ROBERT L. QUINTAL SR.
Corporal | Infantry
Cpl. Quintal is my Pepére and the reason this collection exists. He served with Hq. & Hq. Co., 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division in Korea from 1951 to 1952. He did not speak about his experiences in the war until I began asking questions and showing an interest in his stories. Not only did he share his memories, but he also passed on everything he kept from his time in the service. These items were the beginnings of my collection and I am proud to have them to remember my Pepére and our time spent together.
Bob's service began on January 12, 1951 when he was 20 years old. He chose to enlist because he figured he would be drafted eventually and wanted to get it over with. He first tried to enlist in the Navy, but they would not take him because he was too small. The Army infantry, of course, did not refuse. "I went to Fort Devons, MA for indoctrination and things that were expected of soldiers, how to dress, how to talk, how to salute, everything...how to make beds. And from there I went to Fort Dix, New Jersey for basic training. I don't remember how long that took, I think...seemed like it was about three months. Then they wanted me to go to Korea. I don't know what month, but it was like in the spring of '51. I was there about a year. It took us 15 days by boat to get there - It took 15 days to get there and 10 days to get back."
When he was in Fort Dix, he chose to specialize in mortars. Even though he was still an infantryman, at least he would be somehwat behind the lines as a mortar man. "When I got to Korea and we were getting our new uniforms and weapons, I told the supply sergeant that I was specialized in mortars. He just handed me a rifle and said, 'Here's your M-1!' After that I was always on the front lines...never in the rear with mortars!"
"Life in combat was tense. It's hard to say. You had to be ready all the time. Every time you got in a battle you thought, this is it, they're gonna finish me off this time. But after a little while after we took our positions there and pushed the enemy back to the 38th parallel or something, it was pretty quiet, sittin' around smoking...sleeping.
Going on patrols and stuff...that was bad. You had to get one point guy, and you couldn't walk right after the other, you had to spread out and there was one guy watching the rear, and the front guy usually got shot, then the other guys would know and get a sniper or something. Then the company would know that there were enemies there, but it usually meant a loss of life. We had mostly rifles...you had to be close enough where you could give each other signals where you could talk to each other, which was good.
The terrain was rough, most of it was hilly, lot of brooks and rivers, rice paddies. They used to use human shit in those things for centuries, they'd use all this shit in the rice paddies. When we got up there we drained all those out and set tents up in there.
We wore fatigue clothes on the front...helmets...sometimes we wore the same socks for about a month. A lot of time we didn't have a chance to start a fire and wash clothes. On the front lines they weren't fussy about what you had on but if you were back about 35 miles back you had to...I forgot what they used to call it, some kinda shit. Had to polish your helmet, shine your shoes, salute. But if you wanted to go with just a T-shirt on, it was up to you. I never paid much attention to that stuff, what they gave me I put on, whether it fit or not. Most times it didn't fit. You'd walk through this line, they'd give you a shirt or something and you'd say, 'Hey this is too big!' and they'd tell you, 'Get outta here!' But, when we had time we could take our uniforms to a tailor - that's how the Koreans could make money - and the little old lady there would take in our shirts and sew on patches and stuff. They'd wash our dirty clothes too...but they didn't have wash boards or anything like that. They'd go down to the river and rinse everything off and then smack them against the rocks with a club and just beat the dirt out.
It seemed like all we did in Korea was fight for hills and then leave them to fight for another one. All of us guys would spend a day hiking up some hill, you know, with all of our gear and helmets and our rifles...it got pretty heavy and we'd be worn out halfway up. Then some old Korean lady with a huge basket on her back would breeze right by us. I don't know how they did it. I guess they were used to it.
So, we'd get to the top of this hill and dig our foxholes big enough for two men. I always shared mine with Tony. You had to stay in the foxhole, otherwise you could get shot. We couldn't even get out to take a piss or anything...we'd just have to use our helmets. Take out the liner and piss or shit in the steel pot and then chuck it over the side of the foxhole. Once in awhile someone would toss it into another guys' hole - 'You dirty pigs!!' they'd be ticked. Then the next day you'd shave out of the same helmet...some guys would cook in 'em. I never cooked in it cause I knew I had just shit in it the day before.
Then we'd fight a battle or someone would decide it was time to move forward and we'd have to police up the area and fill in the foxholes we just dug. Sometimes if we got pushed back - if the gooks were putting putting up a fight and pushed us back - we'd end up on the same hill from a week or a month before and have to dig holes again. We shoulda just left 'em all over the place and then we could just hop in them when we needed to!
I remember one time all of us guys were on one hill and the Chinese or the Koreans were across this valley on some other hills. For awhile it got pretty relaxed and we would actually yell stuff back and forth, joking around. They knew a little bit of english. I guess they had it just like we did and they probably didn't like being there either. So we didn't shoot at each other for a bit. It ended one day...someone shot someone else and that little truce or whatever it was ended.
"Most times [on the MLR] we lived in bunkers built up with sand bags. It had room enough for our heads. But once the enemy knows that were in there - we had a little slot to fire your rifle - once the enemy knows you're in there they keep shootin' for that spot. Then when we were a little bit back from the front lines, we had these big tents, I don't know what you call 'em, squad tents I guess. It was like six tents but for a company. And we spent our time gathering stones and making little walkways and decorate the front doors...the ones that had doors. Some guys would make different kind of signs.
We used to sleep on ammo boxes. I don't know what came in em but they were big boxes about 4 ft long. We'd put one behind the other, 3 or 4 on the side. We put our rain gear on top of that and our sleeping bags on top of that. It was almost like barracks life. Once every couple weeks we could take a shower. The engineers would set up a tent had this long pipe, two pipes in there, had some water hot enough to shower. About 50 guys at a time could get in there and wash off. We used to take barrels and cut them in half, take that army soap and throw our clothes in there and get them all bleached out. And we used to keep houseboys, these young guys they do things for us like take our clothes to town and have them made smaller or patches sewn on. So we'd take care of them, give em clothes, feed 'em.
Heh...During the rainy season if there was someone we didn't like we would rub the canvas there and it would make the water fall on whatever guy was sleeping."
"Outside of combat? Oh, it was alright. We had to do a lot of guard duty. I as in the Hq. & Hq. Co and all the officers had names like E2 and G4 and what else...I don't know what they all meant but they all had their little desks in a tent there. There was three or four tents there. They decided who needed more personnel or uniforms or supplies, ammunition, what not. So we had to stand guard over them all day. I didn't like that part. I had plenty of time to write letters. Once in a while some movie stars would come from America to perform with Bob Hope, Lucille Ball and Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth. I remember we used to meet at this big open areas, there was thousands of troops there watching actors and actresses. I was thinking that was a good place, if the enemy had the range, to send some missiles in there and wipe us all out.
In garrison we still wore fatigues but they had to be cleaned and ironed, and everything polished. Usually if you were on guard duty you had to have shiny helmet and it had the division insignia on the side, but it was something that you'd borrow just to be on guard, it wasn't your own helmet."
I remember there was this Chinese or Korean that had an old airplane, a real piece. Looked like something from World War I. He'd fly around at the same time every night, right as we were getting into our tents or foxholes to sleep. So we named him 'Bedcheck Charlie.' He'd harass us and make noise or shoot at us. I don't think he ever got anyone. The plane sounded like it was about to fall apart, it would just put-put along and cut out all the time. I guess he was pretty brave to fly that thing.