The Third Replacement Draft
by Cpl. Rick Kennedy, C-1-5, Korea
I checked out of the Hanalei early last September 23rd to catch my flight back to Port Orange, Florida. The Charlie Company reunion was a class event as usual, and it becomes more apparent every year that the most outstanding group of men with whom I have ever been associated is the group of Marines with whom I served with in Korea. The US Airways flight took off from San Diego, briefly headed out over the Pacific, and then turned 180 degrees back across coast. The plane passed over a long pier in the harbor, and it seemed certain to be the same pier from which I left for Korea, almost 51 years ago to the day.
The third replacement draft from Camp Pendleton left aboard the APA SS General Collins early in November 1950 with about 1500 marines and a small group of Navy personnel. It was a very haunting feeling as the lights from the coastline of California disappeared into the night, and the ship sound system played the then-popular song “Harbor Lights”...
We were bunked in the troop quarters, with bunks stacked about 5 or 6 high. The first night at sea, we apparently hit a typhoon. The ship seemed to rise out of the sea as it fought this terrible storm, with the propeller making a horrible sound when it came out of the water. Many of the Marines became sick, and they had no choice but vomit over the side of their bunk, hitting either the deck or over other unfortunate Marines in the racks below. It was not a very pretty sight, and I thought the General Collins was going to sink the first night out. The next day I was surprised to awaken to bluer skies and an ocean as calm as glass. No one had warned us about the notorious ocean swells off the California coast.
The rest of the trip across the Pacific was very uneventful. Many of us took advantage of the opportunity to work on our sun tans, and stayed on top deck most every day. We watched the porpoises follow our ship across the ocean, and we marveled at the pelicans landing on the ship, surviving in the middle of this great ocean.
Along the way, one of the sailors was caught in the sea bag storage area going through belongings of Marines. He spent the trip in the ships brig, and I am not certain of his ultimate fate. Another of our Marines had appendicitis, and a Navy flight surgeon came aboard to perform the operation. I think he arrived by sea-plane, but I am not certain. The ship cut all engines and was adrift while the delicate operation took place. A great dinner was served for Thanksgiving aboard the General Collins, but once again, the seas had become rough. The Marine standing next to me got sick while standing at his mess station, eating his turkey. My dinner that day was not my favorite Thanksgiving Day meal. The day after Thanksgiving, we got word through the ship's newspaper that our fellow 1st Division Marines were trapped at a reservoir in North Korea. Our future now seemed to be in greater jeopardy, and our destination uncertain.
The Japanese fishing fleet came in sight as we approached the coast of Japan. The small junk boats with their large sails tied to a flat, raft-type vessel seemed like a recipe for suicide on the high seas. I thought the wake of our giant ship would cause the fishing boats to capsize, but no such luck. Soon we met a harbor pilot in a tug boat, and he led us into the scenic harbor of Kure, Japan. I was told we were the first Americans to land here since World War II. This place was under the rule of the British. We dropped off some equipment, and sent sail for Yokohama where the sailors departed.
Our final destination was at Kobe. Here we disembarked and stored our sea bags in a giant warehouse. In Kobe we boarded a train for Otsu to obtain our winter gear, and be indoctrinated on our future in Korea. The long train ride took us through the large city of Osaka, and here I remember the train passing through miles of homes, and each house had a small backyard. Every of inch of land was used to plant vegetables of varies types. Not one inch was wasted.
Our accommodations in Otsu were fire-team sized rooms in a barracks previously used for Kamikaze pilots in their final training period. We stayed there for several days, and picked up our sleeping bags, parkas and snow packs, and rifles. We enjoyed going to bars in evening and had our last opportunity for recreation for many months to follow. The final day we were lined up for inspection, and we were interviewed by a Navy psychiatrist to make certain than none of us had major mental concerns about going into combat.
We were also assigned to a regiment of the 1st Marine Division. I was assigned to the 5th Marines, and I was very happy, because I knew that it was an elite regiment in the Marine Corps. I had just completed a term paper on the history of the U.S. Marine Corps for English literature in college, before re-enlisting in the Marines, and I knew about Belleau Woods and Guadalcanal.
Early in December we again boarded the General Collins and headed for Pusan, Korea. First we made a drop at Nagasaki, and could see from a distance the destruction from our atomic bomb. Then we steamed past Sasebo, and landed in Pusan late in the afternoon. A band met us as we arrived and played the popular song “If I knew you were coming, I would have baked a cake”. This gave me a sick felling, as if Notre Dame had just lost a football game.
We were soon loaded on a freight train of box cars, bound for Masan - a slow ride with cold rations. Each of us was given a clip of ammunition for our rifles. Somewhere along the way, one of the Marines let a round fly that ricocheted throughout the boxcar, but miraculously no one was wounded. Lucky for us, only private first class Marines were aboard, and the noise of the train prevented anyone else hearing the shot fired.
We were the first group of Marines to set up camp in Masan. Soon we would be joined by the battle-weary veterans of the Chosin Reservoir. Initially we set up a tent camp near a fenced-in school house. Squad tents were erected, and we had an outdoor mess set up, serving bulk rations. Each of us was assigned guard duty on the fenced area, overlooking an open field on the west and a cemetery on the north. One night, a shot rang out, and each of us grabbed our rifles in anticipation of what appeared to be our first taste of combat. We were all lined up in a prone firing position when it was determined that the Marine on guard was trigger happy, taking a shot at a passing rabbit that made a movement in the underbrush.
After a couple of days, we were assigned to various companies in the Fifth Regiment. I was assigned to Charlie Company. My new friends had arrived by ship from the Port of Hamhung. They had been through hell for 30 days during their advance to the rear, after being surrounded by thousands of Chinese soldiers at the Chosin Reservoir. The young men with beards looked old and haggard, and their uniforms were torn and soiled like the homeless on Clark Street in Chicago. We were all thrown together in large squad tents, and most of the Marines suffered from frost bite.
Soon, Masan was a city of tents, all lined up in military fashion. New uniforms were issued and it was now getting hard to tell the combat veterans from the new replacements. We spent several weeks cleaning up equipment, and going on practice patrols to keep in shape. At Christmas, we went to nearby hills to secure an evergreen tree, and decorated it with Christmas cards, beer cans, and anything shiny.
Soon, the new replacements were assigned to platoons and fire-teams, and the battered regiment was once again reaching full strength. It was good to be assigned to the second platoon; I became fast friends with my fire team leader, Paul Embry from Columbus, Ohio; Don Wells from Indianapolis; Phil Keenly and Milt Pankiewicz, both from upstate New York; and a fellow named Cattlemen, from the Detroit area.
One of the most popular Marines in the second platoon was Gunther Dose, a young man from Germany, who had witnessed the horrors of the WWII as a young man living in the Rhineland. During the battle for Chosin Reservoir, his position was overrun by a band of Chinese soldiers. He was shot through the helmet, and given up for dead, with enemy soldiers occupying his foxhole throughout the night. The enemy abandoned his foxhole at dusk.
When his fellow Marines re-took the area, they found his stiff and apparently frozen body, and were about ready to put Gunther in a body bag. However, thanks to the keen eye of machine gunner Richard Holbrook, who thought he saw Gunther breathing, they instead shook the ice off the Marine that had been given up for dead, and in short order, Gunther was as good as new.
Gunther's heorics had become legendary by the time the 3rd Replacement Draft Marines had arrived to re-invigorate Charlie Company. I was intrigued by Dohse’s helmet, with bullet holes entering and exiting the helmet, and could see photo opportunities to impress my fraternity brothers from Delta Upsilon, as well as the sorority girls from Kappa Kappa Gamma at Indiana University.
Gunther was okay with me trying on his helmet for my photo shoot. As the photo was about to be taken, a loud roar of protest came from Richard Holbrook and James Vickery. I was emphatically informed, that as a new replacement, I had no business cashing in on what had become the badge of courage, and the symbol of the never-give-up spirit of Charlie Company at the Chosin Reservoir. Indeed, it was embarrassing, and Vickery and Holbrook were right, as I had not as yet earned the privilege to walk in Dohse’s shoes.
It has occurred to me in recent weeks that the bullet riddled helmet of Gunther Dohse should be memorialized as the official symbol of Charlie Company from the Korean War. It is my suggestion that we solicit the aid of an artist, and have a sketch illustrating the above mentioned helmet as our company logo, and have it featured on the cover of the Password as well as other Charlie Company materials and functions. Without Marines like Gunther, there would be no Password; and there would be no reunions; and there would be no days to share our moments of glory.
The Third Replacement Draft was the luckiest or unluckiest replacement draft of the Korean War, depending upon your point of view. It was the luckiest because many of us are alive today, having missed the Chosin Reservoir Campaign by two weeks. We are the unluckiest because we missed, by two weeks, being in one of the top five most glorious battles in the history of the United Stated Marine Corps.
When I inform someone that I am a Marine Corps Veteran of the Korean War, I get the same question nine out of ten times: "Were you at the Chosin Reservoir?" It hurts like a piercing sword when I must reply that I missed being there by two weeks.
I am planning to visit Gunther, who now lives in the State of Washington, and finally get my picture taken in his bullet-riddled helmet. And, I do not plan to inform Holbrook or Vickery.