Please note this interview includes graphic accounts of combat and violence. This interview with Thomas Batts of Wilson largely concerns his experiences during the Korean War. He was the 11th of 12 children, the 7th son, and was raised in a devout Primitive Baptist household. His parents owned and worked a small tobacco farm (eight or nine acres). The children were taught that God and patriotism "came first," so when he enlisted in the Army in December 1948, at age 18, it was from patriotic motives. He had eight weeks of basic training at Fort Jackson and then went to Camp Carson in Colorado, where he trained as a skiing mountain trooper. When North Korea invaded South Korea, Batts volunteered to go to Korea for combat duty. He was sent to Japan via San Francisco and Hawaii, arriving in Japan in September 1950. His company took part in the invasion of Inchon and he says they saw combat as soon as they landed in Korea ("after about 30 seconds"). Batts says that he and the other GIs became expert at digging foxholes, in which they lived and from which they fought. They were on the move all the time, seldom spending more than two days in one place. He says each soldier carried two canteens (which they would refill from creeks), one change of underwear, a bayonet to be used as a knife, a GI can opener, and as many socks as they could cram into their packs. Socks were vital, and were washed out every time they got to a stream or creek. Anyone who let his feet get and stay dirty got jungle rot, so keeping their feet and socks as clean as they could was top priority. They wore regulation olive drab field fatigues, and had steel helmets that they wore over plastic helmet liners. When not worn, the helmets were used as vessels for washing and cooking. Batts and the others had Browning automatic rifles with 20-round magazines, and each soldier carried about 20 filled magazines with him. Batts has several very vivid descriptions of engagements he and his company participated in, some of them horrific. They went north in the winter as part of Tank Force Drysdale. There was deep snow and temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees. While clearing roadblocks on the way north his company of 236 men was ambushed by two Chinese regiments. Of Batts's company 171 were killed outright and 65 taken prisoner. Batts himself was wounded five times over two days, but managed to make it out with 29 other survivors. Batts describes what the Chinese were like as fighters, and what it feels like to kill. Other combat experiences he describes include being in a foxhole with other men and being hit by a mortar; the men next to him were killed and he was blown into the air, then lay unconscious and was shot by a Chinese soldier in the hand with a "burp gun." Later he was at a foxhold command post of Lieutenant Anderson's, where they enhanced their defensives by stacking frozen corpses around the foxhole. Batts has a lot of praise for the young South Korean men who were conscripted to act as ROKs (Republic of Korea troops), one acted as aide and assistant gunner to each GI. Batt's own ROK was a teenager named Tojon, who did everything he could to help, including carrying the badly-wounded Batts on his back to safety, and using Batts's gun and rounds to keep fighting when Batts was disabled. Their worst combat, Batts later found out, was in "Hell Fire Valley." Batts was evacuated to hospital in Osaka and eventually sent home. Afterward he became a trainer in small arms at an Officer Candidate School in Alabama. Batts thinks his having been raised on a farm gave him survival skills that city boys lacked. Just before he came out of service he and his wife Lillian were married. He is critical of General MacArthur.





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