‘Good Grief’: Local veteran Charlie Brown recaps time in Korea

Published: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 10:42 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 10:47 a.m. CDT

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In Newton, Charlie Brown isn’t just the name of the main character from the “Peanuts” comic strips. He’s a retired barber, who came home after 17 months and 25 days in the U.S. Army as a decorated soldier and with a commendation letter from former Gov. Leo Hoegh.

Brown said that at 18, he was the youngest licensed barber in Iowa at the time, but then he received his draft notice and reported for duty from Newton in 1952.

“Well, they didn’t care for it,” Brown said of his family’s reaction to him getting drafted. “All three of us served. I served in Korea, one brother in Germany and one brother never got out of the States.”

As the oldest brother, Brown said he imparted some knowledge on his younger siblings as they prepared for their stints in the service.

“‘Don’t volunteer for anything,’” he said to them. “‘When you volunteer for something, it’s never what you think it is.’ They were college graduates, so they didn’t get the hard jobs.”

The hard job Brown alluded to was from his own personal experiences. He said he was a sergeant 1st class in the Army Infantry and worked as a forward observer. In that duty, he would scout ahead on the frontlines and call in A1 mortar strikes.

“They made sure I was up close to see good,” Brown said.

However, the thing he remembered most with his time in Korea was the weather.

“Terrible,” Brown said. “It was very cold in the winter and very hot in the summer and dusty and dry. It was bad. I had my mother send me long underwear to keep me warm.”

More than 5,300 veterans of the Korean War conflict suffered frostbite in the first year alone. Many vets lost limbs due to the weather conditions in Korea and many vets don’t know they can qualify for benefits from those circumstances.

Brown and some friends suffered from frostbite, but he never witnessed any weather-related casualties.

“The weather, the cold, and the wind,” Brown said. “It’s one of those things I wouldn’t want to do again, but I’m glad I did it. It was good experience. My friends did it, so I could do it. To sleep out in the night when it’s 15 below, you don’t do that for any other reason, unless you are in the Army.”

Brown went to Basic Training in Fort Richardson, Calif., and spent two weeks there undergoing additional training in the woods. However, he credits Iowa with preparing him for the harsh, unpredictable weather of North Korea.

“It was about the same, except I was sleeping outdoors over there and here I sleep in the house,” Brown said. “You see the 38th Parallel; it’s down about like Albia. So it’s similar. You don’t know what being cold is.”

As Brown recalled the events, he was enjoying a glass of orange juice, which prompted an exchange.

“There was no orange juice over in North Korea,” Brown said. “One thing I did miss was milk. I was a farm boy. I was used to having milk all of the time.”

Brown also kept up his barbering skills while in Korea. He said he once cut hair wearing only one glove while it was snowing.

In addition to extreme haircutting, the way Brown was evacuated from Korea was just as impressive.

“A twin-engine Cessna dropped this rope and we swam out to it,” Brown said. “They pulled us out, that’s kind of a unique way of getting out, but it worked. We was going to get captured if we hadn’t. That was quite the time.”

Brown came back to Newton after the service and went back to his original trade of cutting hair but still remains patriotic.

“Eating,” Brown said was his favorite part of serving. “I didn’t mind the service. I had been away from home (Centerville area) for two years anyway.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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