korean vet

Korean War vet: Bill Graff, now 81, was drafted and served in the Korean War starting in 1951.

The year was 1951 when Kokomo resident Bill Graff dropped out of Indiana University’s law school and waited to be drafted.

At the time Graff, now 81, said he told his father there was no reason to go back to school because he was going to be drafted. After his induction into the U.S. Army, Graff learned college students were exempt from the draft.

When he was drafted, Graff listed his civilian occupation as the manager of the soda fountain at the Blue Cross Drug Store, owned by his father in downtown Kokomo.

“I knew I wanted to be a cook,” he said. “Back then cooks worked one day and were off one day. It was the best duty in the Army.”

Graff departed that year for Korea from a port in Seattle, Wash. It was a seven or eight day journey by boat from Seattle to Japan and then on to Korea, where Graff landed at Inchon.

“It was bitterly cold,” he said of Korea. “When we stopped in Japan, they gave the 5,000 men on the ship winter clothing. They loaded another 2,500 men on the ship for the trip to Korea, they were sleeping on the deck.”

Although his primary job with the 3rd Division, 3rd Medical Battalion was as cook, Graff also did work as a medic.

“I had no choice really,” he said. “You learned as you go. If someone was wounded you would clean the wound, put on a bandage and give them a shot of morphine.”

During his service in Korea, Graff was awarded two Bronze Stars.

“I saved a platoon from Geisha girls,” is all he would say about his two decorations.

Graff’s father maintained a map of Korea throughout Graff’s tour of duty, which lasted 10 months. The map, which Graff keeps at his home on the south side of Kokomo, is marked with tiny “Xs” indicating the different locations where the younger Graff was stationed. All are above the famed 38th parallel.

He also has several other keepsakes from his time in the war. Graff has a cigarette lighter given to him by Capt. Charles Austin for Christmas in 1951 and the sword of a Chinese cavalry officer as souvenirs. He also keeps a giant Christmas card that was sent to him in 1951 after being signed by patrons of his father’s drug store in Kokomo.

By 1953, Graff had enough points based on the military’s system to be discharged. He explained that soldiers were given four points for each month on the front lines and two points for being a reserve, and service members needed 36 points to return to the United States.

“Indiana gave us $250,” he said. “We went and served. We were asked to do something and we went and did it.”

After returning to the U.S., Graff got married two days after his return to Kokomo and completed his tour of duty at Camp Atterbury in southern Indiana. He earned $130 a month as a corporal in the Army.

Graff said his return stateside wasn’t an easy one.

“Korea is called the ‘forgotten war,’” Graff said. “We came back home and resumed our lives.

“Vietnam was not a nice war either,” Graff said of the treatment the soldiers received on returning home. “In Vietnam, there were 58,000 people killed and 1,800 missing in action, in Korea there were 38,000 killed and 5,000 missing. Most of the missing were Marines near the Chosin Reservoir.”

Still, Graff said he has been gratified to do what he wanted to do in life.

Eventually, Graff graduated from Purdue University in 1957, 49 years after his father received a pharmacology degree there. He worked at the Blue Cross Drug Store for a time, then five years at the Haag Drugs in Forest Park. Graff retired after working 25 years as the head of the pharmacology department at Howard Regional Health System.

“The military service changed my life completely,” Graff said. “If I hadn’t been drafted, I would have wound up a lawyer.

“I went away a cocky kid and came back as a 21-year-old man.”

• Ken de la Bastide is the Kokomo Tribune enterprise editor. He can be reached at 765-454-8580 or via e-mail at ken.delabastide@kokomotribune.com

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