8:07 | The mission was photo reconnaissance and Clyde Burnette maintained the modified F-51's that flew the daily flights over North Korea. It was a miserable place to work, he recalls, as they had to maintain the aircraft with no hangars or sheds, just tents for shelter.
They told Clyde Burnette that if he enlisted instead of waiting for the draft, he could pick his specialty school. He held out for aircraft maintenance school while they tried to make him accept others, and was soon training as an engineer and gunner on heavy bombers.
The score from the color-coded bullet hits on the target showed he had no hits, until they found out the scorer was color blind, recalls B-24 gunner Clyde Burnette. He was on a model crew, held back to wait on new aircraft, but the men got tired of waiting and volunteered for combat. It got his attention when he was designated a ball turret gunner, yet never saw a ball turret in training, even as he arrived in England.
The ball turret was "the worst torture chamber ever," according to Clyde Burnette. He was very happy when the bombing mission didn't call for it and he could man a waist gun instead. Wherever he was positioned in the plane, it was cold, so cold that layer upon layer of clothing was necessary.
On his first bombing mission, B-24 Gunner Clyde Burnette saw another aircraft explode in mid-air. One man got out but his parachute was in flames. It was a sobering introduction to combat. He recounts some other close calls, including the time they had to return with a payload of special 2,000 pound Blockbusters and broken landing gear.
B-24 crew member Clyde Burnette walks us through a typical mission for the airmen stationed in England and flying missions against Nazi targets. It took an incredibly complex ballet of men and machines just to get hundreds and sometimes thousands of aircraft in formation to start the mission.
It was their third mission over Berlin and they were heading home. Four German fighters pounced on the B-24 and it was engulfed in flame and going down. Clyde Burnette fought for consciousness as the other crew in the back of the plane bailed out. He woke in free fall with no idea how he had made it out, and soon he was in German custody. Everyone made it out of the plane except George "Danny" Daneau, the nose turret gunner, who went down with the aircraft.
Captured airman Clyde Burnette says his German interrogator spoke better English than he did and already had a complete dossier on him. He kept quiet and was soon in a prison camp where all anyone could think about was food and the lack of it. There were hi-jinks, like throwing rocks at the commandant's plane, disappearing infantry, and the sergeant who was really a doctor.
In the prison camp, Clyde Burnette only saw one American shot by the guards, a man who snapped and started climbing the wire. In the infirmary, a Yugoslav prisoner invited him along on an escape, but Burnette had to return to the general population and he missed his chance to try to make it to Italy, where his brother was posted. The camp was Stalag 17B and it became famous after the war when a prisoner wrote the story which became a well known Hollywood film.
The Red Cross parcels were supposed to augment the food provided by the Germans but it became the primary food source for the American airmen in Stalag 17B. Clyde Burnette describes how they kept distracted from the hunger, including making some homemade booze from raisins and holding rat races in the barracks. When a prisoner stole food from another, the punishment was harsh and memorable.
When the guns of the approaching Russians could be heard, the German guards emptied the prison camp and marched the allied prisoners westward across Austria. Clyde Burnette waited in the woods where they were left by the guards until a lone American tank rumbled up.
Liberated and well fed once again, ex-POW Clyde Burnette tried to return to the States with his unit, but his records were gone when he got to England so he had to wait. He had a space on the Queen Mary, but was bumped by officers so he wound up crossing the Atlantic on an LST. A small reward was once again getting billeted in a hotel in Miami Beach.
Continuing his Air Force career after the war in Europe, Clyde Burnette became a flight engineer ferrying retired aircraft. After a short discharge and reenlistment, he served in the Berlin Airlift. When they asked for a position check on one flight near the East German border, they didn't get a position but they were told to immediately make a 180 degree turn.
After serving in World War II and the Korean War, Clyde Burnette was stationed in the Philippines as the Vietnam War began to heat up. He nearly got sent there but returned to the States to finish his career which included prepping aircraft for possible use in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
When it was time to act, Bill Minnich came through. On a night watch, as he caught sight of a Chinese patrol, the only question was, rifle or grenade? When the unit was pinned down and no one responded to the order to move out, he cussed them all out and charged forward. And when he fell wounded, it was a sure thing that he would get up and scramble through the bullets landing at his feet.
Ron Clark remembers when the Chinese would attack and how the strategies between American and Chinese differed. He also explains one detailed account of an American casualty during battle and his own major injury that permanently disabled his eyesight.
Ben Malcom recalls a mission to infiltrate and destroy a 76mm gun hidden inside a North Korean mountain. During the cover of night on July 14, 1952, Malcom managed to sneak 120 guerilla fighters onto the mountain and into the bunker, and describes the combat that ensued.
It was called Hill 205. The small Ranger company was told to take and hold the hill. They did that as long as they could but Ralph Puckett and his men had to go through hell to do it. Waves of Chinese attackers had him calling in very close artillery strikes. He lay there, unable to move after three wounds, watching the Chinese bayonet wounded Rangers. Then two figures charged up the hill.
The stuttering truce talks in Korea were incredibly demoralizing for the troops, says Jim Walsh. Repeatedly, it seemed as if they would be going home and then, invariably, their hopes would be dashed. When he finally did return to America, everyone expected to see a festive hero's welcome. It was not quite that.
His father was a coal miner in Nova Scotia and it shortened his life, so Ralph McKay did not go into the mines, he joined the army as soon as he was eligible at seventeen. He was assigned to the Royal Canadian Regiment, the oldest unit in Canada, and then to jump school. His first jump was memorable.
New Yorker George Bruzgis opted for the draft instead of enlistment because it required a year less, just in case he didn't like the Army. Trained in armor, he was deployed to Korea where he was unnerved by the destruction he saw on his way to the front. There, the tanks were dug in and essentially acted as artillery pieces.
Jim Walsh had the term "Killer From a Distance" applied to him by his squad leader, Ron Smith. Walsh had used his heavy machine gun to suppress Chinese fire and allow the squad to move forward. Later, Walsh would write a book with that title, referring to artillerymen on whom the infantry depended. Of all the weapons used in Korea, napalm was the most horrendous.
George Bruzgis received a non-combat injury in Korea when his platoon sergeant, who had a grudge because George was a Yankee from New York City, assigned him to midnight refueling duty. He fell in a slit trench in the dark and couldn't walk for several weeks. That wasn't the end of it.
He was studying for the priesthood, but Jim Walsh enlisted in the Army when the Korean War began. When he arrived in country, entry into combat was immediate for the machine gunner. His weapon was an old design, but it was effective. The only drawback was the large crew required to operate it.
Ralph McKay was at Hill 355 on the front line in Korea. It was during the stalemate period and each side watched the other across the valley between them, occasionally firing artillery or mortars. One mortar shell killed the Canadian unit's cook, their first fatality. McKay was disturbed after he picked up his dead friend, but in those days, you dared not say anything about your feelings.
The Armistice was scheduled to take effect that evening, but George Bruzgis received orders for a fire mission at dawn. The high explosive rounds were fired from the tank and, years later, he found out the significance of those rounds. He was able to revisit Korea twice due to the generosity and gratitude of the Korean people.
It was on Hill 440 that Jim Walsh nearly got hit by an incoming round. It killed the two men next to him and completely deafened him for a while. Sent back to the MASH unit, he felt guilty for being there as he walked among the bloody wounded.
They got the word that the Armistice had been signed and to cease all firing. That gave Joe Nemastil a chance to find out what was actually in the no man's land below his position. Checking his weapons, he made his way down the hill and very soon, spotted a Chinese soldier walking right toward him.
President Truman had long ago given the order, but it was in 1951 that integration finally came to 35th Regiment in Korea. Two black GI's were assigned to Jim Walsh's squad and they proved to be tremendous assets. They were both miners and they taught the men how to better perform one of their primary tasks.
He shipped out to Korea and, right away, he was disturbed by something he saw in the streets of Pusan. Ralph McKay knew then he was somewhere very different from his home in Canada. It was 1953, late in the war, but the shelling was nearly constant on the front line.
As soon as the troop ship cleared Seattle and headed for Korea, they hit a storm and Joe Nemastil was seasick the rest of the way. He was on his way to join the 7th Infantry Division at the front. It was only three months before the armistice was signed but it was three months of combat on the static lines. For Joe, the worst enemy was not North Korean or Chinese. It was something in the bunkers.
Canadian soldier Ralph McKay describes the attempts by the enemy in Korea to overrun his position. He still used his British single shot rifle, but many had traded with the Americans for better weapons. The men were ecstatic over the peace agreement, but they had to stay in country until their 14 month tour was up. At least no one was shooting at them.
When the snow finally melted along the front line in Korea, there was a grisly discovery along the supply path. There were also rats. Lots of them, big ones. Jim Walsh talks about the rats and other, little known aspects of life on the line.
The area where Joe Nemastil was sent as a replacement had seen plenty of action. Old Baldy and Pork Chop Hill had been hard fought over and then abandoned. Sent to reinforce an outpost on the next hill over which had been attacked, he saw the aftermath of the worst of war.
The advance on Hill 440 was stalled due to a well dug in bunker. After a couple of hours of getting nowhere, Jim Walsh saw a GI running up the hill with a flame thrower. During that same battle, the misfit of the unit also rose to the occasion.
When Joe Nemastil arrived at the front in Korea, his platoon leader gave him a short talk, then disappeared, not to be seen very often again. Joe was assistant gunner on the 75 mm recoilless rifle and quickly learned how to use it in combat. That was just one heavy weapon on the line, and it was really something when they were all firing at once.
He had been a Radioman for the Navy and when Turner Harris was called to active duty during the Korean War, they sent him to Adak, Alaska, where he monitored Russian Morse Code for Communications Support Activities, a Naval signal intelligence agency. He missed his wife, but the chow was good.
They were a little short of funds to continue in college so Joe Nemastil and his cousin talked to a recruiter to see what they could get in the Army. Promised a place in Officer Candidate School, he went off to basic training. The conditions were rough and the Kentucky winter came blowing right through the wall boards of the old barracks. Then, surprise! No OCS and orders for Korea.
After moving around South Korea, Records Clerk Lou Pardy prepared to head into North Korea to Hungnam. The unit was in relief of Marines, whose tanks were not winterized. It was bitterly cold and there was a constant stream of refugees to screen in addition to regular duties. Finally, as the Allies lost ground, the city was evacuated in almost disastrous fashion.
Evarist LeMay recalls the capturing of a group of Chinese soldiers by his regiment and the actions they took for retribution. While scouting, LeMay and his fellow scouts come across a group of American soldiers that had been brutally executed. He credits these types of situations for the PTSD that happens to guys like him when they come home.