Interview with Elmer Keller
Interviewed by Mishele Hunt
Interviewed on May 12, 2003
at Kerasotes Theaters Showplace 12
MH: This is the beginning of an interview with Elmer Keller at Kerasotes Theater Showplace 12, 1713 North Theater Drive, Marion, Indiana. Mr. Keller is 71 years old, having been born on August 7, 1931. He currently lives at 3966 Lagro Road, Marion, Indiana. My name is Mishele Hunt, and I will be the interviewer. Mr. Keller is my co-worker. Mr. Keller, could you state for the recording what war and branch of service you served in?
EK: I was in the Korean War in 1952 and ‘53. That was the years that I served in the service. I wasn’t overseas, but I stayed in the states all the time I was in the service. What else do you want me to say?
MH: What was your rank?
EK: Well, I was a Corporal in the army. I was in the artillery. I got out of the service in June of 1954.
MH: Where did you serve?
EK: I served at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, in the army and the artillery. I spent all my time there but five weeks. Five weeks I went to Camp Desert Rock, Nevada. At the atomic priving (?) ground. I was there for five weeks then came back.
MH: Were you drafted, or did you enlist?
EK: I was drafted.
MH: What was your reaction when you were first drafted?
EK: Well, I really didn’t like it, but I knew I had to do it because that was my duty. I guess the main reason was that I had just gotten married. I had only been married three months when I got drafted, and I kinda hated to leave my wife (laughs).
MH: How did she feel about it?
EK: Well, we were both about the same way. We were just kinda turbed or upset because I had to leave after being married that long. I thought I was just getting started in life, and I had a good job, and I didn’t wanna leave it. We were making a little money.
MH: How old were you?
EK: I was just twenty years old then.
MH: Did you have any children at the time?
EK: No, no.
MH: What was your job when you were drafted?
EK: Well, I worked at an aspestis factory there in Huntington, Indiana. We made break lining for cars and gears and clutch facing for cars and also big presses.
MH: How long had you worked there?
EK: I had only been there for about a year and a half.
MH: Was that going well?
EK: Yeah, it was a pretty good job. I never got laid off all the time I was there for a year and a half.
MH: When did you graduate from high school?
EK: April of ‘49.
MH: Do you recall your first days in the service?
EK: Yeah (laughs). Yeah, I remember it real well. I hated it when I first got in there because I was away from home, but I soon got over it and made my life much more. After three months, why, I got the chance to bring my wife down with me. It was just like a job from then on.
MH: So, they allowed family members there?
EK: Well, yes. I could live off post after I got through my basic training. I lived in Lawton instead of living on the post.
MH: How long did the basic training last?
EK: Well, I took 8 weeks of infantry training, and then I had 8 weeks of artillery training, the FDC they call it. It was directing fire on the artillery.
MH: What did you learn during all of that training?
EK: Well, I learned to take care of myself. I learned neatness and cleanness. I learned a lot, I really did. There were things that I could do that I didn’t know I could do. I was kinda glad I was in the service after I got in.
MH: How long did it take to get used to it?
EK: After I got my wife back down there with me, why, it was OK then. It was jut like a regular job—I’d go to work in the morning and come home at night. Once in a while, I’d have full guard duty at night or on the weekend. So, most of the time I was home.
MH: How many hours a week did you devote to the service?
EK: Well, I’d have to be there early in the morning, so it was a seven-day week job most of the time. Lots of times I didn’t have to do anything on Sunday and evenings, but it ain’t like a job working in a factory. You have to do what you’re told to do. You put in several hours.
MH: What was your wife’s first reaction when she came?
EK: When she came down there?
EK: Well, it was different. She had never seen anything like that. She was tickled to be there. Of course, we both got kinda home sick for a while, but we got over it.
MH: Did you guys get a house there that you lived in?
EK: We rented an apartment; just a two-room apartment. A bedroom and a kitchen is about all we had. We couldn’t afford anything else at the time.
MH: When you got there, was it what you imagined it to be like?
EK: Well yes. Not really, but yes. You go through a lot of hard time. You don’t have any money. It learns you a lot to take care of yourself and learn to like.
MH: Do you remember your instructors?
EK: Part of them. Yeah, I remember part of them.
MH: What were they like?
EK: Well, back then they were pretty tough. You had to do what they said. You had to learn not to mouth off to them because if you did you’d be sorry later on (laughs).
MH: Did you ever mouth off to them?
EK: (laughs) No, I don’t think so. One time I forgot to shave in the morning and that caused me KP at night.
MH: What was that?
EK: KP is when you go to the cafeteria and wash dishes.
MH: So you had to wash dishes for not shaving?
EK: (laughs) Yeah, that was my punishment.
MH: How many instructors were there?
EK: When you went through infantry training, you had an instructor for everything you went to do there was a different instructor. Like one hour you’d be doing one thing, and the next hour you’d be doing something else, and every time you changed you had a different instructor. He specialized in just the things that we were doing. I don’t remember none of the names. I hardly remember their faces.
MH: What were the different areas?
EK: One time we’d be out doing exercises, and the next thing we’d be out running, and then maybe we’d learn how to tear down our rifles and clean them. It was anything that they wanted to teach you. We would have to go out on the range and sometime shoot our guns at targets. We learned how to take care of the gun and clean them. It was just things that they teach you. It’s kinda hard for me to say because I don’t remember a lot of what we did do. We’d have to crawl under barbed wire fences. They were supposed to be shooting bullets over our heads while we were doing that. Climb up a big pole (laughs).
MH: Would you say that you were physically prepared when you first came, or were you not used to all of the exercise and running?
EK: I was in pretty good health back then and, of course, I was young. I could do about anything they wanted. I could do about anything they wanted except run up a great big long hill. I always did have trouble when I was a kid, even young, playing basketball. Getting my breath, that was just something that was hard for me to do. But I could do about anything they wanted me to do.
MH: Was that your first time learning how to load rifles?
EK: Oh, no. I had a rifle when I was a kid at home. I was born and raised on a farm so my dad taught me how to handle a gun.
MH: So you were experienced in that area? EK: Yeah, I was experienced in that area.
MH: How did you get through all of the training? What motivated you?
EK: I’ve always been the kind of a person that I always try to do what’s got to be done, and I don’t want somebody showing me up. I’m going to try and do as good as they do. I try to keep up with the rest of them and do what they tell me.
MH: Did you enter at the very beginning of the war?
EK: No, the war had went on for quite a while before I was drafted.
MH: Did you get to choose where you wanted to go, or did they just tell you?
EK: I didn’t get to choose where I went. When I was in Battle Creek, Michigan, we went
through different tests. They’d test you for mathematics. They’d test you for all different kinds of tests to see what you were good at.
MH: So was this a written test?
EK: It was a written test, and you had to take these written tests. There was about three days of that. I was always pretty good at mathematics in school so I got sent to FDC at Fort Sill, Oklahoma and that was what it was, directing artillery. It was 105 guns.
MH: Were you satisfied with were you went?
EK: Yeah, I was satisfied with it, The only thing I didn’t like about it was it was hot there. It was hot (laughs).
MH: If you had gotten to choose were you wanted to go, where would you have picked?
EK: I really don’t know because I wasn’t around any of those places to know.
MH: Do you remember first arriving there?
EK: Oh yeah, I remember that.
MH: What was that like?
EK: When I got off the bust carrying that big satchel, that big duffel bag I had, it was so cotton-picking hot, I couldn’t hardly breathe (laughs).
MH: How hot would you say it was?
EK: It got up to a hundred degrees down there many, many days. I’d say it was pretty close to that. MH: What all did you bring with you? Could you bring as many supplies as you wanted?
EK: The only thing I had was one pair of civilian clothes, and then I had the whole satchel of army clothes that they give us so I had one big duffel bag of clothes. I had so many pairs of socks, so many shirts, and so many pants, stuff like that.
MH: Were you upset that they were so strict on what you could bring?
EK: Well, I wasn’t upset, no, because I was just learning when I went in the army. I knew what it was like so I made the best of it; tried to go along.
MH: Were you scared when you first arrived?
EK: Oh, there wasn’t nothing to be scared about, no.
MH: Did you see any combat?
MH: How many men were training with you?
EK: Well, there was three batteries-- A battery, B battery, and C battery, and I think there were ninety people in each one. We had barracks (?), and I think there were 45 people downstairs and 45 people up. So there were about ninety in my area.
MH: Where did you sleep?
EK: I slept upstairs in a bunk (laughs).
MH: Did you see anyone die?
EK: (shakes head no).
MH: Were some of the men upset about being there?
EK: Well you know, when you get around a bunch of boys like that, yeah there were some of them upset. They didn’t want to be there. It wasn’t no pleasant place to be because we didn’t have no air condition, and it was hot. We wouldn’t get to bed until eleven o’clock at night. And we had to get up at five in the morning. And sometimes we’d have to take a shower, the hottest shower we cold take, then to go lay down it was cool, to go to sleep.
MH: Did everyone else eventually get to have their families come also?
MH: were you awarded any medals or citations? EK: No, not really. About the only thing I was awarded the time I was there was shooting the gun. I shot the best of our battery.
MH: How did they determine that?
EK: Well we went out in the field and we had big targets to shoot at, and you got so many points every time you hit the center target or if you shot out you got so many points for each one. You shot so many shots and whoever got the most shots…
MH: How many men were doing that?
EK: Everyone had to do it.
MH: Did you get any injuries?
MH: What weapons did you have to use?
EK: In infantry we had an M1-30. rifle and we had a 30-carbon.
MH: How did you stay in touch with you family?
EK: I wrote most of the time, and once a month I’d have enough money to go down to the telephone and call my wife and talk to her for about twenty minutes. I talked to her once a month on the telephone.
MH: Did you talk to your parents at all?
MH: What was the food like that you ate?
EK: Most of the time the food was pretty good. They didn’t starve us; we had plenty to eat.
MH: What was a typical meal?
EK: I had never ate fried potatoes for breakfast before, but I did when I was in the army. And biscuits and gravy for breakfast. We had pretty good meals. We had a lot of hamburgers and baked goods.
MH: Did you have choices?
EK: No. You ate whatever they put on your plate.
MH: Did you have plenty of supplies? EK: Yeah. Usually we had a bout everything we needed.
MH: Did you ever feel any pressure or stress?
EK: Not really, no.
MH: Did you ever have anything with you for good luck?
EK: No, I never though about anything like that.
MH: How did you entertain yourself while you were there?
EK: When we were in basic we didn’t have much time to entertain. We were always working, but if I didn’t have nothing to do at night, I’d go out and walk. I walked around the camp, where I could go. We were restricted; we couldn’t go too many places. We had a movie theater down on the main part of the post. And go to p exits (?), and that was about it.
MH: So you got to see movies?
EK: Yeah, they had a movie theater that you could go to.
MH: Do you remember any of the movies that you saw?
EK: No, I don’t remember.
MH: Did you have any friends with you?
EK: Not personal friends, but I made a lot of friends while I was in the service.
MH: What did you do when you were on leave?
EK: I only had two leaves. I’d come home when I got out of basic training I had 15 days I’d come home for Christmas, but I had to go back on the fifteenth of December. I got out on the first of December and had to be back on the fifteenth. I spent Christmas home with my folks. Then I had to go back and work guard on Christmas day. That was my Christmas, working guard on the post.
MH: Did they allow everyone to go home on Christmas?
EK: Oh no.
MH: Then, how did they decide who went home?
EK: When I got out of basic training, everyone who was in that basic training was going someplace. A lot of them went to Korea; some of them went to Germany. Three of us stayed on the post. The three out of the whole ninety stayed there, and I was one of those. The ones that went to Korea got thirty days of leave, the ones that went to Germany got thirty days of leave, the ones that stayed there got fifteen days. So that’s how it was.
MH: Did you want to go to Korea or Germany?
EK: At that time I didn’t want to because my wife was pregnant. She was gonna have the baby in February, and I kinda wanted to stay there. That might be one of the reasons they let me stay. The first sergeant called us all in and talked to us and asked me if I had any reason not to go overseas and I said, “Well I don’t have any reason not to, but one reason I’d like to stay here is because my wife it gonna have the baby in February,” and I don’t know if that’s the reason he let me stay here or not.
MH: What year was your child born in?
EK: February 1953.
MH: What are some of your most memorable events?
EK: Well I guess the most memorable was when I went to Camp Nasser Rock, Nevada. I seen an atomic bomb dropped out of an airplane, and I seen it go off. I had glasses on where I could see it explode. We took a 280-millimeter cannon up there and shot atomic shells through it, and it was supposed to have been the first atomic shells shot out of a gun. So that was one experience that I had, and I’ll never forget because I was down in a tunnel or a trench about a hundred feet from the gun when it went off, and if it had exploded, I wouldn’t be here today (laughs).
MH: How long were you in Nevada?
EK: Five weeks.
MH: Why did they send you there?
EK: They sent our whole battery out there because we had the gun, and we was trained ,and we trained and trained and trained how to fire it so after they decide we were good enough to do this, we put the gun on a railroad train and went to Nevada out there to shoot it.
MH: What was your reaction when you saw the atomic bomb explode?
EK: There was nothing like it. You just wouldn’t want to be around one when it happened, let me tell you.
MH: What are some of the most humorous events?
EK: Oh, it’s kinda comical to see a bunch of men especially when you’re out training, to see the reactions of a lot of them. Some of them is funny; it shouldn’t be but it is.
MH: Did you and the other men ever play any pranks on each other?
EK: Oh yeah, we had to, to keep from going nuts.
MH: Do you remember any of the pranks that you would pull?
EK: No, not now.
MH: What did you think of the officers or fellow soldiers?
EK: As your first go in the service, you don’t understand why the training instructors are so strict as they are and why they make you do this and why they make you do that. You get so you about hate them, you know, because they do things to you. But after you’re in the service for a while, say about a year, and you get to go back and do the same thing they do, then you understand why they done it. It’s all in training people, and you’ve got to use your head and find out what they’re doing this for.
MH: Did you keep a persona diary or write down any of your experiences?
EK: No, no I didn’t.
MH: Where were you when you learned that you could finally go home?
EK: I was out on a training mission out in the field at Fort Sill. We were training Japanese officers how to shoot those guns and how to direct fire. When the first sergeant came out there in a jeep and come up to me and asked me, “Are you ready to go home?” I said, “Yeah, I’m ready any time.” He said, “Well, we’re going to let so many out early.” Really, I wasn’t suppose to get out until July the 3rd, and this was sometime around the first of June. He said, “If you want out, we’ll let you out on the seventeenth of June.” I said, “Good, put me down.”
MH: Were you surprised?
EK: Yes, I was. I was.
MH: Approximately how long were you in the service?
EK: Actually, I was only in the service 22 months and a half. I was supposed to have been there for two years, but they let us out about a month and a half early.
MH: Why did they decide to let so many go home early?
EK: They said their money was running out, and they didn’t have enough money to keep going ahead and keep everybody there so they would let some of the draftees out because they really didn’t need them at the time. So if we wanted to get out early, we could.
MH: So the people who actually enlisted had to stay longer? EK: As far as I know the ones who were enlisted had to stay until their time was over.
MH: What did you do when you first returned home?
EK: I tried to go back to work at the job that I had, but they were all on vacation at the time so I had to wait three weeks before I could go back to work I went back to the factory where I was working when I left.
MH: How long did you stay there and work?
EK: I stayed there at the factory that I went back to until November of ’56. Then, I went to work over here at General Motors.
MH: Did you find that things had changed a lot while you were gone?
EK: Oh yeah. Well a little bit. Not much.
MH: What all had changed?
EK: Anything changes as you’re gone and the scenery changes and people build houses and the road changes. Nothing as far as people, just the atmosphere changed.
MH: Did the G. I. Bill support your education or job?
EK: I never did apply for one, no.
MH: Did you remain friends with any of the men that you were with in the service?
EK: Yeah. I don’t even remember his name. His last name was Kyle. Water (?) Bluffton, Indiana, him and I we were friends down there. And I had another one out of Peoria, Illinois that I had done a lot with. We were friends for quite a while after that.
MH: Did you join a veteran’s organization?
EK: I belong to the VFWS in Fairmount.
MH: What does that stand for?
EK: Veterans of Foreign War
MH: What all do you do with that?
EK: I really don’t do too much with it. Mainly what that does is more or less helps take care of other veterans if they get sick or something like that. You go in and try to help them, and they got a little club there in Fairmount . There’s a lot of them around, but that’s just one of them. We just more or less get together and talk and things like that. MH: How often do you go there?
EK: I don’t go there too often, maybe a couple times a year.
MH: How, if at all, did the war effect your personality?
EK: Well it didn’t affect me, but I think it learnt me a lot. I think it taught me a lot of respect for myself and respect for others and it taught me to take care of myself. If I had to go out as a loner by myself not to depend on somebody else.
MH: Did your experience effect the way you view war in general?
EK: Not really, I just don’t like war. I never did like war. I don’t like to see other people get hurt and even the people you fight. I think a lot of it’s nonsense, but sometimes you got to do it because you’re asked to, and we’ve got to take care of our own country. I don’t like a war unless we just have to do it.
MH: But your opinion about war was the same even before you were in the service?
MH: Did your experience effect the way that you view the military?
EK: No, it was pretty much what I expected. It was a little more stricter than what I thought they would be, but after I was in there a while, I understand why they done it.
MH: did you attend any reunions with the men that you served with?
EK: No, no I haven’t.
MH: Do you think you’re a stronger person because of the war?
EK: I think so. It taught me a lot and also my wife. When she first came down there, we didn’t have no money for nothing, and there wasn’t no way of getting any money so we had to stretch pennies to go from month to month. And that taught us a lot about money to respect money, to take care of it, and I made a promise then that if I ever get out of this I’ll never get me in this shape again and so far it hasn’t.
MH: How else has the war effected your wife?
EK: She enjoyed it. She really did. It didn’t effect her hardly at all. She enjoyed being in there.
MH: Do you have any advice for young men today who are going into the military?
EK: I really don’t have any advice to tell them because everybody’s going to have to do if for their own, but I think that every boy that gets out of high school should at least spend a year in the military. It would teach them a lot. I think they’d learn a lot, they’d learn respect for their parents and other people because they’re gong to teach you respect there, and that’s what a lot of boys need today, and that’s my opinion.
MH: If you could go back, would you have enlisted, if you hadn’t been drafted?
EK: No. I don’t think so because when I got home and I got my job at General Motors I couldn’t ask for anything better than that, so I don’t think that I’d go back to service, no.
MH: Is there anything that you did while serving that you regret?
EK: No, not really.
MH: Is there anything you would like to talk about or any other stories that you would like to share?
EK: No, not really. I can’t think of anything.