Sen. Jack Kibbie's Korean War Experiences

Senator Jack Kibbie talks about his experiences in the Korean War.


Paul Yeager: Hello I’m Paul Yeager and welcome to this web extra of the Iowa Journal. We’re speaking to President of the Iowa Senate Jack Kibbie who was also Sergeant First Class in the United States Army during the Korean War and Senator I want to know a little more about your role in Korea in the tank. You’ve got 24 grandkids at home and they want to know Granddad tell us about Korea. What do you tell them and what it was like and how you went about life?

Jack Kibbie: Well we got off a boat in Inchan, Korea after leaving Fort Knox, Kentucky and tank training. Fifteen days on a boat to get there and then we went to what they call Young Dung Po which is near there and then they, that’s when they divided us up and sent out the various divisions and regimens and so I was assigned to the 180th tank company of the 45th Division. So, that was on one coast of Korea and then we were assigned and eventually drove a tank across Korea from one side to the other ended up on the Heartbreak Ridge Area which is on the far east side. I spent about a month or six weeks in what they call the Chorwon Valley which was a lot of battles were fought there and then they moved us on east to the Heartbreak Ridge.

Paul Yeager: You came in as a private and you ended as a sergeant first class. So how quickly did you move across that and what did you do to earn those?

Jack Kibbie: Well, tank rank calls for a lot of sergeants and of course I was holding the sergeants job as a private and so that rank came through after the government took the freeze off and we never did take the time to sew on any patches or anything but it was our rank was on paper mostly. So they didn’t, we really didn’t want to have our rank if we were captured or whatever why that was part of the process and so it was a cold war especially on the tops of the mountains and that’s where we really fought the war and we were within a thousand feet of the enemy and they were watching us constantly and we were watching them and the valley between us was all trees at one time but they were all burnt out of there and then of course. So right across from us was Manchurians and so our enemy and the South Koreans it seemed like that they all looked alike and they all wore American Fatigues and so it was stressful but rewarding.

Paul Yeager: What’s the question that your grandkids as the most of you about your Korean War experience?

Jack Kibbie: Oh depends how old they are.

Paul Yeager: The younger ones what do they ask?

Jack Kibbie: They want to know about the gun mostly. Most of our fighting was a night and of course it's different technology than today but there is technology and we visited with the infantry by telephone and radio and we did that on a nightly basis. Every night regardless of whether the infantry went out on patrol and we were the ones that we to protect them.

Paul Yeager: Can you still see in your mind where it is you’re telling me these stories about? Can you still see the crisp blue skies or trees?

Jack Kibbie: Oh absolutely. Absolutely.

Paul Yeager: That’s not faded or pictures haven’t done anything to jog your memory? You still have that in your brain?

Jack Kibbie: Oh you bettcha and of course it’s like here or anywhere else. Some nights are a lot darker than others and some nights where you got the moon and the stars out actually the infantry would call that too much light.

Paul Yeager: What was the relationship like between that infantry? I mean was the army with you as well or were there marines that you were covering as well?

Jack Kibbie: Each infantry company at that time had at least had on tank assigned to it and the relationship was very close. They depended on us and every week we ate together. We were just tankers and they were infantry people. OF course there was mortar people and radio people just like in all infantry companies but we were much closer to our infantry company than to our own tank company.

Paul Yeager: Now inside your tank did everybody rotate in and out of the tank quicker was it more dangerous position or was the infantry more of a dangerous position?

Jack Kibbie: Well the tanks in some warfare were probably very dangerous position to be in.

Paul Yeager: Why is that?

Jack Kibbie: During the daytime we went out of the bottom of the tank. Which very few people know there is an escape hatch.

Paul Yeager: Oh on the bottom underneath?

Jack Kibbie: Between the tracks you can go up into the turret because crawling into the top is very dangerous. I mean that’s where a lot of snipers get. I wouldn’t be able to crawl into the bottom of the tank today. No, we had I think we had about eighty-six of the large shells compartments for them in there. We had three different types of shells. We had white phosphorus which we used for spotting targets. We had what they call armor piercing if you were firing at another tank. We had what they call shrapnel HE shells which that’s mostly what you used and then each tank the driver had the assistant driver had a thirty caliber machine gun. Which we had another thirty caliber right beside the big gun which sometimes you’d use that for spotting targets and then we had a fifty caliber machine gun on top of the tank and every person in the tank had a forty-five pistol. We had three carbines in the tank.

Paul Yeager: What’s that?

Jack Kibbie: Carbon rifle. It’s a short rifle a little lighter weight and then we had what was called a grease gun which is forty-five caliber that would hold thirty shells.

Paul Yeager: Well, there was a picture that we saw earlier of everything laid out. I mean was that an accurate picture of what you had mostly all the time?

Jack Kibbie: That’s everything in the tank that’s not nailed down. It’s a big job getting it all out of there and a bigger job getting it all back.

Paul Yeager: You were talking before we started recording here again I asked if you kept in touch? There’s picture of all of that material that’s inside of there and to me that just seems like a lot to fit into that little spot. Was it crowded? Was it cramped?

Jack Kibbie: Fairly cramped and of course everything you also have a generator in there to generate the electricity to run your operation and there’s compartments for all that ammunition and all the equipment.

Paul Yeager: Who is that with you? I think you said that was a Lieutenant that was maybe doing the inspection.

Jack Kibbie: He was the Company commander that was around doing the inspecting.

Paul Yeager: Now you said this was a Ford V8. So that’s I would think was pretty loud.

Jack Kibbie: Very loud. Most of the noise in the tank was when you fired the big gun. Inside that tank it’s very noisy.

Paul Yeager: Now did you ever work as a gunner in that tank?

Jack Kibbie: Oh yes. I did all the jobs.

Paul Yeager: Did everybody get promoted that quickly?

Jack Kibbie: No not everybody got promoted that fast. You know I never paid that much attention you just got a letter in the mail that you went from one promotion to another. Being online all that time and the company commander recommended you for those positions?

Paul Yeager: Did you ever get wounded?

Jack Kibbie: No I never did.

Paul Yeager: But did you see a lot of the images? We talked about MASH the television show or the movie was that an accurate depiction of what went on there to some points? How was it different or similar.

Jack Kibbie: Very close. I would say the fatalities when I was there a good percentage of them were accidental. But then there was a lot of them with mortar fire, sniper fire, in the daytime very calm nice day people would walk out in the open carrying a mess kit or something or hanging clothes out to dry on a tree limp or something. Those are no, no’s.

Paul Yeager: How was your food?

Jack Kibbie: Sea rations.

Paul Yeager: Left over from World War II as well?

Jack Kibbie: I don’t think quite that old.

Paul Yeager: Probably said that at that time.

Jack Kibbie: Much of the time we could walk down behind the mountain there and have one hot meal with the infantry providing things were quiet.

Paul Yeager: Was that usually in the afternoon before your five o’clock briefing?

Jack Kibbie: Late afternoon right.

Paul Yeager: So did you sleep in the morning?

Jack Kibbie: Our tank was right beside the bunker that you saw me standing in. So, we’d kind of rotate in and out. In the daytime we did more sleeping than we did at night.

Paul Yeager: Well because you were being working and on patrol at that time.

Paul Yeager: Thank you again for coming in tonight Senator Jack Kibbie or Sergeant First Class as we’ll say for right now winner of the Bronze Star and that’s why he has the lapel.

Paul Yeager: This is an Iowa Journal Extra and you can always watch the Iowa Journal on Iowa PBS. Thank you very much for watching.

Iowa PBS