Local resident reflects on Korean War service
Memories don't fade
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Like so many of his generation, Bob Kettler had no choice when it came time to answer his country’s call to service. But in spite of a decision made by a draft board almost 60 years ago, this area veteran remains proud of the part he played in an operation that would find him serving thousands of miles from home.
Growing up in Jersey City, N.J., Kettler graduated from William L. Dickinson High School in 1949. Shortly after his graduation, he began working as a district manager for the Jersey Journal.
But this budding young man’s civilian employment would soon be interrupted when, in 1951, he received notice from the local draft board that he had been selected to serve in the military.
On Nov. 15, 1951, the 21-year-old Kettler reported to the local armory in Jersey City and was sworn into the service.
“I didn’t even get my Thanksgiving Dinner that year,” laughed Kettler. “While we were at the armory, they lined us up and told us to count off from one to ten. Once we were done counting, they told all of the ‘tens’ to step forward. They were going to be Marines.”
Although prepared to serve in any capacity necessary, Kettler was relieved that he had missed the informal selection process for becoming a Marine.
“I had an uncle that served in World War II, and I heard enough from him to know that the Marine Corps wasn’t for me,” stated the veteran.
Selected to serve in the Army, the young soldier was sent to Camp Gordon, Ga., in order to complete his basic combat and military police training. During his in-processing, Kettler had taken a military aptitude test which demonstrated that he might do well on the officer candidate test.
“I found out that an officer had a six-year commitment,” recalled Kettler. “I told them ‘No thanks, I’ll do my two years and get out.’”
Upon completion of his military police and signal corps training, Kettler was provided with a 30-day leave and returned home to spend time with his family. After this brief period of leave, he flew to Seattle, where he spent approximately two weeks at Fort Lawton before boarding a troop ship bound for Japan.
Spending almost two weeks at sea, the soldier recalls the ship being buffeted about by the waves and many of his comrades falling ill to seasickness.
“I had a table to myself and all the food that I could eat,” stated Kettler, when discussing his ability to avoid the plight of seasickness affecting so many of the troops onboard.
After a one-day stop in Japan, the transport ship then traveled to its eventual destination at Pusan, Korea.
Upon his arrival in this new foreign land, the newcomer was awestruck with the deplorable living conditions he witnessed. “There were drainage ditches on both sides of the road,” Kettler recalled. “I saw one guy relieving himself in one part of the ditch … and another guy just downstream from him brushing his teeth from the same ditch.”
Assigned to the 54th Quartermaster Battalion, 32nd Quartermaster Group, he spent part of his time working in an administrative capacity as a company clerk. Kettler disliked the drudgery of such a job and submitted a request for combat duty — a request that was denied due to the critical shortage of his military occupational specialty as a military policeman.
Luckily for the young soldier, he was soon granted the reprieve from the mundane that he so desperately sought.
“There was a captain who had worked as a lawyer in his civilian employment and caught wind of the fact that I was an MP. He said that he needed four guys to do investigative work,” stated Kettler.
Kettler became part of team of investigators working to curb instances of theft by local Koreans hired to assist the military. As these locals had access to various U.S. supply areas, their creativity in sneaking items off the base developed rapidly.
“We had tarps that were covering mounds of supplies on the base,” Kettler said. “The locals would press down sections of the tarp so that water would collect in the depressed area. Then, they would place some kind of dye in the water to color the military clothing that they would steal.”
Kettler indicated that when caught, the suspected thieves would declare that they had acquired the item from the black market. However, the investigator’s diligence in preventing minor criminal acts would lead to him becoming the target of a potentially deadly threat.
“During one of my investigations, I arrested and fired one of the locals for stealing government property. The man’s son was the head of the local union representing the Korean workers.”
The son was quite displeased with Kettler having terminated his father’s source of income and stated that he was going to kill the investigator. For a brief period, Kettler began carrying a .45 caliber pistol in order to defend himself against the threat.
“I honestly don’t know why I carried the pistol,” laughed Kettler. “I only weighed 120 pounds and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn if I was standing next to it!” Fortunately for the young soldier, the threat was never acted upon.
After spending 17 months in Korea, Kettler was thrown a going-away party by some of his fellow unit members and given a pass to go off base by the company commander.
“We were at my final get-together, and the commander showed up,” Kettler said. “They had plied me with alcohol and were going to try and get me to sign re-enlistment papers that were already filled out. I didn’t fall for it!” joked the veteran.
Kettler was discharged from the U.S Army in October 1953 and returned to New Jersey. After working in several locations throughout the United States for companies such as Campbell’s Soup, Monsanto and Cheesbrough-Pond’s (the latter from which he retired), the now 80-year-old veteran eventually settled in Jefferson City.
The proud father of three children, he now enjoys spending time with his four grandchildren and great-grandchild.
When asked about his role in the war and whether he would do it all over again if given the opportunity, Kettler replied, “Most definitely.”
“The citizens of Korea and the country needed help, and the United States needed to show that we could deter communism,” he stated.
“Back when I was that age (21 years old), all you really wanted was to ‘do the town’ and have fun. But it was two years out of my life that really meant a lot to me.”
Jeremy Amick served in the military for 11 years, is a life member of the Disabled American Veterans, and public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.