Service Reflections: Retired Army colonel lost limbs in battle, but remained in service

Service Reflections: Retired Army colonel lost limbs in battle, but remained in service

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COL William Weber
Status: USA Veteran
Service Years: 1943-1980

Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Army.

2LT Weber at Fort Benning, GA

To serve in World War II. We were at war! I chose to enlist at the age of seventeen because I felt it my duty to do so. Besides, I come from an Army family. I was born in Chicago,Illinois, in 1925, but grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Birmingham, Alabama. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, I was a sixteen-year-old member of the Alabama Home Guard, armed with ashotgun at the gate of the local steel mill. I already had two years of ROTC in High School. We were filled with Patriotism, sparking everyone throughout the Home Guard.

My father served in the Infantry during WWI. He had gone to France with the 11th Infantry Regiment under the 28th Division. He didn't speak much of his time in the Army. If you askedhim a specific question, then he would open up about it. When I joined the Army, he was very proud of me.

At 17, one thinks the world is theirs! After 37+ years of service, I had learned you are just one amongst many! I enlisted on March 25, 1943, joining the Army Specialized Training Program(ASTP), which was designed to produce junior officers for the military rapidly. I had a high AGCT score that allowed me to do anything. I began attending education at Austin Perry Collegein Raleigh, North Carolina.

I attended basic training at Camp McClellan and advanced training at Fort Bragg. I volunteered for airborne training and also received glider and demolitions training.

Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?

The Airborn Quarterly 2015

I chose it as a career because of my love of our country and my desire to serve. I was assigned to the 11th Airborne Division, joining that unit in the Philippines in June 1945. While atLipa, the Division reorganized to conform to the new TO&E for Airborne Divisions. The 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry, was created.

When the Japanese surrendered, the 11th Airborne Division led the way into Japan; we were met on the runway by Japanese Soldiers' information showing their backs as a sign of deferenceand respect. During the early period of the occupation, there were concerns about the possibility of the Soviets invading Hokkaido, Japan, and Japanese units remained armed, under Americancontrol, as a preventative measure.

After returning from occupation duty, I was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, accompanying remains of the fallen back to their families, which was a difficult but necessary duty. Iwas escorting the remains of Soldiers that were previously buried in the Pacific for some time since 1942. Unfortunately, many mothers in that area of North and South Carolina wanted toopen the casket. Once I signed over the remains, I had no control over what happened next. I would try to convince another family member this wasn't the best idea since some had onlybody parts, and much had disintegrated since the time they had been buried, some as far as 1942 to 1944. It was the hardest assignment I ever had to do. I would never wish this on anyoneas I was the only military member present at the funeral. Not like today, where the fallen Soldier is buried with Military Honors, this too helps the family with closure.

In April 1949, I rejoined the 11th Airborne Division and assigned to L Company, 187th Infantry (Rakkasans). In February 1950, I participated in Operation Swarmer at Fort Campbell, designedto test the viability of airborne operations. My company had the mission to secure a causeway for the Division. Due to the impressive performance of the Rakkasans during that operation,they were selected for deployment to the Korean War as an Airborne Regimental Combat Team (ARCT).

After Korea, I had several staff assignments in Europe and back in the Pentagon. I enjoyed my time at Fort Benning while at the Leadership Committee teaching the OCS, Basic, and InfantryAdvance course students. My opportunity to share my experiences with the students, since the majority of them were combat veterans like myself.

The Army had the mandatory retirement for a Regular Army officer. I enjoyed my service to this great country to the very end after 37 years.

If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian, and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, iflife-changing, in what way?

I served in the Southwest PacificTheater in World War II in the Luzon Campaign. Then Served in Northern Japan during the Occupation. Then in Korea in 1950-1951. Combat changes every one of us somewhat differently but allsomehow similarly. You either adapt or lose the ability to function while in combat.

I was awarded the Silver star leading an advanced as the XO of L Company in a jeep leading a convoy. We were ambushed. We used the .50 Caliber to break the fire while the troopers unloadedfrom the trucks. I was wounded in the shoulder during this time.

I was promoted to Captain in December 1950 and assigned as Commander of K Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team. This was my second command. So I had a total ofalmost four years as a Company Commander. In February 1951, my last military operation was in the battle for Wonju.

My life was altered since I was wounded three times, in the shoulder earlier, later losing my hand, and then hit for the third time by incoming mortar fire while at the aid station for theother wound. The long process of transitioning from being an airborne leader to a wounded medical patient was very much a life-changing ordeal. I was immediately moved to the Swedishmilitary hospital there in Korea. I knew several of the Nurses since they were on the same transport ship with us. Beautiful Swedish nurses and strong airborne Officers were, as you say,an interesting mix. I was in and out while heavily sedated.

Then I was transported to Japan to be stabilized. The worst time was when they placed me on the top row in a C-46 Medical Transport. I had only four inches from my head to the top of theframe of the aircraft. I wouldn't say I liked this situation that it was making me claustrophobic. I was lucky they kept me sedated so I would sleep through the horrible flight.

I was sent state-side to a hospital near my home so the family could visit me. There I went through the painful recovery process. From my time being on crutches to getting artificial limbswas challenging. One time I went out during the winter in the snow on crutches. Thinking back on, it was not exactly a good idea at the time.

I didn't let this stop my career. I remained one of the few that stayed on Active duty service. My will and determination kept me a valued member of the military community.

Did you encounter any situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? If so, please describe what happened and what was theoutcome.

Combat jump in Korea

I was in the first airborne assault that was at Sukchon-Sunchon, Korea, in September 1950, when the 187th was dropped shortly after the Allied landing on the beachhead at Inchon. OnOctober 20, 1950, I participated in the combat jump at Sukchon and Sunchon in North Korea. I was a pathfinder for the combat jump for the Regimental Drop Zone. This was a daylight jump. Ijumped from a C-46 vice, the main element that jumped from C-119s. It was the first time that the C-119s were used in a large scale airborne operation.

Delayed by heavy rain at Taegu, South Korea, the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team (ARCT) "Rakkasans"), did not conduct parachute assaults on Sunch'on until late morningOctober 20, 1950. The drop zones were adjacent to the railway lines going north from P'yongyang, the North Korean capital. The primary mission of the 187th was to cut off and thencontain two North Korean divisions as part of the Eighth US Army and ROK offensive into North Korea following the successful UN landing at Inch'on and the breakout from the PusanPerimeter. A secondary mission was to rescue approximately two thousand American prisoners of war that were being shipped north to serve as future "bargaining chips" in UNnegotiations.

The airborne assault was the first time that heavy equipment was para-dropped in combat, and the first use of C-119 Flying Boxcar transports for a combat parachute operation. On October 20and the days afterward, about four thousand troops and six hundred tons of equipment and supplies were dropped at Sukch'on and Sunch'on.

We were on Hill 382. I suffered critical wounds during the battle of Wonju while engaged with a numerically superior force. We felt we might be overrun. But, my Soldiers held and refusedto panic. They persevered, and the enemy didn't!

During the Battle of Wonju in early February 1951, I was severely wounded at 2330 hours, losing my arm to incoming mortars, but the cold temperature prevented me from dying due to the lossof blood. It was considered the Gettysburg of the Korean War. At 0230 hours, I lost my leg to a hand grenade. During our fourteen hours of combat, I lost an arm and a leg.

Once I was evacuated, I wasagain wounded in the hip when the Chinese shelled the aid station. I was seriously injured and evacuated to the States to Percy Jones General Hospital. The hospital was a significantinfluence in Battle Creek as soldiers from all over the country were sent there to recover. The hospital specialized in neurosurgery, plastic surgery, and the fitting of artificial limbs.I underwent long-term hospitalizations for my orthopedic injuries. Approximately 100,000 military patients were treated at the hospital before it closed permanently in 1953.

Read More: Percy Jones Army Hospital Opened, February 21, 1943,   here. I had a lengthy hospitalization, and despitehaving lost a leg and part of an arm.

I had earned my Regular Army commission in December 1950. General Ridgeway and a few other Officers intervened to allow me to continue my service on the Army. Following hospitalization inMichigan, I was retained on active duty, being one of the first of selected disabled officers that were able to be retained on active duty since the Civil War. My (and others') abilityto perform required duties of their branch, rank, etc., established the practice of retaining selected disabled personnel for active duty. Back then, this was an exception to the standardrule; today, it is an established procedure. So we opened the door for other amputee Soldiers that serve now.

Trooper and I in Japan

Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of, and why? Which was your least favorite?

Occupation of Japan after the war ended. Why? In a more civilized sense - to the victor went the spoils!

I was incredibly surprised by the Japanese Army Soldiers' discipline and passiveness. It was so apparent that the essence of the Emperor accepting the situation of the surrender. Therewas this great fear the Russians would invade Japan. We kept the Japanese units armed. The Japanese civilians were looking subdued. We saw this great discipline from everyone towards theEmperor. This would never happen in the United States. The Japanese never felt defeated. It was strange to see very few Japanese women there. I saw the surrender in a sense from myposition there. It was interesting to be in a new culture that was never exposed to compared to the propaganda that I was exposed to. The Japanese people were all united. The gentlenessand politeness was a culture shock compared to the conditioning that we were trained to feel.

Japan's surrender canceled the invasion of Japan plans, and on August 10, 1945, the Division moved to Okinawa to spearhead the occupation and ensure Gen. Douglas MacArthur would have asafe arrival into Japan. The 11th ABN. landed at Atsugi Airdrome, near Tokyo, on August 30, 1945, and occupied an initial area in and around Yokohama.

The Division remained there until mid-September 1945, when we moved to northern Japan and assumed responsibility for Akita, Yamagata, Miyagi, and Iwate Prefectures. During the occupationof Japan, The 187th and the rest of the 11th Airborne later took over control of Amari, Hokkaido, Fukushima, and Prefectures to control almost half the island of Honshu all the island ofHokkaido. It was during the occupation that the Japanese gave the 187th its nickname, "Rakkasans," which loosely translates to "falling umbrella."

I discovered after some time here that the Japanese adapted to bringing American style restaurants near everywhere Americans were stationed in Japan. I became appreciative of theirculture. I had a Japanese three-star admiral present me his sword in a surrender ceremony.

My least favorite was my assignmentwith the 82nd Airborne Division. I was detailed to a graves registration duty. I was escorting fallen Officers back from the European Theater to their funerals in West Virginia, North andSouth Carolina to be with their families. I escorted 87 fallen Officers home to families that mothers that wanted the casket opened. All of these Fallen were previously buried in Europeanbattlefield cemeteries. In West Virginia, the Matriarch was the head of the family demanding for the casket to be opened.

I explained to the male members that this would be a huge mistake since many of the remains had been over in the battlefield cemeteries for several years already. So, the condition of theremains would be in unbelievably bad shape. It was something that hit me extremely hard and still affects me to this day. The normal tour of duty was 90 days but for some unknown reason tothis day, I did 120 days on this detail.

Since I found out the 11th Airborne Division was back in the US I pulled every know string to get back to the 187th. I then was assigned to L Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry again.My home. After completing occupation duties, the 187th was allotted to the Regular Army in 1948 and later reorganized and redesignated the 187th Airborne Infantry in 1949.

From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect on to this day.

Preparing for our airborne assault in Korea 1950

The ship on which we deployed (3/187th ARCT) was fortunate also to have the Swedish Army Hospital personnel on board as well. The 3/187th Officers and Swedish Doctors and Nurses werebilleted on the same deck and utilized the same Mess and Club area! It was a 'unique boat trip' from San Francisco to Yokohama! The Swedish nurses were altogether'emancipated' and 'worldly' women who knew we were headed to combat! - When compared with deployment to the Pacific in WWII, it was like ridiculous to sublime! To say theleast ---if one had to deploy to a combat zone ---it made the trip more than tolerable!

Coping with the feelings of, "Did I do my best in leading my troopers in combat?" The airborne Infantry was the only way to go!

What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?

Airborne Infantry lead the way!

I was awarded the distinguished service medal, Silver Star, Bronze Star with V device, and several purple hearts. Most of all, as a combat infantryman, being awarded the combat infantrymanbadge twice. Leading soldiers in combat were my vision, from the very beginning as a teenager. From the time that I completed airborne school to being a company commander with the combat,jump were the many achievements in my life. But the most success I see was to be able to lead soldiers into combat. It is not about the rank of the uniform but the leadership qualitiesthat will take soldiers from fear to instilling warrior instincts in them to complete the mission.

Even to this day, any bad day in the airborne unit beats the brightest day in any other job I ever had. I am so proud of what I've been able to accomplish as a leader of infantryairborne combat paratroopers. Most of all, I gave my best during the worst of times. Now they are the best of times for me to remember and never forget those that gave their lives for ourfreedoms.

I've dedicated my life to the Korean War Memorial so that every one of those soldiers that gave their lives in the forgotten war will never be in a place that is forgotten. We willnever leave behind a fallen soldier or their memory of their service to this country. So it's been a long road from 1950 to 1990 that we've been able to bring to bear a force to bereckoned with so that way our fallen comrades will never be forgotten through the Korean War Memorial. I have been so grateful to the team that has supported us, from now to itscompletion.

Persistence and determination led me to where I am today and what I've accomplished for those that had no voice to cry out on their service to a country that they spilled their blood.I will leave this world knowing that I have done the best that anyone could ever do in life, and that makes me so thankful to know that everything was for my fallen brothers in arms in theservice they gave while in Korea.

Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?

After just short of 38 years ofservice from WWII through the Cold War, it is the total of such that was most meaningful. One cannot separate the parts from the whole! If I had to narrow it down to one thing, it would bemy airborne wings since that is the essence of my life. It is what made me different as a volunteer, not just once but twice. It takes a stronger person to be willing just to volunteeronce to serve but to do it twice, knowing that you are at a higher risk of losing your life.

I received the Distinguished Service Medal for my work on the management of the Project 100,000 and worked on the Veterans getting benefits as those drafted that serve 18 months. My focuswas for the Soldiers that served.

Those silver wings upon my chest may be nice and shiny, but they are soaked in blood from the time we spent in the mud in our efforts to defend democracy. Those wings are part of acommunity of those that have a rendezvous with destiny. At 17, I wanted to be different and be able to be the best leader the Army could allow me to be. Being in the 187th AirborneRegimental Combat Team was and still is deep in my heart with those wings on my chest, so I will never forget those that gave it all to wear those wings.

So with those wings upon my chest, I stand before you giving you my testament on what they mean to me. I stand on one leg and salute with one arm. With these wings upon my chest, I haveearned my right to wear them proudly before you.

Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?

The outstanding airborne infantry Soldiers I had the privilege to serve with and command!

List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would liketo make contact with.

I left part of me in Korea.

Too many and too few left alive. I'm in my 90s and ready to join those who have already gone! I cannot remember their names, but several other officers and NCOs influenced me during mytour in Korea. What you have to understand that the airborne community is made up of the best of the best within the United States Army. We have the highest quality grade of NCOs andofficers in the regiment.

While we were preparing for deployment to Korea, we had airborne soldiers from all over the Army knocking at the door to get into the unit. As I would look around, I would see brightshoulder patches of airborne units from all over the Army airborne community. This was unprecedented at the time of the Korean War. The 1/87 regimental combat team was the most experiencedand best-trained unit that could have ever been sent to Korea. It is not just my opinion but my professional evaluation. Now, as the regiment was getting new replacements, this wasdegrading the expertise as time went along.

After I left the military, I would run into those that I served with, and those that I met that did serve in the 1/87 Regiment in Korea. It is these guys that I didn't know that wenton to earn high awards from the medal of honor on down that attended these Association reunions. I have high respect for every one of these combat veterans that made up the 187 Regimentduring that period in Korea. I will never forget the faces in the places of the mud and blood that was spilled in Korea. I might not know their names, but their faces will be forever in mymemory of what we experienced and shared together as brothers.

Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?

Yes, when, as a Company Commander,as a first Lieut. At Fort Campbell. I caught Pvt O___ prostituting his 'lady of the evening' wife in the attic of my 2nd platoon's barracks. He married her just to be able tobring her to the post.

No harm was done, and months later, in Korea, he was awarded the Bronze Star w/V for heroic action.

I had many misfits that could not adjust to civilian life that were the best combat soldiers in the world. Around 50% of my company before Korea came from the stockade. These were soldiersthat would wreck the car on the highway to Fort Campbell or were drunk in bars getting into fights. And you train hard and fight hard, and you always maintain a sense of humor in the thickof battle.

In the eyes of some, the soldiers might've appeared undisciplined to any threat to the community, but once I had them, they were the best the Army could ever have. So as in thissituation with this private and his wife may not have been a proper thing, but it was funny to everybody else at the time. And it was my honor to have awarded him a Bronze Star medal forhis combat action in Korea.

What profession did you follow after your military service, and what are you doing now?

Korean War Memorial

When I retired, I devoted my life to voluntary humanitarian efforts on the effects of the Korean War. I took on civic and military volunteer work, notably serving on the Korean WarVeterans Memorial Foundation Advisory Board and as President of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation, following retirement. I had a direct role in the creation of the Korean WarVeterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC, and comments on its symbolism.

Currently, I am Chair of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Fund. We are raising funds to add a Wall Of Remembrance (PL114-230) to the Korean War Veterans Memorial in DC. I also managed andbeen the editor of the quarterly magazine of the American Airborne Association for the past 30 plus years. Once we hit the 50th anniversary of the Korean War, I thought I would have endedthe Association then, but still going strong 20 years later.

I always quantitatively compare the Korean War to other twentieth-century wars and describes the personnel utilized during the war, sharing this information. These statistics are primarilylost in American history. I have expressed my frustration with the placement of the Korean War in American history despite the honorable conduct by the United States and feel it hasslipped through the cracks.

I am proud of my service and hope that more content on the Korea War will be included in American history books so that students will be able to appreciate what the war meant anddemonstrated.

What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?

In 1987, I was appointed byPresident Reagan to the Advisory Board that oversaw the design and construction of the renowned Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Mall in Washington, DC. One of the 19 stainless steelstatues bears my facial features.

I served as Chairman of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation and bee fighting to get HR-318 enacted. This proposed bill calls for a Wall of Remembrance to augment the Pool ofRemembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

During this period, three of my airborne comrades and I planned, organized, and conducted the Fiftieth Anniversary celebration of the Army's airborne forces in July 1990 in Washington,DC. I presently serve as Chairman Emeritus of the Board for the Korean War Veterans Memorial Foundation.

All Federally Chartered Veteran Organizations, my unit 187th ARCT, and the 11th Airborne Division Associations.

In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?

Made a man of a boy! And of the'man,' a patriot! I put my heart and life into my service. All my life, I've dedicated to the service of this great country and to the soldiers that served under me and with meto the very end. Also, having the intestinal fortitude and willingness to serve your country regardless of what sacrifices you may have during that service drive to and gives to the willto be successful. Being in an airborne infantry unit has made me the proudest airborne infantry leader in the Army.

This will, along with the determination to make whatever I can happen, a reality. It is drive and courageousness to be successful on Hill 832 in Korea and then again to the successfulestablishment of the Korean War Memorial. There is no greater good or will then you putting yourself first before others. Keeping an eye on the ball and never giving up.

I miss the camaraderie and the brotherhood of those I served within an airborne infantry Regiment. Those that have served like me will know how this feels. Those who have not serveddeserve to know how this feels because every American needs to serve their country. While I was growing up, you had the Civilian Conservation Corps and the WPA projects. We need this tocome back to give our young people a sense of dedication and the will to get back to their country. Freedom is not free, and it does not give you the right to abuse it. We must neverforget that service to the country will keep our country free, and hopefully, democracy will continue to be a responsibility of service and not a free gift.

Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Army?

I like to remind people and thosebecoming a Soldier that World War II saved the world for democracy. In Korea, we kept it from communism. That is where we drew a line in the sand as a free world and indicated that wewould not allow armed aggression to conquer free people. And since that time, it never has. The world took a stance, and it worked.

If you look at history books that teach children about American history, it is a three-paragraph war; I tell everyone. Most of what's written does not focus on the war itself. Still,the controversies between then-President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Truman fired MacArthur as commander of UN military forces in South Korea in April 1951.

The United States was preoccupied during the Korean War. We were still reveling as troops came home from World War II, went to school, re-entered the job market, and settled down to startfamilies. It was a la-la land.

The last thing most Americans wanted at the time was the distraction of another foreign war, particularly one that initially started as a "police action." Yet that police actionescalated. At the height of the war, about a half-million US, United Nations, and South Korean forces found themselves arrayed against 1.5 million Chinese and North Korean forces.

Nowhere during World War II did American forces ever face as many enemies in such a short frontage as in Korea; it was the bloodiest foreign war in terms of the percentage of casualties wehave ever fought. Since the signing of the armistice, North Korean attacks have killed 100 US and more than 450 South Korean troops.

Today, 28,500 US forces continue to serve in South Korea, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with their South Korean counterparts to provide security on the peninsula.

Devote yourself to your duty!

In what ways has helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.

The site has allowed me to begin mypath towards leaving a legacy behind of my career and on the road to The Korean War Memorial. During my time on the site, I have had an excellent opportunity to meet another airborneofficer that has been in combat and that has experienced similar experiences with me. His name is Lt. Col. Roger Gaines. He is the go-to guy on TWS. If you ever need help, he is the guythat gets it done.

His assistance and willingness to listen to me and, most of all, ask me questions that very few interviewers have ever asked me before to understand my career. His attention to detail isabove approach, and I wish there were more guys like him to help us old soldiers through the tunnel of technology.

I hope that others will follow in my footsteps and leave their stories behind so that our military does not disappear. We do not need to politicize our Soldiers. We defend theConstitution. That Constitution is are people we defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

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