I Almost Shot Ike!
Bob Ruzenky was born in New York. He describes himself as a tough street kid that learned to fight at age 11. He often sparred with his older brother.
Bob was 21 years old and studying electronics at night school. All the other students in his class – 40 of them – were World War II veterans. Bob said, “I was the only non-veteran in the class.” At the time, Korea was just beginning to heat up. The class took a break, and when they returned his classmates had reconfigured the room into a large circle with one seat in the middle. They asked Bob to take a seat in the middle. They said, “now you sit there, and we’ll decide what branch of the service you’ll go in.” It was decided Bob should join the Air Force. “That’s what I did,” said Bob. Robert Ruzenky enlisted in the Air Force in March of 1951. After enlisting, I studied electronics at Scott Air Force Base for six months and then they shipped me to Seoul City Air Base.
Bob was married to Evelyn in 1952. We married before I went over to Korea. I sat down with Evelyn and explained to her all the facts of life. I told her this is not an easy thing to do. She said, I want to get married. We got married on Saturday and went back to work on Monday.
Seoul City Sue
In Korea, Bob worked on electronic systems. We had all kinds of airplanes. At this base, their mission was phycological warfare. They dropped flares, flyers and propaganda leaflets. The planes were Douglas A26 Invaders. The bomb bay was converted and housed huge speakers. You could stand 20’ away and just whisper and hear it. We had a Korean gal in the A26 who sat in the nose or the bubble speaking into a microphone telling the North Koreans and Chinese to give up, go back to your homeland, you’re not properly outfitted to fight. After the Korean War was over, she came to the United States and they interviewed her. I think she was called “Seoul City Sue.”
We had all kind of planes in Korea. The planes from the WW2 era were antiquated. The newer planes had a lot of electronics. All the new components were much smaller. That was when transistors were first coming out. I said, holy mackerel, what do I know about transistors? They sent me to school, taught me. Some of the early electronics were very troublesome. We had to have backups and sometimes multiple backups. When I got to Korea the radios were from World War II. Back then, you had to have a receiver and transmitter for each channel, so you had a whole slew of them. But then they came up with this one thing like a square box. And that was four channels! Boy, was that nice! All you had to do is hit (select) one channel. That wasn’t good enough. Before I left Korea, they had another smaller one that had multiple channels. That was great! Bob also worked on the big planes like the C124.
When I first got there I was a little scared. One night, there was an air raid. There were bombs going off, all over. We were laying on top of the trenches and sandbags watching. We had gotten so used to it. A First Lieutenant came out and said, you need to get down from there before you get hurt. About that same time they fired, and this Lieutenant got a piece of shrapnel in his leg. At the same time we jumped off into the trench. Because of all the rain we were covered in mud from head to toe. Bob said, it was fun watching the explosions until they started shooting over their heads. I felt sorry for the lieutenant.
One time there was some scuttlebutt or propaganda that there were 40,000 North Koreans or Chinese on the main road to Seoul. My family back home heard about this. My brother’s wife asked, are you getting involved in that battle? She said, you don’t have to fool us! It was a tough time to be in Korea. Some of the troops had it pretty tough.
Refusal of a Bronze Star
A Marine Division got trapped on a hill. We had to have our planes go in close by and get their wounded guys out. We had to keep these planes flying. So if they had an electronics problem, I’d meet them on the runway. I’d jump in the airplane, found out what was going on. I had another guy working with me. I’d tell him what we needed to fix the plane. We had to take the truck to get it. I’d pull the thing out and meet him at the truck. We also kept parts in the truck. Bob was awarded a medal for his actions. Bob says, they wanted to give me a bronze star. I refused it. I didn’t deserve a medal. Those poor guys trapped on the hill deserved the medal. Bob worked twelve on, twelve off. We took care of all planes going on a mission. If they had a foul up, with a radio we’d catch em, repair them and they still make the mission. We had radios in the shop and talk to the pilots. That was a good deal there. It worked well.
It was a good thing for me to go to Korea. I got to work on all kinds of planes. The Navy brought in their planes for us to work on. The British had their planes there, we worked on them. The Navy guys would take the bus into Seoul while we worked on their planes. The pilot would say, “this is going to take about 5-6 hours isn’t it?”
Free Time in Seoul
In his free time, Bob played the piano at the NCO Club. Bob started piano lessons when he was eleven and was pretty accomplished by the time he was seventeen. I brought popular, up to date music with me that I played. Bob also volunteered at an orphanage. The priest at the church asked me if I’d go on a trip with him. I said, sure. So we went to this orphanage. We helped rebuild the school. There was a convent and nuns there. The nuns would pick up all the girls off the streets. We’d go in there and the kids would be so happy to us. We’d talk to them and then they’d entertain us. I told my wife, some of these kids I’d like to take with me. She said, not in your life! We’re going to have our own. I went to Seoul a couple of times. The other airmen wanted me to go to a place called Old China. I said, No I ain’t going!
Supply Store Scare
I was coming out of the shop. Some North Koreans sneaked onto the base. There were sandbags all around the building. I come out and I wasn’t walking really fast when I hear ding, ding, ding. I got so dog gone mad! I turned around got my M1 out of the rack and slammed a 30-round rack into it. There’s no way that 30 caliber carbine could reach them. At most, the M1 would reach 300 yards. In the meantime, the Marines went after them.
Shortening the Wing Tips
We had about a half dozen T-6 planes (North American T-6 Texan) we used as spotters. There was one T-6 pilot who came back, called for an emergency. He came in and landed it okay but had a foot of wing tip cut off and three cables sheared off in the wing. He had flown between two mountains. The Chinese knew we had spotters and they strung cables between the mountains. The pilot didn’t see the cables until it was too late.
Infiltrators / Truck Thieves
If you were stationed on that base, whether you’re Marine, Army Air Force at night you did guard duty. One night I was standing guard duty. I was walking around. I hear this banging. No one was supposed to be out here but me. I found these two guys jimmying the universal joints on a truck. I called to them. They just looked at me. I stuck my M1 rifle out where they see it and pulled back the bolt. When they saw and heard that, they knew the gun was loaded. I took them as prisoners to the shack. The South Korean Military Police took charge of them. I asked, “were these guys bad?” They said, “they weren’t on our side.” I found out later, they were hung off the bridge that goes over Seoul City. One of them upside down. They usually leave them there a couple of days and someone comes along and cuts the rope and they fall into the river below. I don’t know how many times I saw that happen.
I went to school while I was stationed in Seoul. You had to go for six weeks. You got a year of electronics school in just six weeks. The teacher I had at the time, wasn’t a very good instructor. He didn’t know how to teach effectively. He knew his stuff but didn’t know how to teach. And all the guys, just flunked. A couple of guys said, we need to get rid of this guy. Well, they call me in the office and said, do you think we ought to fire this guy? They said, everybody is flunking. I said, there is a reason for it. I wrote down all the things he should do to correct his teaching and handed it to them. They said, who do you think you are? I said, I’m a certified instructor. They said, oh. I told them what I thought about the guy. I said, he’s a nice guy, okay. So the next day we go to the class, he teaches his one subject. At the end of the hour, we come back in and sit down, and the instructor said, Bob go show him how to teach. He said, do you think you can do this? I said, yes. I said, listen you guys, I don’t care how many stripes you have on your arm. I said, I’m up here. I’m the top man, so shut your mouth, sit down and listen. Then I teach the class an hour. The instructor just turned his book over to me, and I taught it all day. All the administrators of the school, come in, sat in the back, and listened to me teach. That was the third week of class.
One night I got to work on a B-17 Flying Fortress. It used to belong to General Douglas McArthur. It was his transport plane. When McArthur was relieved in 1951, he gave it to General Barkens. He took the B-17 to Japan to get some radio equipment put in. Those guys screwed it all up. Nothing worked. The General was madder than a wet hen. He said, I want this damn thing fixed! We took it apart rewired it and got it working. All the Koreans were washing and cleaning the plane. They kept this thing polished. You should have seen the inside of that airplane. The B-17 had padded chairs, a nice bed and kitchen.
I Almost Shot Ike!
On our Air Base, all the lights are usually off. There were no trucks driving, no lights anywhere. It was pitch black. Our job was to walk the post, along tent city. I’m walking along, and I hear voices. I hear someone say, halt! I say, halt hell! I say, who in the heck are you? They say, none of your damn business who we are! I say, I’ll tell you what, I’ve got a carbine with 30 rounds. You don’t tell me who you are real quick, it will be the end of it. The voice shouted back, we can shoot you. I said, you can’t even see me. I walked up to them. It turns out it was a group which included President Elect Dwight Eisenhower. Soon as I saw who it was I put my arms down. They said, we don’t want you to say anything about this. I said, believe me, I won’t. So Eisenhower came forward, and I saluted. Eisenhower said, would you have really fired? I said, yes sir! Bob says today. I would have shot him! Eisenhower had been in a meeting with the South Korean Present before he took office.
Bob’s time in Korea was nearing an end. I was told to list places where you’d like to transfer. Bob said, guys always list the where they wanted to go first. So I said, I’m going to put down where I want to go, last. Sure enough, I put down SAFB last on my list last and that’s where they sent me. I was originally from New York, so I put down a base near New York. My wife Evelyn was from St. Louis.
Bob needed a little help when it came time to leave Korea. He needed a signature on some paperwork in order to catch his flight out. Many technicians left tools with Bob when they left Korea. Those tools helped Bob broker a deal to get the signature on his orders. Bob handed over the tools, and the Lieutenant signed the paperwork but said, you can’t leave for ten days. The Captain walked by, talked to Bob and pulled some strings and he left. It turned out, the Captain didn’t like the Lieutenant. Bob used to fix all the pilots radios. The Lieutenant didn’t want him repairing them anymore. About a half dozen officers chewed out the Lieutenant for his orders. First, he told Bob, don’t fix their radios. Later he told me to fix them after he had gotten chewed out.
Bob was on the way home. He was at Seoul City Air Base for one year and headed back to Scott Air Force Base (SAFB).
When I was back at SAFB three weeks, the Captain over the school was due up for Major for the third time. A couple of days later, I was teaching students on oscilloscopes. The room was dark. The door opened up and all these people were standing in the doorway. The light shone brightly through the doorway. I said, please don’t stand in the doorway we have a class going on. If you want to sit in on the class, there are places or chairs in the back if you’d like to sit down. Please close the door. I taught the class, then said please turn the lights on. The lights come on and there were these generals and officers in the back. They all got up together and went back out. I told the Captain all these big wheels came in and I had the lights off.
I liked teaching. All these guys were flunking. I asked them, why are you letting these guys get away from here? I found out where these guys were getting mixed up and I straightened them out. I developed a school and courses for them and had a 99% return rate.
While at Scott Air Force Base, one officer tried to ship him out to the desert. In September he heard he was getting orders for San Angelo in Central Texas. He had just gotten home from Korea. It took about a couple of weeks to process orders and it came around the time for him to ship out and the orders never came through.
Bob finished out his enlistment at Scott Air Force Base near St. Louis. Bob was discharged in 1955. After serving, Bob went to work for Ozark airlines from 1955-1969, Emerson Electric from 1969-1971 and back again with Ozark from 1972-1994. During Bob’s second stint with Ozark, the company was acquired by TWA.
After retirement in 1994, Bob volunteered at the St. Louis Science Center, Wings of Hope, and The Villages of St. Peters. While volunteering at the Science Center he did many jobs, but during the Christmas Season he would play the piano. At the Villages of St. Peters, Bob also played the piano. At the At Wings of Hope- he worked on designs for fixing up the planes.
Bob and his piano still call The Villages of St. Peters home today!
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