University of Nevada, Reno

 

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Marine in the Korean War

By Jim

 

JimI fought most of the war with a screwdriver, a 9/16 wrench and a pair of dykes. I was an aircraft ordnance man in VMF312 of the First Marine Air Wing. Our planes were the F4U Corsair, the gull-winged aircraft that terrorized the North Koreans and Chinese. Our pilots often came back from a raid with enemy communication wires stuck in their tail hooks. They went in low enough to bomb or strafe, and they used to deliberately lower their tail hooks just to see how much enemy communication they could ruin. Our plane had a distinctive checkerboard cowl. On more than one occasion, when I was on liberty in Japan, I met mud Marines whose butts were saved by one of our planes. Usually I drank for free when I was with them.


There were three areas of responsibility for aircraft ordnance men: Bombs, rockets, and machine guns.


We loaded all kinds of bombs. Napalm was the one we used most and was most effective in silencing pillboxes and machine gun nests and wreaking havoc in general. Under the belly of each Corsair there was a bomb rack that held a variety of sizes of bombs. Napalm at the beginning of the war was mixed in belly fuel tanks. However, these were expensive, and as the war wore on, they began using crudely made tanks that looked like they were made by some rinky-dink handyman. However, they worked just as well as their more expensive cousins. We filled them with mostly aviation gasoline and then added the napalm. That made the gasoline turn to Jello. On whoever or whatever that deadly mix landed, it burned a hole, and could NOT be removed until it burned through whatever it landed on.


Five hundred pound bombs rode on a trailer. The bomb truck would haul ten or more of these at a time, dropping one off at each plane. We used a tool that looked like a beefed up fishing pole to mount it on the plane. The barrel of the lift was about as big as a baseball bat head. It had two fingers on top that hooked onto a bracket on the bomb rack and allowed a fishing line, a steel cable, to be lowered to the bomb. Once the cable was attached, one could lift the bomb just like one would reel in a fish until the bomb got to the bracket. It was then locked in place and a fuse put in its nose. An arming wire was then attached to the fuse. Now I used the dykes to cut the excess wire off.


The bombs that caused me to lose sleep were the anti-personnel bombs.

They were the size of a 250 pound bomb, but were hollow. Inside were dozens of little packages that were wrapped like presents. Each had its own parachute. When the plane dropped them, the two halves parted, releasing the parachutes. When an enemy soldier or a child picked one up, it usually maimed him/her. Thankfully we only used these once.


The rockets we use were 5-inch HVARs. When we were flying off land, they were easy to load because the wings were down. After sliding them into the rocket launcher, we armed them with an arming wire same as the bombs. The wires were attached to the rocket launcher so when the rocket was launched,the little fan in the nose was exposed. While in flight, it revolved sufficiently to arm the rocket so that it would explode on impact. Before a plane could take off, an ordnance man had to go under the wings and attach the electrical cord that fired the rocket, after which he would salute the pilot to let him know that his rockets were armed.


When we were flying from the carrier, we had to load the rockets with the wings folded. That meant one had to stand on a wheel, put one arm around the exposed 20mm cannon for stability, and with the other arm lift the rocket to the launcher. They weighed about 100 pounds.


On one occasion, I had just gotten the rocket in the launcher when the gun plumber, who was working on the gun around which my arm was, cranked off a round. I fell to the deck and suddenly I was having an out-of-the-body experience. I was at least 100 feet in the air. I could see the whole fleet, both carriers and all four destroyer escorts. I sat with my hands behind me, and I could hear the guys yelling, "Reid, are you all right?" I couldn't speak.


I don't remember much after that. I woke up in sickbay wondering what had happened.

 

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