Following in family members' footsteps of serving the country in the military, Clinton Mobile Home Park resident Jim Noller chose to be part of the U.S. Navy, but his physical revealed an eye problem that kept him from going to sea.
The year was 1952 and America was involved in the Korean War. Noller was drafted into the Army, took his basic training at Camp Pickett, Virginia, and was assigned to take medical training as a surgical anesthetist. In February 1953, Noller shipped out of San Francisco heading for Pusan, Korea, arriving in very cold winter weather.
He was transported north to be stationed at Uijongbu near the 38th parallel and became part of the 43rd MASH unit, the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital unit that inspired the "M*A*S*H" book, movie and the long-running television series.
An image from the 43rd Mobile Army
Surgical Hospital circa 1951 in Korea.
Noller's duties included administering sodium pentothal and spinal taps in preparation for surgery. He prepared for tracheotomies, inserting scopes into the airway and pushing a tube with a balloon attached to prevent choking during surgery.
He remembers laparotomies being performed on seriously wounded soldiers with an incision from the sternum to the navel, then removing the organs to search for any wounds from shrapnel. All shrapnel would be removed and the wounds cauterized to stop bleeding.
Shortly after he arrived, casualties from the battle for "Pork Chop Hill" in April 1953 started to fill their tents. All kinds of wounds were apparent, and many amputations took place. After the unit accomplished what it could, many of the injured were sent to 123Evac in Seoul for shipment to Japan, Germany or the United States for further needed surgeries.
Those who were lightly wounded were sent back to duty when they healed. One of those soldiers who passed through the 43rd and back to duty was former Seneca County sheriff and Tiffin resident H. Weldon Neff.
One incident that stands out to Noller is of a North Korean soldier trying to burrow under the barbed wire perimeter of the camp. He disturbed a tripwire and sent a warning flare into the air, but it also buried the second explosive device deep inside his upper groin area. When he was brought to the MASH unit and they discovered what had occurred, the demolition unit had to be summoned to disarm the second stage of the explosive device before medical care was administered.
Another time that has not left Noller's memory involved a 10-year-old Korean boy who was tangled in the 3 1/2-ton tandem tires on a troop truck. Both knee caps were pulled off and his spleen was ruptured. Unfortunately, the child did not survive.
When asked if such happenings affected him, he said, "I didn't have time to think about it. We were too busy.
"Surgery never bothered me," he said. "All the doctors and nurses were super people. We did everything but deliver babies. We grabbed sleep when we could.
"I didn't think I was ever going to get out of there, though. I was glad we were busy all the time."
After 15 months of 12 hours on duty and 12 hours on call, seven days a week in Korea, Noller left for home. He entered the states through Seattle, Washington, and traveled across country by train. He had told no family members of his travel plans, but was met by his mother in Toledo and his father upon arrival in Tiffin.
Just a year ago, Noller had the chance to visit the Korean Conflict Memorial in Washington, D.C., along with 75 other veterans on an Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio trip. They visited all the memorials in the capitol and he stated, "The trip was to understand why people died, to give Americans their freedom. I was one of the lucky ones that came home in one piece and with most of my sanity. The heroes are still buried over there. I was just doing a job."