JB: “It made a warrior out of me.”

What is your birth year?

’24.

How old does that make you today?

94. 

Where were you born?

Tacoma, Washington. 

What was the technology available during your upbringing? Did you have an automobile or a telephone?

Both. My mother had the first Model A in Pierce County. 

How did WWI impact your family? Did any family members serve?

I had a cousin who was Canadian who was killed during WWI. 

Did the Great Depression have any impact on your family?

My father owned a dock on the waterfront. During that time there was a lot of unrest among the unions, so we had a guard around the house. My dad was afraid that we might get attacked. 

Do you recall hearing about President Roosevelt often as a child?

It’s interesting, he was similar to the United States today, because he was hated by one group and loved by another. 

Do you remember hearing about Hitler, and the Third Reich, as a child?

I do remember Hitler, and Germany. What I remember was when we finally got into the war. 

Do you recall hearing about Pearl Harbor?

I think I may have been in high school. 

How did you get involved in the military? Did you enlist, were you drafted, or were you part of ROTC?

I enlisted in the Navy. So, off I went to boot camp in Chicago. I ended up going to a school in Memphis, Tennessee. 

Did you go overseas during your service?

No. They thought maybe I was smart enough to learn code, so they sent me to Memphis where they had a school. I became an instructor, so I was teaching code. Finally, the war got over, and they let me loose- actually, they sent me to Florida. That worked pretty good, because Florida is lovely and warm and beach-front. {Laughs} 

Were you kept updated about the status of the war overseas? Did you hear news often?

Yes. 

What kind of coding did you learn and eventually teach?

We had to learn the alphabet in code. At that time, the coding was one in five letters, so you can have A-B-C-D-E mean one thing, and A-B-D-F-G mean something else. You had to know each individual code. 

What was your reaction when you found out that the war was over in Europe and Japan- VE or VJ day?

I remember VE day. The room went wild, and everybody was having a gay time. 

You served in both WWII and the Korean War. When did you begin to hear about a possible conflict engagement in Korea?

After I got discharged from the Navy, I went to school. While I went to school, they paid me $20 a week under the GI bill; I could earn another $30 a month by taking ROTC. So, I took ROTC, infantry, and was trained as an infantry officer. As I graduated from college at Washington State University, I received a commission. I was now a first class mate, and I got recalled into the Army. Of course, I went into this one as an officer, which was much easier. 

How did you feel about becoming involved in another war?

It didn’t bother me. 

What was your boot camp or training experience like the second time?

All I had was a summer camp at Fort Lewis. They treated us like we were recruits, and so that’s what training I had. They shipped me off to Korea.

Where were you stationed in Korea?

I was just north of the 38th parallel. In present-day North Korea? Yes. 

What was your job or assignment in Korea? 

I was a second lieutenant, and they made me a first lieutenant when I first got there, so that made me eligible to be a company commander. I ended up in a company where I had 2 officers who were first, and I was a second. After 30 days, I was the only officer left. It wasn’t much fun. 

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

I can remember generally how we lived, in the dugouts. We ate in the open. 

Were you kept updated on events such as Pork Chop Hill while in Korea?

No; Pork Chop Hill was an early action, so I, fortunately, missed that type. 

Did you ever have any interactions with the Korean men or the Korean forces?

Yes. I was wounded in Korea. How were you injured? I was going up a hill, and the fellow in front of me was a soldier. We were trying to reach a trench line, but they weren’t very nice, so they threw a hand grenade down the hill and it hit the guy in front of me and went off and wounded me. Were you hospitalized for this injury? No, I wasn’t wounded badly enough. 

When, or why, did your service end?

As I recall, they sent me home, which was very nice. I was happy. And, that was the end of the war. As far as I was concerned, it was the end of the military. 

What was your job or career after your service?

While I was in school, there was a company called The College Life Insurance Company, which sold insurance. I went to work for that company.

You have a unique experience in having served in both the Army and the Navy. What were some of the main differences between those two branches?

I was an officer in one and an enlisted man in the other. {Laughs}

How does your military service impact how you think about wars today?

It made a warrior out of me, but I think that’s all. 

As a Korean War veteran, what is your opinion on the current state of North and South Korea?

I think that we’re going to go back to Korea. We haven’t finished the job. 

Do you think the world has any misinterpretations about WWII, or the Korean War, from books, TV, or movies?

I don’t think so. In the movies, we had to be heroes. By the time Korea came around, we were in a different position, and suddenly we were being overrun by foreign troops. I think that we had an entirely different picture- the M*A*S*H, for example, was trying to say, “Hey, it’s not all that bad over here.” 

How did your service impact your life as a whole?

It gave me time to grow, and to think differently. 

Author’s Note: JB was not able to provide any personal photographs from his service in the Navy and Army during WWII and the Korean War, respectively. The photos included are provided for the reader’s reference, but do not describe JB’s exact experience or his surroundings. The images are cited to their respective owners. 

151339-004-68FCF709
“38th parallel”. Retrieved from: https://www.britannica.com/place/38th-parallel

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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