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William Thomas West's Korean War photograph album

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Creator: West, William Thomas

Date: April 1952-April 1953

Level of Description: Item

Material Type: Photograph

Call Number: 2014-261

Unit ID: 308137

Biographical sketch: The Korean War started in June of 1950, and due to the extreme shortage, a doctor draft was implemented in August of 1950. At that time, my father, William Thomas ("Bill") West was a resident physician in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Kansas Medical Center with a wife and baby to support. Concerned about the draft and worried about supporting his family and medical school costs, Bill enlisted in the Army in January of 1951. He was accepted as a lieutenant in the Medical Corps.

During World War II, Bill had been in the V-12 program as a student from 1943 until 1945. He then became a yeoman in the US Navy Reserve. After enlisting in the Army, in March of 1951 he was assigned to Ft. Sheridan, Illinois. After a year there, he was assigned to the 25th Evac Hospital and transferred to Korea starting April 9, 1952. His service in Korea ended on May 9, 1953.

All this was determined from a large envelope of papers my father kept for over 50 years. There were triplicates of some orders, but he discarded nothing. He seldom spoke about his years of service. I never saw these papers until many years after my father had died. All that I had known of his service was because of a group of Kodachrome slides that he took with the Nikon camera he purchased on R&R in Japan. He still had little to say about the content of the slides.

I was just one year old when we moved to Ft. Sheridan. Mother and I moved back to Kansas City to be near her parents when he went to Korea. The pictures of my mother at that time show a very thin young woman. Mom said she was so worried she could hardly eat, and I remember a quiet somber house. They each wrote the other daily but none of the letters survived (too personal, Mom said). Dad said there would be weeks with no mail, leaving him wondering, and then a large bundle would arrive. Communication then was not what it is today. One day he received a telegram from the Red Cross stating "Jane died". No other explanation, and as my name is Janet, usually "Jan", Bill was frantic with worry that his daughter had died. It was 6 weeks before he got a letter from Mom that his niece, Jane, was the one who died.

Meanwhile, Bill West was the surgeon in charge of the battalion aid station supporting the 3d Division Infantry Artillery personnel. His aid station was positioned in the front, north of the 38th Parallel and west of Ch'orwon, Korea. The medics would transport the wounded from the battle areas to the aid station where they would be stabilized and then transported to the MASH unit. Although the armistice negotiations began in July of 1951, and the war was no longer an offensive maneuver, defensive positions were aggressively maintained against the North Koreans.

I had few indications from Dad about the life he led at that time. He said nothing about how many wounded he cared for, how he lived, daily life, or big excitements. It was only through doing research and reading about then Korean war that I came to realize what had happened to him. The two boxes of slides he brought back also helped to explain what was going on around him at the time.

Bill was at the front, sometimes called the "Iron Triangle". He was near some famous hills: Porkchop, Heartbreak Ridge, Outpost NORI, Outpost KELLY. He was at the front when the North Koreans launched a large attack against Outpost NORI, which was repulsed, and a successful attack against Outpost KELLY. Outpost KELLY was recaptured, but there was a great deal of shelling. The hills went back and forth between the sides with much firepower involved.

He never talked about how tired he was, but he slept through a record setting barrage by the 155 howitzers at B Battery. He never said how cold it was, but he built a log cabin style aid station for the incoming wounded because they froze to death in the tent the prior winter. He never said how cold it was but he built himself a cave because it was warmer than a tent.

He never said much about what he did, but long after he died I found his papers. I do know from the pictures he took that he was very fond of one of the ROK personnel who worked closely with him. I knew that the wounded ROK came through his aid station. But he was a good enough surgeon and a caring enough doctor that when he left, Major Choi Nam Soo of the ROK wrote the following letter of appreciation:

I wish to express my deep appreciation and heartfelt gratitude for the medical service you have rendered to the members of this battalion.

In giving us medical attention, in addition to caring for the members of your own organization, you have exerted yourself above and beyond the call of duty. You have attended our men with the same consideration and patient understanding that you have given your own people.

Your unselfish and wholehearted efforts in caring for our Korean soldiers is a credit not only to yourself but to the medical profession and the American army which you represent. Thank you.

He said little about the men with whom he worked, but many of the pictures are of them. My father died from dementia, a slow but general degradation of his thought process. Less than three months before his death, when he seldom recognized anyone other than my mother and me, we sat down one evening with the slides. I am everlastingly sorry that I did not video the session. He knew the name of every man in every slide. That time period was clear and alive in his mind, just that one year.

He had nightmares almost every night. For a man who was gentle, kind, and caring, his dreamworld was filled with violence. One night he punched out the headboard on the bed. So what went on at that aid station? Now we would call it PTSD and treat it but this was the Korean War. The only indication I have is that he received a Commendation Ribbon with Metal Pendant. He never told us that this was the Bronze Star that they give to support personnel, like surgeons in battalion aid stations.

The military phrases give little indication as to why he got the Commendation.

Lt West, serving as Battalion Surgeon, performed his duties in an outstanding maker. Possessing a high degree of initiative and enthusiasm, coupled with a sincere devotion to duty, made him a valuable asset to his organization. Lt West rendered to this organization a major contribution toward the success attained in combat, through his outstanding performance of duty, loyalty and ability. The commendable manner in which Lt William Thomas West, during the period 30 April 52 to 30 April 53, performed his duties, reflects highly upon himself as well as the military service.

Like many war heroes, my father went on to lead an 'ordinary' life. One of his great joys in life was delivering babies, and I think the count was over 3,000 in his career. It must have been a great antidote to the year of horror he saw from the battlefield. Written by Janet P West

Summary: This is an album containing photographs of the Korean War. William Thomas West, the photographer, was a surgeon in the 3rd Infantry Division, 9th Field Artillery, possibly Battery B, and he served in the furthest surgical unit north of the 38th parallel. The album contains photographs of Seoul, Taegu, a mash hospital, USO, the aid station where West was a surgeon, and members of his unit. He received a commendation ribbon with a medal pendant for his service. West graduated from the University of Kansas Medical School in 1949 and while a resident, he was drafted into the Army. After the war, he finished his residency in obstetrics and gynecology and later was a physician at the Wichita Clinic in Wichita, Kansas. His father Dr. Ray West was one of 10 founders of the Wichita Clinic, a group of physicians which combined their talents, experience, and education into an innovative multi-specialty group practice. On December 9, 2010, Wichita Clinic became part of Via Christi Health.

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Title (Main title): William Thomas West's Korean War photograph album


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