years later I
went back to Germany, come back from Germany, went to Vietnam,
back to Vietnam, went to Alaska, come back from Alaska, was assigned here Fort Bliss and on the first day of August 1970, I retired.
I: So what made you decide to continue in the military?
B: Actually I got out in 1953 and 20 days I look for a job and I couldn’t find a job,
and I says, I know where I can get a job and they pay good, so I went down to the recruiting
office, reenlisted and never spent another day out, every time I would come up to my discharge date I would just automatically reenlist and finally I says well, I’ve got too much time in to quit now and by the way, all three of us that went down and join the military that time
together, all three of us retired with over 20 years of military service.
B: So, and my brother who was 7 or 9 years younger than I, went in the military in that little old town of 177 population on our school auditorium wall [GESTURES] we have an honor roll. It’s this wide, and about this high [GESTURES]
and the sheets of paper about this high [GESTURES] and it’s got everybody’s name on it and the dates of their military service and in that little town of 177 population starting with the second world war that board is full. There’s no more room to add another name.
I: What is Korea to you now?
B: Korea? I hear all kind of stories about
people coming back from Korea with skyscrapers, highways, paved roads, autobahn, not autobahns, that’s Germany, freeways and it is just hard to realize that all of this exists in Korea when you saw all the devastation that you saw for 16 months, you say how can it be
that they’ve got high rises, skyscrapers, everything now that we see here all over the United States, it’s prevalent over there also. I really have got seriously thinking here in just the last few months that I might really consider going back over and seeing Korea in its state that
it’s in today. But it’s going to take a time to believe that they actually have everything they’ve got over there today. They say it’s a modern country today then it’s got everything that we have here in the United States. But I’ve got to see it to believe it. [LAUGHS] It’s just hard to believe that it’s not the same wasteland and everything it was
in 1950 and 51.
I: And what do you think of the legacy of the Korean War and the Korean War veterans?
B: I think we’ve got a great legacy. It took a long time to get it, because people weren’t willing to accept the fact that we were actually trying to protect them from
an invasion on our own shore and it was lot better that we went there and fought the war than having them come here and having ’em fight ’em here in the United States. I think the fighting men that was spent time in Korea has deserved recognition that they served their country and served it very well. It took a long time to convince
the personnel here in the United States that we did, but I believe now they’ve started understanding that the American fighting men that served their time in Korea did it for their benefit and I think our legacy of serving our country in Korea was a great service to our country. I believe that until they put me six foot under
out here at Fort Bliss. I’m proud that I served my country that I spent 21 and a half years fighting in two different wars to protect my loved ones and even ones that I just come in contact with around going from place to place. I’ve protected them too and I appreciate the service that I served.
I: Do you have any words of wisdom or advice, a message for the younger generations?
B: As a military retiree, I will say right now, there is no greater occupation that you can get, having served and now being a disabled American veteran, I have an income every month,
that if I hadn’t served in the military I’d be out here digging ditches, working eight to five every day, where I’m not able to work because of my disability. But, having served my country, I’ve got the income coming in every single month and I’m free to do what I want to do when I want to do it. So my
advice is, join some branch of the military service and do the job that it calls for and you will never be sorry when you’ve got, when your time comes, to get out and say okay, where’s my pay every month and it will be there every month for you.
0:37:25 [End of Recorded Material]