MONTVILLE, NJ - Korean War veteran Chas Palminteri became a member of Montville VFW Post 5481 in 2013 when he met a combat buddy Gerry Gemian. After sharing war stories, Palminteri knew he had to join the post.
Palminteri was drafted right out of high school and was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for basic training as a private in the army. He said, “Unfortunately for me, I was good at math and could work logarithms with a slide rule, so I was sent for special training in the art of forward observing.”
He goes on to explain that forward observing means being put on the front line known as the main line of resistance or MLR. Soldiers were trained to observe where the enemy was positioned, where they were firing from, and where they were moving. They reported the positions or fire missions back to their troops in the rear, and they could counter the enemy fire, rockets, tanks, and air strikes. In short, these forward observers were prime targets of the enemy. Palminteri said, “If they knocked us out, they knocked out communications to our troops.”
After 16 weeks of sound and flash training, these soldiers became an elite team called “Flash Men.” He said, “We were offered a month’s leave and offered a cruise in the Pacific, not on the Royal Caribbean, Carnival, or the Love Boat, but on a troop ship destined for Sasabo, Japan.
“The journey across the Pacific took 22 days during which I experienced my first typhoon in the Mariana Islands. I traded my M1 rifle and soft cap for a carbine, steel helmet, and flak jacket and was sent to Kukura Port, where barges were being prepared for landing in Inchon, Korea.”
Palminteri added, “It is a little known historical fact that Kukura was the original destination of the second atomic bomb, but the weather wasn’t favorable, so Nagasaki was chosen as the alternate target.”
He said that the landing on the beach in Inchon wasn’t quite as devastating as in the film “Saving Private Ryan,” but he said, “I was in the fourth or fifth wave and the body bags were already being loaded on the barges we just got off. After slogging across the wet sand, drenched and carrying 50 pounds of gear on my back, I was hustled onto a truck and driven to Chorwon, my first observation post (OP). Welcome to Korea.”
In Chorwon, he said that they called fire missions on Old Baldy Hill, Pork Chop Hill and Jane Russell Hill. He said, “You may know these terms from the movies, but they were very real!”
His OP was located between the 39th and 40th parallel on the MLR between Chorwon and Kumwah in the Iron Triangle, serving Old Baldy, Pork Chop Hill, and Jane Russell Hill. He said, “This placed my bunker in ‘No Man’s Land.’” It was an area impregnated with many types of anti-personnel land mines concealed by tons of communication lines and miles of barbed wire. In No Man’s Land, one rarely peers above the fox hole or trench.
He later learned that the life expectancy of a forward observer in combat was three days. He said, “So in essence, we were expendable.” He also stated that if one survived a week or so under intense fire, the chances of increasing one’s longevity were expeditiously extended due to fear of dying and survival instincts, and lots of prayers and good wishes.”
Palminteri explained that forward observers were supposed to spend only two months in combat at a time, and then were sent to a rear position for two months. They then went back to the front line for another two months. Somehow none of the men in his unit were ever rotated to the rear position. After two months in combat, they were transferred to another OP along the MLR.
He said, “So from Chorwon, I was transferred to Kumwah, and finally to Panmunjom, where I joined the First Marine Division, 11th Marine Regiment, calling fire missions in the western quadrant. I finally accumulated 36 points, and I left my marine bunker. The next day it was overrun by the Chinese. Our marine lieutenant was killed, and my bunker mate Corporal Conrad Blevins was wounded by a mortar round.”
After being rotated from the front line, Palminteri spent a week in Kukura. He said, “It was a beautiful vacation spot if there ever was one, and I was happy it was spared the bomb.”
He returned to Sasabo and was shipped back to the United States, where he was promoted to the rank of corporal and put in charge of a radar installation in Youngstown, New York near Niagara Falls.
He was discharged in 1953 and took advantage of the GI Bill. He completed four years of television art direction at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
He married his wife Diane in 1955. He said, “We had our pride and joy Little Dianne Mary in 1959 and migrated to Parsippany in 1964. Our daughter married Frank Pogoda, and they now have two children Frank Jr. and Tommy who are both attending college in Maryland.
Palminteri reflected on his experience in the service and said, “Looking back on my time in the service, I often wonder why we were there since we were not attacked by North Korea. During my time in combat, I suffered only a minor shrapnel wound, but I was far luckier than many of my brothers in arms. Many of whom sustained devastating injuries or were killed. I can’t help but think what a waste it was to lose more than 50,000 soldiers during that three year period and hope that diplomacy will eventually eliminate our need for war.”
Palminteri also had a reflection on the quote “You never hear the sound of the round that kills you.” He said, “It is untrue,” and goes on to explain.
“In No Man’s Land in the early hours of Oct. 10, 1952, on a crystal clear morning, an artillery flash caught my eye as I was going to the latrine. Experience taught me that a low whistle of an in-coming round meant the place of impact would be to the right or left, but a high whine growing into a deafening crescendo suggested that it was coming directly at you. An Olympic diving coach would have been proud of me that morning as I performed a one and half gainer with a forward somersault, and a double twist into a shallow ravine 20 feet below my point of origin. The round hit the makeshift latrine with a thunderous splintering roar. The expression that you never hear the sound of the round that kills you is untrue. You do hear it very clearly, but you just never get to tell anyone about it.”
Palminteri was born in Brooklyn in 1931 and worked as a television art director for the J. Walter Thompson Co. in New York for 25 years.
Palminteri attended the Arts Students League and the Chinese School of Brushwork in New York City. He is also a well-known commercial artist and graphic designer whose clients include many Fortune 500 companies. One can visit his website at Artetc.net.
For VFW Post 5481, Palminteri works on some of the graphics for the awards given by the post. He also produced the 40” x 60” poster which hangs at the Senior House in the seniors’ meeting room. It is a poster of the past members of the military who are from Montville.