LE MARS, Iowa | Bud Vander Well figured it was just a matter of time until he was drafted.
So rather than wait to be drafted, he enlisted. He knew there was a good chance he'd wind up in Korea, but at least he'd have a say in which branch of the service he served.
So on Jan. 9, 1951, Vander Well, who was born in Boyden, Iowa, and moved to Le Mars as a teenager, enlisted in the Navy. He wasn't exactly sure why, he said, but he knew that Navy accommodations would be better than those the guys in the Army and Marines would face in Korea.
"I was going to see the world and I was going to sleep in a bunk and not a foxhole. I was going to eat in a mess and not C-Rations in that same foxhole," said Vander Well, who served nearly four years in the Navy, including stints in Korea in 1952 and again after the fighting had ended in 1954.
He had no ultimate wish to join the fighting in Korea, but that changed after his good friend, Jack Brodie, a Marine, was killed there.
"So then I thought, well, I guess I ought to go to Korea," Vander Well said.
An apprentice meat cutter when he enlisted, Vander Well was sent to commissary school after completing basic training and trained as a cook, butcher and baker. He first served on a Landing Ship, Tank, or LST. After arriving in Korea in June 1952, he was part of the 12-member crew on board a Landing Craft Utility, or LCU, at Incheon.
The crew's primary mission was transporting supplies up a river (Vander Well couldn't remember which one) to front-line forces. They delivered everything from food to personnel to tanks, even mercenary soldiers one time. On a few occasions, they came under mortar or small-arms fire while on the water. They certainly faced less danger than the Army troops and Marines they were supplying, Vander Well said.
"I don't have the same sense of it as foot soldiers and Marines," he said. "Not being a foot soldier, we felt we were worthwhile. We were backing up the front lines. The fact we got shot at a couple times, it's nothing to brag about."
Vander Well was shipped out of Korea at the end of 1952 and was sent back in 1954, after fighting had ceased. Again, he transported supplies to soldiers who were still stationed there, but much of his 10-month deployment was spent in Japan or completing training exercises.
He was discharged in November 1954, and not long after that he got back into the meat business. After receiving an animal science degree from Iowa State, Vander Well worked for 32 years for Swift & Co. in a number of capacities before retiring in 1993. He returned to Le Mars, then took a job with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's meat grading service for 15 years, retiring on his 77th birthday.
He spends his retirement loading his own ammunition for his target-shooting hobby and working with the American Legion, which he joined in 1993. He's held numerous ranks, both locally and at the district level.
"I've really enjoyed working with it. To me, it's an indirect method of helping veterans," he said.
Vander Well said he's fortunate that he didn't see heavy action in the war and has no lasting injuries, although the hearing aids he wears are a result of serving as a loader of the 40mm antiaircraft gun on board an LST. He's proud to have served his country in any way he could during the war.
"I went. I felt that I did some good, but what can I say, we got shot at a couple times but I never fired a shot," he said.