SUMNER — When Alfred Gloede first got to Korea, he didn’t expect he’d make it back home alive.
“I said a prayer, and I said I gave my life to the Lord,” Gloede recalled in an interview he did with Grout Museum staff. “I said I wouldn’t come back alive. I actually believed that, because it was rough.”
But Gloede, now 85, not only survived the war, but he made it through his 16 months there relatively unscathed. In fact, he has a bevy of stories of near-misses.
It started on his trip across the Pacific Ocean, before he even got to the theater of operations. There was a massive three-day storm, where he and his fellow soldiers were locked in their quarters for fear the ship could crack, and if it did his compartment could be lost. The ship made it, as did the men, despite some severe seasickness.
Then, on his first night in Korea, he was asked to go out on patrol, without yet knowing the ropes. His superior mercifully confirmed he was new and sent someone else.
“Boy, that was the happiest day of my life,” Gloede said.
Those close calls paled compared to his time on and near the front lines later in his stay.
He and his company — Gloede served as a member of the U.S. Army 7th Infantry, 32nd Regiment Company E — had just been relieved from serving on the front lines. But that night, while sleeping in a tent, a round came in and landed between Gloede’s bunk and the guy next to him.
“It must have been kind of a dud or something because it blew up, but I never got a scratch, and the other guy got a little bit of a scratch,” Gloede said.
It wasn’t long after that they were called to replace Fox Company. He figured something happened but was shocked when his company was making its way up the hill and saw just about three dozen men coming off the hill. That made the company about 100 short.
Their first job was to help get the men wounded and killed in the battle down from the hill. Then, they replaced them and were “under fire something terrible,” but managed not to suffer as many losses.
Within a week, and after getting pounded by airstrikes while in bunkers, they learned there was a cease fire. Gloede had been in theater for about three months by the time the armistice agreement was signed.
But his work remained, including taking prisoners of war back to North Korea.
“They said there was a good possibility that bridge could be sabotaged and just so everybody knew what could happen, and it just all worked out and nothing did,” Gloede said.
Aside from that scary incident, Gloede said it wasn’t long after the cease fire that he began to relax and believe he would get to return home alive.
When it was finally time to return home, in September 1954, Gloede escaped the nasty weather aboard the ship. But he still had more near-misses before he could be reunited with his family and his girlfriend, who’s now his wife.
The ship arrived, and all of the men who arrived in Korea at the same time as he did got called to go home. His name did not.
But once aboard the ship a fellow Iowan recognized that Gloede’s name was called there and hadn’t been before. A jeep traveled to get him so he could get home.
“I left everything, duffel bag and everything,” Gloede said. “I didn’t have no time, because I had to be down there at a certain time or I’d have to wait until the next ship. Well, I wasn’t going to do that.”
His travel troubles didn’t stop there. Gloede’s flight into Waterloo was delayed, and without cell phones, he couldn’t alert his welcome party that he would instead be flying into Des Moines and getting a taxi all the way to town. So, the driver took him to the airport, where they were still waiting to welcome him.
He, then, went back to the family farm and took up the family business.
Despite all his close calls, or maybe because of them, Gloede said he was glad he got drafted at age 20 and had to do two years of service.
“I learned a lot. I know how to respect people quite a bit, and there’s other things, you know. That you learn to get along with everybody; if you don’t you’re in trouble,” Gloede said, adding “I don’t know just how to explain it, but I know that I respect all the country a heck of a lot more than I did before.”