Bridges recalls his service in Korea
by Ellen Corker
It was the spring of 1951 and a young 21-year-old from Sharpsburg, Ga., stepped foot into Seoul — moved by the devastation that was so much a part of the Korean War.
Herb Bridges had just graduated the previous summer from the University of Georgia with a degree in history and teaching studies and started a new job as a seventh-grade social studies teacher in Warm Springs. “I loved it,” he said. Then, in November 1950, he received his draft notice. He reported a few weeks later in January 1951 to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, for training as a U.S. Army infantryman.
Today, Bridges is better known as the retired Sharpsburg postal delivery man, a job he held for 28 years, and for his hobby as a “Gone With the Wind” book and movie memorabilia collector. Not many people know about his service in the Korean War.
“It made me mad,” he said, reflecting on that early time in his life. “Cousins of mine the same age were not drafted. Friends of mine the same age were not drafted. The government had jerked me around and sent me to Korea. I resented it.”
During training at Fort Jackson he and a friend “goofed off,” he admits. They never learned how to shoot mortars or machine guns. “I was afraid,” he recalls. At the training sessions they would run to the back of the line. “I was just a smart-a-- 21-year-old,” he said.
Bridges did know how to handle an M1 rifle. His first two years of college were at military school — at Gordon Military College in Barnesville, Ga., and he learned how to shoot and disassemble an M1 and reassemble it.
Some soldiers were put in short-term training. Bridges and his best friend from Sharpsburg, Benny Lassetter, were sent to basic training together. Lassetter got the short training and was sent to Heidelberg, Germany. Bridges was put in the longer training to be a rifleman and soon was headed to Korea.
He found himself on a troop truck with 10 or 15 soldiers headed for the front lines when an officer came and asked, “Can anyone type?”
“I had never volunteered in my life, but I knew if I didn’t I would wind up shot or killed. I raised my hand and said I could type, even if it was about two words a minute,” he said. At the 3rd Division Army headquarters it was time for the man heading logistics to rotate home, and he needed to find a replacement for the team. Bridges, then an Army private, was dropped off at G4 logistics headquarters. He spent the rest of his tour of duty, 21 months, in Korea with G4, in charge of producing the “PLR” — the Periodic Logistics Report, a daily detail of losses and what each company needed.
G4 logistics handled all the supplies for the fighting units. That first day off the truck “I thought to myself, ‘What is logistics?’ I had never heard that word before,” Bridges said.
“We made sure the fighting companies had what they needed — guns, ammunition, jeeps, any kind of equipment. G4 had to make it available to each outfit,” he said.
He used a black manual typewriter and prepared reports that were duplicated on a Mimeograph machine. There were four or five enlisted men working on gathering the information each day, and officers riding around to check on the various fighting companies.
By the time Bridges arrived in Korea, the fighting had been pushed northward to the 39th parallel, the arbitrary line drawn between North and South Korea after WWII. The G4 headquarters, housed in a tent, constantly moved. If the fighting got close, they would pick up and move south. Then they would move back closer north. Sometimes there was time to put down a wood floor in the G4 tent that went together like a puzzle.
It was “hot as hell in the summer” and cold with snow in the winter, he remembers. It was cold during the winter at basic training at Fort Jackson, too, “and we just goofed off,” Bridges said.
After basic he got a couple of weeks off and was shipped by train to Seattle, Washington, to catch a ship to Yokohama, Japan. “When we loaded on that troop ship we were so lucky,” he said. “Four of us got a stateroom with a bath and shower.” After college graduation, in the summer of 1950, Bridges went on a trip across the Atlantic from New York City to England on the Queen Mary — and got sick as a dog. He wasn’t in for a very good voyage in the Pacific, either. “I knew I would get sick,” he said.
“They said if you will eat black olives it will help you from being sick,” he remembers. “They said if you sneak into the kitchen, they will have black olives.”
Bridges got on night patrol duty and worked his way around to the kitchen and found black olives. “I lived on black olives till we got to Yokohama,” he said. “I’m not sure they helped, but as sick as I was, I would try anything.” To this day, he does not go deep sea fishing or take cruises.
From Japan he was transported to Seoul for processing at a military base where all the jets were flying overhead. “It was the first time I had seen a fighter jet,” he said.
He remembers well the devastation and the poverty in Seoul. The North Koreans had pushed south to the country’s edge, and American troops had pushed them back above the 39th parallel.
At the base in Seoul, when he and the other soldiers would go to the dining room they were near a fence where the food scraps would be scraped into the trash. “The people would make a hole in the fence and come in and eat out of the trash. It was so upsetting to see,” he said.
Bridges also remembers the “honey wagons.” When Army personnel would clean out the latrines, farmers would bring wagons to transport waste in order to fertilize their fields.
Bridges spent about a week at processing before loading on a truck headed to the fighting front. The request by the man in charge of G4 for a typist was “divine intervention,” he admits.
As soon as the new soldier could be trained, the man in charge, Master Sergeant Herlavich, would get to rotate home. “They started teaching me what they did.”
Bridges worked in the G4 headquarters through the summer of 1951 and into 1952. “In the summer we lived in a tent. Of course, headquarters was in a tent, too. Then we’d have to move if there was a battle. Then there would be another battle, and we’d move back.”
“We took it all in stride,” he said. “We had nothing else to do and worked seven days a week.”
Often the headquarters tents were set up on a hillside. “They would stick us on the side of a mountain,” Bridges recalls. He had a desk and a typewriter. They would roll up the sides of the tent to get air. They had a Korean houseboy named Kim who was there to keep things clean — sweep the floor, take out the trash, fill the kerosene heaters in winter. A guard unit patrolled the area for protection.
When it was decided someone should stay in headquarters at night, Bridges was happy to oblige. Korean winters were cold. He basically ended up living in the headquarters the rest of his time in service. Nearby were other headquarters tents — G1, G2, G3 — for other functions like personnel, engineering, or the medics. It was all part of 3rd Division headquarters. Signs were set up to direct military to the headquarters. “The British Division, the Australian Division… They had to be able to see the G4 sign to find us,” he said.
During Christmas 1951 they found a little tree and set it up, and got some sort of wrapping paper and celebrated. Bridges has a picture of himself in the snow with the tree and wrapped presents.
There were breaks from time to time with traveling entertainment provided by Special Services groups. Bridges saw shows with Danny Kaye and Betty Hutton. Sometimes there would be small bands. “I never got to see Bob Hope; he mostly came around Seoul,” Bridges said.
In charge at G4 was Lt. Colonel Sam “Salvage Sam” Cleveland. “He was a nice fellow but pretty gruff,” Bridges remembers. Salvage Sam got his nickname because “when people threw out trash he’d go and pick things up and take it to the salvage place,” Bridges said. “He didn’t want to waste things.”
All G4’s three lieutenants were itching to do was make the next grade and get more pay, Bridges remembers. Lieutenants wanted to be second lieutenants, then majors. “They were nice people, but they were business,” he said. Bridges’ full name is Joseph Herbert Bridges, and he goes by Herb. In the Army they called him “Joe Bridges.”
“They told me, if you’re going to do this job, you need to get promoted, you need to be a private first class,” he said. Then they said, “You ought to be a sergeant; you should be promoted.” And they said, “If you are a sergeant first class you will get more money.”
“I started at the bottom and rotated up,” he said. Eventually, he was a staff sergeant.
“It was all in this short time,” Bridges remembers. “For Army career men it might take 15 years, and here I was doing it in eight months.”
They wanted him to go for master sergeant. “I said ‘no, that is ridiculous,” he said.
“It was a unique experience,” he said. “And it’s true many people will laugh at this, but I wasn’t career Army and wanted to get done and get home.”
Every so often one of the officers would say he needed to go see a friend and said, “Bridges, I need a driver.” Bridges would get to go with them on short trips. Another officer wanted to go to Seoul, and Bridges went as the driver. He got to see some of the countryside and along the way found a little brass bowl, which he still has.
At the mention of the hit TV show “M*A*S*H” about a medic unit during the Korean War, Bridges remarks, “I liked that show.” Relating it to his service he said, “Sure, we goofed off, but we did serious work.”
G4 had to make sure the fighting units had what they needed. Every day “we had to contact each of our fighting companies in the 3rd Division, and if they didn’t call we had to call them.” And they had to put what they learned about supply needs into the PLR — Periodic Logistics Report.
Every so often, the soldiers got a weekend of R&R, rest and recuperation, and could go to a camp area in South Korea. “The food was a little better than normal,” he said. Soldiers would be coming from the front line, but those in the headquarters areas like G4 could take advantage of it, too. The area was sort of like a park, and they had put up tents, he said.
Maybe every six months the soldiers could get R&R and go to Japan. “You could fly to Tokyo,” he said. He got to do this three times and saw places like Tokyo, Kyoto, Yokohama and Osaka. Each area had a PX and he could buy goods and have them packed and shipped home. He shipped home things like antique china and silk artwork. Bridges actually stayed an extra month at the end of his service so he could get an extra R&R to Japan.
There was steel going up along Tokyo streets as rebuilding was going on after World War II. Bridges remembers the train station in Tokyo, the Dai Iichi building that General McArthur used for his headquarters during the Japan occupation, and the Imperial Hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright that has since been torn down.
Bridges was awarded the Bronze Star for his service. When he returned to the U.S. after Korea, people were not welcoming like they were after WWII. “There was no hoopla, no bands,” he said. When he got home people said things like, “Oh, so you’ve been in Korea.”
He spent two months “floundering” around Columbia, S.C., at Fort Jackson and did some office work. Then they sent him home with his belongings and uniforms.
“As soon as I got home I got out of them and threw them away,” Bridges said.
He returned to the University of Georgia to work on a master’s degree, but a job came up with the Post Office and he decided he didn’t need a master’s to deliver the mail.
Even the postal leadership tried to get him to seek promotion to management. “I refused to go up in the Post Office,” Bridges said, preferring to continue delivering the mail on his route in Sharpsburg. “I told them I was happy,” he said. Bridges worked 28 years for the Post Office, and with his two years of military service included, he had 30 years of government service and was able to retire.
“I usually just tell people I worked 30 years at the Post Office,” Bridges says.
“Korea was a unique experience. I don’t regret it. I got drafted but made the best of it — I wasn’t being shot at.” He never was that close to the fighting at the 39th parallel, he said.
“It was good training to mature yourself,” he said.