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Machine-gunner also fought Korea's extreme cold

Patrick Crawford during the Korean War.

Patrick Crawford during the Korean War. Provided/BND Derik Holtmann/BND

Patrick Crawford spent a year in South Korea, ankle-deep in damp mud and empty shells, ducking in and out of 4-foot-deep foxholes.

He wore three pairs of waterproof pants and a parka. Still, the cold was persistent.

"Twenty-four hours a day, it's just miserable," said Crawford, 79, of Belleville. "You just never really get warm."

Six decades after the Korean War, Crawford's memories are of the scenes crucial to his daily survival with H Co., the 35th Regiment of the U.S. Army's 25th Infantry Division.

Crawford was part of a machine-gun nest on the front lines. He manned one of 13 .30-caliber machine guns arranged in a U-shape at the top of a hill.

"We were trying to hold the valley," Crawford said.

In his mind, he still sees the stream of infiltrators storming into the valley, and how it felt to shoot them down, continuously.

"I used to get into these three-day ruts where I'd be kind of sad," Crawford said. "In my mind, the battles are ongoing. I just try not to think about it."

Back in the foxhole, Crawford said there was no keeping track of the time or the day. He didn't have time to look around. He kept his eye on what was in front of him.

"We moved fast," Crawford said. "We didn't think to defend ourselves, to shove a thumb in someone's eye. If we heard anything, we threw a grenade."

It was two men to a foxhole and they would take turns staying awake.

"It was so cold you couldn't stay up longer than an hour," Crawford said.

The cold also meant the canned fuel the Army provided to heat their food was no good.

"Our food was frozen," Crawford said.

He didn't know whose idea it was, but they resorted to using napalm to cook their rations of corn beef hash, Vienna sausages and hamburgers.

"We'd take off our helmets, throw the food in, add a little snow and pour on the napalm," Crawford said. "When it got about warm, we kicked the can over."

The first time Crawford and his buddies tried it, Crawford went to bed hungry.

"The can got too hot and started sizzling. It went up into the air and splattered all over the snow."

After about a year on the front lines, the cold was Crawford's ticket home. He was hospitalized with frostbitten feet.

"I woke up one morning and I couldn't walk," Crawford said. "I tried to move, but I couldn't keep up with my unit and someone had to come later to guide me back to the line."

After the skin on Crawford's feet healed, he came home and served in the medical corps for two years.

Crawford didn't question his last assignment. "I thought I had died and went to heaven," he said.