Korean Vet endured cold, guarded gold
John Clark joined the U. S. Marine Corps to serve his country in the years after World War II. He also joined to get an education. In those times the G.I. Bill was in effect. The Bill would pay for one year of college for one year of military service. Many young men were able to get a college education paid for by joining the military.
Clark was sent to Korea as a member of the 1st Marine Division about six months after the cease fire that stopped the fighting. Clark’s outfit was stationed near Inchon, the site of the amphibious invasion that helped turn the tide of the conflict.
“Right after I got in the Division, they started rotating the Division back to the United States,” Clark said. “I spent some time in the 1st and then rotated to the 24th Division. I ended up having to stay in Korea three months longer than the other guys.”
Clark was assigned to the Headquarters Company as a Message Man and a Teletype Operator. One of his jobs was t guard gold.
“They paid us in script and with the U.S. being on a gold standard we had to have enough gold in the country to back up the script,” he said. “We had little safes that held the gold and we had to guard them around the clock. We also had safes with top secret files and medicinal drugs that we guarded. We always wore our sidearms, 45 caliber pistols.”
One thing that is well known about Korea is that the winters are brutally cold. It snowed in November and the snow never melted. It just kept building up all winter until it finally started to thaw in the spring.
Clark’s friend Roy B. Marshall was in the Army in Korea about the same period. Marshall was a member of the U.S. Army 2nd Division and was stationed in an area called “Little Chicago,” near the 38th Parallel. Marshall agreed with Clark about the cold.
“I was in the motor pool and one day and officer asked me if I could cook,” he said. “I told him I could cook a little and he asked me if I wanted to replace a cook that had rotated home. Of course I took it. The motor pool was cold and the mess hall was warm.”
Temperatures would often drop as low as 15 to 20 degrees below zero. Korea is a peninsula that is so narrow that the soldiers and marines were never more than 50 miles away from the sea. This caused high humidity that added to the adverse weather.
The army and Marine troops slept in tents, Marshall’s tent slept 16 with two small heaters. Clarks’ Marine’s were in conical tents. Both had the same type heaters.
“The heaters were fired with diesel and the drums of fuel were outside and had a tube that ran to the heater,” he said. “We had to wrap the diesel drums to try to keep them warm enough so the diesel would keep flowing. It would not completely freeze, but it would get so thick that it would not run down into the heater. If we did not have diesel, we did not have heat.”
Both men had the same type of clothing.
“We had some heavy clothes and some that were not so heavy, we wore lots of layers,” Clark said. “You did not want to sweat, you could really get into trouble if you sweated and got wet. You would literally freeze with a coat on.”
“Those big ‘Mickey Mouse’ rubber boots were good, they were heavy but they kept your feet warm,” Clark said. “That weather was really bad. It was either cold and raining or hot and dry. I was glad when I finally got to go home.
“I went about three months without taking a shower,” Clark said. “When I finally got to a place to shower, they had to hose off the walk to the shower to get the ice off of the walk and I had to hurry to get in the shower. They had hosed down the shower to get the ice off of that floor. When I finished the shower, they had to hose everything off again so I could get back to get dressed. After going through that I just started to bathe out of a bucket.”
The 24th Division moved to a position near the Imjin River. The Chinese Communists, called Chicoms, would make jabbing moves toward the 38th Parallel. The 24th Division was there to counter any crossing of the Parallel.
“They later told us that if the Chicoms had crossed in the numbers they could have mustered that our division would have only been able to hold them back for 12 to 18 minutes,” he said. “There were more casualties after the cease fire than there were in the years of the fighting. Korea was really torn up. Seoul was nearly destroyed; they fought through there five or six times. There were nearly no trees left in the country, it was really rough on the Koreans that had to live there.”
When Clark finally got to go home, he was on a ship, still guarding gold.
“Our ship had one hold completely sealed from the top. The only in was a door on two sides of the hold. They were locked with a big padlock and we had orders to shoot anyone that touched the lock. Around the clock there was a Marine there with his pistol and if someone would have touched the lock and he did not shoot the guy, the guard would be in trouble.”
After his discharge from the Marines, Clark used the G.I. Bill and got his education. He retired from a career in newspaper advertising.
Clark and his wife Jeanette have been members of the local VFW post for over 30 years. John has served as Post Commander and District Commander. In 2008 he received the J.T. Rutherford Award for Outstanding Service to the VFW. In 2007 and 2008 he was named an All American Commander.
Jeanette has been Ladies Auxiliary President seven times and named Outstanding President four times. She has also served as National Publicity Chairman.
John Clark did not join the VFW until 1977. He was not sure that he was eligible. When he found that he was he joined and has been a valuable member.
Korean veterans have the distinction of being veterans of an undeclared war. Due to the Korean action being classed as a “Police Action” or a “Conflict,” Korean veterans have been denied the respect they are due. Legislation was finally passed in the early 1990s to give them a status that put them on the level of the veterans of World War II and other declared wars.
Members of the “Forgotten War” are finally forgotten no more.