Korean War oral history interview
Date: June 20, 2001
Veteran: Albert Hujdich
Interviewer: Robert Pontecorvo
Summarizer: Joseph Bilby
Albert Hujdich was born in August 1929. His father and uncles had emigrated from Austria-Hungary, as that country disintegrated in the wake of World War I. Hujdich’s father joined the American Army as a non-citizen in 1921 and emerged after his two year enlistment “... proud to be an American.” When World War II began Hujdich, who was in the eighth grade, saw his cousins and uncles going off to war in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps. Not knowing how long the war would last, he decided to join the Marine Corps when his turn came to enter service. Hujdich quit high school in his senior year in 1946 as soon as he turned 17, secured the necessary permission to enlist from his reluctant mother, and joined the Marines, even though by that time the war was over.
Hujdich reported to boot camp at Parris Island in September, 1946. All of his instructors were World War II veterans, and they were hard on the new recruits. Following boot camp, he was assigned to E Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment stationed at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He had initially enlisted for two years but extended his enlistment another two years in order to serve on embassy duty in Europe. He served three and a half months in the US Embassy in Rome, and spent the rest of his two year assignment in London. His work at the embassy involved general security duty and diplomatic mail pickup, as well as looking “spit-shined” for the ambassador at ceremonies. When on duty, the Marine guards were armed with Model 1911 .45 caliber automatic pistols. According to Hujdich, not all embassies had Marine details at the time, but the extensive Communist activities in Italy at the time had mandated a higher level of security than in other countries. Because of the Communists, Marines were required to wear civilian clothes when in public outside the embassy in Rome.
Hujdich returned to the US in February, 1950, and was stationed at Great Lakes Marine Barracks. When the Korean War broke out in June, all personnel still in the service had their enlistments extended one year “for the convenience of the government.” Since he thought he was stuck for a year anyway and was probably going to Korea, Hujdich reenlisted for six years with several friends and received a $360 reenlistment bonus. He recalled that they agreed “We’re probably not gonna come back, let’s get the 360 bucks – at least we can have a few beers before we go over...”
Hujdich, now a corporal, felt lucky that a lot of the Marine reservists activated to fill out the First Marine Division were World War II combat veterans, who had combat experience. He was sent to a camp in California where active duty and reserve Marines were integrated and briefly trained before going to Korea. He then shipped out to Kobe, Japan, in a fourteen day trip in an old troop transport, with “…no portholes or air holes or nothing… sleeping six or seven high,” and constantly smelling diesel fuel. The highlight of each day at sea was standing in line to eat. He recalls that with breakfast, lunch and dinner he was “almost in line all day long,” and that the Navy got to eat first.
Hujdich’s ship landed in Japan just as a typhoon hit. During the storm the Marines had to unload the ship and then reload it in “combat load” fashion, with ammunition on top and only with necessary combat supplies. All extra clothing and personal baggage was stored in Japan. Once reloaded, the ship headed for Inchon. In July, after the North Koreans had invaded South Korea and were driving south, American forces had rushed to the peninsula from Japan without proper supplies or training. They had been pushed back to Pusan, where they had held on and built up their forces and were now ready to counterattack. As part of that counterattack, General Douglas MacArthur ordered the Marines to land behind the North Korean lines at Inchon and advance to recapture the South Korean capital, Seoul.
Hujdich recalled that the Marines were not told where they were going until they were at sea. The invasion was timed on the tricky tides of Inchon Harbor, and Hujdich’s outfit was not scheduled to go in until 5:00 PM. He remembered that “…we were just looking forward to having steak and eggs like supposedly you get before you make the beaches. Some of the guys who were lucky in World War II did; we did too. Yeah I got a piece of rubber steak and a couple of eggs, and that was the last warm meal for a while.”
Once preparations for the invasion were complete, Hujdich noted that “we were anxious to go in.” “You just wanted to go,” he said. “First off you get disgusted aboard ship anyway, and you want to go on land… not only that…. as you’re riding around. You just don’t come off the nets and go into the ship and then go right into the beach. You’ve got to get into that LCVP [Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel], and get into a pattern until the rest of the ship is unloaded. So you’re out there circling for 45 minutes – sometimes an hour. And, mind you, you got a jacket on that stinks – a kapok jacket, that’s supposed to be your lifesaver. We had no vests, bulletproof vests then in the ‘50s. And your equipment, you’re loaded prepared because you don’t know how long it will be before they bring you any rations or anything else, ammunition. So you’re really loaded, and you’re riding around in the choppy seas there waiting until everybody’s loaded and then they give the word, you know, “hit the beach,” and then they peel off and start making it for the beach. And at Inchon, because of the sea wall, we had ladders. It wasn’t like some of the World War II landings where it was a sandy beach, naturally with the enemy shooting. We didn’t get much. When we were coming in we heard a couple rounds, then you knew it was for real. But we were lucky; we didn’t lose nobody coming in.”
Once ashore the Marines of the First Division broke out of the Inchon beachhead and moved on Seoul, the South Korean capital, in order to liberate it from the North Koreans. Hujdich recalls that he “felt good” and that his training had prepared him well for combat, and that he was “wide awake… and looking for the enemy.” He recalls that his unit pushed through a farming area first, with a lot of “grass, mud huts, thatch huts” but knew they were approaching Seoul when they encountered concrete buildings. His company’s objective was the train station, which still stands today. Every intersection had sandbagged fighting positions, initially erected by the South Koreans and taken over by the North Koreans. The Marines moved from building to building, subjected to sniper fire. Hujdich remembered that “you really had to watch your step” in urban fighting. Most of the population remaining in the city were older people, but among them were some North Korean infiltrators dressed in civilian clothes.
By this time Hujdich was a squad leader, but stated that he was not well informed on the grand strategy of the war. He and his fellow Marines did know, however, that they were part of a pincer movement, with the other arm of the attack striking north out of Pusan, and that the North Koreans were on the run. The retreating enemy broke up their units, faded into the civilian population, hid from American air power during the daytime and moved at night.
In October, 1950, following the capture of Seoul, the First Marine Division returned to Inchon. Hujdich’s company boarded an LST [Landing Ship, Tank] with a Japanese crew. Eating C-Rations suspended by a coat hanger into a can full of hot water to heat, they, along with the rest of the division, slowly made their way down one side of the Korean peninsula and up the other to Wonsan. Wonsan Bay had been heavily mined by the North Koreans, however, and it took ten days, while the Marines circled outside the harbor, for the Navy to clear enough mines for a landing. According to Hujdich, Bob Hope and his USO entertainment troop landed before the Marines. Once ashore the Marines, supplemented by army troops, began to drive towards the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China.
The roads north were “snaky” and intended for oxcarts, not heavy trucks and tanks, which often slid off into ditches. As the Marines approached the Chosin Reservoir, they moved to the left, or west, with the Army advancing to the right or east of that body of frozen water. The general feeling among the Marines was that they had the enemy “on the run” and would be “home by Christmas. In October, however, the Chinese began to enter the war. On Thanksgiving Day, as the Chinese army closed in around them, the Marines received their last hot meal, brought to the field in “thermos burners.” [Mermite cans?]. It was so cold that the turkey gravy and stuffing coagulated while they were eating.
The Marines at Chosin were soon not only fighting the penetrating, intense cold, but also large numbers of Chinese soldiers. Shortly after Thanksgiving the army units to the east of Chosin were overrun, and the Marines surrounded. In response, the Marines began to fight their way south out of the Chinese encirclement. They could not take their “shoe pac” boots off for fear they could not get them back on again and C-Rations froze so solid that they could not be pried out of their cans. The ground was so hard that the Marines could not dig foxholes, and piled up frozen dead Chinese soldiers for cover from enemy fire. The weather was brutal to the Chinese as well as to the Americans, and Hujdich remembered seeing enemy prisoners with their hands turned black with frostbite. Fighting all the way, the First Marine Division successfully withdrew south to the port of Hungnam where ships awaited to take the division back to South Korea.
During the withdrawal, Hujdich was evacuated to Japan with wounds and frostbite injuries. When he returned to the First Marine Division in January, 1951, the division was fighting along the 38th parallel line near the current border between North and South Korea. He was still serving in Korea that April, when President Harry S. Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur from command and replaced him with General Matthew B. Ridgeway. Hujdich recalled that his feeling, in retrospect, was that MacArthur, although a talented commander, was a bit of an “egomaniac.” He remembered that when MacArthur was replaced by Ridgeway there was no ill effect on the morale of the troops on the line. He said that they knew Ridgeway was “a proven soldier,” and that the troops “felt comfortable with him.”
Albert Hujdich came home from Korea in October 1951, with five years left on his enlistment. The Marine Corps asked him where he wanted to be stationed and he said he wanted to either go back to London, to Japan, or to Armorer’s school. Instead, he was assigned to recruiting duty in Pittsburgh. The recruiting station did not meet its quota, and he was transferred to Camp Lejeune after six months. Over the next few years Hujdich rose to the rank of staff sergeant and married. His wife was not particularly happy with military life, so he left the Marines after ten years of service and became a construction worker, and then a mailman in Trenton, New Jersey. He thought of going back into the military at one time, but did not, because the Marines would not promise to station him in the New Jersey area. He did join the army reserve and then the New Jersey National Guard, from which he eventually retired. He also joined the New Jersey State Police, retiring after twenty-three years of service.
Based on his experiences in the military and in Korea, Hujdich recalls that the war did stop the spread of Communism to South Korea, which is now a prosperous nation, which was a good thing. He thinks one of the greatest attributes of the United States is that people have emigrated here from all over the world and get along with each other in a democratic and prosperous society, and that is a good thing as well, but he feels that the military, and those who serve in it, are not always appreciated as much as they should be by the American public.