KOREA — Bill Wanke sits in his Jeep in Korea. 
Herald Photo / Courtesy of Bill Wanke
KOREA — Bill Wanke sits in his Jeep in Korea. Herald Photo / Courtesy of Bill Wanke

Within five years of the end of World War II, the United Nations was faced with a new challenge. 

Japan previously ruled the Korean peninsula and was split along the 38th parallel when the Japanese surrendered to Allied troops, signifying the end of the war. From that split, division began. The Soviet Union was in charge of North Korea and the United States the south. 

Naturally, North Korea had aspirations to reunite the two halves, but under Communist rule. On June 25, 1950, soldiers from North Korea crossed the 38th parallel, invading South Korea. Within five days of the invasion, U.S. troops were sent to assist South Korean soldiers. By July, the first American casualty was taken.

The following accounts are of three U.S. military service members who reside in Howard County – Don Bandt, James Paschall, and Bill Wanke. 

Don Bandt

Don Bandt received his letter from President Harry Truman on Christmas Day in 1950. While in Minnesota, he received a telephone call from a friend who said he had received his letter back in Market County, Wis. Bandt called the Post Master who confirmed he had mail notifying him of his call to service.

“I was drafted into the 45th Infantry Division, which was the Oklahoma National Guard Division that was activated. They were activated a couple months earlier, and they were filling them up with draftees,” Bandt said. 

He was sent to Camp Polk in Louisiana for basic training.

Bandt was three months into his training when the call came to mobilize. They were headed for Korea. There was a group from that division that had not completed its mandatory 16-week training, so 4,000 soldiers were left behind as the others began their journey to the Far East. Once the 16 weeks was up, Bandt said the division received another phone call saying they didn’t need all 4,000 remaining soldiers in Korea. So, they were divided by alphabet. Those with last names beginning with the letters A through L went to Korea; the others stayed behind. Bandt was on his way to Hokkaido, Japan.

His division was sent to relieve the battered 1st Cavalry Division that had been in the fight since the beginning. Since he scored high on the radio code test, Bandt was assigned to the radio section of signal company where he was part of a team that maintained communication from regiment to division and division onto corp.

Bandt was part of a three-man team that was monitoring communications 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

“There were probably about eight three-man radio teams that went out from the company headquarters,” he said. “We were connected to regiment headquarters or wherever we were set up and radio back. We would be on two hours and off four around the clock. We were in a three-quarter-ton truck that we had both voice communication and Morse code. We were always three miles to five miles from the front line.”

He said they had absolutely no contact with the locals, although each tent at their base had a houseboy who was responsible for helping with laundry and keeping their tent orderly. His division was stationed roughly 13 miles north of the 38th parallel in a little Korean village that no longer existed.

“There weren’t any towns. There was a rail head that brought supplies up from Seoul,” said Bandt. “We were set up in a place that had been a little village, but there was absolutely nothing left. It was completely blown off the map.”

From their location, the 45th Infantry Division was attached to a Filipino battalion. From their spot, they participated in an offensive that saw U.S. troops go for strongholds on 12 key hills. They managed to get 11, but number 12, Old Baldy was won they could not keep. Old Baldy, or Hill 266, was known as Old Baldy due to the trees and brush having been blown off. There was little cover, but the hill provided a great vantage point for whomever was sitting up top.

“It was a big old hill that the Chinese took back. We never did redeem that. We made an attempt at the end (of my time there) when we were there, and we lost 300 men trying to take it back but we were never successful,” he said. 

Bandt finished his time of service in 21 of his agreed to 24 months due to earning his points. He returned stateside and went to Camp McCoy in Wisconsin before receiving his discharge years later.

James Paschall

James Paschall entered the Air Force in 1951. He graduated from high school on June 5, and on June 15, he was off to basic training near Lake Geneva, N.Y., on an old navy base.

Paschall said, for him, basic training wasn’t the typical soldier’s basic training. Instead of learning about weapons, he was finishing technical school.

He started in Pennsylvania and went on to Wyoming where he finished his learning. He took a brief leave, and 30 days later, he was off to Japan.
“When I went to Korea, I knew absolutely nothing about the weapons,” Paschall said. 

He recalled the boat ride across the Pacific Ocean taking 13 days, with eight of them crossing through a wicked storm that caused many on board to be ill. They docked in Japan the day after May Day to less-than-friendly hosts, and according to Paschall, he understood why. 

“On May Day, they had demonstrated against the United States. There were a bunch of trucks on the road all burnt up, turned over, this that and everything else,” he said.  “At that time, the Japanese didn’t care for us much, and I think they had a few reasons.”

Paschall had trained to be a mechanic, although once he arrived overseas, that was not where he ended up. Part of his responsibilities in Japan were unwrapping plastic covers on airplanes that had been shipped from the United States to where he was stationed in Kisarazu, Japan. 

“They would put a cocoon, a plastic cover all over them. We had to strip that off the planes and get them ready to fly on to Korea,” Paschall said.

He recalled during his time in Kisarazu a hurricane blowing through. They had to put the planes up for a week while the storm blew in. Paschall said the planes that couldn’t fit in the hangars were tied down.

“Orders came down that we didn’t have to worry about the storms anymore. Well, that storm hit that night. The tent we were sleeping in, we were sleeping on cots. I woke up. There were eight of us in there, and they told me that I should get up and get dressed. I told them I could blow away whether I was dressed or not, so I just laid there,” he said. “That night of the storm, they told us we didn’t have to keep the planes up. They said it was all clear. When we got up, there were planes in the bay.” 

Paschall, looking down the road, found out the plan was for him to stay at Kisarazu for four years, so he signed up to go into Korea.

He was sent on to Daegu, Korea, where the troops were shipped out on a train during the night. Paschall said all of the windows had been knocked out, and the seats were just boards. He recalled them not having weapons and not knowing where they were headed.

“It wasn’t a nice feeling,” he said. 

Their biggest concern was guerrilla warfare, and while he wasn’t given a specific firearm, he said he primarily carried a grease gun.

His time serving ended at 21 months of service, although Paschall had hoped to stay in the service and learn how to become a firefighter. The request was made but was not granted until after he received his papers to be a potential first responder. 

“The day my orders came down to be released, the warrant officer called me in and said the papers came through to ship to there. I told him it was too late,” Paschall said. “I had my orders to be discharged, and I took them. And I came home.”

Bill Wanke

Bill Wanke was drafted and sent east in August of 1952, close to the end of the Korean War. He was assigned to be a stenographer and worked specifically for  Commanding General of the 25th Infantry Division, Major General Halley Maddox.

Wanke said that he was tasked with performing the job duties of a typical secretary since women were not allowed near the front line. Men were trained in those positions. Some of his responsibilities included taking dictation and typing up letters or documents.

“I got to follow him around (the general) if he needed me. One time, I remember, he was in the hospital in Pusan (Busan), and I had to go there and take dictation from him. I flew down there,” Wanke said. “My experience was different in that, because they didn’t allow any women over there, that’s why they had to train men to be secretaries for these people.

“Because I graduated at the top of my class in typing, they sent me to Ft. Benjamin Harrison for stenography school, and I was there for about 18 weeks. The way they assigned people at that time was they put all the assignments in a hat, and I was lucky enough to draw Korea. Others went to Germany; some stayed in the states. That’s the way I was assigned. Of course, once they got over there, I was assigned to Gen. Maddox, and whenever he needed letter typed or written at the time, you don’t have the communication that you have nowadays. Of course, one advantage, I got over there as a private. Because I worked for him I made sergeant in a few months.”

He was able to advance in rank while working under General Maddox and was able to meet up with is brother, David, who was an MP (military police) stationed in Seoul. He also was granted time to visit with his cousin, Norbert Daniels, who was stationed about 30 miles away.

Wanke had a special encounter during his time spent in Korea. Marilyn Monroe was on her USO tour and stopped at the location he was stationed.

“She came over as part of the USO,” he said. “She got to because our division was not on the line when I got over there, the 7 was on the line. My division was not on the line ... Of course there was no danger there, and since it was close to the ceasefire, I got there about a month before. Marilyn Monroe moved around the camp and visited with the troops and stuff, and it was neat to see her.”

Wanke still has the photographs he took of Monroe and said, for one of them, she was kind and patient while he got his camera set to take the photo.