Korean War Project

439th Engineer Construction Battalion


Engineer - Construction

57 Messages

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Entry: 9702

E. JAMES (JIM) FARMER wrote on June 25, 2000

Email Update Needed

City and State: THOUSAND OAKS CA

Unit: 439 ENG. A COMPANY

Service or Relationship: ARMY VETERAN - KOREA

Comments: 439 ENG. A COMPANY

Keywords: Was in 439th when unit was deactivated

Entry: 6085

RALPH E. STAPLES wrote on January 8, 2000

City and State: SUN CITY WEST AZ


Service or Relationship: ARMY VETERAN - KOREA

Comments: Company A. 439th Engineering Construction Battalion.

The 439th engineering construction battalion was under the command of the 32nd Engineering Group. The senior commander for this group was Col. Tom Tandy. (Often referred to as “Terrible Tom Tandy” or “Circle T”.) His operations officer was Capt. Labourn. The 439 Engineering Construction Battalion consisted of a headquarters company and three engineering companies. My company was the 439 ECB. Our units were classified as non-combat. Lt. Col. Claire Miller commanded our headquarters company and the three engineering companies, Major Rhodes served as his executive officer.

Our company consisted of three platoons 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. There were three squads in each platoon. I was assigned to company A, second platoon, second squad. 1st. Lt. Johnson was our Company commander when we were first organized and later this position went to a Capt. Weeks. M/sgt. Otto Foul’s was our first sergeant. Lt. William (Bill) Lebsock was second Platoon Officer. M/sgt. Echoff was 2nd platoon sergeant, and T/Sgt. Eldon Smith was our second squad leader. Lt. Burkett was first platoon Officer and a Lt. Kelley was third Platoon Officer.

The 439th was a reserve unit that was located in the state of Kansas. At the outbreak of the Korean War, this unit was activated and began preparations for over sea’s movement. Where manpower shortages existed within a company, they were filled with regular army recruits and draftees. Prior to leaving the States all personnel were shipped to Fort Carson, Colorado and given company and job assignments. This organizational move was designed to bring the companies up to strength and to inventory and prepare all equipment for overseas shipment to Korea.

Our departure from the San Francisco Bay area was on the USS General William Weigel. This was a troop ship that held nearly 2000 soldiers plus the crew, and had sleeping compartments that were compared to sardines in a can. The holes were four elevations deep and bunks stacked six and eight high. Our arrival was scheduled for the Port of Inch’on near Seoul Korea, but because the Chinese had overran Seoul and were pushing southward it would have been impossible to land behind the enemy lines. Our ship was rerouted and sent back to Japan where we reorganized and prepared for a new landing at Pusan Korea.

When we arrived in Pusan several weeks later, the Chinese and North Koreans had driven our forces just below Taegu and were fighting fiercely on the Pusan perimeter. This was just about the time that General Mc Arthur made plans to land troops at Inch’on and sandwich the North Koreans between our southern forces and those fresh new soldiers landing at Inch’on. His plan worked marvelously. In February of 1951, we disembarked and was sent to the replacement depot in Pusan and waited for future orders. Heavy rains had fallen when we arrived, everything was wet and soggy and the barrack tents were all sitting on fields of mud. Everything was hastily constructed and confusion was certainly the order of the day.

When our fighting troops were finally reinforced in the south and began their push north, they caught many of the North Koreans and Chinese in the middle. They quickly retook the ground that had been overrun. As they moved north, the areas were cleared and our Battalion began its trek north. Korean roads were narrow and poorly built. Most of them had been classified as local roads. There were no expressways and very few national roads. It was impossible to haul tanks and bulldozers on flat bed trucks through the mountains. Switchbacks had to be widened, culverts installed, bridges rebuilt and in some cases complete sections of roads were rebuilt.

After leaving Pusan we convoyed north to Taegu, where we set up a temporary camp. The conditions of the roads were vital if they were going to be used as supply lines to the soldiers fighting on the front lines. From this location we repaired roads and installed drainage culverts and did some minor bridge repairs. It seemed we were always on the go. Some of the smaller hamlets and villages we had camps at were Pung’Gi, ManJung Ni, and HongChong. Because this work was so labor intensive, we needed to be located near villages in order to recruit manpower for our construction projects. The miles of road needing repairs spread our manpower pretty thin. We had to depend on many of the local citizens for their help.

Andong was another fairly large village where our company-spent time doing roadwork. From there we moved north to Chech’on and then on to Wonju. We had set up a permanent camp in Wonju for quite some time. For awhile we were located nine miles south of this town to help rebuild the Kilra Chon railroad bridge. Rebuilding this trestle proved to be quite a monstrous task for a bunch of young inexperienced construction workers. The center pier was blown away along with the supporting beams and tracks. This meant the center tower would have to be rebuilt; it was roughly one hundred twenty five feet high. That was the simple part! Trying to move the beams that held the towers together and trying to span sixty feet of space with thirty-six inch I-beams one hundred twenty five above the ground was the hair raising horror of the whole project. One mistake and down would go the whole beam and the supporting cranes, and even worse than that, some of us could have lost our lives. Thank God it all worked out.

Our leadership was good! Our second platoon Officer Lt. Bill Lebsock was a graduate civil engineer and he took us under his wing. What made this bridge so important was that it was one of the main lines heading north and was used for hauling military supplies to the front. During the North’s invasion it was destroyed as the troops retreated to the south. The army didn’t want the Chinese using the railroad against our forces. There was a tunnel on the south side of the bridge that made a complete circle through the mountain as it dropped in elevation and connected with the tunnel on the north end of the trestle. This was a real piece of engineering work by the Koreans. We finished this project with no loss of life and a lot of happy and proud G.I’s.

West of Wonju we had to rebuild the roads and bridges for about fifty miles. Road repairs seemed like a never-ending task. The roadwork turned out to be the simple part of the job. Our company was assigned the job of building a bridge that spanned a large local river. This job entailed all three platoons working on three different shifts around the clock. The bridge was a pile driven supported roadway that would be about five hundred-foot long. Lt. Wayne Livingston and Lt. Bill Lebsock would be the Honchos on this all summer job. None of the enlisted men had experience in pile driven bridgework. We worked hard at the project and when it was completed there was quite a celebration for the local dignitaries and local folks. It saved many of them miles and miles of traveling. Now it was just a matter of crossing the bridge. It was a project that even the group commander took some pride in and had to have his “circle T” painted on the approaching abutments.

Some of the fun bridges were the smaller ones. Our platoon built the Chogutan Bridge. This bridge was at Hang’Chong out in the middle of nowhere. Lt. Bill Lebsock was chief officer and engineer in charge. This bridge spanned a river bed about one hundred feet wide. In the rainy season the river filled and was impossible to cross. This was a two-lane bridge with one concrete center pier and two supporting steel piers between the abutments and center structure. Most of our decks on these bridges were 3x12’ rough sawn treated wood. Some of the men who worked hard and helped to build this project were Dan Wakeman, Bill Lonsford, Ralph Staples, Tex Mullens, Frank Chira and Bob Gustow.

About twenty miles on the West Side of Wonju we had a Rock-Crusher set up in an Old River bed. This riverbed only had water during the rainy season so it fit our needs very well. We had two Caterpillar D-9 tractors for moving the gravel and feeding the rocks to the crusher. Our company was doing a great job of grading and re-graveling the roads going West out of Wonju. This Rock Crusher wasn’t used on a daily basis, only when gravel was needed. Our company usually had a guard on this site during the daytime but not at night. One morning when we arrived, we found that the conveyer belt had been stolen. This was no easy task. The belt had to be about thirty inches wide, a half-inch thick and sixty feet long. It was very heavy; we tried guessing how they could carry it away. A couple days later we found the answer. It was cut into small pieces and sold on the Black Market in Wonju. Every shop in Wonju was well supplied and had piles of nice thick rubber for shoe repairs.

We did get a few crazy assignments during our tour in Korea. I think they probably came from Group headquarters. Our second platoon was sent to Seoul to repair and rebuild a bridge. On our first day there we were put up in a girls school to spend the night. The girls had long gone… There was a constant movement of trucks and equipment all night long. When morning came, Lt. Lebsock did some checking and found we were right in the path of all the retreating soldiers and the Chinese were heading our way. It didn’t take him long to get on the Radio and get permission to leave Seoul. We were soon heading South!

Another goofy assignment was when we were sent way north. We were sent up north of Ch’unch’on near the 38 parallel. We arrived there along about evening and started to set up our tents and were going to bed down for the evening. We had some c-rations for supper and as night drew near all hell broke loose. All we could hear was machine guns firing and bugles blowing and we sat scared as hell watching our soldiers heading south. Lt. Lebsock set up guard post but no one slept that night either. Come morning we were passing the fellows who had left earlier. Hey! We were non-combat and wasn’t equipped for all the excitement. After those two incidents I think our leaders spent more time in checking out our job assignments. A Company of the 439 was a good hard working company and I was proud to have been a part of it. We accomplished some very credible feats during our short eighteen months in Korea. Our Platoon Officer, Lt. Lebsock did earn the nickname of “Rocky” during his tour. This was because he blew up more mountains and used more composition C-3 and dynamite for road building than supply could furnish.

When Rocky left to rotate back to the states our company threw a beer party for him and presented him with a watch as a gesture of our appreciation. It was the best we could get at the PX. After he left our company began to change rapidly. By this time we were all old timers and some of us were even promoted. Bob Bergman became our second platoon M/sgt. I became the second squad leader and Sgt. James Fay became my assistant. We held these positions until we were finally rotated to the states. The Korean War was finally brought to a halt and the peace armistice was signed on my birthday the 27 of July in 1953.

Submitted By,

Ralph Staples


Entry: 3901

GEORGE W. (BILL) LEBSOCK wrote on November 4, 1999

City and State: TEMPE AZ

Unit: 439TH ECB

Service or Relationship: ARMY

Comments: 439TH ECB


Entry: 3768

EARL UMLANDT JR. wrote on October 27, 1999

Email Update Needed

City and State: MUSCATINE IA


Service or Relationship: FAMILY MEMBER

Comments: My Father was in Co. C 439th Construction Battalion. I want to put together a book for he's
grandchildren about him.

He passed away in 1985 an the kid never got to meet him. Any Information would be great.

Thank You


Entry: 3207
439TH ENG.

GEORGE STEAGER wrote on June 29, 1999

Email Update Needed

City and State: VICKERY OH


Service or Relationship:



Entry: 3045

LAURENCE P. FIEDLER wrote on May 2, 1999

Email Update Needed



Service or Relationship: ARMY

Comments: Thanks for this great website. I have been contacted by several former members of my old outfit. Larry Fiedler P.S. I'm trying to get others to join.

Keywords: Would Like to hear from unit members

Entry: 2275

FRED CULLINS wrote on December 22, 1998

Email Update Needed

City and State: LA FERIA TX


Service or Relationship:

Comments: CO. B 439 CONST ENGRS


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439th Engineer Construction Battalion