STORM LAKE, Iowa | Tom Prchal hadn’t been overseas four days before he found himself on the frontlines in Incheon, Korea with the Army’s First Calvary Division, 7th Calvary Regiment.
“I found the horrors of war in a big hurry,” said Prchal, who was 21 at the time.
Prchal took engineering training, along with basic training, at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. He trained for combat engineering, but Prchal soon learned it didn’t matter what training an individual received.
“Two-thousand of us came off the ship and we all went right up to the front lines no matter who we were,” he said.
Between the time he left Seattle, landed in Japan and then traveled to Korea, Prchal wasn’t exactly sure what to expect or what his duties would be. But sure enough, he found out quickly.
“I went to Incheon, Korea, and three days later, I’m up on the front lines with a heavy mortar company,” he said. “I had never seen a mortar in my life, I never trained at all for any combat, but there I am in the middle of the night, scared to death.”
The conditions didn’t allow for calls home. Sending a letter home took two weeks, but stationary consisted of scraps or sacks and whatever writing utensil was available.
That was the reality for Prchal and his fellow soldiers for the next four months, fighting Chinese and North Korean forces. The unpredictable and unknown became “normal” for him.
“We never knew where we were at over there,” said Prchal, of Storm Lake. “You were just up there and had no idea where you were at.”
Prchal said he didn’t have a mindset or approach to surviving the front lines. He said there was no time or circumstance to be overly scared or worried.
“As a 21-year-old, I was macho,” he said. “I guess you just didn’t think that much of it. You don’t at that age. All the troops were in the same position.”
After four months on the front lines were up, he went to Hokkaido, Japan, where he trained to protect Japan from Russian and Chinese forces. There, he served in the motor pool taking care of vehicles.
He didn’t see any battle in Japan, but that’s not to say danger didn’t present itself. An 8.1 magnitude earthquake struck Hokkaido in March of 1952, killing 33 citizens.
“I was in the mess hall filling salt shakers and the generals were around drinking coffee and all of a sudden, the salt’s going all directions,” he said. “We all jumped out for safety.”
Prchal said no U.S. troops were killed, but they helped citizens in the areas most impacted. He said the earthquake was a bit unnerving, but almost preferable to what he had seen.
“It wasn’t near as bad as being in Korea,” he said.
After Japan came another stint in Korea, this time in Busan. His duty on this trip was to provide security work for the United Nations Camp. He drove around high ranking generals and dignitaries that visited the UN during that time.
On this trip to Korea, he was informed what was going on, which eased any nervousness he may have had about a return.
Four months later, in April of 1953, Prchal went home to Omaha. For the next 40 years, he worked as a hardware wholesaler around Northwest Iowa and retired in 1995.
Now 86, Prchal said he doesn’t dwell on his service much. He said he’s just happy to be home.
“In hindsight, I came out of there safe with a lot of experience and a lot of knowledge of how our government works.”