VINCENT - Chuck Rees enlisted in the Navy in 1951 thinking he had found a way to serve his country without getting into too much danger.
''I thought the Navy was safer,'' the Vincent man said.
His hopes for a relatively safe position were dashed when he was assigned to a Marine unit as a radio man and found himself in the thick of Korean War combat.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madnse
This box contains the decorations Chuck Rees, of Vincent, received for his Navy service in the Korean War. From left are the United Nations Medal, Korean Service Award, National Defense Medal, Good Conduct Medal and the Presidential Unit Citation.
The native of Dunlap in Harrison County graduated from the high school there on May 26, 1951, and enlisted in the Navy on June 6 of that year.
He was sent to a Navy base in San Diego, Calif., for three months of basic training. Then he was given what was considered at the time to be a temporary additional duty and was dispatched to Camp Pendleton, a Marine Corps base in California. There he completed six weeks of Marine training.
When that was done, he returned to San Diego and was assigned to be a radio man with Naval Beach Group 1. He said that unit included sailors who operated the landing craft that ferry troops to shore, a construction battalion that built bridges and other structures, and a headquarters detachment. Rees was part of the headquarters detachment.
The radio he used was a large battery-powered one that he strapped on like a backpack. Rees said it was pretty heavy.
He traveled the length of California to reach San Francisco. There, he boarded the aircraft carrier USS Philippine Sea as a passenger rather than a crew member. The ship, which Rees said was the largest carrier in the Navy at that time, set out on a 20-day voyage to Japan.
He recalled that not long after the ship sailed, a chief petty officer approached him and asked if he wanted an easy job. Rees soon found himself with some other sailors chipping paint off the floor in one area of the ship. When the old paint was all removed, the sailors repainted the floor. The task took eight days.
''After those eight days were up, you could do anything you wanted to,'' he said. ''After we got our work done, they didn't care what we did.''
Rees enjoyed the rest of the trip. He said he used to sit in the cavernous hangar deck of the carrier and read. When he looked up from his book and out across the sea, he sometimes saw flying fish.
When the ship arrived in Japan, Rees went ashore to Camp McGill near Yokahoma. That camp was to be his home base, but he was only there for a week before heading to South Korea with a Marine Corps unit that needed a radio man.
Rees and the Marines sailed to South Korea in a passenger ship, but had to transfer to a small landing craft when they got close to that war-torn country. They had to climb down a rope ladder along the side of the passenger ship while it and the landing craft were bobbing up and down in rough waves. Rees recalled that he made it into the landing craft mainly because an officer took his backpack for him.
In addition to his radio and backpack, Rees headed for the war zone with a handgun he called ''a popgun'' for which he didn't have enough ammunition.
Soon after arriving in South Korea, Rees was in combat.
It's an aspect of his military career that he doesn't talk about. His eyes water and his voice chokes up when a memory of those days surfaces and he quickly changes the subject.
He was in South Korea when the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting was enacted.
''The officers didn't need to tell us about it,'' he said. ''As soon as one guy found out about it everyody knew.''
Rees was sent back to Japan. Then the Navy brass decided that he should go to radio school, even though he had been operating a radio for a couple of years, including combat duty. So he went to school in San Diego.
After finishing that school, he went to a Navy base in Coronado, Calif., where he encoded and decoded messages.
He was discharged from the Navy in May 1955.
Upon returning to civilian life, he briefly farmed in Iowa. Then he moved to Colorado and began a career servicing office machines. He and his family lived in Colorado for 14 years before moving back to Iowa, where he continued working on office machines until he retired.