War memoirs of David Lodzinski Go to Photo Album
© Copyright 2006 Catholichistory.net
The following is an edited transcript of a CatholicHistory.net interview that took place March 6, 2006. A complete, unedited recording of the interview has been submitted to the
CHn: Can you start with a little bit about when you were drafted into the war?
The Korean War started in of the summer 1950. At the time I was a student at Utah State University and the selective service system was in effect at that time. As long as I was in school I had a deferment. During the times that I was not in school—for example, over the summer—I would work. I had to work and make money so I could go to school for the rest of the year. Several times, I would work for one quarter and go to school for one quarter. And each time I moved I had to notify the draft board of my location.
About the time I was supposed to go in for my next physical, I moved from Arizona to New Mexico. I planned to go back to school that winter. In the meantime I had to go home. I had to report my new location, Stevens Point, Wisconsin. By that time the head of the draft board was getting perturbed about me skipping around. He thought I was trying to play games with him I guess. He said, "If I thought you were playing games with me, I'd put you on a special draft and send you to Milwaukee." I said, "Well what do I do now? I planned to go back to school in January." He said, "Well, as long as you're in school." So I went back to school in Utah. In the meantime, I had applied for a US Forest Service job as a smoke jumper, out of Missoula. At that point, the draft board was tired of chasing me around, so they ordered me to report to Butte, Montana to be inducted into the service. So I had to leave the smoke jumpers and be inducted into the service, Aug. 21, 1952.
I was told that in order to affirm my oath of allegiance, I was to take one step forward and if I didn't... I was in trouble!
From Butte, I was sent by train to Fort Lewis, Washington. Then by train I was sent to San Luis Obispo for basic infantry training. And this was also signal corps training. When I got through with that they asked me if i was interested in leadershiop school. So I took another 8 weeks of leadershig training.... They then encouraged me to go to OCS (Officer C School), but I saw these as extra time in the service, so my thought was to put in my time and get out. Since I'd been in the smoke jumpers, they also asked me if I wanted to be in the paratroopers, but I didn't want to do that either.
So I finished my training at San Luis Obispo and was ordered to go to Korea. I went to San Francisco, where you were shipped out on a troop transport, where it took, my guess is about two weeks, to get to Japan, for processing—we received miliary equipment, rifles, supplies. Then we took a ship to South Korea, I believe it was Pusan. From there I took a train to near the front lines, which was not too far from Seoul.
CHn: By this time are we in 1952?
This would be '52, yes. We were sent to a replacement company. Before we were assisnged we had to go through some more combat training, with live ammo and detonations, crawling under barbed wire, etc. I was very nervous at the time. In the background we could hear the rumble and see the flashes of the artilley on the front line. I knew that, after this, that's where I was headed. After I got through this few days of warm-up training, I was assigned with one other fellow to the 25th infantry division, which was on line at the time. I was further assigned to Company K, King company, 35th infanty regiment, also known as the Cacti Regiment. They had a system in place at the time. The troops there would earn points for service: troops in combat would earn more points than those in the rear. Once you built up a certain number of points, you would be rotated back home. That was one advantage of being on the front line. That, plus you got combat pay, which was a little more than regular pay.
I was assigned as wireman in our communications company. I was to keep the ground lines functioning, splicing or putting out new lines to the front or to the rear, to the base. One of the problems with these lines is that when mortar fire hit near, it would burn them out. So we had to find these breaks and splice them. And sometimes you had to do this as mortar rounds were coming in. Communications also had other duties: we had commuication by radio and we had a switchboard at the base which all the ground lines came into and someone had to run the switchboard....
The other form of communication if all else failed, was by runner. I never had to to do that. Some units even had pigeons.
CHn: Did you have any prior experience in communications?
Not really. I learned all that in basic training and on-the-job training. You learn real fast in those situations.
At the time I was at the front line, the lines were pretty well stabilized. That is, there was a trench practically clear across Korea. There was fighting, but it was kind of push and shove, jockeying for position, a bulge here and a bulge there, because they were negotiating. Every inch of territory was a bargaining chip. They particularly tried to get our outposts, two of them I remember: one named Ginger and one Esther.
CHn: Did you hear much hear about the truce talks when you were on the line? Just rumors, or nothing?
We just heard indireclty. Some we heard from the raido. There was also a newsletter, as I recall, that the military put out, so we had a little information, but not much detail.
Eventually, as people rotated out, the guy who was the head of the communications section left for the states, and I was selected to take his place as communications section leader. I got a promotion to staff sergeant.
After my time in Korea, I built enough points to be rotated back to the US—in my case enough points to be released. I don't remember how I came back—boat or plane, it's just a blank. I was released from active military service on July 13, 1954. At that time I was at Fort Sheridan. I stayed home during the summer and then went back to school at Utah State to finish my degree over there—one quarter's worth of work left. All told my service in the Army was 1 year, 3 months, 23 days. when I was released, I was transfered to the Army Reserve. At that time, under the Uniform Military Service Act, draftees were required to put in 8 years of miliary service. So I had about 6 years left of service. To shorten my time in the Reserve, after I got out of school, I got a job with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Salmon, Idaho. I joined the National Guard. It was an engineering and heavy equipment unit. Since I had prior experience in leadership, they encouraged me to take further training toward a commission. So I did that and received a commission as a lieutenant in the Guard. In order to keep the commission, I had to keep working for a higher rank. When it came to captain after a couple years, I withdrew from the Guard. After that I had a career with the BLM. I worked in Salmon, Shoshone (Idaho), Idaho Falls, Boise—where I met Cecilica and started a family. Subsequently to Santa Fe, New Mexico, Virginia (in the eastern states office), and then to Vale, Oregon, where I retired after 34 years of BLM service.
CHn: Can you talk about how you kept up with fellow vets after the war?
After I got out of the service, I kept in touch with 6 or 8. We wrote letters, eventually just Christmas cards. One fellow in particular, Don Wierenga from Jenison, Michigan. Then, as it turned out, when my son-in-law, Kevin, and daughter, Anne, moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, we were able to renew our acqaintance and see each other for several years in person. Other people were Delvin Otto; Kozloski, our mail clerk; I remember Lieutenant Cabe; Bob Wilbur, our regular army guy—I kept track of him for a long time. Wilbur has since died. His wife informed me that he had died, but she said she wanted to keep in touch because of our military connection. I didn't know that she didn't know him before he was in the service. They met and married after he got back. So she was interested in anything I knew about Wilbur. I had a bunch of pictures, so I collected them and summarized what I knew about them. She was so pleased with it, as were her kids, to know about their dad.
CHn: Your Catholic faith has always been important to you. Can you tell me something about that dimension? Were there chaplains who ministered to you?
For me it always very important, but there were no opportunites to go to Mass. There were chaplains who would come around, but they were usually in the rear; you could only back there rarely. The only Mass I remember going to on the front lines was when Cardinal Spellman came, very near Christmas, I think, he came and said Mass. But other than that, from a spiritual standpoint, of course I prayed a lot!
One of the things that I had was a black rosary, which as very important to me. I had always prayed the rosary, but infrequently, till I got to Korea, then it became a daily practice. I considered the rosary, not superstitiously but spiritually, as a protective force. So I carried it around with me all the time. Then, to my dismay, one day the rosary disappeared. It was lost. And I was heartbroken because I felt I had lost some of my protection. But then, miraculously, I was walking along one day—we used to patrol between the various units and outposts and literally formed a trail walking back and forth. One day I looked up at a tree, and there's my rosary. I couldn't believe it.
CHn: You think someone picked it up and hung it there?
Yeah, it could have been, must have been, because if I dropped it it would have fallen on the ground. But here it was. I was so glad to get it back. I thought it was a sign.
CHn: You mentioned that you were released in '54, a while after the truce was signed. What was going on between when the truce was siged and when you were released?
After the truce was signed we still had to stay. Units had to pull back from some sort of dmz (demilitarized zone), into fall-back positions. From there we rotated back and forth with a unit near us, the 4th Marine Divinsion. We would rotate back to a place called Camp Casey where we had the opportunity to do a little more relaxing, showers, regular meals, athletics. But we still had to be ready to move at a moment's notice. I think we still got more points for being in this position.
CHn: DId the guys actually have pieces of paper and keep track of their points?
Oh yeah, everybody kept track of their points (laugh).
One other thing, before the truce. We had a brigade of Turkish troops-—remember, this was a UN force—and this brigade was assigned to the 35th infantry division. They were ferocious fighters. Word was—I could never really confirm this—that they would get a bounty for ears of the enemy. So that built up a lot of animosity with the opposing forces. During the intense negotiations and maneuvering for position, they woud make very heavy pushes against our unit, especially against the Turkish, because they wanted to get revenge. I remember one siege of about 2 or 3 days when they just pounded that side of our line.... That was one of the most intense moments of the war that I remember because of the constant noise and flashing from the ammunition.
CHn: Do you remember anything else about the daily life on the front lines?
Every unit had to be more or less self sufficient—food, showers, mail. These tents were set up pretty far back from the main line. So we had to walk back from the line, walking distance. The food was actually pretty good, usually hot meals.... We also got mail regularly. No e-mail! (laugh)
As far as recreation, not much on the line, except fooling around, kidding each other. But once we got off the line to camp, there were more opportunities for recreation, including volleyball, and basketball and boxing. Speaking of boxing: During the time I was in Korea, the military had been integrated under Harry Truman. While I was there, they shipped in a replacement platoon of integrated soldiers. Although they were integrated, the animosity was still there. And I remember the lieutenant in charge of this platoon—after the daily maneuvers, they'd come back in for formation; all the rest of the companies would be dismissed except for this one platoon—he'd have them stay. He'd send somebody in to get the boxing gloves. Then anyone who had beefs against someone—usually there was one black and one white involved—would put on the gloves and take out their frustrations.
CHn: Did you have much interaction with this integrated unit?
They were actually a part of our unit. Our company was in three platoons and this was one of them. But from then on, through the replacement system, gradually everyone was mixed together. One of our cooks was an African American. He was a fun guy; we used to joke around with him. He doled out the food, so we had to be good to him (laugh).
I thought that was an interesting bit of history. It stuck with me as being pretty significant. At the time, I didn't even know what was happening. I didn't know Truman had done this.
While we were on line, we always had a sign and countersign. Anytime someone approached, you'd call out the sign and the opposing party would give you the countersign; otherwise you'd be ready to open fire. Typical of American humor, I guess, they usually ignored it. Someone would call out "Who goes there?" and the answer would come back "You don't know, do you?" (laugh)
CHn: And at that point, you could be pretty sure it was an American?
But I remember one of of these soldiers form the replacement unit, he was very anxious, like I was when I first came in. I was up there one night when the platoon was coming back. He called out "Who goes there?" and they said "You don't know." And he was very scared and yelled: "You better tell me who you is or I'm gonna go out there and find out who you are!" (laugh)
After a certain period of time, the troops got to go on "r and r" to Japan. I went to Koratsu seaside and at that time my brother Jackie was stationed in Japan on a destroyer, patroling the waters between Korea and Japan. So his ship was in port and we got in touch and I was able to go visit him on his ship and he showed me around. Jack told me the other day that he got shot at once on this destroyer so he decided to go into submarines (laugh).
CHn: We can close with some of your thoughts about the whole experience.
I think the Korean conflict was something worthwhile; it needed to be done. Our nation, the United Nations, made the right decision—a unified effort—I don't remember how many different nations. Although I was scared and had a lot of experiences that weren't always that comfortable, I felt very good about it after it was all over, it being a tremendous experience, personally, physically, spiritually. And I think the things I learned, the training, was very helpful in my life, not only in my job but in family life and everything else—where you learned the value of discipline, dealing with adversity, not letting things get to you. I have a strong belief that some sort of military or other service would be valuable to everyone in our country.