Skip directly to content

Korean War Veteran Paul Elkins Tells His Story: Part 1

on July 2, 2017 - 8:09am

Korean War Veteran Paul Elkins of Los Alamos shares his experiences prior to and during the war. Photo by Maire O'Neill/

MSgt. Paul Elkins. Courtesy photo


Los Alamos Daily Post

Editor's note: This is the first in a two-part series about Korean War Veteran Paul Elkins of Los Alamos.

Last month marked 67 years since the beginning of the Korean War, sometimes called the Forgotten War, in which almost 40,000 Americans died and more than 100,000 were wounded. This war, which lasted three years and two days, will never be forgotten by those who fought there or the families they left behind.

One of those who will never forget is Los Alamos resident Paul Elkins. Born in 1930 at his paternal grandmother’s house on Chimney Mountain, 10 miles south of Muskogee in Eastern Oklahoma, Elkins attended a one-room schoolhouse for grades one through eight. His parents met in Oklahoma having both come by covered wagons from Arkansas where they had lived only 40 miles apart without knowing each other.

Elkins attended a high school with only 17 in his class. He joined the National Guard in Wagoner along with four other recruits in September 1947 when the local commander visited the school. Drills were conducted once a week and an army jeep or truck was sent to pick the young men up and take them to town. His enlistment was for three years and he was assigned to Company L with the 279th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. In 1948, he attended his first summer camp at Fort Sill, Okla.

Elkins says he didn’t study very hard when he was at Porter High School but his parents talked him into enrolling at Oklahoma A&M to study agriculture. On June 25, 1950, the Korean War broke out. Elkins was home from college at the time and working on the family farm. In early August, the 45th Infantry Division was notified that it would be called into active service in September and Elkins decided to enter active service instead of returning to college.

With the entire town following them, he and other recruits marched down Main St. to the train station, said their goodbyes to their families and community and headed for Camp, now Fort Polk, La. Elkins was quickly promoted to Sergeant First Class and selected to attend Infantry Leadership School at Fort Knox, Ky.

“I didn’t want to go but they didn’t ask me,” Elkins said. “Twenty of us went to school and as I was the ranking non-commissioned officer, I was put in charge of getting them all to Fort Knox.”

While at Fort Knox, his division was ordered to Japan to defend the northern island of Hokkaido. May 25, 1951, Elkins boarded the MSTS Private Sadao S. Munemori in San Francisco and sailed through the Western Aleutian Islands to Yokohama, Japan.

“It was six years after World War II ended. I was really impressed with what I saw there,” Elkins said. “We spent a few days at Camp Drake before moving by train to the northern island of Hokkaido for rigorous field training.”

After moving camps several times and reenlisting along the way, orders came in December 1951 to proceed to Korea in three days on the USS Henrico.

“We went as an advance party to relieve the 1st Cavalry Division who had been shot up pretty badly in an operation that had just ended. We arrived at Inchon, on the west coast about 40 miles south of the 38th parallel and exchanged equipment and places,” Elkins said.

“The area was full of mudflats so we had to come in at high tide. It was about 32 degrees. We boarded a narrow-gauge train and headed north and the further we went, the colder it got,” he said. “The train stopped at a small town named Yonchon in what was formerly North Korea. We were assigned a tent and the first thing we did was lace up the corners, then we got into the middle of the tent and took out all the clothes we had with us and put them on.”

Elkins says even with all the clothes and blankets they could find as well as their sleeping bags, they were still cold.

“Little did I know it would be spring before I would get warm again,” he said.

Before the regiment arrived, Elkins and much of the advance party toured the front and acquainted themselves with the area. After the regiment arrived, Elkins led two squads to the Company outpost, which was about three-quarters of a mile in front of the line and Chinese troops were manning the line they were facing.

By this time, it had started to snow and the conditions were miserable. There was no heat and frozen C-rations had to be chipped out of a can with a bayonet, Elkins said.

Editor's note: Watch for Part 2 in this series at