Paul Goodwin’s recollection of his service during the Korean War is nothing short of precise: he served exactly three years, six months and 14 days in the Army.
Goodwin enlisted right out of high school in 1948 and soon shipped out of San Francisco, en route to Japan and eventually, Inchon, Korea.
“We landed at Inchon with the 3rd Infantry Division,” Goodwin said. “Our combat started about 30 minutes or an hour after we got off the boat. A shell came in and killed a good friend of mine — that was the enlightening part of the whole thing, it scared everyone and let us know we were at war.”
“From there, we joined a field artillery, performing outguard for them at night, and when we weren’t doing that we were in support of artillery,” Goodwin said, describing the 450 caliber machine guns his unit regularly relied on.
From Inchon to Pusan, Goodwin’s unit performed duties all over Korea, sometimes in the harshest of conditions.
“We went up to the Yalu River to help the Marines get out,” he said. “It was so cold up there that people were freezing to death in their sleeping bags. The next morning there were trucks piled with frozen bodies.”
“The worst I remember was about 40 below,” he added. “We had a thermometer on our half-track and it froze and busted. Everyone had all the clothes on that they could maneuver with, and you were still cold.”
Despite the action Goodwin regularly faced on the front lines in Korea, however, his division managed to get a taste of home from time to time.
“One night we were cooking a pheasant and getting ready to eat, and we had a general next to us who smelled our pheasant and came over and said, ‘Don’t get up, I want to eat pheasant,’” Goodwin recalled. “So we sat there with the general and enjoyed pheasant and he hollered back over to his area because they’d had cherry pie for supper that night, so we enjoyed cherry pie with them.”
“That’s the only cherry pie I think I had when I was in Korea,” Goodwin laughed.
From there, Goodwin’s unit headed north to Seoul — a move that led to his discovery of buried enemy ammunition. A news article reads, “While walking around the newly dug-in quad-fifties on the outskirts of Seoul, Goodwin stumbled over the exposed ends or artillery rounds sticking out of the ground.”
However, Goodwin begs to differ when it comes to the article’s wording.
“I prefer the word ‘found.’ You don’t stumble on something like that,” he said. “If you’d have stumbled on that, you could have set it off.”
“We were digging in our half-track so we could fire closer to the ground, and I looked over to one side and I found these shells. Most of it was all buried, so at first I thought it was unexploded rounds, but when I looked closer I saw that it had never been fired,” Goodwin explained, noting that the ammunition, which included various shells and mortar rounds, amounted to a truckload and a half in total.
“The Koreans had planned on coming back in the spring and retaking that ground, and they’d already have the ammunition, they’d just have to dig it up,” Goodwin said.
His discovery, however, essentially prevented this scenario. It was this episode, among others, that earned Goodwin a promotion to staff sergeant after just eight months of active duty. Following nearly another three years in Korea, Goodwin was released via honorable discharge.
“All I did was what everyone else did — it was our job. You do your job, don’t cause trouble and do what you’re told,” he said of his discharge.
“I’ve got a chest full of medals and ribbons just like everybody else,” Goodwin said, adding that he’d earned two Bronze Stars for his time in Korea, as well as a medal and letter of recognition from the Korean government marking the 50th anniversary of the war.
It was a different form of recognition, however, that touched Goodwin the most.
“I think one of the nicest things I ever got was this from some little kid in Illinois,” he said, motioning to a postcard.
Scrawled in pencil by an eighth-grader named Steven reads: “Dear Korean War vet, Thank you for saving us from Communism. I am enjoying being free.”
Nicole Wiegand can be contacted at (641) 792-3121 ext. 422 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.