Tommie Guthrie and the Korean War

Perry Thomas “Tommy” Guthrie, Jr  (1932-2010)

The Korean War began at 4:40am on June 25, 1950.

Perry Thomas

Perry Thomas “Tommie” Guthrie, Jr., standing in front of a Chinese dugout where he had captured two Chinese during the Korean War. Image courtesy of Jan Purvis McCaskill.

Perry Thomas “Tommie” Guthrie was born in Ray City, GA, a son of Perry Thomas Guthrie, Sr and Rachel Mae Taylor.  Tommie spent his childhood on his father’s farm and in Ray City, GA.

Lucinda Elizabeth Guthrie and grandson Tommy Guthrie, son of Perry Guthrie. Ray City, Berrien County, GA.

Lucinda Elizabeth Guthrie and grandson Tommy Guthrie, son of Perry Guthrie. Photo taken at a carnival in Ray City, Berrien County, GA.

Tommie Guthrie attended the Ray City School along with other local children.

Tommy Guthrie, Grade 2, Ray City School, Ray City, GA.

Tommy Guthrie, Grade 2, Ray City School, Ray City, GA.

It was in June of 1950, when Tommie Guthrie was 18 years old, that North Korea invaded South Korea.  The North Korean Army crossed the 38th Parallel beginning the Korean War on June 25, 1950 at 4:40 am.

Rather than waiting to be drafted, Tommie decided to volunteer. After completing his basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Tommie was assigned to the 45th Infantry Division, Oklahoma National Guard.  The Thunderbirds were one of only two National Guard divisions to see combat in the Korean War; the other being the 40th of California.

The 45th Infantry Division began training for Korea at Camp Polk, Louisiana and in March of 1951 the division shipped out for Hokkaido, Japan for a continuation of their training. The move to Korea was made in December, 1951. The division served in the Yonchon-Chorwon area, and in sectors fronting Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, and Luke’s Castle. The majority of the 45th Division’s Guardsmen began returning to the States in the spring of 1952, but the division remained in Korea until the end of the conflict in 1953. In all the 45th Division saw 429 days in battle, participating in 4 campaigns.

In 2010, just prior to his death, Tommie Guthrie shared the following story about his training, deployment and first days in Korea with his niece, Jan Purvis McCaskill.  If after sixty years his  account of the dates varies slightly from the official record, we can make some allowances for the memory of an aged veteran.

Tommie Guthrie’s Korean War story began September 1, 1950…

I was 20 years old when drafted into the army, as were most of the draftees. We were living in Lakeland, GA when I got my Draft notice from Stockton, GA.

On September 1st I was in the field pulling leaves off of corn stalks for my horse when a good friend of mine came by for a visit, he too had gotten a draft notice and we wondered what we were going to do. We talked to dad and mama and convinced them it would be a lot better if we volunteered for service, that way we would have a better chance of not being an infantryman. After much crying by mama, they agreed that would be best. Anyway, to Stockton that was 8 miles away we went where we enlisted.

There (at Stockton, GA.) we were sworn in, got shots, clothes, food and a $10.00 bill. I kissed my mother, Rachel Mae Guthrie, goodbye and shook my dad’s, Perry Thomas Guthrie, hand.   I headed for the bus where many of the draftees were.

 We sure looked very young; I guess you could say we were just boys. Next, we were shipped to Fort Jackson, South Carolina and stayed there for eight weeks.

While they finished mobilizing the Oklahoma National Guard, we were put on a troop train and five days, later we arrived at Camp Polk Louisiana where we were assigned to the 45th National Guard. We were lined up in single file and went through a series of tables where unit Commanders selected which one of us they wanted. I was selected by Captain Dahl for his command and the next week I was on another Troop Train for Fort Bliss, Texas.

I became a member of headquarters company of the 145th AAA (anti aircraft artillery), that was the supply company for all five companies of the AAA Brigade. After assigning us to five men crews we were issued weapons and re-loaded on a train and went to Fort Hood.

At Fort Hood we were trained for three weeks, and next boarded a train for Fort White Sands, New Mexico where we went 40 miles out in the desert to practice with big guns. The guns were 50 caliber quad, 37 millimeter on a half track and 40 millimeters-two on a half track to the big 90 millimeter on its own platform.

We used targets pulled by airplanes and r-cats (a small remote airplane painted red). Boy did we use up a lot of ammo. We never hit a tow-plane but came close. Some pilot’s refused to fly them. After one week there living in tents with two baths and two changes of clothes and eating jackrabbit stew we were loaded up and went to Fort Bliss where we received a ten-day leave.

We had to report back to Camp Polk, Louisiana.

[March, 1951]

After two weeks, the whole Oklahoma National Guard was put on 40 ships in New Orleans, Louisiana to go somewhere. After two weeks on the ships, we made it through the canal and went on to San Francisco. We could not get off the ship there because of the problem of getting us back on the boats in Panama. It took them over five days to catch all of us.

We spent two days in San Francisco and the 40 boats loaded 3,000 new troops (draftees). We sailed for Hawaii about three PM and by the next morning, we were way out in the Pacific and in a rare storm. Everyone was sea sick from the boat sailors down to the last army guy. We stayed in the storm until we were almost to Hawaii.

A very smelly bathroom smelled like a rose compared to the ships. A troop ship had a bathroom with 60 commodes side by side and connected by a large pipe. When the ship would roll almost over feces and vomit would come out and cover the floor of the ship. We had no rats because they knew better than to get on one of these ships.

There was a crew [in Hawaii] like the “molly maid” came aboard and clean the ship from top to bottom. It took a week for them to clean and restock. We all got aboard again and headed for Hokkaido, Japan where we trained again. I was taken from one section and put in another.

One night I was on guard at an entry ware house and we were not suppose to have live ammunition for our guns, but I picked up 40 rounds when I left the guard shack and loaded my weapon. About 2 PM the Captain came to check us out with the Seargent – Seargent Manuel said that Company Commanders could look at your gun. I handed him my rifle and when he opened my receiver and found a fully loaded gun, he just about had a fit he was so scared. Boy did the old seargent get a chewing out. I thought I was going to go to the stockade, but I did not. Instead, I received a letter and a stripe.

We lived for nine months in cold, cold, cold tents in Japan. Getting to go in to town every two months and being very young and foolish then, we drank a lot of 25% quarts of Jap beer. The MP’s would catch the real drunk ones like me and hand cuff us to pipes in the station, and when they had a truck load they would take us back to base for the night duty seargent to put us all to bed. The next day the Company commander would hold court.  The punishment was ‘no pass’ for a long period, kitchen police, or extra guard duty. Some silly things that would please the crazy MP’s to send to the General for a report.

One fine day, very early we stood in line again, it was something about money. It turned out that we had to turn our money in and receive new money. We were limited to $50.00—if we had more than that, the Commanding Officer would put it in the company safe and dole it out to us like children. If we had the money, we could go to towns like Chetose, Japan where the population was approximately 20,000. Beer was the popular drink but, it was about 20% alcohol; four quarts was the only size one could buy for about a $1.00. Four quarts made many drunks.

For our food, we ate some dog, seaweed salad and many fish of every kind. The Japanese cook them whole, fish head and all; I never went back for seconds.

Now our showers were something else: they had three tents set up end to end, first walk in and grab a water- proof bag for personal things. Next, we had to strip, the second tent we sprayed and doused with DDT powder to kill lice and what else one might have. The third tent was where one got a change of clothes from shorts up including shoes. Clothes did not fit well because they only had four sizes all laid out on tables. This ritual took place three times a week- oh yes more lines.

In February of 1953, the Commanding General stopped all training courses. He said just one of us could whip a ware house full of tigers, so for the next three weeks we did nothing but continue on wine, cards, women and song. By the middle of the month, my $73.00 per month pay was really low.

Finally, a mandatory meeting of our troops, including cooks. We all gathered in the big parade ground. Over the loudspeaker came the news that our President and MacArthur decided they would invade Korea and set up a police action. We gathered our very heavy clothing new equipment and I got a Jeep and trailer full of C Rations. Two days later, I found myself in a long line (again). The whole division was in line.

[December 1951]

Meanwhile, whole divisions were moving out. Meeting with the army command for the 45th Thunderbird Division, we moved out and onward. They moved us from a camp in Okinawa to docks in Japan where approximately 6- flat bottom ships awaited to take us to Korea. Now as the crow flies, it should have taken us 80 miles, but we went around the Island. We were at that time sea sick for 6 days, but we had reached Japan where we sat and slept until moving onto the flat bottoms.

One night before landing we were awakened by naval gunfire, not just one, but hundreds and hundreds of guns. Empty casings hitting the bouncing ship—a very big cause for being scared. Finally, Commanders told us they were practicing for the next day’s landing.

At daylight, we took a one-way road north to a mountain range call “The Frozen Chosin.” The road ran through the mountains where one could see for 1000’s of feet down. We lost some equipment, tanks and trucks in spite of using heavy snow and ice chains.

We started to unload and put up our new homes for the rest of the time I stayed there.  There were 21, 20 man tents in our Company and the next day we got electricity and heat from the generator truck, which ran all the time.

On our third day there, the 145th field started their 16.5 mm firing over our heads to the north of us. Of course, they can fire from 30 miles away from a target. Boy, you can really see the big shells passing overhead. The Navy and Air force also used the valley we were in as a fly zone. Jet after jet were coming and going all the time. When the Navy fired the 16-inch guns and the shells hit; the whole earth shook. We were one mountain ridge away from the front line; we were at an old Korean defense line. The landscape was full of criss-cross trenches, we had those trenches stocked full of ammo and food.

Since we were the only road going North and South, every day like clockwork a truck about 4 by 4 without cover would come through our camp heading south with dead soldiers stacked like firewood in their frozen body bags. We were not allowed to go anywhere near the trucks. [Tommy died before he finished writing about his stint in the Korean War-Jan McCaskill, his niece.

Grave of Perry Thomas Guthrie, Jr. Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola, FL

Grave of Perry Thomas Guthrie, Jr. Barrancas National Cemetery, Pensacola, FL

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