MASON CITY — When 83-year-old Wayne Oswood was a teenager, fresh out of high school in Hansell, he took an excursion that changed his life.
Like many young people, he wanted to see the country.
“I followed the old adage ‘Go West, young man, go West,’ so I went to Arizona and found a place to live,” he said.
But he failed to notify his local draft board that he had moved.
“A couple of MPs (military police) found me and gave me 48 hours to report to draft officials at the Mason City Post Office. It wasn’t long after that I was in the Army, and not long after that I was in Korea,” Oswood said. “I hardly had time to tell my mother good-bye.”
It was January 1953. Oswood was 19. “I was scared to death. That’s what I remember most,” he said. “I grew up in a hurry.”
He also remembers going over on a Merchant Marine ship — “a lousy ship that didn’t even have enough beds for everyone. We slept wherever we could,” Oswood said. “I was scared of getting shot before we even got off the boat.”
As part of the Army artillery, he was assigned to observation posts that were on mountainsides with the mission of picking out targets below.
It was frightening duty and it was lonely, he said, because he was in the mix with South Korean soldiers who spoke no English.
The climb up the mountainside to the observation posts was grueling. “There were no helicopters to drop us off. We had to climb the hill,” Oswood said.
He was in Korea for a year and a half and came home with his hearing permanently impaired because of all of the artillery fire around him.
“There were several cease-fires, but they never held,” he said.
In October of 1954 he came home to Hansell, the little Franklin County town of about 100, where he had grown up, but now was anxious for something more.
“Life there was too dead,” he said. “I was glad to get home but it wasn’t the same.”
So he came to the “big city,” Mason City, where he held several jobs over the next 50 years.
Asked what his occupation was, he laughed and said, “When?”
He worked in construction and for Northern Lumber Co., and bought a roller rink in Clear Lake that he operated for several years. That’s where he met his wife, Marlene. They have three grown children.
He also worked for the Mason City Post Office for 26 years.
Oswood has a scrapbook filled with photos, clippings and mementos from his days in Korea and also wrote his memoir, which is tucked in the back of the scrapbook.
“I wanted to do that before I started forgetting things,” he said, “and I’m glad I did.” He suffered a stroke three years ago that he thinks has impaired his memory.
But many memories are still fresh of his time serving his country in Korea — when he went over as a kid and came home a man 18 months later.