Robert Fischer was drafted in 1950 and did not know what to expect as he transitioned into military life, traveled to Korea via Japan, and finally entered the front lines. His experiences as a young man entering war left him in fear and awe. He speaks about his times in basic training and then his journey to an unknown country. His experiences paint illustrative pictures of what he saw in Japan and compares that to what he saw in Korea. He recaps what he saw as he marched to the front lines.
Transition to Military Life
Robert Fischer describes his transition to military life after being drafted in 1950. He explains life in basic training and what he what it was like for those thirteen weeks. His description includes the clothing, barracks, wake up times, training exercises, and the other expectations.
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Heading to Korea
Robert Fischer explains his trip to Korea via Japan. He explains his fear while being on the ship for eighteen days, but then the awe he experienced when they landed in Yokohama. His description includes the natural beauty of the area, but also the poverty they witnessed as they traveled through Japan.
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Heading to the Front Lines
Robert Fischer describes what it was like to head to the front lines. He describes the hills and the fires they saw along the road. On the journey, his company saw a tank that had run over a civilian. Because he did not have an assignment, Robert Fischer became the one who had to carry the radio.
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RF: Okay, I was born on July 1, 1928 in Mankato, Minnesota. My dad, I guess had worked for the railroad and he got laid off after twelve years and then uh anyway and they lived in the house and they lost their house, they moved into a house in Mankato…and they rented it for five dollars a month. That was the rent, can you believe that?
But uh, my mother worked part-time. She cleaned offices and things like that…I remember that. You don’t ask many questions when you’re growing up, you’re just small. And we were poor and you know exactly let’s see. I guess things started to change when World War II broke out but I didn’t think about that either because you know you’re young, you don’t pay any attention to that.
I: What was it like to live through the depression?
RF: There was a lot of things, somebody just brought this up the other day. This girl grew up in Kansas and just they have dust storms down there in the thirties and it was real dry and I can remember it’d get and it was very dry through those years and I can’t remember much about it really. I had fun, played just like any other kid.
RF: In fact, by the time I got to high school I was more aware of things and World War II had started and that was a big topic and everybody had jobs and customers. I know a lot of relatives moved to California to work in the shipyards. Otherwise, like my grandpa was a farmer on both sides of the family. And my grandpa my dad’s side, he came over from Germany back say 1890’s or something like that.
RF: My dad in fact, was born in Germany. And, they all were Germans and they moved to some place in Iowa and they, um, what was I trying to say? What I’m trying to say here…he was sponsored by his father-in-law. His father-in-law already was in Minnesota and he’d lived in Iowa for about I don’t know how many years. and say in the early 1900’s.
RF: He, you know moved to Minnesota, bought a farm, and after World War I he sold that farm was able to move to town. And I didn’t realize at that time, I just thought he was always old, but he must have he must have moved off the farm right about…when he’s about 50 years-old and he lived. Imagine that. Everybody lived so little simple back in those days. You know…it’s entirely different.
RF: You made everything yourself, raised all your crops, raised all your chickens and eggs and things like that. But doesn’t do anything about the war.
I: But, it’s interesting.
RF: Oh, is it really? Okay.
I: So, did you have any family that served in World War II?
RF: My brother, oldest brother. And then he volunteered. He wasn’t doing well in high school say back in about 1943. He just enlisted.
There was four brothers in the family. That was the oldest brother. I was the second. We all served in the service. Which the other three during the Korean War and Vietnam War. And one brother that was in uh in high school first, then he joined the Navy Reserve and then he when he got out of high school, he went out to the East Coast and was there for three years in the Navy.
RF: Then he come back home, and this was when the Vietnam War was pretty strong already. I guess the start of anyway, and he joined Air Force. he spent twenty some years in the Air Force.
I: This was the younger brother?
RF: Yeah, the youngest. My other brother was in the Navy. No, for four years.
I: How many siblings do you have?
RF: Just four. Three siblings. Four of us.
I: When were you drafted?
RF: I was drafted. I knew it was coming. I had worked that summer and then they had notified me that I was going to be drafted. And then I got drafted in November of 1950. We just went down to the local post office down there with…draft board was there. And we met down there and then I, tell you the truth, I was saying this the other day. I think there were still trains running, passenger trains.
RF: Mankato was a big passenger train. I think we took the train…there about maybe twenty of us, We walked over to downtown depot and then they put us on the train to get off in Minneapolis. And right there was…Milwaukee Road Station. That was the railroad station and all the federal buildings were right across street, so they just marched us out of there and it was the federal building, and induct us in the Army.
I: And where did you go for training?
RF: Fort Riley, Kansas, See another thing, the train station was right there so by the end of the day they took us back across the street and put us on a rail train and shipped us down to Kansas.
I: Did you train with people that you already knew?
RF: No. I knew…they were all Minnesota. But they were from all over the whole state. I think there was one person I knew. I never was, I never was with him again and he went to a different unit for training.
I: So what was the transition to military life like?
RF: Well, for one thing, you know. They didn’t have didn’t have enough clothes for us. I didn’t have…for
the first week I had to wear my own civilian clothes because there was a shortage of clothing, Army clothing. Then they finally got us…went down in a pair of dress pants had wear them for a week. I can remember that.
Otherwise it was. I don’t know you just you know in a barracks, old wooden barracks. they were all built during World War II and they didn’t have any…I was on the second floor and they didn’t have any insulation in the walls. It was just the studs in the wall like a house. The Korean War, we never had any insights into it.
RF: Anyway, you have to get even warned about this. They fall you out you know really in the morning in the dark and it was winter time and cold and call roll and then you have to go back in and make your bed and stuff and you have to learn how to do that.
I: So what was the date that you were drafted?
RF: It was sometime in November of 1950.
I: Did you do any kind of specialized training?
RF: I know on my orders it said, looking back. It said, pipeline. Soon as we were in, we were in the pipeline to Korea. All those guys, you take your regular basic training over thirteen weeks. Crawl around on the ground and crawl under. Learn how to fire all the weapons and you had to learn how to take ‘em apart and clean them. They called that field stripping…things like that. Just March and obstacle course.
RF: Over the obstacle course…I don’t know what they call ‘em. You have to crawl for walls and swing on ropes and…what else? What’s the other course that sticks my mind way up. The fire over your head with guns when you have to crawl on the ground. I can’t really remember what they call that anymore though. Right then, I thought it was a real scary thing but it wasn’t just if you kept down. Anyway, you don’t get down.
RF: It was around Christmas time and yeah, I remember we were going on leave and we had to go what they called guard duty for over the Christmas holidays or something like that, staying marching around the post or something like that. I guess, whatever. I don’t want to talk about that stuff anyway. That’s old hat for everybody.
When you went in the service, you went through the same thing, you know the same basic training. And after that, if you had some kind of a specialty sometimes they pulled you and put you into a different school. Otherwise, after thirteen weeks I just went…was it thirty days leave? I don’t know, maybe it’s two weeks leave went home and then I went overseas.
I: So when did you head over to Korea?
RF: Okay. Well, it’s kinda an interesting trip. It’s the first
time I ever took a long train ride. We went up, we went on our own. We got on a train to Minneapolis and went…Fort Lawson, Seattle, Washington. Anyway, I spent about a week there getting ready. They issue you all your clothes you clearly never had before. You got a full uniform and then you got on board ship and that was scary.
RF: It was the old troop ships from back in the days, they’re nothing like modern day cruisers. What? What 100 feet wide and about 300 feet long. And it took us 18 days to get over there. Ran into bad weather. They lock you down below decks. The old ship, it just bounced up and down and come crashing down and there’s on the walls of water runs down the walls. I was scared. I think everybody else was. I was iin the bottom compartment, D compartment they called it.
RF: I think of that about now nothing. We finally got to Yokohama and early morning they got us out on deck and it was a prettiest sight I ever seen. It was just it just had to be like about this maybe the last part of April early May in 1951. And there was a big Shinto temple on the hillside up there and was all bright, nice and bright.
RF: And out in the water was little boats bobbing around. Japanese were fishing out there…all over. it’s the first time I ever seen, and they had Japanese crewmen get on, you know get up on the ship and they were only these little guys. They were only about that high. It’s no wonder we beat up in World War II. They stayed and smoked and smoked and chatted, I couldn’t understand anything they said. But whatever. Tested out my mind.
I: So how long were you in Japan before shipping over to Korea?
RF: About, uh, three days. I mean one day…okay, see…went to Camp Drake, Japan. That was an older former Japanese Army camp. And I think we were going to go there…but how about like two days only. But then, you know what they did there? Took all our clothing away. Just, you were just down to the basics…
RF: I think you had two pair of fatigues with you know, and stuff like that and maybe two or three pair of socks. We stood out in this courtyard, this big place and they’d list an item of clothing and had us take and throw in a pile in the middle. Anyway, we crossed Japan on train because we were on the eastern side, we crossed over the western side…can’t remember what they call it now.
RF: But…and that’s where…went past Mount Fuji, I remember that, that’s that big peak over there and along the way the train crossed and…there all going along the way there at every intersection with it did people would be saying, and they expect us to throw stuff out to ‘em like cigarettes or candy or What…these were civilians. They were poor, you know. Very poor.
RF: What…Japan was poor. Korea was terrible. And everybody lives, everybody had a, even in Korea and Japan both…was all just mud huts with raised straw roof. That’s just the way it was.
I: So where did you arrive when you got to Korea?
RF: They call it a different name now, it’s Pusan, the southern part of Korea…everybody just. You cross from the eastern side of Japan, yeah.
RF: Western side of Japan to…overnight on a Japanese ferry boat and then you’re in Korea. And Korea was terrible. It was just the whole town, there was nothing there was just all rusty and they put us on the train. Out of there. We went so far north, I don’t know how far…never had to get out and march. You just can’t believe it, with that whole dock area we just old rusty shabby pieces of metal.
RF: I have no idea for what they were used or what. And then they put us on a train, a train that didn’t have any windows in it. We went north I think, took us all night. And then we go through a few tunnels and smoke…I was in the car right behind the engine, and that was one of the old steam engines. And the smoke would come pouring in the windows. I forgot most of this stuff, I did.
RF: Anyway, and then we got off the train that day. I’m not sure of the times, but I’m but the next day we got off that train and then we had to march down this road. And the roads over there in the part of Korea we were in were just, uh, they weren’t very wide and they had big boulders in them. There was no, except for the Americans or where the UN troops were, everything else was just very rural, you know.
RF: Everybody carried. Oh, they had a-frames that carried the stuff on their back with. Ever see a picture of an a-frame? You know. Actually the part of the country I was in wasn’t very..farm country. It was all kind of more…hilly. Very hilly.
I: Where were you stationed?
RF: No. I wasn’t stationed any place.
RF: In rifle company I know, I was assigned. Okay, yeah…we arrived, we got to a replacement center, and that was just a bunch of tents up on the hillside, you know. And they kind of trained us there for a couple of days and we got assigned to our units. And we had, uh…okay.
That time everything was in transition because it was in the start of the second Spring offensive. We had got pushed way back,you know we had lost Seoul at that time and they were coming back. You know there was…and I was assigned to a rifle company and it’s hard, it’s hard to describe this. No one understands. In a rifle company there’s a…like I was in Charlie Company, that was Company C and there’s Charlie forward and Charlie rear.
RF: They put me up in Charlie rear and that’s what it’s like. There is a sergeant and company clerk back there. They’re all in tents, you know. And I just, supply people, and a kitchen, and otherwise. I think I stayed overnight there. Then the next day they shipped me up front. They didn’t wait till. They were gonna take. They had a jeep with a trailer and were going to take the supplies up for the day.
RF: Okay, they said, “get ready to go,” and I got ready to go. It was getting started to get dark. This was in May. And he finally said, “okay, we’re going.” And there was three of us that went up beside the jeep driver. And then, uh, you know. These other two guys, one guy had been sick and he had yellow jaundice and he had to go back up. I bet he was really thrilled about that.
And I can’t remember what the other one…been wounded and hit, sitting back up again up front. Anyway, we went down this road and it started to get darker, and you see fires, you know
Everything is cleared, you know, everything’s hills. Very small valleys. And there were fires burning up there, fire on that side, fire on that side. And you’d see from figure running. I didn’t know if was the enemy or what? I didn’t know. No one said anything. We kept going.
RF: All of the sudden, we stopped and there was a…I think it was a British tank battalion and they had run over some woman. Know, these a bunch of tanks. Tanks are big, you know it was getting real dark then and they said…I remember the guy saying that, “just smash (unclear) flat.” Then we kept going and
all sudden it got so dark…They didn’t have no lights, you know. And even the jeeps don’t
have any. They just have these little blackout lights on ‘em. And the guy said he wouldn’t go any further.
RF: Well, had to get out and walk, come back the next day to bring up the supplies. So I started out walking and I had to walk up the whole far…it’s hard to say. But, we find it join the company. Because I wasn’t assigned to anything, I was a, I just stayed with what the company commanders, they called it the CP, the command post. And there was a…and he needed another radio operator…somebody had a strong back. Had a thirty-eight pound radios and somebody to carry the radio.
RF: Compared to communications nowadays, it was just like a…I just had a can with a wire in it because we didn’t carry very far. It was all hilly and.
I: So you carried the radio?
RF: Yeah. All the time I was over there. I mean, you know you’re moving anyway. But Whatever.
I: So can you tell me more about what your time on line looked like?
RF: My what?
I: What your time on line, what was it like?
RF: Okay, let’s see. I know for the next day or the day after we took off the next day and
then uh. We were walking and then sometime that day, the first day I was there, the second day they said we were going to spearhead. And I can’t know what that meant, but we were gonna
get in the back of these tanks and just…
RF: I didn’t even know what was going on I know we did spearhead. I burnt my hands and I lift my hands and knees trying to get into the back of the tank because I was carrying that 38-pound radio and my other supplies. And, then there was a…we were going through a part of the country that but there was no there was no enemy around or nothing around. It’s hard to think back.
RF: Anyway, got to some, near some River and you’d have to cross this railroad bridge to get to and we finally set up on this hill overlooking the river. Stayed there a few days. And, see there…there had to be some place near the…you know how they talked about the 38th parallel. Okay, about the second or third
or fourth day, we crossed the 38th. There was a little stone thing there. I’m probably getting confused on times.
RF: All the time I was there, I was in, never was actually in South Korea, I was in North Korea. Yeah. we were always north of the 38th parallel. Hilly country. Mountainous country. Lived like pigs, dogs. All we ever ate was C rations. Little cans and stuff.
I: Are there any specific stories or experiences that really stand out to you from that time?
RF: We were in outposts overlooking Kumsan Valley. (unclear)…company was in that outpost and they got hit real hard that night. No, but that isn’t very significant to make any difference. But I was lucky, I was in that hill next to it. And, we had to go over there (the) next day and rescue ‘em, haul all the dead out, and wounded out. See, they didn’t have any kind of modern thing back in those days.
RF: They had helicopters over there, but they couldn’t get close. Everything is so hilly and there was no landing pads. And then those poor guys got wounded, say about midnight or so that night…laid there…we maybe got over there soon as daylight the next morning. Then, they had to haul ‘em out and haul ‘em way back to another long valley to where they, where they had jeeps up there and then they hauled ‘em away in them.
I: So you were on the next hill over. Could you see anything? Were there sightlines between the hills?
RF: There would be. There were sightlines, but it’s…everything’s so tree (covered) over there. Well, it’s hard to say. I wasn’t on that side of the hill anyway. I wasn’t going to peak. I figure…a hill there, a hill there, maybe I was a little higher. And they got hit real hard there.
RF: And there’s this big valley between them. Enough between us, enough we didn’t get any of it.
I: What kind of friendships or commerradies did you build during your time?
RF: None. Yeah. 60 years ago, guys were from all over you know. And I…actually…because I was at the CP group, the command post. The company commander, he had a radio man, and our artillery forward observer was with us, too. We were kind of separated from the rest. But I never (unclear).
RF: Maybe for a few years I kept in contact. Nobody ever was, in the infantry, within that company I was in. But otherwise…
I: What exactly unit were you in?
I: What unit were you in?
RF: I was in. Okay, how about, Company C, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division.
I: Did your unit move around a lot or were you pretty stationary?
RF: Well, you know at that time the war was getting. We had the UN Army’s, the US Army’s, whatever you want to call it…Push back, retaking their old positions. You know, where they’d been around the 38th parallel. And there was starting to be talk of peace.
RF: And we would be on line, and then about it, and then it falls off the line, you know back in what they call reserve. And just kind of rest and relax and do a little training and then they put you back on line. Some, about every…I can’t remember what, but we, we’d make these…attacks, attack the enemy someplace out there. You know just kind of push them off their heels and stuff, the Chinese.
RF: And we did that about two or three times. When I first got over there, I said we had to cross the 38th and stuff like that. Or that…one day, we’re attacking this hill. And…they got held up. And they called in for artillery support. And the artillery was what backed up all their missions, so they didn’t fire right away. Big guns, you know.
RF: And then we got hit real bad by friendly fire. Guys injured, with eyes hanging out. That sticks in my mind, very much so. We didn’t have enough…we had to cut down tree branches and make, make litters, they called litters or stretchers. You know, to haul people back down off the hill. And that’s the first I ever seen any dead enemy soldiers.
RF: Where they had shelled that area, they must have fought over that area once before because there were dead people laying out on the ground all kind of withered away and stuff like that…skeletons. See, a lot of the country had been fought two or three times, you know. Just in the, that first year. Otherwise, what do you want me to say?
RF: Nobody understands what that’s like anyway.
I: Where were you when the war ended?
RF: I was back home. See the war didn’t end till…I have no idea when. I was already home.
I: Did you rotate home?
RF: Well, you know…rotate yeah, I guess you call it rotation. Yeah. I had another night…I guess I told you this before. I had another interesting experience where we left the, they pulled us off the line, and we were placed, our division was placed with another division.
RF: The 40th Division of the California National Guard division. And they put us all on a big convoy of ships and shipped us back to Japan. I wasn’t in Japan for more than two or three weeks before I got sent home. I think that was like though, I have no idea when. What was interesting in the camp we shipped to was in northern Japan.
RF: It was the city of Sendai. Well, I was there about two or three weeks before we went home I think and I thought it was a barren country. I didn’t know that it was I sat in the ocean…see, that’s where they had that big typhoon here just two three years ago…wasn’t a typhoon, they call that a wave, tidal wave. Yeah.
I: The one that hit the power plants?
RF: Yeah. I met one other guy over the years that was there too at the same
time and he said we were never near over the ocean there.
RF: We were right near the ocean. I couldn’t see it.
I: When were you discharged?
RF: I came back, August of 1950. I got out after only 19 months, let’s see, 21 months. Near that time…once the Army is through with you, you know. The service, they just want to get rid of you. You come back. I came back here and was in Colorado.
RF: And I got discharged at a camp, Fort Carson, Colorado.
I: And then what did you do after that?
RF: Probably nothing for the first year. And I went back to school then. Odd jobs, you know, you know. I went back on the GI Bill, I went back to school.
I: And what did you do after school?
RF: You mean after I got out of school? Oh. I never did graduate. I don’t know why. I can’t remember anymore.
RF: Actually, the big thing after…was my life I was, I was at, with the Post Office here locally at Mankato. And I spent 30 years there and stuff like that. I was just inside. Mankato was always a distribution center for the other area, towns or something. I never carried mail, you know I wasn’t a mail man. Well, whatever.
I: What kind of life lessons do you feel like you learned from your military service?
RF: I don’t know. Life lessons? I am 86 years-old. I have no idea. It was part of your life. (unclear). It was required to go and I think everybody did. In fact, where I grew up I don’t think anybody who I grew up with ever, I think everyone was in the service…Army, Navy, Air Force. I don’t know. It was just what you did.
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