Korean war veteran joined Marines at age 17
Tess Gruber Nelson, Staff Writer

Murl Gilbert of Shenandoah lives by the motto "Once a Marine always a Marine," and he should know.

Gilbert signed up for four years in the Marine Corp in 1951, at the age of 17. He later would spend nine months on the front lines during the Korean Conflict.

"My physical exam was on my 17th birthday. My dad had to sign for me."

As to why a 17-year-old kid in Arkansas would want to go into the Corps?

"It's the best service we have."

Gilbert went through three months of boot camp in San Diego and then to Camp Pendleton in California for advanced training.

"As soon as that was over, the rest of my unit was sent to Korea. But because I wasn't 18, I was sent to Kwajalein military base in the Marshall Islands where they were testing atomic bombs. I worked security on Eniwetok Island."

As soon as Gilbert turned 18, off to Korea he went with 11 other soldiers from Kwajalein in October 1952.

"Out of the 11, one was killed, one was captured and five were wounded."

Gilbert was sent to the front lines as a 30-caliber machine gunner where he remained until July 1953.

"I was on the front lines the entire time with the Stable Able Company, 1st Battalion, 1st Marine Division."

Gilbert said they performed a lot of patrols night where they would wonder anywhere from 100-150 yards within enemy lines, sometimes even closer.

"I've been close enough to hear them talking and close enough to hear them load their mortar shells."

Gilbert said he was once on the front lines for 28 days straight.

"After so many days on the front lines you were pulled off for a week or two into the reserves. It was there we could take a shower, sleep or play war games. They always had something for us to do but we still had to stand guard duty a lot."

Gilbert said his machine gun squad only had 12 men when they were supposed to have 18.

"But most companies were short men all the time, it was just one more thing you had to get used to."

In July 1953, Gilbert came home to the United States, not too long before the ceasefire was reached on July 27, 1953.

"We were walking down the streets of San Francisco on liberty when the truce was signed and boy were we happy."

In August 1953, Gilbert said a good friend asked him to come to Indianapolis with him to set Gilbert up with his sister.

"I wasn't interested in the sister but was very interested in the girl next door, Vonna."

Gilbert still had plenty of time left in the service and was sent to Paris Island, S.C. to instruct recruits on the rifle range.

"While at Paris Island I went through drill instructor school but when I was finished with that they said they didn't need anymore so I became a rifle instructor instead."

After eight months Gilbert was reassigned to Annapolis, Md. Naval Academy to instruct midshipmen, or commissioned officers of the lowest rank, on weapons.

"How to fire 45 caliber pistols, M-1 rifles and carbine rifles. I spent three months in Annapolis and then came to Shenandoah for three days to see Vonna."

Vonna and her parents had moved to Shenandoah in 1954.

"Then I was off to Japan with the 3rd Marine Division where I was in a rifle company. We did amphibious landings and other training exercises. We thought we were gong to invade Indochina but they later decided to not send anyone in yet."

In October 1955, Gilbert was discharged as a Marine Sergeant. He returned to Shenandoah where he married Vonna in December 1955. The couple had two sons, Doug and Steve and four grandchildren.

"After the service I went to trade school for refrigeration in Omaha. I graduated, worked in Des Moines for awhile and then in June 1963 started Gilbert Refrigeration in Shenandoah. I stayed in business until Feb. 12, 2001 when I sold it to Eickmeyer in Clarinda."

Gilbert received two battle stars, six ribbons and a sharpshooter medal. The USMC tattoo on his right forearm is a reminder that to Gilbert, once a marine always a marine.