Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

October 2, 2013

Korean rats were deadly

By Pat Smith
Daily News

---- — Norbert Meyer came from Cincinnati to Decatur County with his family when he was three-years old.

He graduated from Greensburg High School in 1949. He worked at American Kitchens in Connersville and at Eckrich. Last week he shared what he knew about his friend and hero Alfons Felis. He said Al called him Nob and always treated him like an adult. Lois McLaughlin said he baked her wedding cake so many years ago and it was perfection.

Norbert was reluctant to talk about his experience in the Korean War but because I had recently heard about a Korean War Veteran (Patrick Sbarra of New York) who may be given the Medal of Honor for what he did on T-Bone Hill more than six decades ago I asked Norbert a few questions about Korea.

Fellow soldiers remember, no matter how long ago it was. The truth is however, many of us nonveterans know little about the Korean War that caused the deaths of 11 Decatur County men from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953.

Norbert was also on T-Bone Hill. I asked him how it got the unusual name. “The men that fought there named it,” he said. He was in the Ninth Infantry Regiment, Second Division. He chooses not to talk about the horror of war and things he saw while in Korea during 1952 and 1953.

He did agree to talk a little about a couple of the “hills” that he was on. You’ve heard the names, the unusual American names, such as T-Bone, Pork Chop, Jane Russell, Heartbreak Ridge. Hill Eerie, Outpost Harry and so on.

On T-Bone Hill for 67 days, Norbert said that’s where a can of spaghetti scared the soldiers nearly as bad as the enemy. He said, “Our C-Rations might be cans of soup and crackers, beans and franks or canned spaghetti or whatever. Just about everything came in cans and the way we warmed them up enough to eat was to poke a hole in the can, put napalm jelly on it and then light it. That warmed the food right in the can. We were in our bunker one night and this British guy decided to warm his can that way. He put the Napalm Jelly on the can and lit it. The thing blew up and we had spaghetti all over us, all over the bunker including the ceiling. It was a mess but most of all, the noise scared us. Here we had always tried to be quiet and eat our meals in peace and that can exploding made quite a noise. It turned out that he hadn’t poked a hole in the can.”

I would suppose if you had other humans shooting at you a big old rat wouldn’t seem so intimidating but Norbert sure doesn’t remember the deadly Korean rats with any affection. “Rats were a serious problem in Korea,” he said. “They were nearly as big as cats. When we finished with our C-Rations we’d roll the cans down the hill hoping the enemy would kick them while they were trying to get up the hill to us. It would be an advantage to hear the enemy coming. Unfortunately, the rats loved those cans and any food left or the maybe the smell.”

Norbert said the rats had lice but they were especially dangerous because they carried Hemorrhagic Fever. At the time there wasn’t a cure for it and many soldiers died from the fever until a cure was found. The symptoms could be hemorrhages, shock and kidney failure. He said, “I slept on the top bunker and one night the rats broke through the ceiling and landed right on me. I got off the bunk pretty quick!” One of the men in Norbert’s regiment got the fever after they had found a cure only days before.

It was while he was on the hill the men had named Jane Russell that he met one of his friends from Millhousen. “I knew Herb Wenning was in the group at the bottom. I started running down the hill and got about half way. Herb saw me and started running up the hill. We met halfway. It sure was good to see a friend from home. Herb was engaged to my cousin.”

My gratitude to Norbert.

NOTE: Swing Dance classes at the YMCA start Nov. 4. There will be two classes a week, Monday’s from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Wednesday’s from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Please help get this class going by spreading the word. It’ll be lots of fun! The seven week session costs $50 for Y members and $80 if you are not a Y member.