In my own words The sharpest shovel in Korea
May 20, 2001
By Arthur J. King
The sixth of August 1929, I was born in Marion, Mississippi. After the Korean war started in 1950, I joined the US Army. They put me in the 15th Infantry, Third Division, and trained me to be a rifleman, then later, a mortarman.
After training, we shipped out of Navy Pier 91 in Washington state and went to Tokyo, Japan for seven days of cold-weather equipment familiarization. They gave us Mickey Mouse boots with leather tops and rubber bottoms. Or, something like that. Then we went into Pusan, Korea, in January 1951.
This is where I started sharpening my shovel. You see, all our forces were run down from the North to the Pusan Perimeter. We were trapped there. We had to fight our way out of there.
But General MacArthur had inserted the Marines near the source of the Han River in a pincer movement. Ahh, the North Koreans and hordes of Chinese Army were then being attacked from two points. It was working in our favor. But, all our American made shovels were manufactured with dull edges.
This is how I did something on my own to make the sharpest shovel in Korea. Where ever I marched, I dug a foxhole. Then, I would dig a latrine for the officers. Then, I would dig a latrine for us enlisted guys. When we fought our way Northward, I dug a new foxhole at our new position. Then I would dig another latrine for the officers. Then another one for us again.
There was a lot going on besides shoveling. When we fought our way up to converge with the Marines, our two units fought side-by-side all the way to where the Han River passes by outside of Seoul, the capital city.
But we were still in foxholes. Foxholes have to be dug around the Command Post to protect it. At night, we take turns standing watches and sleeping. In daylight, we fortified our positions with camouflage, and by weather-proofing them so as not to stand or sit in water. If we moved up, as we always did, we dug in again and did it all over.
Tough it out
Living in foxholes, our WW II Combat Rations were brought to us. Not often, but sometimes mail would come through. No foxhole was ever comfortable. On occasion, I could look out to sea and see the USS Missouri steaming across the horizon. Her big 16 inch guns could blast off a hillside with one salvo. I used to imagine those sailors going down to wash up, eat, and sleep in soft bunks after a battle. Ahh, that must be nice. But they didn't have any sharp shovels.
Remember, this was January, February, March and April of 51. Every few weeks I would hop on a truck which took us back a number of miles where we could get a shave, shower, clean clothes and new boots.
The first time, I made the mistake of looking in a mirror. Lord! You never saw such an image looking back in all your life. I was ashamed. I could have died from filth.
Back in our foxholes, we learned something the hard way. We learned that the Marines used the command "saddle up" for getting out and moving forward. We knew that we'd use it, too.
So when us boots heard it we jumped out of our foxholes ready to go. The Platoon Sergeant yelled, "What are you doing?" We explained that we heard the command to "saddle up." "No you didn't." He barked at us. "That's a Doodle bird. Get used to
it." That Doodle bird's call sure sounded like "saddle up," to me. I wondered if it was the Chinese making that call.
When Gen. MacArthur, Gen. Ridgeway, and Gen. Van Fleet came to the front lines to see how things were going, I marveled at how clean they were in a war zone. They had clean shaves, a sharp crease in their uniforms, and the shiniest boots ever. But they also made me mad. They would have us fight for territory, then a few days later, withdraw. I cursed.
Next, we'd fight for that same territory again. That was a lot of digging in. What I didn't realize was that tactic spread out the enemy. The Air Force would then bomb and strafe them. That reduced their numbers so they would have less to overwhelm our units.
Ahh, good Officers.
Passing through towns and villages, the people came out and waved American flags at us. Except for the little kids. They waved both American and North Korean flags because they didn't know which set of warriors were trouncing through their towns this time.
I got chewed out for feeding them some of my rations. But they were very hungry, and cold. Bless their little souls.
Arthur J. King, Korea veteran, is a resident of Meridian.