Anderson barely survives Korean shrapnel wounds
Jim Anderson is lucky to be alive. Not only did he survive polio as a child and life-threatening shrapnel wounds during the Korean Conflict, he would later miraculously survive an automobile crash in Colorado.
Born in northern Minnesota near Brainard, Anderson graduated from high school in June 1950. Following graduation, he and his parents moved to California to be closer to family.
“I was 18. I didn’t know anybody and didn’t know what to do, so I went to Oakland and enlisted in the Army,” Anderson recalled.
Anderson completed indoctrination and swearing in at Fort Ord, followed by Camp Gordon, Ga., for basic training. He was also supposed to receive signal corps training, but instead they asked if he’d like to become a drill instructor.
“Every six weeks we’d get a new group of recruits. I enjoyed what I did,” Anderson said.
After Thanksgiving, he received orders to transfer to San Luis Obispo, Calif., and was promoted to corporal. Anderson was thankful, as it was closer to his family. San Luis Obispo was a former Marine base from World War II where they were opening up a basic training camp. Anderson was to teaching first aid at the camp.
In addition to school to teach first aid, Anderson said he completed classes for projection school to run a projector; driving school to drive Army vehicles; and telephone installation and repair school.
“I was an instructor until September 1952 when I received orders for the Far Eastern Command. Before getting on the ship for overseas, we were sent to Camp Stoneman, in Pittsburgh, Calif., for processing. I was in the States for Thanksgiving and would be in Korea for Christmas.”
Anderson boarded the USS Mann and said he started getting seasick even before the boat left the dock.
“Once on board, I found out they needed a projectionist, so I became a projectionist on the third or fourth deck, near the bottom where the boat didn’t rock as much. I sat there and showed movies all day. It was the same move over and over. After I saw it twice, I sat there and read a book while the movie was showing,” Anderson recalled.
Having a job on board helped Anderson pass the time, until they hit the back end of the typhoon.
“It was rough! Even the seasoned crew got sick. I tried to be careful with what I ate, but it was a mess.”
The ship eventually landed in Tokyo, where processing took place. Anderson boarded another ship to Inchon and then a train that went through Seoul.
“They didn’t tell you where you were going until you got there. I had been assigned headquarters company, third battalion. When I first got there, they didn’t know what to do with me, but they needed a Jeep driver for the communications officer.”
At the first of the year, Anderson’s battalion was transferred closer to the front lines. He said since it was headquarters company, you weren’t at the very front, but rather a mile or so back. He’d drive the communications officer to the front lines every day so he could check in with all the four forward companies and back to headquarters.
When the communications officer was transferred to the front lines, Anderson was reassigned to work a 24 line switchboard.
“I was inside where it was warm. We were living in bunkers up there on the front. We could see where the Chinese and North Koreans were, and they could see where we were on the 38th parallel.”
In addition to his other duties, Anderson had to stand guard duty along with most everyone else in the camp. It was a two-hour shift on top of a hill, alone, in complete darkness.
“One night I was standing there, it was so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. Back in a corner not far from where I was standing, Marines had thrown all their C ration cans in the dump there. I was standing there, listening to the rustling of the leaves, and suddenly a cat or rat ran through those tin cans, right behind me. Scared the life outta me,” Anderson chuckled.
Orders came that anyone with an infantryman MOS, which Anderson had, was to serve on the front in order to get a combat infantry medal. When Anderson arrived, he was put to work burying telephone lines.
“This is February, the ground is frozen, and I’m out there with a pick and a shovel trying to get lines buried far enough we don’t trip over them.”
Because he is close to the front, Anderson is told to report to supply and grab a flak jacket, but he gets busy and forgets. He continues to dig ditches and bury lines the best he can.
“They came in to my barracks, woke me up and said I was wanted at headquarters. Over the past month there had been several little skirmishes over the valley between us and the Chinese and North Koreans. One of our squads had run into a firefight and we were supposed to set up a perimeter outside the front line so they could retreat. They called me up to be a radio operator, even though I had never seen one before,” Anderson said. “It’s on my back, I don’t know how to operate it and we’re up there on the front. We are trying to find the right channel in order to communicate with headquarters when there was a big boom. The last of our patrol came up and said we needed to get out of there. I got up, started walking, but fell down. I got up again, walked a little further and felt woozy. Another guy grabbed me and said, ‘this guy has been hit.’ I said, ‘no, I’m not.” Next thing I know I’m in the aid station and they’re working on me.”
The second half of this article will be in the March 23 edition of The Red Oak Express.