September 28, 2010
Wilbur Metcalfe, of Warsaw, decided to follow the lead of his father and brother and join the service. His father was a World War I veteran and his brother served in World War II. Metcalfe enlisted in the Army in November 1949, when he was 19. He did basic training at Fort Riley, Kan., for 10 weeks.
Then he was shipped overseas to Japan. “I went out through Seattle and I was sick before we ever got out of Puget Sound,” he said. They had drills on the ship where the men were supposed to go topside. Roll call was taken, but Metcalfe never appeared.
“After about three or four mornings, one of them came down there and said the commander said ‘If you aren’t on A-deck in five minutes, he’s going to give you a court martial.’ And I said, ‘ If he’s going to give me a court martial, he’s going to have to bring it to me. I’m not going up to get it,’ ” he said. The commander never showed up.
On the ship was a man named Kreisel, a friend of Metcalfe’s before joining the service. Kreisel and another Cole Camp man, who was serving olives on the chow line, teased Metcalfe about his sickness.
“They didn’t have any idea someone could get so sick,” Metcalfe said.
Finally, an older veteran told Metcalfe the key was to drink small amounts of lemon juice and eat soda crackers. That seemed to help.
Once he arrived in Japan, he was assigned to headquarters company and was the captain’s driver. On June 25, 1950, the Korean War started. He was part of the 7th Division and they were sent to Mount Fujiyama for amphibious landing training. He did that for about two months.
The battalion commander was tougher than anyone in the battalion.
“Lt. Col. Donald Faith had a smart stick that he carried and he could have run all day and all night long,” Metcalfe said. Lt. Col. Faith was later killed in Korea.
Metcalfe worked with the intelligence and reconnaissance platoon. Their job was to scope out the area ahead of the battalion and report back. Metcalfe’s specialty was driving much needed items to the rear by black out driving. This type of driving was difficult because the headlights on the trucks were like flashlights so the enemy wouldn’t spot them.
“The weather in Korea, I couldn’t believe that there was any place on earth that was that severe.... That’s why what I’ve got now is disability for frost-bit feet, ears and hands,” said Metcalfe.
The cold weather also had a major impact on the vehicles. The men had to use their imagination to get the engines to start, because they were frozen. Metcalfe and his buddies used the small can in their assault rations. They filled it full of gasoline, ignited it and set it on the ground under the vehicle and let it burn. The flame would warm up the oil of the vehicle and eventually, the truck would start.
They would use the motor of the trucks to help them get their daily rations out. Each day the men would receive a can that had two sausage patties inside. They couldn’t be pried out of the grease, due to the cold. Metcalfe made a thing out of steel that would hold the can on the motor of the vehicle. Once the motor was running, the patties would warm up and the men could pry them out.
For Metcalfe, the hardest part of the war was trying to get out of North Korea. The men had an awards and decoration ceremony at the Yalu River. That’s when they heard a rumor that the Chinese had entered the war. They made it down to Hungnam, North Korea.
Metcalfe was put on a ship and finally got to take a shower. He hadn’t taken his clothes off for more than two and a half months. He noticed the inside of his clothes were white. He asked an old-time sergeant about it and was told it was body lice. The Navy took the clothes and issued new ones to him.
In all, he served in Korea for 10.5 months. The turnover rate was high, but Metcalfe was one of the last to leave. He is most proud of receiving the combat infantry badge. The requirements were a soldier had to spend 90 consecutive nights and days facing an hostile enemy while exchanging small arms fire.
During the summer of 1951, he met Betty Summers, of Lincoln. He saw her a couple of times while he was on furlough and they corresponded by mail until November 1952. They were married Nov. 5, 1952, before he was sent to France for a year. He was discharged Nov. 15, 1953.
He returned to Missouri and became an apprentice plumber in 1954. He continued in plumbing until 1990, when he retired. Betty worked at Town and Country Shoe Factory until it closed. They lived in Sedalia until 1976, when they moved to Warsaw. They have four sons, Danny Metcalfe, of Jefferson City, Donald Metcalfe, of Lowry City, Ronald Metcalfe, of Warsaw, and the late Michael Metcalfe; seven grandchildren; and 13 great-grandchildren.