At 25 years old, Bill Zegers was just another farm boy, but that all changed when the U.S. Army drafted him to fight in the Korean War.
For 21 months, he drove a bulldozer for the Army, and although he was not on the front lines, he often experienced enemy fire.
“We had a lot of mortar shells, and artillery shells,” Zegers said. “Mortar shells were the worst. Usually, they would send one mortar shell in, and it would be long. The next one would be short, and the third one would be just where they wanted it.”
“One day, when we were digging tank placements up on the front lines — I’ve done them before, and we always did them at 10 o’clock or 11’ o clock at night so they couldn’t see us too good. So we got a new 2nd lieutenant, and I said, ‘Sir, we usually do that at 10 o’clock at night.’ And he said,’ Soldier, you’re in this man’s army to take risk.’ And I said, ‘Yes sir.’ I got on that dozer and worked for about 30 minutes, and I decided it was time for me to get out of there. So I backed out and went behind a ridge, and I got off the dozer. The second lewey started giving me (some). Then the first mortar shell came in. It went long. The second one went short, and the third one was right in the middle of where I was working.”
His commanding officer soon realized why Zegers worked at night, but not everyone was as lucky. He saw Koreans get hit by shrapnel, and was surprised to see the medical treatment they received.
“I helped take them to their medic,” Zegers said. “I was watching it. The medics didn’t give them anything, and they dug it out. They didn’t give him anything for the pain.”
He experienced many dangerous moments, but there was one moment that caught him off guard— friendly fire. While working, he saw a cloud of smoke and wondered what it was.
“I saw dust flying beside me on the bank, and I didn’t know what is was,” Zegers said. “About that time I looked up and it was one of our own airplanes.”
Before he was in Korea, he spent eight weeks in basic training and hated it. Zegers’ least favorite duty was cleanup.
“It was terrible,” Zegers. “I was born and raised on the farm. On a Saturday afternoon, they would make use pick up cigarette butts. And I didn’t smoke. I didn’t like the idea of picking up someone else’s cigarette butt, but that is the way they broke you down.”
He never did like basic training and never forgot the day he was sent over to Korea.
“I went overseas, if I remember right, on the 28th day of May in 1952,” Zegers said.”I arrived in Korea in the middle of June in 1952. They put me in the 73rd Combat Engineers.”
Zegers traveled to Korea with a friend who he met in basic training, but they were separated as soon as they reached camp. The first night, he did not even sleep in the same quarters as his unit.
“The first night I was there, they put me in a tent with the company medics,” Zegers said. “The next day they put me in the heavy equipment section, and I ran a bulldozer all the time I was there. I like that part of it. We built supply routes to the front lines. “
Zegers overcame a lot of hardships and was happy to have served his county. The Army helped him build character, and he still keeps in contact with the men who served with him. He also gets together with them yearly to talk.
“All in all, I liked my overseas duty much better than I did (my) basic training,” Zegers said.
Staff writer Matthew Shepard may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 425, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.