Splashing Around the World

Adventure, Experiences, New Place, Different Cultures, Beautiful Cities, Nature... all encompass why I love to travel. I may not be able to conquer it all but I will try my hardest to make it around the world leaving little ripples as I go.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Fits Like a Glove: Korea Calls

My grandfather fought in the Korean War. Though I have always appreciated it, the older I get the more I realize how proud I am to say that my grandfather was a United States Veteran. I was lucky to be able to work with our book publisher, Frank Gromling on "Fits Like a Glove: The Bill and Bob Meistrell Story." I was able to spend a lot of time researching my grandfathers experience in Korea for the chapter titled, Korea Calls. I learned a lot! Its been over a year since the book was published and today I decided to re-read the chapter for the first time in awhile. I decided to post the chapter today to share my grandfathers story of the being in the Korean War. Happy Veterans day to every hero who has fought for our country. I hope you enjoy the read.

Korea Calls

As the United States entered the Korean Conflict, Bill and Bob decided to join the Navy, but when they tried to enlist Bob was rejected because of his high school back injury, and Bill wouldn’t enlist without his brother. Shortly, however, life on the beach ended abruptly for Bill and Bob when they were called into the Army. The Korean Conflict was changing the lives of many young men in America and Bill and Bob were drafted in 1950. Bob thought he wouldn’t be accepted but, as he remembers it, “They said, ‘You’re warm, you’re breathing, you’re in.’” While Bob was assigned to the Army’s Fort Ord induction center in Monterey, California, in an administrative role, Bill was shipped off to Korea. This was the first, and last, time the twins were ever separated, and neither of them liked it.

Bill Meistrell in his combat fatigues.
Bill’s tour in Korea saw him assigned to a heavy mortar company on the front lines. He had thought he was signing on for a heavy “motor” unit, because he was interested in fixing and working on things. Despite his wanting to avoid the front lines, ultimately Bill earned a Bronze Star for bravery.

Bill on active duty.
Bill in South Korea.
Because Bill had worked for a telephone company before being drafted, he was sometimes given work to repair the unit’s communication equipment. In Korea, communication between units was hard wired and run on the ground and where Bill was stationed the lines had been severed somewhere in a valley between his unit and another. There were heavy artillery and counter-attacks in the valley and the US troops were taking heavy fire. Because the lines were down, they could not request help. Against orders, Bill went running from the camp with a large spool of wire to try to re-establish communication. He ran about a mile.

His unit’s commander, Captain Baron, told two other guys to follow Bill, which they did for a little while but, when they saw all the enemy activity, they figured there was no way he was alive. When they returned to camp, Captain Baron ordered them to look again. The men didn’t find him the second time, either.

Before nightfall Bill walked into camp without a scratch after re-establishing the communication lines. Based on the significance of his brave act, he should have received the Silver Star but, because he was a communications technician and wasn’t “allowed on the front lines,” the army gave him the Bronze Star. Captain Baron said, “Bill was the bravest soldier he ever commanded.”

Incredibly, even while in Korea, Bill succeeded in finding time to get into some water. On a Rest & Recuperation break at a beach in Pusan, he found a guy sitting on a high chair, like those used by lifeguards back in the States. He asked him if they needed more lifeguards and, in what Bill thought was a lifeguard test, the guy told him to swim out to a black object offshore. “So I beat the water to a froth and when I got back, he told me I was a good swimmer.” Then the guy asked Bill what the black thing was. Incredibly, he and others had watched it for three days and thought it might be a shark. Bill told him it was a big rock, turned in disgust because the lifeguard obviously wasn’t much of a lifeguard, and headed on down the beach.

While Bill was fighting for his country in Korea, Bob had drawn an easier assignment in Monterey, California, and quickly found places in Santa Cruz where he could surf. In his 24 months at Fort Ord, he and Patty lived in several different apartments and homes in Monterey, Pacific Grove, Seaside, and Santa Cruz. One day Bob and Patty took a trip north and stumbled on Santa Cruz. They instantly fell in love with the little town and Bob liked the surf he saw there, too, so he and Patty decided to live there, even though it was 45 miles from Fort Ord.

Bob hitch-hiked to work until one day Bob met a man in a coffee shop who worked in the photographic section for the army and Bob rode with him most mornings. One day after his shift Bob got a ride from Captain Jefferson, an administrative officer at Fort Ord, and ended up riding home with him every night. Bob tried to pay for the gas but the captain wouldn’t accept any money, so Bob did his yard work to repay him for driving him home. 

While in Santa Cruz, he and Patty lived at Pleasure Point and at 17th Street, both locations near the ocean. Not many people surfed the ocean in Santa Cruz at that time. Every time Bob took a trip back to the South Bay he loaded up his car with the new “lighter” surfboards and sold them in Santa Cruz to surfers who were hungry for the new innovation. He was more interested in having people to surf with than he was in the money he earned.

Bob often surfed at night after work during the week at Pleasure Point. While this was easier in the long summer daylight hours, surfing in the winter became more challenging. He’d park his car overlooking the ocean and turn their lights on at night, facing one large rock to give them some idea of the surf and how the waves were breaking. With luck, he’d get in about 15 minutes of surfing before he got too cold to continue.

Every weekend when the surf was good, he’d call his friend Chuck Nichols, who lived 20 miles inland in Los Gatos, to tell him to get down right away. They wore wool sweaters that had kind of an oily texture to them. When they got wet, the guys would take them off, whip them around their heads to dry them as best as possible, and put them back on. 

Another place Bob surfed in Santa Cruz was at the mouth of the San Lorenzo River, where it flowed into the ocean. He, Patty and their son Robbie cooked out on the shore of the river, with Bob then paddling out the river to the ocean. Again, there was never anyone surfing there. But, Bob did find one new friend on these frequent outings.

A little seal approached Bob several times, often staying very close. One time Bob brought anchovies with him and fed some to the seal, who climbed right up onto the front of his board. The seal balanced on the board as Bob surfed to shore. 

Bob surfing in Santa Cruz while stationed at Fort Ord.
It was in Santa Cruz that Bob realized more than ever that there had to be a way to reduce the potential for hypothermia from the cold Pacific Ocean and the cool northern California air. He realized that wearing woolen sweaters, rushing to a campfire on the beach or the heater in his car to get warm, was just not enough. Nothing worked well. He knew something had to be done, but a solution was years away. 

Patty Meistrell in Santa Cruz while Bob was stationed at Fort Ord.

The twins after honorable discharges from the U.S. Army in 1952.