Meet Our Veterans:
Grand Saline, Tx.
U.S. Navy – Korean Veteran
“I drowned when I was three-years old,” David emphatically told me. “I was near a pond about a quarter a mile from my house. The pond was built on the southeast corner of a 40-acre farm. The government built a pond on the opposite corner. The oldest one in the creek was 11. It was a cold, cold day. I was pushed in the water. I had to be. I do not know how long I was in the pond but that boy had to go all the way to my house and back. Mr. Ben Burgess was the man who got me out of the water. My Guardian Angel showed up. He told my mom when he got to the dam there was not a ripple on that water. He knew that baby was out there but did not know where. I was told a “light” appeared across the water. I was laying on the bottom in ten feet of water. They said I had no pulse, but they went to work. They eventually got a pulse, wrapped me up and got me to the house. My mom laid me on a blanket. Four of the people there massaged my arms and legs. I’m here,” yelled David. “God had plans for him,” said his wife Margaret who had joined us in the interview.
David worked on the farm as a young boy. His first memory was working on a Doctors farm in Big Bear House Creek Bottom, in Arkansas. Later the family moved several times and ended up in Drew County, Arkansas in a town called Monticello and stayed there until he graduated from High School. His dad was in both timber and some farming on a 180-acre tract he purchased. Like most farmers during this time they had a team of mules until a time they afford a tractor. His family went thru the Depression and the only money David remembers making as a kid was selling scrap iron for a penny a pound. “We had plenty of vegetables, hogs and other animals that I never went hungry,” said David. “We also had a syrup and a grist mill on the farm and that brought money in. People would bring the cane in and my dad made syrup. People would come and by that syrup in the winter. My grandfather had a smoke house and he took care of smoking the hams and bacon. We always had honey and I remember my grandfather taught me how to find a bee tree. We went out in the orchard, sat on a stool and watched the bees. They would find the flowers, grabbed the nectar and then they would rise and start to circle. How high they circle is the distance where the tree is. We followed those bees and we found a huge Cyprus tree. They sawed it into two sections and used the smoke. The air was black with bees. We had tubs of honey,” laughed David.
FOOTBALL IN HIGH SCHOOL
When David was in High School he played football and we also started raising tomatoes. A lot of tomatoes. “I drove 20,000 tomato stakes into the ground and we grew tomatoes every year.
That is five acres of Mar globe tomatoes. I once counted 1,100 cartons of tomatoes at our packing shed. We sent 600 of them to St. Louis, a truck to Dallas with 300 and a third truck to Little Rock. We grossed $6,600. and that was when gasoline was 20 cents a gallon,” he laughed. “When we started picking and packing we had to hire a couple of ladies to come and help my mom pack them. Our major money crops were tomatoes and hogs,” said David. “I remember I loaded up 100 hogs and drove to Memphis with them,” David said shaking his head.
“I always liked football,” said David. “I have a picture of my dad playing football. He played one year as an offensive guard after he got out of the Navy. I played running back and fullback at 5’11” and 160 lbs. I loved to play Defense and always wanted to coach since the 7th grade. Out of the four years I played we finished 8-3 as our best record. We played the state champions one year and I scored two touchdowns. First one was about 52-yards in the first quarter and we were up 6-0 at the half, against the previous year’s State Champions. In the fourth quarter I caught a deflected pass off our receiver and went 70-something yards with it,” smiled David. “We ended up losing the game and I hurt my knee and had to come out of the game.” Unfortunately, David did not finish High School and dropped out for a year. His father was not in good health and he was still working with the tomatoes. School, at that time, wasn’t really important to me,” said David. “I also drove a school bus for two years while in High School for $70 a month. That was a lot of money back then,” laughed David.
IN THE MILITARY (September 1950 to 1954 Korea)
David volunteered for the military in September of 1950. The Korean War was going on. The attack on the 38th Parallel was in June of that year. “I don’t know why I went into the Navy, I just can’t answer that. I guess since my dad was in the Navy it may have had some influence on my decision. Six of us from my Monticello High School joined the military and we joined up in Little Rock, Arkansas. We went to Boot Camp in San Diego, California. I did not know what I wanted to do in the military and was never tested that I recall. To this day I do not know how I got to where I did in the military,” said David shaking his head. “I graduated from Boot and was sent of Treasure Island in Oakland. I stayed there for about three weeks. I was assigned to the USS General William Weigel (AP-119).
USS General William Weigel (AP-119) was a troopship that served with the United States Navyin World War II. After the war, she was acquired by the US Army and became USAT General William Weigel. On the outbreak of the Korean War, she was transferred to the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) and designated USNS General William Weigel (T-AP-119), a designation she retained for her later service in the Vietnam War.
This was scroungiest and dirtiest old Merchant Marine ship and was converted over to a troop ship. It wasn’t a Navy ship and we were headed to Japan. I was sick the entire way all the way to Yokosuka, Japan. I did not eat one single meal the entire 14-days we were on that ship. I was seasick the entire time. I went from 182 pounds to 167 pounds during that time. It was miserable.
“I was on the 3rd level and the 3rd bunk on the ship. There were four bunks on each level of the ship. By the 3rd day out, I couldn’t get into the bunk. My shipmate Murphy was on the bottom bunk and he traded with me. He worked in the cold storage some and he brought me five lemons, two oranges and a pack of crackers. That is what I ate for 14-days. I never got my sea legs back,” David said looking at the floor and shaking his head.
Murphy was from Ironton, Ohio. He really took care of me when I was so sick. I was an E-2 with and still had no formal training since I had joined the Navy. Neither one of us had any training up to this point.
When we finally got to Yokuska, Japan they loaded 6 or 7 of us on a truck and sent us over to Camp McGill.
USS MONTROSE TO KOREA:
After hostilities broke out in Korea, Montrose recommissioned 12 September 1950, and arrived Yokosuka, Japan, 8 January 1951, to help repel the invasion by North Korea. She took troops to Inchon early in 1951; and, in April, after a run to Hong Kong, she steamed for the California coast. She returned to Yokosuka 30 July 1952, and joined TF 90, supporting operations off Korea, until returning to San Diego 6 December 1952.
We were sent to the Bridge together. Most of the others went on the deck crew. Why, I will never know,” laughed David. “I was assigned as a signalman aboard the Montrose. I knew nothing about being a signalman. Murphy and another friend by the name of Jessie Guarterez, a Third-Class Petty Officer from Laredo, Texas, were all assigned as signalmen. We were on our own, winged it as we went,” laughed David. “There were about 12 or 13 of us on the Bridge of the ship. There were two First Class, 3 or 4 Second Class and Guarterez was Third Class and I was still nothing, and E-2. I learned everything about my job OJT, On The Job Training. I learned read and send light, the flags, Signal 4 and all and was finally tested for the job. But, most of the time I learned on the job.
We spent time in Hong Kong picking up troops and supplies. There was a lot of ice and snow in Hong Kong. We had 40 degree below zero weather and that cold spray came over the bow of that ship. The mist froze to our faces. We had Scottish Marines aboard along with several other militaries from different nations. We also picked up troops and all their equipment from Guam, Okinawa and Midway. We were headed for Korea. Some of the ports we stopped in and some we just anchored off the coast. The Montrose ended up anchoring in the bay near Inchon, South Korea. There we offloaded all our troops and supplies that we picked up along the way. They boarded boats and were sent to the beaches off Korea. My job was strictly working the bridge on the Montrose. It was my duty station and my battle station.
We had made two trips going back to several ports, picking up soldiers and supplies, including Marine uniforms and delivering them to Korea. There were four ships that always sailed together. The USS Mountrail (APA-231) was our sister ship.
On our third trip we were going to make a “Mock” Invasion on the shores of Korea. The word from the Captain was they could not find the enemy. We were docked in the Bay for about twelve days. All of us thought we were going back to sea. The Commander or Admiral was on our ship. This was the only time we were under “Sealed Orders.” We were all ordered to put on Marine uniforms and get ready for this “Mock Invasion.”
We were all going to be loaded in these small boats and hit the beach. It was like a ‘D’ Day invasion. That night we had the longest prayer meeting I have ever heard of. We all thought we were going to die. At 0700 we were going to go down the cargo nets, get into boats and hit the beach. I was schedule for a four-hour watch. You eat and then go back to your watch. They would wake us up at 0330 and get ready for another four-hour watch on the bridge. My watch came off at 8 that night. Our quarters were below deck about the middle of the ship. I went by the mess hall and I hear all this singing. Several were reading their bibles. Every sailor that was on that ship and did not have a watch was in there singing and praying. We lost our Chaplain a few week back and I can tell you, we did not need a Chaplain. We all thought the next day we would not be alive. It felt like a death warrant. They stayed in the mess hall until after midnight. I went to bed.
I wasn’t one of these guys, I was going to stay on the ship. There were only about three or four of us staying on the ship. The Lord was looking after me.
I ended spending three plus years aboard the USS Montrose.
SEASICK AND SENT TO A PSYCHIATRIC WARD
I was coming back from overseas and asked for a transfer to shore duty. I was still getting seasick all the time. They transferred me to an LSMR cargo ship. That is a rocket boat. It was only about 180-feet long and drew about eight feet of water. There were seven double rocket mounts on each side. They had the fire power of a battleship. You would fire all rounds from one side then turn around and fire those from the other side. After all the ammunition after about 28-minutes were fired you were a sitting duck in the water. There were only two of us on the bridge. We were running 12-hour shifts. We were about three days out of Pearl Harbor. I had been on that LSMR and it took about 31-days to cross. I was miserable and seasick all the time. The XO on the ship was a Lieutenant. He came up to the bridge and I told him, when we get to Pearl and am getting off this ship. He didn’t say a word to me. He left and came back in about 15-minutes. I told me, I cannot transfer when we get to Pearl. He told me they didn’t have anyone to take my place. He said when we get to Japan I am going to transfer you to the hospital. When we got to Yokosuka he was true to his word. Coming into the Bay was as calm as this floor. It was dark and raining when we got there. They came up on the bridge and said, I got your orders. I went to the hospital that night. I still don’t know how I got there. They sent me to the hospital and I ended up in the Psycho Ward. They must have thought I was crazy. There were a lot of steps going up to the metal gate to the hospital with an armed guard standing in front. I went thru quite a number of tests. The last test I remember quite well. They sat me in a dentist type chair. There were about three or four of them in there with me. They put a cup to my ear and put some fluid inside. When you feel dizzy, tell me. I got dizzy and couldn’t stand up. He did the same thing to the other ear and same result. I was dizzy. They finished the tests and put me out in the screened in Solarium. I spent from the sometime the end of February to June in the hospital on that porch, almost five months. I got to the point that I had less than 90 days left in the military. That is when they started sending me home. At 89 days they gave me an honorable discharge.
COMING HOME AND RETURNING TO SCHOOL
Once David left the military he knew he needed to go back to school to finish his education. He attended the University of Arkansas at Monticello. He was majoring in Physical Education. David also joined the Arkansas National Guard in January 1955 and spent three years with the Army. He joined for the extra money from the weekend drills and the two-week summer camps each year. My wife didn’t work and we had a son, so we needed the extra money. He was a year old when I started college. “I was married to a girl named Margarite in 1951, and we celebrated 70-years of marriage this year,” smiled David. “We dated in High School. She was the Homecoming Queen and I was Captain of the football team. It was pretty much love at first sight,” grinned David. “I had an old pickup truck and bought five gallons of gas with a dollar.
The Governor, Orval Faubus, stood in the doorway and tried to keep the black kids from coming to school.
Orval Eugene Faubus (January 7, 1910 — December 14, 1994) was the 36th Governor of Arkansas, serving from 1955 to 1967. He is best known for his 1957 stand against the desegregation of Little Rock public schools during the Little Rock Crisis, in which he defied a unanimous decision of the United States Supreme Court by ordering the Arkansas National Guard to stop African American students from attending Little Rock Central High School. Despite his initial staunch segregationist stances, Faubus moderated his positions later in life.
They had to call up the National Guard. He mobilized us and the next day Eisenhower federalized us and I was now in the Army. We were activated for one month and I received my old pay grade of E-5.
David eventually received his BS in Physical Education from UA at Monticello and his dreams of one day being a coach were starting to come together. “I went to Eudora, Arkansas in 1957 as Assistant Football Coach and a Science teacher. We only had two coaches back then. I coached both offensive and defensive line coach. I enjoyed defense more. I always told my boys you can’t lose if you don’t score. The first year I coached we won two ball games in our District 8A. We were 5-and-5 my second year. We won the conference my third year. The next year we won the conference again. I coached four years at Eudora.
Two men came across the state line and me if I would put my application in to coach at Providence High School in Louisiana. It was 1962. I was also asked to be their Science teacher. I accepted the job. Within two years we had 55 football players on the team but the Head Coach was not sure what offense we were going to run. We had twenty days of spring training which was unusual in Louisiana. We started the season off with the same system we had in the past. We did average the first year. I am 92 years old now and most all those coaches and Administrative people are gone now. I stayed at Providence for five years. My third year we won eight ball games and lost two. By the fourth year I had taken over the team completely. I was the ASSUMED head coach. I was Coach Lee. I had all the control. We won the conference in the fourth year. We were 13-0. We lost the State Championship in the mud. We finished 13-1. It was by best year ever as a High School coach. We set a state record in field goals, with one,” laughed David. “Yep, one field goal in 1965. The field goal kicker was named David Ivey and was a 43-yarder. It is still a Louisiana State High School record. My final year was 8-2.”
David Lee, thank you for your service to our country while serving in the United States Navy. Your courage and bravery will not be forgotten.
NOTE: Meet other Veterans from Van Zandt County by going to the top of www.vzcm webpage and click on MEET OUR VETERANS and click one of the (5) branches of services and the veterans last name first and click to read.
“Every Veteran has a story to tell.” Phil Smith
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