Last week: In 1947, George Wayne Holman joined the Marines at age 17 and became part of a naval gunfire team. A far cry from his farming days in Osage, Holman went to China to guard a port against communism before he came close to discharging. But the president of U.S. had other plans and extended his time in the service, sending Holman to Korea.
George Wayne Holman, now 89, was just a couple of weeks shy of discharge from the U.S. Navy when North Korea attacked South Korea in July 1950. By August, the president of the United States decided to extend everyone’s service by one year.
For Holman, that meant a trip to Korea.
By now, Holman was 20 and a corporal. He became part of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. On Sept. 15, 1950, after staging in Japan, they hit the beach on Incheon. “I was calling in gunfire from a destroyer,” Holman said.
Holman peeked his head up to see what was happening and saw bullets hitting the water. He ducked right back down again.
Part of a four-man team that called in naval gunfire on targets, the equipment they carried was heavy and included a generator, radio equipment, receiver and antenna. They also carried ammo, rifles, a sleeping bag and various other items. All told, he estimated it weighed about 70 to 75 pounds.
“I was well trained,” Holman said. “I was just busy calling in gunfire and doing my duty.”
After Incheon, they went to the capital of Seoul and captured it, driving out the North Koreans. At this point, the Chinese had not yet joined in the fighting. One of the team members was shot in the leg and was carted off to Japan for recovery.
The men spent the first night in a cornfield. They didn’t even dig in, just slept on the ground. All night long, Holman heard noises coming from around the cornfield. He didn’t know what it was, but sleep was out of the question. He discovered later that the cornstalks were dried out and rustling in the wind, making a strange noise. He was relieved.
During the attack on Seoul, there was a company of about 200 radio operators who were sent out to join other companies in four-man teams. The company commander helped position the men to call in gunfire. They were usually back a little from the front line, but the North Koreans liked to aim for that antenna, so they were always in harm’s way.
They went back to Incheon and regrouped before they sailed around South Korea to the north and landed at Wonsan. Other ships joined in, Holman said. But they had to wait for the minesweepers to clear the harbor because it was loaded with them. “I prayed that they all had been swept when I went in,” he said. That’s where they engaged the North Koreans.
They stayed in Wonsan about a week before they boarded small trucks and headed way up north. For a couple of weeks, all was quiet. The 5th and 7th Marines went to Yudam Ni, where for the first time they engaged the Chinese. Holman and his group went to Hagaru-ri near the south end of the Chosin Reservoir. By this time, they were out of range of naval gunfire, which meant for Holman, a radio operator job as an infantryman on the ground. (They called it forward observer.)
“We were the 3rd Battalion. We went to the east side and engaged the enemy because they were trying to come in that way. They had us surrounded. We were riflemen then, on the front lines. I’ve got to give it to the 1st, 5th and 7th Marines. They took the brunt of it, but we all got it,” he said.
In addition to contending with the enemy, the men had to deal with the cold weather, which Holman said could dip 30 to 40 degrees below zero. Many got frostbite, including Holman, who still has trouble with his feet today.
“I was very lucky I wasn’t wounded,” he said.
Still, they had warm-up tents in Hagaru-ri, when you could get to them. That helped.
It was, at times, gruesome work, as they carried out the dead. “If at all possible, we bring them back,” he said.
It was around December 1950 when the 1st Marine Division fought its way to Hungnam and out of the Chosin Reservoir. But there would be more to come. Holman’s little four-man team was transferred to the 3rd Army Division that was holding the perimeter.
Next week: Holman continues fighting in the Korean War before he re-enlisted in the Air Force for 18 years, something he always wanted to do. He later marries and goes to work for the Tax Employment Commission.