When Byron Rudishauser, a John Day resident, joined the Army in September 1953, a ceasefire in the Korean War had taken place the month before. But the threat of war loomed.
“We started basic training and got the hell scared out of us,” Rudishauser said. “The trainer said, ‘I’ve got news for you.’ He said the ceasefire had been canceled and fighting had started again, and ‘You’re going to the front lines in two weeks.’”
Rudishauser said the trainer was pulling their leg and, shortly after, said he was just letting them know things could change overnight.
Fresh out of high school, Rudishauser was 19 when he entered military service.
He’d received a notice that he would be drafted while he was still attending Yoncalla High School in southwest Oregon. So he decided to sign up.
“Looking back on it, I really wasn’t worried about it,” he said. “If your name came up, it came up.”
There were classmates he knew who died in the Korean War.
Rudihauser was the son of a logger. The family lives in Seneca and Canyon City while his dad worked at Edward Hines Lumber Co. in Seneca in his early years.
His family moved to Yoncalla for one year, then returned to Grant County.
During basic training at Fort Ord in California, Rudihauser caught pneumonia and was hospitalized for more than a week.
“It fouled me up,” he said.
He received more than six weeks of training in infantry, then advanced infantry, and later became a supply sergeant, specialist 5 rank.
Rudishauser’s first area after training was at Camp Hanford in Washington, a highly protected area.
“The first atomic bomb, tested in New Mexico, was made at Camp Hanford,” he said. “We were there for aircraft protection. We had several 120mm cannons. The purpose was to shoot down airplanes if they came, which they never did.”
He added, “We practiced shooting them down — took about three days for my ears to quit ringing. The shells were huge.”
When he turned 21, Rudishauser was sent to Fort Richardson in Alaska to be ground support for Fort Elmendorf Air Force Base, not far from Anchorage. It’s now called Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.
“We were headquarters supply,” he said. “Half-ton trucks supplied automatic weapons, self-propelled tanks, half tracks, anything they could attach automatic weapons to and drive around. We would bring them to headquarters.”
“Elmendorf had an early warning system,” he said, adding it was a cold war, and it had not wound down at all. Although hostilities stopped in 1953, there was never a formal end to the war.
He said they were in the “boondocks” and stayed in eight-man Quonset huts with an oil stove in the center and four bunks on each side.
“The weather was bone-chilling, sometimes reaching 45 degrees below zero,” he said. “We’d hang wool blankets in front of the door.”
The food on base was less than desirable at times.
Once a week, their meal consisted of World War II-era C-rations.
“The Air Force didn’t get them, so if we could get off the base and eat there, we would,” he said.
Another memorable experience was playing a softball game against another outfit at midnight. “It wasn’t bright, but you could see the ball,” he said.
While in Alaska, he befriended Robert Sooter of Arkansas, who was also enlisted. After 64 years, they still keep in touch and have visited one another.
For more than 60 years the friends have exchanged Christmas gifts. Sooter gives Rudihauser black walnuts from groves in Arkansas and Rudishauser sends Tillamook cheese from the Oregon coast.
Before Rudishauser’s military career was over, he rode on a ship to Kodiak Island, then flew to Fort Lewis, Washington.
He was honorably discharged in September 1956 and married Carol Ricco of John Day two years later.
Through the GI Bill, Rudishauser earned education degrees, including a master’s from Eastern Oregon University in La Grande.
The majority of his 33 years in education was spent teaching at Prairie City School. He taught junior high and high school language arts, and he later became Prairie City principal.
When the Bates Mill closed, students who stayed in the area came to Prairie City, but other families left to find work elsewhere. At one point, Prairie City High School had an enrollment of 256.
Rudishauser passed on the job of superintendent/principal, since he and his family put up hay in the summers at Golden Willow Ranch on Indian Creek Road, which had belonged to Carol’s family.
He retired 20 years ago, at age 65.
He is now a member of Prairie City’s American Legion Post 106 and in the past was on the Prairie City Volunteer Fire Board and was voted a John Day Elks Lodge 1834 Exalted Ruler twice.
Rudishauser said his military service taught him to respect the flag, the country and the people.
He said what stands out the most was learning “tolerance of other people, because we had people from the east coast, south and west, they have different ways, and you just have to learn to be tolerant of others ... and also taking orders.”