Thursday, June 13, 2013

Part 3 of 3: Randy Rabenold and the Bulldogs Who Went to War

Surviving that winter in Korea was tough.  By Korean standards it was one of the coldest winter in the previous thirty years. 

According to Marine Corps records, Randy Rabenold, Tom Cook, Charles Zaccone, Wally Norsworthy, Tom Fortson, Ernie Daum, Dan Hartfiel, Sam “Frenchie” LeBeau, Sandy Scaffidi, Tom Watso, Tad "Jack" Yamaguchi and Ray “Nuny” Rabenold were all together under the same command in December of 1950.
The First Provisional Marine Brigade Flag seen here on right: The
Provisional reverted back under the command of the First Division
by September of 1950.

As intense and demoralizing the fall and the start of winter had been, including the losses at the Chosen Reservoir and the brutal weather up to then had been, the Christmas season did present a turning point for the war effort and for our servicemen.

On the morning of December 23, General Walton Walker of the Eighth Army was thrown from his jeep and died later in the hospital of head injuries. 

Up until then, many in the Corps questioned Army leadership and were dismayed by their lack of performance.  Some higher brass in the Corps expressed their resentment over their men being sacrificed due to the Army’s lack of proficiency.

Walker’s death was of course unfortunate.  However it did provide for General Matthew Ridgeway’s succession.  Previous to this time almost all accounts point to a serious “mission vacuum” among the leadership of the Eighth Army. 
"Sexy" the First Division Mascot, The most traveled dog in the Corps:
Born in China, taken to Guam in 1949, marched with the Division Band
in Guam, taken to Camp Pendleton 1949-1950, recruited and taken to Korea
by Bob Neubert, made the Inchon Landing, protected the Kimpo Airstrip,
barked at Bob Hope at Woson.  Lost at the Chosin in December 1950.

Subsequently essential things like proper equipment and winter clothing began to flow as well as some tactical achievements heretofore unseen under Walker.  Chief among the tactical changes was getting our servicemen off the roads where they were sitting ducks and getting them on the offensive by infiltrating and flanking enemy positions in the hills.

To Rabenold and his friends this meant that they would be increasingly stationed on remote outposts along ridge lines  with miles of open space between them and the enemy also now posted along the opposing ridges.

Colonel John Michaelis of the Twenty-seventh Infantry called it “magic, the way Ridgeway took that defeated army and turned it around…a breath of fresh air…what the army desperately needed.”

First Marine Drummer Jack Watso poses with his machine
gun in this Marine Corps photo showcasing his
commendation in the field.
A long and difficult peace process was initiated by December 1950.  China most likely overplayed their newly forming military clout by rejecting initial cease-fire talks.  Additionally the process was cumbersome and vexing as both sides attempted to save face.  All this  while thousands of our men suffered and died.  

The Following has been paraphrased from the First Division Historical Diary from early 1951: On 31 December of 1950, the 8th Army directed the First Marines to secure and patrol a defensive perimeter around Pohang along the coast toward the northwest to Andong, securing the main supply road (MSR) along Yongchon via Uisong to Andong.  They were also to secure a command post in that vicinity.  

Around 18 January 1951, the Division encountered about 500 troops from the North Korean 10th Division five to 10 miles northeast of Andong with the Seventh Marines taking about 15 KIA among other casualties.
Jack Watso receives his commendation
ribbon in the field at Korea in early 1951 from
First Division Commanding General
Oliver P. Smith.

A major encounter occurred with the Third Battalion of the Seventh Marines at Topyongdong area near while the First Battalion of the Seventh Marines found about 200 enemy near the high ground of Hill 466.  On 24 through the 26 January, encountering resistance with hand grenades, small arms fire and light mortar.  The Second Battalion of the Seventh Marines moved from Pohang in support.  Around 250 enemy were reported killed.   

Fortson said, “On January 23rd, my regular enlistment was up, and I became a member of the C.O.G. Club, ‘at the Convenience of the Government,’ I was the fifth guy in Korea to be there that I knew of in this club.”

Disheartening to Fortson, by mid February of 1951, eight men were sent home due to the rotation system with over 650 men expected to leave after that.  He explained the system in part, saying “You got a point for every three days in Korea, points for medals, and for previous overseas duty.” 

Over the next several months, most of the First Division Marines who had been in Korea since August and September of 1950 would be rotating home.

Besides the points system, the Marine Corps implemented a “one winter policy” in part due to the brutal first winter our men endured.  And with spring on the horizon, the men knew their time in Korea was drawing to an end.  According to Don Blauch, “you put in your two-weeks on the line, and then you had one week back in reserve.”

The Chinese and North Koreans used the winter time extensively placing mines.  In the hillsides these mines became highly erratic in the spring.  The terrain was safe while the ground was frozen, perplexing the men who walked over it in the thaw, mines exploding where it was once safe to walk.
Tom Fortson on a warm day in July of 1951
at an outpost in Korea.

Tom Fortson remembers moving up to Pohang in mid-March of 1951.  “We were in an old wooden school building which caught fire one night and burned to the ground.  I lost all my personal gear.”

By March the days were getting a bit warmer but the nights still well below freezing.  One highlight though for Fortson was getting to see the Supreme Commander, Douglas MacArthur at the front line on March 19th.

By the end of March, the First Division Bandsmen were guarding the Command Post at Chunchon when word came that a major spring offensive from the Mongolian Cavalry was imminent, placing them at “100% alert.”

“We expected the sound of bugles and charging horsemen at any minute.”  The attack never materializing, Fortson somewhat disappointingly wrote home that “the only sounds of bugles I ever heard in Korea came from our own the field musicians.”

Then there was the bombshell of MacArthur’s dismissal on 11 April 1950.  The Truman administration was content with reestablishing the status quo ante of the 38th parallel as opposed to Mac’s idea of total war of going into China and the use of nuclear arms.   

On 17 April 1951, Fortson wrote home: “The Spring of 1951 was hazardous on all personnel.  The thawing ground was setting off mines indiscriminately, all hell broke loose.”
A view from Tom Fortson's outpost
at Honchong in the Spring of 1951.

A view from Randy Rabenold's outpost facing the hill of Fortson's
previous shot.  To see the complete collection of Rabenold'strench art, click here.

“We had just set up our Command Post tents when someone stepped on a land mine just a few yards away.  Before the dust even settled, Navy Corpsmen were tending to the wounded.  A Chopper flew in and one of the most serious of the wounded was strapped on a stretcher, then strapped to the landing pod and evacuated to the base hospital.  We lost a lot of Marines in this area and it was the first time I saw a chopper in action.”

Korea was the first theater of war to put jet aircraft and helicopters into combat action.  This took something for the forward air observers like Don Blauch to get used to. 

He started the war with the slower moving propeller planes.  Spotting targets for jets Blauch needed to select landmarks far ahead of the intended targets for them to be efficient with their bombs and 20-mm cannons.  To facilitate this transition the military rotated pilots onto the ground alongside the forward air observers like Blauch.

Contacts with these pilots caused Blauch a surge in popularity among the men.  While alcohol is strictly forbidden upon U.S. Navy ships, the “Commonwealth” ships of Canada and Britain had a far more liberal policy toward spirits.  The weekly rotation of pilots kept Blauch and the rest of his outpost stocked with Canadian Seagrams VO.  Soon, visiting officers and other men found out why Blauch’s tent was so popular to visit.

Though it was still quite hazardous with mines and mortar fire, the battles lines were now more static, allowing the men to develop something of a comfortable routine in the warming spring weather.  Luckily for the Bulldogs, the worst for them was essentially behind them.  

Tom Fortson on left, unknown and Charles Zaccone of Chicago on right
on an outpost in Korea.
By May Fortson reported home of “good weather...sunny days.”  But a week later wrote of hail and heavy rains, his foxhole being flooded out.  The warmer weather, and with the Chinese beaten a safer distance back, allowed for Rabenold’s drawings to take bloom.  There was also a noticeable uptick in letters home by his compatriots.

G.I.s and letter writing have been a long tradition, replaced today by email and Facebook postings.  Some young women saw writing to our servicemen as a token of their patriotic duty.  In some cases this led to marriage, as was the case with my Aunt Mildred “Sis” Haas marrying her penpal Lee Garvin after WWII.  But for Rabenold and his First Marine mates, it was steeped innocence with complete strangers, a flirtatious pastime. 

Randy Rabenold remembers receiving only one letter from a “sweetheart” back home.  It was from a girl he dated only a few times.  It was a “Dear John” letter according to Rabenold, she wrote to say she was dating someone new.  The pictures and letter here are a sample of ones sent to Rabenold’s friends during their service time.

In June 1951, Randy Rabenold was stationed near Seoul protecting First Marines Headquarters.  On one his last days there, a corpsman sent him out with a stretcher, with bullets whizzing by, he made it back with the stretcher, though the serviceman they were carrying had passed.
A letter to the First Marines from Cecilia Ament from
New Jersey.

Don Blauch wasn’t so lucky, who unexpectedly had his time overseas extended.  On his last day in the field, Blauch was hit in the back with some shrapnel, delaying his return stateside due to his recovery in Tokyo.

A pen-pal from Texas.
For most of the men, they were proud of their service to their country, but were eager to get on with their civilian lives.

Once home both Rabenold and Blauch were stationed back at Parris Island with training responsibilities.  At one point the Marines, trying to goad him to re-up his enlistment, sent Blauch for some “cold winter training.”  Blauch found this humorous, the winter weather in Labrador paled to the winter he had just spent in Korea.

 As Fortson recalls, as he was leaving camp with his discharge papers approved by the MP sentry posted at the gate, there was another sentry apparently jealous at Fortson’s new freedom from service.  “There he was, standing in the middle of the road, giving me ‘the finger’…I found this gesture to be a proper send off to my civilian life.”
Fortson with Sandy Scaffidi
at 2001 Reunion.  Scaffidi
passed away a few years back.

Jack Watso is at far left and Tom Fortson, far right at the 2001 Marine
Corps Musicians Reunion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Tom Fortson:

On January 22, 1952, Fortson returned to his home town of Red Bluff California.  He went to work for Pacific Gas and Electric Company (P.G. & E.) as a rod-chainman on a survey crew and later promoted to surveyor.  He became a Land Agent, working in land rights, leases, sales, rights of way, and the like.  He retired in 1985 moving to Oregon for about ten years.  He moved with his wife to Arizona until 2011.  His wife died in 2009.  He now lives with his daughter and son-in-law in California.  They travel extensively having a trip to Africa and New Zealand this summer. 

Fortson Footnote:
Bob Cooper and June Christy in 1948.
Said to be "one of the finest and most
neglected singers of her time" Christy
died of kidney failure at age 64 in 1991.
On weekend leave in 1948 while waiting for the bus Fortson struck up a conversation with a young couple in a convertible.  As it turned out they were both going to the same concert at San Diego College and they offered him a ride.  The woman introduced the man as Bob Copper and herself as "Mrs. Cooper."  When they arrived, Fortson and saw Bob removing instruments from the trunk and became excited to learn that Bob was one of the Kenton Musicians.  "It wasn't until I got into the Auditorium that I learned that "Mrs. Cooper" was actually June Christy...a real nice lady."  

 Don Blauch:

Donna Blauch ~ 1953-2004

Came back to his hometown and Lehighton like the rest of the Bulldogs.  He worked as a crane operator building the Northeast Extension of the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  He had two children Donna and Don “Duke” Blauch Junior.  Donna was a Vietnam-era veteran, serving as a dental hygienist in the Navy, and in her role eventually served President Carter and his family at Camp David and on other occasions.  She developed Multiple Sclerosis and died in the VA Hospital in Wiles-Barre.  Don lives still, though recently widowed.

Ray “Nuny” Rabenold:

Ray met Dolores of Palmerton and worked for Bethlehem Steel.  They had one daughter. He loved to golf in his retirement and had a long and happy life.  And though he had a somewhat humorous story of nearly being killed by incoming mortar fire, including seeking cover beneath an American 6x6 which was, unbeknownst to him, stocked to the gills with munitions, he passed away in January of 2012 almost never speaking of the war.

Dick Carrigan:
Don Blauch, left and Dick Carrigan center chat with another GI friend
back stateside after the war.

Also returning home to marry, Dick raised a daughter Jill.  He recently passed away.
Jack Watso:
Is retired and lives in the Denver Colorado area enjoying his grandchildren.

Bill Kuhla:

Moved to Florida in the 1960s and remarried.  Both he and his with passed away there in the 1990s.

Robert "Bobby" Kipp:

Bobby Kipp was the only Bulldog KIA.  See Part One for more on him.

Don Blauch's daughter served in the Navy during the end of the Vietnam
War and served the Carter family at Camp David.
Four Bulldogs at Randy and Ruthie Rabenold's September 1954 wedding: Bill Kuhla, Dick Carrigan, and Ray "Nuny"
Rabenold.  On the right are Janet Nothstein, Marie Kleinle, and Shirley Wentz.
Men who havent stopped serving: Randy Rabenold, third from right, has served as Adjutant of his local AmVets
since returning from Korea.  Kevin Long is on his right with Carlos Teets and Kaye Leiby to his left.

Randy Rabenold:

One of his best memories of first setting foot back in the States was going to Fisherman’s Wharf with his GI pal Jack Yamaguchi.  Jack’s uncle was a sports writer for the San Francisco Chronicle.  He remembers the graciousness and excited appreciation when the elder Yamaguchi told him to order anything off the menu, his treat, a meal Randy savors to this day.
Randy and Ruth with Rebecca and Randy.

He returned home and availed himself to the GI Bill, going to Kutztown State College and receiving his Art Education degree.  He met Ruth Haas in Spring of 1954, and by Labor Day they were married.  He chose his closest friends to attend in his wedding, Bulldogs Nuny Rabenold, Bill Kuhla and Dick Carrigan.  Randy and Ruthie raised six children together: Rebecca, Randall, Rhonda, Richard,
Randy and his son Randall in backyard, moments never
to be created had he not been spared in Korea.
Ronald and Zach.  Zach is the namesake of his father whose death perhaps saved his life in Korea.

Ruthie passed away in August of 2008.

Tadashi “Jack” Yamaguchi:

Yamaguchi served in both Korea and Vietnam.  He was known as “Jack” by his Korea-era friends and “Tad” to his Vietnam buddies.  Prior to his enlistment in 1948 and despite his family living here for over forty years, Jack was interned at the “Poston War Relocation Camp” for the last two years of World War II.  His entire family was there including the grandparents of figure-skater Kristi Yamaguchi.  I unfortunately have not been able to connect a relationship to these two families.  Jack said, “I do not lie, I enlisted because I needed a job.”
Jack made the Marines his career.  I consider myself lucky to have met and become friends with one of Jack’s best friends in Vietnam, Marine Corps First Division Band Director Jesse Sunderland.  Jesse and Jack were stationed together in Okinawa in 1958-'59 and in the First Marine Brigade band in Hawaii in 1962-'64.
Tadashi "Jack" Yamaguchi gets his shoes shined near Masan Korea.  Though he and his family were 
forced into the Poston Relocation Center during World War II, Jack held no malice toward his country or the Marines.
Jesse remembers Jack’s sharp wit well.  As he tells it: “We pitched countless liberties together on Okinawa. Many times we'd go in a shop and as he talked to the young Okinawan girl clerks in Japanese I'd see their eyes get larger and larger and they'd exclaim, "Ahh, So?"....Ahh,
SOOO?!”   When we left the shop I asked Jack what in the world he was telling those girls, to which he related, “I’m a Japanese government agent that has infiltrated the U.S. Marine Corps and that someday Japan would RISE AGAIN!”
Jesse Sunderland was director of three
different Marine Corps division bands and
served in Vietnam with Jack "Tad"
“I fully expected any day for us to be scooped up by Naval Intelligence and
taken in for questioning,” Jesse remembered.

 Jack put in his twenty-years, retired and spent the rest of his days taking care of his wife and daughter, who, like Blauch’s daughter, both developed Multiple Sclerosis.  As a widower, Jack enjoyed playing his clarinet for the infirm and even went to college for philosophy on his GI Bill. 

And though his government incarcerated him and fate dealt cruelly to his family, Jack was never bitter.  “I knew in my heart that I was an American, and nothing or nobody could change that,” he said.
“I always say in the long run everything worked out for all right me.  I was never angry about it…I always say, when you’re angry, you are your worst enemy.”

Jack left this earth in January of 2012, and though he has no living descendants  his spirit lives on in those who knew him and know his story.  

According to Jesse, Jack always had a magnanimous way of ending his conversations.  From the depths of his charitable heart, Jack would say, “Keep the Faith.”
Jack Yamaguchi (center) was treated to dinner at his favorite restaurant in California just a few months before he died.
That's former Marine Corps Band Director Steve Schweitzer at Jack's left. Incidentally, Schweitzer holds the record
for playing in most outright and consecutive Rose Bowl Parades at 19, one with a broken foot.

Post Script:

I was fortunate enough to recently attend the Marine Corps Musicians Reunion in Camp Lejeune North Carolina.  And though none of my Dad’s First Division compatriots were there, I made many acquaintances and felt the spirit of these men who served.  On the last night, during the banquet, word came and it was announced that Tom Cook had passed away.
Two Former Marine Corps Division Band Directors and
friends of Jack Yamaguchi's: Jesse Sunderland, Steve
Schweitzer, and Ron Rabenold at the 2013 Marine
Corps Musicians Reunion at Camp Lejeune.
First Division Marine Tom Cook
at Camp Pendleton before Korea.

Once I got home,  I had the sad task of calling Tom Fortson who was unable to attend this year’s reunion.  But I was also able to tell him I was able to make contact with another First Division soldier, Wally Norsworthy of Louisiana, to which Tom quipped,

“I’m happy to hear about Wally.  There’s not too many of us left.”
One of two First Division Marine Corps ensembles to entertain the 2013
Marine Corps Musicians Reunion along with former director
Jesse Sunderland and Rabenold.
Members of the current Division Jazz band with a few of the many
retired Marine Corps musicians who sat in.

Kim Rabenold enjoys a moment with special guest of honor
Staff Sergeant Kopetzki, Second Marine Aircraft Wing Band
and recipient of the MCMA SNCO of the Year.  Sergeant
Kopetzki sat in with the Division Jazz band as did many
retired Marines.  Good music and fellowship.
Don Blauch enjoys a visit from fellow Bulldog Randy Rabenold. 
These two were the last of the six friends to remain.  Blauch died Good Friday 2017. 
They are among a striking few veterans left of their First Division friends.

Call the Colors Inje, Korea - 7 June 1951
Sgt Charles E. Price of Chattanooga TN, Sgt Donald
Close of Sacramento CA, Sgt Robert N. Bland of Harlingen TX
 and Sgt Graydon A. Landahl of Mokena IL (L to R).
One of several pen-pals who wrote to men of the
First Division.  This one was from Alabama.