ST. MARYS — In 1943, the U.S. was mired in the midst of World War II. Drafted into the U.S. Army, Jim Vogel found himself leaving his Auglaize County home and heading for basic training shortly after his 18th birthday.
It was the beginning of a service that would span two wars and two continents.
Trained as an infantryman, Vogel received additional training in intelligence and reconnaissance. After first shipping out to England, and then crossing to France, Vogel arrived in the combat zone in Belgium not long after the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, early 1945.
“By the time we got into the Ardennes forest, it was a muddy, sloppy mess,” Vogel said. “We recovered some of the bodies there. We were axle deep in mud and slop. I heard one German plane that came over. I remember that so well. It sounded like a Model A Ford engine.”
Vogel didn’t see much combat during his time in Europe. As one of the least tenured soldiers, when the war ended in May 1945, Vogel remained as part of the occupation force until Memorial Day — originally called Decoration Day — the following year.
“When they released us to go home they wouldn’t let us go home until a certain percentage of us signed up for the reserve,” Vogel said. “I wanted to go home. I was willing to take a chance so I signed up for the reserve. When the four years was up, near as I can figure the day the officer came to my door and got me out of bed to see if I wanted to sign up again was the day Korea broke loose.
“I said, ‘Why not, I haven’t had to do anything yet.’ I figured I hadn’t done my share when I talked to other fellas that had been in a long time. So, I went ahead and signed up thinking nothing was going to happen. It had happened already, and I didn’t know it.”
In the fall of 1950, Vogel got his notice to report for duty and began, for a second time, the process of readying for war. Vogel had a sense this second experience would be different, and he used a 10-day furlough to come home and wrap up his business.
“On the way home, that night on the bus, I thought about what I’m going to do. Am I going to get married, get her to help me pay for that house or what,” Vogel said. “When I got home to Wapak, my dad, my mom and my girlfriend came to pick me up. We got home and my mother was fixing dinner for us and I said to my girlfriend, ‘Let’s get married.’ She said she had her dress already. Three days later, we were married.”
Vogel’s experience in Korea was nothing short of hell on Earth. Vogel was part of the Battle of Chipyoung-ni in February 1951 and later the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge.
Following the latter battle, a squad of demoralized Chinese soldiers approached a position where Vogel, armed only with a single grenade, was engaged in intelligence and reconnaissance activities.
“They laid their weapons down and I only had a hand grenade on me. They wanted me to take them back, they wanted to turn themselves in,” Vogel said. “I didn’t know how I was going to do this. I only had one grenade but I knew I’d get them all. There was one who understood English to understand me. I told him what I wanted them to do.
“I told them to line up and I’d follow along behind them. I told him if they tried anything funny I’d pull the pin on the grenade.”
When Vogel got back to the command post, a commander asked why he hadn’t killed instead of capturing the soldiers.
“I told him I didn’t want to be killed, and I didn’t want to kill,” Vogel said.
He spent 14 months in Korea, witnessing first-hand much carnage and bloodshed.
“It’s hard to believe I made it through it. I wouldn’t do it again, but I’m glad I did it,” Vogel said. “In World War II, I didn’t feel like I’d done my share with just the one battle. That’s more or less why I thought I ought to join the reserves. It paid off. I wouldn’t do it again. I hated every minute of it.”
Vogel came home to his wife, Marilyn, with whom he spent 58 years before she died in 2008. The couple had three children, and he retired after decades of service at Goodyear in St. Marys.
“I did what I thought I had to do,” he said. “I feel like I’ve done my share.”