Korea War Oral History interview
Date: November 10, 2004
Veteran: Alfred Ditchkus
Interviewer: Carol Fowler
Summarizer: Leah McGonigle
Albert Ditchkus was working as an apprentice toolmaker at General Motors when he was drafted in January, 1952, at the age of twenty. Ditchkus received eight weeks of basic training, and then post-basic training as a radio operator at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Although the Korean War was going on at the time, he had hopes of being stationed in Germany, where the United States maintained a large force to discourage Soviet expansion. He was sent from Fort Dix to Washington State, from where he traveled across the Pacific Ocean to Japan by ship in a fifteen-day voyage. On arrival, he was assigned to an amphibious brigade quartered south of Tokyo.
Shortly after joining his company in Japan, Ditchkus’s unit boarded a ship that he was told was part of an armada preparing to invade North Korea. After several weeks, however, the plan was apparently cancelled. Ditchkus’ ship unloaded cargo in South Korea and then returned to Japan, where he received further training on military radios and code systems.
In June, 1953, Ditchkus was transferred to Korea, where he was assigned as a radio operator at Pusan, a major American supply base. Shortly after his arrival, active hostilities ended. Even after the armistice, however, night remained particularly dangerous in Korea. A sundown curfew was established for United Nations soldiers (Ditchkus served alongside men from Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain) because South Korean army patrols shot at anything that moved after dark. It was also hazardous to enter Korean towns at any time, because of the prevalence of disease, often at epidemic proportions, in the battered population. Ditchkus recalled that the standard of living in impoverished war-ravaged Korea was very low, and that American soldiers would often give whatever leftover food they had to orphans roaming the streets.
On leaving Korea, soldiers were not allowed to take anything with them. Ditchkus was sent back to Japan with a two week “vacation” around Christmas time in 1953, and following his leave time received orders to go home without returning to Korea. His journey back to the United States was arduous and unpleasant, and concluded when his plane landed in Newark, New Jersey during a snowstorm. Ditchkus was discharged from active duty in January, 1954 at Fort Dix, and transferred to the inactive reserve for six more years. After re-integrating into civilian life, he resumed his apprenticeship at General Motors, which had been held for him while he was away.