A Tucson native, I was born at the Southern Methodist Hospital on North First Avenue, June 29, 1929 to Byron F. and Helen Holloway Huebner.
The family, my older sister Bettie and my younger brother Bob and I lived at 231 West Pastime Road, a dusty road that was way out in the country, across the road from the old Veteran's Hospital. My mother and father had lived in Columbus, New Mexico, where Dad had a produce farm and sold his produce to the Army guarding the border after Pancho Villa's raid on Columbus. Mother had been a school teacher. After they married, they came to Tucson because there was work here and Dad, a disabled Navy veteran of World War I, could be near the Veteran's Hospital.
My father was a truck driver for Southland Oil Company for many years. One of the big thrills that I can remember was when he would let me ride with him on his truck. Mother kept house and did sewing for other people while all the children had to help with the household jobs. I also helped in the garden and with the chickens that we raised for our own use. The neighbors were reasonably honest, hardworking and very poor, as we all were. Living out in the country, I had very few neighbor children to play with so I learned to entertain myself. As I grew older, I was able to do yard work for other people. I was paid twenty-five cents an hour and thought I was well paid. During World War II I was able to find many jobs and I had jobs of one kind or another during most of my high school days.
I attended Amphitheater Schools for the first ten years of my schooling and graduated from Tucson High in May of 1947. After high school, I went to work for Safeway Stores. I spent many hours at the Safeway Store at South 6th Avenue and Twenty-second Street.
In Janury 1948, 1 joined the Marine Reserves. As I remember it, the Draft Board was on my mind. The Reserves were much different from anything I had ever done and I enjoyed our weekly meetings. I was helped along by Bobby Fisher, Oscar Paredes, Jimmy Cocio, Bob Click and many others. Summer camps were fun. I was never one who liked to do just one thing, so I asked for and was given various jobs in the company.
Summer Camp of 1950 was interesting. The Korean War (Oops! Korean Conflict) started with the North invading the South. One of the most-asked questions was, "Where's Korea?" Rumors were flying, but I don't think anyone believed we would be involved. Were we in for a surprise! We returned to Tucson and a short time later, we were given notice that we would be activated.
I believe we were given ten-days notice to get our affairs in order, which was easy for me as I didn't have many affairs to get in order. I left Safeway a few days early to help the company get ready. I was supposed to get paid for the extra days but never was.
When the company left Tucson for Camp Pendleton, I missed the excitement at the train station. Ray Zimmerman, Oscar Paredes and I drove to California in Ray's new 1950 Plymouth Club Coupe. We headed for Yuma late in the afternoon and were doing quite well until we ran out of gas a few miles outside of Yuma. Nothing to do but push. We hadn't gone' far when another car came along, stopped and gave us a push to an all-night gas station in Yuma. We were able to make it to Camp Pendleton without further trouble.
The company was assigned temporary barracks for processing where we encountered a lot of confusion. I learned the meaning of "hurry up and wait." We were given a minimal physical examination and an interview to determine our degree of training and military specialty. Many of us thought that we would be assigned to units where we would train before being sent overseas. Another big surprise!
I was assigned to "E" Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines. This Company had been in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marines of the 2nd Marine Division. Most of the reserves and regulars who joined the Company were put in the 3rd Platoon. For the most part, the original Company members had little to do with us. This turned out to be to our advantage. We had many World War II veterans who knew what to expect. They taught us a lot and well. As examples, I was the squad leader of 3rd Squad and my 1st Fire Team Leader, Cpl. John Urvan, was a veteran of the Okinawa Campaign. John was a Marine's Marine. Cpl. Lloyd Konkle, my 2nd Fire Team Leader, was an Army veteran. Don Gillespie, 2nd Squad Leader was a veteran of Iwo Jima. His 1st Squad Leader and our Platoon Sergeant and our Platoon Leader were also World War II veterans.
Most of the men thought we would go through a period of intensive training like that before the campaigns in World War II. Surprise! We were issued our gear, given our shots and our medical records brought up to date, but there was little time for any real training before we were given notice that we were going to be shipped overseas.
We landed at Kobe, Japan and then went by train to the former Army post at Camp Otsu. We did some field work but the most memorable thing about Otsu was that the first night we were there, the Marines drank all the beer that the Army "slop-chute" (enlisted men's club) had. We guessed that the Army guys didn't drink much beer. The Army man running the club was able to get enough beer for us during our stay. Our last night at Otsu, we were restricted to our barracks but the company commander allowed us to have eight cans of beer per man, so we did all right. As I recall, one of our Tucson men in 2nd Squad won the chug-a-lug contest.
Our short stay at Otsu ended. We returned to Kobe and went on board LST 1134. Also on board were Amtracks and their drivers. They would be the ones who would take us ashore. The "old salts" knew this was something other than just being taken to Korea. We hadn't been at sea long when we were hit by Typhoon Kezia. We had quite a ride in the LST. We made it through with a little sea sickness and an appreciation of what the sea can do to a ship. The day before we landed, we were told we were going to make a late afternoon landing (this turned out to be a night landing) at the Port of Inchon. Where was Inchon? And how did you spell it? One of my riflemen had been in the Army and had been stationed in Korea just after World War II. He was able to tell us a little about it.
September 15th, as the light faded, we went below the main deck into the tank deck and climbed into our amphibian tractors. My squad and a section of machinegunners were in one of the first, Amtracks. It was really something to see the big doors open, hear the drivers start their engines and then move up and out through the, doors and then into the sea! We circled until all the Amtracks were off the LST, It was quite a sight to see all that was going on as we made our way toward the beach. The "beach" was a sea wall and a mass of confusion! The Arntrack drivers found a place to go through the wall and we climbed ashore in the dark. Units were mixed and we were not in the area where we were supposed to be. John Urban told me that it was a good thing we were up against the Koreans and not the Japanese. We moved inland and were told to dig in for the night.
Our area was on or near the main road from Inchon to Seoul. It was interesting to see how inept we were because of the lack of training. We were set up on a hill overlooking a valley below. The unit to our right had run across a pocket of Gooks (the enemy). We watched with interest as they went about their business. They had a tank working with them and it was a little disheartening to see how clumsy they were and I suppose, we, would have been also. It took them most of the afternoon to do what we would do in less than an hour, later in the campaign.
Our first company and platoon casualty was a very sad affair. During the afternoon of September 16th the platoon leaders were called to the company command post. While walking along the ridge to the command post, our Platoon Leader, 2nd Lt. John F. Hamrick, was hit by an accidental discharge from a BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle). The weapon had been left loaded with the bolt back in firing position. As our Lieutenant walked past the position and in front of the BAR, it discharged, wounding him. He died while being carred back to the Battalion Aid Station. Hitting your own man is a tough way to learn a lesson.
On the morning of the 17th, we passed through the 5th Marines position. They had a fire fight early that morning. Several tanks had been knocked out and there were many dead North Koreans on the road. I saw Lt. Ewbanks, who had been on the Inspector and Instructor staff with the Tucson Reserves. He was with Able Company, 5th Marines. He was eating as I passed and I didn't say anything.
I would see Ken Sturgeon from the Tucson Reserves from time to time. He was in Battalion Intelligence and he kept me informed on some of the happenings around us. The morning of the 18th, we were up early and ready to move when we received incoming artillery fire ... our own! We were learning that we could be hit by our own fire, too! Two were killed and three wounded from one of the other platoons.
We spent a lot of time going up and down hills. Always, one more hill. The Battalion had a real fight outside Yonadunpo with many casualties.
We entered Seoul and found that city fighting wasn't to our liking. The men in my squad preferred the hills. E-2-1 "captured" the French Embassy and then we went over to the American Embassy and "captured" it. One of our machine gunners put the American Flag on a pole and secured it to the roof of the Embassy. National Georgraphic Magazine, Vol. XCIX, No. 2, February 1951, page 234, has a picture of our "flag raising" and a public relations description of what happened. I didn't see the picture until I returned in October 1951.
From then on, I did about the same as the others from Tucson. Back to Seoul, then to Wonsan, then I went as far north as Koto-ri. We stayed at Masan in preparation for the winter, spring and summer carnpaigns.
I started my return to the States on July 1st, when I was wounded the second time. I was treated at various hospitals in Korea and Japan and finally arrived back on September 16, 1951. What a year that had been.
I was a drill instructor at the Recruit Depot in San Diego, California until my release from active duty on January 4, 1952. After my return to Tucson, Elta A. Nelson and I were married in February of 1952 and had three children: Diane, Dean and David. All three graduated from the University of Arizona. Elta and I divorced in June of 1986.
In 1985, I retired from the Postal Service with nearly thirty-four years of service. Since then, I have been doing the things I have always wanted to do and generally enjoying life.
In reflecting on my Korean experience, there are many unanswered questions. Perhaps one day a historian will dig into why Korea is called "The Forgotten War."
Ruben L. Moreno adds:
Besides his two Purple Hearts, James failed to mention that he was awarded the Bronze Star for Valor. Attached is the copy of his citation.
"For heroic achievement in connection with operations against the enemy while serving with a Marine infantry company in Korea on 22 September 1950. During an attack by his company east of GORYUDO, KOREA sergeant HUEBNER, acting as a squad leader of a machine gun squad, with complete disregard for his persaonl safety repeatedly and fearlessly moved across fire swept open ground to bring ammunitiion for his guns thereby keeping them in action. This action allowed the macuhine guns to continue to fire materially helping to give his company fire superiority over the nemy and resulted in the successful continuance of the attack. Segeant HUEBNER's display of initiative and courageous leadership were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
Sergeant HUEBNER is authorized to wear the Combat "V".
Oliver P. Smith
U. S. Marine Corps