Harold D. "Spike" Steele, Sergeant, U.S. Army, 1945-1947
The Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war veterans so that future generations may hear directly from veterans and better understand the realities of war.
Harold "Spike" Steele was a subject of the draft. He was on the farm in Banner County, minding his own business when the "greetings" letter arrived. Soon, he would be headed to Fort Logan, Colo ., for a physical and beyond that, who knew? Draftees didn't have a lot of say in their immediate futures.
After passing the physical exam and other tests, he and some new friends boarded a train for Fort Riley, Kan ., V.E. Day had been declared. However, the draft was still alive and people were needed. The four-day train trip to Kansas was mostly a crowded affair and when they got there, they were rewarded with haircuts, uniforms and plenty of "hurry up and wait." In not much time, the Army decided that they would just go ahead and send some men to Camp Roberts, Calif. This is a small training area northeast of San Francisco.
Basic training was good for "Spike." He got through it fine. He was a farm kid. He already had shooting skills, knew how to work, and follow orders. Once he figured out the drill and ceremonies/marching, who to salute and not salute, and information about missions, he was good to go. The food was good there. The pay was about $21 a month. However, during a live fire event, the trainers weren't paying attention when another soldier fired a Browning Automatic Rifle. The shooter of this .45 caliber weapon was right next to "Spike." The deafening noise was such that he was disabled with hearing loss in that ear. After graduation and getting a few days at home, he boarded another train and was bound for the Seattle, Washington area. And on arrival, he was informed that he and lots of other young men were headed to Korea.
The mode of travel was by sea. It was a ship that had been converted from a liner to a troop ship. He thought there were over a thousand men aboard. The ship sailed to Hawaii, but they wouldn't let the men off the vessel. Then they were off to the Far East. Even on a big ship, full of men, it wasn't exactly a tourist cruise.
He was part of the 32nd Infantry, 7th Division, U.S. Army in ChinChon, Korea. Soon after arriving at their assigned installation, "Spike" was told to report to the motor pool. A combination of luck, smarts, and soldierly demeanor, he was going to be a vehicle driver. He could not only drive the Army's vehicles, but he could fix 'em too!
"Spike's" purpose for being in Korea soon became very clear. He became the unit's driver for the daily supply run. His main vehicle was a stake bed truck. He drove it to the main supply depot and back each day. Some days, twice a day. The trip was 2 1/2 hours one way. Roads were rough and not good for the vehicles, but the missions went on. He picked up and delivered food, small arms ammunition, office supplies, clothing and other essential items as needed. He was promoted to Sergeant in time. He was then in charge of the motor pool. He was responsible for keeping 42 vehicles road-worthy. There were "deuce and a halfs" – five-ton jeeps, etc.
He kept in touch with home by letter-writing. The food was good and living arrangements were tolerable. Interestingly, the Army provided each soldier with a carton of cigarettes periodically. Cigarettes were in high demand. They were not just for smoking, but for trade with local people as well. American cigarettes were way better than what was available locally. "Spike" did well in this bit of business-making. He didn't smoke and other guys gave him their smokes as well. Harold sold his. A smart guy!
This infantry unit was visited by USO performers. There wasn't a lot of time to do much sight-seeing. If guys did get time off, they went into Seoul to the USO facility there.
Time to re-deploy came soon enough. On the return trip, "Spike" came down with some dreaded illness. It was diagnosed as strep throat. It was bad enough that hospitalization was required. He had to rest and heal before anything else happened, including getting out of the Army!
Once the ship landed near San Francisco, they disembarked. Harold still had to have medical attention for about another week. The doctor attending him said that his tonsils needed to come out. He would minimize sickness like this if he had no more tonsils to deal with. Harold was home from a long deployment. The last thing he wanted to do was wait in a hospital while a tonsillectomy healed. The doctor made him promise to have it done when he got home. Finally, he was released from service in the Army. He still has his tonsils. He was lucky in catching a train headed east and in a few days, was dropped off in Kimball, Neb. More luck happened when family members were in Kimball and saw him, giving him a ride to Potter.
"Spike" made several long-term friends in the Army. He kept up with many of them, some have passed away. He had some farm ground before going into the Army. With his savings and other resources, things looked fairly good ... but not that good. He almost went back into the Army. A man that he had previously known asked "Spike" to help farm his place south of Potter. And in time, he purchased and farmed lots of acres of his own.
"Spike" was and is actively engaged in the American Legion. He was the commander for a time and district commander as well. He continues to volunteer time with the Honor Guard.
Thank you for sharing your experiences and for your service, Sgt. Steele!