tv Oral Histories Korean War Veteran Harold Christenson CSPAN March 30, 2021 10:17am-11:05am EDT
of ronald reagan. following our coverage we'll show an interview taped outside the hotel and on the motorcade route to george washington hospital. enjoy american history tv every weekend on cspan3. the korean war began nearly 71 years ago on june 25, 1950. it ended with an armistice agreement about three years later in july, 1953. next, an hour history interview with u.s. army veteran harold christenson, that was recorded in 2015 by the korean war legacy foundation. he discusses his service as a platoon sergeant and the loss of two friends in the war within a few months of arriving in korea. the project was underwritten by south korea's ministry of patriot and veterans affairs.
>> harold christenson, i worked for the american legion for over 50 years there. i, before that, worked with a railroad for ten years. and i was in military for two years active and two years with the guard. i came back and went back to railroad until 1958, i guess it was. and i went into legion here in '62 and i worked here until i was 65 years old. i'm 75 -- 85 now. i always liked the legion, i've been working with them for many years. i take care of their honor guard. all the military funerals we have. and i take care of their bangle, bar bangle. that's about it.
>> so where -- like how many siblings do you have? >> i have four children. i have a wife and we still have -- we have a son here in town, we have two daughters in rochester. and we have a son-in-law over there, and we have a daughter in ohio. works -- she's a -- not a registered nurse, but what is it? two year college, anyway. but she's in ohio. and they're all married. well, one isn't married right now. but they have been married, they have families of their own, of course. and we have quite a few
grandchildren. we have nine grandchildren and eight great grandchildren. so we have a big family. >> how old were you when you enlisted? >> when i enlisted, 18. >> what was that date? >> it was june 16, 1948. and we were -- my friend and i were working down here at warehouse in another friend that was in the guard came by and said yous guys should join the guard. it's a pretty good deal. get part-time -- you know, good work and check every month. we got about $10 or something like that. and we met every -- every monday the night. and it was like three hours. and then we had two weeks of camp in the summertime at camp ripley, in minnesota -- in north minnesota.
and then we trained inside the arbary with classes and close order drill. and the weather, we'd be outside in in the parking lot drilling. there's a lot of classes and cal -- calisthenics and things like that. we did that until we were called in regular service, 19 -- in january of '51. we knew we were coming in december, the korean war broke out that year. in '50 so we knew we were coming in. they waited until after christmas holidays. so we went in january 16th of 1951. and we marched from the armory
down to the depot island to train and got down to camp in alabama, where we were stationed. and we left here with about 50% of our strength, you know, as far as pushnell. and we filled up down there with draftees and recruits. we got up to full strength down there, and we trained again. we trained them. and that was summer into fall and then they started asking for people to go overseas -- they didn't ask, they told us, far h command. so we got a lot of our people that we had -- recruits and draftees that we had trained,
that's where they went. and we started asking for sergeants, the top three graders i say, and that's when i got it. it was quite a few of us from here that went about that time. i went with my sergeant mckay and sergeant matson. and we left -- sergeant matson had a car, so we drove back here, we had a delay en route, so we drove back here. we had, i think it was, like ten days before we had to report to camp stoneman, that's in california, so we came back. and we were here as long as we could. i remember my first plane ride was from that. we flew out of minneapolis to san francisco, all three of us.
and we got into camp stillman just about -- we weren't late but pretty close. so we were there for -- i had an aunt and uncle out there in oakland, so they came and got us a couple times and took us. we were there maybe a week or ten days, i suppose. and then we started getting orders that -- when we were shipping out. and we had to check the bulletin board every morning, of course, see when. and joel and marlin matson, they went on one ship and i went on another. i was u.s.s. pope and they were on -- i think it was the minks. they left a day or two before i did, but the pope was a little bit faster so i got to japan before they did. we landed in japan.
in yokohama, close to tokyo there. and we were -- it's camp drake, it's really camp drake there. so we were stationed there. and this is temporary station. we had classes on -- we knew we were going to korea, of course, and they orientated us on the conditions, more or less what to expect. they told us most of it. but then we loaded on a train across japan and loaded -- went to another city in the north end of japan. and we were there maybe two days, three days maybe. we loaded on another ship that took us into korea. we went in to -- in different
ships again. we weren't on the same ship, us three. but we went into incheon. incheon, has a very high tide. one of the highest in the world. so we had to go in -- there's no docks. incheon was all levelled, you might say. so there's no docks, no piers. so we had to go to the side of the boat and down into the landing craft. and there we went into the shore. one landing craft at a time. you know, there was quite a few of them. and from there we were lowered into -- there was no resistance there at all, it was all taken by that time. we got into a train again, there was member -- the evening, a lot of them had to stand up, i
remember. and it was about maybe 30, 40 miles, 50 miles maybe to seoul. and there we -- that's where the third replacement company was. and there we got assigned to that. and we're in a third replacement company until you got orders of what unit you're going to be in. we knew it was going to be a third division. we weren't sure what regiment or what company. and i was -- i got assigned to company a of a seventh regiment. my other two buddies, joel got assigned to e company and marlin got assigned to fox company, a member of seventh regiment. so we were all in the same regiment. and we were in that -- and we
got assigned -- we were going to move up so they came and got us that night and evening. everything that night, you know. so we went up there. it took us in as far as they could take us, they were on -- third division was on line then. so i remember how scared we were. we could hear small arms fire. we could hear artillary and flashing and things. and thought, man, this is going to be something. we were met below the mountain had to walk up by a rock soldier. we had korean rock soldiers with us. and they escorted me -- i was one of the first ones, able company. so me and maybe three, four other guys, went up to our
assignment and we -- the other two guys got into their easy company and fox company at the same -- at the same night. and there we were in a combat situation, but it was -- at that time it was pretty quiet. i mean, it was -- you hear small arms fire and things, it's always artillery but we got -- we got some -- if i remember right, we got some time in in the rear there. we had maybe a week or so in back. it was like a division time. i'm trying to think of the word. i can't say it. anyway, got back on the line and then we got into some action
us. and his company was overrun by chinese. and there was a lot of artillery and he was really killed by a direct hit on his bunker. we were in -- it's like a hole in the ground but bunkers with sandbags on top and everything. i didn't find out for sure until later, but he was killed that night. and we had to defend ourselves, you know. but we finally got the chinese off that mountain that -- that marlin was killed.
and we got, more or less, established that same line we had before. and that was fine until december then joel mckay, my other friend there, he was -- we had a lot of patrols. and to go through out to -- on patrol, we got to go through a minefield. and they were marked. you had to be real careful. we didn't -- nobody made a mistake. and, well, it happened that they were going through and joel was a master sergeant, he was following a lieutenant. and the lieutenant had people in front of him, but the lieutenant stepped off the path a little bit and he stepped on a mine. and lieutenant lost his leg and
joel got hit real bad. so he was -- that was in december. middle of december. so the two guys i went over with, in less than two months were gone. and then from then on, i was in a lot of -- i was promoted from machine gun squad to the platoon sergeant. which, in charge of the whole platoon. there's about 40-some men, you know. but we had a lot of patrols. so we had to assign men, sometimes, to go on patrol. and i had -- didn't have it every night, but sometimes we had to assign men maybe every other week to go on patrol.
and i was assigning -- one night i remember they needed a motor -- motor along with them, assault motor we called it, to go on patrol, and they're going to establish out posts out there. so what -- i kind of took turns, tried to be fair with the guys, tell him he went last week, you go this week. and it got to be -- his name was chico, it was his turn. but he was supposed to go -- rotate home. and i said, well, you don't have to. i want to. and he got killed.
>> and we had to retake that out post. it got run over. and i had to identify a couple of them, and one was him. and that's the bad part of war. bad for that. it was -- it kind of -- the winter set in, and got cold and the chinese kind of quieted down. and we did too, of course. so we -- our biggest concern
was -- a lot of it in a way was keeping warm. we were never in any buildings of anything. you know, we were in holes in the ground. i got a picture of it there. of bunkers that had sandbags, you know, which were better than being outside. but sometimes when we went on patrol we had to stay out all night. and that was pretty tough. winter was cold. trying to keep warm. and i remember one night especially we didn't have any sandbag -- we didn't have any sleeping bags or -- and we're trying to keep warm. we kind of piled together like you see animals do sometimes.
but a lot of patrol was mostly reconnaissance, where you were looking for any action out there. anything that the enemy was doing. and it was contact sometimes, all right, but in the spring we were -- we were hit once or twice in the winter time, but nothing like we did in the fall there. and in the spring, we had -- it was pretty quiet. they had a cease-fire about that time. and we had -- had about two weeks of that. there was no -- it was really strange for us. we could see chinese in front of us where we -- you couldn't see them before.
they were always in -- underground, you know, hidden, of course,. that was different. the cease-fire was broken, of course, and we went back to full alert again and patrols and stuff like that. but it was mostly just after that i went home in may -- first part of may. i came back from -- excuse me. you rotated -- they had a point system at that time. where if you were in a combat situation, you got four points a month, i think it was, and if you get 36 points, you rotate home. so i got that and waiting for orders to go and it finally
came. and i went down through by train down through pusan. and went to the sesible again. and we had a shower. we didn't get many showers over there. i think i had three showers the whole time i was over there. i changed clothes four times in nine months. it was really something. i -- i -- when we got to japan, they treated us real well. they said, what do you want? what kind of steak do you want? we had c rations most of the time, you know. once in a while they'd try to get a hot meal up to us if things were quiet and we went
down like maybe a platoon at a time down below the mountain we were on, and the mess, which is the kitchen, would serve us what they had. that was quiet a treat for us. so after -- i had about nine months of it over there. and my discharge was coming up. so i -- i got back to -- came back from -- no, i went to yokohama again. we were on the u.s. migs, and it took us 15 days, i think, to get
back. and i landed in frisco and there was a band there. the salvation army or something, some kind of band there. there was -- i remember my -- my aunt and uncle seen -- they posted who was coming on the ship. and they watched for it and they were down there, too. which is pretty nice. and i -- let's see, i was there maybe about a week, i suppose. and i -- we loaded on the train again, and went back to mccoy, wisconsin here. and i was discharged from there june 22nd, in '52. that's about it, except i had some -- a few good experiences.
it wasn't all bad. oh, yeah. i had fun with -- in japan with my friends. we'd go have beer. really strange. we weren't expecting something like that. we were going to a place that had bee and had liquor. and there's been a japanese girl sitting by you, you know. and she'd -- friendly, of course, but they couldn't communicate. but you'd buy them a beer, probably. and then three or four of us would take turns, probably have three or four beers. i remember one time there was --
the girl that sat by you, would usually take your money and go up to like a cashier, and i gave the girl $20, that's quite a bit of money in those days, and she forgot to come back with my change. that was something. i remember that. but we had -- we rode in a rickshaw over there, with humans pulling you in a two-wheeled buggy, whatever it is. and it was fun just being there. going through japan was quite an experience, because they were still struggling with world war ii, you know. and it was -- the country was in pretty bad shape yet. i remember little tots running
around without any clothes on. things you don't forget, anyway. but i had a lot of fun in the service. i had, down in rutgers, train with the guards, all the guys i had from albert lea here. we had many parties, many good times. and a lot of those guys went overseas -- we trained with -- we had world war ii veterans with us a lot. they were the sergeants when we first came in, they were the sergeants. they were training us. and we had fun with them. and all the stories they had, of course.
and we had a lot of fun on passes. we'd go down -- camp rutgers was close to the florida coast so we'd go down to panama city, the beaches, you know. and my engage -- my wife, my fiancee came down with a friend of hers. another -- her fiance was a friend of mine, he was down there too. three gals came down there, one was married and two were engaged. and we had a week with them. that was kind of nice. before we went overseas. of course, we came back here, like i say, before going overseas, too. but you remember those times when -- in florida, the beach,
swimming, you know, a lot of fun. yeah. discharged in june 22nd and we had to come home, it might have been the last part of april i left korea. because we spent some time in sesibal, took 15 days to get back on the ocean. pretty slow trip. but -- and then you had to come back, took a couple days -- i think it took three days to come back from frisco to camp ripley. so -- and i was in ripley maybe a week before i got discharged, something like that. quite a few of the guys, one was in third division, too, i think he was discharged in ripley. quite a few of the people were discharged at ripley.
that was -- still used over there a lot. >> can you describe for me just a little bit more. like what were your job duties while you were in korea? >> before i went? >> while you were in korea. >> while i was in korea. my job responsibility was taking care of the platoon. i mean, as far as, i usually -- the platoon is spread out on the line like the bunkers were maybe -- it varied some but they were maybe 10 -- 10 yards apart or more. so i usually had to go and visit every one of them. and when -- every day. make sure that everything was okay. and i had to inform them, of
course, when patrol was coming up. when i would meet with the officers and they would tell us to tell them who is going to be going and, you know, what is going to be reconnaissance or whatever. so that -- another -- another responsibility we had. and, of course, back in reserve, when we were back there, went back there more like training time, because you had take them out for cal sten -- calisthenics, we had classes on the weapons they carried, machine gun or rifles.isthenics classes on the weapons they carried, machine gun or rifles. and every day, reserve or something like that. every day in reserve, there was still some training connected to it. we never quit that. even in -- on the line, when it
was quiet, we had to see if the men were doing something like they should be cleaning their weapon, pretty important. keep that clean. and just generally talking to them, you know, and see how things are. sometimes somebody would come up sick, they got to go to sick call and that took a little bit of doing. and any time we had a -- somebody would trouble like that we had to take care of that. i mean, there's just responsibility part of it is what it was. that was about it. we -- we like to -- my bunker -- i mean, platoon sergeant had a -- what they call a cp bunker,
which was usually a larger bunker. and sometimes it was placed right behind. i mean, so the top of the mountain, where the action was a lot of times, the cp bunker was in right back of it, you know. but we had communication with all the bunkers, you know, every night it was supposed to be a guard duty type of thing so i had to be sure that every bunker there was somebody awake, you know, sometimes you have two guys to a bunker or three guys -- i had to be sure they were alert, you might say. so we had to do some of that every hour or so every two hours, anyway.
the guard duty over there for the men was two on and four off, if there were three guys, you guard two hours and sleep for four hours or something like that, and there was always -- you had to have somebody alert at all times, and the chinese had a way of coming up without making any noise at all, they would be found still in their sleeping bags. that's bad. you know, we had to -- a few of them, they were killed right in their sleeping bag. the chinese had a way of hitting an out post and drawing back. by the time we got to the next day they were gone, you know.
they're just that good at that. they were real quiet. they were better at it than we were. but we had all the advantage of firepower and air power and more artillery. they had a lot of artillery, but not as much as we did. there was more artillery fired in the korean war, i heard a couple times, than there was all in world war ii. we had artillery flying over us all the time at night. a lot of it. yeah, it's -- the memories are -- i start talking about things like that, and the nights got kind of long sometimes, wintertime, especially, because
the darkness -- it was dark at 5:00, or 5:30, whatever, and it's dark until the next morning at 7:30, 7:00, so there was 12 or 14 hours of darkness, you know. we had -- we got so we could strung the wire in front of us, and you have probably seen it, it's wound up, and we had tin cans on it and, like i say, we had mines in it, and tin cans, times they get a little wind and you would start imagining things. i mean you would hear what sounded like chinese coming. sometimes the guys would get a little quick on their firing, you know, and you would start
shooting and there's nobody there. but even threw a few grenades sometimes. it was just a precaution, i would say, yeah. well -- >> yeah, since then -- sorry, go ahead. >> well, i work at allegiant here, i have been working here -- i still do a little bit. i go to the military funerals, the armed guard, and we have bar bingo, and i do that, and that's every wednesday. i play cards every day, and that's pretty important. with old friends. but i worked here, you know, for
so many years. it kind of grows on you. if you don't come up here you kind of miss it. >> you have been back to korea -- >> yes, a couple of times. >> can you tell me about that? >> real nice. i was back there with the third division -- it was the 50th anniversary of the korean war, i think it was, and the third division sponsored it, and we had to pay for our own airfare and everything else over there was paid for. we had a real good time, and we were up in the area where they were a lot of times, you know, and that iron triangle area was part of shore one. we seen a lot of nice sights in
korea, and it was gratifying to see what they had done with the country. you know, we left it in ruins. we just flattened most of it. you go back now and they have the big wide river, and now there's 12 bridges, big four-lane -- lots of traffic, and it's modern, compared to north korea, no comparison. they have done real well. in fact they're pretty strong as far as industry in the whole world, south korea. they have done real good. you probably heard the same in
some of the things they have done. no? >> how does it feel to have been a part of that? >> real good. the second time i went over there, i went over there with the wife and -- oh, yeah, that was before i went over, yeah, his wife, too, gretchen, and the first time was the third division guy and i think he's gone now, but the second time -- the first time we were over there it was on a korean welcoming, and i was real surprised to see that, too, nice, you know, but the third division trip was the best one, you know, with the wives and all the things they did for us, you know, as far as sightseeing and
things. we seen a lot of area we were in. i could see where we were. we were in north korea mostly, so we couldn't get in there, but we were up to the 38th parallel where most of the main line resistance was, and i could see the highest mountain there and that's where we were a lot of times. i could see, it was about 20 miles away or something like that, you know. i couldn't get on it. that's part of north korea now, so -- it's real gratifying to see it again, and i would never do it now because i am too old. but i did it.
>> how did the wartime experiences affect your life? >> oh, i don't know, it's -- i guess i can't say it really affected my -- like i say, i carry some guilt. i suppose that affected my life. but, you know, i'm pretty proud of what i did, i mean, we all are. we stopped communism in that country. so that's something to feel good about. i don't have anything else as far as affecting my life.
i guess i'm always thankful of not being able -- not being wounded or killed, you know. i had a lot of close calls over there. i am thankful that i got through what i did. it was a war that our people questioned it and even during the war -- even during that time i remember hearing people saying we should get out of there, we should get out of there, but it turned out pretty good. i think. what happened with the way south korea is now -- you have ever
see the picture of a bunker? >> i haven't. >> just look at that. i have one there. they could take -- we had five or six sandbags on top of each bunker, and they could take a direct hit from a 60 motor and survive, you know. but it took a lot of sandbags. it saved a lot of lives. >> so do you have any piece of wisdom that you could pass on to the younger generations? >> i think of patriotism a lot. i like to see younger people be more patriotic than what they are, and some are and i am not saying everybody. there are some that aren't as good -- that are not as
patriotic as they could be, and that bothers me. but overall i don't think we're going to have war like we had before. we will have terrorists, but our war like we know war won't be that way anymore. we will have terrorists war, and that's bad, but i hope the younger generation can handle that. i am sure they will. we thought we did it enough where we would not have this trouble, but it's always going to be here, i guess. we just can't stop it. american history tv on
c-span 3. every weekend, funding for america history tv comes from these companies supporting c-span 3 as a public service. weeknights this month we are featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what is available every weekend on c-span 3. tonight we go to a program hosted by the ronald reagan assassination attempt. former staffers and secret service agents who were there talk with the author of "raw hide down," the near assassination of ronald reagan.
watch tonight beginning at 7:00 eastern, and enjoy american history tv every weekend on c-span 3. next, on american history tv, korean war veteran james sharp talking about his experience as one of the few african-american soldiers serving in the u.s. marine corps. >> my name is james sharp. when i was in korea i was a marine pfc, and i'm very pleased to be doing this interview on may 29th, 2014. it's a long time after the war so you'll have to forgive any