War and remembrance: Veterans offer perspectives on Korean conflict
Stars and Stripes Washington Bureau chief Pat Dickson sat down with four veterans of the Korean War at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Washington to get their perspective on the war. Here are their stories.Harris Bircher83, Dubuque, Iowa
In 1937, I joined the Navy, got my first ship, the USS West Virginia. It got sunk on Pearl, and I swam to Ford Island and then eventually, when they got us all rounded up — I was reported missing for two weeks and my folks got the knock on the door … so I had some harrowing experiences there, running across the airfield, and they were comin’ down, strafin’ and all that, I turned around, flat down, and you can see these planes, and they were propeller, you know, very slow, and all the pilots were leanin’ out, and grinnin’, you know …
In 1950, when the Korean War started, I went back to sea, and we hauled troops — Marines, soldiers and so forth, out of San Francisco into Pusan, Korea.
Compared to some of the Marines and soldiers that were over there in that cold and whatever, it was a relatively … the Navy didn’t actually have that big a part. There were no battles, because Korea didn’t have a Navy.
Our ship hauled probably 1,500 to 2,000 [troops], and I probably made, oh, half a dozen trips or more. …
The ship I was on, [troops] slept, oh, six, seven decks down. And it’s rough down there. There’s not much air, and the ship rolling and all that. We used to invite the master sergeants up to our quarters. Some of ’em accepted, some of ’em said, “No, I’m gonna stay with my troops.”
It was not a fun thing — they got fed good and all, but some of ’em got sick the first day and stayed that way, 21 days.
It’s surprising. When we’d take ’em into Pusan, and it’s cold — probably as cold as I’ve ever been — and it was bleak and desolate, but they were so glad to get off, they didn’t care what they were going to face, they just wanted off that ship.
They were young, you know, and probably had never been in battle, most of ’em.Hampton L. Hunt 88, Danville, Va.
I was there in 1952 and ’53. I enlisted in the Army Air Corps (which became the Air Force) in 1942. And in 1952, I went to Korea. And I was assigned to the Republic of Korea Air Force as an adviser. We set up a maintenance school for Koreans near Jinju. I spent my year there working entirely with the Korean people. We only had about 25 Americans.
We built the first airplane built in Korea. You see, under the occupation by the Japanese (1910-1945), they weren’t allowed to have any industry.
The news … sounds pretty bad. I have nothing but absolute admiration for the Korean people, for what they have accomplished. Because although I was not in any combat, I saw the results of what the country looked like when I was there and it was absolutely devastated and destroyed. And in time … they’ve come back and they’ve really got a modern nation and a prosperous, well-run nation. They’ve really done a great job.Roger W. (Dave) Davison73, Bluffton, Ind.