Alonzo "Mack" Gross was raised on a farm near Tipton, never making it far from home until he was hired by the Missouri Highway Department and began traveling throughout the state painting bridges. Although this employment introduced him to a life away from familiar surroundings, it was not until receiving a certain letter in the mail that his outlook on the world became unexpectedly broadened.
"I got my draft notice in July 1952 and reported to Kansas City for my pre-induction physical," the veteran explained. "I passed everything just fine, and that's where I was inducted into the U.S. Army."
Gross went on to complete nearly eight weeks of basic training at Fort Riley, Kansas, and was then selected to attend an additional two weeks of leadership training, receiving an introduction to leading soldiers in addition to training on a number of foreign weapons.
"At that time, we all pretty well knew we were going to Korea," he said.
In September 1952 he departed Fort Riley and traveled by train to Camp Stoneman, California, where he spent only a couple of days. He then boarded a troop ship in San Francisco bound for Japan.
Following his arrival overseas, he was sent to the once-embattled island of Iwo Jima for chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) warfare training, acquiring an introduction to decontamination procedures in the event CBR-type weapons were employed by enemy forces.
"After about two or three weeks at Iwo Jima, I was sent to Korea and assigned to the front lines with the 9th Infantry (Regiment) of the 2nd Infantry Division," Gross recalled. "Since I was a little stockier back then, they assigned me to carry the BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle — a .30-caliber machine gun fired from a bipod)."
As Gross went on to explain, his unit spent approximately three months on the front lines, repelling enemy advances from the protection of foxholes and bunkers. A harsh recollection, he explained, was when enemy soldiers were killed after becoming entangled in the protective wires that had been strung to protect the U.S. troops.
"The Chinese troops would often get drunk on a bunch of Saki (alcohol) and then try to rush our lines," he said. "We only got one hot meal a day when we were on the front lines, and they often liked to plan their attacks during those times we were eating."
The American soldiers were later pulled back and placed in reserves, receiving a temporary break from combat while training new soldiers who were sent to replace the combat casualties. Additionally, this time was used to send soldiers such as Gross to various leadership courses. After a few weeks, they were again sent to the front lines for another cycle of harsh combat duty.
The soldiers of the regiment took turns manning listening posts a short distance forward of their lines, observing troop activity and watching for any attempted attacks. If an enemy advance was spotted, Gross said, the observers were essentially "sitting ducks" since they might not be able to make it back to the safety of the American lines.
"I was getting tired of toting that heavy BAR all over the place, and I guess the company commander somehow caught wind of that," Gross explained. "I was summoned to company headquarters and informed that I was being transferred to the military police."
By this point in his military experience, the Korean Armistice Agreement had been achieved, and Gross received assignment to the 558th Military Police Company at Yong Dong Po to provide security for the headquarters of the 8th Army Division.
"This assignment was much more relaxed," he chuckled, "and I spent a large part of my time performing traffic control and guarding military conferences." He continued, "On the front lines, the only showers you got was bathing with water from your helmet but in Yong Dong Po, we had the privilege of showers with hot water — which was great!"
Located in a former Japanese military academy used in the Second World War, his new duties brought him in close proximity to such renowned military leaders as Generals Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Ridgeway, Gross explained.
The ferocity of war had not dissipated in his new assignment since Turkish troops serving in the vicinity shot Koreans caught stealing discarded U.S. rations. Their bodies were then strung up along a fence and left to decay as a warning to others; however, the U.S. troops were under strict orders forbidding removal of the corpses.
When approaching the end of his two-year period of service in late May 1954, the corporal was sent to Fort Carson, Colorado, and received his discharge from the U.S. Army on June 10, 1954.
"I had the opportunity to reenlist and make sergeant, but I was ready to get home and make some money," he said.
As the years passed, he married, raised children and eventually went to work for the Missouri Department of Corrections, retiring in 1987 after nearly 30 years of employment. The time he spent overseas during the war, he affirmed, was an eye-opening experience for a young man who once lived a life relatively sheltered within the confines of his state.
"I was raised on a farm and other than working for the highway department in a few places around the state, I hadn't seen much of the world," he said. "My time in Korea gave me an outlook on how fortunate I was to have been raised in a free country."
He added, "And I remember seeing those Korean women go out there after battles to pick up the brass left from shells just to make things like chairs and benches — and many of them got killed! It showed me that so little could mean so much to some people."
Jeremy P. mick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.