The Korean War is sometimes called the “Forgotten War.” It is an unsung conflict, overshadowed by both World War II and American involvement in Vietnam. From 1950-1953, the Allies, under the (now ineffective and subversive) United Nations fought against the Communist powers with Korea as the proxy battleground. Both China and Russia were providing aid to Kim Il-Sung’s North Korea, and when the North nearly lost the war, the Chinese even intervened, sending in their own massive army to push the U.N. back. The conflict concluded with, essentially, a return to the status quo, Kim Il-Sung remaining in charge of the North, and Syngman Rhee maintaining his control of the South. The borders had shifted only slightly, the peninsula still mostly divided at the 38th parallel. Still, the Cold War had, for the first time, turned ‘hot.’ Korea was the precursor to Vietnam, where another nation split in two acted as a battleground for the West and the East.
Since the Korean War does not receive nearly as much attention as the Pacific Theater of World War II or the controversial Vietnam War, I have decided to spend more time studying it. Part of this research involves primary sources such as the testimony of men who served there. Finding interviews archived by the Veterans History Project, I have compiled just a handful of these – four to be exact – to summarize in this article. The full interviews are linked throughout the article, as I only quote select portions I believe especially interesting or relevant.
My respect and prayers go out to those who served in the Korean War, as taking up arms against Communism is one of the few cases of ‘just war’ that can be found in modern history. Hopefully by sharing their stories in this article, I can help insure they are not forgotten.
Gunnery Sergeant Henry Andrasovsky, US Marine Corps
Henry Andrasovsky served in both World War II and the Korean War, fighting in Asia throughout his military career, first against the Japanese and then against the Chinese and North Koreans.
“I was in “A” Company, First Marines when the Korean War broke out,” Henry Andrasovsky says in an interview, “We wound up in Camp Pendleton, where we were taking in people from all Navy yards, reservists and scrounging people from all over America. And we had to do a quick training job on some of them. Get ’em all to where they all fired a rifle and had a basic understanding of what the rifle does.”
Andrasovsky, after the Inchon landing in September 1950, was nearly killed by an enemy tank during an attack on Yeongdeungpo. “I had a very close shave. We were dug in a levy on the Han River. And there was a road above us on the levy. And we were dug in the side of it facing the town. And three tanks came up. Two Russian tanks accompanied by a Sherman tank, an American Sherman tank that they… the North Koreans got from somebody, somehow… This tank was chugging down this road, and he stopped when he got right in front of my hole. And I heard the turret turning. I grabbed all my gear and pulled it in the hole with me so he wouldn’t know I was there, and waited. He sprayed the hole with machine-gun fire, 30 caliber. And then I can hear him get ready to fire the big gun. And I held my breath and kept my mouth open and waited to reduce… the blast would cause a concussion. You keep your mouth open, why you’re… you’re in a little better shape. And I had my mouth open and I waited and, boom, I heard that 75 millimeter fire right at me. And he hit the back of my hole. And I can hear him. He was so close I can hear him open the breach and reload. And he fired another one. Right at my hole. It hit behind me, just behind. If he had H.E., that’s high explosive shells, I wouldn’t be here now.”
It wasn’t all terror and death, though. “That was the day I saw one of the most funny things, a big Russian tank came running down this line… he made the right turn and started heading up town, and then I look and there’s a Marine… a Marine chasing this tank with a rocket launcher. Here he is running on foot, chasing after this tank, trying to hit it. That was really gung ho. And that was Yeongdeungpo.”
Henry Andrasovsky returned to the states sometime after Operation Killer to be a drill instructor at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego.
Corporal Don Adams, US Army
Don Adams joined the Army in 1949 because “I really didn’t know if I wanted to become a forester or not, so I got interested in the army and just enlisted.”
Choosing to become an artilleryman, he wasn’t particularly concerned when he got the news the U.S. would be getting involved in Korea, but he and everyone else was agitated that they’d no longer get Sunday off. “I was at Fort Lewis and we received the word on a Sunday morning to the best of my knowledge, and I know this sounds odd, but our greatest regret at the time was that we would have to get up and get dressed and go on duty on Sunday morning. No more Sunday mornings off to read the Sunday paper.”
It took a while for Adams’ unit to receive their 155mm self-propelled artillery, but once they got them, they were loaded onto boats and landed at Inchon, ready for action. “We went ashore and Seoul had been retaken, so we moved into the city of Seoul with our guns and our equipment and I remember we camped there for a couple of weeks before we moved out north, on north to go up toward the 38th parallel and the Inchon River. But we were firing, firing, we were firing missions in April right on through.”
“I remember in April, the North Koreans and Chinese attacked us. We had to pull back. It was kind of an amazing feat, because the engineers had built pontoon bridges across the river and we were taking like a battery of guns south. They would set up and fire while we were moving our other batteries down and getting them registered. And how close we came to being wiped out – I guess the Lord’s hand was in it because the Chinese had attacked in either April or May and they did wipe out a British outfit that was fairly close to us. We were in a big valley and we had to move, and move fast. I just, I know the Lord’s hand was with us at that. But then there were times during that when we would just sit in camp for weeks and do nothing except fire, and fire, and fire, and fire. Later on I think before the end of Panmunjom we were actually sending our guns behind enemy lines and firing into the back side of the ridges, because we couldn’t really touch them on the front side of the ridges, they were too well dug in and all, but on the back side our guns accompanied by infantry were just moving wherever we wanted to go and we were firing into the back side of them. I guess that did some good.”
Don Adams’ unit did a lot of firing. “We fired over 100,000 rounds of 155 millimeter,” he states matter-of-factly in the interview.
After his service in Korea, Adams used the GI bill to get through college. After graduation, he made a living as a teacher, but eventually became a park ranger, working at Donaldson National Park in Dover, Tennessee. During his six years there, he helped start a living history program related to the Civil War. “We started the living history program there, where we dressed up in Confederate uniforms and had firing demonstrations and camp life demonstrations, and I thought that was the greatest.”
Corporal Marvin Dunn Jr., US Marine Corps
“The Korean War started June 25, 1950. So — they say it’s a police action, and I took it for that. So after about three or four months, I realized it’s going to be a long thing. So I talked to my friends, and they joined with me so we’d stay together probably.”
Dunn had a role-model, too, an Uncle who had served in World War II that inspired him to enlist specifically in the Marines. “He was in Iwo Jima and different battles, and I was always impressed with him.”
When Dunn arrived in Korea after training, he expected to be an 81mm Mortar gunner. He instead ended up a BAR gunner.
“The captain said, ‘Dunn, what’s your MOS?’ And I told him. He said, ‘We don’t need any 81mm Mortars.’ So he pitched me a BAR, Browning Automatic Rifle… he said, ‘Get acquainted with it. Break it down. Clean it. Shoot it. Get acquainted with it so that you can do it with your eyes closed.’ So I did.”
When asked in the interview to describe how it was fighting in Korea, Dunn explained it like this: “At first you’re scared because you’re being shot at. And quickly you have to train your mind that either it’s them or you.”
He also had one vivid combat memory to share:
“I remember we took Hill 884. And the Koreans would always leave someone behind that was hopped-up on opium and try to, you know, hurt as many people as possible. So we got to the top of this hill and my Captain said, ‘Dunn, you and Lopez,’ the guy from Albuquerque, ‘Make sure these bunkers are secure. We don’t want someone to come out and do damage.’ So we did the first two bunkers, nothing. And then the third one, I peeped down and a North Korean was there and he had a hand grenade in each hand. So I started firing. And I told Lopez to throw a grenade down there, and he did. And that got rid of him.”
Dunn received the Purple Heart due to sustaining serious injuries during the war. “We were on Hill 812, and I think they caught some of us outside above the skyline. We were about 700 yards from them, and they set off an 81mm Mortar and it hit us all on the side. And it took my left leg and my left eye.” Fortunately, Dunn now has replacements for what he lost in Korea.
After the war, Dunn became a school principal and eventually the President of the Korean War Veteran’s Association for two years.
Corporal Albert Bailey, US Marine Corps
When asked by Michael Wonderlick why he joined the Marine Corps, Albert had a simple answer.
“Mostly just for the adventure and, you know, just a young man wanting to see the world.”
Albert served in Korea after the end of the war as part of an MP (Military Police) company, stationed in “a place called Pajaree, about eight miles away from the Renton River.” Bailey was shocked by just how impoverished Korea was after the war, having grown up in the United States, a nation that had just rebounded from the Great Depression and hadn’t fought a real war on its own soil since the Civil War. “I never saw a country like that before. It was kind of desolate, hardly no trees, what was there had been all tore up and stuff. Most of the people living in little huts and stuff like that. I did make it into Seoul one time, which is the capital of South Korea, and it had buildings kind of like we have here, but most of it was just little shacks.”
Having been sent to Korea after the serious fighting was over, Albert was spared from the dangers of combat. However, an amateur air-strike once interrupted his company’s movie night. “In fact, we were watching a movie one night and had our outside seats on a little hillside, and we had our fox holes up above it, and a tent there where we stayed at nights. And this little plane came over, somebody up there had a machine gun and started shooting at us. Of course we turned off the projector and made it as dark as we could and go for our fox holes.”
Other then that, post-war service in Korea consisted mostly of patrolling the DMZ and insuring another war didn’t break out. “We patrolled — we had to patrol.”
After 3 years in the Marine Corps, he left Korea in 1956 and went home to his mother in Kentucky before going back to work at the Bates Brother Photostat Company.