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Kenmare's own M*A*S*H medic . . . Jerry Rasmusson pins a new
Korean War Service Medal to his Navy uniform, now on display at
Kenmare's Pioneer Village. Rasmusson served with the U.S. Navy and Marine
Corps as a medic and finished his enlistment as a 2nd Class Petty Officer in 1955.
By Caroline Downs
Jerry Rasmusson actually enlisted in the U.S. Navy in May 1951, a week after he graduated from Kenmare High School. “I had just turned 18,” he said. “I thought it’d be nice to sleep between sheets on a ship rather than in a fox hole.”
Several months later, while serving with the U.S. Marine Corps in Korea, he received his draft notice. “My mother mailed it to me,” he said, laughing.
He took the train from Bismarck to Great Lakes, Illinois, where he endured three months of boot camp. “I wanted to get into the medical field a little bit,” he said, “so I volunteered for medical school at Great Lakes.”
He was sent to the former Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California, for further training, where his attitude changed the course of his military service. “I would have stayed in the Navy, but I got sassy with a red-headed nurse who ranked above me,” he said. “She told me, ‘I can have you sent to the ground-pounders,’ and I went to the Marines.”
In early 1952, Rasmusson reported for his new duty at the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in California. “I was there long enough to get a little bit of training in helicopter evacuations,” he said, “then I boarded a ship at San Diego for Korea.”
Two weeks later, he made a brief stop in Japan. “We didn’t even stay overnight,” he said. “They put us on boxcars on a train to the air base, then on a plane to Korea. I guess I shouldn’t have got sassy with that nurse.”
He was assigned to Marine Air Group 33 (MAG-33) and stationed near the city of Tegu. “We operated out of a helicopter,” he said, adding the use of that aircraft was new for the U.S. military at the time. “We flew up to the 38th Parallel, picking up the wounded and then flying out to the hospital ships in the harbor at Inchon.”
He spent 27 months in the country. “I was only supposed to go there for nine months,” he said, “but I got extended two times.”
According to Rasmusson, medics were in short supply in South Korea. “They kept getting bumped off,” he said. “I was one of the lucky ones. It seemed like the red cross you had pasted on your arm was just a target. They figured if they could take one medic off the field, they could take care of 20 other military men losing their lives.”
Rasmusson helped transport wounded soldiers to MASH units, the type of military field hospitals that served as the setting for the CBS television sitcom M*A*S*H. “We didn’t have Hot Lips, though,” he said, referring to the strong-willed nurse Major Margaret Houlihan played by Loretta Swit.
Instead, Rasmusson made helicopter trips back and forth right behind the front lines, according to duties posted on the daily flight schedules.
When he wasn’t flying, he was driving. “I drove those crackerbox ambulances,” he said. “I made quite a few trips all the way down south to the Pusan (3rd Field) Army Hospital. I preferred ambulance duty because you weren’t up on the front lines.”
With his medic training, Rasmusson also provided his share of direct assistance to the doctors, including taking X-rays, giving shots and handling blood transfusions. “I even did two or three amputations in a tent,” he said. “We were just saving lives.”
He said the work he had to do never bothered him at the time. “My training prepared me,” he said. “You knew you had to do it, too, or you would be in trouble. The ones who had it real tough were the ones who didn’t come back.”
Living conditions in the country were difficult at best, with winter temperatures down to 40 below zero. “Our barracks were like old metal quonsets,” said Rasmusson. “I remember that showers were few and far between, and the biffy was outside. We were considered well off, though, compared to the poor boys up on the front lines.”
Winter weather contributed to soldiers’ injuries and Rasmusson’s medic responsibilities. “I saw lots of frozen hands and feet,” he said. “That’s when a lot of the amputations had to take place.”
Rasmusson was still at work in Korea when the war ended. “Everything came to a halt,” he said. “The fighter jets weren’t flying as much and there weren’t as many people getting hurt.”
By then, Rasmusson was a 2nd Class Petty Officer who owed some time yet to his country, according to his enlistment. “When my replacement came, I still had six months left in the service,” he said, “so I went to Japan for three months and then I spent three months back at El Toro.”
His brother Delmer Rasmusson was stationed at Fort Ord, California, at the time. “He was a parachutist with the famed 82nd Airborne in the war,” said Rasmusson. “He made two jumps and broke his legs, so that ended his war. He came up to see me at El Toro one weekend and stayed a whole week.”
Rasmusson continued his work in the X-ray department at base’s medical facility through late May 1955. “I was discharged almost the same day I went in,” he said. “Then I hitchhiked home.”
He made his way to Fargo from Kenmare, where he worked in a cousin’s construction business and attended North Dakota State University and the Interstate Business College, taking bookkeeping and accounting classes. He met and married his late wife Artie there in 1957, and he went to work at Dakota Hardware.
That decision led him into retail business at New Rockford and eventually back to Kenmare in 1970 when he purchased the hardware store from Ken Wheeler.
Rasmusson has donated his military uniforms to Kenmare’s Pioneer Village. His medals are also displayed, including a UN Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal and three Bronze Stars.
He is modest about the Bronze Stars, claiming he received those only because he was attached particular units that saw significant combat.
“I spent 27 months in Korea and people always ask how many guys I shot,” he said. “I never killed anybody. I never even took a shot. I saved people.”
Rasmusson, Lawson and Holter each received their Korean War Service Medals this year
Rasmusson, Lawson and Holter were among several Korean War veterans who received their Korean War Service Medals through local efforts to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the armistice signed by the United States, North Korea and China to halt the conflict.
The Korean War Service Medal is awarded by South Korea to all United Nations military forces that served during the Korean War. The medal was authorized for distribution and wear by United States military service members in 1999.