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Interview with James Holmes [9/17/2003]

Jewel Pickert:

Today is September 17, 2003. James Holmes is being interviewed by Jewel Pickert at the Pleasant Hill Library in Hastings, Minnesota. James, where and when were you born?

James Holmes:

I was born in 1929 on the 30th of June in Hastings, Minnesota, but I spent a lot of my younger life with my grandparents on a farm outside of Vasa, Minnesota.

Jewel Pickert:

Which war and what branch of the service did you serve in?

James Holmes:

Well, I went into military service in 1946. Now that was my first enlistment in the regular Army. We were... we were not considered part of World War II except we did receive the World War II Victory Medal for having served. And my assignment in the early years after basic training in Fort Dix, New Jersey, was to Japan. And I left for Japan in December of 1946. Arrived there and initially went to Atsugi Air Force Base which is where I understand it General MacArthur first landed when Japan surrendered.

We spent a couple of months there doing specialty training and combat type things, but I was actually a Signal Corps soldier. And so after that I was assigned to the... Company A 304 Signal Operations Battalion in downtown Yokohama, Japan. We were responsible for all the communications for the whole Far East for ship-to-shore radio. We had teletype service and also radio communication, short wave, and we had a cryptographic center, which was a...a top-secret message center for sending messages.

It was interesting time in my life being able to live in Japan and get to know a little bit about the culture of those people. They were somewhat angry with us obviously yet in 1947 over, you know, the...the attack.

Can I give you a little background of a man that I met, a man that I billeted with? We were living in quonset huts at the time. He had been in World War II and was part of the Bataan Death March. His name was Joe Shaw, and he was being kept in the service because of his history. And because of his condition physically he could do very little. He was nothing but skin left stretched over bone because of the abuse they had taken for 2-1/2 years at the hands of the enemy. And Joe was not bitter until he consumed more alcohol than he needed, and then he was very bitter towards them, because they did spit on 'im, throw rocks at 'im and so forth when they returned to Japan for a certain amount of time, before they were, of course, released by friendly forces.

So I wanted to share that, that here was a man that I did know. I also knew a sergeant that had won the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II and would visit with him from time to time. But it was an interesting stay and then following that I returned to...I returned to the United States, and I wound up as an Honor Guard for the war dead, and they would bring them back from the Orient in shiploads.

Of course, their...their remains were in a casket inside of a wooden box, a shipping container, but when the ship arrived in this was in 1947 and '48, late '47...we would...we would have the Honor Guard meet each body remains as it came out of the hold of the ship, and they would escort the remains to the edge of the ship and then stand to present arms while it was lowered down to a dolly to be taken into a huge morgue, and that's where we held those remains until they made up trainloads that went to different sections of the country.

It was interesting that each of my troops did not provide this service, but each remains left for their home providing the parents asked the remains be brought back to this country. Had a person of equal or one rank greater escort those remains and present the flag, proper military honors, to the deceased and, of course, recognition to his family.

So, that was kind of was kind of a down time in terms of knowing what you were doing, but it was a real pleasure to have been able to honor all of those people that had died in service in combat. I then was released in 1948 in late February and returned home. I joined the National Guard in late '48, 1948, and I progressed through the ranks. And when we were activated in 1950 for the Korean War.

That's kind of an interesting story. I was living in Winona at the time, and I would commute home weekends or whenever we had a drill. I would commute here for our drill which was 90 miles and then return, of course, to Winona. Well, that time the weather was so bad for the Christmas holidays, and I had taken a train home. And I got a phone call on the morning of December 26 from our company commander who was Captain Bernard J. Stephen, and he said what are you doing today and I said well, Captain, I don't know for sure. We're just getting organized for the day. He said, well, I know what you're doing as of 00:01 last night. You're on active duty in the Federal Service of the United States Army. So that's how I was activated.

I never did go back to Winona even and claim my goods. We started our training immediately thereafter, and the rest of the unit was activated on the 16th of January. And I was promoted to 1st sergeant that time. I was only 21 years old. So I left with the 47th Infantry Division, Company D, 135th Infantry Regiment for Camp Rucker, Alabama, on the 20th of January, and we were trained into, by that I mean, we were taken by train into Camp Rucker and started our training exercises there to prepare for further assignments. We started to get a lot of draftees in and so forth that were being assigned to our unit.

In the meantime in March of 1951...I was accepted to a leadership course. It was in Kentucky. It was with the 101st Airborne. They ran a leadership school at Camp Breckenridge. It was Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. I'm sorry.

And we started a...we started a training there which was an 8-week exercise, and we did a lot of field maneuvering and forced marching and that type of thing. And so at the end of my 8 weeks in graduation, I stayed on as an instructor for a few weeks in what they called the Field Committee.

And then I was released. In the meantime I had gotten married to my girlfriend from back home on the 10th of March in 1951. And I went home thinking I was going to take her back to Alabama with me. And we would rent a place down there. Well, the night before I left to go back to Camp Rucker I got a...a telegram that all it read was "Do not report to home station. Further orders to follow." And I'll never forget the wording of that telegram.

Well, I knew right away what it was. I was being reassigned to F.E.C.O.M., Far East Command to be part of the Korean effort. So I received further orders and left home then in June and arrived in Korea through Pusan in 19, or I mean in July of 1951. While there I... after arrival I was assigned to Company B of the 35th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division. And we were what was called a 4-Square Divison. Most American divisions had 3...3 regiments, and a regiment ordinarily consisted of about 3,000 to 3,500 troops, and then the balance of it was made up of headquarters troops and so forth for a total of approximately 15,000. We had a Turkish brigade with us, and they were extremely capable combat soldiers. They relished combat. It was in them. They were...they were trained for it, and I'll come to some of those things a little later on.

But, we were, my regiment was very close the Turkish Brigade, and they held our regiment in great esteem and high respect. It was in...when I arrived in my unit, Company B, their 1st sergeant, who had previously been wounded, had just returned from the hospital in Japan. So, the company commander said well, 1st sergeant, I don't really need a 1st sergeant right now, but this man will be rotating home soon.

So, I want you to just work with the other troops and go out on patrols. So they even sent me to about a 3-day field artillery school to learn how to call for artillery fire using your fingers as deflections and distance measurements from a deflection viewpoint. And so then I did some of that for a period of time, and I really didn't have an assignment, per se. And then, all of a sudden, they needed a platoon sergeant. So, I being a master sergeant or 1st sergeant, I took over that platoon.

And it wasn't another kind of a coincidental story is the ol' sergeant major we had, had been a cavalry soldier at West Point, New York. And he was part of the last of the horse cavalry in the United States military. He called me one day and said Sergeant Holmes, you're the senior man in the regiment with at least 8 months left to do in Korea, and the 25th Infantry Division is looking for a division beer distributor, and your job would be to ride the beer train from Seoul, Korea, or Pusan, depending upon where the ships came in, up to regiment. And I'll get into where...division I mean, I'm sorry, for division breakdown. We were authorized 2 cans of beer per man per week is what our allowance were.

And so I was...I was going to take that job. You know, I mean, that looked pretty good to me. And so I went to the company commander, who was the 1st lieutenant. I reported to him. I said, sir, the sergeant major has submitted my name to become the division beer distributor. And he said well, what am I going to do for a 1st sergeant when the one I have rotates home? I said well, that's not really my concern, lieutenant. I said I'm being offered this opportunity. He wouldn't let me go. He said I'm not going to release you. So I wound up passing up probably the best task I could have ever been assigned to as a soldier.

So then I remained with the company for about another month, and, all of a sudden, the 3rd Battalion of the 35th Infantry Regiment had been involved in a very heavy combat situation. And so, I wound up...they did a levy system by, with by drawing names. They wanted 1st sergeant, a master sergeant, and I was it. And so then I became..,I became involved with Company I of the 35th Infantry Regiment and spent the rest of my tour in Korea with them, which I'll come to a little later. I do want to tell you about a friend of mine. I got to know him I should say later on. He was from Minnesota and lived in the Litchfield area on a farm...that is Litchfield, Minnesota. And he and I bunked together.. .well, we put up our tents, our 2-person tents, and we bunked together at division, Division Forward which was at Yung Dong Po, and we...we spent 2 or 3 days there going through exercises with hand grenades and things of that nature and proper etiquette. And so it wasn't about, oh, within a month I think it was that he was taken prisoner of war. And he had been severely wounded. He had shrapnel in his back from the base of his skull all the way down to the end of his spine. And I learned this later on. He wasn't in the same unit I was, but I...I got to put pieces together, and he spent 2-1/2 years living in a cave up on the Yalu River after his capture with other soldiers, of course. And so, this is a departure, but I wanna finish that story.

Upon returning to Minnesota in 1952, my wife and I decided [heard] that he was repatriated in 1953 when the...when the cease fire was signed. And so he came back to Minnesota. And the way his mother found out what had happened to him was, his mother wrote a letter to the Hastings newspaper and said that she hadn't heard from her son for some time and that she did have word that he was probably taken prisoner of war, and she was wondering if the person that he bunked with when they arrived in Korea first, if anybody knew who that was from Hastings.

Well, I had written my mother-in-law about it and my wife, of course, and my mother-in-law got a hold of the woman, and so I started communicating with this family. And so, I think it was about 1955. My wife and I took a trip to Litchfield to visit him, and it was really tragic. He...he and I went out behind the barn and visited about his experiences, and some of the things that happened to him were incredible to say the least. And he didn't complain about himself.

When they removed some of the shrapnel from his back...he was on a litter when he was taken prisoner, because he had been wounded so bad...but they made...the opposing forces made him try and walk. And so his buddies had to keep moving. And if anybody fell along the wayside, they didn't try to help them. They just blew them away. So he gets to this cave anyhow eventually...I forget how long it took him to get there, because the Yalu River is just a little bit south of the Chinese border.

And this couldn't even stand up in it full height. It was very shallow. They would go out at night, and the Koreans or Chinese, whichever, had rice piles, and they would...they would steal rice straw and take it into their..into their living area which was the cave. And they would go through each pod, one little kernel at a time, looking for what hadn't been thrashed out of the grain. But then, in order that the enemy didn't know what they were doing, they would dig holes and bury the straw. They covered it back up with dirt. And that's why the cave kept getting shallower and shallower as time went on. And he told me about how they removed some of the shrapnel from his back.

They had like a little copper pad that they broke through the proud flesh. By that time, of course, he'd had his skin growin' over it. And they dug some of it out that way. But he also told me about a man that had had his knee virtually blown away. And how he ever got to the Yalu River I'll never know, but he did, and during the day when the sun would shine, his buddies would carry the bottom half of his leg out, and he would sit in the sun and let the sun bake on that knee for comfort and possibly it might have even been responsible for helping him not get gangrene. And so, that was quite a story.

And this man's life became hell. He married, and he...he couldn't tolerate, I guess, what his past had been, so eventually he and another fellow killed themselves pulling out in front of a train at a railroad crossing. And so his story is completely gone.

But then back to my situation, when I got to my new assignment in the fall of '51, which was Company I of the 35th Infantry Regiment again, 25th Infantry Division, I was again assigned as a...a platoon sergeant, and I worked with a Lieutenant Shepperd. He was a platoon leader who had been in World War II. And he had been an enlisted man in World War II. And he was an interesting character. So he and I put together what I considered a very fine platoon.

And we did a lot of... when we weren't... when we weren't moving, we did a lot of listening posts. And by that I mean, we would take a squad of like 8 people. We normally looked for volunteers. And after dark we would depart the main line of resistance, and we would move forward hundreds of thousands of yards on fingers..they were called fingers... little hill masses that run off the mountains. We'd go out on these fingers and set up our., set up our., what is it...a phone system that you didn't ring it. You whistled into the mouthpiece when you wanted somebody at the other end to answer you, because you had to be very quiet.

In fact we oftentimes heard enemy patrols going by us, and they didn't even know we were there. And so, the company commander's name was Lt. Earl E. Scoles, and Lt. Scoles was probably the most efficient leader that I've ever met in the military in terms of his decorum and his conduct and his capabilities. He was a...he was an outstanding soldier. And he came to me one day and said Sgt. Holmes, I know you're a young...young man, but he said would you go back and take over as 1st sergeant for the company, 'cause I know you've got the experience, and I want to send the 1st sergeant up to take over your platoon. So why that ever occurred I never did find 5 out, Sgt. Austin came up and took the platoon, and I went back as the 1st sergeant which changed your mission considerably. We had to provide all of the written documentation on wounded individuals, killed-in-action individuals, any type of enemy encroachment into our zones.

These reports had to be back in regiment if at all possible within a few hours after the incident, and oftentimes we had to even try to make up very rough map overlays of what direction the fire came from. And we used a method in those years for...with artillery fire. They called it the flash-to-bang system, and that would mean that you would see the flash, and then you would count time until you heard the bang. And that would give you a pretty good idea of the distance away from you that weapon was, when it fired at you. And then we could...we could even go and check the...the impressions in the ground from the...from the exploded rounds. And this would give us an idea of the trajectory that it came in at.

So, it was very valuable information to our S-1 people, or excuse me, our S-2 people, or G-2 at division. And we...we would provide that service which was one of my responsibilities. And then, of course, reporting all these different things. And one of my platoon sergeants was a guy named Sgt. Lydon, and he was a regular Army soldier. In fact all 3 of my platoon sergeants were regular Army personnel, and Lydon...Lydon was the youngest one of the 3. But he was a good, good soldier, very brave man, and the day he was killed, they were jumping off from the IP. Now that's...that's your initial point of departure. They were jumping off the IP at 0500, and I'd gotten word that a couple of his men needed some different equipment, that theirs was virtually not usable. So one of them was a pair of boots.

And, Lydon, like I say was a tough soldier, but his troops really liked him. So I bring this up, and he called the soldier over and gave him the pair of boots, and a little while later the soldier come back, and he said Sgt. Lydon, he said these boots don't feel comfortable, and Lydon looked at him and said, "Don't bother me with that trivial crap. All I can think of is getting out on that hill and fighting!" And so this soldier knew he meant it.

And so he retreated back to his platoon and went on patrol with them that day, and that was the last day Lydon ever lived. He...he was doing an assault on enemy positions where we would use homemade device where we'd take a white phosphorus grenade and remove the firing mechanism by turning it off, and then we would take napalm fuel and put it in the bottom of a 60[mm]-mortar container that the ammunition came in, and then we would tape it shut. And we, of course, cut a hole through the lid so that that white phosphorus grenade...the threaded area would come up through the hole where the ignition system went, and we would bend the handle then to fit.

And so we could throw those into the enemy bunkers, and they were very volatile tool. Lydon was approaching this bunker and he had...he had already been involved with 2 or 3 other positions that his platoon was cleaning out. And I was told this. I was not a witness to it, but they said that, all of a sudden, a sniper stood up and...and shot him. And then I did see...I did see him after he was deceased, because we had to bring him down off the hill and, of course, send his body back to graves registration along with all the others. But it was the funniest wound that I had ever seen. The bullet had went in the shoulder just above this bone right here which is kind of the front of your shoulder area, and it hit the clavicle, and when it hit the clavicle, it did a turn of 90 degrees and went straight down into his heart and killed him. He had a bullet wound no bigger than my little finger.

And, so anyhow, I wrote to his mother then and explained to her that he was a good soldier. I didn't tell her all the details. Do 6 you know that lady wrote me back, and we corresponded maybe 2 or 3 times. She said that her son as a soldier died the way he would have wanted to a soldier in combat. She was very forgiving of what had happened to her son, but she... she said it was his choice. So, anyhow, back to some of the other activities.

We then had an executive officer, 1st lieutenant, that was named Alex Zak, another man who was probably one of the best soldiers I ever met. He was from Weirton, West Virginia. And, a side note... I called that man about, oh, 20 years ago, so that would have been at least 30 years after we returned from Korea. And that was the first time I had talked to him in 30 years plus or minus. And when he picked up the phone, I said Lt. Zak, this is a long, lost voice from your past. And you know what he said after all that time? "Hi, 1st Sergeant." He recognized my voice after all those years. And, unfortunately, we never did get together. He died before any arrangements could have been made.

So, I soldiered with some really wonderful people...and regular Army and the Guard and the reserve. You know, there are no...there are no atheists in combat. Everybody prays in their own way to their own god at one time or another. And their fear is not during the event as much as it is prior to and after. But these people were...were rock solid citizens that did their homework.

Our division commander was Major General Ira P. Swift. And he...he apparently was a good soldier. I didn't know a lot about General Swift, but we had a little nickname for him. We called him I. P. Swiftly.

But, anyhow, and our battalion commander was a Lt. Colonel Jones, a graduate of Westpoint, and he was a good soldier. In fact some of the incidents... the Orientals had camp followers, females. And, I guess, one night on our extreme flank, a couple of our men got involved with some of their women, and they came down with venereal disease. Well, when they got to the medics and that was reported back, that battalion commander called the company commander, the exec officer, myself (the 1st sergeant), the platoon sergeant, and the squad leader. Excuse me, we stood in front of his desk for about 45 minutes. I shouldn't say his desk. We stood in front of him. We were living in bunkers, of course, and we learned all the reasons we had been remiss in not properly protecting our men and keeping them from fraternization with...with the other people in the country.

And so he was a very, very stout-hearted soldier. He was wounded one day when we were in an assault position and he had flak, I mean he had shrapnel in his lower extremities, his legs. And so one of the people that were there called for the medic. And he got up on his legs. He was trembling all over, and he took off his field jacket, and he threw it at the medic. He said, "Medic, I'll walk back to my jeep." And here he was blood running out of his legs. And he did. He walked back to his jeep and then rode that back to the aid station. And he wasn't gone very long...a few days, and he was back in the service again.

This...most of this took place in the Kumwha Valley in Korea. Kumwha was a community.. K......K...U...M...W...H...A. And we were confronted with hill 598, 7...717, 682. 1062 was a real enemy emplacement. They had strong...very strong fortresses built with all kinds of camouflage. And they could run their...they had a weapon that was like a German... a German weapon. It was very remote, so anyhow, this Kumwha Valley was very large. It was right in the center of Korea. In fact one of our missions while we were there was go as an outpost, and we were 5 miles in front of the main line of resistance. And we were not too far at that point from Pyongyang which was the capital of North Korea. And we were out there for 7 days one company. And our mission was to act as a buffer in the event that there would be an assault coming down through this very expansive valley towards our front line.

And a sidelight story to that is morning we looked down to the south which was rear for us, and here came what looked like 2 soldiers that were just walking up towards us. To make a long story short, it turned out it was 2 Turks in the Turkish Brigade, and they couldn't speak English. They found our hill and they came up...up the hill bringing I think they were pistachio nuts. They were a little clam shell type nut that they would get from Turkey, and they would roast them, and they brought ...I don't know..2 or 3 boxes of those and sat around for maybe an hour or so, and we...nobody could talk to 'em. We didn't have an interpreter with us. And turned around and went back.

We never did know who they were. They just did it out of the kindness of their heart. They loved our BAR weapons. They were an extra long .30-cahber weapon that had a little bipod on them near the muzzle, and you could lay it flat on the ground and fire it almost similar to a machine gun, but it didn't have a belt. It just had a clip mechanism. And they were...these little Turkish guys that looked really strange for them to have 2 bandoliers of BAR ammunition and a belt full of BAR ammunition and all by themselves. There they were...5 miles away from all friendly...friendly forces. Can you imagine such a feat?

But...and then it started to rain while we were there, and people might have not let us into the military had they seen us. We only had our ponchos and our field jackets on. It was getting into the winter season. And at night with the rain pouring down, all we had were open holes. We actually slept with our arms around our bunkmate, just for body heat. And we were really glad when the time came for us to be relieved from that assignment. And we went back, of course, our front lines, and cut the war stories. I had several people from Hastings that were in Korea that found me during that time we were there, or I knew where they were through corresponding back home. I only knew the units they were with. Two of the men had went over with me from Hastings in 1951.

One of them was John Werth, Jr., and the other one was Mike Schoen. Mike has since died, but they were...they were with a heavy weapons company which was Company D of the 27th Infantry which was called the Wolfhounds. The 35th Regiment was called the Cacti Regiment which was my regiment. So I did see both of them. I was traveling along this road, which you can see in this picture, looking for those 2 gentlemen, and I pulled up to a hole right alongside the railroad tracks. There was a road and railroad tracks, but Hill 1062 was out there, and that had heavy emplacements like I said earlier.

And then I hollered to this soldier. I hollered, "Hey, soldier, can you tell me where the 27th Infantry Regiment is?" I was riding in a jeep. And he jumped up out of the hole, and here was an old friend of mine from Hastings, Minnesota, Sgt. Herman Pasch. I found him in the middle of Korea. Can you imagine such a thing? Herman Casper Pasch was his name.

And, so anyhow, we reminisced. He was part of a...he had a... some a... Gurka Indians with him, Gurka Indians. They were part of his...his force over there. I don't know how many of them there were or what, but the Gherki Indians were serving over there at the time. And he said they were fighting soldiers. I also ran into a guy that just died 2 weeks ago, Thomas McNamara. I think Tom was a corporal at that time, and we...I bumped into a Marine, Stan Hoffman, Stanley Hoffman from Hastings.

They had Marines fighting over there. It was oftentimes remarkable, but the most remarkable was when we were moving up into the Kumwha area to relieve some troops, we had to... oh, this hill was probably only about 400 meters higher than where we were located in the Kumwha area, and we noticed we had to be in position by a certain time, and so, we were...we were going up this hill as rapidly as we could, and we were getting a lot of incoming fire. And I looked over to the right flank maybe 600 yards or more, and we could see there were some American troops that were pinned down, but we had our mission, and we had to stick to it. So we get up there. We get into position, and there are so many stories I could tell ya.

I'm not going to share all of them, but that night it was our battalion commander's wish that the 1st sergeant or the company commander or the exec officer would go talk to the troops every evening, and we normally had only 2 people in a bunker, and these bunkers oftentimes were facing to the north with sandbags and log roofs and sod roofs on top of the logs. And so, we'd have barbed wire out in front so that we'd hang beer cans in or any kind of cans we had, and if the enemy would start to approach, when they got to this barbed wire when they moved the wire, why these things would clank and clink. So, I'm talking very quietly, because we were only about 400 yards maybe 500 yards away from the enemy, and I came up to this one position. It was like 2 in the morning, and I whispered in there.

I said how is it goin' in here, because we always had one person awake. One person slept for like 4 hours. And the other one would be awake, and then they'd alternate for 2 or however it worked out best for them, and this voice come back and said it's goin' pretty good. Who is it? And I said this is Sgt. Holmes from I Company. And, my God, this voice let a scream out in the middle of the night. Who? Here it was a kid I played football with from Hastings, Minnesota. I knew he was in Korea. The name was Sgt. Edward Mike Schommer, and he couldn't believe it. He was with a...a heavy machine gun squad that had been assigned to our unit just for machine gun support. And he was one of those that had been in that area where they were pinned down that day. They had to stay there until after dark and then move into position.

So the sad part is, it wasn't much longer after that that Mike was very severely wounded. His whole left side of his body had shrapnel and weapons fire holes. And he spent over a year in military hospitals. They didn't think...I talked to the medics that attended to him, and they didn't think he would live long enough to get back to what they called M.A.S.H. which was a military army surgical hospital, and Mike made it, and he spent a lot of time in Japan before he was brought back to stateside. And to this day he still struggles with adhesions and all kinds of stomach disorders. And he has good days and bad days.

He's had so many surgeries, they can't do any more, because he's so full of what they call it... I just said the word a minute ago... adhesions. He's so full of adhesions. But, anyhow, that was another person I met over there which know, it's really ironical that you would have that happen in some of the ways that it did. Then when we'd go back in know, after 30 days on line, they'd try to get you off for a day...a week or so. And so we'd go back into what we called a reserve situation, but we'd pitch our tents, and because we were far enough away from the lines, unless we knew there was enemy in the area, we didn't need to worry about having bunkers. And by 3 o'clock in the morning, "OK, strike tents. Be ready to move out in 10 minutes." So here it was pitch black...


Jewel Pickert:

This is a continuation of the interview with James Holmes.

James Holmes:

Ok. Thanks, Jewel. I'll go back to where I left off which was when we'd be in reserve, we'd get a call at 3 or 4 o'clock in the morning to strike tents and be prepared to move out. So then we'd move into position and we'd do mock assaults with live ammunition all day long in the 9 hills just to keep us refreshed and ready to go if the need occurred. So we'd go all day out there doing live fire exercises, and then late in the afternoon we'd move back to the same area we'd been in the night before and set up our tents and then by the next day you didn't get a call until 5 o'clock.

But you always were either in training or on the front line. Then, of course, to be eligible for the Combat Infantry Badge, you had to have 30 consecutive days on line a regimental forward unit. So all of our troops, of course, qualified that... unless they were... if they were wounded, they were given special dispensation, of course, for the Combat Infantry Badge. And that's probably one of the most prestigious, excuse me, prestigious awards for an infantryman is the Combat Infantry Badge. I don't have it on here [referring to sheet of paper].

Anyhow, later..later in that year then...I'm going into 1952 now... probably the winter of'51, '52 was as miserable as it could possibly be. We...we were starting to get what they referred to as "bunny boots", and these were an insulated, heavy, rubberized boot. That was much better than the ordinary combat boots with overshoes. And, but the trouble with 'em was, for walking long distances you...your feet would perspire so bad that you'd develop blisters very easily, 'cause your feet were always wet inside of 'em.

So, at night we'd take our stockings off and put 'em under our arms to dry 'em out against our body. And then we...we found them to be practical in keeping...keeping from having your feet frozen. We lost many troops in that winter with different...different problems that can occur with the feet alone. You know, you get some...I forget now what they call it, but your toes will snap off, you know, if it gets severe enough. So there was always a... a real need to be constantly on the troops about taking care of their feet and taking care of their personal items.

We did get to go back to showers once a month, ordinarily once a month. They had portable showers that they'd...but they had to be alongside of a stream and so forth. We'd go back and turn our uniforms in, and they'd issue us as we came out from taking our showers. They'd issue us clean uniforms. When we went to Japan...after 6 months, you were entitled to an R and R, rest and recuperation leave. And mine was into Japan again into Tokyo, Yokohama area which was very interesting, 'cause I had lived there in '47. So, but we carried our weapons and everything right back into Japan with us, and they'd run 'em through ordnance and have 'em all ready for us in 5 days when we came back. But back now to Korea, we moved over into the Punchbowl then which I believe was west of where we were located. I think it was west. No, I beg your pardon, well, I'm gonna to leave it at that. I think it was.

And it was a very, very grueling task to get in there with the vehicles. The hill climb was so long and so grinding. I remember sometimes we'd be ordered to put chains on the trucks for protection, because sometimes if the trucks flew out of gear, you couldn't get 'em to stop if you started to roll backwards, so it could have been very dangerous to the troops. So these chains would help prevent skidding once you could apply the brakes again.

And while in the Punchbowl we were...we were assigned to an area that was...the hill was 1,280 meters in front of us which we were at the base of it, and in fact, it was so steep we had to use cable mechanisms to move our food products which was normally C-rations and so forth. When they could, we had hot rations once a day...when they could...when they normally brought it up in what's called a Mermite can.

And otherwise, we had C-rations or K-rations. Actually the assault ration was better than either one. The assault ration was either cheese and bacon. You might get 2 pork patties, and then guys would get together and make cheeseburgers out of these hard crackers and things. So that was normally what our rations consisted of, but I gotta to tell you another story about that Sgt. Lydon.

It was pouring down rain, cold in the fall, obviously, he was still with us. And I'd forgotten to mention this. He...the guys were miserable, they were cold, and the rain was running off from their helmets right down into their C-ration cans. And we normally used canned heat to heat 'em up, but by the time you'd finish eating, it'd be cold again. So, there was lima beans and ham and beans with meat and beans with franks and corned beef hash. I got to where I couldn't even eat it any more. I lived for about 30 days on bread I could beg, borrow, or steal and canned peaches and things like that, but anyhow, Lydon was taking the people's cans that they couldn't eat.

You know, like I say, they were sittin' there. They were totally demoralized, and he's scooping all these different products into his helmet, and he had a can of sterno underneath his helmet. He was stirring all this stuff together, and he took tabasco sauce which he always carried with 'im and put that in the food, and he took a taste of it, and he said...I won't use his words...he said, my God, good oF Army chow, you just can't beat it. And the rest of the troops just cracked up. It was the best thing that could have happened to our morale that day. And everybody just...the morale went right through the roof, and we went on to do our mission. All because of what one guy did. And that's...that's the importance of one person, although everything you do is strictly based on teamwork, obviously. So back to the Punchbowl. We had a lot of...lot of casualties in the Punchbowl. That was a tough place, too.

Hill 1062 was a tough place, 717. These were all areas that some day I would like to revisit. I wouldn't mind takin' a trip, and I know they make tours available. But I never...never reached the level of interest that I wanted to do it, because I don't think my wife would ever care to go along. But then when we rotated home, I'll never forget sitting in the back end of the Deuce and a half truck after I finally got a replacement for myself. When I...when I had my 36 points, you got 4 points a month for each month combat.

And after 9 months, I had my 36 points, so I was eligible to go home. But the company commander said, 1st sergeant, he said, you go back to regiment every day and look for a replacement, but he said you can't rotate until you find a replacement to take your job. So I...I'd go back about the time I knew that a sergeant major regiment, so I'd call him about the time replacements were coming in. I could go back and check and some of show you how short we were of troops, and we had cut back our forces tremendously following World War II. We wanted to save money. We weren't going to be needing all these people, so they... that was a real onset of... of... of... of one army concept which meant that your army reserves or National Guard and any of your part-time soldiers, as they're called, became really part of one army, because they...look at the way they're called out today. But anyhow, they had master meat cutters that were master sergeants from the Quartermaster Corps comin' up to the infantry units, you know.

I mean, it was crazy. They had no...they had very little experience with weapons and with infantry tactics, but here they were. They were just assigned over there. I'd have to say that my experience with...with troops was I couldn't have asked for overall finer people to work with. I only had a couple of 'em that I ever had to discipline severely, and both of 'em became my very good friends. We had some that we had to court martial while we were there. 11 But I think what I'm gonna do is conclude this and then go to your questions with this statement that I returned home then in 1952 and over the course of the years, I spent the rest of my military career, which totaled 33 years roughly, with the National Guard.

And I had many tasks with the National Guard, and I retired from there as a chief warrant officer 4 in 1988. So I have been a career soldier in terms of full time, part time. And I think there's truer statement than the one I had for a local newspaper, and that is, I learned the meaning of respect, respect and freedom. And those people that have never had an opportunity to protect freedom have no idea of what a great feeling it is to be able to say, even if you fought what America tries to do for the rest of the world, the soldier fought for you to have that right. And I have very strong feelings about that. I think we've got a bunch of crybabies out there that...that need, you know...need discipline and need to...need to respect how they got to where they are and what their forefathers did.

But the most important thing I want to tell you about is, do you know who gets very little credit or virtually no credit, but their job was tougher than the one serving overseas is the wife or the mother or the spouse or the girlfriend. That soldier knew when he was in danger. They didn't. 24 hours a day as far as they were concerned, he was in danger. And their worries and their fears and raising families and providing the discipline that fathers, you know, have responsibility for in some ways. They had to take on all of these roles. And many of them helped with the war effort, as you know. So, it's extremely important that we recognize the value of the one that didn't go and the one that stayed at home. End of my message.

Jewel Pickert:

Jim, why did you choose the Army?

James Holmes:

There were 8 of us from Hastings. I believe it was 8 of us and I being the youngest that decided we were going to go in the service. World War II had just concluded, and we decided that we were going to be part of that. We regretted that we were still in school. So I left school at an early age. I was a junior in high school in the fall when I left. I take that back I was a junior...I was a senior in the fall when I left to go in the service. So, to make a long story short, I came back and eventually got my diploma in 1956. So, but we all went in the Army, and I don't know if there was a good reason. I guess first of all we wanted to involve ourselves in something that was physical; although, I went to the Signal Corps which is not related to infantry soldiering at all. We...we boarded the train as enlistees. My serial number...initial serial number was 17208316 regular Army. Nothing further on that point.

Jewel Pickert:

Were you awarded any medals or citations?

James Holmes:

Well, as I mentioned earlier, the Combat Infantry Badge. I've received the Meritorious Service Medal, and I have the Army Commendation Medal, World War II Victory Medal. See, even though we weren't considered part of World War II, we did receive the World War II Victory Medal. And then I received the Army Achievement Medal with 3 clusters. And I received the Army of Occupation Medal for Japan. That was from my service in '46 and '7. And then I have the Korean Service Medal with 2 oak leaf clusters. And that was for... the oak leaf clusters were for the Spring Offensive and the Fall Offensive in Korea. And then I have the 12 Armed Forces Reserve Medal, the Federal Good Conduct Medal, and several state of Minnesota commendation medals which are too few to...too many to reference.

Jewel Pickert:

So the...let's see, the 2 places you were stationed was Japan and Korea?

James Holmes:

Primarily, but I was also at Ft. Dix, New Jersey for basic and then, of course, I went to Camp Rucker, Alabama, later on after I went back in service in ' 1950 we were activated again, but I was stationed in Japan with Company A of the 304 Signal Operations Battalion during 1947. And then, as I mentioned, I was at Oakland Air Force Base for a few months when I returned. And then I was in Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky. And with my...with my part-time service in the National Guard, I visited different military installations. I went to a special school in California. Then I visited Ft. Benning, Georgia, for updates on BTOC, we called it. Basic training courses. So that's about the answer to that, I would guess.

Jewel Pickert:

Do you recall your initial days in training?

James Holmes:

Oh, yeah, very well. Yes. At Ft. Dix I'll never forget the night we had a 1st sergeant that was so...he looked so mean. We would walk a block or two out of our way not to go by the orderly room. He...he had trouble finding a uniform that was sleeves long enough. He was a very... what would you call it...a very powerful military person. And we were just kids, you know, 17, 18 years old. But, one know, you never called your rifle your gun. A cannon is a gun. A rifle is a piece or a rifle.

And so you had to protect that weapon, and you had to learn the serial number and so forth. And one night I...I'd done something wrong. I don't know if I called my weapon a gun or what, but I had to sleep with my rifle that night. And it was a...a 30-caliber. It was an M-l rifle. So I was going to be smart. I made a... made a loop down off the edge of the bed and tucked the blanket it so that I had a sleeve you could put a weapon in. So I'm sleepin' in my bed with my rifle hanging along side of me, under the blankets with me.

And the platoon sergeant came through. About 3 in the morning they'd do a bed check, and he spotted my rifle. I got out of bed at his urging, and my rifle went on my bed under the one blanket with the muzzle on the pillow. And I spent the rest of the night with one blanket on the floor underneath as punishment for whatever I had done wrong.

They used to get us up like at 3 o'clock in the morning and make us put our footlockers on our shoulder. And we'd run to the main gate and back with our...with our footlockers on our shoulder. But it was all part of training. And, of course, rifle training was very interesting. I remember one day they had a major that was a range officer, and they had area that was about, oh, 20 feet off the ground. They'd climb up into this little house, and they could observe what was going on. And so they hollered "ready on the right, ready on the left", and before they could say "commence firing", I started to fire the .50-caliber machine gun. I thought that man was going to kill me that day.

But anyhow, those were just some of the early experiences. But my training at Camp Breckenridge when I was a master sergeant was probably as meaningful as it gets. We learned a lot about... we had different...different combat situations with live troops like snakebite. All of a sudden the man would come screamin' out of the woods that he had been bit by a snake. You know, well, we had...we had copperheads down there. They were, you know, they're a 13 venomous snake. But, it was all a set-up deal. We had to check the reaction of the people in the squad, they reacted, because you're supposed to first of all, stop the person and slow down their blood. The more they run, the more the...the venom will circulate through their system, see. So those types of things. Does that answer your question?

Jewel Pickert:

Do you recall the day your service ended?

James Holmes:

Yes, but are you talking about active duty, now? If you're talking about coming home from the Korean War or from Japan, I remember it well. When I came home from Japan, I was relieved San Francisco, California. And my grandmother was very ill, so I was going to ride home with some guys from Indiana but I had to fly home, because my grandma was very close to me and I to her. In fact, I still have her letter...her last letter she sent me when I was in Japan...19...1947. But, I hurried home, and I was there to hold grandma's hand when she died. And then when I came home from Korea, of course, I'd been married about 13 months, but I'd never lived with my wife. So I was rather anxious to get home obviously, but I was in Seattle, Washington, and I was...for whatever reason...I was selected to be discharged from there. Most of 'em were put on a train and sent to Ft. McCoy, Wisconsin. So that's what I remember best about my last days on active duty.

Jewel Pickert:

So what did you do in the days and weeks shortly thereafter?

James Holmes:

Well, after...after...the...the stint in Japan, I went to work for an automobile company at the urging of a friend that was much older than I. And my folks had a restaurant right next door to the Chevrolet dealer, Bell Motor Company, in Hastings. So this guy talked me into going to work for him. He was kind of a sales manager. And a few months later, he left and went to Winona and became a salesman for a big dealership. He called me in about a month and asked me to come down there. So I moved down there. I was single at the time. And it was a good town to be in, because Winona was a college town. For a single guy, it was a good town. And, so anyhow, my wife...who ultimately became my wife. I started to date her then in that fall period. And then I was called back on active duty. So that was what I did between 1948 and 1952. Then after I got home, I went back to the car dealership in Winona. And I soon learned that that was not a role to be involved with for life as a...a car salesman. You worked nights. You weren't with your family like you should be. That type of thing. So I took a job with the St. Paul newspapers, and I had 2 counties that I was responsible for, and they wanted me to live in Red Wing at the north end of my territory, so I moved up to Red Wing, and while there, about a year later, a friend of mine asked me if I wouldn't go to work for the military, so I spent 7 years as a full-time employee in the military. And then a friend of mine that was also in Korea at the same time I was, Glenn Erickson, although I never did get to see Glenn over there. He encouraged me to go down to the Smead Manufacturing Company and apply. So I did, and I was hired there. And I was 30 years old at the time and just about 2 was in December of a...'61. I started there in '59, August, I think. The owner of Smead, Mrs. E. C. Hoffman, called me into her office. I had never talked to the lady before, and she said I understand you sold your old home. And I said, yes, we closed on it the first of December, and we... we just bought a new one, and it's not finished yet. She said, 14 gee, that's too bad. I wanted to talk to you this afternoon about moving to California. So, I was sent to California January of '62. My dad died on the 2nd of January which is my wife's birthday, and we buried him on the 5th, and I left for California on the 6th. And I went out there as the division general manager. We had a production plant out there, so I spent almost 7 years out there as a general manager of that division on the west coast. Then I came back to the Hastings plant and retired there with 32 years service with Smead. I did mostly project work for the owners the last few years.

Jewel Pickert:

Did your military experience influence your thinking about the war or about the military in general?

James Holmes:

Very much so. I hold the majority of military people in the highest regard. It's like anything in life. There's a few bad apples no matter where you go, but most of the people that I was associated with I would look for again along with the Turks if I had to go back to combat.

Jewel Pickert:

And what did you learn from your experiences?

James Holmes:

I learned the value of... of Christianity. I learned the value..let's say it was values... of Christianity, of democracy, of the need to have personal disciplines, the need to take care of oneself instead of relying on the government to do everything for you. I think we've got too many people today that are crying about me, me, me. It's like John F. Kennedy said one time "Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country". And it's things like that that I've been reinforced with my involvement over the years. Could I just give you one more thing? When I was wounded in Korea, and this was in the Kumwha Valley. And I think it was on Hill 598. We were getting a lot of incoming mortar fire, and the...the Koreans had 82mm Russian mortar, and they were very good with it. And I was still a platoon sergeant at the time. And Lt. Shepperd and I were in the bunker together, and I went out to our ammo bunker for some reason. And just as I bent over and reached into the ammo bunker, a mortar round come in and went kaboom. And I thought all of my personal assets were gone. And it turned out that I had a lot of rock... rock formations and things that were imbedded in my buttocks. And then I had some shrapnel injuries but not big pieces. They were mostly slivers, but I'd been considered a walking wounded, so I never did report back to the aid station which is where I would have been put in for the Purple Heart, et cetera. You know how it is when you're 21 years old, you're tougher than boiled owl. And I toughed it out. I said the medic will come in and treat me, so Lt. Shepperd and the medic treated my rear end. And I stayed on line and years later, about 3 years after I got home, I had to have a surgery on my right buttock, because I had a...what they called a foreign matter abscess, but for about a year after I got back, my wife occasionally would pull small shrapnel out of my buttocks. You could feel it in your underwear. You know, it'd start to protrude a little bit. And so she'd get a tweezers and pull them out for me. Poor girl.

Jewel Pickert:

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

James Holmes:

No, I guess not. I figure that I was one of the very lucky ones to, your know, have had the experience to have been able to be with people of that caliber and that quality and to have that devotion's put it in the right God and to family and to country. Is a remarkable feeling. I can't...I can't tell you enough about how I value people. I remember one of the large companies one time, and one of their advertisements were... and I don't remember if it was General Electric or who it was...but they made perhaps the truest statement there blank company people are our most important product. And when you stop and think about that, in combat we've got all kinds of technology today, but it still takes people. And people are the asset.


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  October 26, 2011
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