William Brennen

Brennen photo

William Brennen
US Marine Corps: 1st Marine Air Wing, HQ Sq. 33, M.A.G. 33
Korean War (1950 – 1952)

William Brennen was born on May 17th 1930 in San Helena, CA. His dad was an auto mechanic in Middletown. His mom was mainly a housewife, but she also worked as a sectary for the department of forestry and taught piano lessons. He had two extremely close cousins that served in world war two; his father tried to enlist in world war two but was to old so he just joined the National Guard. Growing up during WW2, William was influenced by the patriotism he saw and that fostered his thoughts about entering the military. “I was young and didn’t understand much, but I felt inside that I hadn’t done my duty yet,” said Brennen. When WW2 ended Brennen was only 15, but with the threat of the cold war looming he decided to join up when he became old enough and, “do his share.” And he did just that, after graduation from high school he enlisted on July 8th 1948. His family was supportive and they didn’t show any sign of fear, probably due to the fact that there was no war going on at the time. 

He chose the Marine Corps because they seem to be the elite of the group. He wanted to see if he could become one of the best of the best. Also a buddy of his had joined and had “talked it up” for a very long time. He went to boot camp in San Diego for 10 weeks. During the 8th week he came down with phenomena so they sent him to the hospital because he had waited as long as possible to avoid having a delay with his graduation date. Boot camp was basic, general military training. Weapons, hand to hand combat, drilling, physical fitness and hygiene we are part of the training. After boot camp, he was sent to electronics school in Millington, Texas and while he was there he was promoted to corporal. Then he was sent to the El Toro, Marine Air Base in Teton California to complete advance training. 

The Korean War started on June 25, 1950. William was sent over seas on July 14th on board an aircraft carrier. His unit was originally deployed to South Korea but by that time the North has invaded and his unit was forced to land in Japan. His job was to maintain the radios for his unit and sometimes he would get to fly as a radio operator to keep his skills up. He said that the living stations were not bad at all. There was plenty of food and everyone had a bed. He was there until the Inchon Landing. The Battle of Inchon was a naval assault on South Korea, which ended in a decisive victory for the United Nations, and ultimately to the recapturing of Seoul two weeks later. On December 15th 1950, his unit started flying out of Kempo airfield to support the troops in preparation for the Battle of Sol. By this time William had become a Staff Sergeant. In his unit, he said, “there were people you liked and people you didn’t like, but you all worked as a team.” As of his officers, he fully trusted them with his life. 

Shortly after, he was sent back to the air base of Chofu, Japan. He was there until the Chosin Reservoir Operation. The Battle of Chosin Reservoir was a 17-day battle in the cold weather of Korea. During this mission the main radio aircraft operator was wounded and being the backup William was called up. He had to step up to the plate and not blink or it could be his life next. But his first job was to chip the frozen blood, from the wounded off the floor of the plane. Evacuating over 450 wounded from the Choisn Reservoir, his brave unit made 17 takeoffs and landings into the emergency airstrip to help the trapped soldiers.

 He was in one of the first units to be deployed to Korea, which meant that when the time came his unit was one of the first to be deployed back to the States. He fixed radios stateside until he was released in 1952. In Korea he was able to communicate with his family by mail, and sometimes a phone call, but a call was very expensive. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross because he was part of the Chosin Reservoir Operation and was under such heavy fire while saving the wounded.

 Upon coming home he felt that most Americans didn’t think that Korea was a big deal. “The only people that cared about you were your family,” he said. He even considered Korea a “little” war compared to WW2. He attended Napa Jr. College in 1953, and studied architecture. Then he applied to Cal Poly, but during this process he encountered another student. The student told him that unless you were an exceptional architect you could expect to be working as a drafts man for another architect for the rest of you career. And to William that didn’t sound to exciting so he kept looking around for a job.  Then another friend mentioned to him working for the police force. Ultimately, he changed his major to police science and transferred to Sonoma State. He took the test for the highway patrol, and passed with high marks. So then in July 1957 he was in the CHP academy. He spent 29-year career.

 In retrospect he said the toughest part of his service was at the Choisn Reservoir because he was called upon at such a difficult time and everyone was depending on him. When asked if his service was justified he said, “defiantly because if you look at the difference in north and south Korea from night time pictures you can just see the industrial differences.” He also said that he learned so much during his service and he recommends it for all people, not necessarily military but some type of military service. It is a positive experience, to serve ones country.

 Interviewed by Robert Kent on July 16th, 2011

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