Korean War Oral History Interview
Date: July 11, 2001
Veteran: Captain George Waple
US Army Cavalry and Infantry, 83rd Infantry Division, 7th Infantry Division
Interviewer: Robert Pontecorvo
Summarizer: Walter Borkowski
George Waple was born in Waple’s Mills, Fairfax County, Virginia in February, 1921. In August 1938, he dropped out of high school and left Waple’s Mills to join the United States Army. Waple began his military career as a private in the Third Cavalry Regiment, then still a horse mounted unit. When he served with the Third, stationed at Fort Myer, Virginia, it was commanded by Colonel Jonathan Wainwright and then Colonel George C. Patton. Waple would go on to serve in World War II and Korea and retire from the army as a captain in 1962.
George Waple’s autobiographical sketch states that when his troopship docked at Liverpool, England in the spring of 1944, he was a master sergeant serving as communications chief in the 331st Infantry Regiment’s headquarters company. The 331st was assigned to the Eighty-third Infantry Division, which landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day plus twelve. The Eighty-third relieved the 101st Airborne Division at Carentan, France on June 26. Waple’s unit fought the Germans through the hedgerows of Normandy, in the Hurtgen Forest, and at the Battle of the Bulge. The Eighty-third ended the war on the Elbe River in Germany, where the Americans met the Russian army.
Waple returned to Fort Myer in 1945, where he was assigned as First Sergeant of the Ceremonial Detachment that performed guard duty and ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery. Waple served as official honor guard in the Washington D.C. area. He became Head Usher for Affairs of State at the White House under President Truman and served as the president’s wreath carrier in Memorial Day ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
In 1948 Waple was assigned to the staff of General Omar M. Bradley, who commissioned him a second lieutenant in January, 1952. His next assignment was to serve as assistant to the commanding General of the Fifth Infantry Division, stationed at Camp Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. In the summer of 1953 he was ordered to Korea, and arrived in time to take part in the war’s last battle, the fight for “Old Baldy.”
Waple landed in Korea at Pusan, and soon boarded a train north. He recalled that he knew he was getting close to the front lines when he saw artillery flashes to the right front of the train, then directly to his right. He was sure that he had finally arrived at the front when he saw flashes behind him. After leaving the train he traveled by truck to Seventh Infantry Division headquarters. While awaiting official assignment to “L” Company of the Third Battalion of the Thirty-first Infantry Regiment he was temporarily detailed as the battalion’s adjutant.
“We knew that the war was coming to an end,” Waple recalled, “…but because of the probing actions of the Chinese, we surmised that they were going to give us a large attack before the war’s end.” It was Waple’s job to make sure that his battalion was up to strength and prepared for the attack. The battalion was well dug in, with its machine gunners and riflemen zeroed in on their fields of fire, artillery and mortar concentrations established and barbed wire and mines covering the entire battalion front. He remembered that on the night of July 26, 1953, the Chinese and North Koreans attacked “…in full mass, thousands of them. They were slaughtered. I was back at the battalion command post, when I heard the soldiers in the front line trenches say on the radio ‘…bring in the artillery on top of us. They are in the trenches with us….’ That is pretty tough, but we survived. We lost quite a few men, but it wasn’t as bad as we thought. We knew they were coming and we were prepared.”
The fighting ended with an armistice the following day, but the battalion stayed on for months after that, improving and strengthening its position along the Thirty-eighth Parallel line. In the late summer of 1953, Waple was selected to be the aide of Major General Lionel C. McGarr, commanding officer of the Seventh Division. Waple recalled a day when he traveled with General McGarr to inspect the defenses of a Seventh Division battalion. The battalion’s regimental commander led them up a steep hill, followed by the battalion command, the general and Waple in that order. On the way up the general and Waple passed the battalion commander, who was winded because he was out of shape. When they reached the summit, McGarr relieved the battalion commander on the spot.
Waple remembered how highly some United Nations soldiers were regarded, particularly the Turks, who were fierce fighters and good hosts to their friends. He also talked about how he and other soldiers, including General Bradley, felt empathy for the soldiers who had endured a bitter cold Korean winter, fighting up to the Yalu River and back down to the Thirty-eighth Parallel during the early part of the war, while under the command of General Douglas McArthur.
After the fighting ended, many USO shows came to Korea to entertain the men. Waple remembered being assigned to escort the actress Marilyn Monroe, who he met at the helicopter pad after her helicopter landed. He brought Monroe and her female escort to a Quonset hut that had been prepared as their quarters. According to Waple, Monroe sat on a cot and asked him to help take off her army boots and he did. She then asked him to pull off her trousers. “My heart began to beat very fast with anxiety as I pulled down her trousers but she had on long johns – that was as far as it went,” he recalled. For the next three days, he escorted Monroe around the Seventh Division area by jeep. “I showed her off to all the boys…,” he remembered. “It was a lovely assignment. She was a lovely person, sweet, beautiful and very kind to me. And she was just wonderful to be with. It was an experience I’ll never forget, and I was very proud of it.”
Waple also recalled a visit by Cardinal Francis Spellman of the Archdiocese of New York City, papal delegate to the American Armed Forces. “It was February and it was bitter cold, so I took off my parka and put it on his shoulders. Well he made the tour and kept my jacket.” A few years later, Waple remembered, he was invited to a cocktail party given by the cardinal in New York City. When Waple met Spellman on the receiving line, he mentioned Korea and his parka to the Cardinal, who answered “…yes I remember. I still have it and I’m going to keep it – so I guessed I lost my parka for good.”
Waple recalled that for Christmas 1953 his wife and her friends and neighbors in Farmingdale, New Jersey sent over many boxes of clothing, candy and everything else they could think of for some orphaned Korean children he had befriended. “It was a lot of fun being with them,” he recalled.
In 1962, Captain Waple retired to Farmingdale to live with his wife and help raise their twin sons. He is proud that one became a nurse and the other an Episcopalian deacon. On retirement at the age of forty-two, he remembered, he realized that he had quite a lot of military education, but little formal education. He found new work he enjoyed, however, and summed up his life by saying: “I feel good, I’m happy with what I got. I’m happy and proud for what I have done for my country, and I hope the young people are happy for what we did for them.”
During his retirement years George Waple wrote an autobiography, Country Boy Gone Soldiering. He recalled that a number of young men he met on book signing tours thanked him for his service to the country, be he especially remembered “…one chap who thanked me for coming home.”