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.
(Orland Park, IL ) Melvin Mueller grew up in Chicago’s Gresham neighborhood, the oldest of Christopher and Dorothy’s four children. A graduate of Gresham Elementary School and Calumet High School, Melvin briefly attended the Chicago Teachers College before deciding it “wasn’t for him.” Mel was a young man looking for direction. He found it in the Marine Corps, where he served his country in South and Central Korea during the UN Summer-Fall Offensive and the Second Korean Winter. “I think my time in Marines taught me the experience and discipline I needed for the real world,” Melvin says. “I learned how to get along on my own. In my opinion, all young men should join the service.”
Originally thinking the Navy would be a good fit for him, Melvin visited a Navy recruiting office. However, the Navy had a six-month wait list for new recruits. “So, the Marines had a recruiting office across the street. I went in, and they took me right away.”
Melvin enlisted with the Marines on Feb. 26, 1951, and in March he reported to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego for 13 weeks of training. Boot camp challenged him, Melvin says, but it was a good learning experience. He also respected his drill sergeant, who “didn’t give him harsh treatment I didn’t deserve.”
Following basic, Melvin received orders to report for infantry training at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He also traveled to the Sierra Nevada Mts. for mountain warfare training at Pickel Meadows. The brutal cold weather and snow in the rocky landscape instilled soldiers with a sense of life in Korea, he says. When the recruits returned to Camp Pendleton, they were assigned to specialty training.
“They divided us into two groups, saying ‘all of you guys who can swim stand on one side of the room,’” he says. “Guys who couldn’t swim were sent for tank training. The rest of us were sent to for amphibious warfare training.” The Marine Corps sent Melvin to Camp Del Mar where he learned the operation of an amphibious tractor. The men returned to Camp Pendleton and were ready to ship out by November 1951. Melvin joined platoon 32, B Company, 14th Replacement Draft, First Amphibious Tractor Battalion. They traveled by ship to Pohang, South Korea, where they were attached to Marine Air Group 33 in November 1951.
For the next six months Melvin worked as part of a four-man crew aboard an LBT-3 amphibious tractor nicknamed “water buffaloes,” he says. They hauled gasoline from supply ships to shore because the harbor was not deep enough for ships to dock. The 14-ton vehicle measured 26 feet long and 13 feet wide, standing 10 feet tall on land.
Originally designed to carry troops, Melvin says the vehicle featured two, eight-cylinder Cadillac engines and could haul 24 barrels of gasoline. Each trip was slow, he said, as the vehicle only traveled five to seven miles per hour in the water. “We needed a vehicle that could move on the beach as well as water,” Melvin says. “The landing craft were unable to do that. This had tracks that drove it on land and propelled it in water.”
Per Melvin, the tractor pulled up next to the ship, which lowered the barrels of gasoline in a giant net. When the craft returned to the beach, a crane lifted the barrels out of the hold. The tractor then pulled up to a second crane, which loaded the vehicle with empty barrels to be returned to the ship. They repeated the process all day, Melvin says.
Although the LBT-3 was equipped with a machine gun, the only danger they faced was rough water. “It was quiet there, aside from the airplanes,” Melvin says. “We were too far south to be in danger until after I got to Inchon.”
In July 1952, Melvin’s platoon was sent north to relieve troops stationed along the enemy line, but he downplays the danger he faced there. “It was stable where I was,” he says. “We exchanged mortar rounds with the North Koreans, but we took cover in big bunkers with layers of sandbags on top. If we did take a hit, the round merely knocked off a few layers of bags.” The mood in camp was positive. “We were a very tight company,” Melvin says. “It was always a good group.”
Melvin departed South Korea on Nov. 10, 1952, returning stateside aboard the USS Sen. Pope. Next, he headed to the Portsmouth Naval Ammunition Depot near Norfolk, Va., where he served in a guard company until his discharge in February 1954, at the rank of sergeant. Following his time in the Marine Corps, Melvin took a position at Western Electric as a mechanical drafter and later held positions with Kellogg Switchboard, Union Tank Car, Pioneer Engineering, and Sargent & Lundy Engineers until he retired in September 1992.
Melvin met his wife, Arline, in November 1954, and the couple married in January 1957. They eventually settled in Oak Lawn, where they raised two children, David and Diane. The couple now reside in Orland Park. They have five grandchildren and three great grandchildren, ages five months to three.
Thank you, Melvin, for your service. Enjoy your well-deserved Honor Flight.