U.S. Army Korean War Hoffman Estates, IL Flight date: 08/09/17
By Carla Khan, Honor Flight Chicago Veteran Interviews Volunteer
As a senior in high school, Joseph (Joe) McCormick was so intrigued by the U.S. Navy that he signed up as a member of the Navy Reserve and even got to go on tours to Puerto Rico and Nicaragua. However, when he was drafted, he was sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri where he did his basic training and was prepared to operate heavy weapons. As it happened, he requested a day of sick leave because he had a toothache and needed to see the dentist. While in the waiting room, he chatted with the nurse receptionist and asked her, “How do you get a job like this?” The answer was, “Just talk to the Colonel.” So, after his cavity had been filled, Joe told the dentist that he wouldn’t mind working in the dental office but also added that he didn’t know the first thing about dentistry but that he was a quick learner. The colonel’s response was encouraging enough that Joe informed his sergeant the next day that he was transferring out. Since the sergeant responded with something in the line of “like heck you will,” Joe requested another day of sick leave to visit the dentist and this time told him about the disappointing reply. A power struggle begun in which the colonel was the victor – this is how Joe started his military career as a dental assistant.
Training was hands-on and his work mostly consisted of making sure the dentist had his tools ready and immediately available during dental procedures. Joe liked what he was doing and life was good till the day when he received a “Dear John” letter from his girlfriend. Joe needed a change of scenery; when he saw an opening for a dental assistant in Europe, he applied. However, this job had been filled already and Joe’s colonel promised that he’d sign him up for the next available opening “somewhere” which happened to be Korea.
Before he knew it, he was in San Francisco being processed to go on a troopship bound for Korea. Following his arrival in Seoul, he would join the 3rd Division 15th Infantry Regiment. The Pacific crossing was uneventful and was followed by a nice couple of days of furlough in Hawaii. But that was the end of the leisure life because they now were headed for their final destination. Joe describes his initial days in Korea as a nightmare. They traveled by train, were under fire and had no way of returning fire because their weapons were in a padlocked closet in the back of the train. Somehow, they survived and arrived at camp. Joe bunked with a South Korean soldier in a tent in the medical compound, which was huge. Most of the time, Joe served as a dental assistant and other times he also had to do guard duty. It was so cold that he got frostbite on his fingers. Fortunately, that did not hinder his competency as a dental assistant and his captain even taught Joe how to clean the teeth. They also helped Korean citizens who came in with dental problems because the local population was extremely poor and had nowhere to go for medical help.
Overall, life on the base was quiet except for the days when “some Chinese aviators” flew over and for the fun of it threw hand bombs. One of those bombs landed too close to an occupied latrine, much to the chagrin of its occupant but to the amusement of the soldiers who happened to be nearby! Joe experienced some occasional shooting but, according to him, “nothing serious, after all, we were in a war.” A couple of times, Joe and his friends went pheasant hunting in the surrounding area. When they handed their trophies to the cook, the cook was less than enthusiastic. Towards the end of his tour of duty, Joe had the privilege to assist American POW’s who had been exchanged. To see how his fellow soldiers had suffered left a deep impression on him.
When it was time to go home, Joe’s route was via Japan. This is where he met Tony, a fellow soldier from Chicago. They traveled together which was fortunate because Joe’s parents had moved from the South Side to Oak Park and as it turned out, were now living across the street from Tony’s grandparents! Tony not only showed Joe the way home but also introduced him to “Red” who, in his turn, introduced Joe to Jeanne who became his wife in 1953. Tony was the best man in Joe and Jeanne’s wedding!
Once home, Joe took a course in pipe fitting and soon landed a job with Carrier where he worked for 40 years as a technician. Joe and Jeanne will celebrate their 64th Anniversary in October of this year. They have 6 children, 12 grandchildren, and 6 great-grandchildren. Most of them live very close by and the family gets together very often. Joe is looking forward to his upcoming Honor Flight. Welcome home Joe, we thank you for your service!