DESA Oral History Project
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|Oral History Interview
of Sam Higbee
Hospital Corps Man In the United States Marine Corps and Navy
Date of Interview: November 21, 2002
For the Monmouth University Library
This oral history interview of Samuel Higbee took place on November 21, 2002 at the Monmouth University Library in Long Branch, New Jersey. This is for the Oral History Project for HS 298 01 at Monmouth University. I, Christy Norelli, a student at Monmouth University, conducted the interview. I will be conducting the interview. Samuel Higbee served in the Korean War. He was discharged with the rank of hospital core men third class. He served in the following areas: United States Naval Hospital in Philadelphia, U.S. Marine Core in Korea, U.S.S. Seiverling in Japan, South China Sea, and the Korean Sea.
Q: What did your father do for a
living while you were growing up?
A: My dad was a banker. He is now deceased.
Q; Did your mother work?
A: During World War II she worked part time for a company called Warrant Dye Finishing Corporation, which dyed canvas for the military. It was used for tents and car covers, and things like that. That was only for the duration of World War II.
Q: What activities did you partake in as a child? Did you play sports?
A: Starting from my high school years, actually I was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. I lived there partially during World War II, and then we moved to Bridgeton in Cumberland County where I went to high school and I played tennis there. I was very active in a lot of the clubs and organizations in the high school. I graduated from Bridgeton High School.
Q: Did you work at all as a child?
A: After high school I worked. After I graduated form high school I worked for the P.J. Ritter company, which was food processing plant. We made ketchup which I enjoyed doing. I was in the quality control department. We made Slyvo Dog Food and part of my job was testing that. I had to actually eat dog food! Every hour on the hour (laughs), mainly to make sure it wasn't scorched. I'll always remember that. We made a lot of other things too. It is probable that some people still remember the Ritter label. They are no longer in business, but back in the 1950's and the late forties they were very active.
Q: After high school did you go on to college?
A: No, unfortunately. I graduated in 1950 and in 1950 as a good many of us probably remember North Korea invaded South Korea, and a lot of our troops were being sent over there. I did work for one year, but then I was drafted into the army. I went to Philadelphia to be inducted, and there was a law in the administration. I was with a couple of hundred of other men being inducted, but I decided I didn't want to be in the Army. I wanted to go into the navy, so I left and I went back home. The next day I saw the recruiter for the United States Navy. He informed me he had a waiting list a mile long for people wanting to join the navy. Two days later I got a call from him saying that if I still wanted to go into the navy he could find a slot for me. I said, " I sure do". I knew that the army would be breathing down my neck wondering where I was. So I joined the navy and I went to boot camp in Bambridge, Maryland. Following boot camp I was interviewed and asked what I wanted to do in the service. I really didn't know. They had said to me that since I was a chemist assistant right after high school that I would probably make a good hospital core men. I said that that sounded good to me and that decision not knowing at the time was a big decision. It changed practically my whole life, and that is what I did. I went to hospital corps school for nine weeks which I later was told is equal to two years of medical school. Following hospital corps school I went to the United States Naval Hospital in Philadelphia where I worked in orthopedics. By that time I spent almost a year there. By that time the Korean war was escalating, and I didn't realize it at the time but, the United States Marine corps depend on the navy for all its medical help for all its corps men. In the army there are medics, but in the Navy they are hospital corps men. The Marines depend on the Navy for their nurses, doctors, chaplains, and other personal. I was then detached from the Navy and assigned to the Fleet Marine Force. I went to camp Bennalton in California where I studied combat medicine. I also went through Marine Corps boot camp, so I went through two boot camps. I was all boot camped out, I'll tell ya, especially the Marine Corps boot camp. Then I went to several weeks of school studying combat medicine. At this time I was wearing a Marine Corps uniform with Navy stripes on my shoulder. That is the only thing that distinguished me from the Marine Corps and the Navy, and then I went to Korea. I was assigned to what they call C15, which is Charlie Company, first regiment, fifth region. That was attached to the first marine division. From there my specific job was the health and safety of the marine Corps Company that I was assigned to. That required me going out on patrols, I was with a front line company. Several times we were engaged with the North Koreans, and then later on we were engaged with the Chinese communists. We saw a lot of action and lost a lot of men, unfortunately. My job was to save as many lives as I possibly could, which meant sometimes crawling on the ground. Sometimes I would have to make a decision of where the body I came across was either dead or alive and if it was alive I had to make a decision if I could help the person or not, if I could help the Marine. If I couldn't I would just move on to the next wounded Marine. We were over run a couple of times. I found myself in a position where I was able to save some marines, who had gotten unfortunately, in a position where they would have a very difficult time getting out alive. In helping them get out alive I was awarded the Bronze Star for heroism. I was authorized to wear a little V on my metal that signified valor. Unfortunately I was wounded two days before they signed the truce and I was sent to a hospital ship in Inchon Harbor. I came up on the deck one day when I was allowed to and that was when I saw my first destroyer escort. I didn't know at the time that it was a destroyer escort I had to ask the sailor, the deck hand what kind of ship that was out there in the harbor. He told me it was a destroyer escort. That was my first encounter with a destroyer escort and I said " Boy, that's a ship I want to go work on". Here I join the navy and I only had about six more months to do in my tour of duty and I wanted to go aboard the destroyer escort. When I was detached about a month later after the truce was signed they asked me what I wanted to do and I told them. I received orders a few months later to go aboard the U.S.S. William Seiverling, which was the whole number 441.
Q: What was it like on the Destroyer Escort?
A: It was great. Everybody was a little surprised that I wanted to go aboard am Escort, but I knew that if I had asked for anything else I would have gotten assigned to a hospital ship. I didn't want that. I wanted to go aboard a man of war. I had an excellent time the only thing is I was in San Diego at the time and the escort was steaming off the coast of Korea. Within a couple of week I found myself back into Korea again. This time we were steaming up and down the coast of Korea. I didn't go for that too much. In the case that if we had to send a land party ashore, I would have went with the land party. I knew my luck had run out. Thank heavens all the land parties were called off. We went to Yuckuska, we steamed up Sasebo, and all the major cities and ports along the Japanese coast. The William Seiverling was named after a marine that was killed unfortunately on the Guadaj Canal. He was on his way back from a mission and was told that they needed some volunteers to go and try to rescue some Marines on another operation that had gotten into some trouble. They would only take volunteers. So he volunteered. He was a private first class I believe at the time. They did rescue those Marines but on their way back he was shot and killed by a Japanese sniper. For that action he received the Navy Cross, and of course later on they named a destroyer escort after him. So, that is a little background information on the ship I was on. We soon left Yukuca, Japan and headed back towards the continent of the United States. This was my fourth crossing of the Pacific Ocean I believe. On the way back we went through a couple of typhoons. Here they are called hurricanes I understand. To me it was fun. It was adventurous. It was better than being shot at, I'll tell you that. Nobody was aloud up on deck. The ship took all kinds of rolls, and we did some great maneuvers to keep from turning over. (Laughs).
Q: Did you ever get seasick?
A: Yes I did. I had a pretty good set of sea legs, but going through the typhoon I was sick for three days, but so was everybody else so I didn't feel so bad. Backtracking, when I went to go aboard the U.S.S. Seiverling I was sent to Yucusca, Japan to wait for the ship to come in for supplies. This is an interesting story. I was put in a holding area, kind of like in transition. I still had my Marine Corps uniform. My Navy sea bag had gotten lost somewhere along the line, and here I go to board a Navy ship in a Marine Core uniform. Even though I was still in the Navy that was the only uniform I had to wear. My Navy sea bag never did catch up to me and heaven knows where it is now (Laughs), fifty years later. They kept looking for a Navy man when the ship came in. I was still in their records as being in the Fleet Marine Force, a Navy man, but assigned to the Fleet Marine force. They never really got a hold of me to let me know the ship was in so I could go aboard. After about the third time the ship came in they found me. I had the free roam of all of the facilities of Japan. It was great. I would go to the movies twice a day; I would go to the enlistment's club at nighttime. We would go into the city itself. I made a lot of good friends. I was there for a good month and a half before they caught up with me. Of course I was having a good time and I figured if they really want me they would come and get me. At the last minute they found me but the ship was on its way outside of the harbor. They put me on a little boat and we went out into the harbor and I jumped aboard as the ship was steaming out of the harbor. A destroyer escort is a really small ship and I could climb up on the deck of this little landing barge I was on and jump from one ship to the other ship as we were steaming out of the harbor. I often think that if I ever fell I would have gotten tangled up into the two propellers, the two screws that the ships had. I knew nothing about a ship. I didn't know port from starburst and people couldn't understand that because I had been in the Navy for well over three years now and I didn't know the terminology, the technology, of course I knew some things. Eventually I found my way to sick bay and I had my own little compartment. I had running water, I had fresh water. I had my own little pharmacy where I was able to compound medicines. I gave all the injections. I made all kinds of crazy concoctions for sailors who thought they were sick when they weren't sick. It was a great experience for me and it will stay in my mind for a long time.
Q: What was a typical day like for you on a destroyer escort?
A: Well, for me my bunk was in the dining area. I would hold sick bay in the morning, which was located in the starboard side of the ship, down a flight of stairs if I remember correctly. I had a lot of paper work. I was, again in charge of the health and safety of the ship from the captain all the way down to myself. I had to do inspections of the ship, and I had to make sure that all of the battle stations were equipped with battle gear. I noticed that a lot of the battle stations had coffeepots in them where the sailors made coffee. I had to re-supply all of those. Some of the medical equipment was out dated and eventually it got thrown overboard. After that it was just going ashore and having a good time, like any sailor would do I guess. I came back to the United States to San Diego. From there we went to San Francisco where I was processed and discharged. I came out with the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the United Nations Metal, the good Conduct Metal. They were personal metals. Then there were campaign metals, the Korean War campaign, the American Theater defense, and then there was one foreign metal that I received, and that was from the Korean government. That was the Korean presidential at the end of the citation.
Q: Did you get along with your commanding officers on the ship?
A: Yes. I didn't see them very often. I saw the executive officer most of the time. I remember going up to the bridge several times and bringing things like aspirin and some other medications to them, but that is about as close to the bridge as I ever got. I did have one session with a commanding officer, and that is where he told me that he would like to see me ship over for another four years. I was recommended for reenlistment. I thought about it and I really wanted to go back home and go to college, which is what I did. I went back home and went to St. Joseph's University. From there I always wanted to work for the Boy Scouts of America and I did for nine years. Part of my tour of duty so to speak was right here in the Long Branch area. I worked out of the Boy Scout office in Monmouth and Deal Road for maybe two years. I was a district scout executive. I was transferred to Camden County. I was offered another position, which I took in the retail business, which is now what I'm retired from. I have been retired now for seven years.
Q: What was your reaction when you were told you were going to go home?
A: Well, I wasn't really told. I knew I was going to go home. When I was in Korea with the Fleet Marine Force there was a rotation plan where a group of Marines would come in and a group of Marines would go back after serving twelve months, or whatever it was at that time. I was routed two days before they signed the truce and then I was sent back to the company that I was with, the Marine Corps company. It was there that I was told that my tour of duty with the Marine Corps was up and that I was to go back to the regular Navy. My reaction was fantastic because even though most of my tour of duty was spent with the Marine Corps, I seldom ever wore a Navy uniform, with the exception of working at the naval hospital, which gave me great experience. Over those years I had done everything from sewing ears back onto people, surgeries, I sometimes even delivered babies for Korean women. When you are over there in the position I was in, you are considered a doctor even though you are just a hospital corps men. There was no way they could get a doctor into where you were, and frankly I don't think that the doctors wanted to come in. They were too scared that they would get killed. I look back now and I don't regret one day of it.
Q: I know that the Korean War was the first war where blacks and whites weren't segregated. Did that effect the way that anything was done?
A: Not at all. There were a lot of brave black Marines. I tended to many of them. I don't remember any bad experience, any experience that was distasteful in serving with them. We had many black Marines, along with a United Nations effort, meaning there was a lot of other countries involved. We even had some Japanese Marines. Years ago when the Marine Corps was first organized I'm sure that there was some segregation problems then, as long with the other branches of the service, but I had no problems with anyone along those lines. In fact, I commend a lot of them.
Q: When you got discharged and came home how long was it before you got married?
A: Maybe five years. When I left St. Joseph's College, as I mentioned I went to work for the Boy Scouts of America, and at one of my meetings, I was in the field most of the time, and one of my meetings with a group of men at the Dupont company. That was a big chemical plant in the area that I served. We were having a meeting one time in the cafeteria and my wife was the manager of the cafeteria. When the steam cleared away from the steam table I said that's the girl I'm going to marry, and I did a couple years later. I have two children. Their names are Denise and Dave. My daughter was born right here in Monmouth County in Monmouth Medical Center. She is now thirty-nine years old. I have a couple of grandchildren who are fun to baby sit. My son works in a grammar school nearby and it's been a very happy time. I'm very lucky to be alive. I go to mass as much as I can, almost everyday and I thank God for allowing me to live. A lot of my friends, unfortunately were killed in Korea. When I go back once in a while to my high school reunion I always remind them that we went through a difficult time. We did. After fifty years you have a dim memory or so to speak, or now they say a senior moment. I always remind them of the guys who lost their lives. Guys who just graduated from high school and had their whole life in front of them. Just like I did. Heck I was eighteen years old.
Q: Looking back now do you think that there was anything that our nation could have done differently to end the war faster?
A: No because the reason I say that is I didn't have the authority.
Q: Do you think that President Truman could have done anything differently?
A: Well he is the president that sent me over there and there was many a time that I would sit over there in the pouring rain, and it rained week after week for months. There wasn't a dry piece of clothing around, all your food was wet, everything was wet. That is, if you got food because sometimes we didn't get food. You would freeze in the winter and you would go out in the summer on patrol with all the bugs and the gnats, and the snakes. You had to lay in a rice field setting up an ambush. The rice field was fertilized with human waste. You would have to lie there all night long. A lot of people don't realize we went through things like that at that time. Even as much as I love my country I had second thoughts about the president of the United States at that time, nothing of any derogatory nature. It is probably easy for me to say that now fifty years later, but I remember those times.
Q: How did you feel about President Eisenhower when he came into office?
A: I thought he was great. He had made a name a name for himself during World War II. That's when I was in high school. He was our idol, for boys anyway. When he came back even though he wasn't a politician we were all glad I'm sure, to see him run for the president of the United States and receive it. We all make mistakes. I'm sure that President Eisenhower made some mistakes but what I remember of president Eisenhower is that he was responsible for the inter-state highway system. He noticed how Hitler moved his troops around on land. We didn't have big transports then on these fabulous highways. When he came back to the United States he said by God we are going to build a road system like that. I believe that is how our inter-state road system came about but I could be wrong on that. Again, I'm thinking back several years.
THIS CONCLUDES THE INTERVIEW
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