Service Reflections: Army veteran recalls end of Korean War on front lines
Service Reflections: Army veteran recalls end of Korean War on front lines
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Editor’s note: The following Service Reflections is one of many recorded on TogetherWeServed.com, a secure online community with a membership of over 2 million active-duty and veteran members. This story may contain language which may not be suitable for young children.
SSG Bert Gividen
Status: USA Veteran
Service Years: 1953-1959
Please describe who or what influenced your decision to join the Army.
I graduated from high school, looking at the draft coming, I decided to enlist as a volunteer so that I could obtain the G. I. Bill to complete my higher education aspirations.
Whether you were in the service for several years or as a career, please describe the direction or path you took. What was your reason for leaving?
The Korean War was over; I was anxious to get back home and begin my higher education studies using the GI Bill. The GI Bill helped me achieve my Bachelor of Science Degree from Utah State University. I went on to complete my Master's Degree in Science at Oregon State University, and my Doctorate Degree in Educational Administration at Brigham Young University.
In addition, I have graduate studies at the University of Utah, the University of California at Riverside, and the Los Angeles State University.
If you participated in any military operations, including combat, humanitarian and peacekeeping operations, please describe those which made a lasting impact on you and, if life-changing, in what way?
I saw my first ever jet aircraft while I was sitting on top of my machine gun sandbag bunker.
Other experiences would not be served well by mentioning them here or in any other place. I was asked to submit my Korean War experience with my local Orem American Legion Post 72 unit, and they sent this information to the U.S. Library of Congress to be entered into their records.
It was interesting, as the war ended, as I was cleaning my 30 cal. Air-cooled machine gun atop my sand bunker, and watched the North Koreans and Chinese soldiers crawl out of their tunnels throughout the entire mountain right in front of me, (it was like a huge hive of ants crawling out of the mountain), and watch them pull back, while we pulled back on the front lines, that helped create the Demilitarized Military Zone, along the 38th Parallel separating North Korea from South Korea, that continues to this day to be the most fortified border in the entire world.
After the war was over, I was transferred from my line company facing the DMZ and called back to the 2nd Battalion Headquarters to set up the new Troop Information and Education (TI&E) unit. Our first assignment was to gather names from company commanders who determined it was too difficult to direct soldiers with sub I.Q. Intelligence, and discharge them from the U.S. Army with a "Convenience to the Army Discharge." Thus, these men were sent back to the United States and discharged from the Army.
Our second responsibility was to provide USAFI (Independent Study) courses for all officers throughout the battalion. The third responsibility was to identify soldiers without a high school education, find instructors and set up curriculum course work for these men. Also, I taught English to a group of Puerto Rican soldiers who could not speak English (very interesting and fun experience).
Also, in October 1954, the 2nd Division was transferred out of Korea to one of the nearby islands next to Japan, can't remember the name, but, since I had so little time left until I was to be rotated home, I was transferred to an artillery company. When I arrived, the company commander said, "What am I going to do with you, the assigned me to his company clerk, who gave me the assignment to help soldiers who wanted to get back home to attend the second semester of their university, process them out of the Army and back home. While doing so, I realized that I was "one of those guys who wanted to get home and into my university studies." Thus, I wrote to Brigham Young University, was accepted, and processed myself out of the U.S. Army. I left Korea in late November, was processed out of the U.S. Army in North Fort Lewis, Washington On December 4, 1954 (my prior release date was to be January 26, 1955.
Upon enrolling at Snow College, instead of BYU, the local U.S. Army Reserve Colonel asked me to join his reserve unit and "Whip His Farm Boy Recruits Into A US Army Unit." In so doing, he raised my rank from Corporal to Sergeant and then Sergeant First Class with responsibilities as NCO commander of this reserve unit. The first summer of training for our reserve unit required rifle training, and firing on the firing range located nearby, I scored higher than anyone in the entire Utah and San Pete county reserve units, we went to Yakima, Washington for summer training exercises. I was standing in line with our reserve unit, when the commanding general came to the podium and asked, "Will Sergeant First Class Bert Gividen approach the stand." Stunned, I did so and stood by the general. He then said, "After reviewing all of the firing line scores of this entire division, here is the man I would like to be standing beside in a fox hole with enemy fire coming in my direction." I was stunned. And unable to comment. The general then invited my wife and me to a steak dinner in the best restaurant in Yakima, Washington.
Did you encounter any situation during your military service when you believed there was a possibility you might not survive? If so, please describe what happened and what was the outcome.
If you have ever been overridden by Chinese soldiers who got into the trenches and into the back of your machine gun sandbag bunker, then you know you are in trouble.
Enough said, "I made it home without injury."
Of all your duty stations or assignments, which one do you have fondest memories of and why? Which was your least favorite?
I felt great compassion for the South Korean people, whenever I had an opportunity to ride through the countryside and watch the adults and children hunt through our trash dumps for something to eat. That was the most humbling experience I have ever witnessed. And, low and behold, one of my best friends and neighbor today, is one of those children I probably witnessed clawing through our trash dumps. This young kid survived his childhood in South Korea, migrated to Hawaii, eventually completed his bachelor's, masters, and doctorate degrees in mathematics and just retired last summer from the Utah Valley University, here in Orem, Utah, as the department chair. Whenever I think that my life had some challenges, I think of this great man.
The worst experience I ever witnessed was watching the Nurses and Doctors in the MASH tents cavort when they were not involved in helping wounded soldiers being flown in by helicopter. I realize that they must have been under a lot of pressure, but the MASH units that I observed were nothing like the MASH units portrayed on television for so many years. It was difficult for me to watch the TV series. It was difficult for all of us in Korea.
From your entire military service, describe any memories you still reflect back on to this day.
Since returning home from the Korean War, I have often thought about, "Just what did we accomplish during that experience?" I often thought that the most impact we had on the Korean people, was that "We were an integral part in "Stopping the advancement of Communism." That has sustained me during my lifetime.
However, in May 2003, I received a letter from the United Nations Command, inviting me, and approximately 300 other US military personnel who served during the Korean War with military personnel of the 21 nations that fought communism, to return to South Korea as an ambassador of goodwill to the South Korean People and observe what happened economically and socially with the South Korean people and their country that we helped save from communism. South Korean businessmen provided funding for all of these military representatives to attend the "50th Anniversary of the Korean War Cease Fire."
I was not prepared for the experience that followed, as we were so splendidly catered to by the South Korean businessmen and people. When I was in Korea during 1953, and the war was over, I had the opportunity to commandeer a 2-1/2 ton truck to drive our squad from the front lines, where we had not had a shower for months, back into Seoul, Korea and rear headquarters, where we were given a wonderfully hot water shower, and new clean clothes!! What splendor we experienced. But, while there in Seoul, we saw all of the damage created by bombs and artillery shelling from the North Koreans and Chinese. THERE WAS NOT A BUILDING LEFT STANDING..., however, Korean people had found 2" x 4" boards of various lengths, and 4ft x 8ft sheets of plywood, and they were trying to conduct business from these makeshift buildings. There was one bridge over the "Haun River," and the bridge itself was heavily damaged. Even the Imperial Palace received on a huge bomb that was remaining where it struck the ground in the courtyard but did not explode. The bomb had been left in place as a reminder of the enemy the people faced.
When I took a tour through Seoul, Korea, in 2003, I was unprepared for what I saw. South Korea is the largest Iron producing country in the world and export to other countries throughout the world, yet South Korea has no iron mines within its boundaries. The number of bridges covering the Haun River as it traversed its pathway through Seoul was staggering; I think I counted (looking down from a lofty perch similar to the Space Needle in Seattle, Washington) fourteen modern bridges connecting supper highways throughout the city. I was told that there were over 17 major hospitals in Seoul and 12 universities. Major businesses were flourishing below my lofty perch. I WAS TOTALLY AMAZED. Our tour guides took us up to the DMZ and opened a chain-link fence, RIGHT NEXT TO MY SANDBAG BUNKER THAT HAD BEEN REPLACED BY A CONCRETE BUNKER AND WATCH TOWER ABOVE. Our guides drove us into the center of the DMZ on the South Korean side, let us climb into watchtowers, and through telescopes and field glasses, we were able to observe the conditions in North Korea. Again, I was totally amazed because what I saw, were villages with straw-roofed homes and thatched sides, just like there were when I was in Korea in 1953.
Well, I could go on and on about the distinct differences I observed between South and North Korea, but I will not do so here. However, I would like to mention, that the South Korean businessmen who hosted the United Nations tour, had collected all of the brass shell casings that they found throughout South Korea, smelted these spent casing down into brass, and then poured the brass into single medals that were given to each of us in this group of military representatives of the United Nations, and since that date of July 27, 2003, the South Korean businessmen have sent representatives throughout the 21 nations who fought during the Korean War and are still continuing to attempt to locate servicemen who spent time-fighting for the South Korean peoples escape from the throes of communism. THIS MEDAL, IS ONE OF MY MOST PRIZED POSSESSIONS.
What professional achievements are you most proud of from your military career?
My use of the G. I. Bill paid for my higher education and continued graduate studies, which has heightened my qualifications and expertise to enable me to hold some very important positions, ie, high school teacher of chemistry, biology, and human physiology. In administration, I have served as a high school dean of students, junior high school vice principal, junior high principal, high school principal, superintendent of schools, and the founding Director of the Brigham Young University Conferences and Workshops department.
I have been fortunate to travel throughout all of the fifty United States, and some extensively visiting other major universities as a representative consultant from BYU. Also, I have held regional and national positions within the National University of Continuing Education Association and hosted the 5,000 + member organization in Salt Lake City.
After retirement, I was asked to recreate the Orem American Legion Post 72 unit organization as Vice Commander of Public Affairs. Our commander and I identified 35 other veterans to join our unit, trained them how to provide deceased veteran memorial graveside services, how to provide military 21 gun salutes, how to provide flag-raising ceremonies for special occasions, how conduct the American Legion Program Honoring high school students, how to conduct military programs for junior and senior high schools on Veterans Day (3 high schools and five junior high schools), etc.
In addition, while serving as the American Legion Post 72 Vice Commander, the City of Orem Mayor asked me if I would help him, and his staff, create the City of Orem Heritage Commission, with the responsibility of choosing a sculptor to create a life-size brass statue to be placed in the City of Orem Cemetery to honor deceased and all other veterans. The statue sits on a concrete pedestal four feet high and depicts a nurse holding the head of a wounded soldier in her lap, with the inscription on the front of the pedestal "Lest We Forget." Also, I wrote the first Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs that continue to be followed to this day.
Also, to honor each deceased veteran buried in the City of Orem Cemetery, I found resources and Boy Scout Eagle Scout projects to create a plastic cross with a small US flag inserted in the top of the cross, with individual names of deceased veterans buried in the cemetery, and this display of crosses to be located in a military-style grid in a special located grassy area just south of the City of Orem Cemetery Veterans Memorial.
Of all the medals, awards, formal presentations and qualification badges you received, or other memorabilia, which one is the most meaningful to you and why?
The 2003 "50th Anniversary of the Korean War Cease Fire", because it was presented by the grateful people of Korea to the nations, who defended their democratic lifestyle.
Which individual(s) from your time in the military stand out as having the most positive impact on you and why?
Sgt Basil Presti.
When I first landed on the Inchon harbor shores of Korea, then by train to Seoul, then by 2-1/2 truck to the front lines of the Korean War. Sgt. Presti met me, looked at me with that awkward look of his (a true New Yorker), said, "Give me that M-1 Rifle, (which I did), and then he tossed into my open arms a.30 cal. air-cooled machine gun, with the words, "I think you can handle this piece of firepower!" He changed my life forever. When the war was over, he disappeared from our company. Then in January 1954, when I was sitting on top of my DMZ sandbag bunker, with my tarp spread out and cleaning piece by piece, my .30 cal. Air-cooled machine gun. I was looking down into the valley with a river below that separated our company from five companies of Chinese soldiers sitting 3 miles in front of me. Then, I felt this tap on my left shoulder, looked around, and there was Sgt. Presti was smiling down on me. He then said, "Are you tired of cleaning that machine gun?" "Yes, and I was and bored to death." He then said, leave the machine gun here, and come with me (I don't know who inherited that machine gun, but I was glad to be rid of it).
Sgt Presti then took me to the 2nd Battalion Headquarters and told me that he and I were to create the 2nd Battalion Troop Information and Education (TI&E) unit. Now that the war was over, company commanders were having difficulty finding things to do for the US Army sitting on the front lines of the DMZ, so general officers determined that they would like Sgt. Presti and me to create an education program to keep all officers and enlisted active, and hopefully, out of trouble. I have addressed activities that I participated in with the TI&E unit in a previous report in this profile.
Sgt Basil Presti soon rotated from Korea, and I became the acting NCO over the TI&E unit.
In 2003, I received an interesting telephone call from Basil Presti, who knew I came from Mapleton, Utah, who called my parents to find my telephone number to call me. We had a special and sweet telephone call reunion. Basil asked his two daughters to drive him out to Orem, Utah, and we had a great visit with each other. Then, soon after, his daughters drove him back to his home in Reno, Nevada, Basil Presti, one of my best friends, passed away.
List the names of old friends you served with, at which locations, and recount what you remember most about them. Indicate those you are already in touch with and those you would like to make contact with.
Since I am now 85 years of age, I remember faces of recruits that I pulled off 2-1/2 ton trucks in the 2nd Battalion of the 38th Regiment, of the 2nd Division to work with me in our expanded TI&E program in South Korea, and the recruits that I trained in the little town of Ephraim, Utah where a very grateful Colonel Crane, of the local US Army Reserve Unit, asked me to help him. But, at this age-specific names escape me.
Can you recount a particular incident from your service, which may or may not have been funny at the time, but still makes you laugh?
Yes, I will never forget being so dirty and filthy coming off the front lines and into a 12 man tent. We got into this tent, and the smell was awful. We thought maybe there were some dead rats underneath the wooden floor, so we took down the tent, lifted the wooden floor, but no dead rats.
So, we put the floor back down, erected the tent again, replaced our army cots, sleeping bags, and duffle bags, went back inside the tent, there was that awful smell again. It finally dawned on us; the smell was us!!!
That is when I walked into the Company Commander's tent, told him what we had discovered, and he provided a 2-1/2 ton truck to transport us back to Seoul, rear headquarters, where we got a good hot shower and new clothes.
However, the truck did not have a flap over the rear entrance of the truck, so traveling 50 miles down to Seoul, over dirt/dusty roads, the dust just bellowed back into the back entrance of the truck and covered us in 1/2 inch of thick choking dust. When we arrived in Seoul, we were immediately escorted to the showers, stripped of all clothing, stood in the showers as long as we wanted, then we were given new clothing, but, we then had to travel another 50 miles from Seoul back to our front line position, and of course, when we arrived, we were again covered in 1/2 inch of dust.
However, we were clean on the inside.
What profession did you follow after your military service and what are you doing now? If you are currently serving, what is your present occupational specialty?
I have addressed in a previous reflection, so I will only state here that while I was in Korea, I arranged for a traveling mobile library to visit battalion Headquarters and individual companies. So, I also took advantage of this mobile library and read several books about doctors who were general practitioners; there were very few specialties in the medical field in 1954. But, I was intrigued by the science they had obtained and their abilities to help people.
So, when I enrolled at Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, I thought I would like to become a doctor and enrolled in every science course I could find. But, during my educational experience, I thought I had better really find out what a doctor does and would I be happy as a doctor. So, I visited a good friend's doctor of mine, asked if I could spend the day with him, and observe what he did all day long. Yes, he was a good friend and asked me to sit in the corner of his patient's visiting room, and I did observe all day long what this good friend of mine did as a career.
Well, I was impressed with his medical skill but was turned off by all of his patients who came with their aches and pains, and their whining complaints! And yes, I was disappointed and decided that being a doctor was not for me. However, if I had that experience today, with all of the medical specialties available, I would have gone after a medical degree in a specialty.
Well, I decided I didn't want to be a doctor, but how about a dentist? In Ephraim, I walked into the local dentist's office and asked if I could observe him during his practice? He said, "Sure, stay with me all day if you would like." So, in comes his first patient, climbs into the dental chair, opens his mouth, I looked into that big black hole and almost gagged, re he must have been a tobacco-chewing guy because I had never in my life seen such nastiness. Thanked the dentist for my intrusion, and left knowing that this man's mouth was probably the exception, but...., no way did I want to look into anyone's mouth again.
So, I was graduating from Snow College and registering for classes at Utah State University, so with all of my science backgrounds, I thought about becoming a microbiologist, but after the first course working with those deadly pathogens, I decided I was not that cautious and did not want to take the chance of bringing home some terrible disease to my new family.
So, now what? Well, I began thinking about the experiences I had working with the TI&E course work in Korea, and how much I enjoyed teaching that English class to Spanish speaking Puerto Rican's. I thoroughly enjoyed that experience, and we had a great time together. So, I reviewed my transcript of courses completed, found that I had enough science courses that I qualified for a teaching certificate in chemistry, biology, and a minor in mathematics. So, I enrolled in education certification courses and graduated a year early (finished my degree in 3 years instead of 4) and went off to northern California in the heart of the Red Woods to teach chemistry and biology at Fortuna Union High School. I enjoyed that experience, except I went for the extracurricular activity of fishing for salmon and hunting deer. Still, it rained, and rained, and rained a total of 60 inches in nine months, and I could not see myself there in the future.
So, I returned to Utah and enrolled at Brigham Young University in a master's degree program towards my Educational Administration certificate. While there, superintendent Brockbank from the Nebo School District found me and offered me a mathematics teaching position. I loved teaching math, but the salary was so woeful, I had to exercise my welding skills from right after school until in the wee hours of the next morning welding hard surface rod on a rock crusher. I made more per hour doing that than teaching, so; I applied for a National Science Foundation Scholarship to three universities, was selected for all three, chose the University of Oregon Physiology degree program.
After graduation, I was hired by the Riverside Unified School District in Riverside, California, teaching Human Physiology, and Advanced Biology. During this experience, I was selected as the "Outstanding Science Teacher in the Inland Empire of Southern California." My outstanding student and I were wined and dined at Cal Tech, then onto the Aircraft Carrier Yorktown, the special dinner with distinguished scientist and science business CEOs of Southern California. Jonas Salk sat to my left, and the CEO of Northrup sat on my right side. Wow, did we ever have some enlightening discussions.
What military associations are you a member of, if any? What specific benefits do you derive from your memberships?
I belong to the Utah Veterans Administration unit in Salt Lake City, Utah, who called me in 2010 asking about my hearing problems (evidently notified by my local physician), they tested me and walked back my history to the Korean War where I had lost all of my upper tones and damaged some of those lower tones. I was given a 10% disability and have been provided by VA Audiology Services, and hearing aids since that day, for which I am very grateful.
In 2002, a friend of mine, asked if I would help him re-organize a defunct Orem American Legion Post 72. We did, and that post is still very effective today, however, because of so much flashback experience while participating in some of the deceased veteran graveside services, and other activities, I decided I had done all that I could do to help my friend activate this unit, so in 2007, I withdrew from this unit and only participated as an audience member in the Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs.
At my age now, I am not active in anything anymore and miss my association with others with whom I share some experience.
In what ways has serving in the military influenced the way you have approached your life and your career? What do you miss most about your time in the service?
I joined the military at age 18 right out of high school, faced with the draft into military service, began traveling the world, and GREW UP VERY QUICKLY. I know why the military-drafted young men because it was an exciting experience at first, but then took its toll on my youth. I do not doubt that the structured life of the US Army helped me organize my own life and gave me the desire to achieve "All That I Could Become." This, little kid from this little town of Mapleton, Utah, with experience of living in a community of 200 people, challenged by playing all sports in high school, Quarterback of the football team for four years, Captain during my senior year, etc., etc., etc. But, when I took that one step forward at Ft. Douglas, Utah into the United States Army, MY LIFE WAS CHANGED FOREVER. For example, when I returned home from Korea, my maturity and confidence level was high. When Colonel Crane invited me to help him "Teach these Young Farm Boys of Ephraim, Utah into an effective US Army Unit," the difference in our ages was only two years, but the confidence and maturity difference was huge.
In fact, the English teacher at Snow College, after I had only been enrolled for two months, indicated that the college faculty encouraged her (we had become friends) to invite me to consider running for Student Body President of Snow College. I thought about it. I did not realize I had made such an impact at Snow College. I decided to take her up on her offer. I selected the captain of the football team to be my campaign chairman. With the support of the cheerleaders and our "White Party" swept the election except for one position, Vice President, who I was dating and we later married and served as Student Body President and Vice President as a married couple (never been done before nor since).
Yes, my military experience helped me organize myself. I have somewhat become a leader in my profession, a trusted consultant, and served in many leadership roles.
What do I miss most about being in the US Army? Being part of something big and important, and marching down the street in a military parade with the "Stars and Stripes" blowing in the breeze, hearing the command, "EYES RIGHT" and paying homage to what that flag represents. I still have that stirring inside of me whenever I participate in that "SACRED" activity of saluting the flag and bearing my allegiance to this great Nation. That experience will go to the grave with me.
Based on your own experiences, what advice would you give to those who have recently joined the Army?
Stick it out. Be aware that the basic training program is designed to break you down and then rebuild you into something greater than what you were before. Take advantage of what your military experience has to offer, decide that you can only do one thing at a time, be in one place at a time, think of one thing at a time, and you have
And watch them pull back Then, you will learn how to become "MASTER OF YOUR OWN DESTINY" and find your own rewards in this lifetime experience.
In what ways has TogetherWeServed.com helped you remember your military service and the friends you served with.
It has given me a place to connect with others, a place to keep my military history from fading away with time. A place to share my military life and hopefully by telling my story it will help others.
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