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Life on the family farm under an open heaven: Riding the munitions train

Tom Heck for Progressive Dairy Published on 24 May 2021

My dad, Earl Heck, was born and raised on a small farm in Wisconsin. There, his parents taught him hard work and responsibility. As a boy, things were hard, since the country was in the Great Depression.

The family worked very hard to put food on the table, clothes on their backs, wood in the stove and pay the bills. But they were greatly blessed since they lived in America, the land of freedom, a nation under God.

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WWII came, and my dad was on the young side to go to war; however, as the war was getting close to being over, my dad got put on the short list of having to report at a moment’s notice. Well, the war ended, and he didn’t have to report.

But then came the Korean War, and he got drafted by the army. He went through boot camp and, while there, the leadership found out he was very good at mechanics. So after boot camp, they sent him to another camp for several weeks to teach him mechanics. They put him in a group of men called the Engineering Maintenance Aviation Company (EMAC). Once they got their time in there, they were shipped out to Korea.

And what can I say – if he would have landed on the moon, it wouldn’t have been as shocking as Korea. What did he find there, you ask? A land totally bombed out. So many people half starving to death. So many people who only had a few rags for clothing. And orphans by the thousands. What he had growing up in the Great Depression was exceedingly great compared to what these people had. He couldn’t even find one nice standing tree in the area where he was stationed.

He was stationed at K-13. That is Korea Airstrip number 13. At that time, it was the largest airstrip in the world, he said. It was used 100% for our aircraft for fighting the war. When the war was raging, the jet fighters would be taking off literally all day and all night.

It took a lot of earth-moving equipment to keep the airstrip up and running. And equipment … they had acres and acres of it. All left over from WWII in the Pacific. When the Korean War broke out, our government gathered up all that leftover equipment and moved it to Korea.

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The job of the EMAC was to keep this equipment up and running so they could continually keep the airstrip in excellent shape for the planes. And they did this very well. How? By taking parts off of the acres and acres of junked-out equipment left over from WWII.

But they got a couple of other jobs once in a while that they didn’t like. When the fighting got really bad, the planes would fly around the clock. So many of the planes then would come in shot up badly, and sometimes the pilots would too. At these times, the airplane mechanics couldn’t keep up with fixing the planes. The orders were, “Get those planes back in the air as fast as possible.” At those times, they would pull the EMAC off of the earth-moving equipment and onto the planes.

So they would fix them up as fast as they could so they would fly. They were not fixed as good as they should have been, but they got them so they would fly, and they hoped the pilots would make it back in them alive. But they had no choice. The men fighting on the ground at the front lines desperately needed them for support. It was literally a matter of life and death for so many men.

The other job the EMAC got sometimes was to ride guard on the munitions trains running up to the front lines to supply our troops with ammunition. They would send the trains up in the black of night so they wouldn’t be easy for the enemy to spot and attack. On the back of the railroad cars, they would have a platform with a machine gun mounted on it. They would put one or two men on each machine gun to protect the train.

Talk about being a moving target. And if your carload of ammunition gets hit, it’ll blow sky high and you along with it. Fortunately, the train never got attacked when my dad was riding guard on it. And it was cold in the wintertime riding those trains. I remember my dad saying a number of times that those train rides were the coldest he ever got in his whole life.

My dad was blessed; he came home from the war alive, in good health. He farmed the rest of his life, living to an old age. Others came back wounded and hurt. Many others didn’t make it back alive; they paid the ultimate price. They paid the price to keep other people free.

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We in our nation today owe a great debt of gratitude to all of those who have served our country so well. We should never take for granted the great blessings of liberty and freedom we have in America. They have been bought with a great price. God has blessed us greatly; may we never forget this, and may we live our lives wisely. We owe so much to so many. end mark

Tom Heck, his wife, Joanne, and their two children own and operate a 35-cow dairy farm in Wisconsin. Contact Tom Heck  or order his book at Tom Heck.

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