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Change in career plans

Tens of thousands of Korean War veterans live in the Tampa Bayarea. A few agreed to share their recollections with us.

Published July 21, 2003

David Mason had just set foot on Korean soil when he noticed something odd about the old train chugging toward him.

Many of the windows had been shot out.

"They told us they had been ambushed on their way down there," recalled Mason, now 70 and living in Palm Harbor.

A few minutes later, the officers started passing out ammunition.

"That's the first time I realized, "Hey, I'm over here in the war zone,' " Mason said. "The first time it all became real."

Growing up, Mason had always wanted to be in the Army. He signed up after graduating from high school in Pennsylvania in 1950 and was sent to Fort Knox, Ky.

By the time Mason was deployed to Korea in August 1952 he had seen many soldiers return wounded. He was 19, old enough to know he didn't really want to go.

Mason traveled on a troop ship from Japan for three or four days, hating every seasick moment. At one point, an old sailor took Mason to the dining room, sat him down, cut two grapefruits in half, sprinkled them with salt and made the young soldier eat them. It helped, but Mason still couldn't wait to set foot on dry land.

Finally, the group reached Korea. "I won't say that I was happy to be going to war, but I was glad to be on land," Mason said.

He hooked up with the 9th Field Artillery, attached to the 3rd Infantry Division, where he served as a gunner.

"As we were getting up on the beach, this train was coming to pick us up," he said.

"It looked old, like one of our choo-choo trains," Mason said. "I could only remember that some of the windows were shot out of it."

Fighting in Korea changed Mason's mind about a life in the service.

"I intended to stay 20 years - until they sent me to Korea."

After his 10 months in Korea, he decided he had had enough.

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