by Andy McNeil
Fresh from advanced combat training in early April of 1951, our training unit was incorporated into the 14th Marine Corp Replacement Draft consisting of approximately three thousand men. We were delivered to the docks at San Diego and loaded aboard two single-propeller, "V" hulled, deep draft personnel attack ships identified as APA 201(The Minerva) and APA 202 (The Menifee). The vessels were products of the WWII effort and built in the Henry J. Kaiser shipyards. The ships had welded seams rather than the more secure and reliable riveted seams.
The APAs were considered expendable when built and the common joke was that they, like the paper Dixie Cups of the day, were to be used one time and thrown away.
Leaving San Diego Harbor, our ships traveled north until we found the Japanese currents, then turned west and entered a storm that lasted for six of the twelve-day trip to Japan. The unsettled seas created swells taller than our ship causing it to roll side to side and up and down like a briny roller coaster type ride. There were times when we were able to watch the sister ship take the fierce pounding and realized that our ship was suffering the same aches and pains.
As the ship rolled over the swells, the prow turned downward nosing deeply into the surf. This position caused the stern to be lifted clear of the water and the propeller to rotate in mid-air sending an eerie churning vibration throughout the entire ship.
Our fold-down canvas bunks were eighteen inches apart and stacked six high. Seawater was provided for bathing with one minute of fresh water for rinsing. Toilet facilities consisted of a trough of seawater pumped in one side of the ship and out the other. During the seawater part of our daily showers, we jokingly remarked that we hoped that we were not following another ship with similar toilet facilities.
Mess was provided in the ship’s galley, and we ate standing while bracing ourselves against the heavily anchored waist high tables. The roll of the ship was so violent that it was necessary to hold our food tray with one hand to keep it from sliding off the lipped table.
The rough seas made the simple act of walking extremely difficult, and we altered our pattern by extending our feet to either side thus developing a manner of walk commonly referred to as "sea legs."
Seasickness was an all too common problem and many became severely disabled as a result of their inability to retain food or liquids. Some troops actually had to be rehabilitated before they were physically fit for their assignments.
Once out of the storm, the seas began to calm, and as we crossed the International Date Line, we were issued individual certificates attesting to the fact that we had made the crossing. With calmer seas we quickly settled into getting our equipment ready for the assignments that lay ahead.
Most of us had been issued new fatigues before leaving the states, and the clothing items were uncomfortable until softened by several trips to the laundry. We found that dragging the garments in the salt water along side the ship quickly improved the texture.
Before reaching Japan, the cash we carried was replaced by a strange looking medium of exchange of the same denomination called "scrip." The purpose was purportedly to keep American green back out of foreign hands.
At this place and point in time, the word "replacement" in our draft’s name took on the full meaning of our intended purpose. We received individual assignments and were merged into Marine Corp units with the survivors of the Inchon landing and of the Chosin Reservoir.
Awed by the circumstances and the company that I found myself in, I said little and listened attentively, realizing I had much to learn.
Spring was in full bloom, and the mosquitoes from the hillside rice paddies welcomed our fresh supply of blood. Having grown up in the Mississippi Delta, I was accustomed to the pest and managed to adapt easier than some. The constant swatting of the nuisances did provide a great opportunity to manufacture stories about the size of the mosquitoes on our Delta bayous and rice fields.
Half way around the world, and while traveling in a truck convoy moving closer to the front, I spotted a former Cleveland (Miss.) High School classmate from my sophomore year. David Jones was a member of another Marine unit that had stopped along the roadside. The event only provided an opportunity to shout greeting to each other as we passed and I did not see him again. At a later date, Winfred Dickey (CHS class of ‘48) and I visited briefly after his assignment to the First Marine Division.
Our cause was a multinational effort, and many of our allied troops had languages and customs quite different from our own. Despite the differences, individuals possessed items that others wanted and a barter system quickly developed using hand signals, loud haggling and always accompanied by vulgar and abusive language. The system worked only because neither trader could understand what he was being called by the person he was negotiating with.
The "enemy" consisted of the North Korean Peoples’ Army (NKPA) and the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) made up of the Chinese Peoples’ Volunteers (CPV). Both armies were reported to have female soldiers among their ranks, but they wore the same uniform as their male counterparts, and few of us knowingly encountered any of them.
We would occasionally receive reports of guerrilla units operating behind our lines concentrating on the roadside ambushes of unescorted allied vehicles. Like the stagecoaches of the old west, our vehicles were not permitted outside of our compound unless it had at least one “shotgun rider” equipped with a fully automatic weapon.
Except for patrols and probing activities, momentum usually slowed after the sun went down, giving us a lot of time to reflect and think. I recalled the days when I was an active member of the Cleveland’s First Baptist Church youth group called The Royal Ambassadors and helped raise funds to feed the starving children in China. I could not help but wonder if any of those children that I had helped feed were now wearing Communist uniforms and in the lines north of me.
We soon learned that the Navy was not financing our operations, and all our support, supplies, weapons, ammunition and equipment was provided by the Army. Our benefactor diligently kept us supplied with combat basics but seldom provided reliable vehicles or support equipment and never provided any of the luxuries that our Army counterparts always seemed to have.
Entertainment consisted of movies provided by our Special Services unit, although one USO Troop with Jack Benny visited us. Marilyn Monroe visited some troops but was only in our compound for about fifteen minutes. Our battalion had one defective projector that broke down several times during each and every movie. We had three grade "B" movies that were rotated nightly and were presented when conditions permitted. From the repetitious viewing of the films, we learned the actors’ lines verbatim and often, in unison, would recite the more dramatic lines along with the film characters.
As a result of our shortages, some of the Marines exercised "moments of opportunity" to "acquire" from the Army supplies and equipment along with some of the items that were considered luxuries. These events took place under the category of "Midnight Acquisitions" and proved to be very successful. Special Services woke one morning to find a new projector and seven new movies stacked neatly outside their tent.
One Marine unit set up a "hot car" operation and within minutes of receipt, the experts would have an olive drab Army jeep, or truck, repainted to a Marine Corp green complete with vivid yellow USMC letters and ID numbers making it almost impossible to identify the vehicle’s past history and pervious owner.
As expected, the downside of this system was that all Marines found themselves unwelcome in most of the Army compounds, roadside coffee tents and rest stops. Curb service for the traveling Marine vehicles at the coffee stops became the norm, and every time any of us were required to visit an Army unit we were provided with an "escort," allegedly to provide for our comfort while there.
All captured Chinese weapons were stored in a canvas covered pile near the center of our compound and on each trip to the rear area, the persons making the trip would pick up a couple of the items to carry with them for bartering purposes. Many of the foreign rear echelon units were supplied luxuriously and were always willing to trade some of their luxuries for our "captured" souvenirs.
The pilots of the South African Air Force spoke English and were probably the most luxuriously equipped unit among the allied nations. Some of the members of our unit became friends with the pilots who visited our area to bring gifts of their national beverages. As a gesture of our appreciation, their vehicles were always loaded with captured Communist weapons and “souvenirs” for them to carry home to their units.
Read more of Andy McNeil's fascinating Korean War memories:
Korea: Part II
Korea: Part III
Korea: Part IV
USS Menifee Reunion
And read Andy's hilarious account of humor in the courtroom:
ABOUT ANDY McNEIL~
*Graduated Cleveland (Miss.) High class of 1949
*Graduated Delta State with BS in Business Administration, Class of 1957
*Graduated University of Mississippi Masters in Economics
*One year of graduate work as doctoral candidate in Buisness at the University of Arkansas
*Graduated University Arkansas School of Law 1968 with LLB
*Three years in United States Marine Corp. (1950-1953 - Korean Vet)
*Assistant Professor of Accounting and Economics at University of Central Arkansas (1958-1965)
*Private law practice 1968-1985 in Conway, Arkansas
*Twentieth Arkansas Judicial District Chancery Judge 1986-1998
*Now serving Arkansas Judical Department as Retired Judge on Assignment
*Hunting, fishing, camping, golf and other outdoor activities
*Served one term on City of Conway, Arkansas Planning Commission
*Served Arkansas Civil Air Patrol as Search & Rescue Pilot and Legal Officer
*Served on various committies for Arkansas Judical Council
*Now serving Conway Habitat for Humanity
*Life Member of Arkansas Judicial Council
*Received acknowledgement from W.C. Jameson in his investgative Western History publication of The Return of The Outlaw Billy the Kid
*Assiting W. C. Jameson in his unfinished and unnamed work regarding the history of James Casharago, the last man hanged by the "Hanging Judge of Fort Smith," Issac Parker
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