Will Beatty was born in 1931 in San Antonio, Texas. He spent all his growing up years there, attending Highland Park Elementary School, Poe Junior High School, and then graduating from Thomas Edison High School with the class of 1949. Will says, Thomas Edison High was in the north part of town then, but it has built up so that area is really more in the central part of the city now.
Shortly after graduation, he secured employment with Southwestern Bell Telephone, and he had a very good job for a young man at the time. He was trained to operate an addressograph machine that was used to print telephone bills, not just those for San Antonio, but for the cities all over Texas, and he got to work a lot of overtime. He also had joined the Naval Reserve during this time and had become more than just casually acquainted with a Miss Mary Jane Walker, whom he had known in high school. Times were good, but then the Korean War broke out in June 1950 and soon the draft was calling up large numbers of young men. Members of the reserves, such as himself, were vulnerable. So, after about six-months, Will inquired about his status with the draft board and when he did, he was told that he was approximately two-weeks away from receiving his notice. He decided not to wait.
Will Beatty enlisted in the Marine Corps on January 22, 1951. He was sworn in at the downtown Post Office Building in San Antonio and then was immediately sent off by train to San Diego, California, to the Marine Corps Training Depot where he went through boot camp. Upon completion of boot camp he was granted ten-days furlough, enough time for him to return home to San Antonio where he and Mary Ann were married on April 7th. Then it was back to California, to Camp Pendleton for infantry advanced individual training. He had tested and qualified to be trained in supply, but the heavy fighting in the months just prior dictated the greater need was for large numbers of infantry replacements. In July, immediately upon completion of his infantry training he was sent to San Diego and put on a troop transport for Korea.
He sailed on the U.S.S. Pickaway (APA-222). They crossed the International Date Line on July 22, 1951, briefly put in at Japan, just long enough for a 4-hour shore leave, and then proceeded on to Pusan, Korea. It was early August when they debarked in Pusan harbor, remained overnight, and the next day Will was flown from Pusan to Inji in North Korea. He was quickly assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. Naturally, the 58 Will became the newest BAR (Browning automatic rifle) man in the First Platoon.
When he arrived, his platoon was on outpost duty. The outpost was on a very high hill and Will had a difficult walk just getting up to their position. Bunkers on the hilltop outpost were primitive, prepared by the North Korean Army that was forced out in earlier fighting, and the living conditions were not all that great. Will says, After about a week we were pulled back to rejoin the rest of the company which was in a well developed camp. We patrolled actively, but living in the camp we had hot meals served, even movies at night. But, that didnt last long either. In early September we loaded up on trucks and moved up again for another week on an Outpost, again in old North Korean bunkers, C-Rations for every meal. Then we were pulled out and moved again. I remember we moved all day, reached our position after dark, and dug in to protect from artillery and mortar fire that was active in the area.
Company F had just reached a position south of Hills 749 and 812, an area (located approximately four miles north-northwest of the much larger Punchbowl area, site of bitter fighting in the weeks preceding) that was to be taken from the North Koreans, September 15 17, 1951. Will says, The next day we loaded up with ammunition, I had all the BAR magazines that I could carry hanging from my neck and shoulders, and hand grenades too. As we were moving up, we were passing some of the 4th Marines coming back. They were young Marines, but we saw nothing but faces of old men. We would have known what we were about to be getting into without a word being spoken, just by looking at them. They had a few words for us anyway, not intended to be encouraging.
The approach to Hill 749 was uneventful until the enemy suddenly opened up with small arms and automatic weapons fire, forcing us to take cover. There wasnt really much cover available. Two bullets impacted simultaneously on either side of my left wrist, missing by inches, Im not hit, but Im not feeling good about it either. We move forward by fire and maneuver, drive out the North Koreans and take their position. They had large bunkers and rice for their next meal was cooking on their fires. We controlled the position but the bunkers still had to be cleared one at a time. I happened to be near Captain Sweeney and near a large bunker. He ordered me to clear it. I did. We moved forward again on Hill 749, but advanced ahead of the units on either side of us and were fired on by our own troops on our left flank.
Also in the taking of Hill 749 we had a very narrow escape. A flight of supporting fighter-bombers was overhead looking for targets when one of our NCOs threw a white phosphorous (WP) grenade. Unfortunately, WP was the signal for marking a target for the planes, they saw it and we could clearly see them preparing to make a run on our position. I had a marking panel, and so did several others nearby. We didnt waste any time in spreading them out in exposed positions and lucky for us, the fighters made one pass over us and waggled their wings to let us know they recognized us as friendly.
When Hill 749 had been secured, I was part of a party sent out, under fire, to retrieve the body of our point man who had been killed forward of our lines. My BAR was put to good use for fire support and we had a lively time of it but came back with the body and no added losses. When preparing our positions for the night on the forward slope, I turned down an offer to sleep in a captured enemy bunker that was close by, preferring to dig a new foxhole for myself. Two of my friends did spend the night in the bunker. It took a direct hit from a large caliber shell during the night and both were killed. The enemy of course, knew exactly where their bunkers had been and had those positions zeroed in by their artillery and mortars.
Early the next morning (September 17th), a strange thing happened. A lone North Korean soldier came casually walking up near our lines on Hill 749, and taking his time, answered the call of nature. Blissfully unaware that he was in close range to dozens of Americans, he, having relieved himself, slowly sauntered away as though he hadnt a care in the world and we just let him go. Shortly afterward, we were ordered forward, toward Hill 812.
We pushed forward, I was on the extreme right flank of Company F with my BAR. We had rockets fired overhead, the first time I had ever seen fire support from rockets. Off on my left, a machine gun crew from Weapons Company was moving forward on the flank and then they got hit. I saw the gunners go down and one by one the ammo bearers would take their places and then were hit also, until they were all gone. That left my BAR as the only automatic weapon on the flank. We worked our way up to a saddle (approximately half-way to Hill 812), there was nothing but open terrain, very little cover and a bluff was on the left side of the saddle. At that point, Company F took up hasty positions and began to lay down covering fire as the adjacent Company moved forward half-way to the hill to our front (the last terrain feature short of Hill 812).
At that point, I could see to my front a North Korean machine gun mounted on wheels. I had never seen a machine gun on wheels before, but that didnt inhibit me from taking it under fire. It was within my range and when I directed a couple of well aimed bursts at it, they pulled it back under cover and out of action. They did not seem to be able to locate my position and every time they would venture out and attempt to place the gun into action I could force them to pull back to safety again. One of our machine gun crews then came and took up my position and I was called to move over to the center of the company. Captain Sweeney directed me to dig in there. There was a ditch there lined with dead and there was a row of wounded men. It wasnt a pleasant place to be. We came under fire and withdrew, then advanced again, this time beyond the saddle and reached the hill intermediate to Hill 812.
At that point, a tree-burst shell killed one of the men with Will Beatty. Will was wounded with shell fragments to the upper part of his right leg. His helmet had been blown off his head and he had shrapnel in the back of his head. He was dazed and severely shaken, but he did not lose consciousness. He grabbed hold of a tree trunk to support himself as he fought to keep from blacking out, then two men came up and took him back where he could be seen by the corpsmen. He was in the trench he had seen earlier with rows of dead and wounded. Years later, Will was told that Hill 812 had been secured only about 15 minutes after he had been wounded.
Corpsmen put him on a stretcher and stretcher bearers started back to rear with him. They were fired upon, stopped and put his stretcher on the ground for a brief period until someone searched out and eliminated that threat, and then resumed carrying him back to the Aid Station. Doctors there ordered his further evacuation to a Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) that was not a great distance to the rear of the Aid Station. There, they cleaned his wounds and directed his further evacuation. When a corpsman asked if he was hungry, he replied that he had not had anything to eat in two days, so he was given a tin of sardines. Today, he says, Those sardines tasted better to me than anything Ive eaten before or since.
The next day he was sent by ambulance back to a Field Hospital somewhere near Seoul. It was a long drive that took all day. The Field Hospital occupied what had been a school building. Will was put on a cot and then he waited. Others around him were attended to and moved about, but he was neglected for what seemed to him a very long time, apparently he thought, he had been forgotten about, and then he passed out. When he woke up, apparently after surgery to remove the shell fragments from his head and leg, he was in another room. As he began to stir he heard an attending corpsman exclaim, You are going to make it, as if in disbelief. Doctors and nurses then came in to have a look at him for themselves and they did not try to conceal their surprise that he had survived. He was to be medically evacuated further back.
Will was given a choice, he could go to a hospital ship or to a hospital in Japan. Having already had the experience of a long ocean voyage on a ship, he chose to go to Japan. Some planes had been shot down, so when he was sent to Japan on a medevac plane loaded with casualties, they flew at night to minimize the chances of being attacked by enemy fighters. Upon arrival the casualties were separated with the Army personnel going to the Army Hospital while the Marines and Navy were taken away to the Naval Hospital. After some weeks in the Naval Hospital, he was sent to the medical facility at Otsu on Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, where seaplane training was also going on. He was at Otsu for Thanksgiving 1951. Shortly after that, he was sent off to another installation and was put on guard duty.
Among his other medical problems, Will also remained deaf in his left ear. He never regained any hearing and, while his other wounds healed, the ear continued to bother him. His Navy doctor, admitting a lack of training in that area of medicine, drained his ear and sent him back to duty. However, the condition did not improve. So, he was referred to the Army Hospital for evaluation by a specialist. There for the first time Will was told that he had no eardrum in his left ear, it had been destroyed. After that diagnosis that his deafness would be permanent, it was certain that he could not be returned to his unit in combat, so, in February 1952 Will Beatty was returned to the United States. He reported in to the base at Treasure Island in San Francisco bay and was sent home on leave.
In April 1952, when his leave was up, he was assigned to Mare Island, Vallejo, California and this time, Mary Ann came with him. Will was given guard duty at the Naval Prison. While he was taking training he performed duties as a guard outside the prison, and after he had completed training he was assigned to working with the prisoners on the inside. He and Mary Ann were comfortably settled in their first home together, quarters on Mare Island, where Will expected to uneventfully serve out his enlistment. Their first child, daughter Vicki, was born during their time at Mare Island. But, in October 1953 his ear troubles flared up again and the Mare Island hospital referred him over to the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland.
His doctor there was a Navy Captain who, after examining him, told him that he wasnt even supposed to be in the service. Will asked to be allowed to finish out his enlistment and the Captain agreed not to initiate medical discharge action upon Wills promise that he would not reenlist when the time came. Will had surgery on the ear and after that was sent to Treasure Island where he was assigned to duty as a gate guard. Later he was Corporal of the Guard and then did street patrols in the Chinatown Beat of San Francisco. When his enlistment was up, sure enough he was offered the opportunity to reenlist, but, true to his word to Navy doctor, he took his discharge on January 21, 1954.
He and Mary Ann packed up and came home to Texas, moving their things in a U-Haul trailer. Initially Will worked for Calcasieu Lumber, then was with Hillcrest Farms for a brief period. He then went to work for Williams-Stackhouse, Inc., where he became skilled as a draftsman and in mapmaking. Will and Mary Anns daughter Cindy was born to them in Austin during this period. Will had trained and become expert in use of a complex machine that produced stereo-photo maps, and then worked for the State under contract on all phases of map making, from doing surveys on the ground to map production. Then in 1963, he was hired by the Texas Highway Department (now Texas Department of Transportation, TxDOT) where he worked in highway design. By the time he retired in 1991, he was Director of Programs and was second in charge of the 57 employees of that division.
Will first learned of the Military Order of the Purple Heart through family connections and when he did he signed up as a life member. This month, Chapter 1919 proudly salutes Patriot Will Beatty.