CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
John S. Walzer
Korean War Oral History Interview
US Army, 25th Infantry Division
Date: February 12, 2020
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Jack McDonald
John “Jack” S. Walzer was born in June 1930 in Red Bank, New Jersey. In September of 1951, he was drafted into the United States Army, as he was not attending college at the outbreak of the Korean War. Walzer was sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, where he completed both his basic and advanced training. His military occupational specialty (MOS) was demolitions, as a combat engineer attached to the infantry. Walzer was assigned to the 2nd Battalion 27th regiment of the 25th Infantry Division. He was part of a pioneer and ammunition platoon, which provided rifle companies in the 2nd Battalion with whatever supplies or construction assistance they needed.
Walzer believed that adapting to military life is not something that happened overnight. He felt that you get used to the significant lifestyle change gradually throughout the eight weeks of basic training. Walzer remembered basic training as being a tough experience. He made the best out of it by forming friendships and connections with his fellow soldiers. Walzer recalled that his two drill instructors were soldiers who had recently returned from Korea. The platoon had a party during the last week of basic training that everyone attended, and the instructors cried during the party, because they both knew where their soldiers were being sent and what they might experience.
After training, Walzer had a brief leave before reporting to California, from where he took a ship to Japan and then to Korea. He landed in Korea by landing craft, but without enemy opposition. It was the stagnant final period of the war; and, Walzer’s unit was positioned along the 38th parallel for most of the time. He often was transported to different areas along the parallel line by truck. The trucks were often crammed with soldiers and supplies, which made it a very uncomfortable ride.
Walzer explained that there was very little new technology in use in Korea; they mainly used equipment from World War II. He recalled that he was issued an M-1 Garand rifle, but ended up trading it, with a soldier who was leaving Korea, for an M-1 Carbine. The carbine was the preferred weapon of many soldiers in Korea. Although it fired a less powerful cartridge. it was lighter in weight, had a higher capacity magazine and was more compact than the Garand, which made maneuvering through trenches much easier. For the most part, a soldier’s duties included manning different positions along the line, as well as constructing bunkers during the day.
Overall, living conditions in Korea were very poor for the soldiers, and they had to deal with a variety of unpleasant environmental conditions. In Walzer’s case, he lived through the rainy season, summer, and part of the winter in the country. During the winter, temperatures reached as low as negative thirty degrees. It got so cold that food would often freeze before it could be eaten. Soldiers developed their own ways of improving their situations, at least slightly. They slept in bunkers and made beds out of logs and wire, so they did not have to sleep directly on the ground. They would often wake up to find rats and snakes in their bunkers and would have to throw them out. The snakes were very dangerous and could cause serious damage with one bite. Walzer recalled that a Chinese soldier surrendered to them because he had been bitten by a snake, and his arm had turned black. He remembered that the only way they got through these difficult times was trying to find humor in their situation.
It was common for soldiers in Walzer’s unit to be sent out into “no man’s land” or the area between them and the enemy (a revived World War I term) so they could make necessary repairs to obstructions set up to hinder enemy attacks. One night, Walzer and a friend were sent out to clear mines so they could build a bunker. Walzer was spotted by the Chinese while crawling on the ground, and he was shot at but scrambled back to safely. He recalled this being the only instance in which he was personally shot at and considered it his baptism by fire.
Walzer and his unit also had to cut logs to build bunkers. One day, they had finished cutting logs and loaded them heavily into a truck to drive to the top of a mountain, where a new bunker was being built. As they neared the crest, the truck stalled, and the driver was unable to restart it. All four passengers, including Walzer, jumped out and fell about two stories before landing. Walzer severely sprained his ankle and ended up in the hospital for several days.
On another occasion, Walzer’s unit became separated by a river. Unfortunately, the crossing bridge had been washed away by flooding, so they had to improvise a crossing. They ended up jury rigging a wire to a tree on one side, and the other end to the back tire of a jeep on the other side. The middle was attached to a boat, which soldiers used to pull themselves across the river. The next day, four men crossing were tossed from the boat. Three of them were rescued, but one was later found dead about five miles down the river.
A few weeks before he shipped out of Korea, Walzer had to give his thermo-boots to his replacement. This became a major issue for Walzer because it was winter, and his feet were no longer protected from the harsh temperatures. He and some of his fellow soldiers got hypothermia on their toes. They chose not to seek medical attention, because they would have had to stay in Korea for a longer period if they had entered the hospital. Instead, they treated it themselves by warming up their toes with warm water and making sure they were always wearing dry socks. Walzer never fully recovered from his hypothermia and still does not have feeling in some of his toes to this day.
At the end of his tour, Walzer took a ship from Korea to Japan and then sailed back to Seattle, Washington. He remembered receiving a warm welcome when his ship arrived in Seattle. People were waiting at the docks waving their hands and American flags as the soldiers arrived back from Korea. Walzer then took a flight from Seattle to Newark Airport and eventually made his way back home. Another flight bringing soldiers to Newark from Seattle crashed and left 37 men dead. Walzer felt terrible after hearing this news and was shocked by the fact that he could have been on that plane.
Walzer had 30 days of leave after returning home before he had to report to Camp Drum in New York. He spent a few months at Drum until he was transferred to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where he finished his military service. Walzer subsequently used his G.I. Bill benefits to study commercial photography. After completing his studies, he got a job as a medical photographer at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey.
For many years after his military service, Walzer never joined any veteran’s groups; because, his job as a medical photographer did not have set hours, and he felt that he would not have enough time to be truly involved. He also never attended any veteran reunions; because, he felt that he would not know anyone there due to how often soldiers were replaced during his time in Korea. In recent years, however, Walzer had been able to reach out and contact some of his military friends that he had not seen in over 50 years. He is currently a member of the VFW in Oakhurst, New Jersey, where he takes great pride in providing help and services to other veterans in the area. Walzer never felt any animosity regarding his service in the Korean War or being drafted but was proud to have served his country, and to have contributed in any way he could.