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Dust, Mud and Snow: An Airman’s Life in Korea

Life on the K-bases remained fairly basic throughout the Korean War. USAF personnel generally lived in tents with wooden or concrete floors and stored their meager possessions in furniture cobbled together from scrap wood or crates. These tents were blistering hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. The vast unpaved areas on air bases were dusty when dry, and they turned to mud with spring rains. While aircrews did their best to fight boredom between tension-filled missions, maintenance personnel worked long hours in poor weather conditions to keep worn and damaged aircraft in service.

Exhibit Case:
Korean winters were notoriously cold. Robert Loomis, a radio operator on mobile transmitters, had these boots custom-made for use in the field.

Col. F.S. Kamykowski, 6131st Maintenance and Supply Group, used this arctic survival kit stove to heat canned rations and provide warm water for shaving and washing.

Ike jacket worn by Cpl. Edwin Stangle of the 809th Engineer Aviation Battalion. The Air Force relied on SCARWAF (Special Category Army Personnel with Air Force) engineers, who were Army personnel assigned to the operational control of the Air Force. After the Korean War, the Air Force created its own units for airfield engineering.

In theater, US armed forces personnel used MPCs -- Military Payment Certificates -- instead of actual US money in order to protect the local currency and discourage the black market. These MPCs could be exchanged for US currency when a service member returned to the States.

Personalized artwork on headgear was common among Airmen during the Korean War.

  1. Painting field caps was especially popular. The top of this field cap is painted with the "Thunderbirds" emblem of the 34th Bomb Squadron.
  2. Helmet liner worn by Corporal Robert Johnson of the 6154th Air Police Squadron during 1951-1952. The stripes were added sometime later in his tour--rank insignia was not commonly used while close to the front lines to avoid drawing sniper fire.
  3. Aircrews often kept a tally of their missions on their headgear. Major Joseph Turner, an F-84 pilot in the 8th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, kept track of his 101 combat missions by gluing bombs on his baseball cap.
  4. Captain Dale Brook, a supply officer at Taegu, had this sun helmet decorated for him by a Korean painter. The artist attempted to show his country's pre-war culture, feeling that it would never be the same again.
  5. Painted P-1B helmet used by an F-86 pilot in the 39th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 51st Fighter Interceptor Wing.

Click here to return to the Korean War Introduction.