Kimpo Korea

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K-14  APO 970

"The Land Of The Morning Calm"
The music is Arirang

It was anything but calm on Sunday morning 25 June  1950

2 October 1950

 The 51st moved to Kimpo Air Field, Korea (K14).  After the Marines  landed at Inchon they turned north to secure Kimpo.  We flew in on C-54’s and I got my first up close view of a place that had been bombed, burned and shot up. The Marines were our welcoming committee.  They took their tanks and left a few days later after a final mop up. 

The first few nights we set up our tents off of the main base.  It wasn't to bad except when it rained.  All of that red dust churned up by the tanks turned into grease.  For a couple of nights there was a small group of British Army troops that camped next to us.  Very nice guys.  One night I invited one of the guys to my tent.  He brought along some tea.  It really tasted good.  I hadn't had any tea since I left Japan and that was green tea. We talked about our lives at home and in the service.  We started to compare uniforms and he really liked my tie.  He said that it was by far of much higher quality material than his.  I told him to take it since we weren't wearing ties at that time.  He insisted on trading something for it.  He went to his tent and returned with a navy blue beret.  He called it his "walking out beret".  I wish I had his name.  It remains one of my most cherished possessions to this day and rests in my top dresser drawer.

Kimpo was now all ours, what there was of it.  We set to repairing the base and getting ready for the balance of the Wing to arrive. I hired contractors and about 300 South Korean workers.  I have to tell you about one of the workers I hired.  The guards called me one day and told me that among all of the men at the gate wanting to be hired there was a young boy.  "Did I hire kids?"  I went to the gate and found this young boy of about 10-11 years of age.  He was very clean and neat.  He spoke a little English and he really wanted to work.  I told the guards to let him in.  I took him to my office and found that he understood more English than he spoke.  I decided that the CO needed a "houseboy" to keep his tent clean and canteens full of water.  When I told the CO his remarks were "I don't need a dam houseboy under foot".  Well, after a week you would have thought that Chang was his grandson.  Later on I found that Chang lived in the back of a local country church with his older sister (maybe 12) and two other orphans that she had taken in.  Chang's father had been the minister of the church.  The North Koreans had taken him and killed Chang's mother.  When I was away from the base I would buy fruits or vegetables and drop them off at the church on the way back to the base.  I think about all of the children all the time.  It has haunted me since 1950 not knowing if they survived the war.

The 16th Fighter Squadron arrived on 24 October and the rest of the Wing set up operations the following day.   We had a lot of supply problems.  The largest problem was there were no supplies. We couldn’t get anything from Japan (lumber, electrical wire and fixtures, glass and anything else).  So we had to scrounge around Korea and buy whatever we could find on the local market.  Light bulbs; sometimes you would go through 5-6 before you found one that would last more than 6 seconds.  There was an old shop building down by the ramp and we put the Air Installations Job Office in there.  Since I was the driver and guard for our CO I drove him to  Seoul, Inchon and Yong dong-po to hire contractors and laborers to work at the base and buy supplies.  I would send 6x6 trucks in to pick up the workers in the morning and take them back at night.

About two days after we got to Kimpo the CO and I had to go to Seoul to talk to some contractors.  Crossing the Han River was a bit perilous.  The Army Engineers had installed a nice pontoon bridge due to the fact the original bridge had been blown up.  The problem was the treads on the bridge were spaced for larger vehicles than a jeep.  I had to drive with one wheel on the tread and one up on a divider between the treads.  The scenery wasn't the best.  There were a lot of North Korean soldiers bodies caught on the steel cables that anchored the bridge to the river bottom. 

My biggest surprise came as I was driving down the main street in Seoul.  All of a sudden a shot hit the windshield frame of my Jeep just to the left of my face.  I grabbed my M3 and bailed out the left side and the CO went out the right.  Some ROK soldiers came running out of a building, across the street, and into another building.  Later they came back dragging a North Korean soldier.  He was the sniper trying to blow my brains out.  After a little interrogation they disposed of him.  Seoul wasn't as safe as we had thought it was.  Now reality has sunk in.  When we went to Korea I was issued a Colt 1911-A1 .45 automatic pistol as well as the M3 "grease gun.  After a North Korean sniper shot the frame of my jeep windshield in Seoul I decided that two short range weapons was not the best way to go.  I requested that they exchange the grease gun for a select fire carbine with two 30 round banana clips.  I wanted something with more range if I was to protect myself and the CO.  The CO agreed.

No matter how many times you made the trips to the various towns the one thing that you never got used to were all of the little children, some as young as three, looking through garbage for something to eat.  Ragged, dirty and starving, may none of us ever forget that image.  When ever I could  I would stop by the mess hall before leaving the base and take whatever they would give me and give it to the kids.  There never was enough.  To this day I think and dream of those little ones; wondering what happened to them or if they made it through the war.  When we had to leave in December I was devastated to think what the Chinese and North Korean soldiers would do to them.    

 Kimpo was very hot with high humidity when we got there, but it started to get cold in November.  The famous winds from Manchuria came blowing in.  We arrived from Okinawa with just our summer issue clothing.  No gloves, jacket liners, winter caps, long underwear or cold weather footwear.  We had to make a “midnight requisition”  from the only source that seemed to have winter equipment.  Sorry Army.  Don't get me wrong, it wasn't comfortable, but the Army and Marines had it much worse than we.  At least we had our tents to sleep in at night and almost never missed a meal.

 In November the Chinese got involved in the war and we started to have more problems with infiltrators into the area that we had begun to think of as pretty safe.  The guys that had been leaving their weapons in their tents started to carry them again.  In early December I was chosen to be one of the first in the squadron to take R&R (rest and recuperation) back in Japan.  When I tried to get a flight back to Kimpo I was informed that there would be no more flights to Kimpo.  When I inquired as to why I was told that the Chinese were fast approaching the base.  I insisted that I had to return and finally they said that I could have a place on a C-46 freighter.  When I got to the squadron area I found my gear had been packed and the tent had been struck.  Again we were going to  move, back to Itazuke.

 I had only been in the Squadron Area a short time when the CO’s houseboy Chang came to get me.  Major Robinson informed me that I was to leave immediately on a C-54 for Itazuke.  I was to be the courier for some items that he didn’t want to destroy.  The bulk of the Squadron came out in about three days.  Some of the guys had to stay and blow up everything that we had worked to build for three months. They spent Christmas at Kimpo. The lucky ones got to fly out, but part of them had to convoy down to Pusan and return to Itazuke by water.

 After New Years Day we received word that we were going to move to a base of our own about 60 miles away.  I was to drive the lead jeep in the convoy.