Charles Shipman will tell you that Chinese soldiers liked to attack at night.
And that’s what happened on Sept. 6 — the night he was wounded in 1951.
Shipman, who lives in Fremont, was a U.S. Army soldier assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division, the 7th Cavalry Regiment.
This week, he is among 460 Nebraskans taking part in the final Korean War Veterans Honor Flight — Operation Airlift. For Shipman, it will be an opportunity to talk with other veterans and to recall a time when he was an 18-year-old soldier, fighting a war half a world away from his home.
Shipman joined the army in May 1950.
“I was 17 years old and all I wanted was a job,” he said.
The Korean War began that June. He and other soldiers went by ship to Korea. The ship was designed for 3,000 men, but 5,000 were aboard. Men stood to eat.
“It was kind of crowded,” he said.
Shipman and other soldiers first went to Japan, then on to Korea. They landed at Inchon and went from there. Shipman remembers almost daily patrols of four or five miles.
One time, some enemy soldiers came down off of a ridge, waving a white flag.
“We sent a couple of guys up there to negotiate. They almost got to the ridgeline and they were fired on. We took the hill and, in the process, killed 40 of them,” he said.
Another time, Shipman was in a firefight when he dropped down onto an ant bed. The long, black ants didn’t seem to bite, but every time Shipman tried to move away from the insects, the enemy would start firing again.
Shipman and another soldier were sleeping in a bunker during a rainy season only to wake up in four to five inches of water and red dirt. Soaking wet, the men left the bunker and slept on the side of a hill.
One night, Shipman was leaning against a 3-inch diameter tree when the enemy began lobbing mortars. He leaned forward before shrapnel from a Chinese mortar shell cut down the tree.
Then came that night in September.
It was about 11 p.m. His company was a couple miles ahead of the other units, when the Chinese attacked in force.
“I was wounded by a Chinese burp gun that fires 800 rounds per minute,” he said. “It kind of tore things up a little bit.”
He remembers the intense pain of two bullets that penetrated his internal organs including his stomach liver and a kidney.
“When you get shot, it feels like you got kicked by a mule with a hot poker on its foot. You go into shock,” he said.
Shipman fell forward on his knees with his head against the side of a hole that he and another American soldier occupied. He pretended to be dead while six waves of Chinese soldiers ran over him.
At one point, two enemy soldiers sat in the hole with Shipman and the other American. They went through Shipman’s pockets, taking his cigarettes and billfold. Then, even though they assumed Shipman and the other American were dead, the enemy soldiers still beat them with what Shipman thought was an empty wooden grenade box.
The enemy soldiers then sat and smoked Shipman’s cigarettes. Those soldiers left and Shipman learned that the other American soldier, although badly wounded, was still alive, too. When the opportunity came, they started to leave.
“I stood up, but it felt like I was carrying 150 pounds on my back,” he said. “I only went a few yards down the hill. I couldn’t walk any further.”
One fellow soldier tried to carry Shipman, fireman style, but he couldn’t stand the pain. A couple of other guys then got on each side of him. As they walked, one of those soldiers accidentally stepped into a honey well (human waste used on rice paddies in those days) and sank a couple of feet.
“He was as mad as a hornet,” Shipman said. “I started laughing so hard I thought the pain of laughing was going to kill me.”
Shipman doesn’t know how far they went. It seemed like miles. As they were crossing a shallow creek, Shipman, hot and in extreme pain, had the men lie him down into the water.
“It felt really good,” he said.
A few minutes later, a Jeep with stretchers on it seemed to come out of nowhere. Shipman was loaded on a stretcher and ended up at a MASH unit. He spent about a week there, but at one time thought they were going to have to evacuate, because enemy forces were getting too close.
Days later, he was placed on an enclosed unit attached to a helicopter. He would be on a train and on a Swedish hospital ship before being taken to a hospital in Japan. He spent a couple months there before being flown to a hospital at Camp Carson in Colorado.
He was in the hospital there for a few months, then was honorably discharged.
“After I was discharged, I was still changing bandages,” he recalled.
He later was admitted to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Omaha due to complications and was there for eight months.
Back in the states, Shipman went to college for a while. He drove a truck, worked construction and on oil rigs. He and his wife, Irene, married 22 years ago, the same year he retired.
Shipman wrote about some of his Korean War experiences.
“The night I was shot and I thought I was going to die, my concern wasn’t for myself, it was for how my family was going to take my death,” he wrote.” I just hoped God was merciful and that I was prepared to die. … To me, it was at that point of nearly dying that I found out what is really important in life — my family, my friends, my country and my God. Nothing else had meaning.”