Gazette: How did it come to be that you were in Korea?
Schaak: The draft policy was still on after World War II, so when I was 18, we had to register for the draft. My good buddy and I registered and we had been to Butte for the exam, which classified you. We were both classified 1A, so we knew we were going. So we were having a draft call in February. The clerk told me I would be called in March and (my friend) would be called in April. So we said, "What about if we just register for this draft call in February?" The clerk said, "Go ahead." I said maybe we will get to stay together and we did. On Feb. 8, 1951, we were sworn in in Butte. We were put on a train. We were sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, where we had an orientation and they gave us military clothing. Then they put us on a plane and we flew to Fort Rucker, Alabama. We were assigned to the 47th Infantry Division, which was the Minnesota and North Dakota National Guard and trained there. In August, I got a call we were going to the Far East. At that time, they let me have a 30-day leave and then I reported to a base in San Francisco where they put us on a troop ship. We were on that troop ship for 28 days. We arrived in Tokyo, Yokohama, and we were there a couple of days and then they put us on another troop ship and sent us to Korea, Inchon.
Gazette: So 1951, you were old enough to remember World War II.
Schaak: I missed that draft by about a year.
Gazette: In 1951, are you worried about going back into war?
Schaak: I really didn't give it much thought. You know, they were going to take care of this in a few months and we'd get it taken care of. But as it went on, we were sure that it was pretty obvious we were going to go into the military.
Gazette: Were you worried?
Schaak: Not really. We volunteered for the draft.
Gazette: Did you assume that when you were drafted that you were going to Korea?
Schaak: It seemed very obvious. Some of the people were going to Europe, but the majority were heading to the Far East.
Gazette: What are your first thoughts as you arrive at Inchon?
Schaak: It was different. We pulled into Inchon and the harbor is very shallow and they anchor off shore, and they load you in boats. Here are these people swimming around the boat. I don't know what they were looking for, but you would throw something at them. Garbage was floating around. It was different.
Gazette: You get on land and then what?
Schaak: They put us on trucks and hauled us to Seoul. When we were on the trucks, we were going to Seoul. I noticed the sign along the road. The sign said, "This is Wi Jong Bu." It was a town in Korea. But someone had taken a marker, and crossed out the "Is" and it then said, "This was Wi Jong Bu." There was devastation you couldn't believe.
Gazette: Is that because we were going back and forth with fighting between the Chinese/North Koreans and the Americans? So what did it look like?
Schaak: It was just a bunch of rubble. There were no walls standing up there. There was nothing. And then we got to Seoul. It was the same way. It was unbelievable. They put us on a train in Seoul. They called it a passenger train. That was something else, too. They were hard seats and small and cramped up. I swore we backed up more than we went ahead, but we finally made it to a replacement depot, and we got there it was evening and they fed us. This guy says, "Find you a good soft spot out there and go to sleep." It was the side of a hillside. The next morning I woke up, and it was in the middle of October, I was all covered with frost. Of course, you were close enough where you could hear the artillery rounds.
Gazette: You slept out in the frost. Is that what you expected? What did you expect Korea to be like?
Schaak: We had some knowledge of it because of where we were training. There were some going over and some coming back from different units.
Gazette: What did they tell you?
Schaak: They told you it was bad. It's not a good place. It's cold. It's hot. Humid.
Gazette: As a Montanan, we have cold and hot. Did you dismiss it?
Schaak: I figured it was pretty cold from what we had heard from these people. The people who first got there. They got there in the winter of 1950, that was horrible. They didn't have the right clothing, but we had our winter clothing and it was better.
Gazette: Where did you wind up?
Schaak: I wound up as part of the Third Infantry Division. We were assigned to the 65th Infantry Regiment, which was a regiment out of Puerto Rico. All the enlisted men in the regiment were Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans. The majority of the officers were "continentals." That's what they called us people from the United States. So there was a little disconnect with communication.
Gazette: What was your specialty?
Schaak: I was assigned to a combat engineer outfit and I didn't know what part of it I would be in. When I got there, they said, "You're taking over the spot of the demolitions deck." I thought, "Well, boy. All I am trained to do is be an infantry man." I said, "My only experience with explosives is I shot up a few firecrackers when I was a kid." I was very fortunate to be with the guy I was replacing. He took me and showed me how to do these different things and how to rig the explosives. The explosives they used there was TNT because it was the safest to handle. The blasting caps, they were pretty touchy and you carried them around in case that was padded. They were individually labeled and you had to make sure they didn't touch each other. I took some on-the-job training while somebody was trying to shoot you.
Gazette: Was that nerve wracking or how did you view that?
Schaak: You know, I am a kid. Things don't bother me too much.
Gazette: You were 22 and it didn't bother you that they were just going to teach you.
Schaak: Well, the guy says, "Welcome to our world."