Region veterans of the Korean War
"Mortar fire and shrapnel were coming down almost like rain."
Korean War veteran Bruce Ross talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran William Parks discusses his time in the U.S. Army.
Korean War veteran Carmen Foresta talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Charles "Mike" Mikovetz talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Joe Pupillo talks about his service time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Manoly Traycoff talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Eugene Hanyzewski talks about his time in Korea.
Korean War veteran Ted Erceg talks about his time in Korea.
Childhood friends Ted Erceg and Joe Pupillo grew up a block apart in the Kirk Yard neighborh…
For the past three months, The Times has been interviewing Korean War veterans as part of an…
Korean War veteran Charles "Mike" Mikovetz talks about some of the injuries he sustained ser…
Most of the action paratrooper Eugene Hollingsworth saw in the Korean War was in athletic competitions, not on the battlefield.
Hollingsworth, of Portage, has vivid memories of that war, beginning with the vaccinations given at an induction center shortly after he enlisted Feb. 29, 1952.
"Great big guys who were older than me were passing out," he said.
"I don't know if I had ever had a shot. I don't know; I don't remember them," he said. "But seeing these great big guys just getting a shot and — bang! — down on the floor."
Hollingsworth trained as a paratrooper — he had been on five plane rides before his first landing — but didn't spend much time jumping out of a plane in Korea.
"We emptied a lot of trucks of ammunition. We must have emptied countless trucks of ammunition and food supplies," he said. "I think that's what they took us over there for, really. Not to fight, certainly. I don't think we lost anybody" in his U.S. Army Airborne unit.
He remembers digging out old bunkers left behind by the enemy.
"It was my turn in the hole, so I was in there digging — you know, we've got these little military shovels; they're only about 30 inches long — and I hit something. It sounded more like a rock. It was metal. And one of the guys — there were about three or four of us — and one of the guys said, 'I think that's a grenade.'"
"If there was a medal for clearing a bunker," he said. "I got out of there like a shot!"
The grenade, fortunately, was a dud.
Behind the lines, the troops had built an amphitheater like terraced rice paddies and could "watch movies every night if you wanted to."
He "had a lot of beer, had a lot of ice cream" in his time off. "Killing time is about what it amounted to," he said.
When his unit returned to Japan, Hollingsworth was the company clerk.
"And I'm in the office doing whatever clerks do, and the football coach came in and said, 'Can you type this up for me?' It was a whole list of players that were on the team or going to try out for the team, and this guy's an all-city, this guy's an all-state, and this guy's all kinds of things."
Hollingsworth was playing catch with some of the players afterward, and the coach asked if Hollingsworth had ever played football.
"And, yes, I had, at Wirt," he said. The coach invited him to try out for the team.
"I said, 'I just typed out a list for you, and these guys were all-conference, all-state, they were everything, and I don't think I'd have much luck trying out for your team," Hollingsworth said.
Hollingsworth had played quarterback at Wirt High School in Gary.
"In fact, I got a commendation here. I had forgotten all about it. Some general sent me a commendation here for playing football.
"We ended up being the co-champions in the the Japanese football league," Hollingsworth said. "We played the Army, the Air Force, the Marines, and ended up being co-champions."
The same coach next picked Hollingsworth to play basketball.
"And all this time you're on special duty, and all you do is go to practice and play," Hollingsworth said. "It was really a neat service.
"We got through with the basketball season, and I tried out for the track team and made that. And after that I played baseball. So for over a year I did nothing but play sports," he said.
"Finally, it was time to go home, and I said, 'Oh nuts!'"
There are some photos of Hollingsworth from back in that era, wearing his Army uniform and his football uniform, but other memorabilia are gone. He lost his duffel bag on the way to Korea and again on the way back.
The Fourth of July always brings back memories of the Korean War for James Watkin, of Valparaiso.
Exploding fireworks remind him of the Fourth of July in 1953 in Korea when he saw the bombs bursting in air, and the U.S. flag wasn't still there.
"Right as you come off the road there was a little guardhouse with the American flag, and the shell came down — I just happened to be looking — and hit this guardhouse and the flag, and neither one existed," Watkin said.
"When I see the flag flying yet today, I still remember how an enemy destroyed our flag."
Later in his interview, Watkin returned to that memory.
"But the saddest day of my whole career in the Army was the Fourth of July when you see shells dropping, trees being blown up by the assault of them. And there was this one guy standing in this little guardhouse, about 3 by 3 or 3 by 4, and all at once he just disappeared with a big hole in the ground," he said.
"Every time on the Fourth of July when we have all the fireworks shows around, I can see the real fireworks from shells bursting in air."
That Fourth of July in 1953 wasn't the only time U.S. Army Private 1st Class James Watkin was close to danger. He remembers the night he personally came closest to death — or as he put it, "the one day in my life that I had seriously been in a dangerous situation."
"The Chinese forces kept shooting at us, and we were right near the spot, and many times we couldn't sleep in our tents," Watkin said. "We had to go out, and one night in particular I remember. We went back into our tents the next morning, and my bunk, the cot I was sleeping on, it was just shot full of holes."
He was injured at another time, but not as bad as many.
"I was hitching up a Jeep to a trailer, and I had my thumb at the wrong spot, and it mashed my thumb. They took me down to the medics, and this first sergeant said, 'Let me get you a medal for that.' I said no, 'I don't want anything. Let it go.'"
Watkin did lose a front tooth, though.
Watkin recalls when "somebody up the chain of command decided they wanted to take this little hill called Pork Chop Hill."
There about 1,000 men in his batallion who went up the hill to face the Chinese, "and when they came back down, there was about half that many left, other than those who had been wounded and killed in action."
Watkin had stayed behind to guard the equipment.
"A lot of people lost a lot more. I had one friend who was in the battle of Pork Chop Hill. He got, a shell hit right in front of him, and he was alive a a very short while, and then he died. I hated that like everything."
That was disturbing, but it shouldn't be surprising in a war. But one event in particular was.
"One thing that always surprised me. It was during the battle of Pork Chop Hill," Watkin recalled. "They called a truce right in the middle of the battle, and our side went up and got the wounded, and the Chinese went up and did the same thing.
"And I don't know how long this truce lasted — I don't remember — but our troops traded trinkets and badges and everything with the Chinese and shook hands and I don't know what all, and after a short time they went back to fighting each other."
Watkin, a member of the First United Methodist Church in Valparaiso, remembers the atheist who went up the hill to fight that battle.
"After the battle, our chaplain said, 'Let's have a big prayer meeting.' And this atheist was sitting right on the front row shouting 'Amen!'"
While Watkin was in Korea, late in the war, he kept hearing talk of peace talk. "We kept thinking, 'Why can't they sign that?'"
After the war, Watkin came back to the States to farm and raise a family. In 1962, he moved to Valparaiso to work at Pinney-Purdue Farm. The weather was 10 below — harsh for Indiana, but a reminder of those winters he spent in Korea.
Robert E. Montgomery II was in Korea to rebuild and preserve, not to search and destroy, in the waning days of the Korean War.
That was probably for the best, his wife, Marguerite, wryly observed, given his reactions to what little shooting he saw.
The Army Corps of Engineers specialist second class was aboard a train chugging to Pusan in late July 1953 when it was attacked by "what were probably the last remaining guerrillas" still marauding in that area, Montgomery said. He and his fellow new arrivals promptly stuck their heads out the train windows to see what was happening, Marguerite said. Not something anyone facing enemy fire should do, she noted.
The troop train's attackers were quickly dispatched by other forces in the vicinity.
Upon arrival in Pusan, Bob Montgomery and other members of the 2nd Engineering Group were walking along the city's streets when sirens went off, traffic scattered and everyone went running for cover, except for one GI.
"I had no idea what was going on," said the Highland resident. "It was an air attack. And here I was just standing there. That was the end of my excitement."
The three-year war concluded days later with an armistice on July 27, splitting the nation into communist North Korea and democratic South.
The son of an appliance repairman, Montgomery was born in Washington, Ind., spent his freshman year at Bosse High in Evansville, but graduated from Springfield High in Illinois. He had a year of college at what is now the University of Evansville, studying engineering before enlisting.
Montgomery, who had hoped to join the Navy's Seabees, but there were no openings, spent much of his 18 months in war-torn Korea helping map out plans for rebuilding roads and bridges as well as warehouses and temporary structures for storage from his draftsman's table.
The peacetime duty never put him in any danger (other than from ROK troops guarding the base's perimeter who were known to shoot first and ask questions like "who goes there?" later, he said).
Consquently, the young soldier so far from home became an accidental tourist. A novice photographer, Montgomery has the customary shots of Army buddies and exterior shots on-base and off.
But it is the collection of photos of the countryside, of such clarity it looks as though it was shot yesterday rather than 60 years ago, that attests to his abilities as a photo historian. What he captured through his lenses is a rich visual record of a less-mechanized, near-feudal society that still existed in postwar Korea before the South's emergence as an industrial leader.
Most Korean cities were surrounded by ancient walls that were severely damaged in the war, Montgomery said. His photos of those historical structures reveal the beauty of ornately constructed pagoda-style gates with small inlaid hand-painted tiles. Some of the structures fortunately had withstood the ravages of war as well as time.
He chronicled the life of farmers in their rice paddies. Several are seen shoeing an ox. Another pedals a large grist mill-style wheel, lifting salt water into a canal where it can dry, leaving salt crystals to be gathered.
Montgomery's shot from atop the 1,000 steps on the outskirts of Seoul looks down on one of the few large white Christian crosses he saw in Asia. The contrast between the modern city of Seoul with its stylish stadium and university and the mud huts where people lived on its fringes was striking, Montgomery said.
He saw mothers trudging through sewage in the streets, toting children on their backs.
It was an adventure that was more perilous in arriving (in addition to the train attack, his storm-tossed ship was listing 36 degrees at one point — 38 degrees being a capsizing point, he was told), than in the actual stay.
"It (the experience) provided me with an opportunity to grow up," said Montgomery, who used a bachelor of science in business administration degree in a variety of subsequent jobs.
As for photography? Times were tough financially at one point, and all his camera equipment was sold.
The only time Fred Schultz so much as felt menaced in his 15-month stint as an Air Force radio operator in the Korean War was during a torch-lit May Day demonstration outside his fence-protected base in 1953.
“It was like the scene in the old movie 'Gunga Din,' where they marched around the temple,” the East Chicago Harbor native said of what presumably was a communist sympathizer rally at the Hong Song airfield some 40 miles south of Seoul.
Schultz's Korean consisted of a few phrases, so whatever message the imposing spectacle was meant to convey to President Syngman Rhee and his U.S. allies was lost on him.
The demonstrators didn't typify the people Schultz met in the waning months of a war that split the nation into communist North and democratic South, at the 38th Parallel.
He and his fellow radio operators, who transmitted mostly condensed weather reports, lived in Quonset huts that had no running water, little electricity other than what a generator could provide and only pot belly stoves for heat. Schultz's only opportunity to take a shower came during a week's R&R in Japan.
Their predecessors had engaged locals to help tidy up, and those young people who were helping support their families during a time of war-ravaged deprivation were his acquaintances, he said.
The servicemen paid a “houseboy” $2 a month to sweep, cook and hook them up with a mama-san to launder their clothes. Young girls in pigtails worked in the mess hall, said Schultz, of Munster.
Over time, the Koreans came to see the latest batch of Americans were people who could be trusted. That wasn't always the case with everyone who cycled through the base.
“There evidently were a lot of good GIs they came into contact with,” Schultz said of the industrious, good-natured Koreans.
If they didn't share an identical notion of democracy, the Koreans “definitely liked what we had and hoped they could get some of that,” Schultz said.
He developed a relationship with the houseboy (Jo-dung-soo phonetically), who after the war ended never requested food or money from Schultz, but instead implored his American friend to send him books.
However, cultural rifts were never more evident than on a Thanksgiving Day when base personnel were treated to a meal of pork chops in the mess hall. The master sergeant in charge happened to spy one of Korean cooks slip some pork chops into her garments.
He notified the Republic of Korea police as he had been instructed. After they arrived, they hustled the cook behind the mess hall, tied her hands behind her back, made her kneel and executed her with a single shot.
“He (the master sergeant) would have given her the pork chops if she'd asked,” said Schultz, who shared his compatriot's remorse over the killing.
That South Korean slaying by ROK allies was the only casualty of the war Schultz saw. The only fighting he saw was between fellow servicemen at a dance hall.
By August, the war had ended, and the town was no longer off limits. Schultz, the son of a German immigrant mill worker and mother of Polish descent, discovered he had soul mates who loved American jazz and could jitterbug with him. They would play records and talk as best they could given the language barrier.
Looking back, Schultz said that while the U.S. can no longer be policeman to the world, Korea was a different situation.
“We did them a big favor (saving them from communism),” he said, noting South Korea's thriving capitalist economy now.
If he needed any reminder of how much of an industrial powerhouse South Korea has become, he got one right before he retired 20 years ago from what had once been Youngstown Steel.
“Samsung Steel bought the finishing floor part (of the plant),” he said. “So after we sold that to South Korea, I tried to buy that stock, but they wouldn't sell Samsung over the counter to us.”
Ed Zurawski's mailman, a family friend, was reluctant to give him the envelope in 1952.
"He just stared and looked at me and he says, 'I had to do this. You know, I passed out so many of these ... .' And I said, 'That's OK. What have you got?' He says, 'You've got a letter from the U.S. Selective Service.' I said, 'That's fine; I've been kind of expecting it,'" Zurawski, 82, of Schererville, recalled last week.
Thus began Zurawski's entry into the Korean War.
The U.S. Army veteran learned a lot about "the right way, the wrong way and the Army way." He learned about others as well.
While in basic training, he said, he was participating in a ceremony to honor a soldier who received a Purple Heart. When the troops went to parade rest, gun in front and one hand behind the back, Zurawski heard the man next to him remark, "That was a real pretty tune."
"He didn't know they were playing the national anthem," Zurawski said.
The ship trip to Japan, en route to Korea, was turbulent. "We went, so to speak, like 500 miles out of our way to avoid a hurricane. And that ship was tossed like a toothpick in a glass of water that was being shaken by somebody." Zurawski was seasick.
Most of the trip, he was unable to get to the mess hall because the smell of cooking grease turned his stomach. One time, though, he went for breakfast. The ship was tossing and turning so much that the men's trays were sliding from one end of the table to another. By the time his tray returned to him, "The guy down there was sick, and he urped on my plate." Zurawski rushed up to the deck for fresh air.
When Zurawski arrived in Yokohama, Japan, he went from seasick to homesick.
"At first I took a deep breath, and I thought I was back home," Zurawski said. He was still aboard ship, "but to where we could see the land, see a couple of smokestacks and that, and I thought it was the South Chicago Works, you know. They had a couple of steel mills there."
When he landed in Pusan weeks later, after learning how to become a supply sergeant, he was again struck by how much it looked like home.
"When I got off the boat" at sunrise, "tears welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheeks ’cause that's all it looked like was the Indiana Dunes. There was just one big squat tent, which was headquarters. The rest was just sand dunes. And I thought, 'Lord, what are we doing here? What are we fighting for?'"
That night, he fell asleep in the bunker. When a Korean soldier woke him up, "I thought I was taken prisoner." Then he learned 10 percent of the troops with the Americans were South Korean.
That proved an issue on the front lines, he said, because there were some times when the Korean allies wouldn't shoot. It was a civil war, he said, and the Koreans would occasionally say, "I don't want to kill my father or my uncle or my family."
Another time, his unit, the 45th Infantry Division, scaled Christmas Hill in the dark. The path was 3 feet wide, at most, in points. The men were instructed to keep their left hand on the rock wall at all times. That's what kept them from falling off the side of the mountain. In the daylight, the men were surprised to look down and see what they had scaled.
Another time, his unit was under heavy attack, and he was frantically trying to pry open crates of grenades for a fellow soldier, he said.
"He was throwing hand grenades like Dizzy Dean was throwing baseballs," Zurawski said.
There were times when Ed Wroblewski had to feel there was someone watching over him as he served aboard the USS Floyd B. Parks in the Korean War.
Wroblewski’s view of combat came from ringside seats at a 5-inch gun mount on the destroyer's O1 deck.
In time, the Gary native became the gunnery crew’s eyes and ears. He listened in on the radio to U.S. pilots encountering MiGs north of the 38th Parallel as the destroyer steamed toward Wonsan Harbor.
He took coordinates from Marine spotters on where enemy fire was coming from, charted the position of U.S. planes (with an X) and “bogeys” (with an O) on a Plexiglas screen for a superior who could relay the information to the gun crew.
He was positioning the gun’s vertical movement on one of the first days the ship started taking rounds from communist batteries as it neared the harbor.
“I’m Catholic, and I had a rosary in my hand. And I kept following instructions ... and it broke. All the beads fell to the deck, which had holes in it. I told myself, ‘Hey, Ed, relax. Now the whole ship is blessed.’”
If he had any doubts about that, they were dispelled as the Parks drew closer to shore.
The channel narrowed, and on both sides of the ship enemy gun emplacements in the foothills began a barrage, sending watery geysers up from explosions in front, behind and to each side of the ship.
“It was extraordinary that … God … he was there and he saved us. For some reason we didn’t get hit," the Hobart resident recalled.
Wroblewski’s combat experiences came in late June 1951 as his one-year wedding anniversary was nearing.
Wroblewski, “angry, crying, mad at the world," went below decks to ask a duty officer if he could “give the North Koreans a gift from me and my bride.”
The officer replied, “Sure, grab those handles on the instrument panel, and when the light goes on, pull the trigger.” Wroblewski did as instructed, launching a fusillade into demolished Wonsan City. Then he turned to the officer, saluted, said, “Thank you, sir,” and left, feeling somewhat better on his anniversary.
Later, in another engagement, Wroblewski was told to find out why gun mount 41 wasn't firing. He was on his way back to report that water jackets weren't cooling the guns off properly when an officer pushed him around the corner of a bulkhead. At that moment, a shrapnel bomb exploded above them raining down metal shards.
Both men escaped unscathed.
“I should have picked some of that (the metal) up as a souvenir,” Wroblewski said. “They might have made a nice pair of cufflinks.”
The surface and airborne hazards were just part of the threat to the destroyer.
Late one dark night, when you couldn't tell the sea from the horizon, the crew took note of an approaching blip on a radar screen. When it advanced close enough for sailors to cast a spotlight on it, North Koreans in a sampan were dropping a mine over its side. A Parks gun battery erased that threat in an already heavily mined harbor.
Wroblewski finished his tour before the armistice was negotiated in 1953. He finally was reunited with his wife, Alma, to return to a job in the steel mills. The GI Bill gave him the opportunity to pursue commercial art, which spawned years of commuting into Chicago, working for such studios as Handelen-Pedersen as well as his own freelance shop. He retired in the early 1990s.
Serving in the war, Wroblewski says, helped him “appreciate what has transpired in the forming of this country.” He is glad to be part of a group of guys who helped preserve freedom for South Koreans.
When Ray Dorulla was sailing to Korea, the seas were rough because of a hurricane.
"The guys on the top bunk were puking on the guys on the bottom bunk," Dorulla said. He was in the middle bunk.
"Most of the guys didn't even go to the mess hall, they were so sick."
Dorulla, 83, of Valparaiso, said he was one of the few who didn't get seasick, so he had to haul out the garbage aboard ship.
It wasn't what he signed up for, but that's a familiar story for soldiers in the Korean War.
Dorulla, who advanced to the rank of corporal in the U.S. Army, expected to handle prisoners of war but was sent to the front lines instead, to relieve the 1st Cavalry Division.
"They were beat up pretty bad, and they were awaiting a lot of replacements," Dorulla said.
He fought where some of the war's heaviest fighting occurred, places with names like Old Baldy, Pork Chop, Alligator Jaws and Arsenal.
Having learned Morse code at radio school — or "ditty ditty dum dum" school, as Dorulla called it — he was working in tandem with soldiers carrying other communications gear. In those days, remember, telephones on the front lines required wires.
"I lost the wire guy and the radio guy," Dorulla said, and then Col. Taylor asked him to be his radio man.
"He was a really, really, really, good colonel," Dorulla said. Dreams of a cushy life away from the front lines were quickly dashed. Dorulla and the colonel spent every night in a bunker on the front line.
The cold nights in Korea were brutal.
Dorulla's unit was issued new winter gear intended to protect the men from frostbite. It didn't work as intended.
The men wore those spongy foam rubber suits and Mickey Mouse boots, back before the wisdom of dressing in layers and using fabrics that wick away moisture became common.
The men were supposed to shower at least once a week. But this was war, and they went a month before showering.
"When you were active, you'd sweat like a mule in them," Dorulla recalled. But that sweat worked against them when they became inactive. It soon became cold, and chilled them even more.
When soldiers go out on patrol, there's a lot of hiking and running, but there's also a lot of crouching down and waiting for the enemy to show signs of movement.
The soldiers developed rashes on their backs, underarms and elsewhere because of those suits. A doctor issued them sulfa pads to scrub each other's backs in the long-delayed shower.
It was welcome relief.
Serving on the front lines meant constant pressure, continually being under enemy attack.
He lost friends in the war, including one who "got his nose blown off" but said he would be OK. Dorulla later learned that soldier soon died at an aid station.
"I was always scared," Dorulla recalled.
Coming home, aboard the General Pope, was a different experience from both the rough seas en route to Korea and the conditions in Korea. The food was better, too, Dorulla said, as the kitchen crew would "cook us big steaks for lunch."
Soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq get a fond welcome home. Korean War veterans didn't get that kind of welcome.
Returning to the naval base at Pittsburg, Calif., awaiting processing before being discharged from the Army, Dorulla recalled seeing a sign near the base that said, "Dogs and GIs keep off grass."
Larry Skonie violated the Army's cardinal rule: Never volunteer for anything.
When someone asked, “Does anybody here have any experience in construction?” the Chicago native acknowledged he had been an apprentice bricklayer at U.S. Steel before the Korean War broke out and he got drafted.
The then-20-year-old GI discovered such meager credentials qualified him to supervise a half-dozen South Korean soldiers building “sheds” and “huts” for makeshift motor pools some 15 miles north of the 38th Parallel. The language barrier was overcome because the one South Korean who knew some English could relay Skonie's wishes to the rest.
The “garages” resembled pole barns, fashioned out of logs with canvas sides sewn together by the Koreans for work bays.
They were just a sideline.
The principle job for Skonie and his fellow 179th Infantry service company mechanics was to keep vehicles running — regardless of the weather, battlefield exposure and the Army fleet's age.
In the harsh winter months, when temperatures could drop to 30 below or worse, Skonie would most often be huddled over an engine compartment fixing popped clutches or tuning vintage World War II-era vehicles. The whole fleet would have been destined for the scrap heap if war hadn't interrupted the demobilization of the nation's armed forces after 1945.
“If we couldn't fix it there ... if we needed something major (like replacing a transmission), we had to send it to a division motor pool in Seoul or Inchon. They had more equipment,” Skonie said.
Parts for such antiquated rust buckets? The crew nearest the front lines resorted to cannibalizing vehicles knocked out of commission for replacements.
They couldn't work with gloves on, so heat was vital.
The Crown Point resident can only look at the cold-weather scene on today's National Football League sidelines in open-air stadiums with envy. No such heat blowers warmed benches for his team.
“We had heat inside from portable generators ... kerosene, fuel oil ... out of 8-inch pipes, but the cold was still there,” Skonie said.
On a good day, he estimated the temperature inside a stall was as much as 60 to 65 degrees.
All too frequently, crews were summoned to help tow trucks that slid off one of the many mud-filled roads on slopes ranging from hilly to mountainous. Skonie broke a finger when a winch cable snapped on one such towing call.
“We couldn't leave anything for them (Chinese or North Korean forces) to take,” he said.
They also had another detail that fell to the service company. One that didn't have anything to do with vehicle maintenance, as Skonie pointed out.
They retrieved the corpses of fallen comrades.
Most of the time, Skonie and his fellows tried not to think about the assignment, but there was one soldier “hung up on barb wire and all shot up pretty bad ... that got to me,” said Skonie, a 25-year officer with the Chicago police force who retired in 1989.
Gathering the dead wasn't a duty he or anyone else would have wanted to sign up for, but it was a stark reminder of the ferocious fighting going on just over a ridge in the days leading up to the end of the war.
The struggle for Pork Chop Hill, one of the bloodiest engagements of the entire war, took place near Skonie's station. They were “serenaded” at night by the bugles and flutes Chinese forces used before entering battle to signal their positions and frighten their enemy.
The five-day battle ended July 11, 1953, and 16 days later the truce was negotiated.
“The heaviest shelling we saw was the day that was announced,” Skonie said.
Ed Mech, 85, saw death face to face as a U.S. Army ambulance driver in the Korean War.
"I used to carry the wounded from the front lines to the rear echelon aid stations, and we dropped them off there," Mech, of DeMotte, said this month.
Mech recalled how U.S. patrols often got shelled at daybreak as they were returning from their nightly hunt for the enemy.
"One guy they brought in, his leg was just dangling, his arm wasn't that on," Mech said. "They put him in the aid station, and the doctor was taking care of him in the aid station, and I happened to look over there. I told the doc, I says, 'He's checking for that wound.' But I said, 'He's checking for that wound, but he's bleeding.' He was lying on that litter, and he bled to death on that stretcher. That guy, he didn't happen to make it."
Being a medic was a scary job, but Mech took it so he wouldn't have to be at the front line the whole time.
"I went back to the forward aid station," he recalled, "and I got an ambulance driver, and they offered me a rider with me, and I said, 'Well, is he going to carry a gun for me?'
"'He don't carry a weapon.'
"And I said, 'Why not?'
"'He's a conscientious objector.'
"I said, 'I don't want him.'
"So they got rid of him and gave me another guy that rode in the ambulance with me who carried a weapon for my protection, because we drove over the bones all the time. It was just blackout lights. You didn't have headlights or anything."
A red cross on the ambulance might as well have been the concentric circles of a bull's-eye for the enemy.
"You took the cross off the ambulance, because that was ... they didn't go by the Geneva Convention over there," Mech said.
"I used to pack a .45 and go up and down the trenches."
"We got shot upon quite a bit of times from down below," Mech said.
"We never took our clothes off. We laid with our clothes on when we went to bed," he said.
In the morning, an officer would come along and make sure all the men shaved.
Mech earned a combat medic medal for his service on the front line. That's not the only medal he earned, though.
"I was supposed to get one Bronze Star, which I never did get," Mech said.
He earned that medal by dashing into enemy territory to attack an enemy position.
"I went over the line," Mech said. "I took that grenade and threw it in that pill box." Then he ran back to relative safety.
"I didn't get shot upon or nothing."
Not that time, anyway.
Mech had a choice of staying in the service to wait for that medal or to go home. He chose to go home.
"He said, 'Well, you can always get it later,' but I never did get it," Mech said.
Carmen Foresta, of Dolton, said recently he, too, earned the Bronze Star in Korea and appealed to the Pentagon last fall to finally get it. He was turned down. Like many veterans of that era, his military records were destroyed in a warehouse fire in St. Louis.
Unlike Foresta, Mech still has his own copies of that paperwork. He might finally be recognized as a hero for his service in Korea.
Memorial Day 1953 proved to be one of the most terrible days of the Korean War for then Army Pvt. Louis Kaplan.
Eight months earlier, Kaplan had been one of 18 local men to report for Army duty on the steps of the old federal courthouse in Hammond.
By late May 1953, he was part of a small observation team stationed at a hilltop bunker in Korea overlooking a no man's land between fighting forces on both sides.
The days leading to Memorial Day were marked by sporadic shelling and occasional midnight attacks by the Chinese on U.S. military outposts. Lit by the orange glow of parachute flares, Chinese soldiers crossed the no man's land only to be fired on by U.S. artillery.
On the night of Memorial Day, the tables turned. Kaplan was outside the bunker when a nearby hill was hit with a massive barrage of enemy artillery fire. With everything around them exploding, Kaplan and his fellow GIs holed up in the bunker and waited.
Pinned down all night, they emerged to find shell craters all around them and their observation equipment destroyed. Miraculously, their bunker hadn't been hit. Only two days later did they learn their area had been the target of a massive Chinese attack that overan Outpost Vegas.
"It was probably the most frightening night of my life," Kaplan recalled more than 60 years later.
He and his bunker mates were not wounded. "I consider myself very lucky," Kaplan said.
Kaplan grew up in Whiting, the youngest of five brothers. His four older brothers all fought in World War II, earning the family the right to display four blue stars — one for each soldier — on a red and white banner in the front window of their home.
The Korean War was to be his war, Kaplan said.
Trained as a radio operator, Kaplan was quickly steered into the counterfire platoon, a highly specialized team assigned to pinpoint the location of enemy artillery using top-secret recording equipment and a trained ear.
"We had to be able to distinguish the sound of the muzzle blast from all the other many sounds the mikes were picking up," including machine gun fire, rifle fire, exploding artillery and mortar shells, Kaplan said.
"Based on where the sound was coming from, a compass point would be plotted and targeted for artillery fire," Kaplan said.
Neighboring Kaplan's hillside bunker overlooking the no man's land was a bunker occupied by a three-man Turkish observation team, part of a Turkish Army infantry brigade attached to the U.S. 25th Infantry Division.
The Turkish and U.S. soldiers became friends and shared meals and conversation.
"We talked about life in Turkey and life in (the U.S.)," Kaplan said.
"They were fearless fighters," he said of the Turkish soldiers. "They were brave beyond belief."
When a truce was called in July 1953, there was no celebration, because few believed it would last, Kaplan said.
In June 1954, after 14 months in Korea, Kaplan went home.
"It was a defining experience," Kaplan said of those 14 months. "I saw enough to know war is terrible."
Now retired, Kaplan spent the last several years writing a memoir of his time in Korea. The completed manuscript has been accepted by the Library of Congress. Kaplan hopes people can learn from it.
Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of Kaplan's "My War, A Memoir," may contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The memories of battle have faded a bit, dates and years not easily accessible in his 81-year-old mind, but Bruce Ross, of Lansing, can still remember what Korea felt like all those years ago.
The extreme temperatures at the 38th parallel are etched into his brain, the hot days and the bitter cold nights.
"You were allowed to remove your shirt (during the day), but you could never remove your flak jacket or helmet," he said.
And at night it was so cold soldiers needed their long johns, parkas and a blanket to keep warm at their posts.
"That was all in a 24-hour period," he said.
Raised in Loda, Ill., in Iroquois County, Ross was 20 when he entered the U.S. Army on Dec. 3, 1952.
He was an outpost observer, searching for the enemy, providing screening fire for patrols and instituting firing missions where needed.
"People back in the States just didn't understand" the realities of the war, he said.
C-ration food, life in a bunker and the discipline required in the Army were definitely not like the comforts of home.
He remembers a time when his bunker got hit, he had to evacuate with "mortar fire and shrapnel coming down almost like rain."
"I thank God today I did not get one single scratch," he said.
Another time, while on outpost observation, he noticed a machine gun nest between two hills, and called for mortar fire. A patrol was sent out and Ross had to give feedback to commanders on enemy positions. After the fight, the hills were obliterated but so was the machine gun nest, he said.
He returned from war without any service-related injuries and several medals, including the National Defense Service Medal, a medal for good conduct, the United Nations Service Medal and the Bronze Star.
More recent depictions of life during the Korean War, such as the former television series "M*A*S*H," do not sit well with Ross.
"I did not like it at all, it was totally nonrepresentative of the Korean War," he said.
The current situation between North and South Korea saddens him.
"The conflict still exists. It's regretful that we can't have harmony among all the nations."
George Rosenbaum had some close calls in the Korean War, beginning with his trip to the Asian nation.
The seas were rough, with waves 40 to 50 feet high.* Eighty percent of the passengers were seasick. Rosenbaum, a Marine, said he didn't get sick, but it was close.
He was on board a ship with thousands of other men, told to stay below deck the whole journey. He didn't.
Rosenbaum, 83, of Wanatah, and another man decided to go up top and see what the ocean looked like. They climbed the stairs, opened the hatch and saw the ocean up close.
"We no more than stepped off of that step and it was like somebody had poured 10,000 gallons of water on us. A big wave had hit, and we came close to getting washed off. And if you did, it's all over."
It was a sobering thought. His friend thought so, too.
"He looked at me and said, 'You had enough?' And I looked at him and said, "You'd better believe it!" So we went back down just like a mouse going back into its hole."
Once in Korea, the dangers intensified. Even when relaxing, the troops had to be on edge.
"We just started a movie and an artillery shell landed in our company," Rosenbaum said. "And whenever you're close enough to an artillery shell and it explodes and you hear those pieces scream, they whistle when they go through the air — it's cast iron, the shells are made out of cast iron about 3/8ths inch thick, you know — but anyway, when you're that close, you're too close."
He also had some close calls while serving as a welder, repairing vehicles.
"We were just about a mile or so from the lines. A couple of times I got shot at," Rosenbaum said. "I would be welding with my hood down, and all at once I would hear a bullet. You know how a bullet sounds when it ricochets off something metal. So I crawled down under the buldozer and waited a bit."
"Whoever did it was a line crosser, because you couldn't tell the North Koreans from the South Koreans because they all looked alike, you know. That happened two or three times."
* This story has been changed from the original, to correct the estimated height of the waves.
The obsolete, World War II-era Army truck John R. Rattray Sr. called home for a year in Korea was "the most important vehicle we had" because GIs like their chow, the Korean War veteran said.
Rattray, a Gary native, and two other cooks spent all their time in the field from mid-1950 into 1951, preparing some meals — but more often coffee, rice and baked goods — for a 60-man artillery unit and passing infantrymen.
They never had the luxury of mess halls or mess tents during their tour traveling twisting, mountainous roads along the battle zone's ever-shifting front lines. They cooked, cleaned and slept in (or occasionally under) their mess truck, Rattray said.
It was the ultimate cooking challenge, far beyond anything television programmers could concoct.
Staff Sgt. Rattray remembered getting up at 4 a.m. to prepare breakfast on a kerosene stove, completing the task and then being told the unit was moving out immediately. As scarce as rations were, throwing anything away was out of the question. He and his kitchen mates packed everything up to be warmed over and served later.
"Finding water was the most difficult thing," he said.
Potable water for cooking and cleaning was vital while crossing the alternately dusty or muddy terrain.
Since one of their number was an experienced baker, they were among the few mess trucks to serve fruit cobblers.
"Nobody else wanted their flour (allocation). They didn't have any use for it," Rattray said.
Their cobblers gained such renown that Gen. Matthew Ridgway, commander of the U.S. Eighth Army and a champion of artillery-supported assaults, once dropped by for a helping.
The artillery battery with six howitzers always was on the move and just as vulnerable to ambush, wire-strewn booby traps and aerial bombardment as the rest of the convoy.
Rattray, who underwent basic training with the 101st Airborne as a paratrooper, had his closest brush with death from "friendly fire" when the unit's ammo truck became stuck in the mud.
He and others were lifting 155 mm shells from it to lighten its load when they were strafed by U.S. planes. A round came "within 4 feet of me," Rattray said.
He still can't hear any aircraft fly overhead or fireworks without ducking.
As part of the U.S. occupation force in Japan before going to cook and bakers school, Rattray was not trained for combat. He concedes he never developed the aplomb for hostilities he observed in British forces, who reportedly would break for tea in the midst of a pitched battle. British and Canadian troops were part of United Nations forces in their area.
Rattray, who had enlisted in the Army after his sophomore year at Edison High School in 1949, mustered out in 1951. He worked for many years as a pattern maker at East Chicago Pattern until a bout with cancer forced him into early retirement. Thirty years ago, doctors gave him two to five years to live, he said.
He and his wife, who live now in Schererville, had eight children, three boys and five girls, most of whom attended Calumet High School. They have 13 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren. Rattray, a former bowler, now spends much of his time with family and gardening.
Eugene Hanyzewski Sr. had a mountaintop experience in the Korean War. Literally.
The radar installation where he was stationed was atop a relatively flat mountain. It offered good views not just by radar, for air traffic control, but visually as well.
Hanyzewski, 87, of Highland, was already an old hand when he went to that radar installation in Korea. He had already used the new technology in World War II.
Hanyzewski enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1943 to serve during World War II.
"My mother signed for me because I was only 17," he said.
By the Korean War, the U.S. Air Force had been established.
"The Korean War started in July of 1950, and Harry Truman activated my squadron," Hanyzewski said.
Hanyzewski was in an early warning squadron, where he supervised an eight-man crew, working six hours at a time.
"We scanned up to 120 miles into North Korea," Hanyzewski said, "and any enemy planes coming down, we would track them."
"The North Koreans didn't have much of an air force, so there wasn't too much activity there," he said.
One time, the activity wasn't on the radar screen but in the valley below. He saw "lines and lines of trucks coming down, bringing the (enemy) troops down. It was just an endless ... like in Chicago over here on I-94, truck after truck. We had a bird's-eye view of that because we seen the whole North Korean coast."
That was when the Americans had to pull back.
Getting to the mountaintop from the compound 6 miles to the south wasn't easy.
"I don't know who built the road, but it was quite an adventure to get up there," he said.
The harsh winters, with temperatures as low as 30 below zero, made it worse.
"Sometimes we'd have to shovel our way from the barracks to the mess hall," he said.
When he returned home, "It was like nothing had ever happened. I just picked up my life and went on from there."
Last year, Honor Flight Chicago sent Hanyzewski to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial. The Korean War Memorial was also on the itinerary.
"When we came back to the airport in Chicago, there were 1,500 people thanking me, and I got tears in my eyes because I had never been welcomed at home from the two wars I was in," Hanyzewski said. "So that gave me some closure."
Korean War veteran Manoly Traycoff didn't take a nationally known pop singer's vow seriously, but he took an induction center Army officer at his word.
He was mistaken in both instances.
Traycoff, who saw action on T-Bone Hill and Heartbreak Ridge, didn't spend all his Korean hitch on the front lines. The heavy weapons company GI was a self-described "bodyguard" for crooner Eddie Fisher, the father of Carrie Fisher — Princess Leia in the "Star Wars" movies— when the performer was appearing in USO shows in the area.
Fisher, generally considered the most successful pop singles artist of the first half of the 1950s, and Traycoff hit it off.
The Philadelphia native told his newfound buddy from Gary he would call Traycoff's parents when he got back stateside.
The 1949 graduate of Emerson High was astounded later when he learned Fisher had followed through with this pledge. Fisher also invited Traycoff to come to New York to see his nightclub act when he was discharged in July 1953, but Traycoff said he didn't have the money to make the trip.
At that point, he was focused on helping his Macedonian-born fiancee resolve her visa problems so they could get married and eventually settle down in Valparaiso, where they own the Viking Chili Bowl.
Little did Traycoff, who was born in Greece, know then that he had his own citizenship problems.
He mentioned his Greek lineage when he was at the induction center as a draftee in October 1951, but the officer at the front of the room told him to just raise his right hand, take the oath and "that'll take care of it."
Traycoff later found out from the Immigration and Naturalization Service that it doesn't work that way. He wound up going through the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen years after his military service for his adopted country.
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