Chesterton Tribune

50 years ago Bob Bergren was Marine in Korea

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Bob Bergren, who grew up in Baillytown, was 17 years old in 1949 when he enlisted in the United States Marines. He served from 1949 to 1953.

Of course, when he penned his signature for enlistment, he did not know that he would be in the historical 1st Marine Division that would be in the primary invasion to land at Inchon and then capture Seoul in Korea.

"We (about 63 men) landed in an amphibious vehicle," he recalled about the September 1950 event, adding that he was in the mortar company that followed the front line.

"It wasn't like the movies," he continued.

Bergren saw a lot of action, during his tour. He survived injuries from being hit by a land mine, for which he received the purple heart. He was in a truck that ran over the mine.

"I became numb," he said. His legs were the most severely wounded part of his body. "It happened on March 5, 1951," he said. As he talked, it could be seen in his eyes that he was visualizing the explosion. He spent about three weeks in the hospital then returned to his company.

During his 14 month tour, he traveled the whole length of Korea. He slept in tents, pup tents and fox holes. Meals consisted of C-rations; three meals a day and always four cigarettes a day (provided with the rations).

During that time, his regiment did not get R&R (rest and recreation leave). However, he did spend one Thanksgiving in Wansan where he saw Bob Hope and Doris Day on that holiday. (Bob Hope was known for entertaining the troops during the holidays.)

Going further back in his memories, to November of 1950, he revisited the second invasion of Wansan, when the temperatures were 50 degrees below zero in the hilly area where his troops maneuvered.

"We carried a spare pair of felt bootliners under our armpits and changed them when we stopped," he recalled. He said, if they stopped and did not make the exchange, their feet would freeze.

Bergren described himself as a survivor of the "Frozen Chosin." The marines maneuvered the Chosin Reservoir through blizzards howling through mountain peaks where weapons, food and human flesh froze. Mechanized vehicles and weapons no longer worked. Battles were fought behind fortresses of dead bodies and the enemy advanced from Manchuria toward them.

The 1st Marine Division was led by Colonel Puller, a hero to his regiment even today. They have been lobbying to get a U.S. Postage Stamp in his honor. Puller was criticized for strip searching all Koreans or prisoners that crossed their path, he said. Puller wouldn't take prisoners. He gave them to other regiments, Bergren said.

"They couldn't get supplies to us," Begren remembered. The Chinese had set a trap for them. "We walked back five days and five nights - without stopping - to Hungnam where the troops were evacuated, he said.

Americans were not in the conflict alone. The companies were flanked by the Greek and Turkish forces. However, they were always separated by Americans because the Greeks and Turks would fight each other if they got together, Bergren said.

The impact of his experience in Korea left a life-long imprint.

"It made me believe in God," he said. "People in front of me, in back of me and to the side of me were killed, but I was spared. Why was I spared and not them?"

"It changed my outlook on life. I realized there is more to life than just me. I learned to rely on and trust people," he said.

Bergren returned home thankful he had a future. And an interesting future it turned out to be. He began civilian life working in the mills, and realized that was not for him. An uncle persuaded him to become a barber, which eventually led to coiffuring women's hair at Marshall Fields, and ultimately to opening his own salon.

Bergren considers himself an entrepreneur. He continues to study, not only hair design, but marketing as well. He currently is changing the name of his salon to House of Berggren. The shop includes a clothing store and a gift shop. It is a family run business.

He has kept in touch with members of the 1st Division via a news-letter called the four deuces. He has not been able to attend any of the reunions, but has that on his to-do list. Semper Fi (which means Always Faithful.)

"I've lived a good life and thank God for it," he said.


Korea not forgotten



Many have called Korea The Forgotten War.

Actually, it was never declared a war. It was called a conflict and, later, a police action.

The conflict was about separating Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) from the Republic of Korea (South Korea) at the 38th Parallel, a 200-mile border.

Harry Truman was in the White House.

The North Koreans crossed the parallel on June 25, 1950 to invade South Korea. As tracked by the government, U.S. battle casualties reported during the three year conflict were comparable to Viet Nam. A Cease-fire agreement was signed on July 27, 1953.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Military has been stationed in South Korea ever since.

Many local residents served in Korea including two men profiled in today's Tribune. They were young men, both of whom enlisted to serve their country. Their stories differ, but their cause was the same.

The Korean Conflict was 50 years ago. With Veteran's Day approaching, when asked, they shared their stories with the Chesterton Tribune.