AL: “I was glad to leave Korea.”

What is your birth year?

1929. 

How old does that make you today?

[90]. 

What branch of the United States Armed Forces did you serve in?

Army. 

Where were you born?

Los Angeles, California. 

Can you tell me any specific memories you have from your childhood? 

My mother died when I was 8 or 9 years old. My grandmother came to live with us after she died- she died in 1938. 

What was the technology available during your childhood? Did your family have an automobile or telephone?

We had both. We were very well-to-do. Did the Great Depression not impact your family strongly? Well, I remember that we had meals on the table every night. 

Did any family members serve in WWI?

I had an uncle that served in France. 

Tell me about your education.

For a short time, I was at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. 

Did you hear much about Hitler and the Germans or the Japanese Empire?

Mostly Japanese. Not too much about Germans. 

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor? 

Oh, yes. I didn’t have too much of a reaction, but I knew that everything would change.

Were you drafted, enlisted, or did you take part in an ROTC program?

I was drafted. 

What was your family and friends reactions to the enlistment? Were they worried for you?

No. That was the thing to be- in those days if you were drafted, you were drafted, and you didn’t run off to Canada, for the most part.

What was your boot camp or training experience like?

I was at [a] fort up in San Fransisco, I was at Camp Roberts, where I did my training. I played hooky as many times as I could without getting caught. {Laughs}

Do you know where in Korea you went during the war?

No. We traveled up and down the 38th parallel.

What was the weather like?

It was very cold and very hot. I had a cousin that lost his legs because of the cold weather- this was later on. I think he was in Korea at the same time I was, but I didn’t lose my legs.

What was your job or assignment there? 

I was combat. 

What equipment did you carry with you?

I was infantry, so I had an M-1, I had a BAR, automatic rifle. I was an assistant gunner for some months. 

I know you did a lot of walking; do you remember anything about the landscape?

It was up and down. A lot of hills.

Tell me about any specific memories or experiences that stand out.

At one point, I went from a line company and became grave registration, NCO for the battalion. A tent caught on fire and burned to the ground around four or five of us- we woke up to a freezing temperature. Nobody got hurt. 

I had an uncle that served in the Second World War, and also during the Korean conflict. He looked me up one time on the frontline, and he brought me a case of scotch. I gave half the case to a colonel, who was a commanding officer of the unit I was with, the 38th infantry. I don’t know if that changed his mind about me or not, but I retired from the Army as a sergeant major. 

What were the most trying and difficult moments of service?

I had to dig a 6 x 6, because I kept a military officer from reporting for duty. I think he’d been drinking, and he couldn’t tell me the password. 

What were some of the good memories of service?

I went pheasant hunting one time. 

Were you kept updated on other wartime events such as Pork Chop Hill?

Yeah. Everybody was quite informed with what was going on. We moved up and down the line quite often, so you might be in one spot one night, and the next night you’d be miles away. 

Did you get injured at any point during the war?

Yeah, I did. 

How did you stay in touch with your family and friends?

By mail. US mail. 

What was the food like?

K-rations. 

Did you have any interactions with the Korean people?

Very little. Being on the DMZ, there was very little. We did have a couple houseboys who did our laundry and cooked our food. At one point, we did some military standby in Pusan, guarding prisoners of war for a short period of time. Did you ever fight alongside the South Koreans? Yeah. Did you meet any South Korean soldiers that you specifically remember? No. 

Are there any people you met that you specifically remember? Did you keep in touch with any of these people? 

I stayed in contact with two fellows. 

Why, or when, did your service end?

I got discharged. 

How did you feel?

I was glad to leave Korea. 

Where did you relocate to?

Los Angeles. 

Did you have a family after the war? 

I was married, and we ended up having four children. 

What was your job or career after the war?

I was a janitor for some time. I was a truck driver. I went back to school for a short period of time and worked on my engineering license. 

Do you think your military service impacted the way that you think about wars today?

I haven’t given much thought to it. 

What do you think the general public should know about war?

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about Korea? I’m thinking of the show M*A*S*H- was that an accurate depiction? 

{Laughs} It wasn’t.

Have you found adequate resources and connections in Portland as a veteran?

I haven’t made any contacts since being a veteran. 

Do you feel that you gained any discipline or structure from your service?

Oh, I’m sure I did. 

How did your service affect your life as a whole?

Well, I’m glad I served. I’m glad I didn’t run off to Canada. I’m glad I did my duty to my country. I wouldn’t do it again, but it was an experience. In a way, I think they ought to have mandatory service for all US citizens.

Author’s Note: AL was not able to provide any personal photographs from his service in the Army. The photos below are provided for the reader’s reference, but do not describe AL’s exact experience or his surroundings. The images are cited to their respective owners. 

sc363023
“Pfc. Jack Lee of Wichita, Kan. (left), and Cpl. Joseph W. Thomas of Honolulu, T.H., fire their machine gun on Communist positions as United Nations forces attack a hill, three miles south of the 38th Parallel. 31 March 1951. Korea. Signal Corps Photo” Retrieved from https://history.army.mil/photos/Korea/kor1951/kor1951.htm
search_joe_hq_3rd_batt_720x376
“Communications Platoon, Headquarters Co., 3rd Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, pre-Korea 1950” Retrieved from http://www.koreanwar-educator.org/buddy_search/p_group_army_misc.htm

Author’s Note: This project was recently featured in Portland’s Street Roots Newspaper. Read the article here: http://news.streetroots.org/2017/11/10/these-veterans-have-lived-something-extraordinary-portland-student-listens-shares

This interview has been lightly edited for readability. However, to maintain integrity, and to respect the stories of the veteran, content has not been altered from the original transcription. This interview was originally recorded and later transcribed. Questions partially retrieved from:

“Guidelines.” Veterans History Project. Library of Congress, n.d. Web. 23 June 2017. <www.loc.gov/vets/guidelines.html>.

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