Doyle Gracey's memories of Korea
The Spirit of Tehachapi
August 20, 2022
I was talking to a gentleman the other day who said he'd like to read another one of my husband's USMC stories. Here is one from 1951-52 when he spent a year in Korea.
by CWO-4 Doyle D Gracey, Jr. USMC, Ret.
In August 1951, when I was a Gunnery Sergeant, I visited Korea at Uncle Sam's insistence, and was part of what was called a Police Action over there. I was transported to a land of rice paddies, rugged mountains, poor transportation and harsh climate conditions. We did not understand the Korean people, nor they us. We were strangers in a foreign land and sometimes resented by the people. They were quite industrious and very poor. They utilized the ocean for fishing and had an excellent method for drying the fish for later use. They crowded their houses on hillsides so as not to take up valuable farmland. All in all, a very thrifty people.
The First Amphibian Tractor Battalion, attached to the First Marine Division to which I was also attached at Pohang, was responsible for the unloading of jet fuel for the Phantom Jets the Marines flew out there. Our Amphibious Tractors (AmTracks) brought the fuel from the ships lying off the coast. This was accomplished so as to support the Marine Air Wing there. The fuel was in 55 gallon drums and was lowered to the amtracks from the ship in nets. The nets would hold 12 to 15 barrels while the amtracks could hold about 30 barrels on a normal day. On a very calm day the amtracks could accommodate three nets worth. Transporting the fuel was our job and it was a 24 hour job in all kinds of weather.
Sometimes we, as human beings, get to thinking we have more on the ball that those in which we come in contact. As a result someone can get badly hurt, or even killed. We, of the western world, take too many things for granted because we are not forced by necessity to utilize what we have at hand to take care of a situation. I have great respect for those who can attain the results they need without the amenities of the modern mechanized world.
I received my first insight into the ingenuity of the Korean people while waiting to cross a main north-south road to get from our quarters out to our tractor park. I was intrigued by an oncoming bus which seemed to be enveloped in its own cloud. It pulled up to a sort of bus stop and I witnessed a scene reminiscent of an Indianapolis 500 pit stop. A crew of Koreans rushed out to place jacks under the axles and remove quickly the wheels and installed another set. The bus was off again in moments; this time without the cloud, and this puzzled me.
In the meantime, the "pit crew" busied themselves with the removed wheels.
I was amazed –dumbfounded-when I saw them forcibly stuffing the tires with old rags, pieces of canvas, pieces of rope, cut up inner tubes, pieces of cut up tires and anything else handy. Once stuffed, the tires were filled with water. The cold Korean winter took care of freezing them solid. They were to be installed on the next bus coming through the area. No doubt the on coming bus would be making its own clouds as the contents of their tires became crushed.
Every few days it was necessary to make a trip to Regimental Headquarters and in doing so, we passed another sight worth mentioning. It was summer by now and for a period of about ten days I took note of an old Papasan standing on a boulder that was nearly round and about eight feet high. He seemed to be in no hurry as he hit the boulder in exactly the same spot each time; slowly and methodically with what appeared to be an eight pound sledge hammer. On my next trip to Headquarters I took note that the boulder was split into two identical halves.
It was explained to me by those who were versed in local lore that the slow, steady hammering had slowly cracked the boulder in half. Later the same large boulder was reduced to gravel for the road. Obviously, the old Papasan did not have to punch a time clock.
During the winter the Koreans did not have to go to such lengths for rock splitting. The worker would place a star drill on the boulder, hit it with a four pound mall and with each hit, rotate the drill slightly. Gradually the hole became deeper and when it was twelve to fifteen inches deep it was filled with water and a wooden plug was driven in. This was allowed to freeze. The expanding action would begin to split that rock. Slow, but effective.
They had an indirect heating system for their homes that provided heated floors. Hot air and smoke would move under the floor from one end to the other and pass out a damper controlled chimney.
The language barrier sometimes causes problems that are frustrating and costly. This proved to be the case when an LVT-3C became mired in a tidal basin at the mouth of the Imjin River. Our tractors often became stuck in the thick, gooey mud and a suction was created because of the amtrack's flat bottom. We could solve the problem by using two 55-gallon drums tied to the track on the front of the vehicle. The tractor would leap-frog out of trouble by driving over them. The drums would then be removed and hand carried forward and then tied on again. The process was repeated until the landing craft was out of trouble. This was something we did nearly every day but on this particular day when one of the men jumped off the tractor to secure the drums , he immediately became bogged down in the mud up to his chest. A second crewman went over the side to help his buddy and he, too, became mired in the muck; neither of them able to free themselves.
The situation quickly became critical and help was summoned by radio. Time was definitely a factor as the tide was rapidly coming in. The mud was like none we'd encountered before and the suction kept the men from freeing themselves.
A chopper was soon overhead and a loop was lowered for the men to slip under their arms to be pulled free. It became apparent that the relentless suction would pull the young leathernecks in half if they did not free themselves from the pull of the loops ; which both men did.
A crowd gathered and among them was a very old Korean man who was attempting to communicate with us. We, because of the language barrier, could not understand what he was trying to tell us, over and over. His gestures were also meaningless. We knew he wanted to help but we simply could not understand what he meant. Had their been more time we could have found someone to interpret what he was saying.
As it was the old man, in his traditional white Korean garb with straw sandals and pointed black hat, stayed with us as we were forced to watch the death of two young Marines by drowning as the relentless tide engulfed them.
We found out later that when any of these native residents encountered that type of mud they forced marsh grass, rags or any object down around the legs to break the suction. It was such a simple solution but because of lack of communication, two good men died needlessly.
Many years have passed since that happened. If we had paid more attention to the old Papasan we might have finally understood what he meant. Without fail, when one believes that superior technology brings superior solutions, one tends to overlook the simple and the obvious.