The year was 1946. Ulysses resident Kellye Hart was in a foreign country more than 6,000 miles away from where he called home - a military camp in Korea. He thought back on what had brought him so far away.
“I opened the entrance door (of my barracks) and stepped outside. The night was cold and clear; the stars were shining brightly. The crisp fall air was tinged with the same odor I had detected when I came in to this strange country,” Hart said, remembering back to why he was there. “It was in May after my high school graduation that I thought of joining the military. World War II had ended only nine months before, and it seemed inevitable I would be drafted, so I joined the Army. I joined up in June of 1946.”
Although World War II had “officially” ended, there was still work to be done. Hart and other recruits, were among “occupation troops” with orders to complete work at the end of the war.
They boarded a train at Fort Sill, Okla., and soon learned modesty had to be left behind.
“We were sent to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, near San Antonio for processing,” Hart said. “At the processing center, there were a lot of recruits. We were directed to strip naked. Each recruit was to place his clothes in a box and address where it was to be sent. We were then to 'fall in line' where we were issued our Army clothes. There was table after table, each having a different item. We were first given a duffle bag. Then behind each table was a soldier who issued a piece of clothing to us to put on and extras to be placed in the duffle bag. By the time one reached the end of the line, he was fully dressed and had all necessary items in his duffle bag.”
According to Hart, it took a couple of days for all processing to be completed. He and other recruits were then sent to various forts or camps across the United States to complete basic training. Hart was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, a few miles north of El Paso, Texas to begin eight weeks of anti-aircraft basic training. There were 200 recruits in Hart’s company arriving in July and August - two of the hottest months there.
“Upon arrival, we were assigned quarters in four-person wooden huts,” he said. “The latrine and showers were located in separate buildings. We were issued M-1 rifles and taught how to disassemble and clean them. The rifles held a clip of eight rounds. We had no live ammunition; however, on the rifle range, we were issued clips so one could mark his accuracy when shooting. We spent about a week on bivouac in a New Mexico desert north of Fort Bliss, where we manned anti aircraft guns aimed at aircraft targets that trailed airplanes. Everything was manual, so it took several soldiers to operate each gun. Every fourth bullet shot was a tracer round which would indicate accuracy of the shooting. When night came, each soldier took his shelter half and teamed up with another soldier. Two shelter halves would make a pup tent that provided some protection.”
When his eight weeks of basic training ended, he was given a furlough and spent a few days with his parents in Walters, Okla., where Hart said they moved after he joined the Army. His next assignment was to report to Camp Stoneman, Calif., located in San Francisco Bay.
“It was a staging area during World War II - it was decommissioned in 1954,” Hart said. “I spent about a week at Camp Stoneman before boarding a troop ship, the Marine Fox, which was headed non-stop for Korea. As the ship left the port with 1,800 troops, we could see Alcatraz, the island prison in San Francisco Bay (closed in 1963). Then we sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge onto the high seas. The ocean swells made the sea rough, and several soldiers became seasick and vomited. I felt queasy, but never threw up.”
One stop along the way was Hawaii for “refrigeration repair”, according to Hart.
“Most everyone wanted to go dockside, so four-hour passes were issued to a few hundred at a time, but only to those who had their summer dress uniforms,” Hart said. “Not many had (dress uniforms) because winter was approaching, and most had been issued only winter clothes.”
Hart spent a lot of time topside looking out across at Diamond Head and watching little boys try to retrieve coins soliders would toss. The troops spent only a couple of days in Hawaii before heading on their way.
October 21, 1946
“I stood on the deck of the Marine Fox and watched land forms appear and disappear as the ship made its way northward through the Yellow Sea along the Western Coast of Korea to the Port of Inchon,” he said. “I had no way of knowing what this mysterious land was like, for I had heard of it only a few weeks earlier. On school maps I had studied, it was called Chosen, the Japanese name. In the distance, its mountainous terrain, covered with trees, looked beautiful. It was about noon when we dropped anchor in Inchon Bay. Because the harbor was too shallow to accommodate the ship, landing craft were dispatched from the port to pick us up.”
Hart's first impression, was not a sight, but a smell.
"I found a strong odor that filled the air to be present everywhere I went in Korea," Hart said. "I never became accustomed to it. As we marched up a slight embankment to the train that awaited us, we passed a line of Korean men chanting in cadence as they unloaded and carried cargo to a warehouse. Ahead of us were half-clothed, half-starved urchins scrambling in, out, under and between the cars of the train. As we entered the coaches, we were given C-rations for our lunch. I realized the children were scrambling for food left in cans discarded by the soldiers. I watched these children for some time and wondered how they managed to live. I also wondered about their families and their homes. Finally the train surged forward, and the children scattered in all directions.”
When Hart and the other troops first arrived, they disembarked just outside of Seoul.
“The train ride was short. We marched to a large building that was once a silk factory, where we were to be housed for the night,” he said. “The factory was idle and had been for some time. Army cots were placed among the machinery. The building was poorly heated, and the late October air seemed to defy the few coal-burning stoves. By the time we were settled and had chow, it was dark. I was not sleepy. I felt somewhat awe-stricken by what I had seen during my first day in Korea. During the ocean trip, I heard mention of the 38th parallel, the Russians in North Korea, and Communism, but they had little meaning. I tried not to think of the future. A slight breeze arose, and I felt a chill and went inside. The lights were out, so I stood just inside the doorway for a moment to reconnoiter before making my way to my cot.”
The next morning Hart and the other soldiers were awakened before daylight.
“After breakfast, we loaded onto trucks that took us into Seoul. The city looked clean, but here, too, was the odor,” he said. “In the streets were old cars, bicycles, horse-drawn carts, streetcars, Army vehicles, and many pedestrians - mostly children. Some of the buildings looked modern and others old and dilapidated. Once in the heart of the city, the Army trucks loaded with soldiers went in various directions. The truck I was riding in went south of the city to a small Army encampment. We were billeted in quonset huts. I learned the next day I would be headed South to the port city of Pusan on the southern tip of the peninsula. I was taken along with others to the train station. By the time we arrived, the coaches reserved for soldiers were filled. I waited outside with a few others while space was being made for us. As we entered two MPs were signaling to the Koreans to move from their seats to the aisle. There were already about twice as many Koreans per seat as the seats were built to accommodate, not to mention the bundles, baskets and bags the Koreans had with them. Somehow they managed to pack themselves tighter in the coach to make room for us. They must have been refugees from North Korea, for they had many belongings with them. I slept little that night. I awoke many times. Each time I opened my eyes, I saw the two MPs standing in the aisle at the point separating soldiers from Koreans.”
When morning came, they were in Pusan.
“The troops were split up and sent to various places in and around the city,” he said. “A few of us were assigned to Company B of the 42nd Engineer Construction Battalion north of Pusan, a detached unit from Seoul. The camp consisted of four barracks buildings, a mess hall, a headquarters building, a supply room, a laundry, a motor pool, a storage building and a few smaller buildings. After getting checked in and settled, we were asked to exchange any money we had for military script. The script was paper and in all dominations except 1 cent. As a private, my pay was $75 per month. Shortly after arriving in Korea, all privates were promoted to private first class.”
The troops were short-handed, operating at about “a quarter of their authorized strength”, according to Hart.
“There were hardly enough men to do the necessary work,” he said. “Soldiers who had been in combat were being relieved of their duties and being sent back to the States faster than replacements were coming in. The camp had been a Japanese prison facility during the war. Buildings were painted black and poorly constructed.”
Soldiers had oil drums to use as heating stoves.
“The drums lay on their sides on metal stands. Inside each drum an oil unit was mounted,” Hart explained. “These makeshift stoves produced little heat. Oil sometimes leaked on the floor, and it was only after one building burned and another caught fire that the drums were converted to coal. The coal we received were briquettes and coal dust that did not burn well.”
Soldiers spent a lot of time in the PX or post exchange.
“The PX didn’t have a lot, mostly cigarettes, candy bars and toiletries,” Hart said. “Cigarettes were a big item as they were sought by the Koreans. One could use them on the black market in exchange for whatever the Koreans who worked on the base had to offer."
Hart’s first job with Company B was as a jeep driver. He was assigned to drive a lieutenant, who shipped out two days later. He and another soldier were then assigned as guards.
“(We) were sent to a railroad terminal in Pusan to guard a boxcar filled with Army cot mattresses,” he said. “We were armed with carbines and were given instructions to stay with the boxcar until it was unloaded. A truck from our unit brought us food and water. The soldier with me thought we should take turns sleeping at night in case someone tried to steal the mattresses. I convinced him I would awaken if anyone opened the boxcar door.”
Two days later, Hart returned back to Company B where he was assigned to the motor pool as a parts requisition clerk, and then he was assigned to take charge of about a half dozen Korean men working on an ammunition dump. Communication between Hart and the Koreans was difficult as they spoke little English. They communicated mostly with “sign” language. Hart and the men were to make an ammunition dump out of a cave in the area.
“The cave was about six feet high, about four feet wide, and stretched back into a hill for about 25 feet,” Hart said. “It was necessary to clean the cave, line it with sheet iron, floor it, and build a door. The cave was damp and the floor muddy. The Koreans and I completed the work in two days except for the door. I could not communicate well enough to tell them how to build it, so I decided to do it.”
The opening was not “square” so taking the measurements of the opening, he built the door to fit the opening.
“To my surprise, the door worked, so I reported to the lieutenant the job was complete,” Hart said. “He came and inspected our work. Everything was satisfactory except the door. He thought it should open inward instead of outward. I tried to explain it would not work opening inward as the ceiling of the cave was too low for the door to clear. He insisted that door be squared and hinged to open inward and stood there while I made the change. The door would not clear the ceiling, so I sawed off enough to clear the ceiling, but there was a gap. He looked at me, smiled and said, ‘how did you get the door to fit in the first place. Not just anyone could cut a door that shape.’”
After further inspection, it was determined the cave was too damp to store ammunition so that assignment ended. Hart was then assigned as barracks orderly.
“There were four barracks buildings, but I was responsible for only one,” Hart said. “This seemed a relatively simple task, but it had its problems, too. It was my duty to see the barracks, washroom, and latrine were kept clean. I had a Korean boy, Kim-e-ta, probably in his late teens, assigned to me as a helper. The barracks buildings were inspected by a commanding officer every Saturday morning. I had to accompany him as he made his rounds.”
Not long after he was assigned as barracks orderly, he began having guard duty frequently.
“I was on guard duty every other night,” he said. “The nights were cold and the days were not much warmer. One night, I was not relieved when I should have been. I knew other guardsmen had been relieved, because I could see lights of the truck as it stopped at each post. My post was close to the guardhouse. As the truck returned, I stopped it and asked the sergeant of the guard why I was not relieved. He said my relief was probably still asleep and he would check. After he left, I heard several shots. It was the first time I had heard shots while on guard duty. The sergeant returned with my relief, and I asked him if he had heard the shots. He had not and asked from where they came. I climbed into the truck and directed him to the area where I thought the shots came from.”
Hart soon learned what had happened.
“As we arrived a few men with flashlights were standing over a Korean man. It was a terrible sight,” he said. “The Korean lay on the frozen ground in a pool of blood. Part of his head was missing. No one spoke for a moment then someone said, “he’s dead.” Another placed a blanket over the corpse. The sergeant and I returned to the guardhouse. I went to bed, but could not sleep. I would doze off, but the sight of what happened kept flashing through my mind.”
The next morning, the man’s body was still laying where it had fallen.
“(The body was) a few yards from the fence of our compound,” he said. “It must have been frozen by now, for the temperature was well below freezing and had been for several days. The next day I walked down the road near the site to see if the body had been removed. It had not. I wondered about the family of the dead man. I wondered if they knew about his death. It was close to 4 o’clock in the afternoon when the coroner from Pusan finally came and pronounced the Korean dead.”
Some time later, Hart learned more details about what transpired..
“I learned the Koreans had been stealing DDT,” he said. “It commanded a high price among them as many of their homes were infested with bedbugs and lice. Holes were cut in the fence to gain entrance to the area where the DDT was stored. Booby traps had been placed along the fence to discourage theft, but they proved ineffective. A few men of the company took it upon themselves to do something about the stealing. They armed themselves with carbines and stationed themselves near the building where the DDT was stored. Around 10 o’clock, three Koreans approached the fence. The soldiers fired.”
In late December, more replacements arrived in Pusan, bringing Company B to about half of its authorized strength. Hart’s guard duty diminished and he was given a new assignment as a baker. The bakery that had furnished bread to Company B and other units around Pusan had burned down. The personnel who had been working there were black soldiers, as the military at the time was still segregated. President Harry Truman signed an executive order desegregating the military on July 26, 1948.
“Each company had to do its own baking after the fire, so more cooks were needed. I applied and became a baker.”
According to Hart, day cooks had limited supplies to prepare meals.
“Some higher authority planned all the meals, so there were no decisions to be made of what to prepare,” he said. “We received just enough supplies for each day. For about the first five to six months, much of our food came from Australia in the form of powdered eggs and milk, dehydrated potatoes and carrots. These came in No. 10 cans (and) were World War II leftovers.”
Hart soon found he had more free time, so he decided to learn more about Korea.
“Kim-e-ta was still working as a barracks orderly helper (and) he spoke some English. (Kim-e-ta said) he learned it from listening to the radio,” Hart said. “One day he told me he had been listening to a Japanese radio station that gave lessons in English. He asked me, ‘what does attaboy mean?’ I tried to explain, but I don’t think I was successful.”
Kim-e-ta, according to Hart, had been taken to Japan as a child.
“English was a required foreign language there, but when World War II began, English was dropped from the curriculum,” Hart said adding he had learned a lot from the teen.
“I learned from him and through my own observation that physically Korea suffered little from the war, but economically, it suffered much,” he said. “Japanese, who had ruled Korea for 40 years, had stripped it of its economic wealth. Koreans resented the Japanese and also the Americans. They saw little difference in being occupied by Japan or the United States. They knew only that they were not free as long as foreign troops were on their soil. They had no fear of the Communists to the North. Only a few of the Koreans knew and feared what was often rumored among the troops, that if the occupation forces ever left, the Communists would move in.”
Hart was eager to learn more about Korea. Kim-e-ta served as Hart’s guide, including going out of what was considered “safe”, and into restricted areas.
“I felt safe being with Kim-e-ta,” Hart said. “The streets were filled with women balancing bundles, baskets and other items on their heads and men carrying heavy loads on their backs. We went into another part of the city in which people lived in squalor, were ragged and starving. Many of them came up and begged us for food and money. Children with open, running sores followed us. An old man, a leper, stopped in front of me to beg. I had never seen such a pitiful face. The disease had affected his bones and it looked as if his face had been shoved back into his head. There was no prominence to his chin, nose or cheeks. I could not bear to look at him and walked away.”
Hart eventually learned why the strong, repugnant odor was so prevalent in Korea.
“"All human excrement is deposited in open cesspools near most of the homes," he explained. "Oxen and horse manure is also put in the cesspools. When planting season starts, water is added to the excrement, then stirred until a certain consistency is obtained. The solution is then dipped and poured into ‘honey carts’ - wooden barrel-like containers. When the rice plants are taken to the paddies for transplanting, a little of the manure solution is poured around each plant, then the paddies are flooded. Every plot of arable land outside the paddies was being used to grow vegetables and other foodstuffs, even the right-of-ways along roads and railroad tracks.”
Kim-e-ta did not move with Company B, and Hart never saw him again.”
When he received his discharge papers, Hart said goodbye to Korea.
“Processing was rapid, which surprised me as the Army is known for ‘hurry up and wait’. After boarding the ship to head back to the States, I went topside and stood against the railing, looking out across the bay. I took a deep breath and thought how good it was to be breathing fresh air again. It was October 20, 1947 - one year to the day that I had been in Korea. I was looking forward to being in the United States again.”
Hart’s ship pulled anchor and headed south in the Yellow Sea to Okinawa, Japan, where he said a number of “stiffs” (dead military personnel) would be picked up.
“As we entered the harbor, I noticed several small ships and watercraft sticking out of the water,” he said. “I presumed the port had not been cleared up of the destruction of World War II. Our stop was brief. We then headed for the month-long trip to the states to Camp Stoneman, Calif., where I had shipped out a year earlier."
While on board the ship headed home, Hart spent a lot of time topside just looking out across the Pacific.
"One day when I went topside I was awe stricken," he said. "The ocean was like a sheet of glass, not a ripple other than what the ship was making. It was eerie and mesmerizing, it was if I was in another world. Pacific means calm, a derivative meaning to pacify.”
After weeks at sea, the ship approached California.
“We anchored in the bay at Camp Stoneman and waited until morning to disembark,” Hart said. “When morning came, we were taken to our barracks where we wold spend about a week processing out. This was one of those ‘hurry up and wait’ situations. All of us to be discharged were to report to one of the buildings where a recruiter welcomed us and then proceeded to tell us about the benefits of being in the Army and re-enlisting. He was very convincing with his message, one that tugged at one’s heart and patriotism. Several went forward to reenlist. I am guessing some really liked the Army and some didn’t have any idea what they would do once they were discharged.”
Hart received his discharge in late November 1947.
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