As a Navy corpsman, that branch of the service’s version of a combat medic, Lew Heine witnessed the horror of men blown apart by artillery shells and torn open by gunshots.
But his first battlefield patient in the fall of 1951 near the eastern coast of South Korea near the 38th Parallel was a teenage girl. When Heine went to relieve a fellow corpsman on the line, the other corpsman relayed information about an incident earlier that day.
“The enemy was coming in and trying to observe our location and we shot up this person and [another corpsman] said, ‘I shot him, you go get him.’ So I put my medical bag out there and walked 10, 20 yards,” Heine said.
“I went out there and, lo and behold, it was like an 18-year-old girl.”
Heine said he didn’t believe the girl was a combatant and carried items that might have indicated she, too, was a medic. Heine bandaged up her badly wounded legs and a head wound and gave her some morphine. The girl was taken to a field hospital, where she later died, according to Heine.
“She was crying and I felt so sorry for her,” he said. “That was my first experience with the enemy, and here I thought, ‘Here’s just an innocent little girl,’ and I felt so sad about it.”
Heine, 86, will be the honored veteran at Riverside’s Memorial Day ceremony in Guthrie Park on May 30. Trained as a medic, he spent three years in the Navy and nine months as a corpsman in Korea, attached to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment.
Following his encounter with the teenage girl, Heine would treat many others wounded in battle and would be wounded himself. And like so many fellow veterans, Heine came back from the war and largely put it behind him.
He went to college, got married, raised three kids and had a long career in the telephone industry. He and his wife, Martha, moved to Riverside in 1963 after a few years in Martha’s native Berwyn.
But it was just in the past decade or so, when Heine began attending reunions with his old battalion, that his wife, Martha, began hearing about her husband’s experiences on the front lines in brutal combat.
“That’s where I found out,” Martha said. “That when I found out what he went through.”
Heine was born in Ellendale, North Dakota, and spent the first 10 years of his life on a farm. The experience, he said, which occasionally included slaughtering animals, probably helped him cope with what he saw on the battlefield.
But after suffering through the Great Depression, Heine’s dad gave up the farm life and moved the family to Largo, Florida, near St. Petersburg, in 1940.
“It was a very ‘country’ town,” said Heine, whose relatives had moved to that area after the Civil War. His grandparents lived there. Its main employer was a fruit packing company.
He graduated from high school in 1947 and enlisted in the Navy in 1949, spending a year on active duty before being assigned to the reserves. Then in September 1950, the Navy recalled Heine to active duty. The Korean War had started.
In January 1951, Heine received orders that he’d be heading overseas and traveled to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina for corpsman field training. It was there that he began seeing severely wounded men from the First Marine Division coming back from the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.
“I took out more insurance,” Heine said when asked what he thought about heading to Korea after seeing so many wounded returning home. “I thought I’d probably get knocked off there.”
In May 1951, he landed in Busan, South Korea and shortly after was a replacement corpsman in the weapons company of the 1st Marines, 2nd Battalion. It wasn’t long after that that Heine encountered the wounded Korean girl and experienced his first artillery barrage.
“We were there three or four weeks, and I noticed that if there was activity in the valley behind us, it would draw artillery fire,” Heine said. “So when it came for us to be relieved … we all lined up to walk down that valley. And I had extreme apprehension that we were going to get clobbered.”
Heine made sure he was near the front of the line of Marines heading back into reserve.
“And sure enough, I was around the corner and I get the word, ‘Corpsman back!'” Heine said. “And we ran back to where to where the artillery had walked in on our people and we crawled around as corpsmen taking care of these guys.”
The sights were terrible. One Marine, torn in half by shrapnel, looked up briefly to see his legs severed from his body, Heine said, and fell back, dead.
“We took care of those that could be helped and pretty soon they quit bombarding us and we put our wounded on stretchers and carried them back,” said Heine, who remembered that experience as terrifying.
“You’re scared to death,” Heine said. “When you have to run back there with the bombs and all of that, you’re terrified. But the main thing is you do your work on your stomach.”
After some weeks in reserve, Heine’s company was ordered back into the line. They headed up to the Kanmubong Ridge, relieving Marines that’d been through the first phase of what would become known as the Battle of the Punchbowl.
“The shock was on their faces; you could just see it, and that sort of hit home about what they’d already been through,” Heine said of the men his battalion was relieving.
On Sept. 13, 1951 the 2nd Battalion was ordered to take Hill 749 (the name corresponded to the hill’s height, in meters), and a group of Marines, including Heine, got separated from the rest of the battalion.
He spent the night wrapped in a poncho he took from a dead Marine and at about 10 a.m. the next day, an artillery barrage rolled into the area. To this day, Heine said he’s not sure if it was a short round from U.N. guns or North Korean artillery.
A Marine nearby was hit by napalm and Heine was struck in the right arm by artillery shrapnel. Not injured badly, Heine attended to his more seriously wounded comrade and the two were later evacuated to a nearby hospital.
Heine was trucked back south to Daegu and then to a hospital ship off Busan, where he received his Purple Heart and a promotion to petty officer, third class.
He never went back into combat. After returning for duty in February 1952 he was assigned to a motor transport unit before leaving Korea for the United States in March.
After being discharged, Heine attended the University of Florida, getting a degree in agronomy, and meeting his future wife, Martha Karg. They were married in March 1954 and moved to Berwyn after Lew landed a job in the equipment engineering division of the Western Electric Company.
He worked there 33 years, retiring in 1990.
Through most of that time, Heine didn’t talk about his time in the service.
“It just didn’t seem that interesting,” he said.
Martha learned about her husband’s experiences by listening to the stories of his former comrades at the reunions, where the veterans felt more at ease opening up.
“Lew’s not gung ho,” said Martha. “He served his country and he went over there and he did what he was to do and he came home …”
“And forgot about it,” said Lew, finishing his wife’s thought.