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"I joined the Marine Corps so I could do what the guys did in Life Magazine. I want to land on a beach. I want to know if I have the mettle. Do I have what it takes to conduct myself in combat. Am I a coward?" (Audio Interview, 19:52)

   Ralph B. Steele
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Ralph Steele [2002]
War: Korean War, 1950-1953
Branch: Marine Corps
Service Location: Parris Island, South Carolina; Korea
Rank: Corporal
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Inspired by the service of his older brothers and others in World War II, 18-year-old Ralph Steele joined a Marine Corps Reserve unit in 1948. Two years later, he was called into active duty when the Korean War broke out. Trained as a machine gunner, he saw action in Korea as a rifleman but was wounded not long after arriving in country. Fifty years after the events, Steele is able to recall in vivid detail his short tour in Korea, when the reality of war collided with the ideals which had prompted him to join the service.

Interview (Audio)
»Interview Highlights  (8 clips)
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Download: audio(2) (73 min.)
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»Korean War
 Audio (Interview Excerpts) (8 items)
At high school career day in 1948, Marines told him that he could join a Marine Reserve unit; mother would not give him permission, father overruled her; not much activity as part of the Reserve; in 1950, called up in the wake of Korean War starting; his mistaken notion about his term of service. (03:25) First impressions in boot camp; "unrelenting pressure;" one recruit deserting, another committing suicide; Steele disciplined several times for minor infractions; coming to understand how boot camp forges a bond with other Marines and how important that is in combat. (07:39) Expecting to go into the infantry but first job at Camp Pendleton in California was in the mess hall; wondering if he'd get a chance to prove himself in combat; running into a buddy from his home town and talking about getting into weapons; asking to be transferred to a weapons company; given the life expectancy in combat of the various weapons specialists; training on a machine gun. (03:47)
On troop ship landing in Pusan, Korea, meeting a guy named Ivan with whom he had instant affinity; seeing a Korean dock worker badly injured; both men saying as they noted two nearby hospital ships that they hoped they wouldn't end up on those; two weeks later, Ivan was dead and Steele was wounded and on one of those ships; Ivan was killed by the kind of booby trap that had almost got to Steele in a separate incident. (04:16) Dealing with death; reflecting on Ivan's death; seeing a dead soldier, he would think about that person's parents; as young men, learning to carry on after death of a comrade. (03:46) In his first day in country, transported in truck coming under artillery fire; guy across from him, his face coated in dust, had twin rivers of tears coming out of his eyes; killing Chinese not out of hatred but as professionals; resenting the incoming artillery but coming to appreciate when it was outgoing. (02:59)
Wondering why someone would throw himself on a grenade to save others; in his sleeping bag in a foxhole when a grenade lands on him; his reaction is to snatch it and throw it away; turned out to be a rock. (03:56) Testing capacity for bravery; getting attacked four times during one night; WWII vets who knew some Chinese translating the enemy's taunts; remembering how bad he didn't want to be there but only as mental exercise. (02:43) 

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  October 26, 2011
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