Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Life and Timeline of Corporal Donald Baer

7 MAR 1930.  Donald Lavern Baer is born in Nashville, Michigan to Elizabeth Mary and Vernon Jay Baer, a machinist and U.S. Army veteran of the First World War.

16 MAY 1930. U.S. census enumerator Fred Bugbee visits the Baer household in Maple Grove Township, Barry County Michigan. He records father Vernon, mother Elizabeth, daughters Florence, Rosemary, and Dorthea as well as sons George, Raymond, Clarence, and Donald, whose age is given as one month.

10 JUN 1932.  Donald’s mother, Elizabeth, dies. Vernon subsequently moves his family to the Brainerd, Minnesota area to be close to relatives. Donald and his new little sister Barbara are sent to live on a farm with Grandma and Grandpa Baer. Over the coming years, Donald would pay extended visits to his father in now living in Racine, Wisconsin.

WORLD WAR II.  Donald’s three older brothers all serve in the military.

28 JUN 1948.  Donald enlists in the U.S. Army and travels to Fort Knox, Kentucky for basic training. He is 18 years old.

LATE 1940s.  Donald’s military assignment takes him via Ft. Lawton, Washington to Camp Mower, Kyushu, Japan, to join the U.S. Army’s post-war occupation forces.  Donald is assigned to K Company, 3rd battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division. K Company’s peacetime garrison duty is to guard the base’s ammo dump.

25 JUN 1950.  The North Korean People’s Army invades South Korea.  American forces in Japan are placed on alert in anticipation of their deployment to Korea.

2 JUL 1950.  Donald is one of 1,981 personnel of the 34th Infantry Regiment who embark for Korea on a chartered Japanese hospital ship, the Takasago Maru. They cross the Tsushima Strait in 15 hours.

5-6 JUL 1950.  Donald’s K Company, with the balance of the 3rd Battalion, is deployed in Ansong, Korea as the eastern branch of a two-prong line of defense against the encroaching North Koreans.  Third battalion is withdrawn to Ch’onan in the south before any enemy engagement took place.

7-8 JUL 1950.  Rapidly moving North Korean forces advance south on Ch’onan after routing the 34th Infantry’s 1st battalion two days earlier.  Donanld’s 3rd battalion is now tasked with holding Ch’onan while 1st Battalion recuperates and refits on the southern outskirts of town. K Company loses at least 19 men killed in action, with many more evacuated with wounds or heat stroke.

12 JUL 1950.  U.S. Army forces in Korea, consisting almost entirely of 24th Division personnel, are withdrawn further south across the Kum River to establish a northern defense perimeter above the city of Taejon.  Too few men covering too much ground leaves sizeable gaps in the perimeter; North Korean forces exploit these to infiltrate and surround isolated American positions.

18-19 JUL 1950.  American forces fall back to tighten their defensive perimeter around Taejon.  Donald and K Company deploy on the airfield immediately north of Taejon.

20 JUL 1950.  During rainy, pre-dawn hours, North Korean tanks and infantry bash through the 1st Battalion’s perimeter. K Company’s airfield position is the next objective on the way to Taejon. K Company loses at least 37 men killed or missing.  Donald would be counted as missing in the coming days. The Defense Department at the end of 1953 declared him and all other missing soldiers as dead. Scant and incomplete records suggest that Donald was taken prisoner by the North Koreans during the clash on 20 Jul 1950.

22 FEB 1951. Five sets of U.S. Army personnel remains are among the many recovered by the 565th Graves Registration Command in the Taejon area. Of these five, one is identified.  The rest are interred in Tanggok, South Korea as unknowns.

1954.  The set of four unknown remains are forwarded to the Army’s mortuary in Kokura, Japan.

3 FEB 1956. Still not identified, a group of 850 Army remains were sent to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific for interment.  Facts would later reveal the Donald Baer’s remains – labeled as “Unknown X-453” - would lie buried with this group for 61 years in grave site 417.

1990s. Donald’s surviving family members begin attending veterans’ reunions for Donald’s unit.  They meet retired Sergeant Major Wayne Parsons, who served with Donald in Korea. Parsons confirms that Donald was killed in combat on 20 Jul 1950.

2001.  Donald’s surviving family members submit DNA samples to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency for identification testing.

2010.  Select documents about unknown Korean War dead at the National Cemetery of the Pacific are declassified.

2015.  DPAA analyst John Zimmerlee informs one of Donald’s surviving sisters that artifacts found near Taejon included a U.S. Army helmet with a 24th Division logo and Donald’s inscribed name.

14 AUG 2017. X-453 is among a number of unknowns disinterred for examination with advanced forensic techniques now available to DPAA technicians.

24 AUG 2017.  DPAA positively identifies X-453 as CPL Donald Baer. Key evidence includes clavicle bones that match Donald’s chest X-ray taken in 1948.

28 SEP 2017.  A DPAA casualty officer notifies Donald’s surviving family of the discovery.

9 NOV 2017.  TSGT Daniel Knautz of the U.S. Air Force escorts the remains of Donald Baer on an American Airlines flight that arrives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at 3:52 p.m. Donald is SGT Knautz’s great uncle.

11 NOV 2017.  A memorial service for Donald is held at the West Lawn Memorial Chapel in Racine, Wisconsin.  Donald is interred between his father Vernon and older brother George.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Letters from the War

Private Gauchet(?) composing a letter during a lull in Korean War battle.
The U.S. Army ensured an expeditious exchange of mail between war-zone soldiers and their families back home.  Items addressed to a soldier in the field needed to show only his name and divisional APO (Army Post Office) number. It was the Army’s responsibility to track the whereabouts of the recipient's division and route the incoming mail accordingly. After crossing the Pacific Ocean via air transport, sacks of letters and parcels from the continental U.S. trucked to division-level post offices. Here, the sacks were dumped before a service company tent, where clerks sorted them for subsequent distribution to regiment, then company, then platoon. The arrival of mail was truly a random event, thanks to the intricacies of trans-Pacific shipment. At best, it took seven days for a piece of mail to travel between the U.S. and Korea. 

If the division was resting well behind battle lines, mail could be safely announced by a bugle call. Soldiers responded in double-time. They gathered around a corporal who, much like an auctioneer, held up each piece one at a time, barking out the last name of the recipient. When hearing his name, the recipient’s elation could not be overstated. 

Mail from home was more than a piece of paper. A document with familiar handwriting was the soldier’s most tangible connection to all that was safe, comforting, and sane. Photos and local newspaper clippings often accompanied the letters. The soldier dutifully protected these treasured documents by tucking them into his helmet liner, allowing him the joy of retrieving the same letter over and over again.

During his time in Korea, PVT Philip Hughes wrote home repeatedly to his mother. His standard stationary was the air letter, a blue sheet of paper with adhesive tabs that, when folded properly, became its own envelope. When circumstances denied him access to stationary, Philip may have created improvised post cards as other soldiers did, tearing a panel from a C-ration carton. Because he was in a theater of war, Philip had no postage costs. He simply wrote the word “free” on the item in the same space where one would affix a postage stamp.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Kyushu Gypsies

Photo by George Portoukalian

Upon the Korean War's outbreak in 1950, the U.S. Far East Air Force scrambled to assemble air cargo assets to support the Army.  Not least among these assets were aircraft configured for evacuating wounded soldiers from the battle zone. These aircraft took off from the rough, unimproved Korean airstrips, whisking their passengers across the Sea of Japan to the southernmost Japanese island of Kyushu. It was here that the U.S. military maintained advanced medical treatment facilities.

The American-built Douglas C-47 Dakota (a.k.a. "Gooney Bird"), by virtue of its numbers available, was the workhorse of this airlift effort.  C-47s from all over Japan were assembled into a provisional squadron: The "Kyushu Gypsies." The name reflected the squadron's initial base of operations located on the southern-most of the Japanese islands.

Here, we see a curiously well-coiffed solder being hoisted aboard a Gooney Bird via stretcher. Depending on the severity of his wounds, he could look forward to treatment and rehabilitation in Japan or, if needed, he could be loaded onto a larger transport plane for additional transit to the continental U.S.   

Friday, June 7, 2019

Slang Vocabulary of the Korean War G.I.

U.S. Army photo
PVT Philip Hughes was one of the first and youngest American troops sent to Korean War combat in 1950. He was seventeen years old at the war's inception. Over half of his Army colleagues were teenagers, like the ones shown above.  Down through the ages, teens have cultivated slang vocabularies, if only for the fun of it.  An army enlisted man's culture facilitated this.

The following is a selection of Korean War slang terms, mostly derived from the late Brig. Gen. Uzal W. Ent's definitive publication, Fighting on the Brink: Defense of the Pusan Perimeter. Most terms are particular to the Army; others are regional adaptations gathered through the U.S. occupation of Japan from 1945-52. 

ASAP - as soon as possible.

AWOL - absent without leave. To be absent from one's unit without proper authority.

Benjo - toilet.  Borrowed from Japanese language.

Better believe it! - phrase meaning "that's the truth."

Blow it out your barracks bag! - a phrase similar to "Go to hell!"

Bought the farm - killed or died; usually, killed in action.

Buddy - close friend or when in combat, the co-inhabitant of a foxhole.

Bug Out or bugout - to withdraw rapidly from a combat position.

Chimpo - to have bad luck.

Chop chop - hurry up.

Chow - food; a meal.

Chow down - to eat.

Chow line - line up of personnel receiving food; similarly, the line up of food servers and related apparatus formed in a mess area (field kitchen).

Church key - a small can opener used to open C-rations or beer cans.

Cow patties - anti-personnel mines.

Cut a trail - leave or depart.

Dear John letter - correspondence from a wife or girl friend back home indicating that she is breaking off her relationship with the letter's recipient.

Dig in - prepare a foxhole or similar defensive position.

Dog Robber - an enlisted man employed as an aide or servant to a senior officer.

Doggies:  Army infantrymen.  Derived from the expression "dog face," which describes a soldier badly in need of a shave.

Dud - (1) a round of defective, unexploded ammunition. (2) A person of limited intellect.

First Shirt - First sergeant.

FUBAR - F*cked Up Beyond All Recognition.

Go for broke - Go all out to win, without reservation. Originated by the all-Japanese 442 Infantry regiment during World War II.

Gook - any oriental.  This was actually a malapropism; the Korean term for American was "megook." maladaptation of the term was immediate.

Hank Snow - disappear.  Run away without notice. "He pulled a Hank Snow." Inspired by the popular country-western singer Hank Snow's "Movin' On," a song adapted by American soldiers into "Bugout Boogie," a Korean War anthem of sorts.

Hit the road - get out of here; go away.

Hot poop - the latest orders or situational information.

How Able - move out in a hurry, usually in retreat. "Let's How Able outta here."

Hubba hubba - verbal expression of delight when observing a pretty girl.

Ichi-bahn (Ee-chee-bahn) - Number one; best.

Incoming or incoming mail - enemy artillery or mortar fire received at one's position.

Jaw bone - on credit; a verbal agreement.

Lead-pipe cinch - a certainty, something easy to accomplish, or both.

LSMFHT - "Lord, Save Me From Harry Truman." Truman's executive order automatically added a year to the enlistments of all men in service at the onset of the Korean War.

Meat wagon - ambulance.

Midnight (or moonlight) requisition - to steal military property from a warehouse or similar storage without permission or authority.

Mussamay - Japanese girlfriend.  Often shortened to "moose."

Ninety-day wonder - a 2nd lieutenant graduate of officer candidate school (OCS).

On your feet - stand up and get ready to move out.

Over the hill - to go AWOL.

Rotate - to return to the U.S. from Korea.

Sack sack - any particularly sloppy and/or dim-witted soldier.

Saddle up - get your equipment and get ready to move out.

Seoul City Sue - nickname given to a woman who made radio broadcasts in English on behalf of the enemy.

Short round - a soldier who was always in trouble. 

Scuttlebutt - rumors or gossip.

SNAFU - situation normal, all f*cked up.

S.O.S. - creamed chipped beef on toast, a traditional army meal. Alternatively, "same old sh*t" or "sh*t on a shingle."

Swabbies or swab jockeys - sailors.

Top - first sergeant.

Top kick - First sergeant.

What's up, doc? - what's happening?

White money - cash currency, compared to cigarettes used as (unofficial) black-market currency.

Willie peter - a type of artillery shell with an incendiary discharge and lots of white smoke. 

Yard bird - a dim-witted soldier.

You never had it so good - a phrase meaning that current conditions couldn't be improved.