My Experiencesn the Korean Conflict (Including Religious Activities)- Marvin Lynn White
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My Experiences in the Korean Conflict
(Including Religious Activities)
Marvin Lynn White
10 January 2002
It’s January 10, 2000, and I’ve chosen to talk about my military experiences because this
was the time of year when I floated across the pond from San Francisco, to Yokohama. I should
start with my earlier military experiences. I went to San Luis Obispo, for eight weeks of basic
training, followed by eight weeks of technical training, which was message center operations.
This experience in California was the first time I had been away from home. I lived in a little
five-man hut with other guys. My name was White, the other guys were Wiess, William,
Williamson, and Wilson. They were all colored boys, so to say the least, it was a new experience
for me. We lived in that little five- man hut and got along real well.
I finished my technical training. We had leave to go home, but we couldn’t find any
transportation, because all the buses were sold out. So we had to scramble and find some way to
get home the first week in December, 1952. Some friends had a buddy who was flying ore from
the mines to the mills in Southern Utah. He had a small plane. They called him and prevailed to
come down and get us. The day we went to the airport, he came and took one look at me and
Freeland and said, “You’ll have to ship your bags.” It was quite a small airplane and wouldn’t take
all the weight that we would put in it. We took off in that little airplane and were up in the air
about an hour when the pilot started circling an old deserted airport on the California-Nevada
border. He said, “My one gas tank is not working, and I’ve got to set my plane down.”
We set down on that deserted airport. We found a rusty bucket and a piece of garden hose
and we siphoned the gas out of the one tank to the other. We used my handkerchief to put over
the inlet, to strain the gas, so there wouldn’t be a bunch of impurities in the gas.
Then we had enough gas to get us from that place to just about sunset, when we were
over Las Vegas. He said, “That tank’s not working again. We’ve got to set down.” He took a pass at
the Las Vegas airport and kind of set his airplane down a little early, a little rough. He said he
would get the tank fixed, so we decided to spend the night in Las Vegas.
The next morning, supposedly our airplane had been fixed. Up we went again. We were
in the air over the north rim of Bryce Canyon, and I noticed that the pilot was traveling low, and
we were getting down low. He said, “That tank’s not working again. We’ve got to land.” We started
to land on the north runway of the North Rim. He said, “My landing gear is not locking in
position. So we’ve got to set down with one landing gear.” Luckily it was snowy and slick, and we
landed on a slick runway, and just slid down to the end of the runway. The nose of the airplane
tipped up and the pilot banged his head. We crawled out of the crashed airplane, and I picked up
the tip of the propeller and jammed it in my bag and said, “I’ll thumb the rest of the way.” Which I
I got out to the road around Circleville. This was a Sunday morning. Now I was in
uniform and thumbing a ride. A car come down the road, a new Buick, a gal, and she just drove
by me. She went down the road maybe a block, tur ned around, and came back. When I opened
the door to get in the car, I saw that she had a little baby, sitting there on the front seat, between
the passenger and the driver side. That really scared me, because I couldn’t imagine why she
would take a gamble on me being the right kind of a guy. I jumped in, and down the road we
went. It wasn’t too far down the road when she said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
I looked at her, but I couldn’t remember meeting her, or anything.
“Well,” she continued, “we took some education classes together at the University of Utah.”
“It wasn’t me,” I told her. “My brother did attend those classes.” I guess I looked enough like
Ted, and we’d been separated long enough that she thought she recognized me. That’s why she
stopped. She took me all the way to the Thistle Junction. She wanted to go toward Price, Utah,
and I wanted to go the other way. I picked up a ride there at Thistle Junction. The guy that picked
me up there took me right to the subdivision down in the old Clay Hole, two blocks from my
folks’ home. I walked from there, knocked on the door. They were just sitting down to the table.
They had been to the bus depot, thinking I was going to be on the bus. I wasn’t there, so they
were going to have dinner. I surprised them, no less.
I spent my ten days leave home, getting ready to go to Korea. I had to be back to the
depot in San Francisco to be processed to be shipped to the Far East Command. After a couple of
days, we got on a ship and went out of San Francisco, under the Bay Bridge. The boat was spun
around, and we had a fire drill. I wasn’t much of a sailor, and that proceeded to make me sick. I
went down to my bunk and stayed in it for three days. The other men brought me crackers from
the mess hall, to keep me eating.
It was a real experience. There were bunks about ten or fifteen high. We climbed ladders
to get into your bunk. It was a big, old ship. The part of the cabin where I was was a big
restroom. We were on the fantail of the ship, and that ship was rocking up and down, up and
down. When the bow would go up, and then down, the big screw would come up out of the
water, rev up, then go back down, and give us another jolt forward. That was an experience I
guess I’ll never forget.
We were able to have church services on that ship, and I can remember singing hymns on
the fantail as a group of LDS (Latter-day Saint) fellows on our way to Korea. We got to
Yokohama. There we were loaded on a train and taken into Tokyo. As we got off the train, half
of the train went into the cold, and we had to strip to the waist and have some shots. There was
hemorrhagic fever in Korea, so we were all shot up, so we would be protected. I noticed that as
we were in that train depot, a lot of the Japanese people had on surgical masks. I guess they were
wearing them for hygienic purpose, to keep from picking up bugs from other people. It was
unnerving all those people wearing surgical masks at a train depot.
I spent New Year’s Eve in that replacement depot. My orders held me over, because only
so many message center people could be sent over with each shipment. There were too many of
us, so I was left there in Tokyo, and was there on my twenty- first birthday, pretty much alone.
My buddies had all gone.
I decided to go downtown Tokyo. I didn’t get very deep into Tokyo, because it was a very
big city, with lots of confusion. I knew that I was a fish out of water; it wasn’t my kind of thing.
So I turned around and went back to the base.
After a few days at the replacement depot, I got orders to go to Korea. I was put on
another ship that took me from Tokyo to the southern tip of Korea, Panmunjon. There we caught
another train and proceeded to go north. I can remember the little kids running around the train,
in groups of ten of fifteen. The GI’s would peel oranges and throw the peelings out the window.
Those little kids would scramble for those peelings. They’d take them over to a muddy puddle,
wash them off, and the eat them. Some of the GI’s threw their C-rations to the kids—crackers,
candies, and a whole bunch of things.
Anyway, we started going north. The first stop was an ICOR area, but they didn’t need
any message-center people there. So we went from there up to division, which needed some
personnel; they asked if anybody could type. I had been through the typing school in the message
center and take the test. There were three of us. When a decision had to be made, it was for a
regular army man, who was in for three of four years, whereas I was in just for the duration of
the war. The division figured it could get more out of the regular army man. So we got back on
train and started going north again. I remember, the train was like sitting on a park bench—curved,
wooden seats, and they were not the least bit comfortable. There was a baggage rack above us,
and I crawled up in to that rack and went to sleep, when I got comfortable. That was all fine and
good, until I decided in the middle of the night to roll over. I rolled over, and I don’t know how
many guys I broke up—all of them, I guess—sitting on the bench.
The next stop was regimental headquarters. It was the same story: They didn’t need any
communication or message-center people. So we headed up to the next stop, battalion
headquarters, and the next stop was the main line of resistance of the Korean War. Battalion
headquarters happened to need a switchboard operator, which I had learned in technical training.
So I got stopped there, and I worked that switchboard several nights during the war. At that time,
you had to have permission to go out, other than just a recon patrol for maybe ten or fifteen men.
We were trying to hold things to a status quo.
One night I was sitting on the switchboard, I was on the right-hand side a bunch Belgian
troops. I could hear could hear the rapid fire of machine guns. Curiosity finally got the best of
me. I went up to the Bel Jeep and asked, “What’s happening over there?! Is a Chinaman coming
“No, we just got a patrol out and they got a little bit of contact.”
I knew he was lying through his teeth, because with all the noise and pyrotechnic flares
and everything, you knew that some kind of scrimmage was going on.
While on the switchboard, I was able to have with me a little portable radio, batteryoperated.
So while I was sitting at my switchboard, hearing all the rhubarb going on over to the
right, and listening to my radio, the Armed Forces Radio was broadcasting. It would just fade in
and fade out. I heard all the music it broadcast, and that was where I got to enjoy the music of all
the popular stars. It was stateside, as far as I was concerned, and it was good music. I think the
broadcasts came from Japan.
Finally the battalion needed a clerk a clerk in the message center, so I got off the
switchboard. They had just received what they called an M–201 converter, an encoding and
decoding machine. The message-center operator didn’t know a thing about it, but I was right fresh
out of school. So he brought me into the message center to keep him out of hot water. So I got
me a job in the message center.
The message center chief at that time was an old sergeant who really liked to play poker.
The message center was in a bunker, and he could invite some of the guys over on paydays, and
they would play poker all night long. I remember that at that time, in my bunk, I had a candle
and could read my scriptures by candlelight. As they played poker down below, I was up reading
scriptures—a real interesting contrast.
As I progressed in the message center, I got to the rank of a corporal. The message
center’s purpose was to maintain communications between the main lines of resistance up front,
about a mile and a quarter away. But in a combat situation, that distance isn’t a lot of safety. We
sent message back and forth to regimental headquarters. I had a company letter from each one of
the nine companies assigned to me in my tent in the message center. I could get communications
from regimental headquarters, then get in a jeep and drive as far forward as we could drive. Then
runners would actually run from that spot up to the commanding officer, with instructions from
It was interesting, because I got to meet everybody. We had all the communications to all
the different departments. I would walk around and deliver the correspondence to where I was
supposed to go, and get it signed and sealed. So I got to meet all the officers and other leaders of
the area. The S-23 was the Intelligence, S-1 was personnel, S-4 was supply—so I was all around
After one of those poker games, the next morning I was sitting down on my bunk,
shaving with an electric razor. The guys in the radio shack had made me a battery pack, so I
could run my electric razor off of my radio. There was a knock on my door one day. I got up and
kicked the door open, and there was the company commander, a Puerto Rican fellow. When he
saw me shaving with an electric razor, his mouth dropped open. It wasn’t too long before he also
had his own electric razor and a battery pack from the guys in the communications and radio
One of my responsibilities, as I said, was to run back to regiment. On the way, there was
a shower point about half way there. I could stop and get a shower, and I got all kinds of
volunteers to back with me to the shower point.
One time, when I went back to regimental headquarters, as I was waiting, there was a
whole stack of what looked like wood. It was a whole stack of GI’s, frozen solid as a rock,
stacked up like a cord of wood, waiting to be transported. That didn’t leave me with very many
good feelings about your safety.
I was trying to convince my mother that I was in a safe position—that I was back from the
front, and how important it was to be back. As I closed one of my letters, I wrote, “I get along
pretty good. I have a little trouble sleeping at night, because the big guns were shooting off in
back of me, and shells are going over. It’s so noisy that you can hardly sleep.”
Dad picked up on that. He said, “If the guns are in back of him, then’s he’s pretty close to
the front. The artillery guns are shooting over him into the Chinese army.”
I guess I wasn’t back far enough, or as safe, as they’d like me to be.
I was in this one position for 120 days. We had been there long enough that we’d been
able to develop some showers of our own. We used a big 50-gallon drum, with a smokey-joe
heater to heat the water, which came down on us through a bunch of holes stuck in the drum.
That we used as our shower head. We were there long enough that the army figured we were too
comfortable, so we got orders to pack up and go. As I was going down the road, leaving the area,
the Chinese started shelling that position real heavy. I could see the mess tent and the bunker I
was in, and all those areas were taking terrific hits—direct hits. Looking back over your shoulder,
and seeing all that shelling, we were kind of glad to get out of there.
One night, I got a communication from regimental headquarters, saying that a second
lieutenant, instead of memorizing his signal operating instructions before he went out, put them
in his pocket. Those instructions contained things like, “If a patrol gets hit, they are to send up a
purple flare. If they run across a Chinese patrol, they are to send up a black star, pyrotechnic
piece of fireworks.” We had to go up and replace those signal operating instructions. We jumped
in the jeep, and off we went with the runners. They would go up to their various companies. In
the last area, the Chinese had decided to come to that position. A company was relieving the
company that was there. So there was quite a bit of confusion—one company going, back, one
coming up. The Chinese came over the hill, screamin’ and hollerin’ and making all the noised they
used to use. I got out of there, real quick!
The next day or two, I was delivering some information to a company commander. We
were on the move, and there was a lot moving around. I took some correspondence instructions
for the commanding officer, and as I went back to my jeep from the officer’s bunker, I looked,
and it took a direct hit. I think this was in June, about the time just before the signing of the
armistice. The negotiators were talkin’ and talkin’ and talkin’, and meetin’ and meetin’ and meetin’.
We were aware, or at least we thought, and I guess the Chinese thought, that since the fighting
was going to be over, instead of taking the heavy ammunition back, they decided to shoot it off.
To say the least, we had quite a bit of fireworks.
The only thing we get to eat at that time was sweet potatoes and ham. After eating that, I
got dehydrated. So I was sent back to a place like a M.A.S.H. hospital. I was there with all the
wounded boys who were coming through, and I was laying off to the side on the cot. I felt
terrible, but I could see the wounded coming in and going out, some of the helicopters taking out
some of the boys they could help. I was there maybe two or three days. I got some good food,
and I was sent me back up toward the front.
I was put in an area where my company was supposed to be. But the company hadn’t
arrived; they hadn’t yet come into that area. I stayed there in a great big squad tent, all alone. I did
have a bunk and sleeping gear, but it rained, and it rained, and it rained. This was the monsoon
season. All night long, the rain was coming down like crazy.
My company came in the next morning. This was about the time the armistice was signed
at Panmunjon. The sides thought they had it settled two or three times, but the actual agreement
got on the table and was signed. So we were in that area in an occupational position, a truce
In this position, I was sergeant of the guard one night. By this time I had got another
promotion. We’d had a lot of problems with Koreans girls sneaking into camp to be with the GI’s.
I was walking across a temporary bridge, and as I walked across it, a nude body got up and ran.
It went right past the commanding officer’s tent. I was hollering at the person, “Stop, or I’ll shoot!”
It was one of my runners, who’d got drunk and was out looking for a Korean girl. There weren’t
any there, but he was looking for one. He’d taken all his clothes off and was out running around.
Another night I was on guard in another position. I had never seen a fireflies. The
corporal who took me down to my position said, “Here, you take my gun. It’s got two 30-round
clips taped together so that you could shoot thirty, take it out, put it in again, and shoot thirty
more. When he left me, he took my M-1. As he went away, I could see all these little blips of
light out there. I thought I was surrounded by Chinamen. What it was was fireflies. As they
would light their bottoms up, they would make light, and I thought it was a bunch of eyes
looking at me. I finally decided there were just too many of them. But that was when I was
introduced to fireflies.
It was from this position that I had earned enough time to go on R&R (rest and
recuperation/recreation) to Japan. I flew from Korea to Japan in a DC-3, not a very big plane.
The seats are down the side, just jump seats. We got into a rainstorm, and this DC-3 leaked like a
sieve, but there was water washing back and forth in the middle of the plane. You could stick
your foot out and get in it.
I landed in Japan. All I wanted to do was get a haircut and a good shave. Then I got some
ice cream! And other things like that, which we hadn’t had for a looong time. One of my purposes
in going on R&R was to do some shopping. I went downtown in Kokura, where there were some
china shops. I really had good luck. It was famous Japanese china, Noritaki. I picked up a brand
set for my mom, and then I bought a set for Aunt Eleithe. Then I got to thinking, “If I were to get
married, and not have a set for my wife, I’d be in trouble.” So I bought three set of china and made
arrangements to ship them home. They were only $37.00 a set, a full service: Twelve plates,
cups, all the serving pieces.
I went back to Korea and had a little occupational duty. Around the first of February
1954, I had accumulated enough points that I could rotate. So I got to go back to the States. This
time, when I got on the ship, because I was a sergeant, I got a cabin all of my own. We were out
in the ocean waiting for permission to dock in Seattle. I still had a radio, and one of the first
things I picked up was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
The next day, Monday, the 22nd of February, I landed in Seattle. There were bands and
people to greet us. I was really glad to get off the boat. I got off and kissed the ground of the
USA. Then I went over to Fort Lewis, to get furlough. I had thirty days coming.
When I came back to Fort Lewis, they were short of MP’s. So I was assigned to the
military police as a sergeant. I was sent out to pick up deserters. I went to Denver, back east. I
went on the best trains, had the best food. I would come back attached to a prisoner. One time I
had an assignment to pick up a GI in the jail house in Oregon. I got a beautiful trip, all down the
Columbian River Basin on the train—good food, sleeping in the private sleeping cards. I got down
there, instead of having one guy, there were about six. And I was alone. The army made
arrangements with the bus company. I was in the back of the bus, and we had to stop one time
between Portland and Fort Lewis, for lunch. I just told those guys, “Hey, there’s all of you, and
just one of me. But I’ve got this .45, if one of you blinks an eye, I’m going to shoot you.” The got
to the back of the bus and behaved themselves. When we stopped to eat, they were not rowdy
and didn’t give me a bad time. I got them back to Fort Lewis without any problem.
I did that detail for about forty-five days, and then the army decided that I’d had enough
time, and so put me on orders to be released. I was released at Fort Lewis on the 5th of May. That
date is a family tradition here at home, because this was when we always had our family reunion.
We had the family reunion on this date because when my Great-grandfather White was out to sea—
he was a fisherman in England—there arose a big storm which washed his brother overboard. At
that point, he decided that he was going to come to America.
I’ve almost left out the most important part of my experiences in Korea, the part that
sustained me from day to day. Soon after I got to Korea, I was asked to be a group leader for the
Latter-day Saint soldiers in the Third Division. My responsibility to organize the member of that
battalion and regiment, and as far as I could reach, to hold services. Each time I made an effort to
contact boys, when I’d go into the area, I’d ask, “Do you have any LDS, Mormon, boys in your
company?” If the boys were doing what they should do, they would be well know and well liked,
and they would have responsible jobs. Some of the other who were trying to hide, they didn’t
know it, but othe r guys knew that they were Mormons. Because they were smoking and drinking,
they were trying to avoid acceptance.
As I continued to gather the boys together, I felt impressed, in the battalion I was in, to
talk to the commanding officer up on the hill, on the main line of resistance, if he had any LDS
boys. I would gather them on Sunday, one or two or three, and bring them back to battalion
headquarters, where we had a designated tent for a chapel. I would gather maybe a dozen boys
each Sunday, and we would hold services the best we could. We each had the little brown book
that their bishops were supposed to give them when they were inducted in the service: Gospel
Doctrine; and in the back of it, there were a few pages of hymns.
We would hold our services there on the side of the hill in Korea, doing the best we
could. We blessed the sacrament and took turns giving lessons and speaking. At one point, I
asked the chaplain, who was a Catholic, to join us, just so he could see what we were doing.
Initially, he had wanted to know what he could do to help us. I just invited him to service.
As we started our service, we sang “High on the Mountain Top,” “How Firm a Foundation”—
songs like that. Evidently he was quite impressed that we could take care of ourselves. We said
the prayers, the singing, and the sacrament. He still wanted to help, so I said to him, “We really
could use some sacramental cups. Those canteen cups really aren’t very spiritual to drink the
sacrament from.” He proceeded to do something. Event ually he got hold of someone at division
headquarters who sent us up some sacrament cups.
As we continued to hold the services, eventually we had an LDS chaplain assigned to us,
Ben Mortensen. Then I would go in his jeep from company to company, unit to unit, and gather
in as many young men for serves. Ben was a prince of a guy. The fellows really enjoyed him as a
chaplain. Later he taught and counseled at the Provo, Utah hospital. I ran across him again at that
I think it would be hard for anybody to fathom the strength which those services gave us
on a day-to-day basis. We became very close friends. One kid, Darl Field was from Roy, Utah;
Ron Hudges was from Preston, Idaho. We were able to hold services pretty much consistently on
a Sunday-to-Sunday basis. Once in a while we would be interrupted, because one of the units
was moving, or something strategic was happening, that prevented us from having our services.
But it wasn’t very long till we were back together, doing the things that we enjoyed.
It’s surprising the influence we had, just doing what we knew we should do. When I asked
the cooks for a couple of slices of bread for sacrament meeting, that gave me an opportunity to
tell them about Sunday services and sacrament meetings. A couple of fellows in the personnel
mail department who immediately noticed that there was something different about us LDS guys.
One guy, Bill Lore, was from New York; he taught handicapped and other children who had
problems—special school. The other fellow was a young man named Richard Molkehy, obviously
a devout Catholic. They were impressed with our boys, and especially our attitudes. They said,
“You guys, in spite of all we’re going through, just seem to have smiles on your faces and seem to
be getting along all right.” I thought that was quite a testimony to the Church, under any
When we were going across the water, we held services on the fantail of the ship. We had
the sacrament. It would bring tears to your eyes to sing songs like “How Firm a Foundation.”
Later on, when the armistice was signed, we were able to gather more and more fellows
together, and we had more opportunities in different areas. At one time, we had a conference, as
far back as ICOR. We pulled in about 250 GI’s to that conference. It was there where I met
Richard Moyle, a long-time friend of mine, whom I later labored with in the mission field. As
you met these boys, and enjoyed those circumstances, it would give you strength to meet
challenges on a day-to-day basis. As I explained before, some of those challenges were real.