CHAMPAIGN — Earl McClintock doesn’t like to relive his combat experiences.
The Marine is proud that he served, but he is not one to tell war stories about the fighting in the front lines of the Korea War.
“I don’t like to discuss it that much,” McClintock said. “I don’t like the gruesome parts that some people like to discuss.”
A forward observer for an artillery unit, McClintock was on the front line with the infantry when Chinese and North Korean troops attacked.
“We got involved in one hell of a battle,” McClintock said. “We were really almost hand to hand” before the troops were ordered to retreat.
American troops later pushed the enemy back.
“It was very scary and deadly for some people,” McClintock said. “I hate hearing military men talk about the grueling, gruesome parts of battle.”
After the war, McClintock did suffer some psychological effects of his experiences with flashbacks, trouble sleeping and drinking too much, but he said, “I got my act together.”
“It didn’t make a mess out of me. It just messed me up for a little while.”
The 91-year-old counts his blessings of his family, including his wife of 63 years, Alice, two daughters and three grandchildren.
On the weekend that the nation honors its military veterans, McClintock will join his brethren in the Richard Pittman Marine Corps League to celebrate the 248th birthday of the corps at two events — one a Friday evening cake cutting at a VFW lodge and the other, a ball, at Elks Lodge No. 2497.
The then-20-year-old Pittsburgh native joined the Marines in 1950, saying he wanted to join the infantry but was assigned to the artillery. He spent two years at Camp LeJeune, N.C., and would eventually attain the rank of buck sergeant.
“It was huge artillery that had to be transported around with a tractor. Trucks couldn’t pull ‘em,” he said. “We fired them fairly regularly at Camp LeJeune in practice.”
That’s where McClintock suffered hearing loss. The military never provided ear protection.
“I had to go to a regular hearing doctor to get the VA to give me hearing aids,” he said.
He was transferred to California to take cold-weather training — a good thing because conditions got brutal in Korea, as cold as 35-below zero. Guns wouldn’t even fire.
After Christmas 1952, McClintock was put on a slow boat to Korea, arriving in Inchon Harbor in January 1953 — seven months before the fighting ended.
“I was sent directly up to the front lines,” he said, “because the Marine infantry division was up there.”
The Army infantry relieved the Marines, but the Marine artillery unit remained in the front lines.
As an artillery spotter, McClintock spent most of his time on a hill. At one point, the Chinese and North Koreans decided they wanted that hill.
After heavy fighting, the American troops were pulled back to regroup before heading up and retaking the hill, again with heavy losses.
After a couple of years back in Pittsburgh after the war, McClintock decided to visit a Marine buddy in Santa Ana, Calif. McClintock took a job painting houses.
It was in California that he met his future wife.
In 1969, he got an opportunity to move to Champaign to work for Capitol Record Club’s distribution center. The center, however, closed a few years later — the first of several businesses that closed a few years after McClintock joined them.
“I kind of kiddingly said I was a bad thing for companies,” McClintock said.
He worked primarily for distribution companies before retiring in his 60s.
“I’ve had to move around a little bit. We’ve been here (in Champaign) since ’72. We’ve been happy here. Our daughters (Louise McClintock and Laura Hutchcraft) were raised here. We’ve loved this part of the country.”
In addition to the Marine Corps league, McClintock is a member of VFW Post 5520 in Champaign and American Legion Post 74.