LE MARS, Iowa | There was no cake for Jerome Hansen when his birthday rolled around in 1952.
Instead, on March 13, Hansen boarded a troop ship in Washington and was bound for Korea, where eight months of ambush patrols on the front lines awaited.
"We knew we were headed up to the front," Hansen said.
It was a long way from Oyens, Iowa, where Hansen grew up after being born in Granville, Iowa. Hansen was working for a local farmer when he received his Army draft notice in 1951 and reported for basic training on Sept. 19 of that year.
"Our whole outfit was an infantry outfit, so they were training us to go over there as replacements," Hansen said.
After arriving in Korea in April 1952, Hansen boarded a train headed to Chuncheon and first saw the damage months of fighting along the 38th Parallel had done to the country.
"Everything was just kind of wrecked when we got there. There wasn't a tree on any of the hills. They looked like poles," he said. "It looked like we were fighting for nothing, because nothing was there."
On the day after Easter, he and other members of the 25th Division, 27th Regiment headed to a hill known as Bloody Ridge, right next to the now-famous Heartbreak Ridge, to relieve the 40th Division.
For much of the next eight months, Hansen was involved in ambush patrols along the front lines, first at Bloody Ridge, then the Sateri Valley and finally in an area known as the Iron Triangle.
"We would go out and find a place to pull an ambush," he said. "If (enemy soldiers) happened to come, all hell broke out."
Hansen was awarded a Bronze Star for valor for his actions in the Sateri Valley. Hansen recalled that his 15-member patrol ran into enemy forces.
"They surprised us. We got the best of them," he said.
By December 1952, Hansen had earned enough points to be transferred back to the United States. He was serving as a training officer at Camp Atterbury in Indiana when he was sent to take part in testing of a nuclear bomb at Yucca Flat in Nevada in April 1953. His job: hunker down in a trench 3,000 yards from the blast zone with other soldiers until the shock wave from the bomb detonation passed over them.
"We felt the heat on our backs when we were down in the trench when it went off," said Hansen, who glanced out of the trench to catch a glimpse of the resulting mushroom cloud.
Hansen was discharged from the Army on June 19, 1953. The next day, he met his future wife, Margo, who was rooming with Hansen's sister.
The couple farmed in the 1950s. Hansen left farming and went to work for the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service before joining a bridge crew in the Plymouth County Engineer's Office. He worked his way on to the survey crew and spent 25 years with Plymouth County before retiring in 1992.
Now 87, he spends most of his time working in the yard of his home in Le Mars -- "I still do my own mowing," he said -- or golfing. His six sons gave him a set of golf clubs for his 60th birthday.
"I golf every day if it's decent."
Hansen no doubt enjoys the greenery, something that was lacking in the brown, shelled-out area of Korea where he lived in bunkers that would provide cover during mortar and artillery barrages.
"You got kind of used to it, once you're in it awhile," he said. "It was pretty rough over in those places."