The story of Harold Drinkwater
It was a privilege to interview a Camden man, who has served his town and his country well. Harold Drinkwater and wife Dot are well known around Camden. What I learned by talking with him was the time in his life when he served in the Korean War. That was a war from 1950 to 1953 between North Korea helped by China, and the United Nation forces of French, British and mostly United States.
Harold was drafted in May 1951 and sent to Fort Dix, N.J., for 16 weeks of basic training. It was intensive training and the weather was very warm most of that time. He came home on an 11-day furlough, with orders he would be sent to Germany. However, things had heated up in Korea and the orders changed. They were going to Korea.
It took two days on a troop train to California. There they boarded the General William Black, a troop transport vessel, that five days later had them in Japan. It took another three hours by train to their camp. Here they were issued new rifles for combat, that they then test-fired at their Army base. Now they were ready and boarded a ship taking two more days to land in South Korea.
Waiting in South Korea was an old bullet-riddled train, to take them toward the front lines. Harold talked about all the red tracers going overhead, that new troops thought were some sort of a code for the Americans. They soon learned what tracer bullets were. They were aimed for the Americans; it was not at all a signal from the Americans. The 2nd Division was fighting on what they called “Old Baldy” on the front lines.
Large search-lights, soldiers called “Moon Beams” lit up the mountain. Harold’s group was there to relieve the French and stayed for three days in the thick of it. Then they were given one day to rest and then go into combat again to relieve the British soldiers. It was night fighting on the 75th Parallel and the Chinese were fighting with the North Koreans. It was sort of like two hills, with the enemy on one and the U.N. forces on the other, separated by a valley.
The 1st Platoon, already on the front lines, was ambushed and killed. American forces were trying to retrieve the bodies at night. But the North Koreans assumed it would be attempted at night and were always waiting. Being unsuccessful to complete the task by night, our forces were smarter and decided to go by daylight. It was then that they succeeded in getting the bodies of the 1st Platoon.
After that Harold Drinkwater’s group was sent back to South Korea to guard the prisoners of war held in a camp there. About that time, Stalin died and with that some of the Communism was not so strong. The prisoners decided that was a good reason to riot. They would attempt to find anything for a weapon, including rocks, or something they could make a knife or sharp object . They would try to hide the self-made weapons in their shirts. For three months Harold’s group guarded the prisoners. He saw mistreatment from both sides.
When they went back to the front lines again, they heard in English “Welcome back 23rd, prisoner beaters. You will pay for it.” The Marines were trying to hold back the enemy and it was 12 miles to get to them at the front lines over a dirty, very muddy road. Harold’s group walked all night only to find that the Marines had held the line. So it was another walk 12 miles back and their feet were now covered in blisters.
The front lines were U.N. Forces, then a hill and behind that was the North Korean line. In July a treaty was signed and each force moved back a distance and new lines were established.
My story might have been longer, but Harold’s pocket went off (Fire Department alarm), because there was a fire and he was out the door in seconds. He has been 66 years on Camden Fire Department, and still is ready to go assist. The Camden Town Report was dedicated to him this past year, because he has been a dedicated firefighter for so many years.
From the Dedication in the Town Report, I learned that Mr. Drinkwater joined our Camden Fire Department in 1955, at age 24, and has been responding ever since for fifty-eight years. That is the reason why he was out of my home in seconds, due to all those years of practice. Our wonderful Chief Allen Payson asked him to join the Fire Department when Harold was working for the Knox Woolen Company. He spent about 38 years there, and he ended being a supervisor. It was handy having firemen who worked in the Knox Mill, as I was told by one chief. When the alarm went off, one fire engine was filled with the men who worked there, and they were off to the fire in no time. Harold served as Assistant Chief for 30 years. About 10 years ago, he took on the duties of “fire police,” who direct traffic at the fire scenes. The new fire truck that came this year was named HAROLD DRINKWATER, in his honor.
He says he is now retired.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.