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Interview with Vance Funkhouser [June 1, 2004]

Rebecca Wood:

Today is June 1st, 2004. My name is Rebecca Wood and I'm in the Jennings County Public Library to interview Korean War veteran, Mr. Vance Funkhouser. It's my honor and privilege to interview Mr. Funkhouser today. Were you drafted or did you enlist?

Vance Funkhouser:

I enlisted.

Rebecca Wood:

Were you living at home at the time?

Vance Funkhouser:

Yes, I was.

Rebecca Wood:

Why did you join?

Vance Funkhouser:

I was going to be drafted.

Rebecca Wood:

You knew that was coming.

Vance Funkhouser:

Yeah.

Rebecca Wood:

Which branch of the service?

Vance Funkhouser:

I joined the Air Force.

Rebecca Wood:

Why did you pick that branch?

Vance Funkhouser:

Well, several of my relatives had been pilots and I wanted to be -- I would have liked to have got in to being a pilot, but I couldn't pass the physical to be a pilot because I had false teeth.

Rebecca Wood:

Oh, my.

Vance Funkhouser:

So I said, well, I'll just stay in as an enlisted person in sheet metal work if I could get into airplane repair, which I did.

Rebecca Wood:

Do you recall your first days in the service, what they were like?

Vance Funkhouser:

Oh, yes, very much so.

Rebecca Wood:

What was boot camp like?

Vance Funkhouser:

We -- we went to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and it was just crowded. There was tents there, and we stayed there like two days and they shipped us up to Shepherd Air Force Base in the panhandle of Texas for our basic training at that time.

Rebecca Wood:

Is that Wichita Falls?

Vance Funkhouser:

Wichita Falls, that's right.

Rebecca Wood:

Do you remember any of your drill instructors?

Vance Funkhouser:

You know, that's one thing that I wish I had written names of people down but I didn't, and that's one thing I regret today of not getting a lot of addresses and names throughout my service time.

Rebecca Wood:

How do you think you got through that training?

Vance Funkhouser:

I think I got through that real well. It was -- there was some rough times, but it wasn't -- wasn't as bad as what I thought it would be.

Rebecca Wood:

Where exactly did you go after you left your training? Where in Korea did you --

Vance Funkhouser:

First of all, after basic training I went to Smith Field. I went to airplane repair school which I had taken a vocation in sheet metal in high school and -- and I was placed into the sheet metal company before I went into the service.

Rebecca Wood:

At what point then were you called to go to Korea?

Vance Funkhouser:

After we completed school, we went to Westover Air Force Base and served up there for about six months, and then five of us were sent by ship and we didn't know exactly where we was goin. The five of us got broken up. One of them went to north Japan, one went to central Japan, and one in southern Japan. One went to Okinawa, and I was the lucky one to go to Korea I guess. So it was quite a shock.

Rebecca Wood:

Did you see combat?

Vance Funkhouser:

Oh, yes. There was -- air rescue, we stayed mainly within a mile behind enemy lines, and our purpose was to pick up the wounded and take them back to MASH hospitals like you've seen on TV, which was 4077, and our unit was 8055. But we was in actually Detachment 1, Third Air Rescue. So once we got to Korea then, that was the picture.

Rebecca Wood:

Were there many casualties in your area?

Vance Funkhouser:

Mainly medics and pilots because a lot of our pilots went behind-the-enemy-line pickups which it got shot down or something like that. And our unit was -- had picked up many, many down pilots behind enemy lines. So we was one of the most decorated units in Korea.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow, well, tell me a couple of your most memorable stories.

Vance Funkhouser:

Well, first of all, right after I got there I wasn't even authorized to be there, so our commanding officer didn't know what to tell me what to do. So after looking around and seeing some of the helicopters and the shape they were in I could see my need. So I asked if I could go back to Japan on our flight, which is a C-47 we had, to get some tools and some materials so I could work on these, which he granted me to do. And so I went back to southern Japan and they loaded me up good. I come back and my work started. Then one of the first things after I was there about a month our medical officer, he approached me and said that there was a need for, if I could help, for some kind of a device that would fasten on to these litters on the side of these H-5 helicopters. One of the patients on one side, they couldn't get blood plasma; and on the right side in the wintertime the medics would freeze their hands and there was a lot of casualties on frozen hands. So I took this very seriously and worked on it day and night and finally came up with a device that would snap on top of the litter, which both litter patients could receive blood plasma during flight. Consequently, I won the bronze star for this.

Rebecca Wood:

That's amazing.

Vance Funkhouser:

I also, after that, there was numerous challenges that I had. I had done some -- a major repair on helicopters that wasn't even supposed to be done in the field. We just worked day and night a lot of times to keep our helicopters in order. And we had an exceptional thing that we was a hundred percent commissioned about 99 percent of the time, and that was remarkable for an outfit like this. We would go overboard to get every helicopter in service sometime during the day. We had one helicopter that went down in Panmunjom and just damaged the tail cone. And mechanics had told me about another helicopter that was down or behind enemy lines, front line, and we got air support for them and was able to salvage some of the parts off this helicopter and brought it back, which was a field (duffle) repair. And I went and took the part of one tail cone and put it on the damaged tail cone and was done. When our commanding officer asked me that morning if I could do anything, then like 6:00 that night he was flying that aircraft.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow. Well, tell me about what other medals you were awarded and how you received those.

Vance Funkhouser:

Well, of course everybody got the good conduct medal, and we got the Korean Service Medal; and the Presidential Unit Citation was awarded to us twice and some combat medals that we got. But my most prized one was the bronze star. I was kind of disappointed, though, because after belonging to the Air Rescue Association I found out that the captain that approached me about this he got the silver star, just to mention it, and I got the bronze star and some of the officers in the Air Rescue Association thought I got really cheated out of the higher award.

Rebecca Wood:

Oh. How did you stay in touch with your family?

Vance Funkhouser:

It was all by letters. I would write maybe a little bit each day and then maybe at the end of the week send a letter home. My father, he was the greatest writer. He wrote me every day. I'd get a letter from my mom maybe once a week and from my -- some from my sister.

Rebecca Wood:

Well, what was the food like for you?

Vance Funkhouser:

Oh, terrible. The water was awful. It was -- it was something else.

Rebecca Wood:

Did you have to boil it to drink it?

Vance Funkhouser:

I don't know what they done. We kind of mixed a little extra juice to it to make it drinkable. The coffee they'd fix, you talk about truck drivers' coffee. This was worse than truck drivers' coffee. Mostly in the wintertime, the food was -- you know, you didn't get hot food. It was mostly cold. But we made by by it and made it through all of it.

Rebecca Wood:

How did you do on supplies overall? Did you have enough supplies?

Vance Funkhouser:

Our supplies was not too bad. We'd confiscate some planes from other companies. You know, you worked with the army and others, and we was able to -- we wasn't even authorized any vehicles. But when I were up there, we had about 22 jeeps and a couple (?four-for-fours?), a water tanker, and some of this other stuff. You just had to play along with the other companies and they appreciated what we done for them and so it was rewarding back to us.

Rebecca Wood:

Work together. How did you feel the pressure was and the stress during that time?

Vance Funkhouser:

Well, I don't know. When I was younger, I guess you didn't think too much about it. You know, after you get older you stop back and think, you know, God, what did I do?

Rebecca Wood:

Do you remember thinking was it hard to sleep at night to think --

Vance Funkhouser:

Yes.

Rebecca Wood:

-- that something would happen while you were asleep?

Vance Funkhouser:

Yes. After about the third or fourth week that I was there, we was camped on the south side of the Han River, and there was several other groups that was up -- up the road from us. And I remember enough after being there that they was tough fighters. And somehow the guerillas got in there at night. _____+ in the back, and I think from that time on everybody slept with one eye open. I know I did.

Rebecca Wood:

That's what I would. I can't imagine.

Vance Funkhouser:

It's hard to realize but it was -- you know, you think about it, and you think, Oh, my God, they're gonna get in there and get me.

Rebecca Wood:

Did you have anything that you carried for good luck or anything religious or anything like that?

Vance Funkhouser:

Yes. I carried -- I was engaged to a girl before I went over, and she was a catholic, and I carried a missal that she had gave me.

Rebecca Wood:

A St. Christopher medal with you?

Vance Funkhouser:

No.

Rebecca Wood:

How did folks entertain themselves? Did you have any USO shows or anything?

Vance Funkhouser:

No. We didn't get any of that, but we had in this C-47 that went back to Japan and they confiscated a movie projector. And in this machine shop I had, it had a generator in it. So I started a little theatre myself, and I was rewarded on that, too. And, of course, sometimes we served the same movie about three or four times, but that was -- that was our entertainment.

Rebecca Wood:

You wouldn't happen to remember what your movie was or anything.

Vance Funkhouser:

Oh, my gosh. Not offhand.

Rebecca Wood:

I just wondered. Do you recall any particularly humorous events or unusual events --

Vance Funkhouser:

I don't --

Rebecca Wood:

-- or pranks that maybe you pulled on each other to keep going?

Vance Funkhouser:

No. In fact, when we was there, it didn't seem like rank or anything. We didn't even wear our stripes or anything. Everybody went more or less by first names. We were just like a big family. The officers and most men got along great because, you know, one depended on the other one. So we was really just -- we knew we had to be there and we had a job to do. And if it took two or three days to do something, days and nights, we done it. For one instance, the mechanics came to me and says -- we were having a problem with their balancing of rotors. And so they told me what they needed and they needed it -- this certain thing and had to have a 30 pound weight on it. And so being in the sheet metal trade and I had studied and thought of this, so I had gone down to the railroad station and found a round piece of brass. And so I brought it back. I cut it for length and drilled a hole through it and put a bow through it so they could hang it up, and it worked. And so after about a month or two, they took this weight back to Japan so they could weigh it and I was _____+.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow. That's something.

Vance Funkhouser:

But I worked on that for, I think, three days and two nights straight. They'd just -- they'd bring me coffee and stuff to -- so I could -- because we -- we wanted to keep all our aircraft in working order the best we could.

Rebecca Wood:

Did you keep a personal diary or a journal?

Vance Funkhouser:

I took a lot of pictures, which I have here today. You can see what you'd like. We did have some times where we would -- where we just kind of _____+ thing.

Rebecca Wood:

Oh.

Vance Funkhouser:

_____+ So we done this. It was kind of humorous.

Rebecca Wood:

It couldn't take off, could it?

Vance Funkhouser:

No. _____+

Rebecca Wood:

Did you have some pets?

Vance Funkhouser:

We had these two dogs. Somebody came up with them. So they was our pets while the time we was there.

Rebecca Wood:

That's nice. Wow. Do you recall the day that your service ended?

Vance Funkhouser:

Yes, I do. I really didn't want to come out. I was a staff sergeant at that time and I could have made -- they offered me tech sergeant to reenlist. But my father came up. He begged me to get out. And to this day I wish I'd have stayed in. I'd have -- I'd have liked to make it a career.

Rebecca Wood:

Where were you when you decided to get out?

Vance Funkhouser:

When I came back from Korea, I was stationed in Mitchell Field, Long Island, New York. And we had -- I was in base shops there. And right after I got there, probably a couple months after I got there, we had a C-47 that would go up to New Hampshire out a on routine flight, and it ground looped up there. So we got to go up there and spend the whole summer in New Hampshire on the lake to repair this plane so we could get out. So it was quite rewarding after we'd come back from Korea.

Rebecca Wood:

I must say the Air Force folks get all the good trips.

Vance Funkhouser:

I guess.

Rebecca Wood:

Hawaii and Bermuda. Well, they always say, too, that the Air Force folks stay in the hotels and everybody else camps out. I'm just kidding. What did you do on the days or weeks afterwards?

Vance Funkhouser:

After I got out of service?

Rebecca Wood:

Uh-hum.

Vance Funkhouser:

I went right to work. I just couldn't stand alone, and I went back to the company that I had worked for before I went in the service, which was C.E. Reed and Sons. And they wanted me back, but I didn't stay long. They wouldn't give me any time for my service. I happened to look in the paper and seen Greyhound bus drivers was wanted. So I started driving for Greyhound.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow.

Vance Funkhouser:

And I'd done that for about three years. And it wasn't steady, so I went and drove a truck, a semi, for five years. And then during the _____ time I was doing sheet metal work on my own and building ball bearings and stuff. So I went in business for myself and ended up in the window and door business.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow. Now, I know you said you have some people that you wish that you had stayed in touch with. Were there any at all that you were real close to that you stayed in touch with?

Vance Funkhouser:

I -- after I got out -- you didn't think about -- I didn't think about it until a few years later. And then I tried to locate some. And every so often I would -- I would find one or two and -- but there was some that I didn't find and I still had tried to contact different places for them, but so far a lot of them that I'd really like to contact I just haven't done it.

Rebecca Wood:

Did you join any veterans organizations?

Vance Funkhouser:

Yes. I'm a life member of the American Legion and VFW. I'm also with Forty and Eight and the AMVETS. I'm a past commander of the American Legion Post 410 in Whitestown, Indiana, which I built. Me and another veteran, we built that post from ground up ourselves. I was in service four times as commander and a lot of other offices and also served as district commander of the 6th district and some state offices.

Rebecca Wood:

Did your military experience influence your thinking about war or the military in general?

Vance Funkhouser:

Yes, to a certain extent, yes. I see things that goes on even today that I disagree with and I think everybody does. I know the people in Vietnam they went through some terrible situations, and I know right now we're going through some terrible situations.

Rebecca Wood:

Have you attended any reunions?

Vance Funkhouser:

The only reunion I go to now is the Air Rescue Association. They have a reunion every year. And I didn't find out about this until about six or seven years ago, and I've attended reunions in Atlanta and one in the Catskill Mountains and one in Branson, Missouri, and I haven't been able to attend any of the others.

Rebecca Wood:

How did your service experiences affect your life?

Vance Funkhouser:

Well, I think it's a great thing to serve, and I wouldn't change a thing about not serving. In fact, I think every person -- every man today should have to serve some time in the military service.

Rebecca Wood:

Well, is there anything that you would like to add that we haven't talked about, anything important to you to share?

Vance Funkhouser:

I can't think of anything other than I brought pictures that I've got here. These are pictures of all my Korean stuff, and I also have pictures of the blood plasma device. I strictly made this handmade. I mean I didn't have any tools. This was hand formed altogether.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow.

Vance Funkhouser:

After I made the first one, they needed -- they wanted two for every helicopter they had. So I worked day and night to get more made so that we could have them in every helicopter that we had.

Rebecca Wood:

So explain to me how did those work again.

Vance Funkhouser:

Okay. This right here -- this here, you might notice that there's a slide on here which it's set into a -- on top of the pod. What it done, when you set this one way, which is narrower, and then you twist it back around, it would catch on the high points and then it would slide back there. There was another slide that came up over this which that was already into the pod there where you could do it. And this hole here was where the little tube came up with the plasma bottle sitting in here with the two safety clamps, and it hung with its cord up here. Then they took an insulated sock and slid it down over it. So when they put the person in the pod, it held this up through the hole, put the top on the pod, and fastened it, and it snapped mostly on the end of the cycle so they could administer the blood while he was in flight. And it saved many, many lives.

Rebecca Wood:

That's amazing.

Vance Funkhouser:

And we don't know how many but we know it did save a lot of lives because if you can't get blood you're gonna die.

Rebecca Wood:

That's true. And citations?

Vance Funkhouser:

This is my citation for the bronze star, and this here was a media release that explains what I'd done and different things. Then I have the newspaper clippings. It was on the front page of the Indianapolis Times, Indianapolis Star, and Indianapolis News at that time. Here's the official award, 5th Air Force awarding me the bronze star. Here's my decorations: Korean Service Medal with one bronze star, UN Service Medal with a bronze star, National Defense Service Medal, the Bronze Star Medal, and Good Conduct Medal. So those were things -- oh, and here it shows actually how this thing worked. You put it on this way and it sloped back around and this panel here slides right up underneath there.

Rebecca Wood:

How amazing. It looked a lot bigger in that one picture, too, because I thought, Isn't that kind of big? Wow. That's amazing.

Vance Funkhouser:

Here, there's pictures of para rescue team _____+ H-19. Before I left over there, we started getting the H-19s but we still used the H-5. Here are some articles that was in the military papers which we would get.

Rebecca Wood:

That would be liked Stars and Stripes?

Vance Funkhouser:

Stars and Stripes, right.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow. At that point you had rescued 2,900.

Vance Funkhouser:

See here 3,000 rescued.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow.

Vance Funkhouser:

And this was just in November, November 9th, 1951. So I don't know how many there was. I would say probably it would run close to 10,000 --

Rebecca Wood:

Wow.

Vance Funkhouser:

-- from the time I was there. We also flew the peace talk of Panmunjom. We would fly the officers up there, the generals, for that.

Rebecca Wood:

Wow.

Vance Funkhouser:

This here was when I was discharged and I was discharged from the Air Force -- then I had -- I was discharged. I stayed in the air reserves for three years and was discharged then from there.

Rebecca Wood:

That's wonderful.

Vance Funkhouser:

And I was _____+ one time up in Mitchell Field, Long Island, in September of 1953.

Rebecca Wood:

Well, thank you very much, Mr. Funkhouser. I really appreciate you taking your time for this interview for the Veterans History Project, and I thank you for serving.

Vance Funkhouser:

Thank you.

 
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