Korea first hand
Durward (Dud) Wheeler saw many things in the Korean War. He pauses and says, “Yeah, a lot of them, but didn’t think about it at the time. Now, if you tell too many of those kind of stories, people might think you’re bragging.”
Olaf (Ole) Nelson also pauses and finally says, “I don’t remember some, and some I’ll never forget.”
Nelson was in a headquarters company, but ended up on the front line. He was in several different locations, the last was where the 25th Korean Division was wiped out. Similar to other places, every tree on the hill was blown off.
Nelson was passing out grenades to troops coming in to help against the enemy troops which had slipped in. The phones were cut. Everything came loose. Shells came in; killing some and wounding over 70. One shell hit the napalm and ammo dump, but didn’t set them off.
His lieutenant was standing next to Nelson. Suddenly the lieutenant lost his legs, and then died. Nelson was blown 10 feet over, still standing, his arm hit and some bone gone. He somehow headed for a medic.
Eventually, Nelson spent a long time in an Osaka, Japan, hospital. “They gave me a long time to recuperate, took good care of me.” His arm? “Today, that part is normal. I still have a piece of shrapnel in there.”
Nelson begins listing name after name. After each, he remembers that that person isn’t here. He slowly becomes quieter. Most everyone he knew over there has passed away. In a whisper, “At least I got home.”
Nelson’s brother, Rupert, was a pilot stationed in Osaka. Rupert had taken a mail plane to visit Ole. A week later, about 30 miles off the coast, the plane that Rupert was in went down. The propeller got out of balance and tore the engine out. Some men successfully parachuted out. Some, including Rupert, didn’t make it.
Dud Wheeler spent eight months above the 38th parallel as an infantry platoon sergeant of the 45th Division of the Oklahoma National Guard. As officers and non-coms trickled out, the national guard took over. Wheeler starts out, “It wasn’t too bad”, but slowly changes. “Can’t remember, been 50 some years ago.”
The first thing that comes to mind when the word ‘Korea’ is said, is “The stink! It was a stinking country.” Jim Williams also said the country had a different smell than here.
For Wheeler, the day began with waking up in a trench, a bunker they made with sandbags around it. “I never had a tent. We were up a hill all the time. We ran a 75 recoilless rifle (a cannon). There was a gunner, a loader, and ammo bearers.”
A platoon had two sections, each section had two squads, and each squad represented one gun. A gun could cover a half mile or better.
When they used the gun, “Depended on what we saw and what happened. And we went on patrols. The gun was just over a hill so they couldn’t see the smoke,” said Wheeler. A patrol squad was 8 to 10 soldiers.
How did Wheeler become a sergeant? “I don’t know. I have no idea. They set you up to see if you did the right thing. A sergeant was supposed to be mean, but that wasn’t the case. We always kidded everybody about getting brownie points.”
There were lighter moments. “A new lieutenant came in, the ROTC route I think. The country was full of birds that coo-cooed all the time, you constantly heard them coo-cooing. The new lieutenant kept asking if they were coo-coo birds.”
The soldiers assured him, “there’s no coo-coo bird in Korea.” The new lieutenatn checked with his superiors on the radio, and they kept up the story. “You’re hearing things.”
“We about had that lieutenant gone nuts. Yeah, poor guy got hit, too, lost a leg.”
“There wasn’t anything we did we wanted to, only we had to, so why brag about it?” Jim Williams of Philip, SD, quietly echoes the feelings of other local Korean War veterans.
Jim Williams was in the same company as Dud Wheeler, less than a mile apart, but they hardly ever saw each other.
Williams was married August 29. He got the call from the military September 12. He was in Louisiana in October for training, and on a ship to Korea the first part of April. From New Orleans through Panama and to Korea took 31 days. The boat was just out of mothballs, so that was different.
Williams, an infantryman, was in Korea from December 24, 1951 to July 9, 1952.
“You had to have been awake or you wouldn’t have been there.”
Williams was in charge of 17 ROK (Republic of Korea) soldiers who carried supplies on their backs for two miles to the front lines each day. Only one could speak English, and he was a Japanese. With their backpacks, they got up hills that were so steep that the men had to pull themselves uphill with a rope.
“We were up there one time at a machine gun nest. We were less than a block coming back and it was hit. It was wiped out,” said Williams.
“You could hear the mortars coming in. If the ROK soldiers could hear, and you looked around, they were nowhere in sight. Every morning - talk about clean people - they broke through the ice and took a bath.”
Williams stayed in a bunker at night; some of the bunkers that the Chinese had made, but the U.S. soldiers had run them out. At night, the kangaroo rats would jump on you, and you would jump, “only way we kept from freezing to death, I guess.”
When Williams came back, all he had was his billfold and a duffel bag. “We shipped out after dark. Actually, we barged out.” The barge was flat, no rails and only inches from the water. “I was looking down by the side of my foot to see the water, talk about a funny feeling. We were getting away from it, so why worry about it.”
He came back to his wife in Philip. “I wouldn’t give a nickel to go again, but I’d give a million dollars for what I learned.” To see the world, what people do, how to get along with people. A lot of guys learned a lot of stuff they wouldn’t have ever learned.
Frederick Nedved, a career military man from Milesville, SD, was in World War II as well as Korea. He had seen action and received medals. Korea was different. Following are excerpts from a letter he wrote on April 13, 1951 ...
“My dear father, I am writing you a few lines to let you know that I am still alive. Well, we are fighting ... going on our tenth month. I certainly will be glad when this terrible war ends. It’s a bloody mess. The hills are full of dead ... mess to see - a bloody mess - I don’t like to talk about it, Dad. Well, my transfer got turned down - maybe I’ll get out of Korea on the rotation plan. I hope ...
Our big guns are shooting now; they shake the earth when they go off. Big towns all on fire and the hills are all on fire too ... lots of land mines laid up all around the hills ... the enemy has these mines. Several of my best friends got killed from them. It makes me cry ... Your loving son, Freddie.
Corporal Frederick Nedved was killed in action while fighting the enemy in North Korea on April 15, 1951, two days after writing the letter.