LEGACIES OF THE KOREAN WAR: Theodore Paul Betley – Korean War/Army
At daybreak in April 1951, Chinese soldiers began to filter through the American Marine line in Korea. Their goal was to try to move in on the American soldiers of the 987th from the Canton Ohio National Guard.
As enemy rifle fire began pouring into the battalion area, the 987th took up defensive positions. Within seconds, clerks, cooks, and wiremen had manned their rifles. Machine guns and other light weapons were also used to return fire.
Theodore Paul Betley of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was one of the members of the 987th. Suddenly, an American officer shouted, “Hold your fire! There’s Marines up that hill!” The 987th ceased firing, but seconds later, a message from the Marines was heard, “We’re dug in. Let them have it!”
As Betley recalls, the hill virtually exploded as volleys of high explosions rained down on the enemy. “The direct fire of our weapons had the enemy reeling,” he said. Other American soldiers took care of fleeing remnants of the Communist force.
Betley, born in Fort Wayne in 1929, quit high school at age 17 to join the Army in 1946. “I went in because all of my buddies had enlisted,” he said. His parents had to give written permission for him to join the military at that age.
After completing basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey, Betley was transferred to Fort Monmouth, NJ, for seven months but he was pulled out before completing the course. “The Army sent me to Japan to set up a signal class as part of the 8th Army Signal Command,” he said.
However, when he arrived, the equipment was outdated. Betley’s signal duties were put on hold and he was transferred to supervising a cadre of 250 soldiers in Tokyo and Yokohama. “We lived in an old Japanese military academy,” he said.
During this period of occupation of Japan following World War II, American troops were not armed. “The Japanese people didn’t seem to welcome us, but they were not angry at us,” said Betley. “We only carried guns on guard duty.”
The two nationalities were forced to communicate. “We learned enough Japanese to ask people questions like, ‘where do you live?’ and ‘what is your name?'” he said. “They, in turn, picked up English to answer our questions.”
Once, during a furlough, Betley climbed Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest mountain at 12,389 feet, located southwest of Tokyo. He also saw a Bob Hope Show during a USO tour.
When encouraged to re-enlist in the Army in June 1949 with the promise of a promotion, Betley refused. However, he was only home a year before he was recalled for military service to Korea. “The good thing was I didn’t have to repeat basic training,” he said.
Betley was sent to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri which had closed following World War II, but re-opened. “They needed a communication sergeant for a field artillery unit,” he said. At Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, he was made First Sergeant of the 987th Armored Field Artillery Battery. “We were based with the 987th,” he said.
When the unit shipped to Pusan, Korea, Betley’s unit took a combat readiness test to see if its members could enter the country. “Our combat readiness score of 93.1 was the highest of any field artillery unit at that point in the Korean War,” said Betley.
In Pusan, Betley’s unit boarded LSTs (landing, ship, and tank) with six guns in the battery. Betley was made First Sergeant and given a Korean interpreter named Kim Son. “He liked to eat raw garlic,” said Betley. “I kicked him out of our pup tent because his breath stank. He got his own tent.”
After the conflict at the American Marine line in Korea with the 987th, Betley’s military service calmed. When the Korean War ended in 1953, Betley returned to Fort Wayne and completed his high school diploma by attending night classes. He worked at GTE in Fort Wayne before retiring in 1985. “I think the best thing a kid could do today is join the military,” he said. “It taught me a lot of responsibility.”
Kayleen Reusser has written stories of World War II veterans or the past several years for The News-Sentinel. She is beginning to transition to Korean War veterans, although she will still profile World War II vets from time to time. She is looking for veterans of both wars to profile for future stories. If you know of a surviving member of either war, she wants to tell their story. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org