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Korean War veteran remembers patrolling front lines with only a medical bag and camera

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    POLK COUNTY, North Carolina (WLOS) — Polk County resident Thomas Greenway recently stood by his dining room table and spread a pile of black and white photographs he took 70 years ago in Korea 70 years.

Korean War veteran remembers patrolling front lines with only a medical bag and camera

“That’s a helicopter bringing men down to the (121st Medical Evacuation Hospital) from the front line,” Greenway said, holding a photo of a military helicopter.

The helicopter in Greenway’s photo looks like the helicopters that flew across the opening credits to the television show M*A*S*H.

“They had a stretcher on the outside, one on either side,” Greenway recalled.

Big plans
Greenway graduated from high school in 1949, only four years after the end of World War II. He knew from news reports that America had started drafting young men to serve in the new war in Korea. Greenway said he had a plan.

“The first thing I done is join the Air Force to stay out of the Army,” Greenway said. “And then they froze the enlistments. And, six months later, I got a letter from Harry to be examined.”

The letter to which Greenway referred was a draft notice from President Harry Truman. The notice said Greenway was to report to the U.S. Army’s closest intake center to get a physical to see if he was fit for duty.

The draft notice presented a problem for Greenway, who was a faithful man, very involved in his church. Greenway said he believed in the Ten Commandments and didn’t want to break them.

Greenway also didn’t want to tell the U.S. Army that he was a conscientious objector.

So, Greenway went to basic training, hoping he could somehow serve his country without having to take another man’s life.

“I didn’t want to shoot anybody. So, they put me right where I wanted,” said Greenway, who was trained to be a combat medic. “When I went out on patrol, I could carry a weapon or I could just carry a aid kit and a stretcher, whatever I want to.”

Serving in Korea
Command assigned Greenway to the 121st EVAC Hospital in Ascom City, Korea. Greenway said EVAC hospitals were like regular hospitals further back from the front lines. No weapon needed to do his job.

“And that is where I said I thought I had it made,” Greenway said. “But, within two or three months, they needed medics on the front lines. And I went up there as a front line medic.”

Greenway ended up on a Korean mountain range the Americans nick named Heartbreak Ridge.

“It was a hill where they, a lot of fighting and a lot of people got killed there,” Greenway said. “That was the reason they called it Heartbreak Ridge.

On the front line, Greenway’s new job was to go out on patrol with four men he called stretcher bearers and pick up wounded soldiers. Even though he was in a combat zone, he still didn’t carry a weapon.

“I had the aid kit,” Greenway said. “I had what we called a morphine syrette. It looked like a little tube of toothpaste with morphine in it. I would cut a hole into his coat and everything under it and give him a shot through that hole, then pin that little syrette to his jacket so they would know at the aid station that I gave him morphine.”

Greenway remembered one evening when an officer stopped him and his stretcher bearers before they went out on patrol. The captain asked Greenway’s friend, Private Harrington, “Where is your weapon?”

“He says, ‘I don’t have one,’ and showed him his syrettes and aid kit,” Greenway said. “He said, ‘Captain, I have picked up a lot people with their rifle laying beside of them. People that came over on the same ship I did.”

In Korea, it didn’t make a difference what you carried, Greenway said.

Greenway said some of the hills were so steep and rocky that land mines were more dangerous to the medics than bullets.

“One of them stepped on a rock and his feet slid out from under him and he slid down into a mine and it went off,” Greenway recalled. “We went down to get him on the stretcher and stepped on another one and it finished killing the man on the stretcher. One of the medics carrying the man, it blow his legs off.”

After 30 days of serving on the front lines, command moved Greenway back to the 121st Evac Hospital and awarded him with a combat badge.

“If anybody said they weren’t afraid, they were just fibbing,” Greenway said.

Greenway had one more close call before leaving Korea.

“Along about January of ’53, I went to Japan on R&R,” Greenway said. “When I got down to Seoul Air Base, they said, ‘We got three places to go — Osaka, Tokyo and Kokura.’ They said, ‘The Tokyo plane was pretty well loaded. It would be better if you go to one of the other places.’ I said, ‘Just to get away for over here, doesn’t make a difference where I go.’ So, I went to Kokura.”

Going home
“Seven days later, I came back and landed in Seoul,” Greenway said. “They called us all up to the platform there and they gave us paper, pencil and an envelope and said, ‘Write home.’ The plane that went to Tokyo hit a mountain in Korea the first of ’53 and killed everybody on it.”

Not long after that letter, Greenway said he got some good news.

“One of my buddies came up and said, ‘Now your name is on the bulletin board to go home,'” Greenway said. “So, we was real happy about that.”

Greenway survived the Korean War without firing a single shot.

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