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Veterans Spotlight

Louis Polinsky July 19, 1938 Korea Defense: 833rd Ordnance, Specialist 4th Class U.S. Army

Louie Polinsky has the distinction of being drafted – twice! When he reported to Butte in 1959, the quota was full and he was told to go home and they would call back when they needed him. Two years later in August of 1961 he got the call. A bus picked him up and took him to Butte and then, bam! He was on a train to Fort Ord, California. Timing wasn’t good – Louie had just gotten married the week before.

Boot camp planned to teach Louie about firearms (which he already knew) and build physical stamina. His lieutenant said, “You’re the first guy I’ve seen get less physical during boot camp. What did you do before?” Louie explained he had been “slinging tongs in the woods” that is, hooking logs to be loaded on trucks.

After boot camp and a short furlough home, Louie returned to Fort Ord for advanced training. He had hoped to be a medic, but a problem with his toes got him moved to supply where he became a supply specialist handling guns, rocket motors, etc.  

From there Louie went as a “permanent party” in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for three months. He was in charge of orientation for new guys – telling them what they could and could not do, and what they could and could not have. Sometimes orientation was at 3 a.m. if that’s when the troops arrived. Louie remembers discovering two guys who couldn’t read or write. There was one particular break in his time there: he got a three-day pass and hitch hiked to Renville, Minnesota where he picked up his wife and brought her back to Missouri.

In the Army, you don’t always get what you want. Louie wanted to be assigned to Germany but got Korea instead. In 1962 he headed overseas on the USS General J. C. Breckinridge with a quick stop in Hawaii. The ship was about half way to Japan when word came of the “Bay of Pigs Invasion,” also called the Cuban Missile Crisis. The ship spent about three days bobbing in the ocean waiting to see if their orders would be to go back or keep going.  They continued on to Japan.

During a short stop in Japan, Louie remembers being shaken up by Japanese taxi drivers driving on the “wrong side of the road,” taking them who knows where? The taxis got them back to their ship on time, which was to the drivers’ advantage if they wanted more G.I. (soldiers in the U.S. military) business.

Louie’s ship left Japan and docked at dusk in Inchon Harbor, Korea. He remembers little boats all over the harbor. G.I.s would throw money in the murky water and kids would dive in and come up with it. After a day or so, Louie was on a truck to Camp Ames near the village of Hadoc, about half way between Seoul and Puson. He spent the rest of his time there assigned to a mountain compound with a high double fence and towers on every surrounding high spot. Ordnance was stored in big Quonset huts called igloos, buried into the mountains.  Louie had secret clearance in order to be in charge of the MSA (maximum security area) and determined clearance levels for others.  He was also in charge of demolition in case of attack, which, thankfully, was unlikely in 1963.

At times Louie drove five-ton long bed trucks into Seoul, a place not very friendly. He remembers seeing graffiti saying “Yankee, go home! In July you die!,” etc.  Two “slicky boys” on bicycles could steal the spare tire off his truck before he could get stopped. Koreans in the small villages seemed to have respect for the American G.I.s. They all wore blue suits. One time a “papa-san” carrying a plow on his back, moved his ox off the trail so the G.I.s could go by. He bowed low and was given a cigarette. Kids followed the G.I.s in hopes of getting a stick of gum. Louie learned to speak Korean well enough to communicate.

Louie carries two well-worn photos in his wallet as mementos of his time in the Army. The first is of him in uniform and the second is of him and his buddies holding small children from a nearby orphanage. He first heard of the orphans when asked for a donation and decided to check the situation out. After seeing the orphanage, he gave many more donations and made frequent visits, sometimes with one or two buddies, but often alone.  Many children were there due to the previous Korean War. Older ones took care of younger ones and they were all so very polite.

One time the battalion officer, Lt. Mahoney, called Louie out at reveille, “Two steps forward!” Louie was a good runner, and the Lieutenant and his 2nd Lieutenant challenged him to a race. Louie raced them during the presidential fitness test and was so far ahead it wasn’t really a race. He also earned a commendation for being second in the whole Eastern Theater in the presidential physical fitness test. As a reward, he had no more required PT (physical training). He could run instead.

Louie got permission to activate an old craft shop and was soon teaching 10-15 guys leatherwork, a craft he still does today along with his finish carpentry.

When Louie’s two-year term was nearly up, he was sent back to Oakland, California on the USS Patrick and remembers a band welcoming the troops home. There wasn’t enough time left for him to be re-assigned, so he was discharged early in July, 1963. 

Louie very much enjoyed his time in Korea and with Korean people – especially the children in the orphanage. He says because he was drafted he had no choice but to go to the Army, but it was a necessity at the time. He would go now if needed. He and two friends he met in basic training, John and Stan, still keep track of each other through phone calls and travel visits back and forth. He got the reenlistment pep talk and promise of a promotion to Spec 5, but he was ready to go home – he had things to do and horses to ride.

Thank you for your service, Louie.

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