GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An enlisted Korean War veteran from Grand Rapids fought in the war but never went to boot camp — something that would be unheard of in the U.S. military today.
“In the 20th century, it only happened one time and that was at the beginning of the Korean War. The military had gotten so low after World War II,” Sgt. Howard Davis said. “Now today, that would never happen because first you go to boot camp and then you get out of the boot camp and go in the reserves.”
The 94-year-old retired preacher from Grand Rapids joined the reserves with two close friends, which meant not being drafted.
“My friends and I, three of us, enlisted on June 22, 1948. We were all just about 19 at that time,” he said.
They were in the middle of a health screening for the National Guard when they heard the Marine Corps Reserve was taking recruits. That meant they would not be drafted.
“All the sudden, we said,’ Whoa, that’s better than the National Guard,’ so we told them to tear up our papers, and we went up and enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve,” he explained.
Concerned they could be drafted after serving voluntarily, Davis and his friends signed up for three years.
“We thought, ‘Now, the draft law’s for two years, and the president hadn’t signed that bill yet, so we can serve two years in the reserve and still get drafted,'” he said.
They were wrong. The men who signed up for two years finished before the Korean War started.
Davis went to Camp Pendleton and the Marine Corps determined he had enough training to fight.
“There were those like me who had been in two years and had gone to at least 72 training sessions, which we had, and had gone to one summer camp, which we had at Camp Lejeune. We were deemed combat-ready,” he said.
He was assigned to the Able Company 7th Marines. As most who serve will tell you, the reality of combat life is something they’ll never forget.
“It’s not just that you’re getting shot at, which you are and so forth, you’re shooting and so forth and that stuff, but you live outdoors. If it’s cold, you’re cold. And then at night, one person had to stay awake while the other one slept. And so you slept half the night, and (for) about three hours, you sat there huddled up with your weapon ready,” Davis explained.
He said he’s fortunate to have made it through the war when so many lost their lives or came back injured.
“We were off the line from July 1st to the middle of August. We took such heavy casualties (at the) end of May and June. The worst was May 29th. We tried taking a hill. We started out with 63 in my platoon and ended up with 13 that night. My company lost all the officers except one. All six of our corpsmen were gone,” he said.
Despite the human toll, the Marine says without the U.S. military, South Korean democracy wouldn’t exist.
“A lot of wars, you wonder, ‘Why did they fight that? Why did they fight that?’ I always say war is the great insanity of mankind, but we saved South Korea. They’re a prosperous nation today,” he said.
Miraculously, Davis and his two friends made it home. He went to college, seminary and preached most recently at a church in Wyoming. He said he would not have become a minister without serving in the Marine Corps Reserve.
“Changed my life. Changed everybody’s life, incidentally,” he said.