" I got greetings from the President of the United States [laughs] that I was going to be drafted. I was going into the service. And that was June or July of '51. So, I went and had my physical in Omaha and I passed that. And everybody – there were 12 of us from York County that went. After we had our physicals, then we come home for (I think) it was three weeks. Something like that. Then we went back to be inducted. Well, when we got back there, the story was around that the Marine Corps was going – was asking for volunteers. Well, I had an older brother that was in the Second [World] War in the Marines, so I went to work and 'everybody that wants to step forward wants to join the Marines did.' I was one of the 12 that stepped forward, so that's how I got into the Marine Corps. I've got my license plate on my pickup, 'Once a Marine, Always a Marine'…
     "I didn't know what I was going to get into because I signed up for heavy equipment. Well, they always tell you if you sign up for one, they'll give you something else. But I did have 1800 M4 [tank] and that was heavy armor. I was in the tank battalion. We trained in California for the old M4 tanks. That was with the gearshift and everything. Well, when we was aboard ship we found out that they had replaced them all with a new M41. And that had automatic transmission and had a direct fire 90-millimeter gun on it. So, while I was aboard ship they give us a manual on it and you know, I went through it. You know, I knew mechanical things. And it had hydromatic transmission and you drove it with a wobblestick. Had a V12 800 horse engine in it."
     Question: "So, what's the difference between running a tractor and running a tank?"
     "[Laughs.] Well, they're mechanical. The tank had an air-cooled, that was an air-cooled engine. There was a five man crew. There was two drivers, one driver and assistant driver, and then there was a gunner and a loader and the tank commander. And we all fit in that little box. But there was four and a half inches of armor plate steel around, you know, which is kind of comforting when somebody is shooting at you…
     "Aboard ship they give us a few tests, and I passed them all. And so with it came – I became Corporal. Within three months after I was in the service, I made from Private First Class to Corporal. When we was overseas and we landed at Inchon [Korea]. They put us on trucks, and they took us to the staging area. First thing that happened, the next morning, was the sun come up in the north. And I thought, 'Oh, boy, I'm going to have to spend the whole year in Korea – ' As a farm boy, you know, east-west-north-south means something. And the sun come up in the north! And I thought, 'How am I going to put up with this a whole year?'
     "We done a lot of firing and things like that. This 90[mm gun] on that tank was a 'direct fire.' Anything within one-mile range, you just point-blank zeroed in on it and shot and you got it, because the muzzle velocity in that was the same as an M1 rifle but it was a four and a half inch projectile… When we arrived, we got up on the front lines and the CO took us up in a bunker that was in a trench line. And the night before a squad had went out (infantry) and North Koreans had caught one. They took him out and hung him on a tripod, upside-down naked. And set up enough booby traps and everything around that nobody could get to him. He hung there three days before he died. By his feet. And that was probably part of our training because after that you didn't hesitate one bit to blow one of them away. You lost all respect for life of the other party. Everybody didn't get that training, but I witnessed it. And it stuck. It's still sticking with me…
     "About six weeks before I was supposed to come home the company commander come in and said there was infantry at a certain area was having problems with the Koreans with a three-point-deuce rocket shooting in there… That's a bazooka weapon. It's like a stovepipe with, you shove a projectile in it… He said, 'I know you're due to rotate.' He said, 'I know you can do this job.'
     "So I went out. We pulled into position. And I got out of the turret and went to hook up com [communication] wires in the back. And just got back there and, BOOM, the old tank went bouncing. And I jumped right back up and jumped back inside and said, 'What you guys shooting at?' Because when you shot that 90 the tank would rear back.
     "And nobody – [They said,] 'We didn't shoot anything.' Well, we got hit from that deuce, three-point-deuce. It wasn't a big enough projectile to harm us but we did get kind of – Metal, it's like butter and smears. And so, I went back outside and hooked up the wires. And then we finished the job."
     Question: "So you think that the Army being there made a difference?"
     "Oh, yeah. When I left Seoul was a bombed out city. I've got some pictures of it. And now it's a metropolis. So, I think we done a lot of good for the country…
     "It was an experience that – I told Dad when I got home, 'I wouldn't take a million. But give me a million, I won't do it again.' That's the way I felt about it…
     "War is hell. I don't care what anybody says, it's something I don't wish anybody to experience. I can really feel for those guys over there in Iraq. When you're in combat your heart beats so loud you wish it would be quiet, because it's making too much noise. [He laughs.] … I had problems coming home. After I got there – We come back to San Francisco, and we got a 30-day leave after we got indoctrinated out. And I rode the train. My brother lives in Julesburg, Colorado. And I stopped there, and I was sick as a dog. And he went and took me to the hospital. Doctor says, 'You're just a bundle of nerves.' He says, 'You're just going to have to suck it up and go home.' That's what the whole deal was. I was – well, I was a different person."
     Question: "Were you fearing going home?"
     "Well, I suppose I was. I didn't realize it, but that was – was – I went [over] as a little country boy and come back with a lot of growing up in two years – well a year-and-a-half's time."
     Question: "Now they would call it Post Traumatic Stress."
     "Well, I suppose. But, I mean, I was – I don't know what my symptom was, but I was sick. And so he and his wife took me to Sydney [Nebraska] to the hospital and checked me over. That's what the doctor said. 'You're just a bundle of nerves.' He said, 'You're going home.'"

Virgil Obermier – Korean War


Other Excerpts from Virgil Obermier’s Interview:

Farming After the War
Fertilizer Use
Drought & Irrigation
Center Pivots