‘A veteran remembers’ is the story of Eugene Schmid, an army veteran who served in the Korean War. He is also a brother to Gays Mills resident Virginia Murphy, and was born and raised in Plain, Wisconsin. This is the first of four weekly segments.
Before I recall my military experiences, I would like to make some observations. War is stupid, inhumane, has always been with humans and will continue until humans annihilate themselves. From the earliest man, who would club each other to modern times when the smartest minds develop chemical and atomic weapons to impress their will on others. It is immoral to spend so much of the earth’s resources to tear down and then rebuild using that which could be used to feed and clothe. Combat is organized chaos.In about 1917 the United States was dragged into the First World War. I grew up knowing a lot of those veterans. It was called the “war to end all wars,” President Wilson had a grand plan called the League of Nations, it was to enlist all nations together to face a common threat. Could you believe twenty years later there was World War II. This war became personal as I had uncles in the military now. The entire population got behind this effort in a way we haven’t seen since. We endured shortages, price controls to stem inflation, we purchased War Bonds and picked milkweed pods for life jackets. When the war ended in 1945 we made several mistakes. We were so war sick we just abandoned all our “war” equipment where it was last used. We downsized our military forces. The Malta Agreement divided Berlin into four sections, giving Russia a chance to blockade our section. So we had to airlift supplies to support Berlin. Russia put up a wall to keep East Berliner’s captive, Korea was divided North and South to give the communists the north. The grand plan this time was called the United Nations. June 1950 the North Koreans swept into South Korea. The world was ill prepared for this event. President Truman assembled a coalition of forces to repel them. General McArthur, in a smart military maneuver launched an invasion at Inchon. This cut off the Red army. McArthur’s forces continued to advance North with the Red army in disarray. He then made a huge mistake by disobeying President Truman’s order and drove toward the Chinese Border which brought China into the conflict. McArthur was subsequently relieved of his post. The UN forces suffered badly that winter at the Yalu River. In October 1950 my high school buddy was replaced on the home farm by his younger brother and so he decided to join the service. He came to me and asked if I would join him. Having no career in mind, and the prospect of the draft hanging over me, I agreed. On October 10thwe took a bus to Milwaukee and went to the Navy recruiter’s office. We were informed it would be a four year enlistment. We decided that was too long for us so we crossed the hall to the Army recruiter and we joined the Army for three years. We joined the Corps of Engineers, more about that later. We were sworn in, given a serial number, just one digit apart, and officially were in the Army. We were sent to Fort Sheridan, Illinois where we started getting harassed. After about 10 days we were transferred to Fort McCoy for basic training. We were assigned to different companies, almost across the street from each other. Our trainers were a contingent of the National Guards from Mississippi. We were to be combat engineers but we had to take 8 weeks of basic infantry first. As I said earlier, the army was woefully unprepared. We were issued the old 2 buckle combat boots, the old horse blanket overcoat with the six bold colored buttons worn by Sgt. Schultz on Hogan’s Heroes and the cold elbow length leather engineer gloves. Our barracks were two story wood buildings with no insulation; heated with a coal fired furnace which was located at the end of the first floor. November and December were for basic infantry and January and February were for basic engineering. It is noted here that January 31 was the date that the mercury hit minus 50 degrees at Lone Rock. It was a cold winter and the dudes from Mississippi did not enoy the cold. Many of our lessons were cancelled so we were assigned to the barracks to care and clean our weapons. A sample of our engineering was when we took about fifty pounds of explosives out to this frozen lake and detonated a few prima cords; then piled the rest together and placed a time fuse to it and marched back. With this kind of training we should never have been sent into combat. In February we got our shots, were given a short furlough and sent to Washington State. We spent the following 3 months in the infantry. We boarded a troop ship for Japan. We got separated on the ship, he in the troop compartment which got to capacity before my name was called. Consequently, there was a few state rooms available and I was assigned to one of them. We watched Seattle disappear in the sunset. I awoke in the morning, jumped down from my bunk and headed to the stairs for breakfast. I didn’t make it, as I was sea sick for 14 days. I did not see my buddy the whole way. I don’t know how he faired but I was glad I didn’t join the Navy. After a day or so n Japan we boarded a ship for Korea. During this time in transit we weren’t given much news but I understand that the North and South were jockeying back and forth. When we arrived in Korea it seemed like victory was imminent as all the G-I’s tormented us by asking if we came for the occupation. It didn’t work that way. We were put on a rickety train and headed north.