Fighting in the forgotten war
|Clark Warren when he was in the United States Naval Reserve.|
The Korean War was called a "Police action" by the politicians, but for the soldiers that were in it, it was a full fledged war. In June of 1950 the North Korean Army crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea. America and the United Nations quickly responded by sending forces to drive back the Koreans which they did. Sixteen nations supplied troops to the fight, but over 90 percent of the men that fought were Americans.
In time the United Nations troops drove the Koreans almost to their border with China, but the Chinese, obviously feeling threatened, attacked and with their huge advantage in numbers of troops were able to push the U.N. troops back to the 38th parallel where an uneasy tension holds to this day. The U.S. still has thousands of troops in South Korea today, with the possibility of another war just a few gunshots away.
Clark Warren, who was born on the banks of the Ohio River in southeastern Ohio was one of the men that fought in the Korean War. Warren, who has called Carbon County his home for many years, joined the Navy in 1948 and immediately knew he wanted to be in the Naval Air Force.
He went to boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Training Facility and then was sent to Memphis, Tenn. for airman's and ordnance school.
In 1949 he was sent to the west coast and attended gunnery school in San Diego. He was then transferred to a Navy patrol bomb squad on North Island in San Diego.
He was placed on an airplane few today have every seen, a Navy PBM, a metal hulled seaplane. On that plane, which carried a crew of up to 12 men, he was the rear tail gunner.
These planes were designed as basically a flying boat and residence all in one. They could land anywhere there was enough water and the plane had four bunks and a kitchen in it.
"These planes were basically designed to be lived on," says Warren. "When they were not in the water and not flying they had anchors just like a boat and three of the crew had to be on the aircraft at all times. They slept there and ate there."
Altogether these planes were manned by a 12 man crew. That is a far cry from the giant bombers of today that often are staffed by two to four people.
Two months after he joined the unit, the North Koreans crossed the 38th parallel (the dividing line between communist North Korea and non-communist South Korea) and within 24 hours his team was organized to go to Korea. The first leg of the journey in the plane was a 17 hour flight to Ford Island in Hawaii. Eventually they ended up in Japan, after numerous fuel stops they finally arrived in Japan four days later.
"We were unprepared for that war," says Warren. "When we got to Japan we had no supplies or anything. I remember that we started running some missions from an Australian air base in Japan and those missions were long enough that we needed food to fly them. Well the base was a fighter base and the Australians never had to send food for with their planes because they were up and then back again. So they supplied us for a few days with big long loaves of bread, cheese and a couple of bottles of wine. They thought it was all pretty funny."
Eventually they began flying their missions from Korean territory and those missons were many and varied. On a number of missions they served as patrol aircraft watching for Chinese junks which were used to covertly move supplies or were used to lay mines to blow up allied shipping.
"We would fly over and from a distance sometimes you could see them lowering their North Korean or Chinese flag, and putting up a South Korean flag," says Warren. "Then we would fly over and they would wave at us, but off in the distance we could see them putting their real flag back up. Often we would catch them laying mines and we would sink them."
Sometimes they would also drop flares in support of ground operations.
One time while flying a mission the plane was struck by flak from an anti-aircraft gun on the ground. It damaged the belly of the plane and since the aircraft could not land on dry land when they landed it started to fill up with water.
"Three of us dressed down to our skivies and jumped overboard and began stuffing mattresses into the holes to keep it from leaking until we could get it shore where we could beach the plane," he says.
|Warren sits on a cart near the plane he served on while the plane was beached on a service ramp. Note the attached wheels on aircraft.|
Seaplanes like Warrens had no permanent wheels. If they were going to be beached it took a concrete ramp and special wheels that were attached with pins that had to be put on before it could be hauled up on the ramp.
At one point it was considered by the admiralty that the planes in the PBM units and a British air wing of seaplanes fly and land on a Chosin Reservoir to rescue troops that were cut off. This would have been extremely dangerous due to ground fire and the slow moving aircraft. However, when the leadership discovered the reservoir was frozen over the plan was abandoned.
"One of the things I remember the most was the cold in that country," he says. "It was the coldest place I have seen. One time while we were on a night mission I had to repair a waist gun and my fingers froze doing it. We had to soaked them for hours in tepid water to unthaw them. I could have easily lost my fingers because of that. I often thought about those guys that needed to be rescued from Chosin. It was 30 below zero during that period of time on the ground."
The plane was also used for some intelligence work using cameras, but that didn't happen too much. But the jet age was catching up with the prop planes. One night while on a weather reconnaissance flight to help guide B-29 bombers in the Yaloo River area the aircraft was confronted by Mig 15 jet fighters. The pilot dove the plane toward the water where it could fly just above the surface and the jets never came after Warren's plane.
"About the only thing we had on the plane that was like a computer in those days was the Mark 18 gun sites," he explained. "A gunner would press a foot pedal and it used diamond shapes in the site when they came together over a target then we knew we were in range of it."
The seaplane had a lot of machine guns on it. There were tail guns (that was Warren's job), deck guns and bow guns. From his position in the rear of the plane he could see a lot of things no one else could see.
"One time we were working with some mine sweepers on the ocean," he says. "They would draw up the mines that were in the water and we would come by, machine gun them and get them to blow up. Just after we had done that to one mine we were flying up and away from a formation of three sweepers together when the middle ship in the formation hit a mine. I bet over half the crew of that boat lost their lives. It went up in a big ball of flame."
Another thing that Warren says he remembers from the west shores of Korea were the huge tides that affected life there.
"The tides would go up and down as much as 33 feet," he said. "One time during an operations we were told to anchor way out in the bay and when the tide went out we could see why. There were LST landing ships along the shore that ended up being left high and dry."
|Warren at his flight station.|
Maintenance on an aircraft that basically lives on the top of the ocean is a big problem. Corrosion was everywhere.
"When they would bring us on shore the first thing they would do was wash the plane down with fresh water," states Warren. "But most of the time we were in the water. Seaplanes were taken care of, maintained and supplied by sea plane tenders (ships). We would get all our fuel, ammunition, supplies and even our food from the seaplane tender."
Warren says that when the engines needed work they tenders would send out platformes that floated under the wings so mechanics could work on the engines.
"When the major maintenance needed to be done one of the big tenders would hoist the plane onto the ship and they had a hanger and decks for it to be worked on there," explained Warren.
He also said that the crew (the ones not watching the plane) members would stay on the tenders when not in action. They had quarters there.
Warren served two tours of duty in Korea, one for nine months the other for six months. All together he flew 46 missions over enemy territory.
In 1958, after 10 years in the Navy he left for civilian life, but later in the sixties a naval officer came to see him and convinced him to join the reserves where he served for another 24 years.