Recently I learned of another American Legion Post 23 member who has some military experiences that should be recorded and shared. As with others, we will start from the beginning. Alton was born on the family farm four miles north of Sherman to Orton and Esther Rogen. He had an older brother and sister and one younger sister. He had a typical farm boy childhood and like many of us older folks--had to walk to school (up hill both directions) in all kinds of weather. Alton was obviously sharp as even when a kid he purchased a bicycle and a neighbor girl peddled the bike while he road on the handle bars. Alton graduated from Jasper HS in 1945 and went on to graduate from SDSU. On November 26, 1950 (after corn picking harvest was complete) he married Beverly Gulbranson. He and Bev were all set to farm and raise a family but Uncle Sam had other ideas. The Korean Conflict was going strong and Alton along with several other local boys were drafted all at the same time. “The community had a big ‘sending off party’ for us. We were all going as a group and sent to Ft. Riley Kansas for basic training. We were all good buddies and we knew that the chances of being sent to Korea were just about 100%. After basic I was sent to Camp Forsyth near Manhattan, Kansas for Dog Training School. We were all issued our own dog and mine was named Fox. We became a real team.” Obviously Alton knew his MOS increased his chances of going directly to the front line in Korea with his dog Fox for one of the most dangerous assignments possible.
Some things in life perhaps just happen but others come about for a reason. Alton would likely say he was just lucky or it was his wife’s Bev answer to prayer. Perhaps it was all of those things and very likely he was at the top of his class. The Army recognized this and therefore did not send him and Fox to Korea with all the other trainees. Instead they sent him to Ft. Carson, Colorado to become an instructor in training other soldiers who would be attending Dog Training School. However, another unexpected turn of events occurred shortly after Alton arrived in Ft. Carson. The Air Force took over all Dog Training duties and so Alton was, as he expected, sent off to Korea. “We left out of Seattle on a beautiful day in a Victory Ship. Those are really small troop carrier ships but there were about 5,000 of us crammed on board. To get enough sleeping space they hung cots stacked 5 layers high. This was bad enough but on the 2nd day we hit a terrific storm. Our ship went up 100 ft. and pounded back down. I didn’t get as sick as some but it was bad. Some got so sick they had to be taken off the troop ship on to a larger carrier. It was a long two weeks before we saw land in Japan. From Camp Drake we went by boat to Inchon. From there we rode a 6x6 Deuce and half toward the38th parallel.” Alton’s luck was still with him as Headquarters needed drivers and he had a GI Military Drivers license. So he was again more fortunate than many of his buddies. “I was assigned to drive jeep for a military intelligence unit. Our Regimental Commander was from South Dakota and a really great guy but was all business. I never drove for him but all the officers I drove for were West Point Graduates and often from families of high rank (father or Uncles were high ranking military officers). We would drive to the front line every day and be in the front for about 4 hours each day. We would return to camp at night and there would be flood lights everywhere.” Although Alton would admit there were scary times he felt he had it better than many others and indicated he would rather not talk about some of the close calls he had.
Like other soldiers in Korea, Alton found the conditions less than ideal. “Winters were cold and you would rather be in a bunker then a tent. There were a lot of rats that we would shoot. Most of the vegetation was destroyed by the ongoing exchange of firepower. Some Korean families had relatives on both sides but could not cross for a visit. At one time trucks would bring families to meet at the 38th parallel for a short visit but I’m not sure if it is that way now.”
By 1951 Alton’s tour of duty was up and he returned to Ft. Carson to be discharged. He returned to the farm and with his wife Bev they raised three boys. Alton was active in farming and was a Pioneer Seed Corn Dealer for over 20 years. He was also a 4 H leader. He and Bev have been long time members of First Lutheran Church and held many leadership positions. Alton has been a long time member of the VFW and a member of the American Legion since 1951 including serving in the Jasper Color Guard. They now have 4 grandsons and 7 great grandchildren. Alton and Bev have now slowed down and enjoyed the past 20 winters in a warmer AZ climate.
Alton told about one interesting recent highlight that happened in 1997. Obviously South Korea was most appreciative of the help the US gave them. To show their appreciation the Korean Government invited military soldiers and their spouse back for a ‘thank you banquet and visit’. “They paid for our airfare from Los Angeles and we were treated like royalty for the entire week. They provided all the food, lodging and transportation. They could not thank us enough and presented us with medals of appreciation and thanked us over and over for what we did to help them. But one regret, we didn’t get to return to where I was stationed or back to the 38th parallel.”
When I ended our visit I asked Alton if he had any regrets. “There were a lot of bad things that happened and good friends that I lost. I do regret that I did not go on the Honor Flight. I wish I had done that and had my picture taken by the wall where my best friend Duane Megard’s name is inscribed”.
Alton, on behalf of The American Legion and the Garretson/Sherman Community, thanks for your many years of Service. We just completed observation of Armed Forces Week and will soon be celebrating Memorial Day. At these times it is easier for us to remember all those who have served our country. Interviewing you has reminded me that people in other countries are also appreciative and thankful for your service. So I’m changing my usual closure from ‘On behalf of the United States of America’ to ‘On behalf of the Free World’ and the tremendous freedoms we enjoy today, we want to thank you for your willingness to answer your call those many 68 years ago.
A fellow Post 23 Member