Seven decades after the Korean War, Arne Lyshall is still healing
The drive to do the right thing has been part of Arne Lyshall’s life for all his 92 years.
Born in Seattle in 1928, he grew up in a broken home living with his aunt whose faith would later mean a lot to him.
As a boy he developed a love of drawing.
That ability to see things as they are and preserve it would come to be a big part of his life later too.
Enrolled at Franklin High School, Arne saw the second world war raging. Newspapers were filled with headlines about battles taking place and men dying in both Europe and Asia. Knowing that nearly every able bodied man had joined the fight, Arne would help out unloading boxcars and ships on the Seattle waterfront. He saw men being shipped out as he stayed home and finally came to a decision. He would leave school as a junior and join the Marines, just after the war ended.
After 12 weeks of training he was stationed in Japan during the occupation and later transferred to China. He joined the reserves after his tour of duty was over. In 1948 he came home, got a job in warehouse and eventually met a girl named Winnie. A short time later, they married. But the good times didn’t last long. Conflict in Korea loomed.
After World War II ended Korea was divided at the 38th parallel into two zones of occupation. The Soviet Union would administer the north and the Americans would administer the south. Then in 1948, the occupation zones became sovereign states. Both nations would claim to represent the entire peninsula.
On June 25, 1950 The North Korean People’s Army (KPA) crossed the border and drove south toward the capitol, Seoul in an attempt to gain total control.
Twenty one nations, under the auspices of the United Nations provided forces to fight the North Koreans. Two months on the war was going badly. The KPA had pushed back the defenders who were near the point of defeat.
Arne was called up by the Marines and on September 15 he was in a landing craft heading toward what was a seawall at Incheon in Korea.
Arne recalled, "I will always remember when we pulled in and we were getting ready to disembark. We looked out there and there was already small boats taking the wounded out with a big Red Cross on them. This battle had only been going on for a few hours."
The invasion, conceived by General Douglas MacArthur, was risky. But it proved to be a brilliant move.
After they had landed he found himself in peril as the troop truck he was in drove into a ditch. "If we hadn't had the presence of mind to leap to the side, the whole thing would have tipped over."
Arne saw action early. His first day in combat, Arne’s unit was marching north when shots were heard. "I remember the rounds started coming in and they were coming in pretty high and then they were getting lower and lower and lower. At first I said, well, this is not too bad. It's like the rifle range. But then when they start whistling almost around your ears. I jumped in a ditch. Two dead Chinese in there looking at me."
Arne was by then a 21 year old Buck Sargeant, and had to keep his cool. At one point, still on his first day, a tank some 50 feet from him hit a land mine, disabling it. "It sounded like an atomic explosion." he said, and "I came closer to getting killed in the first day we were there."
While the resistance was not heavy, it was persistent.
"Another Sergeant came round and says hey, get up there, there's a Lieutenant on top of the hill. He's wounded, we gotta get him off." The officer had been shot by a sniper, "The guy up there, the sniper blasted a couple of rounds close, and these three guys that were with me jumped over the ledge. I started to move and 'Bam, Bam, bam, bam, bam' he had me zeroed in 6-7-8 rounds right behind me. I jumped over this this little ledge where they were. That was the moment that I would never forget. The whole time was in the Corps. I look this way. I look that way. Where's the front lines? One of your first fear fears in combat is getting lost. I didn't where in the hell I was at. I looked in the shadows and somebody said, 'Get your ass over here. It was three Marines dug in a rice paddy. Whew!"
Unfortunately the Lieutenant had died.
The Marines would go on to cut off the supply lines for the KPA and force them back north. By October the KPA was in heavy retreat as the American led UN forces pushed into North Korea, toward the Yalu River, the border with China.
In November, as Thanksgiving approached MacArthur was headed toward the Yalu. Brimming with confidence (many would say arrogance) his plan was to put troops on either side of the Taebaek Mountains that would act as armored pincers. If they could close the distance and force the KPA back they could then head north before the Korean winter began.
MacArthur was quoted as saying ''This should for all practical purposes end the war, restore peace and unity to Korea.''
MacArthur's misplaced confidence would have consequences. On the night before its final offensive, the First Marine Division with Arne Lyshall aboard a truck, was thinly deployed on an eighty mile long supply route, leading to an area called the Chosin Reservoir.
What the marines did not know was that the Chinese had crossed the river into Korea and under cover of darkness and through trees had evaded detection. Tens of thousands of troops had crossed from mid-October through November. Their orders? Annihalate the UN forces.
On November 27 the Chinese army surprised the US X Corps at the Chosin Reservoir area. For 17 days a terrible battle was fought in punishing temperatures. By December 13 the 30,000 United Nations Command troops (later nicknamed "The Chosin Few") under the field command of Major General Oliver P. Smith were surrounded by about 120,000 Chinese troops.
Temperatures in the mountains began to drop to 35 degrees below zero and colder. Guns jammed, and food was frozen. With supply lines cut off, aircraft were called in to supply food and ammo. But communications were difficult and a call for 60mm mortar shells (nicknamed 'Tootsie Rolls') was mistaken for the actual candy. Supply planes dropped tons of them. Incredibly the mistake proved to be critically important as the sticky chocolate confection could be softened by chewing and then literally used to seal cracked gas lines as it re-froze in place, plus giving the troops some ready nourishment.
The fighting and bitter cold took a terrible toll but not on the morale of the troops.
Arne felt as if he was on the verge of burning out and started singing to himself his aunt’s favorite hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus." That faith and and the unfailing self confidence of his fellow soldiers sustained him too. "We kind of chuckled. We always said two things 'Hey, we've got them right where we want them', and 'They can't get away."
He said he even felt sorry for the Chinese troops at times. We felt as sorry for those guys as they did for us. Can you imagine? Hell, if someone didn't have shoes? The first thing you would find in any skirmish. where our units got overrun. All our people, their shoes were gone."
What lay ahead was the attempt to get the combined forces out of the trap. There was only one road out, and the Chinese had blown a key bridge. Arne witnessed the incredible effort to replace it. C-119 aircraft (flying boxcars) were tasked with flying in single bridge sections. One per flight. They would pass over the area and drop them via parachute. Engineers would retrieve them and assemble the bridge sections while being fired upon. In the process in sub zero temperatures they made it work.
"If Fox Company didn't keep the road open, there would have been 1500 guys annihilated," Arne recalled. "They probably had over 130 guys killed keeping the road open. Talk about paying a price."
Over the next 13 days they traveled 275 miles, fighting, the entire time. The toughest part was a 35 mile stretch during which they are under heavy fire. The cost was heavy. 4,385 US Marines, 3,163 US Army personnel, 2,812 South Koreans attached to American formations and 78 British Royal Marines died in the fight.
The hardest part for Arne was carrying the wounded out. The Marines leave no one behind. So when they could not ride they had to be carried. 60 to 100 feet at a time, men would carry the wounded until they could go no further and another soldier would take over. Arne himself was never wounded.
When they reached the train that would take them to Hungnam and get them on a ship it was an emotional release. "I was among the first guys that walked out. They had empty coal cars down at the bottom of the bridge waiting for us. I walked down there, got in that coal car and I sat down and all my emotions just let loose. I was out of there. Nobody could shoot me. For this particular time it was over. I cried. Everybody cried."
Through it all he wrote to Winnie every day. Even in the worst days. Always optimistic, even knowing that the headlines back home were dire. At one point he managed to get a letter out and even without postage, it got hand delivered by a solider who had made it out. The couple kept the letter for half a century.
After the war Arne was lucky enough to get into Edison Tech where he got an education in Commercial Art. Boeing hired him and for 30 years he was an Illustrator.
After he retired Arne stayed active but said he would sometimes react to loud sounds that would put him right back in the battle. When his son passed away he suffered a mental break but sought help and it reminded him that the power of caring and healing is incredible. His own recovery led him to explore Tai Chi and the practice of Reiki, a Japanese form of alternative healing sometimes called energy work. He offers to heal people for free and states he has become a Master Healer. But joined with that is his belief in prayer. He walks every day at Alki Beach now, rain or shine. When he enounters people he often gives them a slip of paper with some words he encourages them to read. "Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you." and just as often urges people in need of help to call the Unity Prayer line 1-800-NowPray (1-800-669-7729).
His life and war experience taught him that no one makes it through life alone. Sometimes you need reach out and help. Other times you need to reach out and ask for it.
A very heartwarming story; yet heartbreaking, reading the cold, hard facts that the soldiers had to endure. God bless Arne and all who served!
Thank you Arne for your story & your service.