Interview of Thomas N. Marck by Timmy Dunn (2004)
First off, what was your rank?
I was a Radarman Seaman 1st Class.
Where were you?
In Korean waters during the Korean conflict. I made two cruises to Korea. I was in Korea in April of 1952-May of 1952, then I was there, I think we left in March of ‘53 and then left near…I’m not sure when—we made the last air strikes in the Korean war. What I mean is that the people flew from our place. We tried to call them back, but we were too late…the planes had already dropped their bombs.
How would you define war? Have your ideas of war changed over the years, and if so, how? What would you want other people to know about war?
Like I say, I was never in actual combat—but I would say war is very scary. I’ve always said “I know why they send young people to war” b/c young people are invincible—they think its never going to happen to them. No, it’s always been kind of like that. I think war is a last resort. Negotiate as much as you can before you go—make it a last resort. Because, to me war is…[pause] one country may beat the other country, but both countries suffer dearly.
Did you ever struggle with ethical questions—whether the war was just or not, whether the decisions you made were right or wrong etc.—during the war?
No—b/c they started it.
If you went overseas, what do you remember about the other place and other people?
I didn’t have much contact—I have nothing against the Japanese people, no body ever did anything bad to me. I have no ill feelings about anybody. Cause the people I met didn’t start the war. They were nice to me and I was nice to them—you know how I am.
Did you ever experience combat? Did you have non-combat encounters with the “enemy”?
No, No, I never got onto the beach in Korea.
Were you wounded in any way (physically, emotionally, psychically, spiritually—as a result of your war experience? Has there been a process of healing?
Only injury that I suffered was non-combative. It was in rough seas and I got a leg injury. Nothing too bad. I just fell down and hurt it some how.
What was it like returning to “normal life”? Did you have a period of adjustment?
I wanted to come back! I missed your grandmother and I wanted to go back to a normal life. I kind of floated right back into it. It was a very good feeling coming back into the states. I knew I was home, and I knew I was safe—that’s the feeling I had.
Did your experience resemble portrayals of war on TV, in film, or in literature? Some clichés in Vietnam War movies, for example, are that soldiers were often stoned or mentally disturbed, and the stereotype of the mentally ill veteran persists.
No—I think they glamorize war, and they know a lot about war and they want to tell us all the bad stuff. Iraq is a good example. They are telling us all the bad stuff. I know there are good things happening too, but they don’t want to show us them. It wouldn’t be interesting enough.
Do you think about the war often? What sorts of different memories come back to you?
I don’t think about it that often. It is something long in my past. If I’m talking about my time in the military, things like short stories that are funny come back. It is scary at times, because there were planes that would come to fly in and would crash into the superstructure. It’s in the past, and we [he and grandma] don’t talk about it. It’s like the picture of the bomb dropping off, Man it was scary. But I don’t think about it now, it happened years ago. I’m an old man now.
When you get together with people that you had your experience with, what sorts of stories do you share? What things do you talk about? Why?
We talk about life. We talk about our families now adays. We talk about our experiences on the ship and we talk about what happened on Korean waters. There was a plane that left the carrier and he didn’t make it and we missed him. There are stories like this, but its like I say, you can’t change the past. We don’t usually have anything that we can’t talk about.
Is anything about war beautiful?
What are your thoughts on the current war?
I have very mixed emotions. I am about 80% against it and I’ll tell you why. This country has NEVER attacked another country until Iraq. We have never instigated hostile actions. And we did this time. It’s been proved that he [Saddam] had nothing to do with 9/11. Don’t get me wrong, he was a tyrant and he should have been removed. But I think it’s at the cost of too many American’s lives. We have lost more than 1,200 people in a year’s time. It’s just too much.
In general how was war experience?
To me it was not scary because the young people are the ones that go to war and they think they are invincible. In my older age, I can look back and see it—war is hell. No matter where you are at or what your duties are.
Do you regret your war experience?
I don’t regret it because I’m a firm believer that you should serve your country if you are called upon. I don’t particularly want to do it again, but I’m wiser now. But I never really had any bad experience so…
Did you get drafted or did you enlist?
I enlisted. I was almost 19 years old and I didn’t want to get drafted into the Army. Basically I joined the Navy to stay out of combat.
When you get together at your reunion, what kind of things do/don’t you talk about?
We don’t talk about politics; it is off limits at the reunion—at least as far as I’m concerned. Everything else is pretty much fair game. 2006 will be the first time it is held in the same city. It will be in Northern Kentucky again, but only because one of the guys couldn’t chair it because he got sick and had to bale out.
I interviewed Thomas N. Marck, my grandfather. He was a Radarman Seaman 1st Class in the Korean War. The interview took about thirty minutes, and then he showed me pictures for about an hour. The whole interview was not extremely intense, but I would say that it was still enlightening. I learned things about my grandpa that I have been wondering my whole life, but have never been able to find the right time to ask him. By asking him questions and having read other war stories in class, I was able to see the connections between the two. The experiences of my grandpa, though they are both similar to and different from the literature we read in class, are important in their own right to my understanding of war.
Some of my grandpa’s experiences are like the experiences that read about in the war literature from class. When I asked how he would define war, he said that it was scary. He said, “I’ve always said ‘I know why they send young people to war’ b/c young people are invincible—they think its never going to happen to them.” This reflects the idea of innocence—a concept that is in many pieces of war literature. Before people go to war, they are usually idealistic that they can help save the world and that they can stop the enemy. Naïve behavior is seen in Wilfred Owen’s “Disabled” where the protagonist shows a more wise man reflecting on his youth. In his youth, he thought hat he would be a “real man” by fighting in the war. He thought he would be able to get girls and that he would be a hero. Ironically, now that he is injured, quite the opposite is the case. People look at him like he is a freak because he has no legs. Also, “3 Kings” shows a fall from innocence. Starting out, the characters, except Archie Gates, have never experienced the true experience of death. But when Troy Barlow shoots the man in the neck, they are all able to get their first experience of death. After that, there are more and more experiences that will most likely harden there life. Another example from the movie is the interrogation of Troy Barlow. He is forced to put himself into Said’s shoes and see things in a different light. Often, Americans only see war from one angle, but Barlow is forced to “swallow” the experience of the enemy. This is also alluded to in O’Brien’s “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” when Mary Anne says she wants to eat it up. She has swallowed the experience, and that has made her a different person.
On the other hand, my grandpa had a very different experience than some of the people that we read about in both fiction and non-fiction. “Disabled” shows a man who felt that he was invincible. He wanted to go to war to impress the girls and because it empowered him—he thought he looked like a god. But my grandpa enlisted into the Navy because he was afraid he would be drafted into the Army. He enlisted out of fear. This concept is also alluded to in Tim O’Brien’s “On the Rainy River.” In this story, O’Brien finds out that he has been drafted to fight in the Vietnam War. But as he puts it, he was “drafted to fight a war [he] hated” (40). Elroy Berdahl takes O’Brien out on his boat and hopes that O’Brien will flee to Canada, but O’Brien is too scared to do so. In this case, his fear actually causes him to go to war. One reply that my grandpa gave that shows the difference in the two fears was when I asked him if he regretted his decision at all. He said, “I don’t regret it because I’m a firm believer that you should serve your country if you are called upon. I don’t particularly want to do it again…” This shows that he believes that he would go to war no matter what. He thinks that the duty to country is far more important than self preservation. Even though he “dodged the army” he still served his country in a different, less dangerous way.
Also, my grandpa did not have any kind of repercussions from the war. In Baum’s “The Price of Valor,” Carl is an Iraq war veteran and he is suffering from a sever case of post traumatic stress disorder. PTSD is also seen in many other readings such as “The Things They Carried” with Norman Bowker, and Jarrell’s “Eight Air Force.” Bowker’s case is well played out throughout the short stories that he is present in, but Jarrell’s poem hides the PTSD a little bit better. In the last stanza, “I have suffered, in a dream, because of him…” insinuates that this man is suffering from PTSD. There are other examples of baggage left over from the war in many readings throughout the semester. Not only are there mental complications, but there are physical ones as well such as “Disabled” and Ron Kovic’s story from “Born on the Fourth of July.” Both of these stories deal with a war veteran who has lost his lower extremities and, despite his service to the country, is now looked at as an outcast of society. All of these character’s experiences are very much unlike the experience of my grandpa. He was naïve going into the war, but he always had a realistic view of what war could cause. This is why he did not want to go to the army. Some may argue that he was a coward because he joined the Navy to avoid the army, but from reading some of the literature and seeing what sort of complications there are for someone who fought hand to hand, it seems he made the right decision.
The important thing that needs to be told is that I saw my grandpa looking back in retrospect as a man who had a “good” war experience. My grandpa did not ever have to experience hand to hand combat. He never saw anyone killed. He came back to America and has been able to lead a normal life since the Navy. But what is amazing is that he is still so against war. Like Stacie’s grandfather, he thinks answering the call of duty is something that most people should experience, but he does not want America to have to go to war. He stressed that war should be a last resort. He said, “Negotiate as much as you can before you go—make it a last resort. Because, to me war is…[pause] one country may beat the other country, but both countries suffer dearly.” Even though he did not have to experience some of the horrifying things that others have had to endure, he sees how devastating war can be. He believes the words that Edwin Starr sings, “War/ What is it good for?/ Absolutely nothing! An example of this is Tim O’Brien’s “The Man I Killed.” In this short story, O’Brien describes the grotesque appearance of the man that he shot in the neck. This is also seen in “3 Kings” when Troy Barlow shoots the man in the neck. In both instances, there are conflicting reactions to the death. For the movie I don’t know names, but nearly the exact experience is in O’Brien’s story. Azar says, Oh man, you fuckin’ trashed the fucker,” showing the excitement over death. In “3 Kings,” someone says, “Congratulations, you just shot a rag head.” Kiowa, however, shows a more sympathetic side. He tries to help O’Brien because he understands the mental weight that killings someone can bear. Azar is representative of the naïve, sadistic, young man who still thinks war is like Roland Weary from Slaughterhouse Five. War is romanticized instead of a constant knowledge of the inevitability of death.
I think if my grandpa had been in combat, he would have been most like the character of Billy Pilgrim. Billy was not strong emotionally or physically. He was not a very heroic person. He also was highly affected by PTSD (if that is how the Tralfamadores are interpreted). I am glad my grandpa did not have to have an experience such as Billy because I fear that he would have ended up just like Billy did. After his war experience, Billy is not able to see the world as the same place as he did before the war. Because my grandpa’s experience was not traumatic at all, I don’t think his life after war was changed very much.
The experiences of my grandpa, though both similar to and different from the literature we read in class, are important in their own right to my understanding of war. We read some heavy literature in class that paints a much more gruesome picture of war. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that my grandpa’s war story is not a “true” war story. Nonetheless, my grandpa’s experience was important. Just because his experience was not as traumatic, does not take away from its validity. As a matter of fact, it gives new insight into how some experience war. This experience of interviewing my grandpa has proved that each experience of war is different. No matter what or how much war literature one reads, the concept of war will never be realized unless it is experienced. After all, how can we ever understand war when it is true that, as Walt Whitman says, “The real war will never get in the books.”