Interview by Josh Kahn and Matt Johnson
John Dyer: I had just graduated high school in June, I remember we had just gotten a TV set and I remember watching the UN debating what was happening in Korea, 38th parallel. I was 16 and I sensed it was important. When it came time for Korea, and of course the activities in China in the late forties, Mao began to push Chiang Kai Chek off the continent, there was the same kind of tension in North and South Korea going on, but the UN decided to go in. It was a tense time because North Koreans had much stronger forces. We had 115,000 thousand, a token force, not an occupation, but more there to support the government. We were pushed down to a small area in the southern part of Korea, an area called Pusan. General MacArthur, headquartered in Japan, devised a plan to surprise them at the 38th parallel. So we surprised the North Koreans and cut them off. We pushed them all the way back to the northern border of the Yalu River. President Truman, around 1951 to 1952, said he didn't want us to push across the Yalu River because it would bring the Chinese in. MacArthur disobeyed or ignored orders and sure enough when we started hot pursuits of aircraft over the Yalu River that brought the Chinese in and they overran us and that was a period of slaughters. There was a meeting in the Pacific and Truman dismissed MacArthur, may have been a little later than that, but they brought in another general, a native Bostonian, Matthew Bridgeway. It was under those conditions that Korea got stabilized. I was in college at that time; I didn't graduate until 1954, while the truce was called in 1953. Technically I was a Korean vet but I'm really a fraud in that regard. I was in time to be eligible for benefits and to be designated and to get the GI bill. You had to serve six months prior to January of 1955. But I was in the Reserve Officer's Training Corps (ROTC) for 4 years of college and we did get to hear some discussions of what was going on so I'm not unknowledgeable. I don't remember all of it now but we knew who the enemy was, no question. It was the spread of Communism and in that period I was in active duty, 1954 through 1957. But as far as Korea went there was a determined enemy. I flew in a superconstellation, a radar picket ship that was off the East Coast. We had some harrowing experiences. Engines would go out, propellers would run away. That meant they could go into the fuselage. We lined up to jump out of planes over the Atlantic but never had to do it. There were times we would track Soviet planes, whether they were playing games or going to Cuba, we didn't know. We were fortunate not to have any hostile action.
But over the next 10 years, two of the aircraft crashed and 50 people died so I have a real sense of responsibility to families like that and to veterans. There is a lot of sacrifice and danger that goes on for people in the military. Whether it's the Korean War or Vietnam or Iraq, I don't always agree with the policy of the country to engage in the conflicts they have but I'm very supportive of the people who are there. When you are there it's your responsibility to execute your mission. It's more than camaraderie. I think it's a mutual responsibility to the other people that are in your unit and I think that is what a lot of heroism is, it's supporting one another.
David Marshall: I went into the Air Force for the purpose of flying, going to cadets. I was accepted on enlistment. However, I made a mistake in that I'd actually signed up for four years. I found out later that if you signed up specifically for cadets and you washed out, you only had to serve two years with full benefits. I ended up on flight line after I finished training and being a crew chief on a F94 C, a jet aircraft.
A guy says to me, 'You're a pit volunteer for a test flight section because we have a new aircraft that we'll be disassembling on a periodic basis after so many flying hours, and you'll be on the crew that takes it down and then puts it back together for test flights.' There was no hearing protection, and we were being exposed extremely high decibel levels. I am sort of a stubborn character, so I again appled for cadets, and again I was accepted. After 8 days of being hospitalized for being sick and dizzy I again was passed for flying. I went to the cadets in San Antonio and when I finished training I qualified as a cadet wing commander. That time they gave me another exam because they knew from past experience that everyone wasn't in perfect health. The exam showed I was unusually deaf, because of my being on the warm-up crew for jet aircraft. Usually if you washed out in cadets, they gave you your choice of a base, so I said I'd like the base at Cape Cod. But they said they couldn't send me there, only to Panama City, Florida. So I said 'gee wiz, I'll go to Korea.' And they said 'well gosh we can't send you over to Korea, your cortical AFC and they need you back at Tindle. So back to Tindle I went. There was one instance where we had what they call 89. That was a twin engine plane with 50 caliber machine guns underneath it and an armament guy was working under there and set off the 50 calibers. It was very exciting with those bouncing off the tarmac. Fortunately, no one was killed but a few planes got messed up. Another instance was once we heard this big boom coming from a hanger. And they had a fellow doing on the job training and he was straddling the cockpit. There was a shell underneath the cockpit that basically blew you out of there in an emergency. You pull up these two handles, one shoots off the cockpit covering and the other one triggers the shell.
John Dyer: Called an ejector seat.
David Marshall: And this character was straddling the seat and had a linkage to the shear pin that comes out of the shell. He hit the shear pin with a hammer and died when he hit the top of the hanger. That's one of those cases where you learn to trust the person next to you because you can't hear when a plane engine is lit off, it's impossible, so you use signs. You always keep a close eye on the guys on the ground crew for them to warn you of any danger.
When you enlisted I imagine you had a distaste for the Communist party and Communism in general being in America. Did that dislike fuel you to enlist and kind of make you feel better about being in the service or did it have any influence?
David Marshall: Well I would have to say it probably did. It's difficult to describe all the motives that drive you at that point. But I felt that I was following in my father's footsteps for one thing and I had a great deal of trust in the government and felt that I could be supportive.
John Dyer: I feel that my situation was a little different. As I said, I was in ROTC, and that was elective. I didn't have this anti-Communist feeling, it was more that sense of responsibility...it was sort of a patriotic duty or obligation that you had. You either got drafted or volunteered so it didn't matter.
David Marshall: That's a good point, I forgot about that. I got my draft notice after I was in the service.
John Dyer: At age sixteen you had to go to the draft board.
David Marshall: I wanted to pick my service, I didn't want it to be determined later.
John Dyer: That was the advantage of enlisting.
When you said that you trusted the government, was that just that you were trusting the US government or since the UN was very involved in Korea, did you feel the same kind of trust in the UN?
David Marshall: I think I did.
John Dyer: I think it was still a US lead activity. I was in ROTC summer camp and we did go in the UN. I sat in a committee for a half-hour and listened to some of the dialogue. That was around 1953, I think. It was an inspirational thing to see the UN but it wasn't the US. It was the US where we clearly felt strongest.
David Marshall: I think it was a sense of relief to be able to go to a central body and be able to hash out conflicts rather than going and stomping someone down. That I'm sure played a part. I felt that I was part of a larger coalition or group.
John Dyer: When I was a freshman in college, Russia annexed Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia and the UN didn't do anything and there was a disappointment in that.
Was it then surprising that the US entered Korea when they had previously stood by a theme of reluctance and isolationism?
John Dyer: Well I think that things changed after World War II, or during World War II. There was a period of disarmament and there was no longer a draft, they were letting people out. Then when Korea started, people who had been in World War II were reactivated. One of my advisors was reactivated and he was killed in Marine training as a pilot. He was killed, and he had a young kid. That I will never forget.
David Marshall: The memory of World War II was still there, and the memory in terms of Communist expansion was very much in our minds. Especially in going through high school and talking about all the different countries that they were taking over. And the conflict in Greece in terms of the Communist party, and the conflict in Italy in terms of how strong the Communists were. So that was in the forefront, that was part of the reason for going into Korea.
John Dyer: The US policy in post World War II was to contain the spread of communism.
Did you guys fear the rise of Communism in the US as the majority of the country did?
John Dyer: I wasn't that concerned about it but there was another phenomenon that went on in Washington. That was called the red scare. There was a period when they went through every branch of government, and then there was the group in Hollywood that got blacklisted.
David Marshall: That for me had a mixed effect. I was very conscientious. You always had to be on the look out. That was part of your conscience. It was part of the cold war, but then the McCarthy approach was so extreme, his accusations without any foundation. That in my mind worked against it.
John Dyer: I kind of resented the fact that anyone could tell me what I could think in my own head. It wasn't a matter of not being patriotic. I think that you almost have to live to challenge authority, have a free mind. When I went into the service my uncle said, never volunteer for anything. That wasn't how I felt, anytime I had a chance to do something that was off the mainstream I wanna do it. I took part in all kinds of things, I was on the court marshal board for maybe a dozen trials, and I did inventory surveys.
David Marshall: My stepfather told me the same thing. Don't volunteer!
The Korean War has been called the 'forgotten war.' Do you feel that you have been forgotten as veterans?
David Marshall: Not really because that wasn't my focus, my focus was education and challenges. I like to stick my neck out, even if it may get chopped off occasionally. But the past was past and the only time I would revisit the past was here and there. The challenges of everyday living kept me busy.
John Dyer: The reason why I didn't make a career in the military was because there wasn't enough challenges. I stayed in the reserves but I wasn't looking for recognition. Our memorial is not about veterans, it's about freedom and the responsibility that we have as citizens.
So it doesn't bother you that it took about 42 years for the first memorial to be built?
David Marshall: Was it really that long? It's interesting that you bring that up though, because I didn't have that much time to think about that until I was retired. You're so active in terms of trying to get something accomplished in your career or with your children. It occupies you and when you retire you want to know what you can do that's constructive because you don't want to sit and play with your thumbs. That's when you become active in committees and such.
John Dyer: Two of the guys that went to high school with me, I don't know whether they were drafted or not but one of them served in Korea and the other served in Japan. The one that was in Japan died and the other one I met in our tenth high school reunion; he was an old man. I was thinking it was his service that did it. When I moved to Wayland there was a kid next door who was maybe seven or eight, he was friendly and always wanted to help with yard chores and such. He came by my house once in around1968-69 and I could barely recognize him. He had been in Vietnam and he was on a riverboat, his skin had turned white and I don't think he was twenty years old. There is another guy on our committee who got wounded in war and he is a terrific guy but even now he is not all there. They paid the price for there duty. I think we are all influenced from our service.
From the Korean War or from the Fifties in general, is there one memory that stands out as momentous, either personal or national?
David Marshall: Meeting my wife is one of them.
John Dyer: The Cuban missile crisis.
David Marshall: In the fifties and the sixties it was events while I was in the service. Like the events when someone blows up in a hanger and machine guns on the tarmac stand out. I can remember one thing that stands out was when I was appointed crew chief. The first day I saw a plane off and all of a sudden a couple of hours later, the fire engines and everything are shooting out towards the run way and there my plane comes back, with about six feet of the right wing hanging down. This F-94C had fuel tips out on the wing tip and when it came in, it made a beautiful landing. So we hopped into a tractor and went out to fix it up. Fortunately we remember to take the safety pins with us. We had to get up on the wing to get the guys out of the cockpit, it was a two-seater, one right behind the other. Radar observer in the back and a pilot in the front. They were both pretty pale and they both were ready to get out and eject. We found out what happened. The missiles had automatic lock on. What was supposed to happen was that once you locked on and fired, you would release and shoot and it automatically released back to you so you went on. Well, it didn't release so the right hand tank went into the cockpit of the other plane and one guy was killed. The other one shot himself through the canopy and broke both legs but survived. So that was a memorable event.