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01-19-09, 06:42 AM #1
Carl W. Knowlden: ‘I had to have my picture on that wall’
Carl W. Knowlden: ‘I had to have my picture on that wall’
Family tradition moved Ralston man to enlist
By DAVID THOMPSON firstname.lastname@example.org
POSTED: January 19, 2009
When the Korean War broke out in the summer of 1950, Carl W. Knowlden saw it as an opportunity to take his place among a select group of military heroes - his family.
Knowlden of South Williamsport was born in Ralston. Unlike his five older brothers, he was too young to serve during World War II.
Their pictures, along with that of a sister in her nurse cadet uniform, were displayed on a wall along the staircase in his parent's home.
"I had to have my picture on that wall," he said. "I grew up looking at all of these pictures. When the Korean War started, I figured that was a way for me to get in uniform."
He enlisted in the Marine Corps in January 1951 and immediately went to Parris Island, S.C., for boot camp.
Following basic training, Knowlden was sent to Camp Pendleton, Calif., to train as a machine gunner. He was supposed to join the 3rd Marine Division after that.
There were no plans to send the 3rd Division to Korea, but a need for replacements resulted in Knowlden being sent there to join the 11th Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.
Prior to departing for Korea, Knowlden had his portrait taken and had it sent to his parents. His parents later sent him a photograph that showed them standing near the wall where his picture was displayed along with those of his brothers and sister.
Knowlden first landed in Pusan, South Korea. From Pusan, he went to eastern South Korea where he learned he would be in a communication unit instead of a combat unit.
The reassignment was due, apparently, to Knowlden's experience working with the telephone company before his enlistment. He was assigned to the 11th Marine Artillery as a wireman, responsible for stringing communication lines from forward observer posts to artillery units. The forward observers instructed artillery units where to direct their fire.
After two weeks, Knowlden was asked to drive supplies to a communications unit stationed at the Punch Bowl, a deep circular valley that was the scene of some of the war's fiercest fighting.
"I took a guy with me who knew the area, but he didn't know how to drive," Knowlden said. Once Knowlden and his companion found the unit, they were told they could not return to their unit because heavy rains had washed out the roads.
One of the wiremen who was supposed to be with the unit was missing, so Knowlden stayed on as a replacement. He found out later that the soldier he replaced had been captured and later exchanged at the end of the war.
Knowlden said he always had to be wary of land mines. Two men in his unit were severely wounded by mines, he said.
Helicopter pilots had to land their craft in minefields to pick up the wounded men. Fortunately, none were set off, he said.
Knowlden said the mine fields could be beneficial.
"We would run communication wires through a mine field to keep people from disrupting them," he said. "You didn't get a lot of traffic in the mine fields."
A close call occurred one day when Knowlden and several Marines stopped their Jeep on a mountain ridge to watch as the enemy on an adjacent ridge shelled American units in the valley below.
Enemy spotters saw the Jeep and began directing artillery fire toward it.
"Incoming rounds started walking toward us," he said. "They got close enough to us that we had to get down in a ditch." Knowlden said he used his field telephone pack to shield his head. He later found a piece of shrapnel embedded in it.
While out one night with a crew to find damaged lines, Knowlden observed several dark figures watching them from the shadows and smoking cigarettes.
"I didn't know of any of our units that should be in the area, so I assumed they were (enemy) waiting for us," he said.
After about 15 minutes, Knowlden approached the crouching men, who turned out to be nothing but burned grass that resembled men in the darkness.
"Every once in a while a breeze would blow and stoke an ember, making it look like somebody smoking," he said. "It was the only time I thought things were going to be bad."
Knowlden's unit stayed near the East Coast through the winter, then moved near Seoul the following summer.
Knowlden said Seoul was a wasteland of gutted buildings and destroyed bridges. He was surprised, even decades later when the city hosted the Olympics, to see it had been rebuilt.
In July 1952, Knowlden returned to the United States. He was stationed in a mortar unit at Camp LeJeune. The unit went on a training exercise in Puerto Rico. On the way back, the unit stopped in Cuba where Knowlden worked Shore Patrol. Knowlden said Cuba's dictator, Batista, was brutal to anyone who opposed his regime. Batista was overthrown in 1959 by Fidel Castro.
Knowlden was discharged from active service after three years. He attained the rank of staff sergeant before reaching the age of 21.
Knowlden married Jean Renninger in 1956. They had been married 48 years when Jean died in 2004. They had three daughters together.
Knowlden remained a member of Marine Corps Reserves and retired after 20 years. After being discharged from active duty, he took a job with Bell Telephone. In 1962, he became treasurer of a credit union for telephone company employees.
The credit union grew to the point that it needed a full-time manager. Knowlden took the job. The credit union office originally was in Knowlden's home until ultimately moving into a new building at West Edwin and Elmira streets.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY LATE HUSBAND, SSgt Roger A. Alfano, USMC
ONE PROUD MARINE
Once a Marine...Always a Marine
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