About 20 years ago, a guy, named Roy, came to our farm to measure our grain bins. Roy was a wiry man of 70-some years, with close-cropped gray hair and intense blue eyes. A farmer most of his life, Roy was still every inch a Marine when he spoke of his service in Korea.     
Roy joined the Marines in October 1950, four months after the North Korean People’s Army invaded South Korea.
 “Dad was a veteran of World War I,” Roy said. “He didn’t think much of people who got deferments during World War II. When the Korean War broke out, I knew I had to go.”     
 A few months after joining the Marines, Roy walked down a gangplank into Pusan, a seaport on the southeastern tip of the Korean peninsula.
 “The first thing I noticed was the smell,” Roy said. “Pusan had about a million people at the time and no real sewage system. A series of open ditches carried untreated sewage to the harbor.”     
 Roy and his platoon were transported, via cargo plane and truck, to the front lines.
 “We were riding in the truck when we began to hear artillery. After going a little ways farther, we also began to hear small arms fire. That’s when I began to get scared.”     
 The bodies of dead American soldiers and destroyed military equipment littered the roadside.
 “We got to our unit and our truck driver said, ‘We call this Massacre Valley,’” Roy said.     
 Assigned to an ammunition company, Roy became a Jack-of-all-trades.
“My first sergeant said, ‘I’m gonna make you my runner; you’ll never sleep.’ Hell, I was too scared to sleep,” Roy said.     
 Although he was never wounded, Roy had several close calls.
 “We were loading rock onto a truck when I heard a loud ‘ping’ about 30 feet away and felt a thump on my chest. A second later I heard the crack of a rifle,” Roy said.
 A sniper’s bullet had ricocheted off a rock and hit Roy in the chest. When he opened his parka, a mangled bullet fell to the ground.
 “We were always getting sniped at,” Roy said. “But we never paid them much attention because they hardly ever hit anyone.”
 Death in a war zone is often random. When Roy was working on a road construction project, a demolition crew set off an explosive charge above him without any warning. A large piece of rock plummeted toward Roy, but he judged that it would miss him. A nearby Korean day laborer saw the falling rock and ran.
 “He should’ve stayed put,” Roy said. “The rock would’ve missed him.”     
 The Korean man was struck in the head. A medic was summoned, but it was clear there was no hope.
 “I saw a lot of stuff in Korea but standing there and watching that poor man’s footprints filling with his own blood,” Roy paused for a long moment and wiped his eyes. “I didn’t know the guy, but that affected me as much as anything I saw over there.”     
 And Roy saw a lot. At one point, he and his platoon were ordered to bury 33 Chinese troops who had been killed by artillery.
 “It was June,” Roy said. “You can imagine the stench. And the whole time we were digging, all I could think was, ‘Not one of their mothers is going to know where their boys are buried.’”     
 Men often cracked under the strain of combat.
 “Some guys would cry like babies and some guys froze up,” he said. “I laugh when I get nervous, so the tougher things got, the more I laughed. They must have thought I was crazy. Maybe I was.”     
 An especially tough situation arose when Roy and 25 other Marines were trapped behind enemy lines for six days.
 “We were guarding a hilltop ammo dump near Ch’unch’on,” Roy said. “As far as the eye could see there were Chinese troops streaming past us, heading south to try to surround the First Marine Division. The Chinese knew we were there but didn’t think we were worth the bother.”
 The 600 truckloads of ammunition that Roy helped guard were eventually brought out successfully.     
 Asked to summarize his experience in Korea, Roy said, “It took 35 years before I could even talk about it. I was no hero; I just did my job. It was something I wouldn’t have missed for a million dollars. But I wouldn’t do it over for anything.”     
 Roy earned four battle stars during the year he spent in Korea – medals he only received 50 years later, thanks to the persistence of one of his daughters.     
 And in the end, a farm kid who became a Marine finally received his well-earned tribute.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.