Honored Veteran Recalls Days On The Front


Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part series profiling local veterans in honor of Veterans Day, Nov. 11. Future installments will appear in the Nov. 2 and Nov. 9 issues of the Roundup.

by Carole Mathewson
roundup staff reporter
C.A. Collette, better known as Bud, is a veteran of the Korean War. Collette joined the Marine Corps Reserves in June 1948 and was discharged in June 1950, two days before the Korean War began.

"I was drafted in November 1950 into the army as acting sergeant because of my Marine Corps service," he said. "After basic training, I ended up in the infantry." And as an infantryman, he ended up in Korea.

"There were men on the front line in Korea who didn't know how to use a rifle," he said. "They were trained with bolt-action rifles and didn't know how to use the semiautomatic rifles."

Some, he said, had never thrown grenades.

"And they were on the front lines in Korea! Some had ROTC or National Guard training," he said. "Some trained to fire a rifle on a troop ship crossing the ocean."

Many of the men Collette served with before the outbreak of the Korean War, ended up in the Chosen Reservoir of North Korea, where thousands of Chinese troops surrounded them.

"Out of 18, three men came back alive," he said. "One lost a leg and the other two were wounded."

Had he remained with the Marine unit, Collette said, he surely would have been among the casualties.

He was wounded during front-line infantry duty in Korea, he said. He counts two Purple Hearts and a Combat Infantryman's Badge -- an honor he received for surviving 30 days under fire -- among his 20 decorations.

"Those I really prize," he said.

He also received the United States Presidential Unit Citation.

"My battalion was the only one of three battalions to get that citation," he said. "We were in a blocking position in North Korea."

Another decoration in his collection is the South Korean Presidential Unit Citation.

Fiery beginning

Collette arrived in Korea nearly a year to the day after the war started.

"They kept a lot of us in Pusan to patrol the streets in case of looting and riots," he said. "I was in my first fire fight in Pusan.

"We were being shot at from a two-story building. A 2nd Lieutenant was shot in the leg. I took him out of the line of fire. The lieutenant had two hand grenades and a pistol. I took them from him. I threw one grenade in and when it exploded we dashed in.

"They shot through the floors. Then I dashed up shooting and shot a few, and took two prisoners. No one was in uniform. They were guerrillas. If they had a weapon in their hands, that's bad news."

During his next assignment, Collette said he and the other soldiers were subjected to five days of training in which they were provided water only during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their canteens were filled with sand and they could not carry water with them.

"It was June, and it was hot over there," he said. "This was to toughen us up. We had clean clothes once a month. We would go to a shower unit and pick up our own size of clothes.

"Most of our meals were just cold C Rations. If we had a warm meal, it was just warm C Rations. I lost 22 pounds over there.

"The Payson monsoons are nothing like the monsoons over there," he said. "It rained for nine days. Heat of summer, humidity and mosquitoes!"

Collette was with a rifle company, which was assigned to an outpost that was attacked by a battalion of Chinese.

"We were the first line of defense for an attack," he said. "I was on the outpost in July 1951 and the Chinese wanted us off that hill. Some of the hills would change hands. This hill had changed hands two or three times. The Chinese had buried their dead under a few inches of dirt and (in the monsoon) we had dead bodies washing out. There were dead Chinese everywhere.

"They hit us at 9:15 at night and there was wave after wave coming at us. It was pouring down rain and it was dark. That battle lasted all night. Some of the machine guns were so hot they fired by themselves. We used up almost three basic loads of ammo that night. Some ran out of ammunition and hand grenades, and they were throwing rocks."

With the heavy downpour of rain, Collette and his buddies were knee-deep in water, he said. Some were in waist-deep water.

"It was one of the largest attacks I was in. At daybreak, they quit. Most all of us were wounded."

He suffered shrapnel wounds. Collette was wounded again in November 1951 while at an outpost.

Thankless Thanksgiving

"It was right after Thanksgiving dinner, but we had nothing to eat it from. We dumped the food in our helmets."

Light snow was coming down.

"The Chinese pushed us off that hill on Nov. 27, about the next day after Thanksgiving dinner," he said. "The Chinese overran us to take over the hill. We were told to get off the hill. I was running down hill loading my rifle and a ricochet knocked me down. The Chinese apparently thought I was dead. I lost my helmet but not my life."

Collette hid out and made contact with an American patrol that night.

"That was very risky," he said. "Some Chinese spoke very good English. I observed troops moving but they looked more like Americans than Chinese. I made voice contact and proved to them I was an American GI. They were going to their outpost and I stayed with them for four days before I could get back to our front lines."

Early demise

After returning to the front, Collette learned he had been listed as killed in action for four days.

"Thanks to the Red Cross, they got a telegram to my parents right away. My parents got word within four days that I was okay, but the hometown newspaper published my death. At my 10-year high school reunion in Glendale, Calif., a lot of jaws dropped -- people who thought I was killed."

Lingering effects

Collette suffered a concussion in battle and, as a result, wears hearing aids in both ears.

"I have tinnitus in the left ear. I have a ringing in my ear 24 hours a day from an explosion around me. I have no idea how many times I was knocked down by hand grenades. And artillery and mortar shells landing close to you can cause a concussion."

In January 1952, Collette was hospitalized for almost two months.

"I have a brace on the left knee from the wound," he said. "That was my last wound, and guess what? It was friendly fire. It was our own artillery. I was hit from the rear.

"I had layers and layers of clothing on in the winter. Had I been dressed for summer, you probably wouldn't see me sitting here. I had shrapnel in my back. It was 18 degrees below zero and I had one blanket over and under me."

Collette suffered frostbite, which still affects both his feet. He was admitted to a Swedish hospital in Pusan.

Collette spoke calmly of his experience in battle.

"We were in a valley and there were (Chinese) bodies three to five high. They came at us in wave after wave, and this went on for a week."

He said he was shocked at the atrocities they came upon.

"We found American soldiers with their tongues cut out, eyes gouged out, hands wired together, sometimes barbed wire around bodies and shot in the head. The Japanese ruled Korea for many years and they were brutal to them. And when the North Koreans captured Americans, they were brutal to the Americans they captured. They were very inhumane."

There were times when the Chinese lobbed in mortar and artillery shells over a two- and three-day period and they couldn't move at all.

"We stayed in our foxholes and bunkers," he said.

The war began June 25, 1950 and ended July 27, 1953.

"I got there June 23, 1951, and left sometime in late April 1952," Collette said. "I was with the 5th Regimental Combat Team (infantry) which was at that time part of the 24th Infantry Division."

He earned the rank of Master Sergeant.

"My regiment held the farthest position north during the 10 months I was there," he said.

Collette married Jean McDonald Jan. 30, 1953, after nearly three years of courtship. They have two children, David of Kirkland, Wash. and Cindy Fellenz of Fountain Valley, Calif.

He retired from Pacific Telephone in southern California after 33 years of service. He and his wife purchased a lot in Payson in 1981 and became Payson residents in 1985. His hobbies include the old West, camping and traveling in their fifth-wheel trailer.

His lineage includes a long line of military people.

"I have a direct blood line back to the Revolutionary War on my mother's side of the family," he said.

He said he is descended from Pvt. Abel Butterfield.

"Two of Butterfield's sons were in the war of 1812. One of those sons was in the 5th Infantry, and I was in the 5th Infantry in Korea," he said. "That's a coincidence."

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