When John Leisge says he was on the front line in the Korean War, he means it. "We were past the main line of resistance," Leisge, of DeMotte, said.
The U.S. Army artillery batteries were behind him, and he had to hope his fellow soldiers had good aim — and that the Chinese and Korean soldiers didn't.
"Your artillery was firing over you, 10 to 20 feet over you," he said. "Their artillery was supposedly firing on you the same way, but there were times they'd get mixed up."
Leisge remembers hearing those shells "just falling like rain." The machine guns and howitzers were firing for so long that the barrel of the gun overheated and sometimes even warped.
"If it was coming from behind you, you could hear it whoof, whoof, whoof, they were wobbling or they were tumbling, and that's because they lost their spiral and they were really losing their accuracy. But when they were firing so many, they just kept firing."
The nature of war, of course, is that each side tries to seize additional ground, and hand-to-hand combat can ensue.
"When you get to the point where both lines are intermingling, then you don't know if it's yours or theirs, it just keeps coming in. They're trying to save you."
With all those shells flying overhead, Leisge and his unit saw a lot of devastation. The Army lost 30 percent of the men in that fight.
"Sometimes a shell would land right on someone. That was devastating because they just disintegrated right in front of you," Leisge said.
"The really devastating one was when you're sitting there talking to somebody and you're looking at them and giving them directions, and a shell lands. Sometimes it would hit them on a shoulder, blow them apart. It depends on how big it was. If it was a small mortar, it blow them up a little bit. But if it was a big howitzer size shell, when they landed they would just, they were gone. Disappeared into thin air."
On the last night he was there on the front line, the casualties included his best friend.
"He was as close to me as you are," he said from across a kitchen table. "This guy was there, and all of a sudden he wasn't. I hollered for a medic, but it didn't do any good. I mean, there was nothing there for him to see."
After being relieved at Sandbag Castle, Leisge's unit went to Christmas Hill just days before the war ended.
"We were marching up a dirt road, probably 9, 10 o'clock at night, and the Chinese are playing music, saying, 'Welcome to the party, come on down, join the party later tonight,' and stuff like that. Just psychological warfare."
The "party" wasn't fun, though.
"There wasn't a day we weren't being shelled. There wasn't a night we weren't being attacked."
"They were in our trenches," he said.
Close contact meant close calls.
"I wanted the .45 because it was the surest stopping we had for close combat," he said. "You hit a guy in the arm and knock him down, he's not coming back at you again."
It was like the Indians in those cowboy movies, Leisge said, with the enemy coming in waves.
Leisge's assigned weapon was the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. "They gave me that the night I came on the line," he said. "Nobody wanted it."
"It was the fastest firing weapon we had." It was heavy, too. Leisge carried 65 pounds of ammunition for the BAR, "and you could shoot that up in five to 10 minutes if you weren't watching what you were doing.""
"I'm 170 pounds, and I'm carrying 150," he said.
His first daylight patrol, he was wearing a heavy flak jacket and carrying the BAR, the ammo, and had six hand grenades clipped to him.
"I looked like Arnold Schwarzenegger," he said. "And here I'm just a little guy, you know, 5 foot 9."
Leisge had muscle to start with. He was a meat cutter before the war. Leisge was working in Hammond, where he lived at the time.
On his first day in Korea, he was assigned to the 45th Division and played a pick-up game of basketball and broke a tooth, so he had to see the dentist. "He asked me where I was from, and I said, 'Hammond, Indiana.'" The dentist asked where. "I told him the 4600 block on Towle Street, and he said he was on Towle. I think he said it was on the 3900 block, across from the old Lincoln School."
"I haven't seen him since."