SSG Robert L Tate U.S. Army (1949-1952)
An up close and personal interview with U.S. Army Veteran and Togetherweserved.com Member:
SSG Robert L Tate
Shadow Box: http://army.togetherweserved.com/profile/287713
PLEASE DESCRIBE WHO OR WHAT INFLUENCED YOUR DECISION TO JOIN THE ARMY?
In 1949 I was 16 years old and had just started my junior year in high school and worked part time for a national food store chain called the California Markets in my hometown of Evansville, Indiana. They offered me a produce manager’s job if I would go full-time. Being raised in a father-missing family, I thought it was a good idea so I quit high school. About a month later the chain went bankrupt.
I looked up an Army recruiter early named Tech Sgt. Vickery in December 1949 who always came by the schoolyard trying to get new recruits. I told him I wanted to join the Army but wouldn’t be 17 until February. He said just lie about my birth date and to say I was born in another state. He added they probably wouldn’t check it out. My 16-year buddy Don Bullock also decided to give it a try. We joined a week later and were bused to Indianapolis for physicals. Don passed without any problems but I was sent home to get some teeth fixed and told to come back once that was done. A few days after getting my teeth fixed, I returned for my physical. The minimum requirement for joining was 5′ 2″ and 112 lbs. I was exactly 5 feet, 2 inches tall but I weighed slightly less than 112 pounds. To make sure I would tip the scales at the minimum weight I ate a whole sack of bananas before weighing in. I stepped on the scale and came in at exactly 112 pounds.
My friend Don had been sent to basic with Company B, 13th Armored Infantry Battalion, Combat Command A, 3rd Armored Division, in Fort Knox. I was also sent to the 13th for training, but Company B had already filled so I was put in Company C. Both of our company commanders found out we were underage. His commander gave him a hard time and got him a minority discharge. Mine didn’t care, so I got to stay.
WHETHER YOU WERE IN THE SERVICE FOR SEVERAL YEARS OR AS A CAREER, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE DIRECTION OR PATH YOU TOOK.
My orders out basic training were for occupation duty in Japan. I was also given a 30-leave to go home to Evansville before heading to Seattle for shipment overseas.
When my leave was up, I reported to the Evansville train station where I ran into two other young soldiers also on their way to Seattle for shipment overseas. One was Bob Willett a buddy of mine from Evansville and the other was Ralph Jenkins who was came from Oakland City just up the road. When we changed trains in St. Louis, we were joined by another trainee from Fort Jackson South Carolina. Our new train was a relatively new Streamliner named ‘City of St. Louis’ which would take us partway to Seattle. Once we jumped aboard, however, we found the only thing available was a four person suite and the Military Vouchers we were travelling under did not include such ‘luxury.’ But the kindly conductor let us have it anyway. WOW!!! We had a steward in the car that we called back to order ham sandwiches. When we gave him a tip of $5 (back in those days great tip) he really took care of us for the entire trip.
We arrived two days early and since we didn’t want to go to the base until we had to we decided to look around Seattle. But we also were pretty well broke so we scrapped our pennies together and had enough for me to call home and have my mom wire us some money through Western Union. For two days after the money arrived we had some fun and still reported to base on time.
I shipped out on the USS General M. M. Patrick and landed in Yokohama. Since I had been trained for the cavalry I was certain I would be assigned to occupation duty with the 1st Cavalry Division. But at the reception station I learned I was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division, which was spread all over Japan with garrisons on Honshu and on Hokkaido, the northernmost island. My duty station was the division headquarters in Sendai, 231 miles north of Tokyo where I would be on the staff of the Division’s G-3 (Operations). A couple of days later I was on a train to Sendai.
I remember pulling into the Sendai train station and seeing men urinating in outside urinals and wondering what kind of world had I entered? When I stepped off the train, I was then hit with an awful smell. Part of the smell was fish markets and open drain ditches but the worst smell came from what I would learned later were called ‘honey buckets.’ The Japanese at the time used open latrines and the waste was collected in buckets below. Workers would go around every morning, collect the waste buckets and empty them into ‘honey wagons.’ The waste was then used to fertilize crops. I never really got used to that smell.
When the Korean War broke out in June 1950, we were moved to Gotemba and into a tent city at the base of Mount Fuji and put through a rigorous training schedule, including amphibious landing training. I remember everyone was anxious to get over to Korea and get into the fight.
The 7th Division was understrength since many of our officers and NCOs were sent to Army Divisions already in combat in Korea. To bring us up to strength thousands of Republic of Korea (ROK) troops were integrated into our ranks. At this stage in their training, the ROK soldiers were not worth much. There was also a language barrier that constantly got in the way. Later when we got in combat most of the ROKs proved to be brave fighters.
When we boarded the crowded troop ship for Korea we were assigned three men to a bunk. When I got down to my rack there were two ROK soldiers sitting on it eating dried squid with kimchee, which stunk to high heaven. I managed to get it over to them that they were not going to use my rack and they had to sleep on deck. I noticed later that one of them left his Japanese made Kodak camera on the bunk. I never did find him and still have the camera to this day.
Soon after arriving in Korea in early September 1950, we made an amphibious landing with the 1st Marine Division at Inchon. Days later we engaged North Korean soldiers in the First Battle of Seoul. The Division then marched 25 miles east to Suwon to capture the important rail juncture of Inchon. A few weeks later we made an amphibious landing at Iwon and made a rush to the Yalu River separating North Korea from China and when the Chinese entered the war we ended up at the bitter fight at the Chosen Reservoir.
After leaving Korea, I was assigned to US Army Forces Command and was discharged in 1952 as a Staff Sgt. From 1955 to 1968 I was a member of the 71st Troop Carrier Squadron, US Air Force Reserves.
DID YOU PARTICIPATE IN COMBAT OPERATIONS? IF SO, COULD YOU DESCRIBE THOSE WHICH WERE SIGNIFICANT TO YOU?
On the morning of June 25, 1950 we awoke to the news that Communist North Korea had smashed across the 38th Parallel and invaded South Korea. South Korea’s army, smaller and not as well trained and equipped was unable to halt the onslaught. By June 28, Seoul had fallen, andacross the peninsula the shattered remnants of South Korea’s army were in full retreat. Three United States divisions sent to its aid were committed in small units. They too were driven into retreat. We all knew it would be a matter of time before our division would be going to war. In late August or early September we sailed across the Sea of Japan and landed at Pusan. A week or so later we were on ships going to Inchon.
On September 15, 1950 the 1st Marine Division swarmed ashore after preparatory bombardment by aircraft and naval guns. Our 7th Infantry Division followed. Taken by complete surprise the North Koreans put up a light resistance and most quickly fled the city.
I remember the sporadic sniper fire that first night in Inchon and remember wondering to myself what the heck I was doing there and thinking I should be home in school instead of where I was. The next day we headed for what would be the first of five battles for Seoul.
The division’s first objective was to take the heavily defended North Koreans holding the high ground immediately northwest of Seoul. It was a brutal battle with many casualties on both sides. Once our frontline troops defeated the enemy, elements of the division entered Seoul. After a couple days of vicious house-to-house fighting,any enemy that had not retreated was either dead or captured. With Seoul firmly in our hands, the division was ordered to take two vital hills southeast of Seoul. It took 12-hour of fierce battle to take the two hills. Later my commander, Lt. Col. Hampton G-3, was killed in a tank ambush around the 4th or 5th day while we were trying to hook up with our tank task near Suwon just south of Seoul.
After our division and the 1st Marine Division secured Inchon, Kimpo Air base, Seoul and Suwon our division started a long overland truck march to the east coast of Pusan where we renewed training and added replacements for our combat-thinned ranks. Orders came down in October to advance to the Yalu so again we loaded sea transport and headed north along the east coast of Korea to Iwon. As a part of the G-3 shop I knew in advance that the push to the Yalu, which separated North Korea from Manchuria (China), was to stop the flow of supplies coming across the river. Our amphibious landing on the last day of October, 1950 was unopposed. We set off north toward the Yalu wearing our newly issued insulated shoe packs for the extreme cold.
We slogged through the cold into Pukchong late at night. We were all cold and pretty tired. I took off my shoe packs, didn’t notice my sweaty socks and jumped into my sleeping bag trying to get warm. When I woke up, my left toes were frozen white with ice between them. It scared the heck out of me, but I managed to massage them and they were okay. It sure taught me not to leave sweaty socks on when you go to sleep.
As the division moved north we met a sharp skirmish at Pungsan and a harsh firefight at Kapsan. The push continued in arctic-like cold weather, and on November 20, the 17th Infantry slogged into Hyesanjin-on-the-Yalu–the first U.S. unit to reach the Manchurian border. It was the northernmost point of advance by the United Nations’ command in three years of bitter warfare.
When the Chinese came across the border on November 27, 1950, we were totally unprepared. The enemy attack caught our division strung out, with some elements as far as 250 miles apart. I remember trying to make it down the MSR (main supply route). I hitched a ride in an Air Force Forward Observer van before they could cut it off and catch us in the Chosin Reservoir trap. Elements of the 7th Infantry (31st Regiment, 32nd Regiment, 57th Field Artillery Battalion, and other support units) were caught in the Chosin Reservoir and suffered tremendous casualties and unspeakable hardships. Thank God I was not caught in that trap. I made it down the MSR before the Chinese cut it off and encircled the troops at Chosen Reservoir.
If I remember correctly (it’s been over 50 years), our Assistant Division Commander, Brig. Gen. Henry Hodes put together a tank task force and broke through at Hagaru-ri to get some of the troops out. Just a couple days ago (after 54 years) not very far from my hometown, they buried the remains of a member of the 7th Infantry Division whose body was recently found in a shallow grave at the Chosin Reservoir.
I remember making it to Hungnam and while waiting to be evacuated I tried to get some sleep in what I think was a bombed out school. But the Navy was bombarding the enemy from the harbor and it seemed like every shell was going right over the building I was trying to sleep in. Finally we boarded the craft to be taken to the ship. It was dark and I remember our craft being challenged for our identity by the heavy cruiser USS St Paul. We were to be aboard ship for three days, but ended up being on it for over a week before we got to Pusan. Everyone on board was sick with dysentery and the whole ship was pretty messy. I don’t ever remember (before or since) being as cold and discouraged as I was that December in 1950.
OF ALL YOUR DUTY STATIONS OR ASSIGNMENTS, WHICH ONE DO YOU HAVE FONDEST MEMORIES OF AND WHY? WHICH ONE WAS YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
My fondest memories come from the five month I was stationed at Camp Sendai, Japan. I like learning about the Japanese culture and seeing things that were new and sometimes strange to me. I hated to leave when the 7th Infantry Division reassembled its scattered units throughout Japan to train in preparation for going to Korea to join other American divisions already fighting.
On March 11, 2011, memories of Sendai came flashing back when I saw that a major tsunami hit the city following a magnitude 9.0 Earthquake off the coast. I understand the center of the city was barely damaged but the areas closest to the coastline received major damage resulting in hundreds dying. It was the largest earthquake recorded in Japan’s history.
The memories I dislike the most are those dealing with the many casualties, “American and Korean” I saw during the Korea War.
FROM YOUR ENTIRE SERVICE CAREER WHAT PARTICULAR MEMORY STANDS OUT?
The particular memory that stands out for me was experiencing the bitter, subzero temperature I experienced during our push to the Yalu and at the Chosin Reservoir. Both battles were fought over some of the roughest terrain during some of the harshest winter weather conditions of the Korean War. The worst was the cold front from Siberia that engulfed the Chosin Reservoir with temperature plunging to as low as −35 °F (−37 °C). The cold weather was accompanied by frozen ground, creating frostbite casualties, icy roads, and weapon malfunctions. I had never been so cold in my life.
IF YOU RECEIVED ANY MEDALS FOR VALOR OR AWARDS FOR SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENT, PLEASE DESCRIBE HOW THESE WERE EARNED.
My buddy Scotty and I were recommended for the Bronze Star Medal but through some unexplained policy in place at the time, they could only give one. Scotty won out and they gave me the one just below, the Army Commendation Medal w/Pendulum. The medal was presented by Maj. Gen. Goodwin Barr, the 7th Infantry Division Commanding General.
OF ALL THE MEDALS, AWARDS, QUALIFICATION BADGES OR DEVICE YOU RECEIVED, PLEASE DESCRIBE THE ONE(S) MOST MEANINGFUL TO YOU AND WHY?
While in the Korean War with the 7th Infantry Division, I participated in 5 major battles and 2 amphibious landings resulting in having five Battle Stars and two Arrowheads on my Korean Campaign Medal.
WHICH INDIVIDUAL(S) FROM YOUR TIME IN THE MILITARY STAND OUT AS HAVING THE MOST POSITIVE IMPACT ON YOU AND WHY?
Col. Joe T. Pound, from Sullivan, Indiana was truly a great leader of men. I met Col. Pond while I was the First Sgt. of the 71st Troop Carrier Squadron from 1955-1968. There were two others commanders before him and another one who followed. All were fine men and great squadron commanders and since each was required to put in their flying time in order to maintain their proficiency they placed a lot of responsibility on me saying I would have to take care of most of the other functions in the Squadron. They were true to their word and backed me 100 percent.
Of the four Col. Joe Pond was the one who most led by example. He was stern but fair. He became my mentor in many ways. When the Squadron was activated and sent to Vietnam in 1968, Col. Pond stayed on active duty and finished out his distinguished career at the Pentagon. He was the finest Commander I ever served under both in the Air Force and the Army. He was not only my commander but a good friend as well. He has since passed away.
CAN YOU RECOUNT A PARTICULAR INCIDENT FROM YOUR SERVICE WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE BEEN FUNNY AT THE TIME, BUT STILL MAKES YOU LAUGH?
When I returned from Korea, I was stationed at Camp Atterbury, Indiana just south of Indianapolis. While I didn’t go to Indianapolis that often, one Friday night I decided to go there just to get off the base, find a place to relax and maybe have a couple of drinks. Apparently I must have had a lot more than just a couple of drinks because all I remembered was waking up in my bunk Saturday morning with a hangover. My roommate asked me if I remember anything earlier that morning. As hard as I tried, I could not remember a thing. He told me he was awakened around 2 am by some commotion in the company street and looked out the window to see what was going on. The racket was two burly MPs holding up a drunk under his arms and carrying him down the street. He said the drunk was so short his feet were not even touching the ground. As they carried the drunk closer he realized it was me, all 5 feet 2 inches of me. That was the only time in my life I couldn’t remember where I had been and what I had done. However, I cannot help smiling to myself on those rare occasions when I think of my ‘lost weekend.’ But I see it more as a cautionary tale since it taught me a valuable lesson that I have lived up to even now: ‘Always drink in moderation.’
WHAT PROFESSION DID YOU FOLLOW AFTER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW? IF YOU ARE CURRENTLY SERVING, WHAT IS YOUR PRESENT OCCUPATIONAL SPECIALTY?
After being discharged in December 1952 I got married and started having kids (seven of them). I joined the Air Force Reserve in 1955 and was First Sergeant of the 71st Troop Carrier Squadron for 13 years. My unit was activated during the Cuban Missile Crisis but with the Russians backing down at the last minute. We were on active duty for a short time. We were again activated in 1968 for the Vietnam War and during our preparation the 71st TCS was converted to gunships and re-designated as the 71st Air Commando Squadron, (Later designated as 71st Special Operations Squadron). Because of my situation at home (seven kids, one severely handicapped, the rest school age or under)I was discharged for hardship reasons.Watching my squadron go to Vietnam without me was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have always felt a little guilt about not being able to go with them. The 71st was the only Reserve Unit to serve in Vietnam.
I made my living in the construction business for 50 years building primarily homes and apartment buildings. I have been retired since 2003 along with “The Light of my Life” (my wife of 58 years). I spend a great deal of my time working around my house and yard.
My Kids kept telling to get a computer but I said I lived without a computer for almost 70 years. But I finally gave in and bought one. WOW!!! I wish I had bought one year’s ago. I am on it a good deal of time each day (especially in the winter). I am getting involved in a lot of things going on in the world, Government, and Ancient Roman and Greek history, EBay, etc. It has sure been a way of keeping my mind active.
WHAT MILITARY ASSOCIATIONS ARE YOU A MEMBER OF, IF ANY? WHAT SPECIFIC BENEFITS DO YOU DERIVE FROM YOUR MEMBERSHIPS?
Am a member of the 7th Infantry Division Association. I derive a lot of satisfaction in keeping in touch with some of my comrades in arms. I attended their convention in July, 2004 in Las Vegas.
I belonged to the American Legion for years, but had to drop it because of personal reasons.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS SERVING IN THE MILITARY INFLUENCED THE WAY YOU HAVE APPROACHED YOUR LIFE AND YOUR CAREER?
I learned a sense of responsibility and discipline while in the military that I have carried with me all my life and in the workplace. Having been in combat I have also realized not to sweat the little thing. Finally, I found out I could accomplish almost anything regardless how hard or difficult if I set my mind to it.
BASED ON YOUR OWN EXPERIENCES, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECENTLY JOINED THE AIR FORCE?
My simple advice is to take your service seriously and consider it as a career. But the best advice I can pass on to new soldiers was something I heard when I was discharging from the Army in 1952. I was Camp Atterbury and attending an orientation lecture about adjusting to civilian life. At the end of his lecture the crusty major spoke these words: ‘You can leave the military but it will never leave you.’ He then made us a bet that in in the years to come if we were to go into a bar we would more than likely notice some guys sitting around and talking. He said if we got close enough to hear the conversation, chances are they would be talking about their military service. I found out more often than not, he was right.
IN WHAT WAYS HAS TOGETHERWESERVED.COM HELPED YOU REMEMBER YOUR MILITARY SERVICE AND THE FRIENDS YOU SERVED WITH.
Setting up my profile page was like taking a trip down memory lane. Browsing other profile has the same effect. The feature I cherish the most is that my profile page can be viewed by my six living kids, 15 grand-kids, 15 great-grand-kids and so far two great, great, grand-kid. Here they can get a glimpse at what I did in the military service to include some of the ways in which I felt about things. It’s a good feeling. As a life member who knows how long people will be able to read of my experiences.
I would like to add that these pages are dedicated to all those men and women who for over the last few centuries have answered our country’s call to defend the freedoms and the way of life we all now enjoy. Their efforts and sacrifices have made this great country the model to all freedom loving people in the world. God grant that we will always have enough of those individuals that put these beliefs above all else. We must always extend the hand of friendship to all people everywhere. By freely giving to others our greatest possessions of freedom, justice, and the basic principles of human rights, we will insure that we will always have them ourselves. I pray God will continue to shed his grace on this great country.