“It was terrible. They were told to kill us, and we were told to kill them. It was a hell of a feeling,” said David Warren Jones, describing being on the front lines in the Korean War.
David Jones was born in December 1929, in Duluth. His father, Lincoln, was from Bayfield and his mother, Gertrude, grew up in Cornucopia. His dad worked as a foreman in a steel mill in Morgan Park, Minnesota. David’s early schooling was at the Stowe School and he went on to high school at Morgan Park, where he played football and ran on the track team.
After graduating from high school, he worked in a steel mill. Dave was drafted by the U.S. Army, inducted in Duluth and entered on duty in February 1952. He traveled to Chicago and then to Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he received basic training. Recalling parts of basic training, he described marksmanship, marches and field exercises. He was projected to be on a tank crew, but the vehicles he trained in were not tanks; instead they were faster combat vehicles, described as armored personnel carriers.
A favorite remembrance of David’s time at Fort Knox occurred while he was on liberty. He traveled with friends to nearby Louisville. They were in a club enjoying music and sipping beers. At one point three women walked in and one of them was Cora Louise Worrall. David met Cora and they danced, talked and spoke of their dreams.
His training was completed, and he was granted four days of leave. Dave used his time to visit his home in Duluth before traveling to Fort Lewis, Washington.
Heading to Korea
Dave remembered his unit was given one day to go to town and have a beer before shipping out. He was sipping his beer and looking out the window when a guy he knew from Duluth walked past. The guy was a Merchant Marine and Dave hoped he would be assigned to his troopship, but that did not happen.
The following day the troops boarded their ship and got settled in their tight quarters. Dave narrated several memories of his trip. He laughed as he mentioned the poker players and said he steered clear of the card games. He observed whales, flying fish and albatross, which are birds that spend much time over open seas. Special mention was made when the meridian was crossed.
The troops disembarked in Tokyo and traveled by train to their designated camp. In camp, David was issued his rifle, along with all other gear. After a few days he again boarded a troopship and headed to Korea.
Arriving in South Korea, Dave and other troops boarded a train and headed north. Dave’s platoon was set up in a big tent in the general area of a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH). He witnessed the helicopters transporting wounded soldiers to the MASH landing zones. One member of his platoon peeked in the window of the hospital tent and witnessed a leg amputation taking place and he warned David to not look in. Dave recalled saying he had no intention of looking into that tent.
Dave’s platoon was assigned Ford tanks that had been used in World War II. The soldiers lived and worked together to maintain the machines, and they became familiar with one another. A nearby river was used to clean the tanks and offered an opportunity for the soldiers to get in the water and take a swim.
Dave detailed his position on the tank crew, starting as a loader. He described other positions and their responsibilities as tank commander, gunner and driver. The initial driver got too close to the mountain face and hit it. This event caused a shift in jobs. Dave ended up being the driver, and described the difficulty of driving the tank with a shifter and a spring-loaded seat. Crossing rivers was noted as a special challenge.
Heading for the front lines, they set up a temporary encampment near a river. Fifty-five-gallon drums filled with water and set on a scaffold allowed the troops to take a shower. Dave’s platoon spent one night and then again started for the front line. It was slow going and when they arrived, they set and leveled the tank. Sandbags were piled around the tank to offer some protection. He described the tank placement at a mid-point in a mountainous area. Bunkers were used to store the ammunition and to protect the soldiers. The bunker was made of logs, canvas, dirt and rock to protect from mortars.
Dave described efforts to keep warm in weather that was sometimes very cold, similar to Wisconsin. He stated the clothing he had was adequate. Earlier soldiers were issued leather boots, but he wore “Mickey Mouse” boots which were decent for the cold weather. When snow was on the ground winter camouflage was worn. Sometimes five-gallon cans were filled with sand and fuel and this was used outdoors as a warming device. He told of an occasion when mortar rounds destroyed his tent and the furnace. After that charcoal was used to provide some warmth.
For protection, U.S. infantry surrounded the perimeter of tank placements during the night. On the enemy side a “sandbag castle” was identified. David presented me with a photo depicting him at the gateway to this castle, which had signage that declared it as the most forward position held by American soldiers in Korea.
The officer in the observation post (OP) was able to identify the enemy troops moving in the trenches. This was the detonating point for friendly artillery. David communicated with the OP by ground-laid tactical communications wire (commo). As he received notice, he set his tank gun and fired using the designated coordinates. He was given details of the accuracy of his rounds.
At night, friendly troops would advance on the enemy. When a burst of enemy fire was heard, David would jump into the gunner’s seat, level the gun, set the azimuth and fire rounds to quiet the enemy activity. Sometimes when he fired at trenches, a delayed charge was utilized so it would explode after burrowing into the earth.
David narrated many incredible tales of his experience. One story detailed night battles and use of white star signal flare parachutes to help illuminate the field; a “turkey shoot” was the term used when small arms and mortar fire were exchanged in trench fighting; a runaway tank incident where he went to aid the soldiers, but they had previously jumped out to save themselves. Other notable memories include: a fellow soldier who was cleaning his .45 grease gun that sent a bullet into the bucket he was using as a seat; a young boy, who the soldiers called Sukoshi, came to the troops and helped them clean the tents and wash clothes and left a favorable impression with all who came into contact with him; and finally a harrowing event where David protected civilians who were working in their rice paddies. Many other stories were shared, and they all held a special place in Dave’s memory.
After a couple of months, Dave’s squad was given two or three days of rest and recuperation (R&R). They were sent behind the front line where they were able to take a shower, were offered good food and a few beers. Soon they were sent back to the front line.
While he was in this bunker, he witnessed a couple of first sergeants, returning from the valley, who were impaired after using alcohol. Because of this he requested a transfer to another unit. His request was allowed, and he reported to a new outfit that was also on the front line.
Sometime during his duty Dave was injured while walking next to his tank. He described being hit by some metal in his cheek, but was not sure of the details. There was a lot of bleeding and the medics bandaged him and he let it heal without further treatment. Later on, he could feel the metal while brushing his teeth and he showed me the location of the metal embedded in his cheek.
Eventually Dave was shipped back to the U.S. He recalled seeing the Golden Gate Bridge and San Quentin before his ship docked. Prior to discharge, he was given an opportunity to have his teeth fixed. At the same time the metal fragment was removed and it was offered to him as a souvenir. “I don’t want any souvenirs from over there, I’m done with that place,” he recalls saying.
Dave remembers being shipped to Camp Carson near Colorado Springs. He was assigned duty to guard and transfer prisoners and later firing furnaces.
Discharge and post-war
Discharged from Army and back in Duluth, Dave bought a suit, borrowed a car from his brother and drove to Jeffersonville, Indiana, and was married to Cora Louise in November 1953. Cora and David had four children, three boys and one girl.
Dave proudly displayed a photo and described his trip to Washington, D.C. with Honor Flight Northland, which he took with his daughter Karen. His wife was in hospice care at the time and he did not want to leave her. His wife told him to go and he followed her orders. He told of the heartwarming letters he received from family members that recognized his service.
A couple of David’s granddaughters surprised him while in Washington, D.C. As a special treat Cora was able to Facetime with him while he was there. He maintains many mementos of the trip and fond memories of the entire event.
Reflecting on war
“I don’t want to see another war,” David stated. “The United States needs to work with allies to prevent another war.” He suggests that if there is another war, he would deploy to prevent the younger generations from going.
We ended our conversation and David offered high praise for the services he receives and the people at the Veterans Service Office in Hayward. He enjoys veterans’ events, including Horse Spirit and Vets on the River.