Memories of the Korean War: From Farm Boy to Soldier
by Retired Col. Paul E. Idol
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Paul E. Idol served as a staff sergeant in Korea from 1952-53. After leaving the active army, he joined the Kansas National Guard, where he retired as a colonel.
Retired Col. and Korean War Veteran Paul E. Idol
with his Korean War Service Medal.
Other than fighting wars, the average soldier goes through many experiences that are sometimes more memorable, and, at times, more traumatic, than war itself. My war was the Korean War, 1952-53.
It all started when I received my greetings from the "Draft Board" telling me they needed me as soon as possible. Leaving home with only the clothes on my back and going to the induction station was a huge step for a farm boy from rural Kansas. Looking back, it was the beginning of a great adventure that would never be forgotten. As with most recruits, I had no clue as to what lay ahead, nor where future military assignments would take me.
The first great challenge for any new soldier is basic training and advanced training, especially if its infantry. If you make it through four months of this rigorous training and harassment, you have become pretty well acclimated to military life. My mother died unexpectedly while I was in basic training and this added emotional burden made military training even more difficult. Life went on and all required training was completed.
After several weeks at home, I took my first commercial airline flight to Seattle to catch the General C.C. Ballau, a World War II (WWII) Kaiser built Liberty ship that would take me to the Far East - Japan and/or Korea. Sailing the Pacific Ocean on a small troop ship with 4,000 troops had to be one of the worst experiences of my military career, including my time with a rifle company during the war. Thousands of seasick troops confined to a small area cannot be appropriately described, unless you have been there.
The 5,500 mile trip across the Pacific took 16 days. We landed in Yokohama Harbor, near Tokyo. We were quartered at Camp Drake, Japan, for a few days to receive our marching orders. Out our front door we could clearly see Mt. Fuji, one of the most beautiful and largest volcanoes in the world.
My orders were unexpected, but never questioned. I would be going to the Eta Jima Specialist School for 30 days to become a combat medic. Eta Jima is an island off the coast of Kuri, near Hiroshima. It was the Japanese Naval Academy before and during WWII. It was a beautiful small island with wonderful accommodations. The great admirals of the Japanese Navy had attended this school early in their military careers. I slept in the barracks and ate in the mess halls where these Japanese heroes once spent their time.
Leaving Eta Jima, we went by rail to the seaport of Sasebo for shipment to Korea. We were issued all of our fighting gear at this port. A large sign in the dock area read "Through this port pass the best damn soldiers in the world." I was hoping the sign was right. We crossed the Japanese Sea on flat bottom LCI's or LCT's (landing craft), and we slept on the bottom of the craft in our sleeping bags. What a rough ride it was!
The foggy, rough mountainous coastline of the South Korean peninsula near Pusan will stay in my memory forever. Somewhere in this troubled land, our journey would end, hopefully for only a short period of time. This is the "land of the morning calm," but in 1950-53, the mornings in this small Asian country were anything but calm. This we would see for ourselves in just a few days.
We disembarked from the landing crafts at the Port of Pusan, one of the largest cities on the Southern Coast of the Korean Peninsula. This city had become the sanctuary for hundreds of thousands of South Korean refugees who had fled the North Korean invasion forces early in the war. The city was a mass of hungry, dirty and homeless people living in despair.
We boarded a narrow gauge train that would take us north to the war zone, somewhere near the 38th parallel, approximately 200 miles. We quickly noticed the children of war that congregated along the railroad tracks. Whenever we stopped, we gave them C-rations or whatever food items we had to spare. The kids were orphans, living day-by-day in cardboard or corrugated tin shelters or in caves nearby. Some of the older ones were taking care of their younger brothers or sisters. It was winter and there was not a soldier on the train that was not concerned about the welfare and future of these children. It was too painful to even think about.
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