Robert (Bob) Petzold and his wife LaVerne are founding members of Oak Hammock at the University of Florida. They have three children (including a son, Robert John, now deceased) and three grandchildren. Their oldest daughter Laura s an antique dealer in Milwaukee, WI. Their youngest daughter Mary retired from Fortis Assurance Company. Bob Petzold is a retired Service Officer from the Disabled American Veterans organization and a combat veteran of the Korean War. He served in the U. S Army from February 2, 1952, to November 3, 1953. On February 22 and April 3, 2010, in Oak Hammock's Meditation Room, Bob related details of his experience in Korea. On March 27, 2010, Bob recalled his work on a PTDS project while with Disabled American Veterans.
I finished high school and went into a carpenter trade. Then I was drafted. I was first generation German-American, knew German, studied it in high school. I figured the Army would send me to Germany. But they sent me to Korea. We were told we were being sent to Korea to fight communism. I really didn't know what communism was. What does a communist look like? I think their main purpose was to fill the ranks in Korea with warm bodies.
The Korean War was really two types of wars. The war started on June 25, 1950, when the North Korean Peoples Army (NCPA) aggressively crossed the 38th Parallel into South Korea. Two days later, Truman mobilized U. S. troops to assist South Korea with what he called a “Police Action.” We entered the war under United Nations Command (UNC). The North Koreans pushed the Americans and South Koreans back to the Pusan Perimeter. In September 1950, General MacArthur sent troops into Inchon and split the North Korean Army. UN forces were able to break out of Pusan. They eventually drove the North Koreans out of South Korea and advanced all the way through North Korea up to the Yalu River. In November 1950 the Chinese entered the war on the side of North Korea. That started the second war in Korea. The Communist forces had Russian supplies, including MIG planes, and they overran many UN positions. UN forces had to strategically withdraw back to an area around the 38th Parallel. For the rest of the war there were attacks and counterattacks by both sides. Neither side gained much ground. A lot of shelling, trench warfare, hand-to-hand combat! Lines kept changing. The war ended with an armistice in late July 1953.
I got to Korea in August of ’52, arrived at Pusan, rode a train to our replacement depot near the 38th parallel. I was assigned to the 4th Squad of Easy Company, 1st Battalion, 17th Regiment of the 7th Division. The 4th Squad is the Company’s Weapons Squad, in my case the light machine gun squad. Our unit was stationed on the MLR [Main Line of Resistance].
It was a long trench, about 65 miles long, and stretched across the country. No Man’s Land and the 38th Parallel were north the MLR. We had the high ground south of the 38th Parallel.
Across the valley from us was Old Baldy about 1,250 feet high—towered over everybody. It was bald on top from all the shelling it got. We called Old Baldy “Papa San.” Northeast of us were a bunch of hills that both sides fought like hell for. Places like Porkshop Hill, T-Bone Hill, Alligator Jaw, Jane Russell Hill, and others. The enemy'd set up on a hill. We'd attack and take it. Then they'd attack and take it. We'd run up and take it back. Back and forth, back and forth. Many casualties: total American dead and wounded around 150,000!
“Baptism” by Fire
Starting in October of ’52 our unit moved around for 14 days. We were trying to confuse the enemy. On the 15th day we got extra ammo and grenades. We were told we were jumping off to take Jane Russell Hill. Jane Russell was in an area called the White Horse Triangle. That hill had breasts like Jane Russell in the Outlaw movie (Laughs.) We climbed up Jane Russell shooting and screaming, trying like mad to scare the enemy. Lieutenant Fernandez and I were first to reach the crest of the hill. I just happened to be one of the first up there. Heard shots, thought they were coming from our men. Saw a Chinese grenade, knew we were being counter-attacked—all hell broke loose—grenades coming toward me—I dove to the side—lay on the ground—no trees, no cover—made myself small as I could—took two grenades off my belt, hurled ’em over the crest of the hill. That was my “baptism” to combat. Lt. Fernandez threw his grenades over the crest. The others kept pitching grenades to Fernandez and me with the pins in-tacked. I must’ve thrown 15 to 20 over that crest. This went on for over a half hour. All of a sudden the firing stopped.
Captain down at the bottom of the hill yelled, “Take the forward slope, men!” Lt. Fernandez yelled back, “Fuck you! There’s Chinks over there!” We finally took the ridge line and prepared to dig in for a counterattack. Shale was slippery, hard to dig your boots in it. Took my shovel, dug a hole in the shale. About three inches down I saw a finger, about 1 ½ inches. Picked it up, threw it down the hill and kept digging. We beat off another counter-attack. Held the hill through the night! In the morning we turned it over to ROKs [Republic of Korea troops].
The Chinese had 57 mm recoilless rifles. They’d shoot at us from caves. Unless you could put fire right in the cave, you couldn’t hit ’em. We’d see ’em digging holes in No Man’s Land. They had so many men. Sometimes the fighting was hand-to-hand. My division was called the “Bayonet Division.” I didn’t have to use my bayonet, but some of my friends had killed with bayonets.
In early December ’52, we were taken off the line and sent to Koji-do to guard North Korean prisoners. It’s an island off Korea. This was supposed to be our R & R [Rest & Relaxation]. Three of us were assigned to guard 30 North Korean prisoners. We each had an M1 with a clip of eight rounds. My friend Domenic Colameta had news pictures of GI’s captured by North Koreans in 1950. The GI’s had their hands tied behind their backs, left to freeze out there. Domenic said, “I’m gonna get one of those SOB’s.” One day crates of food came in. We ordered prisoners to unload the crates. During the unloading one prisoner lunged at Domenic (I had the feeling the guy slipped). Domenic shot him. We yelled “Anjo” (sp?) at the other prisoners; it means “lie down.”
After that, guys from CID [Criminal Investigation Division] took Domenic in a room and questioned him. Domenic said he was lunged at. Then they took Andrew Thomas in a room and read him Domenic’s statement. Thomas supported Domenic’s story. Then they called Petzold into a room. I said, “Yes, the guy lunged at Domenic.” The guy was dead; I couldn’t bring him back. Sometimes we’d harass prisoners to keep ’em on edge. After the man was shot, Domenic, Thomas, and I weren’t allowed back in the prison. If we’d gone in there, the prisoners probably would’ve jumped us. Three days later we were invited to the Officers’ Mess for a steak dinner. I hadn’t had a steak in a long time. Man, it tasted good!
Chinese and North Koreans were kept in different prisons. The North Koreans I knew were nice. They didn’t want to be in the war. They preferred surrender over fighting. We didn’t feed them American food. Fed them food they were used to, like squid, squid juice and rice.
In January ’53 we went back on line. We got a new CO, Lieutenant Warren Webster III. Rumor had it he wanted to make points with the top brass. Many guys wanted the CIB [Combat Infantryman Badge]. Those who personally fought in active ground combat while an assigned member of an infantry unit are eligible for the CIB. In the latter part of the war, a lot of the action was taking prisoners. Webster decided to take a night patrol and go to the foot of T-Bone Hill and grab a prisoner. He ordered us to start firing our weapons to flush out Joe Chink. Well, we all know every fifth round in a machine gun belt is a tracer. Joe knew this too and could zero in on the flash. In came Joe’s mortars. We got to the foot of T-Bone; we took so much fire we scattered to the three winds. Several of our guys were wounded, but we made it back to our post. Next morning we found out one man was missing. Not sure, but I think his name was Rodriguez. After that, Webster set up a buddy system. You had to know where your buddy was at all times.
On the line we operated in hooches. A hooch had four men. At night one guy manned a gun bunker; the other guys slept in the sleeping bunker few yards behind and to the left of the gun bunker. We had a 30 caliber water-cooled machine gun and a smaller 30 caliber air-cooled machine gun. The bunkers were covered with timber; on top of the timber were sandbags. We had four cots in the sleep bunker. Each cot had metal stakes and comm [communications] wire over the stakes. You felt the wire when you were lying on it. Whatever you did in the day, you were exhausted at night, fell asleep easily. It was really cold. I slept in a sleeping bag with everything on but my steel pot and boots. We had a pot-bellied stove with a tube to a 5-gallon can of fuel.
February 17, 1953, was my father’s birthday. About 2 a. m., I woke up really hot. Looked up and saw flames dancing down at me from the bunker’s log ceiling. Unzipped myself, jumped up yelling, “Fire!” I pulled one guy off the top bunk and grabbed another guy off the lower bunk. We rushed outside and yelled to the gun bunker guy and we all cleared out. The fire was blazing hot. We were lucky to get out in time because Joe Chinese started shelling us. Our ammo started to explode. We lost everything we had in those bunkers.
Webster’s “Super Patrol”
On February 19, 1953, Lt. Webster asked for five volunteers to go with him on a “super patrol.” The objective was to go to the foot of Old Baldy, grab a Chinese and bring him back. Domenic Colameta, Jim Bierman, and two other guys volunteered. I volunteered too, but Webster ordered me to lead another patrol. My group was to go to a spot among three trees on the valley floor. We were to meet Webster’s patrol by a tree that had a plowed island around the base. At 4:30 p. m. Webster’s patrol started crawling toward Old Baldy. We waited behind the line for Webster’s signal. At 7:30 he called; eighteen of us started out. I was carrying a radio, carbine rifle, and a 45 pistol into No Man’s Land. I thought, “How cold it is! I’ll be glad when this night is over.” The temperature plunged to zero that night.
My point man found the meeting spot—in the middle of a rice paddy. When we got there, I started placing my men to cover the area with crossfire if needed. I placed three men. I was going back for the fourth man when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. Then I felt the most searing pain I’ve ever felt in my life—I was hit in the base of the spine, couldn’t move, shell-shocked. You don’t yell out “Medic” because he’s the one the Chinese want to hit. I called “Hack”! Hack took the radio off me. He cut open my pants, gave me a shot of morphine. I felt immediate relief, like I was floating five feet off the ground—felt no pain but I felt fear. I realized we were under attack. I couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything but bark commands.
Webster’s patrol came toward us. That gave us 24 men against about 100 Chinese. Webster and his guys got killed. I’m not sure what killed them. Chinese kept picking at the rest of us. Radio was damaged, had no way to get help but flares! I told my rifleman to shoot four flares: for tactical assistance, medical assistance, artillery assistance—can’t recall the fourth one. Now we’re bathed in light. Didn’t want to be hit by our artillery, but we needed help—we’re being fired at—they’re throwing grenades at us. You couldn’t see the grenades; you just heard when one hit the ground—you waited for the explosion and your body to take another piece of hot metal. I caught shrapnel in my legs, spine, shoulder; it hit my shoulder and tore off my helmet and a piece went into my skull—that’s how I lost a lot of hearing—I picked the shrapnel piece out of my head the night before my wedding.
Rest of the night more and more grenades went off around us. One of my biggest fears was being buried as waste in a rice paddy; the fields were fertilized with human manure. I was engaged to LaVerne at the time. I thought about her and my parents, wanted to go home. I could do nothing but bury my head in the stinking rice paddy and pray. I prayed: “God, if you pull me out of this, just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” I prayed the “Our Father,” kept praying it over and over—I kept passing in and out from the morphine.
One time I woke up, saw a group coming towards us. They weren’t quiet—I knew it was our guys. Chinese wore soft shoes; they could step on a twig and not be heard. I said a special prayer, “Thank you, God, for taking me out of here!” Lt. Richard Whitson and his men had to fight their way into our perimeter. Once inside they secured the area. This must have been 12:30 a. m.—all of a sudden they were gone. They didn’t have enough litters to carry four of us back. Thought I’d had it; I was gonna die in this stinking rice paddy. I said goodbye to LaVerne, my Mother and Dad and prepared to die.
A senior medic from Whitson's patrol stayed and took care of the four of us. He was a sergeant from Headquarters Company and didn't have to be on that patrol but he was. He took care of us the best he could. He caught a lot of shrapnel from Chinese grenades and was hurt bad. He got the Silver Star for that. I wish I could remember his name.* He's now deceased.
Sometime during the night I noticed the enemy jabbing at some of us, leaving others alone. I played the most “possum” I’d ever played in my life; put my 45 to my head and waited. No Chink was going to take me prisoner. I heard how they tortured our men. One of their favorite tricks was to hit you in the temple. They came within about three feet, then left. They thought we were dead. If they’d come any closer, I would have pulled the trigger.
Actually, Lt. Whitson moved off a ways with his patrol and radioed for further assistance. Lt. Jack Sullivan came with a patrol and additional litters, and Sullivan's patrol and Whitson's group came under fire and they had to break through to us. They arrived about 4:00 a. m. I was never so happy when I heard their crunching boots. They put me on a canvas litter; I’m cursing ’em, yelling “Ouch—don’t bump me, damn it!” We got to the foot of a hill and I saw a personnel carrier with a white star and I knew I was finally safe. I had been in the process of becoming a Catholic and had been given a scapular for protection. You weren’t supposed to wear anything around your neck but dog tags. They put me in an aid station; a priest gave me the last rites. Then they strapped two of us onto a bubble top chopper. We took off; I thought I was gonna fall off. (Laughs.) They took me to the 44th MASH unit. For five days I didn’t recall anything. When I woke up I had all these tubes in me. On the opposite wall was a calendar with a picture of Marilyn Monroe. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven. (Laughs.)
I was treated at 44th MASH less than a month. I had the Red Cross write to LaVerne for me. Here’s the letter:
44th MASH APO 301
Feb. 26, 1953
My Dearest LaVerne,
By now you know I have been wounded over here in Korea, but don’t think of it as being the worst. The medical aid that we have over here is the best.
I would like to be writing this in my own handwriting, but it’s only a week since I’ve been wounded and I’m still a little shaky, so I’m dictating it to the Red Cross.
In a few days I will be evacuated to Japan for further treatment until I am all okay.
Darling, this will not in any way change our future plans. You can count on that.
All my love,
P.S. Say hello to the rest of the family.
P.S.S. Don’t write me until I send you a new address—I won’t stay here long enough.
On Feb. 27 my parents got this telegram. My Dad kept it in his wallet till the day he died.
Next I was sent to a hospital in Seoul. Have no idea how I got there. I was treated in Seoul for about month then sent to Tokyo Army Hospital in Japan. Up to that point I’d been bed-ridden. The wife of General Mark Clark, UN Commander, visited me at bedside; we had a nice chat.
Maurine Doran Clark with PFC Robert F. Petzold March 10, 1953
By the time I got to Tokyo Army Hospital I’d dropped from 165 to 128 pounds. I had a fine Japanese nurse. One day she asked, “Do you want to walk, Private Petzold?” She gave me a high wheelchair and taught me how to walk. After a while I put on enough weight to be sent back to the states. They put me on a MATS plane [Military Air Transport Service] and we flew to Wake Island. Flying into Wake, I looked out the window and saw what looked like a long white tape of an air strip. I thought about all the lives we lost on this island during World War II. We got box lunches then took off for Hawaii. I was at Tripler General Hospital in Honolulu for two days. From there they sent me to Camp Roberts in California then to the Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, Michigan. LaVerne and my sister Shirley flew to Battle Creek and visited me. I finally left the hospital on August 21, 1953. The next day LaVerne and I got married at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Milwaukee.
Bob Petzold in Army hospital pajamas with fiancée LaVerne Millonig (l) and Shirley Petzold (r) ca. April 1953
How was morale in Korea?
When I got to Korea, morale was very good. There was a lot of camaraderie among the guys I served with. But we didn’t call each other by full names. You didn’t want to get too close to anybody. Nicknames gave you a distance. You’re part of family because you’re all in the same combat boat. You looked forward to rotating out. You rotated with 36 points. Basically you put in a year. We got along very well with troops from other countries: English, Canadians, Columbians, and others. We were all unified under the UN. I think the UN concept worked pretty well in Korea.
In 1995 they dedicated the Korean Memorial in Washington, D.C. I’m glad I went. At the memorial they divided us into service branches; then each branch split into various sections. I looked for people who’d been in my unit. I met Joseph Gonzalez. He was not in my unit, but we’d eaten chow with his group before we went on Webster’s “super patrol.” Gonzalez had seen the tracers and muzzle flashes from the action we’d been in. He said, “I never thought I’d see another man alive from that patrol.” He later wrote a book called The Battle at the 38h Parallel [Hellgate Press, 2001]. He did a lot of research for the book. He interviewed a number of us who’d been in the battle, and we’re mentioned in the book.
In the late 90’s I met Jack Sullivan, lieutenant of the group that rescued me. We met in a restaurant in Indianapolis and talked till early in the morning. He signed me up as a member of the 17th Regimental Combat Team Association. Not too long after that Sullivan died. I went to his funeral on a cold rainy day at Arlington National Cemetery. So far I’ve met five people who were part of the first and second rescue parties the night I was wounded. I called Dick Whitson who led the first rescue effort. He said, “When we meet, either you’re gonna kick my butt for leaving you out there or shake my hand.” (Laughs.) We met, shook hands and hugged each other.
Bob Petzold (l) and Dick Whitson (r) at reunion, 17th Regimental Combat Team
I never will forget the letter I got from the U. S. Army charging me $96 and a few cents for damages the night our hooch burnt up. I got the letter in July of ’53 when I was still in the hospital. I wrote back and said, “Check the carburetor!”
I assume you didn’t pay.
Corporal Robert F. Petzold’s Decorations: Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Korean Service Ribbon with Bronze Star, UN Ribbon,
* Anyone who was in the Kumwha Valley in Korea the night of February 20, 1953, and knows the name of this sergeant, please contact Bob Petzold via this website, firstname.lastname@example.org .
Bob Petzold, DAV Service Officer and the PTSD Project
I went to work with the DAV in 1961. I had a two-year training program and eventually became supervisor of a four-man, two-secretary office in Milwaukee. During and after the Vietnam War we worked with a lot of Vietnam vets. They’d complain and say things like, “I was in a war that nobody else was in.” DAV personnel who’d seen action in World War II and Korea wondered what was so different about these Vietnam guys. At first, they seemed like cry babies. We’d been in combat and didn’t carry on like these guys. During the Vietnam War the whole American society was changing, and of course the DAV realized that.
In the early 70s Dr. John P. Wilson contacted our DAV Headquarters in Cincinnati. He’s a psychologist and wanted to do a study of Vietnam vets. He asked for $10,000 in funding and got approved. Wilson drew up a 3-page questionnaire of 75 to 100 questions. He had three people to help him. The DAV gave him the names of a number of Vietnam vets. The questionnaire was sent out and 400 vets agreed to be interviewed one-on-one. During the project two dropped out; they felt the questions were too personal. Wilson and his team were able to get answers from the other 398.
At this time, the VA said that if a vet was diagnosed with anxiety neurosis up to one year after his separation from service, he qualified for a service-connected disability. After that one year he didn’t qualify. The Wilson study found that many Vietnam vets hadn’t sought any treatment for their mental problems. The ones that did go to the VA didn’t get any help because the VA said, “You’ll get over it.” So a lot of them distrusted the VA and the government. Most of these guys weren’t professional soldiers. They’d been drafted out of peaceful situations in the states. They’d been given minimal training and sent over to kill foreign people in a very unpopular war. The enemy they fought wasn’t just men in uniform. The enemy was women and children, all kinds of civilians you wouldn’t expect to be fighters. I had 16 weeks of infantry training, much more training than most of the Vietnam guys I worked with.
Wilson and his team concluded that these Vietnam vets were suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). After that, the DAV called every one of their offices in the U. S. and asked them to send one person, preferably a combat veteran, to Washington, D.C. to learn about this new disability. I was the only combat vet in our Milwaukee office, but I didn’t want to go. It had been over 30 years since I’m been in combat. But I went on to Washington and spent two weeks studying post traumatic stess with other DAV personnel.
We learned that the disorder occurs generally six months after a traumatic incident. It doesn’t have to be a wartime thing. It can be a trauma in civilian life, like a traffic accident. The symptoms are recurring nightmares, personality changes, and suicidal thoughts. We studied particular cases and tried to pick out causes and effects of the disorder. After that, the DAV went to the American Psychiatric Association and asked them to include PTSD in their manual. I came away from Washington with great sympathy for vets who had this problem. I thought they deserved the Purple Heart, but you had to draw blood for that. Of course, mental hurt can be worse than physical hurt.
After Washington I had to do a combination of things in Wisconsin. I had to get Vietnam vets to come to me and tell me their stories so I could help them. I had to canvass mental health providers to find vets suffering from post traumatic stress. This work had to be done gratis, without any financial assistance. I probably gave about 50 presentations. I had my own material: audiotapes, videotapes, pamphlets. My DAV pamphlet talked about Dr. Wilson and the study in Washington. In 1980 the American Psychiatric Association included PTSD in their list of mental disorders. My pamphlet stated this fact.
The DAV told me to find a “storefront” where I could interview Vietnam vets with symptoms of post traumatic stress. “Storefront” meant a special place not connected to the VA where I could privately talk one-on-one with a guy. I selected a place on the second floor of the War Memorial in Milwaukee,* made sure it had minimal furniture. I wouldn’t dress in a tie and coat like I used to at work. I dressed down, wore leisure clothes like the Vietnam guys and grew a full beard. I was trying to understand them, trying to get them to be comfortable and trust me. I’d meet a vet at the door and we’d shake hands.
They first drew back, not sure about me. They’d say things like, “Don’t know why I’m here. My wife sent me here.” I first asked basic questions: branch of service, time and place of service. If he told me he was in Vietnam in ’68, that was a bad time for him because of things like the Tet Offensive.** Another bad time for vets was ’75 when Vietnam was taken over by the communists. I’d get calls from spouses and sweethearts asking me to talk to their loved ones, got calls from relatives too. In 1985 I had an onslaught of people wanting to talk about the bad time in ’75. I listened to horrible things. Their combat memories sounded very real. After three or four hours listening to a guy talk, I’d say, “I think it’d be good if you expressed your feelings to a mental health provider one-on-one and get in group sessions with other Vietnam vets.” If I was convinced a vet had service-connected PTSD, I wrote it up in a report. A mental health professional had to sign off on my recommendation in order for the vet to get compensation.
I remember working with Bob Cook over in Madison [WI]. Cook was a Vietnam vet who started out as an unpaid counselor for DAV. Later he became a VA counselor. He organized a combat vet group in Madison. I sat in on a session. Bob Cook’s an excellent counselor. He’s probably still in Madison counseling veterans.
Dealing with Tragedy
I tried not to schedule more than two appointments a day. If I had three interviews, it was too much and my wife would know it. I found out that vets wanted a weapon in the house; it was their security. One question I asked was, “Do you have a weapon near your bed. If you have a weapon, where are the bullets? If your weapon has bullets in it, please do everybody who loves you a favor and take the bullets away.” I didn’t want them to sleep with a loaded weapon.
I worked with a guy in Milwaukee who kept having nightmares about his combat in Nam. There was no medication then for this kind of thing. I advised him what to do. He had a number to call any time he was feeling bad. Thought I was helping him work through his problems. I tried to assist his girlfriend. One day I got a call he’d committed suicide. This shocked me to my core. It was starting to work on me. It was too much. I called a number in Washington, D. C. and got in touch with a DAV psychologist. Thank God, he helped me work through it.
Eventually the VA accepted PTSD as a genuine disorder. There is no time limit now for vets with severe anxiety related to combat experiences. There’s medication now for guys like the Milwaukee vet who committed suicide. These are great improvements.
* A stunning landmark on Lake Michigan in downtown Milwaukee, the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center houses the Gallery honoring Milwaukee County’s 3,472 War Dead from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars. It became the first Vietnam Memorial in the country. It is also known as a superb location for wedding ceremonies and receptions, banquets and meetings of all kinds.
** The Tet Offensive was a military campaign conducted by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army against forces of South Vietnam, the United States, and their allies. Begun January 31, 1968, the first day of the Vietnamese lunar calendar and a holiday, the offensive failed to achieve its military objectives. However, it turned many minds against American involvement in the war.