Harold Don

Harold Don [image courtesy of Albert Molina Felix]
Harold Don
[image courtesy of Albert Molina Felix]

interview by Rudy L. Lucero

My parents were born in Canton, China and came to the United States seeking better employment opportunities. I was born in Casa Grande, Arizona. Soon after that my parents were operating a grocery store at the comer of Riverside and St. Mary's Road in Tucson. There were four more children added to our family.

I grew up in Barrio Hollywood, which was predominantly Mexican. The Barrio was across the Santa Cruz River, which was then the boundary of the city limits. The unpaved streets and the riverbed were my play- grounds. Across the street on St. Mary's Road there was a brick yard where clay was excavated for making bricks. The enormous holes would fill with water during the rainy season and became swimming pools for the neighbor- hood kids. The city dump was located on the city side of the river, which also provided a search-of-adventure playground. Then the many trees growing along the river bank were the made-to-order Tarzan jungle. Since a great deal of my time was occupied helping with the store I would build model airplanes during my breaks.

I recall that just about every house in the neighborhood had its own well and outhouse. When El Rio Water Company finally piped water into the Barrio the water main came from Speedway and since everyone was growing gardens by the time the water got to our house it was just a trickle. The water company charged a flat rate because there were no meters.

I attended Menlo Park Elementary School, Roskruge Junior High, and graduated from Tucson High School in 1949. Tommy Price, Rudy Castro and Albert Felix talked me into joining "E" Company in 1948 and my mother was not too happy with this decision. I attended three summer camps at Camp Pendleton, so when the Company was activated I was considered well trained.

Like the rest of us, I expected to be trained in California and then be sent home on leave before going overseas. We didn't realize our government had allowed the Marines to get so undermanned that it required the lst and 2nd Divisions plus the Marine Reserves to bring the Marines to the strength of one full division. It wasn't long before I was on my way to Kobe, Japan, on board the U.S.S. Noble with the rest of the First Marine Division. By the 15th of September I was on the 15th wave making the Inchon landing.

Now I was in combat as a machine gunner with the first squad of a heavy machine gun section attached to "Able" Company - the same Company "Niggie" Romero, "Pruny" Trujillo, "Mickey" Rios and Eddie Lopez were in. We were two hours on board the landing craft before landing, then we sat around the beach waiting for orders to move out. Our Company was in reserve. Once we moved out we stuck pretty much to the railroad headed for Seoul. For the next few days it was a matter of fighting all day and "digging- in" at night. We had already received our first casualty at Inchon, but it wasn't until we hit Yongdungpo that we really lost some men. For a while we were way ahead and cut off from the rest of the troops. I recall enemy tanks coming right up to our perimeter and not seeing us. When daylight came we again heard the tanks and braced ourselves - there was a big sigh of relief when we saw the big white stars painted on the sides.

I had to give up my gunner position because my short legs could not bring up the heavy gun fast enough to suit my superiors. The gun went to a "Gung-Ho" regular who was killed shortly after when he exposed himself by firing when he did not need to. We were across the Han River by this time and "Tuti" Carrazco had just been killed.

Once Seoul was taken we dug-in in a grave yard on a hill. From there we were sent back to Inchon, and then on board ship for the Wonsan landing. The short trip took longer than expected because Wonsan harbor had to be cleared of mines. We ran short of rations and had to cut back to two meals a day.

From Wonsan the First Battalion was sent south to Kojo, where we were attacked by a strong North Korean force. Bobby Fisher's machine gun section took a beating there, and "Nacho" Cruz was awarded the Silver Star in this action.

After Kojo the weather started to turn cold. There was "scuttlebutt", that the First Battalion was to be sent north to Yudam-ni to relieve a unit of the 7th Marines, but the Chinese made a massive attack all along the Marine perimeter and all plans had to be revised.

When the First Marine Division was ordered to "attack to the rear" my Battalion was assigned Hill 1081 (the high ground on the road down from Koto-ri) I stayed behind with my machine gun section and later volunteered to re-supply the attacking unit. This was a three hour ordeal up a mountain through No-Man's Land. For this I was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with combat "V" for valor.

When the Marines were out of the Chinese trap I remember seeing Henry "Blackbucket" Valdenegro with a wounded tag tied to his jacket. Henry was all smiles when I asked where he had been hit - "They say I'm cuckoo", he said, "I'm going back to Japan!" Henry had brought his cousin "Niggie" down from the hill where he had found him almost frozen to death.

After a short rest in Massan, where the Marines were brought back up to strength with state-side replacements, we attacked north, up the center of Korea, on "Operation Killer". Armando Fontes was shot in the leg for the second time in this action and I remember him smiling through the pain, saying "This makes two Purple Hearts. I'm going home". I envied him - "Why couldn't I get out of here with a million dollar wound?" was the thought that crossed most of our minds.

Right after World War Two I belonged to an organization known as "The Sino-American Club", where I met my wife-to-be, Jean. She had an aunt who was a nun and who promised to pray for me while I was in the service. I had so many close calls I believe she must have sent a guardian angle to watch over me. At Seoul my machine gun received two slugs through the tripod; later a bullet buried itself in the mud between me and the guy in front of me; at the Hwachon Reservoir my binocular case was torn to pieces by shrapnel; I wasn't with my squad when a short round exploded among them; In "Operation Killer" my M-1 was rendered useless when it stopped a bullet; when a motor patrol was sent out I was sent to another squad to beef up the line and there was an explosion in my squad area that killed one and wounded the rest. There IS a God!

I started getting shaky when I found out I'd be going home. Some friends and I were swimming at the Hwachon Reservoir when one of our Corsairs dropped a napalm bomb in the water. It didn't explode, but soon all the water was fouled. I was sent home in August of 1951 on the U.S.S. Collins. It was a glorious ten-day trip - we were treated like kings - steak and a bath every day!

When we docked at Treasure Island I was asked my duty station preference. First, I asked for San Diego; second, Camp Pendleton; third, Seattle; all on the west coast. I was sent to Camp Lejeune on the east coast. I shared expenses with Salomon Contreras, Earl Collins and Otis Baker, who bought a car, and we drove to the east coast. I was mustered out three months later, in January of 1952.

I came home on my first bus ride, by a southern route. The sign on the bus read "Whites in front, Blacks in the back", so I sat in the middle. At the bus depots there were rest rooms for blacks and rest rooms for whites - not wanting to offend anyone, I floated my kidneys all the way to Texas.

Back home I returned to school under the G.I. Bill, got married, and had one small job after another until I landed a job with the State, where I worked for 2 1/2 year, and then got a job with the Agricultural Research USDA, from which I retired 24 1/2 years later.

The closest I came to being killed was on the soccer field in school when Earl "Tiny" Collins kicked me instead of the ball and introduced me to the study of astrology.

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