By Julie Ann Madden
He missed the World War II draft of soldiers because he was too young.
“I graduated from high school in 1944 when I was 16 years old,” said Richard Lee Philips of rural Akron. “The war was cooling off and the draft was ended.”
“There was plenty of work here,” he said, explaining why he didn’t volunteer to enter the U.S. Army. “My dad had a lot of farm land.”
But the United States government reenacted the draft for the Korean War in June of 1950, and the 22-year-old received his draft notice.
“I never volunteered but I wouldn’t have been a ‘2C’ and stayed out,” said Philips, explaining he could have filed a “2C” farm laborer exemption. “I felt it was part of growing up — do your time.”
“I was with the second group to leave Plymouth County,” said Philips, adding there were nine draftees in his group: Delmar George Kleihauer, Leo Alouis Weidenfeller, and himself of Akron; William Ralph Tague of Westfield; Verl Gay Lehner of Kingsley; Wayne Harold Andresen, Robert Roy Fischer, Duane Arthur Hamann, and Lavern Andrew Schleis, all of Le Mars.
County Draft Board Secretary, Mrs. Francis DePree, selected Philips as the leader of the group when they traveled by bus from Le Mars to Sioux Falls, S.D., to have their physical examinations on Aug. 25, 1950.
About a week later the group made the trip again to be inducted into the U.S. Army. Afterward, the men boarded a train for Fort Riley, Kan.
When they passed through Le Mars, people were standing at the depot waving, said Philips.
At Fort Riley, which Philips was at for about a month, Hamann and he were selected to type soldiers’ orders. They had three destinations: Camp Pickett, Virginia; Fort Roberts, California; or Camp Carson, Colorado.
“I decided to go to Camp Pickett because it was in the South and would be warm in the approaching winter,” said Philips. Camp Pickett had been closed since World War II ended so when they arrived, the grass and weeds were about 6 feet tall, “and the snakes were one every square foot.”
“I didn’t like the snakes or the red mud from the rains,” said Philips, noting Camp Pickett was about 3 miles outside of Blackstone, Va., a town about the size of Akron.
If they were lucky enough to get a pass, they could ride a bus to Richmond, which was about 80 miles away, and have just enough time for a meal and a show and the bus ride home before they’d be counted as being AWOL, which means “absent without leave,” said Philips.
“They sorted out about 10 percent of us and sent us to Leadership School,” said Philips, explaining again, Hamann and he were selected, giving them the opportunity to miss being sent to Korea with the first of their group.
Instead, they began training new “green” guys. Philips and Hamann also completed First Aid training.
“I thought being in the Infantry, it might be nice to know that,” said Philips, explaining his duty was to hand out bandaids for blisters; “brown bombers,” the pills for constipation; and give shots.
He just happened to be in the front of the line when a lieutenant asked if any of them had given shots before. Philips was chosen because he’d had experience vaccinating hogs.
All Philips did was take a syringe filled by another volunteer soldier, disinfect a soldier’s arm, give the shot and hand the syringe to another volunteer soldier who sterilized the syringes.
“There was no throw away equipment back then,” said Philips, sharing about a large Black man who told Philips “If you hurt me, I’ll knock you on your tail.”
“When I reached to get the syringe and turned back, he was laying flat on his back on the floor,” laughed Philips. “He’d passed out cold when he saw the needle. He got his shot and never felt it.”
Taking the First Aid training made him a medic. Philips went with the troops to the field every day. Once a month, he met with the troops for “T & R,” giving them information on how to stay healthy. One tip was “not to go out with the girls.”
“Penicillin was new and its availability was kind of limited,” said Philips.
In June 1951, Philips received his orders to go to Germany. They traveled to Hampton Roads, Va., where they boarded the Liberty ship, M.B. Stewart.
“Liberty ships had the reputation of breaking in two,” said Philips, explaining the M.B. Stewart had a “patch” all the way around the hull because it was suspected it just might break.
On a troop ship, there are compartments, said Philips. The compartment doors are shut and made “water-tight” at night. Basically, the men are locked in.
If the ship is hit by a mine, only the compartment hit will fill with water, minimizing the number of casualties, he explained. If your compartment’s hit, you drown.
“That was one of the scariest parts about going over (to Germany),” said Philips. “There were still a few mines floating around from World War II.”
“The first day out, we hit a hurricane,” he said, explaining the swells were so large, the boat just shuddered. “The first couple of times it did that we thought we were goners.”
Only a couple of days had rough seas of their seven-day voyage, said Philips, noting on good days, he’d climb up on the rigging and set in the metal gun tanks where the big guns were kept to shoot at aircraft. “It was nice and warm in the sunshine.”
There were about 1,700 soldiers on the ship — one whole regiment, which consists of three battalions. Each battalion has three companies; and each company has four platoons. There were four medics to each rifle company.
“Medics were right next to the machine gun nest,” said Philips who served with the 43rd Infantry, G Company. “If one of those guys got it, it was the medic’s job to fix him up or get a couple of guys to carry him back.”
From Virginia, Philips traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and up the English Channel to Camp Y79, Bornhofen, Germany.
Military officials thought the Russians were going to invade East Germany so the 43rd Infantry set up blocking positions along the border.
“If the Russians had come, we’d have been right in the middle of the fighting,” said Philips, explaining they’d be out in blocking positions for about four weeks at a time, then in the barracks for six weeks.
While in the blocking positions, his home was a two-man horse-shoe pup tent or a squad “eight-man” tent which had a wooden floor with a small coal briquette stove.
In the summertime, it was great, said Philips. “There was nothing to do but eat and watch for oncoming Russians. We watched each other through binoculars.”
In winter time, it was so cold, the soldiers “shivered all night” even though they wore all their clothes, had two blankets and a poncho.
In summer, the bathrooms were a “slit trench” they dug about an arm’s length deep and 50 feet long, which they marked with signs. After using it, you pushed dirt over it. In winter, the latrine was a wooden “quarter-master box”with holes in it set inside a tent with a small coal briquette stove.
“I kind of liked being in Germany,” said Philips. “In the blocking positions, we didn’t have any forced marches or training. You were there to do your job as a watchman of the border, and that was what most of my tour of duty in Germany was.”
Philips did a lot of sightseeing. He visited England, Holland, Denmark, France, Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg. He swam in Germany’s Danube River and waded in the Mediterranean Sea at the French Riviera.
After 14 months in Germany, he boarded another Liberty ship for home.
Philips returned to the farm where he has lived for 60 years with his wife, Wanda.
“I would have done it again,” said Philips. “I got to see a lot of Europe.”
“I loved the camaraderie with fellow soldier friends,” he said, noting he still receives a 43rd Infantry bulletin quarterly. “I kept in contact with a few — not as many as I should have.”