A sailor's memories of minesweeping during Korean War

La Plata, MO

I am writing my history in the U.S. Navy. I will tell and swear by the exact truth. I joined the service in 1952 in Burlington, Iowa. Passed the test in Des Moines, Iowa, and flew to San Diego, Calif., for basic training for 12 weeks. At the finish, I was stationed aboard the USS Swift AM 122, home port of Long Beach, Calif. The vessel was an auk-class minesweeper. It could sweep three different types of mines, including acoustic and magnetic.

My station at minesweep detail was putting explosive cutters on the starboard wire. Dangerous to say the least, I did this until I started steering the ship, my special sea detail as general quarters helmsman. The officers said I was a natural helmsman, and this was the duty I had most of the time.

In all my years in Navy mine warfare the ship went via Hawaii, Midway to Japan. It arrived in Korea a short time later. The ship swept for mines in places like Wonsan and Hungnam, North Korea. At the time, Wonsan was known to have 5,000 mines laid (Russian-built) magnetic mines.

For a time, the ship was anchored to rest after sweeping a long period of time. We were fired on in May 1953, which resulted in one direct hit on an acoustic homer box. I was leader on a 20 mm machine gun. I was hit with shrapnel in my leg while taking cover. I suffered a panic attack.

We were fired on again later, and much more that's in record. I served on the Swift more than two years.

My next ship was the USS Waxwing MSF 389 - the same type of ship. The Waxwing also went out of commission in Astoria, Ore. I received a letter of commendation from the commanding officer for this hard work.

I then was stationed in Long Beach, Calif., at the Pacific Reserve Fleet. This station took care of 25 tin cans (destroyers).

Then on to Sasebo, Japan, for duty on mine sweep launch on 30-foot long boats with buoy turbines as engines — I learned to steer them too. The boats operated from LSDs. We went to many places to sweep for mines, including Vietnam.

I was in the Naval Hospital at Sasebo, Japan, for stomach distress and more. I spent the rest of my Navy time on the USS Dynamic MSO 432, steering a lot of the time. I have steered the full four hours of my watch on helm and then spent five or six more hours at special sea detail, dodging fishing boats, waterskiing boats, foreign ships and anything else on water.

On the helm, you had to watch the ship's compass, be alert to steering and rudder orders. There was supposed to be a voice tube between you, a wheel and captain giving commands on the bridges. Other men would be in pilot house talking sometimes about their liberty, smoking and swearing, while I was steering the ship. This would make me very nervous indeed. I would be shaking all over. I never told anyone I could do it all even shook up.

For my service, For this I was awarded the Presidential Citation, United Nations Service Medal, National Defense China Service Medal, Good Conduct and the Korean Service Medal, with three bronze stars. After my four-year enlistment, I re-enlisted for six years, but that was cut short because I fell off a big boom during a re-fuel.

All together two tours on the Swift, one on the Waxwing, plus a trip almost around the world.

I have been a member of the Legion for 50-some years and where I live in La Plata, Mo., we have a good post. We built the building ourselves a few years ago. I’ve been the grand marshal at big town celebrations. I’ve carried the flags at firing squads for military funerals until I got sick about a year ago. Post 282 is about the most honest place I have on my agenda.

The Korean War was supposed to be a forgotten war, but more than 30,000 Americans died. In October 2013, I went to Washington, D.C., on an honor flight to see the Korean War Memorial. It was a great trip.

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