Korean War veteran experienced culture shock in Japan

By BRYNN TWAIT | Appeal-Democrat, Marysville, Calif. | Published: July 22, 2013

Harold Griffith, 82, of Yuba City was drafted to the Korean War shortly after his 21st birthday in 1951.

He completed his basic training in quartermaster school at Fort Lee, Va. The quartermaster unit issues supplies in the military.

During his service, Griffith was stationed in Japan about 14 miles from Tokoyo. He served about 14 months.

"I was not in the battle zone," he said. "I was one of the fortunate ones that didn't have to go get shot at."

He made the journey to Japan on a general class ship with more than 4,000 men on board. The trip lasted a week, and there were constant storms.

"Nobody was used to it. The whole ship was mess," Griffith said. "Guys were upchucking everywhere."

As part of the quartermaster unit, he handed supplies to the troops when they first arrived.

"They came and got their issue for their clothing and their weapons to be shipped over to Korea into battle," he said. "We'd run as many as 4,000 troops through the line before stopping."

He said when he first arrived, he experienced culture shock.

"You're a 21-year-old person who hasn't been particularly anywhere," he said. "It's a little disconcerting."

Griffith became friends with a young Japanese man who worked at the base camp.

"He taught me Japanese, and I taught him English," he said.

His friend's father was a judo instructor, so he learned the sport and competed in tournaments in his time off.

"I was just the big American, and I was only 5 foot 8," Griffith said.

He said the quartermaster unit worked hard to take care of the soliders.

"You've got 4,000 troops walking through a line and turning loose of all of their stateside clothing and giving them everything they're going to need when they get into Korea, including their socks, their underwear, from skin up, everything," he said.

He flew home on a military plane and eventually landed on the Elmendorf base in Alaska, where there had been a volcano eruption.

"There was volcanic ash all over everything, in your food and every place," he said. "I got on a plane in Alaska, and I said, 'I'm not going to Camp Stoneman (to get discharged), I'm going home. There's an airport in Yuba City, and I'm going to land there.'"

He did just that and hitchhiked to his house from the airport in Marysville.

After he came home from the war, Griffith met his wife, Joan. She was bringing out trays to cars at Andy's Drive-In, which used to stand at Colusa Highway and Plumas Street. He married Joan in 1954. They had four kids together. Joan died in 2009.

Griffith is trying to get a settlement from Veterans Affairs. He has lymphedema in his legs, which causes them to swell up. He said the condition is caused by insecticides and pesticides that were on the clothing the troops were issued. His first experienced bouts of swelling while serving in Japan.

"Sometimes it would get so busy, we wouldn't change shifts and kept working around the clock," he said. "There would be used clothes from troops who had left the battefield, and we would sleep on those."

Griffith contacted Congressman John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and is working with Garamendi's office manager to get a settlement from the VA. He has had difficulty because his military records burned up in a fire in 1972.

He said he is disappointed with how the VA operates, but he won't stop trying.

"I won't give up," he said. "I'm almost 83 years old; I don't have too much longer, but I'm not going to quit. After helping when they wanted me, I want them to help me, and they don't do it."


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