While I focus mostly on interviewing and writing stories from World War II veterans as they are our nation’s oldest military vets, I also interview Korean War veterans. The following story is one that appeared in the News-Sentinel newspaper in Fort Wayne earlier this year.
On a morning in April 1951 when day was just beginning to break, Chinese soldiers began filtering through the American line in Korea. Their goal was to move on the American Marine soldiers of the 987th from the Canton Ohio National Guard.
As enemy rifle fire began pouring into the battalion area, the 987th took up defensive positions. Within seconds, clerks, cooks, and wiremen had manned their rifles. Machine guns and other light weapons – nearly anything available — were used to return fire.
Theodore Paul Betley of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was a member of the 987th fighting for his life and the lives of his fellow soldiers. Suddenly, he heard an officer shout, “Hold your fire! There’s Marines up that hill!” The 987th ceased firing. Seconds passed. Soon, another voice was heard, presumably from someone in the Marine group, “We’re dug in. Let ‘em have it!”
The hill virtually exploded as volleys of blasts rained on the enemy. “The direct fire of our weapons had the enemy reeling,” said Betley. Other American soldiers took care of fleeing remnants of the Communist force.
Betley, born in Fort Wayne in 1929, quit high school at age 17 to join the Army in 1946. “I went in because all of my buddies had enlisted,” he said. His parents gave written permission for him to join the military as he was underage.
After completing basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Betley was transferred to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, for seven months. However, he was pulled out before completing the course. “The Army sent me to Japan to set up a signal class as part of the 8th Army Signal Command,” he said.
He got a shock upon arrival — the equipment was outdated. Betley’s signal duties were put on hold and he was transferred to supervising a cadre of 250 soldiers in Tokyo and Yokohama. “We lived in an old Japanese military academy,” he said.
During the period of occupation of Japan following World War II, American troops were not armed. “The Japanese people didn’t seem to welcome us, but they were not angry at us,” said Betley. “We only carried guns on guard duty.”
The two nationalities were forced to communicate. “We learned enough Japanese to ask people questions like, ‘where do you live?’ and ‘what is your name?’” he said. “They in turn picked up English to answer our questions.”
Once, during a furlough, Betley climbed Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain at 12,389 feet, located southwest of Tokyo. He also saw a Bob Hope Show during a USO tour.
When encouraged to re-enlist in the Army in June 1949 with promise of a promotion, Betley refused. However, he was only home a year before he was recalled for military service to another Asian country — Korea. “The good thing was I didn’t have to repeat basic training,” he said.
Betley was sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri which had closed following World War II, but since re-opened. “They needed a communication sergeant for a field artillery unit,” he said. At Fort Carson in Colorado Springs he was made First Sergeant of the 987th Armored Field Artillery Battery.
When the unit shipped to Pusan, Korea, Betley’s unit took a combat readiness test to see if its members could enter the country. “Our combat readiness score of 93.1 was the highest of any field artillery unit at that point in the Korean War,” said Betley.
In Pusan, Betley’s unit boarded LSTs (landing, ship, and tank) with six guns in the battery. Betley was made First Sergeant and given a Korean interpreter named Kim Son. “He liked to eat raw garlic,” said Betley. “One night I kicked him out of our pup tent because his breath stank. He got his own tent.”
After the conflict at the American Marine line in Korea with the 987th, Betley’s military service calmed. When the Korean War ended in 1953, Betley returned to Fort Wayne and completed his high school diploma by attending night classes. He worked at GTE in Fort Wayne before retiring in 1985. “I think the best thing a kid could do today is join the military,” he said. “It taught me a lot of responsibility.”
Remember to thank a veteran for his/her service!