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Veteran Spotlight

Charles Whitson April 9, 1933 Korea U.S. Army – 739th AAA Gun Battalion, Staff Sergeant

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After graduating from high school in Oklahoma, Charles “Chuck” Whitson went to college on a basketball scholarship. But at that time, lots of guys were being drafted. Joining the military seemed like the thing to do. So on Jan. 15, 1953, he enlisted in the Army for three years.

Chuck got his first uniform at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. He was only there a short time, but he remembers it well because his overcoat got stolen and he had to pay for it. He went to Fort Bliss, Texas for 16 weeks of basic training: eight weeks of infantry and eight weeks of anti-aircraft training. The first weeks covered pretty basic stuff: marching, taking orders, etc.  He was pretty good at that.

After basic training, Chuck was sent to the “far east,” which primarily meant Japan and Korea. He shipped out from Camp Stoneman near San Francisco, California. His troop ship was very crowded and most of the guys were sick before they left the Golden Gate Bridge.  The ship docked at Sasebo, Japan. Chuck went on to Ita Jima, Japan, for training as a chemical, biological and radiological specialist and received his Certificate of Proficiency.

Chuck’s next ship ride was to Inchon, South Korea, for a 16-month tour of duty. He was assigned to the 739th AAA Gun Battalion at Osan as a trained specialist. When they first arrived, they saw deep mud. They were assigned to dig up sod and make walkways. Chuck was assigned to the motor pool. He also served as a machine gunner and radar operator.  The mission was to protect a nearby air base so a lot of time was spent with anti-aircraft guns.  Some of the aircraft had four-gun barrels shooting out of one ammunition canister.  Track vehicles were used to move the big guns.

There were not very many good things to remember about his assignment. Conditions were very rough. The men lived in corrugated metal Quonset huts with two oil heaters, one at each end, and they were still cold. How was the food? “Not too good, and there was plenty of it, including 'C' rations.” 

Latrines were cut off 55-gallon drums that were emptied by locals, and the waste used to fertilize their fields. The people were very poor, and their way of life was very different.  In the local markets, you could see strings of fish hanging outside of doorways and dog meat for sale. Chuck was once shown how to prepare dog meat but he never did it.  Today he still doesn’t eat fish.

One day Chuck was told, “You’re going to Puson tomorrow.” That meant going home. He went by truck from Inchon in the north part of the country to Puson in the south part and then got on board a ship with men from all different parts of South Korea. The two-week trip was pretty rough, and he did some “throwing up.”  The ship landed at Seattle where he caught a train that stopped right in Troy, Montana, which is where his folks then lived.  

Chuck had about a year left of his enlistment so he was assigned back to Seattle for training in the new field of nuclear weaponry. This was more intense than he had gone through before. He spent time in both the office and field. As a gun commander, he had gun crews like in South Korea but these were bigger guns. 

He was discharged on Jan. 25, 1956. Would he do the same things over again? Chuck supposes so and has no regrets. He served with “pretty good guys” and kept in touch with some of them for a while, but time goes on. Some move and some pass away and you lose touch. He used the GI bill to attend junior college in Washington and then went on to the University of Montana where he again played basketball. He doesn’t qualify for VA benefits because he didn’t apply right after his discharge and then was said to have too much income. It doesn’t seem like a very fair system.

Chuck earned the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal and the Korean Service Medal. Thank you for your service, Chuck.

Special request 

Veterans whose stories have appeared in the Valley Journal are those whose contact information is available. If you are a member of Ronan Post 5652 but have not been contacted and would like to share your story, please call 406-676-5652 and leave your name and phone number. 

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