When Charlie Lombard thumbs through an album full of photos from his military days, the black and white images help him travel back across decades and miles to South Korea.
Lombard was an Army soldier, but he went there in the midst of war to help others rather than fight. As a member of a medical unit, he assisted hundreds of sick and wounded troops, including returning prisoners of war. Often, he loaded them into planes that took them to hospitals in Japan, a major step on their path back to the United States.
"I'm so glad I went," Lombard said. "I helped a lot of people, no doubt about it."
-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Charlie Lombard, of Fort Dodge, uses a map to locate the areas in South Korea where he served with an Army medical unit during the Korean War. He worked at an air base near Seoul and at a camp not far from the 38th Parallel, which is the border between North Korea and South Korea.
He grew up on a farm in Calhoun County and graduated from Somers High School in 1950. Shortly after he graduated, the Korean War began when North Korea invaded South Korea. The military draft was ongoing, but he was never drafted.
Instead, he enlisted in the Army in March 1952 for two years of active duty and six years of reserve duty. Lombard was mustered into the service at Camp Crowder, Mo., and was quickly sent to Camp Pickett, Va. At that base, he completed eight weeks of infantry basic training followed by eight weeks of medical training.
From there, he was dispatched to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for eight weeks of training as an occupational therapist. Then he went to Camp Atterbury, Ind., where he worked in the base hospital for four weeks.
All of his training and the hospital work ended in December 1952. Lombard was then assigned to the Far East Command, which meant he was headed for South Korea. He recalled that the Army was then conducting a "Christmas exchange" in which troops in South Korea were being rotated home and others were being sent overseas.
Lombard spent the Christmas holidays in the United States, however. He reported to Seattle, Wash., to ship out, but he ended up spending a month there. In January 1953, he boarded a troop ship called the Gen. C.C. Ballou for the voyage across the Pacific Ocean. His first stop was Yokohama, Japan. A week later, he arrived at Pusan in the far southeastern corner of South Korea.
He recalled that it was extremely cold. The troops, he said, were loaded into battered old railroad cars with no glass in the windows for a rough ride to the northern end of the country.
There, Lombard was assigned to the 618th Medical Clearing Company at an airbase on the Han River near Seoul known only as K-16.
Lombard and his colleagues in the medical unit received patients from hospitals in Seoul and loaded them into planes destined for Japan.
He was later moved to a post closer to the front lines. There, the medical soldiers received wounded troops from forward aid stations and loaded them into specially equipped trains heading for hospitals in Seoul.
Lombard recalled that he had no set schedule in South Korea. His activity depended on when the wounded arrived. Sometimes, he said, he would work for 24 straight hours.
He was rotated back to the K-16 air base. That's where he was when the armistice that ended the fighting went into effect at 10 p.m. July 27, 1953. He said at that moment, the shooting ''stopped dead cold.''
Following a prisoner of war exchange, Lombard's unit became responsible for getting sick and wounded former prisoners on their way to Japan and eventually, the United States. He completed the plane manifests for aircraft departing with former prisoners. Helping them is one of the aspects of his military career that he takes the most pride in.
''That was top notch,'' he said of the effort to get the prisoners home.
After all the prisoners were sent home, Lombard was trained as a teletype operator. Then, he was transferred to the Headquarters Detachment of the 30th Medical Group in Seoul. That was the last unit he was part of before being sent back to the United States.
On the way home, he sailed from Pusan to Seattle. Back in the United States, he was sent to Camp Carson in Colorado to be discharged. When he stepped off the train there, he was stunned to find his father, Fred Lombard, waiting for him. He still chokes up a little bit when he remembers that moment. And to this day, he doesn't know how his father figured out what base he was being sent to and what train he would be on.
Lombard was discharged on Feb. 24, 1954. He returned to Iowa. He worked for Gus Glaser Meat Co. in Fort Dodge, and he was self-employed as home builder for 20 years.