Interview With Frank A. Kraft

From the interview with Frank A. Kraft of Mobridge, SD conducted by Henry West by phone from the Fort Worden History Center on May 20, 2004. Mr. Kraft served at Fort Worden and Fort Flagler as a member of the US Army 369th Engineer Amphibious Support Regiment Shore Battalion during the Korean War Era. He was with the unit transferred to Camp Desert Rock, NV to build the base there when he received overseas orders. In Japan, he was trained as a tank mechanic and sent to Korea. Here he relates his experiences:

“We had M4 tanks to start with, after I was there for a while, we traded them in for M46’s that came from Japan. They were reconditioned but they were in very poor shape. We had 21 tanks and out of the 21, only three of them didn’t have to be worked on. …There was a lot of little stuff that went wrong with them.

We were north of Seoul, and about Fall they transferred the whole company up on lines to the Punchbowl area. It was cold. The winter was pretty cold, not much snow. Our camp area was only three miles from the front line. So, we went back and forth. We used the tanks there for artillery, had them dug in on the line, and we’d take a platoon or a company up at a time. They were all dug in and after a certain length of time, they brought them back and put different tanks up again. We had to perform maintenance on them right up there on the front line.

We were right at the action. One day when I was working on the tanks, I’d crawled inside to work on one and I heard a noise outside, a lot of dirt flying and I heard a North Korean mortar round land right where I had been standing a minute ago.

There was a lot of rifle fire but you couldn’t tell how close they got unless they hit you. Once in a while some (enemy) broke through, but then they (UN forces) always got them before they got too far away. We never got to see any that came through but some of the other companies took some prisoners.”

When asked about casualties:

“We had one man get hit with sniper fire and that was about it. We never lost any personnel. We did lose one tank. It had run off the edge of a bridge when we had our night march and tipped over the top and it caught fire. That was the only one we lost. All the crew got out safely but the tank was completely destroyed.  There were five men in there. It was fully loaded with ammunition, so there was quite a fireworks show until it burned out.”

Talking about living conditions:

“It was pretty nice right up on the line. We had bunkers that we slept in, so it was nice and warm there, but in the daytime it got a little cold when you were working on the tanks. Then, when we moved off the line, it took several days to get back again and we were sleeping in little nine man squad tents and it got down to 12ºF below in December and January. The last night we were there we ran out of fuel–nobody had any fuel for the stoves. (We had) no heat, just our sleeping bags, so it got a little chilly….

I thought the food was pretty good, even up on the line. It was real good when I was going to school in Japan. …They had quite a few USO shows everybody went to and enjoyed, Bob Hope was over there…Most of the officers overseas were pretty good.

…I even went pheasant hunting over there. Once in a great while we’d sneak off on a Sunday and hunt pheasants. We only had to go about a half mile up in the hills where the pheasants were, but they were pretty scarce. Once in a while someone would shoot one. The deer over there were a lot smaller than they are here in the United States. That was about the only other thing that we saw that we could have hunted.”

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