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Military Quotes

Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.

-- Napoleon Bonaparte

KoreaThe following is a summation of my recollections of the Korean War while stationed at Kimpo Air Force Base. I was assigned as a radio man to the 45th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron a photo reconnaissance squadron. The squadron flew the World War II P-51's which were actually designated RF-51 (Reconnaissance Fighter) but we always referred to them as P-51's or Mustangs.
I arrived 1 January 1952 and in May of 1952 was reassigned to Seoul City Air Force Base and the Fireflys, "The Old Lamplighters Of The Korean Hills" as we were called. We dropped flares at night for the troops fighting on the ground.

The War

Unlike World War II there was not a great deal of enthusiasm or support for the Korean war. It was often referred to as Harry Truman's war and with good reason. After WW II Harry Truman miscalculated our military needs and decimated the strength of our military. He then made the mistake of informing the world that we would not come to the aid of any country west of Japan, that included South Korea. Then after the war was underway he refused to fight to win.

Of the 1,319,000 Americans who served 142,000 were killed wounded or captured. The death rate was nearly three times that of the Vietnam War. The POW death count was the highest of any conflict in this nations history. There were also 5,178 MIA's never accounted for and 2,730 POW's that were known to be alive but never repatriated.

The Base

Kimpo is just north west of the city of Seoul. When the war broke out on Sunday June 25, 1950 Kimpo was used as the main evacuation point for diplomats living in Seoul. For the next two days air transports of all types were landing and taking off with evacuees.

This was not done without hazards however, North Korean fighter aircraft were a constant threat and they were determined to shoot the transports down. On the 27th of June for example North Korean airmen in eight fighters attempted an attack on the transports but four were shot down by US jets and the remaining aircraft returned to the north. Later that day Kimpo fell to the advancing North Korean forces.

The Inchon invasion took place on 15 September 1950 and two days later on the 17th Kimpo was back in US hands. But it once again fell to the enemy on 4 Jan 1951 as the fighting again moved south. Then on 10 Feb Kimpo was, for the final time, captured by US forces. Being captured and being secure however were two different things. It was still not unusual to be shot at or to come under attack by infiltrators. Let me describe several of my experiences.

One evening one of the men in our tent went out to the latrine. When he did not return we went looking for him and found him between the tents stabbed.

One morning there was much commotion several tents away. During the night infiltrators had slit the side of the tent open, entered and silently killed several men. At this time both officers and enlisted men were quartered in tents but in separate areas.

One morning as I was walking past the base commanders quarters South Korean military police were dragging a man out to their truck, they shot him in the head just before tossing him in the back. Seems he had gained entrance to the commanders quarters and attacked him with a knife. The commander was successful in fighting off the attacker.

And then there was "Bed Check Charlie" as we called him. This was a light all wood and canvas aircraft flown by North Koreans just after dark and was used to harass us. He would fly over toss out small bombs hoping to hit a tent, aircraft or something else of importance. I found these night time extravaganza's rather exciting. The sirens would go off, big search lights would come on to try to find him and anti-aircraft batteries would begin firing with tracers which would light up the sky better than any Fourth of July that I had ever seen, and all the time we in trenches were shooting our rifles in all directions. Bed Check Charlie was very elusive and only one was ever brought down. Because Charlie flew so slow it was decided in late 1951 to bring in a navy F4U Corsair fighter aircraft. The F4U was noted for its ability to land on aircraft carriers at very slow speeds. So one evening when Charlie arrived the F4U took off and got behind him, the pilot of the F4U was still flying to fast so he dropped his flaps and even his wheels but still to fast and before the F4U pilot could maneuver further he hit Charlie and both fell in flames.

It was wise to be armed and alert at all times, I wore a pistol 24 hours a day and often had it in my hand at night. This pistol was purchased by my grandfather when he was a circus performer in the 1880's. It was a 32 center fire, very accurate, easy to conceal and use. I was not alone in sleeping with a pistol and occasionally some one would end up either shooting themselves or someone else.

Then in February 1952 our Commanding Officer of the 45th, Lt. Col. Thomas A Hudson Jr. called us all together. He stood in the back of a large truck using it as a platform and told us that the Chinese were intent on retaking the base and were seen just a few miles north in great numbers. He said that it was expected we could hold out for three days before being overrun and that a detachment of Marines were expected to arrive and relieve us in five days. He went on to say that we were short of ammunition and that if we ran out we were to use our bayonets, there would be no retreat. Fortunately for me on the second day aircraft radios began to fail and they needed me back at the base to repair them. As I worked in a Quonset Hut I could hear bullets hitting the roof. At one point I went out to an aircraft and a mechanic next to me was shot in the leg. What saved us was the P-51s flying with napalm. The enemy was so close that the P-51s would take off and never retract their wheels, drop their napalm and return to load up again.

The Mission

In the front of Squadron Headquarters was a sign which said "First Over The Target - Last To Leave". The job of photo reconnaissance was to take pictures of a target area before a bombing raid, then to stay until the raid was over and then take a second set of photos. This involved lots of low flying which meant lots of ground fire and sometimes even avoiding cables that were strung between hills in an attempt to snag aircraft. Photo reconnaissance was a very dangerous profession. I knew one pilot who was shot down four times in three days. Indeed it was extremely stressful for the pilots. It was the pilots who were being wounded or killed sometimes daily, they were the hero's in our squadron.

The Aircraft

The P-51 was not well suited for the job as a photo reconnaissance aircraft because it was far to susceptible to ground fire. The Russians during World War II had a reconnaissance aircraft that was virtually immune to ground fire because it had heavy armor plating, the P-51 had no such armor. Some of the pilots had their crew chiefs install armor steel plating under and in back of the seat to protect them but they did not have the facilities to add further armor. It was rather exciting working around the P-51s. Every time one would land we would have to put cages around the tires because the tires would be so hot from landing they would sometimes explode. And then the machine guns were often so hot that after the aircraft had parked the guns would go off. But it was a beautiful aircraft, I still get excited when I hear the sound of a Mustang. The crew chiefs knew their aircraft so well that they could hear their individual aircraft returning long before any of the rest of us and they could also tell if the engine was running smoothly. Almost daily there were terrible crashes but not always with our squadron. Kimpo was the main base for many squadrons. There were also many Australians as well as the South Korean Air Force. Working on the flight line I would see them come in on fire, sometimes with the wheels up, they would often loose hydraulics which would mean no flaps for landing and no brakes. It was obvious when this happened because they would go off the end of the runway with no decrease in speed and often burst into flames. Pilots that were hurt real bad would sometimes land in the taxi way and crash into our working area, so it was always important to keep an eye open for what was happening around us.

Living Conditions

Only the base commander lived in a Quonset Hut, everyone else lived in tents. The tents had wooden floors and doors. With temperatures often in the -20 degree range heating was a problem. Each tent had two oil stoves but oil was in short supply. As oil tanks would get low we would have after dark raiding parties to find tanks full with oil and then steal them. But often this effort was for not because another raiding party would then steal our tank. We had house boys that would make our beds and clean. They had a fascination with our loaded guns which were everywhere and they would often shoot themselves or someone else. We also could never be sure that they were not North Korean sympathizers. Our clothing was not adequate for the arctic like weather. We had the standard military issue of clothing exactly the same as personnel stationed in the tropics. We also had the standard issue of very light weight sleeping bags which we used on top of military cots. It was often difficult to sleep because we were so cold but we were much better off than the troops 20 miles to the north who slept on the ground each night, sometimes in deep snow.

The food, ah the food. I was never much on eating but the food we were served was atrocious. C-Rations were much better and every chance we had to eat C-Rations we did. We ate from a field kitchen in which one would walk down a line outside in the open with mess gear in hand and be served whatever. For breakfast we would have cereal with powdered milk. The milk tasted and looked like chalk water and contained grainy little bits of something. Eggs were also served but were powdered and had similar characteristics to that of the milk. Pancakes were just about impossible to chew so they were not a popular item. My eating routine went something like this. I found my canteen cup to be the best all around food container and used it in preference to field mess gear which was clumsy to use and carry. I would start the day with a canteen cup of coffee and after that I would get some corn flakes in the same cup add water and that was breakfast. At other meals I would just fill the cup with whatever and with a spoon have my feast. I became very enamored with my canteen cup and thought it the ideal food implement so when it came time to return home I brought it back with me. Now almost 50 years later I start the day with my same canteen cup of coffee then I have my corn flakes but now with milk.

There was an open air shower but with no hot water so even in the summer there were few takers. It was often said that it was time to change your socks if when you took them off in the evening they stuck as you tossed them against the side of the tent. It was always fun when new replacements would arrive, the first thing they would ask was "where is the latrine" and we would point and say follow your nose. Then in a few minutes they would return and ask where the TP was stored and we would all have a good laugh.
Note: by Herbert A (Art) Rideout, Kimpo AFB, Korea 1952, 45th TRS 67th TRW.


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