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Paul Altenburger Army

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Paul Altenburger - 900 Views
honored by Michael Ford


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Assigned: 538th Engineer Maintenance Battalion
Location of Service: Korean
Gender: male
Current City: Ottoville
Current State: Ohio
My War Stories
  
  1952 (Courtesy Michael Ford, Delphos Herald). When a young man from the farm was called upon to serve his country, he simply took his work ethic to another part of the world. Such was the case with one local “boy” who did what many did: he left life as he knew it and love behind. Paul Altenburger, 78, was drafted by the United States Army in 1952 but his story began a little earlier. “I enlisted and took basic training in 1949 but my dad got sick and needed help so I got out. Then I got drafted when my number came up,” he said. Altenburger explained that he had older brothers but was given a hardship discharge nonetheless. Since he had gone to “boot camp” already, when Uncle Sam knocked on the door, Altenburger avoided re-indoctrination. “They sent me to Fort Meade, MD, then to Pennsylvania and I got my orders to go to the Far East Command. I went to Japan for two weeks of Chemical, Biological and Radiological school and then to Korea in April 1952. I landed at Pusan and they put me on a train for a suburb of Seoul, to wait for my unit to pick me up. They’d assigned me to the 538th Engineer Maintenance Battalion and when they picked me up, I went to Shun Shun for about 14 months. Then I went to Wu Chunbo for about four months and came home,” he said. On his first night there, Altenburger encountered a local climbing under the fence because he was from the village and was in an area closer to his destination. Whereas, he would have had farther to walk had he used the main gate. “My first night there, I was on guard duty and caught a ‘gook’ climbing under the fence. I didn’t know who he was and I told him to halt. He did; if he had ran, I would have had to shoot him. I called the sergeant of the guard and he came. As it happened, he worked for the company but instead of using the gate, he climbed under the fence because he was from the village. They let him go because they knew him,” he said. He recalls what life was like. “I was a welder. I got up at 8 o’clock, went to work until 4 or 4:30 and, a lot of nights, I had guard duty. My company was split up; some were here and some were there. Some worked on bulldozers and some worked on generators and we had a guy who ran the fuel dump and it was his job to fuel them every day; I worked on generators. We fixed generators for all the units; the 2nd Division, the 7th Division, the MASH hospitals — this was how we all got our electricity,” he said. Trading services made life a little easier. “Guys coming off the line had to go through a ‘collection plate’ to take a shower; they had to stand in line but we had our own shower because the guys rigged it up. We let the doctors come over and take their showers so they didn’t have to stand in line and in return, they took care of our teeth and things like that. So they took pretty good care of me,” he said. “I also drove a truck part-time to go to Seoul to get our mail and take guys to town and to church. There wasn’t a lot to do but play cards. I was there 18 months and I slept a lot.” Altenburger also recalls what life was like for the indigenous. “They would let little Korean kids come and shine your shoes and you paid them a little something for it. They would steal you blind - they’d take you coat or your shoes if you weren’t watching. When you threw out the trash, they’d go through it because that’s what they ate. It was pitiful; they had it real bad. Their houses were just straw and no floor; just dirt. It was bad,” he said. Altenburger and his wife, Bettie, have been married for 56 years, having raised four children. They were engaged when he was drafted. “He sent all his pictures to me and we wrote a lot of letters. I’d hear about other boys in the fighting but he would tell me not to worry because he was behind the line. He wasn’t in the fighting Army. I felt better when Eisenhower got in there and ended the war,” she said. Altenburger never saw combat or any sign of it. However, he did experience one piece of action that nearly sent him home. “I got an ear infection one time and they sent me to Pusan. If it had stayed as bad as it was or gotten any worse, the next step would have been to come home but they got me better, so I had to go back,” he recalled