Cpl. Harry Paston - Armored Replacement Training Center - Ft. Knox, Ky. 1944
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by Harry Paston

In the summer of 1945 as the battle for Okinawa was winding down for the 7th Infantry Division, after 89 days of combat and approximately 7,100 casualties, I was serving with the 7th Infantry Division artillery.

With hostilities declared ended except for pockets of scattered Japanese resistance in caves, our thoughts were turning to the impending invasion of the Japanese homeland. Germany had surrendered in May, the conquest of Japan would end the war.

Training for the invasion, code-named Olympic and

scheduled for November 1st, was to start soon with the first phase landings on Kyushu with up to half million troops involved. High casualties were anticipated as the Japanese had demonstrated throughout the war in the Pacific, their commitment to fight to the death for their emperor.

7th Signal Company Radio Section-L-R Top Row: Brandon, Stewart, Kremers, MacKellar, Estes
L-R-Bottom Row: White, Cowen, Welch, Paston (5 men of total 14 in a section not shown-Seoul, Korea - Jan. 1946

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The 7th Infantry Division, battled hardened on the Alaska Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska, on Kwajalein and Eniwetok, Leyte in the Philippines and Okinawa, was one of the units that would be involved.

In late August, while sitting in my tent, I was visited by Lt. Col. Dahlstrom, the Division Chief Signal Officer, and told to pack my gear and report to the 7th Signal Company. While my training as a medium tank crewman qualified in firing the 75mm canon got me assigned as an artillery forward observer, the transfer to the Signal Company was as a result of my being an amateur radio operator before the war. Never found out how the Army knew that, but the 7th Signal needed men to replace those being rotated back to the States.

However, the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima on August 6th and then Nagasaki and the surrender of Japan on August 14th changed everything for us! The Division was ordered to accept the Japanese surrender of Korea and occupy the country. The formal surrender of Japan took place on September 2nd aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay and the occupation of Japan started August 28th.

Russia had declared war on Japan August 8th and one million troops invaded Japanese held Manchuria and were proceeding towards the Korean peninsula. An agreement had been reached that the Russians would occupy Korea, which had been a Japanese colony since 1910, north of the 38th parallel; the U.S. south of the parallel which would be the demarcation line that effectively established the border between what would become North and South Korea. While the United States encouraged a Korean self-government in the south, the Russians established a communist government in the north. Little did anyone imagine then how this would turn out!

The occupation of Korea by the Division was scheduled for September 8th. Before I could get settled in the 7th Signal, I was assigned as the radioman for a three-man team that would land in advance of the main body, charged with a mission to meet Japanese representatives and ensure the surrender would occur, as arranged in Tokyo.

The Division sailed from Okinawa in a 37 ship convoy on September 5th, bound for Inchon (Japanese name was Jinsen) on the west coast of Korea. H-hour for the main landing on September 8th was scheduled

7th Signal Company Radio Selection-Morning Roll Call — Korea 1945
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for 1500 (3 p.m.). My team headed by Brigadier General LeRoy Stewart, the Division artillery commander (who was to become the Provost Marshall in Korea), a military government Japanese interpreter and myself, loaded down with a portable radio and weapons, were landed at 4:02 a.m. the morning of September 8th. We were to await the arrival of a Japanese contingent who we were told would meet us in the harbor area and confirm the surrender. Needless to say, we were quite nervous not knowing if they might arrive with guns blazing! (I carried with me top-secret maps of the Inchon harbor area which I kept for75 years!)

Japanese flag being lowered in Korea (Wikipedia)
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A Japanese contingent in company strength led by a general arrived in the morning. In a formal action, the Japanese general handed his sword to General Stewart and confirmed the surrender ceremony for the following day in Seoul.

I radioed the command ship with the news and the embarkation began with the first units ashore the 7th Recon Troop, equipped with light armored vehicles. Their mission was to drive the 20 miles to Seoul to make sure the road was clear and no hostile forces observed. When they returned, they told us they were amazed to find thousands of Korean civilians lining the road waving American flags, apparently all homemade. They also told us the Koreans kept on running across the road in front of their vehicles barely missing getting hit. We later found out the Koreans had a superstition that evil spirits were following them and this was a way to get them killed!

The Koreans were friendly and happy to see us; the Japanese soldiers were stoic and unlike our combat experiences with them, appeared to accept the fact they had lost the war. They, together with the majority of the 800,000 Japanese "colonists" living in Korea, were returned to Japan in the following months.

In fact, we used Japanese trucks driven by their soldiers initially to move units around Inchon, while our equipment was coming ashore.

As the Division units starting coming ashore, I was ordered to set up a division radio net from a position atop the Munitions Building near the harbor utilizing a Signal Corps Radio Model 284, the workhorse of Infantry units. I was then assigned to the 17th Infantry, where while stringing a long wire radio antenna, a most memorable event occurred: while walking backwards I managed to fall into a Japanese latrine dug in the ground. Fortunately, my fellow soldiers used their helmets full of water to clean me up!

Stringing Wire (Army History)
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The 7th Division, when landed, had the three infantry regiments active since the start of the war: 17th, 32nd, and 184th, originally a California national guard regiment, which was shortly replaced by the 31st Regiment. With troops being rotated home in large numbers we soon became way understrength by 1946, losing 7,500 men.

At the end of WW2, there were 89 infantry divisions in the Army; by 1950 only ten remained, one of which was the 7th.

The mission in Korea was to act as a security force, assist in the establishment of a self-governing democratic government and to patrol and maintain outposts along the 38th parallel DMZ, a job rotated among the three infantry regiments. Other division units were garrisoned in different parts of South Korea from Pusan, the southernmost city to Seoul, the capital.

Unlike the occupation of Germany and Japan, which had been devastated by bombings, there had been no hostilities on the Korean peninsula, so the cities and rural areas had been untouched by war.

A week after the landing, I rejoined the 7th Signal Company, bivouacked on the outskirts of Seoul adjacent to government buildings. Unfortunately, the troops were not functioning well, having liberated a Japanese officer club liquor supply and nursing huge hangovers.

Sgt. Harry Paston — On patrol in front of Radio Section jeep - South Korea - 1945
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Eventually, Quonset Huts erected by Army engineers replaced temporary tents, providing comfortable barracks for living quarters. Division headquarters was established in Seoul in government buildings formerly used by the Japanese from which they had ruled the country as a colony, suppressing Korean culture and requiring the Japanese language to be taught in schools and used by the Koreans.

Sgt. Harry Paston - alongside Quonset hut barracks - 7th Signal - Seoul, Korea - 1946
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Occupation duties soon became routine-and somewhat boring. Seoul was a large city and passes allowed us to visit and explore it but despite the friendliness of the Koreans, the language barrier limited us to mostly sightseeing, eating and drinking. GIs sought other unnamed recreational activities. Unlike the Korea of today, for GIs seeking R &R away from our bases, there was not much of interest.

Initially, following our occupation, Russian troops were stationed in Seoul. We would meet them while in Seoul, exchange souvenirs but the language barrier limited our interface. Unlike us, their weapons were always loaded with live ammo and we observed many confrontations with Korean citizens who were fair game for the Russians threatening them and taking watches and jewelry. We always looked the other way!

After a few months, the small Russian contingent withdrew north of the 38th parallel.

Interaction with the locals was minimal. We did employ Korean civilians to work at tasks inside our garrison area such as cleaning and performing kitchen and maintenance tasks.

Since I was the sergeant in charge of the Radio Section, despite orders from Tokyo forbidding amateur radio operations in Korea, I set up my ham radio station in an SCR-399, a Signal Corps truck mounted radio station, which I located on blocks on a hill adjacent to our area.

With the end of the war, amateur radio stations came on the air again throughout the world and I was able to communicate regularly with stations in the States relaying messages to family members of company personnel. I also regularly contacted a couple of stations on Tinian operated by amateurs identified by their handles (names), Curt and Barry. Turned out Curt was Air Force commanding General Curtis LeMay and Barry a fellow who went on to be a U. S. Senator and presidential candidate by the name of Barry Goldwater. Years later, as a resident of Arizona, I renewed my friendship with him.

While the Division troops continued training exercises as a peacetime army, we left garrison areas on patrols, testing equipment, and tactics, throughout rural Korea, which was most of the country at that time. On one such patrol, we stopped in a small village on the route used by the Russian soldiers returning north. The locals told us stories of Russian troops taking delight in breaking glass windows in homes and shops. Glass was not a readily available commodity so this was particularly offensive to the citizens.

Barry Goldwaters best seller during campaign
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Seoul, Korea - SCR-399 radio truck - used as amateur radio station W2OAA/J8
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Our unit was called upon to supply communications to the Pauley Reparations Commission during their visit to Korea and Manchuria. This commission had been established by the Allied powers to obtain reparations from Germany and other axis powers as compensation for their wartime activities. One of the Commissions members was Colonel Gail Carter, who was to become head of the National Electronic Distributors Association. While an executive in the electronics industry many years later, I was able to renew a friendship with him.

Finally, after nearly a year in Korea, I sailed for home on the S.S. Sea Star arriving under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco at 1:40 in the morning of September 1st.

Following my discharge, as a Tech Sergeant, I returned to college to earn my degree. I was commissioned an officer in the Army Reserve, serving in the 84th Airborne and 77th Infantry Divisions before leaving the service.

My years in military service were well spent, rewarding, scary at times and full of memories, some of which I have shared in this narrative.


T/Sgt. Harry Paston - at dinner on terminal leave - New York City - Sept. 1946
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More Images

On maneuvers - 84th Airborne Division (Reserve) - summer training - division signal company - not sure of location
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SS Sea Star - Sailed from Korea 8/17/46 bound for Seattle. Typhoon enroute. Changed course for San Francisco, arriving under Golden Gate Bridge September 1st.
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Sgt. Harry Paston - On patrol on railroad tracks between Seoul and Chongju, Korea
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Sgt. Paston checking out a Korean skiff'
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As PFC Harry Paston left for harm's way, a loving message from his Mom and Dad.





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