Korean War

'I was always scared,' Korean War vet recalls

2014-02-02T17:45:00Z 2014-02-03T19:02:31Z 'I was always scared,' Korean War vet recallsTimes staff report nwitimes.com
February 02, 2014 5:45 pm  • 

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."

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