Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Summit / Argo, IL) After initially thinking he didn’t have much to tell, Robert Oberbeck did recall some very interesting information about his time in Korea.
Born and raised in Justice Park with an older brother (who served in the Navy) and four sisters, he has memories from their younger days of himself and his brother selling produce from their garden on Archer Avenue. At the time he was drafted in 1951 at age 21, he was working at Corn Products Company.
Robert’s training took place at Camp Breckenridge, Ky. During the six-week period, his training was interrupted when he spent ten days at home for his grandmother’s funeral. When he returned he finished with another group of men. Learning to master a rifle was difficult since he was left handed and the rifle had to be fired from the right side. He completed his training and after a 30-day furlough home, he flew to Seattle. He then spent thirteen days on a ship – some of it being seasick – before landing in Yokohama, Japan. He has a certificate showing that in August, 1951 the ship he was on crossed the 180th Meridian also known as the International Date Line.
In September, 1951, Robert flew to Inchon, Korea where he was a Material Ammunitions Handler with the Replacement 52nd Field Artillery, 24th Infantry Division, A Battery, located North of the 38th Parallel. There was also a B and C Battery who each manned 18 guns among them. The ammunition came in sections in canisters. They put the sections together, one man putting them in the chamber and a 2nd man closing the chamber. He also remembers Variable Time shells that were designed to scatter more as they went off.
It was quite cold at this time of the year in Korea, so they slept in sleeping bags in dugouts at night covered with logs for protection from harassment firing and incoming shells exploding. One soldier died when the log protection came down on him. They also set up flares connected together by wire around the area to protect against infiltrators. Robert remembers one night the flares went off and one soldier, thinking he saw something in the shadows, shot his rifle – only to find out he shot the tires on a jeep.
Another duty Robert had was to drive to Seoul to pick up his Army Division’s mail, which was the only source of communication soldiers had then. The hardest part was going over rough terrain at night without headlights so the enemy didn’t see them.
Though his division was about three miles from the front lines, the closest he got to the front was for dental work. The dentists’ equipment for drilling was not electric and it was operated similar to an old treadle sewing machine with foot pedals. Here, he saw wounded soldiers being treated as well.
In February, 1952, the entire 24th Division was sent to Japan. Robert was there for the next 11 months, where they still did training and he was part of the Honor Guard. The Japanese people were welcoming to them, since their presence brought a lot of work – making and repairing a lot of the equipment for the Army. During free time, the men went to movies and he even went to an off-limit restaurant and tried octopus and lots of rice. The 24th Division eventually went back to Korea after Robert’s tour of duty was over.
Robert went back to the states at the end of 1952 before the war ended. Landing in San Francisco, they could see Alcatraz from their ship. From San Francisco he went home by train to Colorado and enjoyed a party with family in his honor. He went on to marry Ann, a girl he met before Korea, when he delivered meat from a butcher shop in Argo to her home in Summit. They were married for 60 years before she passed away in 2013. They raised two boys, Dale and Brian, in the home where he still lives in Summit – two doors down from where he first met Ann.
Through the GI Bill, he took a course in TV Repair, which he did in addition to going on to a succession of jobs at the General Motors Plant in Willow Springs. At this plant, they not only made Ford cars on one side, but aircraft engines on the other. He also worked at Campbell Soup for 27 years and at the Tootsie Roll Company for 7 years, until he retired. He related that the Tootsie Roll building occupied an underground area that was used during WWII to make trucks for the Army. It had to keep up production levels to support the war and people worked and slept there sometimes. By the time he joined the company, all of this had ceased, but he did see the area himself.
Robert has been involved with the VFW Post 6863 in Summit where he has been a Vice Commander. Sadly, the Post is in the process of closing in the near future, but he plans to connect with another post, hopefully.
Robert is looking forward to his Honor Flight on October 5th . It is a well-deserved honor for him and the other veterans flying along with him that day. Have a memorable trip, Robert!