Tuesday, April 20, 2010

My dad and the Korean War

Most Americans think they know about the Korean War from watching the TV show “M*A*S*H” (1972-1983), which was set there.
But the series was more of an allegory about the Vietnam War, which was in progress when the show began. “M*A*S*H” lasted for 11 years on CBS. (Long enough to see star Alan Alda go from young with dark hair to old and gray.) The actual Korea War lasted three years.
My father, James A. Seitz, served in the U.S. Army in the Korean War in 1953 and the armistice in 1953-54.
“The Korean War: Years of Stalemate” provides a good recounting of the conflict.

Part 2: Near the frontline

James A. Seitz discusses serving at a medical aid station in the Korean War:

The line was maybe 75 miles north of Seoul. It was very mountainous and hilly there. The line was almost along the crest of one of the hills. The aid station was back behind the second row of hills. That’s where I was.
Literally almost a day after I was there, the North Koreans bombarded the frontlines where our people were and then attacked. They came up over the hill and attacked. And we had over 100 people who were injured and shot and many were killed. They all came through the aid station.
They were bombarding with artillery when they attacked so the troops all went underground to escape the attack. Of course, some of them were injured by the artillery. But we had a truckload of Chinese – you can’t call them Koreans because most of them were Chinese – and we threw them in the truck and sent them back. They were dead.
We had over 100 casualties and about 15 dead at that time. We worked from midnight and were still working at 6 o’clock the next morning trying to take care of the wounded. The ambulances came out to our place and loaded them up and took them to the division hospital.
We were in an aid station right on the line. The MASH units were farther back. They were south of us. They had to be in a position so that they could fly helicopters in without being shot at.
We were within two miles of the frontline. We had ambulances to bring in wounded from the line. It was very tough to retrieve the wounded, no question about that. Some of them were brought back in jeeps, whatever they could get a hold of.
What we did there was primary care, make sure we could stop any of the bleeding that was going on, clean ’em up if we could and then send them on to get further treatment.
I supervised.
I supervised privates and a couple of sergeants. They were trained to work in an aid station. They were trained to take care of cleaning up injuries and administering some medication if needed.
I lost three of my men during that time … aides.
They were on the front line and they got killed by the artillery.
That was an eye-opener.
They were on line to support the troops right there. They carried an aid kit that was intended to stop any bleeding that they could.
The thing we feared the most was artillery. They would fire during the day. Of course, you don’t know when it’s coming. All of a sudden, it’s BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! and there are bombs exploding around you. There was no way of knowing when it was coming or anything like that.
All they’re doing is shooting in a general area. We’re behind the hill and they don’t know exactly where we are.
They shot sometimes in the front of the hill because we had people there to watch them and make sure they don’t come up the hill to get anyone.
The hills were barren from the fires. An artillery piece would come in and explode and some of that would start a fire.
It was all ground combat. They had no airplanes. We had air support though. But we didn’t see many airplanes fly over our area.

Where we were living, we had dug into the side of the hill. So where we slept was partially underground. We dug into a hill, so that when we stepped out we were level with the ground but there was a hill behind us.

The fighting was very, very erratic. During that period, I think we only had three or four what you might call assaults. That first assault occurred the first week I was on line. That kind of sets you back.
There were several divisions spread all across the country.

At one point, the South Koreans felt the U.S. needed to protect some mines.
I don’t know what they were mining. But they were digging something. And apparently the government felt we needed to protect them so they wouldn’t be destroyed. We had eight of us who were there.
The people who were living there were very poor. It was really tragic. We would eat Army food, obviously. We had a kitchen and all of that. And in the evening they would come to the gate of our place and beg for whatever food we had left over from our meal. … We gave it all to them.

Next: Entertaining the troops

Photos, from top to bottom, all taken by James A. Seitz 1953-54:
Tanks near the frontline
Convoy of U.S. Army vehicles
Barren hills in the warzone of the Korean War
Sign warning about the Demilitarized Zone ahead
South Korean soldiers man a DMZ checkpoint

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