James R. Dyer

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U.S. Army

Name: James R. Dyer

Place of Birth: Masury, Ohio

Place of Recruitment: Erie, PA

Branch of Service: Army

Military Occupation: Helicopter and fixed wing mechanic

Service History, Stateside or Abroad: From Sept. 1954 to April 1958
I graduated high school in May 1954. I was 16 years old. In those olden times, employers were allowed to discriminate age wise and also draft wise. The draft was in effect and employers did not want to hire someone eligible for the draft, thinking they would just get them trained and the Army would draft them. I was unable to find a job. My parents could not afford to send me to college and no job equaled no money. As soon as I turned 17, I joined the Pennsylvania.

The Summer and Fall went by and still no job, so, in January I enlisted in the Army. I wanted the infantry but my mother National Guard to get some spending money. did not want the infantry, so, to get her to sign for me I had to agree to be trained in a non combat role. I chose helicopter mechanic. I entered the Army in April of 1955 and was sent to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for 12 weeks of basic training, then one week leave back home and then on to Gary Air Force Base (now defunct) in San Marcos, Texas for 4 or 5 months of Bell H-13 helicopter training.

After completing that, we were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington to be shipped overseas to Korea with no leave. They shipped us out on Christmas Eve on an an old chartered ship which took 3 weeks to get to Inchon, Korea with a one day stop in Yokohama, Japan. We heard later that this same ship
was caught in a storm in Southeast Asia somewhere and literally broke in two and sank. My first time at sea
was not a pleasant experience. I lost 15 pounds, and I only weighed 150 to begin with. We arrived at our air strip just south of the DMZ in mid January 1955. We had no winter gear except for a flimsy lined field jacket and the temp was in the 20's for a high.

We were all highly trained fixed wing and helicopter mechanics, so the first job they gave us was to dig a new latrine (outhouse) in the frozen Korean earth. You had to work hard just to stay warm, it was so cold. After about a week we were finally issued parkas, long underwear, and fur hats with ear muffs. We slept in 12 man tents with one kerosene heater and the fuel line froze every night, so it was like sleeping outside. You had to sleep in an isolated sleeping bag. I actually tried it the first night with just blankets and froze my buns off. I got a sleeping bag first thing in the morning.

I remember one of my first days on the flight line. I was warming up an H-13 for a recon flight. It was tied down so I thought I would pull back on the stick and lift it up for a few inches. The tie down on the right side broke. Luckily, I was able to push the stick forward and prevent it from tipping over. I would still be paying for that if it had tipped. Our primary job was to fly recon missions over the DMZ. This was less than 2 years after the cease fire was agreed to and the North Koreans and Chinese were still agitating the UN and actually made several incursions across the DMZ into UN territory. Just the North Koreans. I never heard of any Chinese coming across.

After about 6 or 7 months there we had an excess of helicopter mechanics and a shortage of fixed wing mechanics, so us helicopter mechanics were asked if we would volunteer to cross train on the fixed wing, which in Army terminology was called an L-19 spotter aircraft. During the Korean war these were used for artillery observation. The pilot would be in the front seat and the artillery spotter right behind him with a radio directing artillery. After I had cross trained on the L-19 I was made a flight leader. I was 18 years old, a lowly PFC, doing an SFC's job as there were no SFC's left in the company.

My responsibility was to make sure the aircraft assigned to me were airworthy. I was in charge of about 7 to 10 aircraft, some helicopters and some L-10's were ready for flight at the crack of dawn. I included myself on this schedule and I remember one early winter morning trying to get an L-19 pushed out of the hangar after a heavy snow during the night, my buddy and I just could not get it to move, so I got in it, started it up and blasted right through the snow bank. Unfortunately, this blew snow and debris into the hangar so we spent the rest of the morning cleaning it out.

I spent 16 months in Korea, 2 winters and 2 summers, but I got 2 one week R & R's to Japan which were not counted against my regular leave. We worked 7 days a week, with an occasional day off to check out a shotgun from supply and go hunting. The reason we had shotguns was because of Korean thieves, nicknamed "slickie boys," so called because they were slick, and quiet. We had armed guards on patrol all night around the base perimeter, yet they still managed to get in and rob us, including entire 55 gallon drums of gasoline from the POL dump.

They cut a hole through 2 fences of barbed wire with a roll of concertina wire between them big enough to drive a truck through. They came into our quonset hut, stole several foot lockers and other personal items and no one woke up and no guard ever saw or heard them. They earned the title of "slickie boys." So the base commander decided to do something about it, he ordered some shotguns, scheduled all of us for a round of skeet shooting, then we were issued shotguns for guard duty at night instead of our carbines. 

The USO used to periodically bring entertainers to visit us and they always came in by helicopter. Since I worked at the airstrip where they arrived we usually got prior notice of who was arriving, and when. One day we had notice that Rita Moreno was coming in the next day so of course we all got our cameras ready. They would usually stop and pose for pictures with us. Rita arrived with a couple of other celebrities whose names I just don't remember. I took some 8MM film when they arrived and handed my 35MM camera to a buddy to take some pictures while I posed with the girls. That evening I went to take the film out of my 35MM and send it away for developing, and much to my chagrin I discovered there was no film in it.

I rotated back to the States via a regular Navy ship this time, and although Navy ships do not have stabilizers on them, I did not get sick. I was given 30 day leave from Fort Lewis, Washington and travel expense money and decided to take the train across the country instead of flying, it took 4 days as I had to go all the way to New York City, then double back to Erie, PA. My parents did not know I was returning and I caught my mother in the back yard hanging clothes. (This was a time before clothes dryers.)

I spent the next 11 months at Fort Meade. Maryland then was honorably discharged from the Army in April 1958. The military is good for a young person, it gives them discipline, responsibility and a good work ethic. I do not regret my time in the Army.

Honors & Commendations: Good Conduct Medal

Present Location: Carrollton, TX