Corporal US Army Korea
February 9, 2022
This story is reprinted from 2017 in recognition of Ernest Kahrs' passing.
Ernest Kahrs graduated from high school in Lodgepole in 1949. By that time, there were several branches of the military he could have joined. The U.S. Air Force had become an entity of its own; the U.S. Navy was hiring young folks; the Marines were always interested. Ernest just waited for the draft to come get him. The government did just that.
The action that drove his being drafted was the conflict in Korea. (Note: if one was in the fight there, it was the Korean War. If one wasn’t there, it was called a “conflict”). Ernest rode a train to the U.S. military in-processing station in Omaha. It was his first train ride. He passed the physical exam and completed other paperwork. The train ride home and time spent there was valuable but, ultimately, he would be off to the Army!
Soon, it was time. The first delivery of men was to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. There, Ernest and a train-car full of other young men were delayed in route for a couple of weeks, then sent on to colorful Fort Riley, Kansas. The time of year was late fall, heading to winter. Fort Riley is not real conducive to training in the winter months! Here they invented the expression “if it doesn’t kill ya, it’ll make ya stronger!”
Ernest got along just fine with the training. The housing in the older wooden barracks was tolerable, kinda. He learned the ways and rules of being a soldier. He excelled on the rifle range, earning the “expert” badge in rifle marksmanship. On graduation, he remained at Fort Riley for his follow-on training in food service.
After taking the entry tests, Ernest was pretty sure he was going to be a truck driver or a lineman, but, he cooperated when they told him he was going to be a cook. At such training, it is as imagined.
How and what foods to order, store, and prepare were on the main list of classes and future work. Ernest said it was alright. There was always something for him to eat. Cook school lasted eight weeks.
The next stop for this trained soldier was to the northwest area, most likely Fort Lewis, near Seattle.
Here the men just waited for the troop ship to fill so it could take them to Korea. In a short couple of weeks, the USS General M.C.Meigs A116, a fast-transport troop ship was loaded and ready to ship out. Ernest slept in the middle hammock of a stack of three high.
Just west of the port, the weather stirred and caused the ship to rock and sway too much. There was seldom found, a man who did not become sea sick. The arrival into the correct port finally came about. The ship stayed out in the bay while the men were delivered to land by smaller boats.
Ernest was assigned to the 619th Ordnance Ammunition Company, 72nd U.S. Army Ordnance Battalion.
For the most part, this was a stand-alone unit that delivered the specific items of war that blew things and people up.
Once ashore, the men re-assembled and re-grouped. They were trucked forward by 6X6 trucks to their encampment. The cantonment area consisted of some rows of tents which had wooden sides about five feet high. Then the top was canvas. The mess hall was a much larger tent because it had to have room for food preparation and for dining. In their particular cook’s tent, the men pooled some of their money to afford a local youth to clean their tent. The youth became named “knucklehead” and did a good job for the men.
The main operation for the soldiers living and serving here was to deliver ammunition to the forward areas of the war. So there were truck drivers, maintenance workers, admin soldiers, a small medical contingent and food service.
Seven days a week, the cooks worked to make sure there were three meals served a day.
Ernest said that there was an occasion of a USO group that came to the area. One of the entertainers was Raymond Burr. Burr’s birthday happened when the visit to this area happened. Ernest knew that because he made the actor a birthday cake! Food is a big deal when men and women are deployed. The food is particularly important on holidays.
Ernest did see injured men come back from the front. Some were pretty beat up and all needed medical attention. The unit was managed by a First Sergeant. In that the war made tremendous demands on an ammunition company.
The cease-fire and armistice ending hostilities was being rumored in the Company area. Ernest heard about it by way of a radio that was in the cook’s area.
The rumors were continuing to seem true because the bombs and artillery pieces were firing rounds much less. Finally, things for the 619th Ordnance Ammunition Company started to wind down. The unit had been “in country” for nearly eighteen months. Ernest found out that a brother of his was also serving in Korea. They found each other and got in some visiting time.
The men got on board a troop ship and the trip home. This time it was a nine-day trip that carried the men under the Golden Gate Bridge. Once on land, the men re-assembled and were sent to the various installations that handled re-deployments. Ernest ended his military service in Camp Carson, Colorado. One nice thing about being deployed to a stark place like Korea, there is no place to spend one’s money. Ernest saved his earnings and was able to afford a car.
On discharge, the men were allowed to take home only the clothes they wore. His brother-in-law drove the new car from Lodgepole to Camp Carson to pick this soldier up and bring him home. An oddity is that Ernest was not issued an Eisenhower jacket and/or pants.
Steps are being taken in the local area to correct this shortfall.
Corporal Ernest Kahrs, you did your job so well! Thank you for your service!