Jack Walentine enlisted in the US Army in 1947. He was 16 years old at the time; he got in using his older brother’s birth certificate. The Army sent him to Fort Dix, NJ for basic training. Following basic, he attended jump school at Fort Benning and then was assigned to the 188th Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division in Japan. In 1949, he was transferred to the 25th Division and he remained with them until the outbreak of the Korean War. He served in Korea from July 1950 until being wounded for the fourth time in February 1951. After being wounded in February he was returned to the US. He continued to serve in the active Army and the National Guard until he retired as a sergeant major in 1989.
I enlisted in October 1947, I was 16 years old and I lied about my age. I had an older brother who had passed away and I used his birth certificate to enlist. They sent me to Fort Dix for basic training; I was there for 14 weeks. The service rifle at that time was the M1 rifle. I remember during our training, we marched out to the range and stayed in tents. We spent four whole days snapping in and shooting. The training wasn’t that good; the sergeant and corporal instructing us did not know how to shoot. All they did was rattle off a bunch of instruction and scream and holler at us. If the NCOs didn’t know how to shoot, how could you expect them to teach us how to shoot? I’m a lefty, they allowed me to shoot that way, but they had some cockamamie way to insert the eight round clip with the right hand. It was absurd. I’d shot the M1 long before I went to basic. I had a friend that had been in the Marine Corps in World War Two and he brought an M1 back with him. We went out and shot that thing and he showed me how to shoot with it. He was a southpaw too. I learned how to take it apart and clean it. He even showed me how to scrub the chamber. At Dix, they were more interested in us scrubbing them in hot, soapy water and standing inspection with the damned things.
Back then, I was 5’7” and weighed about 140 pounds tops. I had one platoon sergeant who was a complete idiot. He got me out in front of the entire platoon and called me all sorts of horrible names. One of the things he said was “This man thinks he can shoot from the wrong shoulder and qualify.” He wasn’t aware I had shot the M1 before. I was one of three in the company to qualify as expert. That sergeant had me on ash and trash detail on Christmas Day for that.
During our training we shot the BAR, which was strictly to show us how to insert the magazine. We shot at paper targets on a very short range. We also shot the M1919A4 and A6 Browning machine guns. That again was strictly for showing us how to open the cover, load it, set the headspace and that was all. I didn’t shoot the Thompson, the carbine or any handguns. The only thing I shot for record was the M1 rifle. After Airborne school, I went to the 82nd Airborne Division. They were reforming the 504th from World War Two. I was only at Fort Bragg for three months and the next thing I know I’m on a ship to Yokohama. I was assigned to the 188th Airborne Infantry Regiment, which was part of the 11th Airborne Division. The 188th had been a Glider Regiment, but by 1948 they were all Airborne Regiments. I had to attend glider school there and was glider rated. About six weeks after that a typhoon came through and all the gliders were left piled up in a ball. Thank God for that! Everyone cheered.
In April 1949, the Army shipped the 11th Airborne back to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I had only been over in the Far East for 18 months and if you had under two years, they shipped you to another unit. I ended up in the 35th Regiment of the 25th Division. When I got there that Division was in shambles, it was in horrible shape. They were very short of men and equipment.
When we were in Japan, each of the rifle companies had 12 or 14 M1C sniper rifles. The rifles were rarely shot. I was on the Far East rifle team in 1948/1949 and we used to use them to shoot on the rifle teams because they were the least shot weapons in the company. When we went to Korea I tried to get my hands on one, but forget it. The scopes were gone and the rifles were lost.
I was actually getting ready to ship home when the Korean War started. They sent us all from the port back to our regiments. We arrived in Korea on July 14th, 1950. I was a corporal and a squad leader. My squad had one BAR and the rest of us had M1 rifles. Not long after that, we went to two BARs. We acquired an extra BAR, but what we needed to acquire were magazines for them. At one time, we were down to two magazines per BAR. The guys would lose them or throw them away in combat. I heard that it was a court-martial offensive if you lost your BAR magazines. It was the assistant’s job to pick those up. The gunner would hand him the empty and the assistant would hand him a fresh one. We were supposed to be issued ammo in five round clips for the BARs. We had the thing that fit on top of the magazine that would allow us to strip the clips into the magazines. That was the only way to rapidly reload them. It was impossible to foresee if we would get the five round clips. As it was, we only got those rarely. We always had to either break the machine gun belts down or get rounds from the M1 rifle clips. All of the 30.06 ammunition that was issued to the infantry squads in Korea was armor piercing. The 8-round clips were AP and the machine gun belts were four of AP and one tracer. Later, in about September or October, we started getting some of the ball ammunition.
We had a platoon sergeant who was a former Marine who had fought through the Islands in World War Two. If it were not for the type of training he insisted on in Japan, we would probably have had far more casualties. He kept us in shape and our weapons were maintained strictly by the manual. He would not allow a weapon to be inspected unless it was properly lubed. Even if the battalion commander wanted to come through on an inspection, he had special permission for the machine guns, the BARs and the M1s to be lubed exactly the way they were supposed to be for combat. If he ever caught you with a worn out chamber brush, it was bad news. We were also required to have rifle grease, the lubriplate grease, in the butt of the rifle. He showed us how to wipe it on the bolt locking lugs and op rod. I saw people go into combat without a rod, a patch or a chamber brush, but not in our platoon. He also showed us how to use the M1 combination tool to remove a ruptured cartridge. I think I was afraid of him a lot more than I was afraid of the North Koreans. Something we had to do was zero the elevation knobs on our M1s. Our platoon sergeant could shoot well and he made sure we could shoot well too. You would shoot at a certain range and then loosen the screw on the elevation knob and slip it to the proper range. Then from that time on, the trajectory on those rounds matched the range you dialed in. If you turned the knob to 400 or 450 yards, your beaten zone was right in that area.
The ammunition the American Army shot those first eight to ten weeks was all corrosive, except for the carbines. What happened with the rifles was the chamber would rust in a few hours at the right temperature and humidity. I had that happen to me one time. I fired a shot and the bolt tore the rim of the cartridge off and then shoved a live round right in back of the other cartridge case. There were only a few of us that realized that there was an extractor for that on the combo tool. I was able to clear the jam using the tool. If we were aware that we were going to get in a firefight, our platoon sergeant would make certain that we all scrubbed the chamber of our rifles. Then he would have us rub the cartridge case of the round that was going to be chambered with grease. I know the Army was always emphatic about not oiling ammunition, but he had us do it and it kept the rifles functioning. When the weather got cold, we didn’t use the rifle grease. We got some light weapons oil and that’s what we used on our rifles and machine guns. And when it got to be 16 degrees below zero, we used that very sparingly.
The M1 was a wonderful piece of equipment. We were in a position in North Korea when the Chinese came in the war. They hit us at 6:00 in the evening, just after dark. By 8:00 the next morning, we had lost 100 guys killed. The M1 that I shot during the night was actually on fire a few times. I have no idea how many rounds I put through it. By the time the sun came up, the rear handguard was gone. The front handguard was half consumed; it looked like a piece of charcoal. The front of the stock, up by the upper band, was completely burned away. Yet that rifle fired all night long. That night the average engagement range was only about 15 feet, so there weren’t any accuracy worries. I got rid of it the next day and picked up another rifle. It was easy to exchange rifles there. Especially when the new draftees and reservists came in as replacements, they had new rifles.
Here’s a story on the power of the M1 rifle. In the latter part of December in Seoul, there were about six of us on the second floor of a schoolhouse. We heard a lot of rifle and submachine gun fire outside, so we thought let’s not be caught on the second floor of the schoolhouse. We walked down the hallway to the stairs with me leading. As I turned to the right to start down the stairs, I was confronted by three Chinese coming up the stairs. We hadn’t seen or heard each other and they were right there when I turned to go down the stairs. The guy in front had a long rifle with a bayonet. He wasn’t able to drop the rifle low enough to shoot me; his rifle hit my shoulder as he brought it down. Remember I explained that I shot from the wrong shoulder, I’m a lefty. The fact that I was a lefty meant the rifle was on my left side. That rifle came right up and I shot him. The round went completely through him and went through the second soldier. The third guy had a submachine gun, had he been first in line I probably wouldn’t be having this conversation with you. But, the power of that rifle knocked the first two guys back on the third guy and they all rolled down the stairwell. That third guy was taken care of by one of the other guys in the squad.
The power of that rifle was awesome.
By Mark G. Goodwin
To read the rest of Jack Walentine’s story and 64 more interviews, order “US Infantry Weapons in Combat – Personal Experiences from World War II and Korea.”
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