Korean War Legacy Project

A. Irving Osser


While A. Irving Osser never intended to go to Korea, he is able to see some of the highlights of his work there. He describes having little knowledge of what life in Korea was like before he went. As a member of the Air Force, he did not have much experience with combat, but does explain how he and others took down a plane as a response to “Bed Check Charlie.” Among his greatest accomplishments in Korea, A. Irving Osser remembers helping to set up an orphanage for the tent boys who had helped him during his service. Overall, he believes that his service made a difference in helping people while he was there, but also in assisting South Korea in becoming the nation that it is today.

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Prior Knowledge of Korea

As a high school student, A. Irving Osser did not know much about Korea. He had a principal and some peers who were sent to fight in the war, but he explains that he did not have a class that prepared him for what it was like there. He may have known about the geographic location, but his knowledge was very limited.

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Bed Check Charlie

A. Irving Osser explains the nightly disturbance of "Bed Check Charlie." Because his Air Force unit was not prepared to fight back the attacks, he traded alcohol for weapons at a local weapons depot. He describes how his unit successfully shot down one of the plans after several attempts.

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Setting up an Orphanage

As a highlight of his time in Korea, A. Irving Osser describes how he and other men organized the opening of an orphanage for tent boys, teenage Korean orphans who had assisted them while they were fighting there. He explains how the wife of Syngman Rhee, Franziska, was vital in setting up this orphanage and making it possible for the boys to go to college. While he does not know what happened after he left, A. Irving Osser fondly remembers helping set up the electricity and carpentry to give back to these boys.

Tags: Orphanage,Pride

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Recorded Material]


A:        A.  Irving Osser.  Initial A and Irving.  Irving Osser OSSER.

I:          What is the ethnic background of this last name?  Do you know?

A:        Uh, my mother and father were both born in Russia, and they came to the United States as immigrants just after the, uh, first World War.

I:          Um hm.

A:        They did not know each other in Russia, and they met here in the United States and married here.




I:          Um hm.  Where were you born?

A:        I was born in Ewen, Michigan, Ewen, Michigan.

I:          What is your birthday?

A:        August 25, 1933.

I:          So, tell me more about your parents. What they, what did they do, and what is your education? What school you went through and so on and your siblings.



A:        My mother and father, uh, met and uh, immediately uh,  moved to Ewen, Michigan, which is in Upper Peninsula, Michigan. We stayed in uh, Ewen, Michigan for about 16 years. However, I was age 4 when the family left Ewen, Michigan, so I have no recollection of Ewen. Michigan.



I:          Um.

A:        We left, uh,  Ewen and came to Los Angeles, California

I:          Um hm.

A:        in 1937.

I:          I see.

A:        Both my mother and father had brothers and sisters that lived in Los Angeles at the time.  So, it was a greater family, uh, in Los Angeles, and that’s part of the reason why they moved.  I uh, attended all Los Angeles schools as I grew up.



I graduated from Alexander Hamilton High School in West LA and the.

I:          When? When was it?

A:        1951.

I:          OK, so before you go further, I would like to ask this question.  Did you know anything about Korea? Did you learn about Korean history from the school or anything you knew about Korea at the time around when you were in high school?



A:        I don’t have a, a memory at all except by the 11th grade 1950. I knew that the Korean War had started in the, in high school, we um, had a vice principal who was a uh,  one star General in the California Army Reserve.

I:          Ah.

A:        And uh, he was activated as were a number of my uh, uh, friends that were in high school at the time’



I personally didn’t belong to the Reserve and uh, we lost a, a number of, uh,  our people that were shipped over to Korea in 1950 and uh,  they are now symbolized with a Gold Star in the entry foyer of the high school.



Um, so really the first thing I knew about Korea was uh, that it happened.

I:          Through the war?

A:        The war.

I:          Uh huh. Otherwise, you didn’t know where it was?

A:        There, there was no classes that I had History or otherwise, that uh, got me ready for Korea. And although I knew uh, where Japan was because of the prior war and China, I knew that Korea was in between.




I:          You knew that.

A:        I knew that.

I:          Ok.

A:        That’s the best I could come up with. I knew that it extended, uh, from the Siberian Peninsula and was a uh, uh, a place that I knew nothing about. I mean nothing what was going on there?  Uh, I did happen to know that uh, uh, as time went on that the older generation in Korea, some of them could speak Russian.



And uh, then later on, some of them spoke Japanese because the Japanese occupation. And then of course later on, uh, not in my high school time, but later on, uh, they spoke English, some did.  And uh, That’s it.  That, that’s my knowledge of Korea, just knew nothing about it. The word chosen, had no idea what that meant.

I:          Were there any Korean around your high school in your neighborhood?  Did you know any Korean people around that time?

A:        No, not at all.

I;          No, ok.  So what was your ambition for your life around the time that you graduated high school?



A:        Um,

I:          What do you, what did you want to be?

A:        I understand.  Uh, by the 11th and 12th grade, I thought I would be following in my father’s uh,  footsteps and becoming a um, a retail businessman.  My father owned uh, three liquor stores

I:          Um hm.

A:        And  uh, we had a comfortable life. And I thought that I would follow in his footsteps.



My father had other plans, and he said

I:          For you.

A:        For me.  He said I don’t want you to become a storekeeper.  And so, uh, at a certain point, uh, actually, when I was, when I was in the service, uh, he liquidated his assets and retired. And at that point I looked at my brother, who was a, a dentist and became an orthodontist.



And I said I didn’t want to do that. And uh, while I was still in service, I didn’t know what I was going to do.

I:          Okay.  So, what happened after the high school?  What did you do?

A:        I went to college.

I:          Okay. What college?

A:        Uh, I went to uh,  Los Angeles City College.

I:          Um hm.

A:        I went for uh, two years.



And uh at a certain point, I received a draft notice to go in the Army.

I:          What did you study, by the way in L.A.

A:        Psychology and just basic liberal arts.

I:          Um hm.  And do you remember when you received the, uh,  draft notice?

A:        I would say uh, the beginning of uh,  1953.



I elected , uh, not to go in the Army and uh, went over to the Air Force and uh,  got checked out, and they said finish your uh,  semester and uh, go on uh,  to the Air Force and report to them.   And it turned out I had a reporting date for the Army prior to the close of the school semester.



And uh, so we’re checking with them, and they decided it would be better if I uh, uh, went in.  I uh, went in the Air Force in May of 1953.

I:          So, you were enlisting, right?

A:        Correct.

I:          Where did you get the basic?

A:        Um, I did basic training at Parks Air Force Base,



which is uh, just a little bit east of Berkeley. California. From there I went to uh, Biloxi, Mississippi to Keesler Air Force Base.

I:          Um hm.

A:        I stayed at Keesler and completed a um, a course in communications. And uh, I was all set up to, to go to Europe for my tour of duty



And whoever decided, decided they’d rather that I went to Korea.

I:          So, what do you think about that? Looking back all those years.  You were about to go to Europe, that’s the destination that you were supposed to be.  But you end up in, in Korea, you never heard about before.

A:        Oh, I heard about it all the time.

I:          Heard about it, but, but still that wasn’t your favorite choice, right?




A:        Well, if you think about what I’ve said, I joined the Air Force not to go in the Army, knowing that if I went in the Army, I’d end up in Korea.

I:          Right.

A:        And I thought I would take the hedge and say if I went in the Air Force, maybe I wouldn’t go to Korea and I wouldn’t get killed. So that was the uh, the set off that I did.   Well, the end result is uh, I tried real hard in the school. I was uh, top of the class.



And the number one person in the class got to pick their duty station.

I:          You mean at the Communication school, yeah.

A:        Communication school, yeah.  And uh just before graduation, the commanding General said uh, I can’t do that because you’re needed in Korea. I looked at him.  I’m

sure they don’t need me that bad. Well, it turns out if you think about it in 1953, this is before computers.  And a lot of the stuff we did was with slide rules um,



to encode messages and decode messages.  You had to use uh, decoding sheets, and uh, there’s math involved and uh, uh, I had sufficient amount of math that was quite easy for me and the classes I took in security and code work uh, made it a natural for me. So, I got shipped over there.  One of the things that I did was to make battle plans and put them in code



And then plans coming the other way would be decoded. You had different codes for each day.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And uh, it was some mathematics involved. But it wasn’t that involved. I personally thought a junior high school kid could do it.


[Audio Gap]


A:        Well, the first duty station was Kimpo.

I:          Oh.  When did you leave departed from, from US?  Where and when?  How?

A:        Uh, Keesler Air Force Base to Travis Air Force Base and then over by bus to uh, the uh,  Oakland Port and got a ship



and uh, left by ship the first time I went, to [PUNWYN].  I think we touched base in uh,

I:          Japan,   right?

A:        Japan and uh,  and then we flew into Kimpo from Tachikawa.

I:          So, do you remember when you arrived in, in Kimpo?

A:        I’m trying to remember. I don’t remember at this moment.




I:          Try it.  It was before the end of the war, right?

A:        It was.

I:          So maybe June or July?  June.

A:        Summer  of ‘53. Best I could come up with.

I:          And what did you see there in Kimpo when you arrived?



A:        Well, Kimpo was a um, a pretty fair sized Air Force Base at the time.  Um,

Squadron that I was in ran the control tower. We ran the uh, ground control approach, the GCA with the radar, the ground to air communications and um, so most of the stuff that you think about in an airport Military base is the same



And so,  my Squadron ran that stuff.

I:          What was your unit?

A:        It was called the 1993 AACS, which stands for air aircraft communications system.

I:          1993.

A:        yeah.

I:          And that belongs to 5th Air Force or what?

A:        5th Air Force.

I:          What was your rank? What did you feel about Korea at the time that you arrived for the first time in your life?




A:        Uh, I can recall um,  going in and talking with the first Sergeant.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And uh, from that particular base, we serviced uh, half a different operating locations for different things that occurred.   And uh so the Sergeant then had me talked with uh, the executive officer.



And uh, we decided that I’d stay right there at the headquarters rather than go to a small location and that they would probably loan me out to the commanding General to do battle plans.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And that’s what happened. So, I stayed right at Kimpo.

I:          Um hm.

A:        I was uh, restricted to the base, I think, for the first 5-10 days, something like that.



There’s activities going on, and they didn’t have anybody leave the base.  But we finally left the base, and so right outside the base is a little village at the time and um, there were uh, Koreans dressed in uh, Korean outfits as opposed to Western clothing, uh.  The rubber shoes and the stovepipe hat and things like that, and especially on Sunday when they went to church.



So, you can see that is quite interesting to me to see the costumes of the locale.

I:          Was there was a church?

A:        There was a church there, yes.

I:          Did attend?

A:        No.  We had a uh, um, a chapel on the base.  And well, once a month they sent in a rabbi uh, to have services.  Typically, we didn’t have services.

I:          Um hm.

A:        Uh, at that time uh, I can recall making my first trip to Seoul.




And it was a two lane, two lane road.  It was a well improved road that was easy to drive because I was driving a Jeep.  And uh, the first place we come to was Yung Dong Po.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        Yung Dung Po was not a village. It was a, a fair sized town.  But the major function of Yung Dung Po at the time was the Army had a uh, a distribution center there.



And also Korea had its uh, train station in Yung Dung Po,

I:          Yes.

A:        The commercial train station.  It was, uh, quite big. And the end result was that uh, we stayed there once in a while, and there were things that happened.   We had, uh, there are still, um, hostilities going on. We had a problem every night about, somewhere between 11:00 o’clock and 1:00 o’clock.




I:          You’re talking about Bed check Charlie.

A:        Bed check Charlie come in and throw hand grenades and shoot and do things.   So, the guys in the Air Force are really not set up to combat that. And Bed check Charlie um, couldn’t be fought with the F86s

I:          Right.

A:        and the G50 ones that were still left over. So we had, uh, a um, guy in my section, uh, said that we should uh, do something about this Bed check Charlie situation.




So, I said, why don’t we go down to the Army weapons depot and uh,  get some little bit better stuff than our uh,  45?   I was office personnel for the most part, so I didn’t have to carry a rifle with me all the time. I carried a 45. Well, 45 is going to do so much uh, shooting Bed Check Charlie so.



The first Sergeant says why don’t you go down and check it out and see what it takes?

So, I went down and decided that rather than go to the Army,

I:          Um hm.

A:        I would go to the Marines you know.  And I uh, figured that the Marines would have a better supply of stuff that I was looking for. It took a couple of bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label.  In those days, at the PX, Johnny Walker Red Label was about a dollar and a quarter.



I:          Um hm.

A:        No tax, no nothing, just cheap.

I:          Yeah.

A:        I took a few bottles.  I went down and I found the Marines weapons setter

And uh, went in, talked to Sergeant there.  We were shooting the breeze back and forth. And I said  I’ll put it to you straight.  I got a couple bottles of Johnny Walker Red here,  and I need to have a, a weapon so I could shoot at Bed Check Charlie.




And he says, what do you think you had in mind? I said, well, whatever it is, I hope it shoots 45 caliber bullets too, because we have an abundance of those. But the other kind of bullets you guys have, I don’t have them. So he says well good.  Then you need what’s called the Eagle. Well, you’ve seen them in a lot of movies, and uh,  it’s really a heck of a gun.  It’s the one that the gangsters used and had that round canister.




I:          Oh yeah yeah.

A:        We never had the round canister, we just had a straight uh,  teeth.  So, I got a half a dozen of them and a half a dozen extra barrels. So, we brought them back, and the guys in my squadron, I gave them out.  I kept one. Except this time around 10, 10:30 we had trenches that ran near our uh,  tents in place where we were sleeping. So we got in, we got in a line that was perpendicular to uh, the flight path of Bed Check Charlie.



And we had like, 3 or 4 different uh, trenches involved.  So, the whole idea was to uh,

Get in kind of in a V formation. Shoot. Well, it took about 5-6 nights before we finally popped one.

I:          Um.

A:        Got one guy

I:          Oh.

A:        And we brought him down. He went a little bit too low

I:          Uh huh.

A:        And I think I have every reason to believe he was gonna throw hand grenades.




And so, we shot him, and we got him down. And we didn’t have Bed Check Charlie come and check on us anymore.

I:          Oh.

A:        But he went all, they had other airplanes, of course. They went all over the place and bothered all kinds of other people, but uh, didn’t bother our base while I was there.

I:          So first, Bed Check Charlie that you shoot down and that was the last one for your unit.

A:        Yeah.

I:          Excellent.

A:        Yeah, that was, that was really fun.



We burned out four or five barrels because we weren’t used to shooting that gun, and it’s not supposed to be shot at full automatic all the time. But uh, we were on a mission

I:            Was pilot dead?

A:        Sory?
I:          Was pilot dead?  The Bed Check Charlie, the North Korean.

A:        Uh, yeah, he died, yeah. Yeah, he crashed and burned. That’s uh,  that’s our big thing.

I:          Wow, It’s a big thing.



A:        The only other thing that happened that was really of great significance to me because I’m not, we don’t to check, uh, talk about the classified stuff.  But the General had me go once to a location and he says take a few guys with you. Take a weapons carrier with you. Let’s, like a pickup truck. And closed, canvas had closed.

I:          Um

A:        And we took uh,  supplies for five days. We’re only supposed to be gone one day, but we took enough for five days.



We’re supposed to go to a uh, a hill which

I:          Around Kimpo you mean?

A:        Yeah, near the uh,  base.

I:          Yeah.

A:        Yeah. About 30-45 minutes away

I:          Um hm.

A:        To the north. And get up in the hill and look and see what we could see on the other side. He wanted a firsthand, eyes on look. So, we went up there and up top of the hill. We’re there around sundown and we’re looking down at the uh,  valley.



We had, uh, binoculars and checking everything and I said, you know, it looks like a bunch of ants. And I said, I know they are people, but it looks like ants.  There were thousands of troops assembling, and they’re getting ready to come South.

I:          You mean North Koreans?

A:        Yeah, North Koreans.

I:          Was it Chinese or North Koreans?



Well, I don’t know. They, they all looked alike, you know, the, the uniforms. It was nighttime. I couldn’t tell. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

I:          Wow.

A:        So, I looked there, radioed that back to the base and I said I think you guys are going to experience an attack. So, watch out for airplanes coming first to soften you up and uh,  then these troops are going to come running like a bunch of wild dogs.  So, sure enough, here comes the airplanes, and they’re bombing the base.



I:          Your base?

A:        My base. We lost the base a couple times before we even got there supposedly. I wasn’t there when it happened.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        Anyhow, so we got back. We go, when I was talking to the control tower uh, on a special frequency so that they uh, couldn’t follow what we were talking. And the guy says uh, don’t come back to the base. Well, so we got on a little road and went in, hid the truck with a little camouflage, and waited until we saw what happened.



And here’s these hundreds and thousands of troops just running towards our base.

And uh, so because we gave them a couple hours advance notice, they were able to bring up um,  airplanes and tell the Army and the Marines that they’re in for trouble.

And so uh, they got advance notice. So, it was a battle, and it went back and forth.



We stayed hidden. They were there overnight.  And the next day I call up on the to see if anybody’s there. The base is still okay and uh,  they, they resisted and uh, we got our own airplanes all on the back the other way.  And so they retreated back. But now they’re all in this valley that we could see.  And so, they said better if you don’t move, uh, so you’re not detected.




So, we stayed for a couple of days and then uh,  we saw that they all evacuated and left that area,  and we went back to our base, and all was well. And that was my, my military campaign.

I:          You should be recognized as a medal.

A:        No medals.  It was just uh,  what was going on, but it was really uh, scary.

That’s the best way to put it to you.

I:          Um, do you remember when was that?



I really don’t, you know.

I:          Is it after the ceasefire or before the ceasefire?

A:        Just before the ceasefire. Yeah, but I really can’t.

You know, you you just put it out of your mind. That’s how I deal with it. Just.

I:          I think we can find some record about that kind of battle and encounter with those North Koreans around. It’s a 45-minute north of Kimpo.

A:        Yeah.



I:          Huh.  And it was before the ceasefire, right?

A:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  What were you thinking when you saw all those enemies?

A:        Uh, I was at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s what I was thinking.

I:          But you are at the right time at the right place to notify the Kimpo base.

A:        Yeah, what was I thinking?  I was thinking about me you know, because at a certain point I was, uh,  going to get cut off.

I:          Right.



A:        And that was a huge problem, and I’m responsible for the five guys with me. That was a big problem.

I:          I mean, originally just you were allowed to go out just to patrol or what was

A:        No, those weren’t patrol.  Surveillance.

I:          Surveillance.

A:        Yeah.

I:          Any other memories that you have about your service in Korea?  Kind of

A:        The only other thing was a,  a benefit.  We knew that we were leaving. It wouldn’t be too long, you know, within a year uh.



I just had one year in Korea, but there’d be others, and they were leaving. We had tent boys.

I:          What?  Tent boy, bus boy?

A:        Yeah, they were 13, 14, 15-year-old kids that were orphans.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        And we’d use them for uh, cleaning

I:          Yeah.

A:        And, you know, shining shoes and keeping the tent clean and stuff like that.

So, my squadron had, uh, I don’t know, 20 or 30 of them.



And uh, there are other squadron; Taegu and this and that. So we got together, and they figured that we should do something for these boys because when we leave, what, what’s going to happen to them? We got together with the wife of President Syngman Rhee, Madam Rhee.

I:          Francesca.

A:        Yeah.  And she was the Dean of the Women’s College in Seoul.




So, short story.  We were able to buy a piece of property that previously belonged to the Catholic Church. And it’s where they trained novitiate nuns. And they converted that into an orphanage home for these boys. So, we checked with our guys in Japan and the other parts of Korea and got donations so we could endow this situation.



And uh, I think we started with about 50 boys at the orphanage. And we had it set up so that they would finish high school, and Madam Rhee had it set up so that they could go to college, and we could pay for that at a modest rate. And so uh, when we first opened up, a number of us went there to do some things, electricity, carpentry, painting this and that and get it set up.




And uh,  I can’t tell you what happened at the end because I wasn’t there.  But I was out there at the beginning, and it was uh, it was nice to see that we were going to do something.  I remember the Korean word that uh, we were using, derogatory word, is coogee and it’s a kid that’s  in the street and he has nothing and so he’s begging more

I:          Oh, cogee.



A:        OK, well it’s close, ok.

I:          Ok.  Cogee, beggar.

A:        We didn’t want our kids to be cogees.

I:          Did you name the orphanage?

A:        Um, I can’t, I think I was there at the very beginning, yeah.

I:          I mean, did you name the orphanage?

A:        If they did, I don’t remember what the name of it is.



I:          Ok. That’s a very noble thing to do.

A:        Well, we saw what was happening to some of the kids and uh,  we thought maybe it would work out.  And then the end result was that after they finished with the tent boys that uh, they could use it uh, continue it, especially if we had funds to do it.  And I didn’t know if there were any girls that ever got admitted to the system, but the whole thing was just, originally just for boys.



I:          Um hm.

A:        So, we modeled it kind of after Boys Town and thought we could take these kids that uh,  didn’t have anything.  We couldn’t find relatives for these kids, couldn’t find anything.

I:          Right.

A:        I mean, they’re real orphans.

I:          How did you come connected with, uh,  Francesca. the wife of President Rhee?  Do you remember?



A:        I don’t think it was me, uh. I don’t remember. Somebody did uh, in, in one of our relationship we had, we had one of our guys that, uh, died of hemorrhagic fever.

I:          Um.

A:        He was Catholic, and he was in my tent. And I thought uh, I went to the base chaplain and said we should have a memorial service for uh, the guy that died



And um, I said he’s Catholic and so we should have a mass in fact. I’m not that familiar with it, but shouldn’t it be a high mass? And he says he’s not that much of a dignitary that it should be a high mass.  And I says, you know what? Yeah, he is.  He’s here. So, what does it take to do a high mass?  And he says it takes at least two priests.  I said can you get another priest?



And he said uh, not easily. I said, well, what does it take? You called Japan or called Taegu  or what could we do? And he said, I really don’t know right now. I can’t give you answer. So, I talked with a couple of the other fellows around and they said let’s get a Korean Catholic priest.

So, we called the Korean, called the Korean Archdiocese in Seoul.



And I told uh, the person who could speak English  uh, what the problem was. I got a hold of the Bishop. And the Bishop,  sweetheart, my goodness.  He said.10:00 o’clock Sunday.  I will be there. I will bring another priest with me. Tell your base Chaplain he doesn’t have to worry about it. And uh, I’ll bring the nuns and there’ll be a choir.



And so, we went on and made arrangements, broke up the Matza, and he used that as uh, as the wafers. And we celebrated uh, his life.

I:          Uh huh. When did you leave Korea?

A:        Uh, early 1954. So my guess is around February. I got to leave early.

I:          Um hm.  What was the most difficult thing for you to serve in during the Korean War?



A:        The most difficult thing was the cold.

I:          But you are from Michigan?

A:        From Los Angeles. I’ve been in Los Angeles since I was four years old.

I:          That’s right.

A:        I’m used to the weather we have here. And when you start talking about 0 degrees and 10 below 0 and 20 below 0 and then the cold wind comes in off the China Sea, is very damp and humid, and uh, the cold penetrates your body virtually. And then I saw guys that had frostbite, their nose, their ears, their fingertips, toes. Um, it may seem kind of selfish, but uh,  that was the worst part of being in Korea.

I:          Uh  huh.

A:        Was the cold. I can handle some of the people dying, handle some of the other stuff.  But for me personally it was a real problem because um,  I hadn’t toughened up to the cold yet. So, the first winter and the old only winter I had there, that was extremely cold for me. I used to wear three sets of gloves. We would wear a, a set of uh,  silk gloves, then a cotton glove, and then a mitt over that.



And uh,  I never got any frostbite. I always wore uh,  double socks. I had good protective shoes, layers. And I didn’t

I:          Mickey Mouse shoes, Mickey Mouse boots. Did you have Mickey Mouse boots?

R:        Um yeah.  We had uh, waterproof uh, boots and then uh,  with a carton of cigarettes down in Yung Dong Po, I got a pair of really neat boots with the zipper on the side and uh,  but that’s a lot of stuff that lace up. So the zippers were super.




I:          Yeah.

A:        And uh, cigarettes were the commodity of the trade. I didn’t smoke, but I got my allocation of cigarettes.  You get eight cartons , a a month. And uh, I think in those days it was like $0.95 a carton. So uh, there’s a number of things I got. But I really didn’t like the cold.

I:          What was the, the most rewarding moment for you, happiest moment or whatever?



A:        Getting my orders to leave.We call it figm0.

I:          What?
A:        FIGMO  figmo.

I:          Why?

A: Figmo is the uh,  the term, the 1st letter of the F you can understand what that stands for.  I got my orders.

I:          Oh.

A:        So, when somebody would ask you to do something, you’d say I’m sorry, I can’t do that.

I’m figmo. Little bit of humor.



I:          Did you know what you were doing there in Korea?

A:        Oh yeah.  Uh,

I:          Tell me about it.

A:        Well, we uh, we had a relationship uh, after the Second World War in South Korea.



And I knew about it because I had a cousin who uh,  in 1947 and 1948, was in Korea setting up, uh, the communication system at Kimpo of all places. And so, I was familiar. And we were protecting the South Koreans from the north and the Communists.The whole idea was a communist state.

I:          Very good.

A:        MacArthur was there. And then he got pulled out.



I:          How was  life? I mean, what did you eat? Where you sleep? How was your life outside of the base? Any exchanges, encounter or experience with Korean people?

A:        I did. We had uh, ROC Army personnel and ROC,  Air Force personnel working with us.

And they, uh, in terms quite often would invite us to uh, come to the home, meet the family, things of that sort.



Every once in a while, we’d go over and help one of the guys who had a damaged home.  And it’s very, very amazing how many of the uh,  military  would go into the civilian areas and help them try to rebuild their homes uh.  We would take things uh,  from the base, not material that was there, just tools  and uh, something as simple as a saw, a hammer, things of that sort.



And then of course, we had guys that uh,  in my squadron, that were uh, very, very much aware of electronics and what have you. So, we can simplify and wire up the house easily. So, we did come in contact with people um.  Ss a young man, I was single. There were girls uh, that were in Yongdong Po. Not so much in Seoul. I didn’t do too much in Seoul.



Seoul at the time, uh, walking around Seoul, it was depressing. It was depressing because .I looked at the uh, the House of Government.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        And it was just destroyed. All the windows around, it’s bombed, it’s fire, all kinds of stuff.

It just destroyed. And then the paradox was you saw little kids in their uniforms with the little hats on and they uh, they were going to school in the midst of all this destruction, in the midst of everything.



And they had these little backpacks on.  Backpacks were not, uh,  prevalent in the United States at that time. We were still doing briefcases and dragging stuff.  But the Korean kids were wearing backpacks with their school supplies. In Korea, I don’t remember seeing the artificial food in front of restaurants, which is very common in Asia currently, but, and it may have been in the past there.  But I never saw it before.



And I went to this one place as I was passing by and uh, it, it was a place where I knew I could park my uh,  Jeep,  and there was a military policeman on duty and so I can make sure I had a Jeep when I came back.  And they had the artificial food. It was a pizza.

I:          Um hm.

A:        An Italian pizza.  I said oh my God. Couple of guys with me. I said let’s go in. We got to try this.  This out to  be great.



So, we went in, and they brought the pizza pie to us right on the table.  And uh, it looked like the real thing.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        And they cut it up into the wedges, and it was horrible. It looked right, it looked just like the picture, but the contents weren’t there.  They didn’t know what they were doing.  There were things that were available, and these guys didn’t know how to ask for it.



I:          Right.

A:        They had everything we wanted in Japan.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And here we were 30-40 minutes by airplane away, and we could have it immediately, uh.  So, we did.  And we had uh, you know, we made a good time out of a bad time. There were they were simple things like I had the Los Angeles Times subscribed, and they would send me the Times.



Sometimes I’d get five or six newspapers at a time because it bundled up.  But I got the Times seven days a week to keep up with what’s happening in LA. And then I, I put the papers when I was done with it and put it into our day room so other guys could, uh, share it, um. We got a lot of mail in those days, uh.  No computers, no Internet, no Skype. It was uh,  flimsy paper and uh,



I’m a uh,  amateur radio operator. A HAM.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And so, I would go into our uh, radio room, change the frequencies, change the antenna settings and shoot across and talk to people in the United States, talk to people in Los Angeles.

Then we have what’s called a phone patch.  So, I could talk, and then the guy in Los Angeles would phone patch me, and I could talk to the folks.



I:          Yeah.

A:        So, we got a citation from the Korean government. Don’t do that. You’re interfering with our telephone tolls.

I:          Yeah.

A:        So, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Christmas, Thanksgiving, a few holidays, they said you could do the third-party traffic, but they didn’t want us to do it.

I:          Wow, that’s a smart, huh?

A:        So, I said, OK, no phone patches. Told my parents where to go to an amateur radio near where we lived.



A:        And so, I just talked directly to them.

I:          Really?

A:        Yes.

I:          How often?

A:        Oh, you know, once or twice a month.

I:          Wow, what did you talk?

A:        Well, you know, just regular stuff, how’s this going along? How do you feel? What’s going on? My father had uh, suffered a heart attack. My mother had cancer. I put in for a hardship discharge. They said no, you get to stay.

I:          20th Century  Analog Internet, you know?

A:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.



A:        But the amateur radio operators, uh, we had a whole set up in uh, Kimpo.  And it was really a lot of fun. And so, to this day, I’m still an amateur radio operator. I have a rig in the car.

I talk to people all over the world,

I:          Huh.

A:        And uh, it was a great thing to keep your mind off of what was happening there.

I:          Very  nice.

A:        And we had, we had vivid, uh, stories because things were happening all the time there.



I:          Wow.

A:        You see the ambulances moving the people that were being hurt.

I:          When you return from Korea, what, what did people say to you? Did they recognize that you were Korean War veteran or what happened?

A:        Let me segue ahead. It’s a lot easier to give that example. I got discharged in 1957.

I:          Yeah.

A:        I got out. I was at uh,  March Air Force Base, Riverside, CA.

I:          Um hm.



A:        I’d been going back and forth home because it’s an hour, an hour and a half away and folks live in Hollywood, and we uh, I was all set up uh, to continue college. I got out of the service on a Friday and went to college on Monday.

I:          Um.

A:        There was no dinner. There was no hello. There’s no relatives come over, nothing. 8:00 o’clock in the morning, I’m on campus like nothing happened and nothing’s going on anywhere.



We had a crisis in the Suez Canal. We had all kinds of stuff go on. I had civilian clothes. I didn’t even have to wear half military clothes.  Um

I:          You got the GI bill?

A:        Uh, nobody talked about nothing.

I:          Did you get the GI Bill?

A:        Yes, I did. I have Cold War and Hot War, both.  And I went to school for Bachelor’s degree.  I went to Graduate School.



And uh, went on to law school, 11 years of college, nine years with Uncle Sam.

I:          Um hm.

A:        No one ever said anything about the Korean War, ever. Seven years ago, I came here.

My office is in Koreatown.  And a friend of mine uh, asked me to come and said he had room in the office here and my staff would come here. And I sat down and talked with people.



And the, general manager of the office said I have somebody I’d like you to talk to and sat down and she introduced me in Korean. The person didn’t speak English. And uh, Savina said to the person, you know he was in the Korean War. And the lady looked at me and said thank you.

I:          Why you didn’t talk about the war that you participated?

A:        People were not interested in listening.



I:          Why is that?  want to know.  I know, but I want to know and I want to hear from you.

A:        I think they just want to put it out of their mind the, thousands that were killed, the loss that occurred you know.  It just wasn’t something they wanted to talk about. And so, I didn’t bring it up either.  If anybody ever asked me, we would talk about it.  But it was very rare, very, very rare.



Even some of my very, very best friends that uh, knew I had gone uh, it didn’t matter. Didn’t matter to you.  Thank God you’re here and uh,  let’s continue. So, it wasn’t until I came here to Koreatown where people would come in and say, oh my God, you were there before I was born and things like that.  And thank you for saving our country. That’s when it happened.



I:          Many of the interviews that I had, they were asked where have you been when they returned from Korea, the neighbors.

A:        Yeah.

I:          Where have you been for two years? That’s the question that they got.  So that’s

A:        They didn’t even know.

I:          Um, what do you think, you have, have you been back to Korea?

A:        No.

I:          No?  You’re living in a Korean town in LA, never been back to Korea.

A:        That’s correct.



I:          But you know what happened to South Korea after you left and after you, the US soldiers, protected us from the Communist attack.  Do you know what happened to South Korean economy and democracy, right?

A:        Those are the two words. That’s it.  They became a democracy. The economy is spectacular.  And the great people were given an opportunity to be even better.

I:          So, what do you think about? You saw some of the pictures, right?

A:        Yes.



I:          So, you have a very clear picture of before and after the Korean War about Korea. What do you think about that?

A:        I think it’s probably uh, as good a commentary as we did in Japan.  And uh, we did well in Japan also.  And Korea is just a super, a super emblem of some of the good that we do and some of the help that we do in the world uh.



As we look at things going on at the present time, it’s difficult to understand why uh, people are so upset that they would want to kill us. And I don’t believe we’ve done anything wrong, and we shouldn’t be thinking that way. I think on the other hand, my opinion is uh,  they’re just jealous.

I:          Um.

A:        Which is really too bad.



But you know, we’ve just had a disaster occur and uh, there’s just no explaining it other than stupidity. Then I go back and think about uh, you know, things happen and I, all through the schooling, every once in a while, something would come up.  Uh, I remember in Graduate School, I had a class in Graduate School and uh,  the professor asked how many people have been in the service, and a few of us raise our hand.



And where were you? Where were you? Where were you? And I said Korea.  And uh, he said what do you think now?  I said, it’s fantastic.  And now we’ve had the Olympics in Korea and all sorts of things.  Good things.  Part of our way of life is with Korea now, because we have products from Korea that are just part of our life and people don’t even recognize that the Samsung and LG and some of the other products they, they just take it for granted.



And that’s the American way.

I:          The Korea now transformed from one of the poorest country, completely devastated out of the Korean War into (eight offering OECD member), 11th largest economy in the world with the size a little bit bigger than the state of Indiana without any drop of oil, 11th largest economy and most substantive deomocracy in East Asia.



Even, I don’t see Japan, Japanese version of democracy as a real substantive. It’s a very rigorous institutionalized procedural.  But

A:        Rigid.

I:          Rigid.

A:        Yeah, I’ll tell you that one of the, the best economic ones that I saw, interesting concepts is Kimchi. Kimchi in Korea.  I was there, and one of my men, uh, one of the Korean men that worked for me, we went down. We were at the Han River and he says uh, you like Kimchi?



I said no.  And he said, well, I want to show you Kimchi.  I said fine.  So we went, and at the riverbank of the Han River on the opposite side from Seoul, And it’s a whole business.  There’s a guy that dug holes and put pottery in the sand below, uh, to keep it at a constant temperature.

And he says this is 3-day old kimchi and this is five- day old kimchi. This is 30- day old kimchi. And I said, does it get any better when he gets older? He says not really.



It’s only better for us.  I said I can’t handle the spice. It was just way too spicy for me.

And uh, it was within the first couple months I was there, and he says I’m bringing you here because I want you to understand something. When you finally meet a Korean girl, you think you might like to uh, take her out or go someplace, you’re going to have to eat some kimchi, because otherwise you can’t stand her. And if you have kimchi and she has kimchi, it neutralizes each other, and you get along.



I said I might be celibate. I couldn’t handle it.  So, I went and I saw it. And then I also saw that’s where they made the charcoal uh, right there. So, there’s a whole business going on. The war is going on and the kimchi is going on.  It’s fantastic.

I:          Yeah.

A:        They say progress, we go forward.  There’s hope.  That’s where I learned the  word hope.

I:          Looking back all those years, you know it’s like a destiny that you were supposed to be in Europe but it end up being in Korea.



You never really knew about it. You have went through all those things coming back. You’re practicing the law here, family law. What is the overall impact of your military service upon your life? How do you put all those experience in Korea into a perspective? What do you see about the legacy of the Korean War and Korean (INAUDIBLE), all things together, you know just.




A:        My perspective is one of  uh, the philosophical approach to life. And I feel that uh, I’m lucky to be alive. There were situations that occurred that we didn’t discuss, that uh,  there were things that happened, that we came under fire and different things happened.  In the Air Force, you don’t really plan for that, but it does happen.  Um, we had attacks on the base. There are all sorts of things.



So, what it led me to believe when I finished my service here uh,  in the United States and then got discharged and now all these years by, it  uh, leads me to a philosophy of uh, respect for life.

And I’m pleased that I’m still alive with (STEVE). Pleased that things are doing well. But the key thing is that I see so much disrespect for life.



And here we are just a couple of days from the catastrophe that occurred where total disrespect for life is evident.  And so, all I can say is uh,  I preach the uh, blessing of life and uh, live that way because I’m, I’m proud that I served. And even though I didn’t want to go to Korea at the time, I’m proud that I served and helped in any way that I could in the little ways.



And the best thing that happened was that orphanage because I think I did some good.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And you know, it gives you a good feeling when at least you can say when all said and done and I spent almost a year there that we had the orphanage, and that, that makes up for a lot of, a lot of stupid stuff that’s done. So, there are a lot of people my age and a little bit younger that are orphans in Korea.



I couldn’t even give you one name. That’s to my embarrassment that I didn’t take any names. But I didn’t take any names because I was done with Korea at the time. I fulfilled my obligation, and I wasn’t interested in being reminded about what happened.

I:          Yeah.

A:        So that ends that concept.   But it just tells me that there is hope. And never give up. There is hope.

I:          What is the legacy of the Korean War and Korean War veteran?



A:        I just don’t think that the, the people in the United States recognize the, uh, eff0rt that a person does in the service. It was very obvious during the uh, Vietnam period.  And now we have 10-year veterans coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq and uh, people could care less.

I:          Yeah.



A:        And so, we have the Veterans administration. It’s very obvious that uh, it doesn’t have much special effect as a big budget, and they don’t do anything.  What I hear the guys uh, trying to get in and get help, medical help and they have to wait 20,30, 40 days for an appointment. Shame on us.

I:          It  happened in Arizona.  Right. Any other message or story you want to share with me?

A:        Nope, that’s it. Thank you very much.