INTERVIEW WITH LT COL CHARLES BUSSEY-3/2/97
INTERVIEWER: Tuesday the 4th of February 1997. We're in Washington, DC. An interview with Charles Bussey, Lieutenant Colonel. Thank you very much for being willing to contribute to our Cold War series. This is tape 10479. We ask all our interviewees, can you tell us what your job was, what your posting was in June of 1950?
LT COL CHARLES BUSSEY: Yes, I was the commander of the 77th Engineer Combat Company which was either attached to or in support of 24th Infantry Regiment in Korea.
INT: You were part of
INTERRUPTION - CUT
INT: Charles, can you tell us a little bit about the occupation army in Japan, what the lifestyle was for single men or married men, what the combat-readiness was, if there was any?
CB: Well, there was no combat-readiness for sure. The lifestyle involved a lot of leisure, a lot of involvement with the native women. The officers were involved with buying furniture, buying fancy chinaware for their homes there was no concern whatever about combat-readiness. Absolutely none. Even in the manoeuvre areas the concern was the good life. A very leisurely life was not involved in any way with combat. There was just no concern whatever and it was our life there was lived through the Sears Roebuck catalogue who bought nylons and whatnot for the native girls and that sort of thing. It was a good life.
INT: Why was it like that? This was an army of occupation. You mention Japan in your answer if you could.
CB: Well, it was an army of occupation they were occupying and that was all they were doing. They were involved with doing nice things for nice girls. They had nothing to do with combat in any way, shape or form. It just wasn't there and the attitude of the soldiers was that 'we've got an atomic weapon now so we don't have to worry about enemies. There are no enemies for the United States at this point' and that was the way life was.
INT: And how much did it cross anybody's mind that there could be a war around the corner?
CB: There was no concern… war was impossibility. We had the atomic weapons and we'd used them and you could see the effects of it on the faces of the Japanese people and with that threat, there was no concern at all about having another war. No-one could imagine that there was a war just over the horizon.
INT: Now the army was a segregated army. For people who don't really understand what the set-up was, can you explain what that meant. There had been an order banning segregation but it still went on. What was the situation?
CB: I don't think I really know what the situation was. The President issued an executive order abandoning segregation in the service but it was ignored. The big generals fought it and the Air Force followed it and they integrated in 1949 with little or no difficulty but the Army refused to do it and I don't really know how a general can refuse an executive order of the President but it happened and it continued to happen up until 1957 almost 10 years after the executive order was issued. I don't know how this could be.
INT: What did it mean in effect for people like yourself in terms of
CB: (overlap) It meant that if I was going to be a soldier, I had to belong to a segregated army. A segregated army means many things. It means poor morale, it means substandard living, it means poor housing, poor promotions, it means that court martials were rampant and there was no justice in the courts. It means all of the negatives that being a second class citizen provides and there are many.
INT: Now you were in Japan which was another race, so how did the army hierarchy regard Asiatics and blacks. You were regarded as the bottom of the pile, or how did they see their black units then?
CB: I'm not sure how a white man felt about the units. I'm not really sure about this but I do know that blacks were badly mistreated. They were involved with athletics, they were the athletes then as they are now but aside from that, they had very little respect. Promotion policies were poor. The courts were loaded with infractions, the courts were totally unjust in their in the pursuit of justice if you will and there are many records to indicate this. The Japanese were there and they provided services and that seemed to be their girls were involved with typing and things and the men drove vehicles and maintained vehicles and oh, did all of they provided services, period. That was the natives' involvement.
INT: And how did the Army view Asians if there was in-built attitude of white racial superiority?
CB: (slight overlap) Well, they were gooks and a gook means gook, a very demeaning term if you will and that was for all Asians - Filipinos, Koreans, Japanese, whoever.
INT: But when the war started in Korea, was there an assumption that it wouldn't take long to sort out this matter of the whites over the gooks?
CB: No (laugh) as a matter of fact, we were told to take our athletic equipment and leave everything else behind because we'd only be gone for maybe 6 weeks take athletic equipment. We'd go over there and we'd have a show of force in the field and those gooks would go back across 38th parallel and we'd come home. And that was the attitude that was prevalent at the time immediately after the 25th of June 1950 and that was the attitude that was prevalent at that time. It didn't work out that way at all, but that was what came down to us.
INT: When you reached Korea and you were in contact with the North Koreans, the North Koreans made a huge dent in the US forces, why was the American army, the most superior army in the world, so ill-prepared?
CB: Well, they'd been in Japan and on occupation. They were in Hawaii and we were living a good life. leisurely no mention was ever made of the fact that we might have to be prepared to go to war again. That was out of the question. It never phased anyone. No-one ever considered this possibility and I'd say we were concerned with buying furniture and dishes and things and having our wives and children accompany us to Japan and enjoy that good life and that was the nature of things at that time. None of these things happened. Well, there were some wives over there of course who'd been coming over for several years at that time, but none of this happened.
INT: But when you actually reached Korea and the US troops reeled under the attack of the North Koreans, why did the North Koreans make such a successful onslaught on the US army? Why were they so good at it?
CB: Well, I think there are a number of things. First of all they had been training and they were motivated. They were Communists through and through and they recognised their physical superiority and they exercised it and they were highly successful at it and physically they were in tremendous physical condition. They were able to climb the mountains to do the things that were necessary to engage the Americans who were in poor condition, absolutely poor, and they were highly successful. They were the best mortar men in the world. They were unbelievably good. I say 'in the world' and I'm not really qualified to make that statement but as far as I was concerned, (laugh) they were the best in the world! They were extremely good and they were motivated. The Communist dogma they had ingrained in 'em and they exercised it tremendously and we had none of the above. None. And we went to the field and they took us on.
INT: But you did have the equipment. You may not have had
CB: (overlap) We had equipment left over from World War II, most of which had been in a warehouse some place and was from unserviceable to non-existent.
INT: Tell us a bit about the kind of standard of equipment, of bedding, of food, of maps. What sort of things did you have?
CB: Well, I'll start with maps. We had none. The only map that I saw was one that I had removed from the back page of our newspaper, The Stars & Stripes, and it had a map of the total of Korea and I took this off of a paper and I folded it up and I put it in my pocket and that was the only map that I had for the first couple of weeks. It had no contours, it had no elevations, it had none of the things other than the locatioof principle cities. Thatwas all we had. You cannot fight a war that way. You cannot do it. Eventually we got some Japanese maps with Japanese characters which had been in the archives from the time that the Japanese had occupied Korea, 1904 or some time way in the past, and we got those maps and they did not do the job for us - obviously. They were impossible. I guess we'd been there maybe as much as a month before we ever got anything that resembled a map that you'd use to fight a war with and that was that was a big issue as far as fighting that war was concerned.
INT: Now what about other things in sense of equipment. I'm just taking a note from your book, you know, things like bedding, mosquito nets. What did you have and what didn't you have?
CB: Well, we had no bedding. For the first 6 months in Korea, I slept on the hood of my jeep. I had no bedding, I had no mosquito nets. None of those nice things were available. It was warm so it didn't really matter but they weren't available. I have no idea where they were or whatnot but we didn't have them. We had when our shoes wore out, they were out and that was it. We had radios that had been in storage so long that the alkali or whatever is in the a battery had eaten its way through the shells. We were in very poor shape for everything. Food (laugh) poor in quality and poor in variety. we were not ready to fight a war. That's what it amounts it in the long that's the long and short of it.
INT: But you did have considerable quantities
INTERRUPTION - DISCUSSION ABOUT HELICOPTER
INT: In its very revealing detail I wonder if you could tell us about the standard of equipment in footwear in particular your own experience.
CB: Well, our footwear was one of the areas that were highly deficient. We had shoes that had been repaired by the quartermaster. They'd been in storage 4 or 5 years and they didn't hold up at all. I at one time had a condition of size 11 on one foot and size 12 on the other. This is not a great big serious thing but it's a thing that I remember well.