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A: My name is Al D’Agostino. [Abrupt Start] Parents are both first generation Americans, uh. They worked hard, had four children. I was the oldest one. I was born June 7, 1927, uh, which makes me just a little over 85. Uh, I graduated from Aquinas Institute in Rochester, New York,
in, uh, 1945 which was the tail end of World War II and, uh, we had the opportunity if we were gonna be drafted that they’d give us the last year and half a year so we could get ready for the service. So I went into the Merchant Marine.
I: What is Merchant Marine?
A: Merchant Marine is the, uh, men who man the ships, commercial ships, uh, and in war time they supply all the troops and, uh, all over the world. It had the, the highest casualty rate in World War II
A: of any of the services.
I: Um hm.
A: And, uh, these
men who, uh, man the ships, they had, uh, orders, and they boarded a ship, and then when they paid off a ship the got a discharge from the trip, actually at sea.
I: So it’s a part of military.
A: Ah, it, very, very much so.
I: Uh huh.
A: But it took until 1988 for them to be considered veterans. They were never, uh, the interesting thing is,
uh, uh, during World War II, they told you that if you had 21 months of sea time, that you would not be eligible for the World War II draft. And so I sailed until I had 21 months of sea time, and it, it’s interesting because
at the end of the war, I, I had two, I had three of four interesting trips on the ship, but I tell you about, uh, one where we, uh, had a State Dept. charter and went down to Central and South America, Spain, England and brought all the Germans who had infiltrated into those countries
back to Germany for trial, and the war was over. So we took, we took, uh, uh, people from the concentration camps back to New York out of Bremerhaven and, uh, that, that was under the jurisdiction of, of the, uh, uh, State Dept., U.S. Stat e Dept., and the other
interesting trip was we went to Sydney, Australia, and we picked up all the war brides that the GIs in World War II and had children and brought them back to San Francisco.
I: Wow. That must be a real trip.
I: It’s, tell me more about it.
I: How many women, and what was the
A: I, I, I would say there probably was three or four thousand. You know, Australia was, uh, an
R & R port, I mean where, where they would go for, uh, rest and recuperation from New Guinea, all the western countries, and, uh, uh, they met the ja, this, Australian women were, were very, very close to being like American girls, and they married many, many GIs.
I: Um hm.
A: And, uh, then after the war,
they had to get back and we got into San Francisco, and it was something to see all these wives who have never met their in-laws, never met their husband’s family looking down on the dock, Pier 15 on, on (abarkadarrow)and seeing their new family and their new life. (Abrupt start) The other thing I want to mention about World War II and, uh, uh, the people in, a, in, uh, the war, where the war was in World War II,
uh, had no food after the war. In 1945 at the war ended, they had no, no food. The Germans, the Dutch, the Belgians, uh, all, French, they, they didn’t have any commercial farming, so they were all starving. So the Merchant Marine took the task of bringing food over to these people,
and, uh, made one trip to, uh, Rotterdam, Holland and, and, uh, they, the port was all, uh, bombed out, and we unloaded grain into barge s and, uh, uh, then came back, and we went up the Hudson River to Albany and picked up another load of wheat
I: Um hm.
A: and went to Bremerhaven, to the Germans.
But this, people don’t know that these people had to be taken care of. The GIs wanted to come home. There was a, uh, nobody looking after them. The Marshall Plan, things like that, really helped those people.
I: Um. So you get all over this world, right?
A: Pretty much.
A: Uh, and then, uh, when I came home
from the Merchant Marine, I was, I stopped in Washington, D.C. and went to the War Shipping Administration, and they gave me a certificate of sufficient service for World War II so I wouldn’t be drafted. Not so. Uh, they passed the, the Selective Service Act of, uh, 1948 and, uh, and, and, uh, January 1949 I was
drafted. (Abrupt Start) Then the government didn’t have money to fund the draftees, so they let them out of the Army in 1950, uh, 19, uh, December 1949 and sent them into the Inactive Reserves, and then when the Korean War broke out in June 25, 1950, they were all trained at home in Reserve
outfits, and they were all called up.
I: But, I have a question. Why you were, why did they draft new soldiers in 1949? I mean, there was no war.
A: I, I, I don’t know. Uh, It was, uh, uh, passed by the government, you know. The U.S. government (to center) the, I, I don’t know what the thinking was, uh. Of course, there were
a lot of holes in the Army, in the military at that time that, that had to be filled. Or they wanted to train people. They were afraid of the Russians and, and, uh, so the, I, I don’t know what the thinking was, but the facts were that I was drafted after I’d had over two years on the ships and, and, uh, uh,
and then they, they didn’t have funds to keep these draftees in, in the Army, and they sent us home in the Reserves. We were still military in the Reserves. When the war broke out in January, in June 1950, we got our orders right away. We were the first ones, you know, and they, uh, draft boards had no mercy on the seamen,
the guys who went to sea during World War II and satisfied that requirement. Anyway, uh, uh, I, I, had basic training in, in Virginia, uh, uh, Fort, Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, and then I went it was a, attached to a, any aircraft artillery outfit in Fort Bliss, Texas. It was, uh, automatic
weapons, self-propelled. They had four 50-caliber machine guns in the back of a half track and, uh, we were training out there. And then they realized that I had an aptitude for electronics, so they sent me to cor, communications school in, uh, Fort, uh, Sill, Oklahoma. And when I got finished and went back to Fort Bliss, they said
you’re going home. We get, we don’t have money to keep you in the active duty. Go home. You’re in the Active Reserve, Inactive Reserve. So I went home.
I: When was that?
A: That was December 1949.
A: So I was called back up in January 1950, June 1950 when, and they processed us. They, when the Korean War started and they were getting, trying to
fill the gaps in Personnel in Korea and Japan, the, they, uh, would send these people to Fort Hood, Texas. Your first orders were to Fort Hood, Texas, and they’d give you the basic, uh, uh, familiarization, put you on an airplane and flew you over, in, in June 1950,
July 1950, when they were sending like the Second Division over there and, and all that. But what happened, Fort Hood got so choked up with people that they cut that off. When they did that, I went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, and they saw my communications experience and, uh, sent me to refresher school in Georgia, two weeks, and then it was Christmas 1950.
I was given, uh, seven days’ leave and told to report to Fort Lawton, Washington to go to Korea. Now, I, I was with the, uh, they call in the Army a replacement. I wasn’t attached to any outfit. I was just a body that, that goes off and nobody looking after him. So we got to Fort Lawton, Washington, and they required that we take two weeks of cold weather training
because it was winter in Korea, and a bad winter in Korea. So we went to Fort Lewis, Washington and got the cold weather training, and then we got on a victory ship and headed for Japan, and on that victory ship was the, the Advanced Element of the Prince’s Pats, the Canadian Army who, who were going
over there. And, uh, uh, the Advanced Party of the Prince’s Pats was on that victory ship. Uh, I, I had a good time because I had my seamen’s paper, I got on a victory ship. I showed them my papers and, and they, they treated me like a long lost son, the seamen on the ship. But anyway, we went to, to Japan
I: Do you remember what, when was that that you left for Korea?
A: Uh, it must have been the end of, of, uh, ’50.
Uh, sometime in De, December because we, we went and got Christmas leave. We didn’t have New Year’s at home. We. we were told to report, uh. So it was, say December of 1950.
A: So uh, on the ship going over, we went by the Aleutian Islands, and they,
uh, had the troops get off and to have close order drill on the docks. They’d been on, I forget. It was a long trip, maybe 15, 17 days, and we went to Yokohama, Japan, and then, at the, they put us on a train. We went to Camp Drake in, in Japan, and we, uh, processed to go to Korea.
Now this was January 19, uh, ’51, and, uh, they, they gave us, uh, a full field pack and a, a, an M1 and, uh, seven rounds of ammunition to zero it in, and then we went down to Yokohama, and we went over to Pusan. Now, I’m a replacement. I, I get to
to Pusan. I wanna tell you. I met some fellas that I had been in the Army with before. One fella’s name was Sal Ladolce from Brooklyn. He was a little Italian kid, and he had all sisters, so they babied him. And, uh, I, I, I ran into Sal, and we, he was a replacement, too. So we went to the, the rep, what they called a repo depot and, uh,
waited for our units to come and pick us up. Well, that night an artillery outfit came and got him, and he left that night. And the next morning they came and got me. But when I was waiting for my ride, to, to go, uh, uh, up to where the base camp was, I heard that he was, went out on a, uh, training mission as a forward observer for an artillery outfit, and he,
a short round killed him. So he wasn’t in Korea for 24 hours.
I: Where? It was around Pusan?
A: Uh, yeah, yeah. The, the, the, the war, when, yeah.
I: But, were there enemies in some area?
A: Yeah, well, no, as you went north
I: As he went up north.
A: Yeah. Yeah.
I: Snipers or what is it?
A: No, no. He was killed by a short round where the art, our artillery
is firing, and they don’t achieve the range that they thought they got
A: and you have a forward observer out, out front that tells t hem to adjust their
I: So he was killed by the friendly fire.
A: Friendly fire. Uh.
A: And, they, and, uh, so that was a little bit dem, demoralizing.
I: When did you, when did you hear about that?
A: Uh, I heard, when I was going to my outfit, I was, I was
A: picked up
by a signal, a radio relay signal company
I: Um hm.
A: And people don’t know what the radio relay signal company is. But in Korea, you had the, the, the cable, the mucked in cable that goes up, but it’s all, it was all chopped up and, and, uh, the Army, the divisions couldn’t keep wire down
I: Um hm.
A: So they had to do is get radio relay up on the highest peak
I: Highest mountain, yes.
and direct the signal to the next highest which was 8thArmy in Taegu. But the interesting thing was they sent us to (Kumosan)and it was the middle of winter. We had radios am, you know, all our defensive ammunition, about eight of us. We went up, the roads only went up
part way. It was three hours on the trail to get up the top of the mountain to evaluate its, and we, we established a radio relay up there on that mountain. We had no sick call, no mess call, no nothing. We were, we, we handled our own defense, we never went anywhere without another person, uh. There, there were guerillas in that area
A: which is, you know, between Taejon and Taegu.
A: Uh, so we were up there for, the whole winter, and we squad tents, we put up our 50 caliber guns and, uh, uh, then the war changed hands. They, they, they, uh, uh, said that they were gonna make this a permanent radio relay,
and they sent more troops up, and they sent a division of katusa troops to man the guns and defensive, the katusas. And, and, uh, uh, we, we built some quarters, uh, hot Quonset up on the top of the mountain. I bet it isn’t there because it’s, uh, a very beautiful view. But it was, it was
interesting because the Air Force fighters were, that were going back down to Koje-do and Cheju-do and that,
I: Um hm.
A: they would fly over, and they’d see somebody up on the top of this mountain, and they were gonna come down and take a look to see who it is. And we hoped that they [LAUGHS] we, we, we did all we could to make, to assure them that we were American. But when, when they, uh,
We had a, a house in Gumiwhich was our, uh, position, uh, down in, uh, the town, uh, and we had a, we got an interpreter with our outfit came out. He was a young man. It was, his name was (Joe Byung Yu), and, and, uh, he sent me a very touching letter, uh,
after I came back to the States. He, uh, uh, how he appreciated what the Americans were doing.
I: You’re still connected?
A: I still have it. I have a copy, I’m gonna copy it and send it to you. (Abrupt start) Total compliment up there was, was about 16 guys
I: Um hm.
A: to, to, and they expanded the radios. And, and
most of the guys that were with that outfit had been in the Army, and this was, uh, the signal assignment was a new thing. There was two radio relay companies in Korea, 518thand 581stRadio Relay Company. And they depend on that for communications, and they had to protect themselves. We had a Lieutenant got shot on the trail coming up. That, uh, it, it was, uh, I,
not unpleasant, especially when spring came and on top of the mountain and the views and everything. It, it was a beautiful location, uh, and, uh, funny that, uh, there, there was, uh, two little girls that lived halfway between where our stop was
I: Um hm.
A: and the top of the mountain, and they appeared, and, and, the, the soldiers gave them their food and everything
and, uh, this interpreter was a, a tremendous man. Uh, I, I think he was younger than me. He may still be alive. I’d like to find him. But, uh, it was, uh, very touching. So the other, this other part of the story, I went back to the base camp in Masan and, uh, waiting for, uh, my orders to come back to the U.S. as soon as in November ’51.
Now they were trying to kick the draftees out, um, uh, and, and, uh, uh, at Masan, I did just things, I, I used to drive the officers up to head, headquarters for meetings and things like that. But across from us, there was a, a little Korean store in Masan, and, uh,
the soldiers took to them because they had a bathtub, you know, the bathtubs they had outside, and they’d put the, the, the fire
A: and you’re up, on top and you’re sitting in the, in the water, and they’re heating the water,
A: and you take your bath. That’s the only real bath that, that was available and, and, it was very nice. [INAUDIBLE]
I: Where did you get the water?
A: Papasan got it somewhere. I mean, uh, they filled it up with, with water by hand.
I: How, how did you wash your clothes?
A: Oh, well, when, across the street where we had our, out little compound, uh, we could, we could send out clothes in to get washed, uh
I: So the Koreans
I: Yeah. So you, there were Koreans, and you worked with them, right?
A: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.
I: Oh, how was the relationship?
A: Well, uh, very good, very good. It was very good. I want to send you a picture of, uh, of, uh, uh, late in 1951, uh, they had some kind of a holiday. They’d put their good clothes on, and they, they didn’t come on to the post, but there was a creek alongside of it, and they, they came with their children and everybody, uh, to greet the soldiers.
I: Wow. Yeah. You still have that picture?
A: Yeah. I, I’m pretty sure I have it.
I: Uh huh.
A: Yeah. So, uh, the interesting thing, time marches on. I get out of, I didn’t get discharged from the Army. When they let me out, they put me in the 98thDivision New York Reserves.
I: When did you leave Korea for the State?
A: Uh, November ’51. I was there about 11 months.
I: Um, any dangerous moments?
A: Well, the, the, the most difficult time was when the, uh, small party of men, six men went on, on top of this mountain.
I: Um hm.
A: Uh, and looking for a place,
and we had no idea of what was up there. I mean, we’re, we’re, it was a 2 ½ hour, uh, mar, uh, walk. We never went anywhere alone because there was guerillas, and the, the Lieutenant, when, when they finally brought a Lieutenant to head up this little installation, he, he, the first time we went up on a mountain, he got shot by guerillas. But, uh, it was no active combat up there.
Did you do some kind of fun things through the microwave and talking to each other from one outpost to the others?
A: Yes. Yes.
I: What kind?
A: Well, uh, we could get through Japan. We could talk to the States from our relay up on the mountains.
A: of Korea.
A: Yeah, and it
A: And the guys use, uh, uh, when they could get through to their, their family, they would, they would
I: Even with the family?
A: Yeah. Well, they, you had many circuits.
A: you know, and then, you had one that was non, uh, uh, an essential that we used for, just for communications. Uh, like when American flyers came over and looking for us, we’d run for that radio real fast and tell them who we are.
I: Were you able to talk to your family then?
A: I didn’t. I didn’t personally, no. But, uh, some of the
I: Were there others did?
A: Yes, yes, yes.
I: That must been a real
A: And, and
I: experience, right?
A: Yeah. And the other thing was my mother used to send my packages and a loaf of bread and a bottle of Seagram’s in the bread so it wouldn’t break, and they wouldn’t detect that it was liquor, and, and, uh, I was the only, one of the few guys that had alc, alcoholic beverages. You could get a beer
now and then. But, uh, she, she sent me Seagram’s whiskey, and it got through.
I: Oh my goodness.
A: Yeah. In 1951.
I: Wow. Do you have, uh, letters still that you got from your mom?
A: I have to look. [Abrupt Start] Down in Gumi, we’d be up on a mountain for about two weeks, and then we’d go down to Gumi and have our clothes washed and get a bath or, or shower or something,
went down into the town, and we had a home that was, uh, and, and, the, the, the peo, people in the town would, uh, uh, they accepted us. I mean, their children came up to the walls of the, the house we were in and, and we had very good relationship with the people. It, this, uh, interpreter touches on that in these letters,
and it’s, uh, very touching. Very touching because the people in town, uh, gave us, we, we didn’t mix with the town. I mean, we didn’t go anywhere but this place. But they would come up the, it had a masonry wall around it, and they’d come up to the, the, uh, just to say hello and children, mostly children.
I: So they treated you very well.
I: Welcome, and you, what did you do with them? What did you give some food? What did
A: No, uh, you know, I, I asked my mother to get some children’s clothes out of the Sears Roebuck catalog and mail it to me, and she did, and I, I gave it to the parents of the children because their clothes were not that good. But we, we could get clothes out of the Sears catalog, sent to Korea, and, and we gave
them to the kids.
I: [Abrupt Start] Have you been back to Korea?
I: No. Do you know what’s going on there?
A: Oh, I, I, uh, you know, I, I used to, uh, one, one of my jobs was I was a sales consultant for people who wanted to sell products to airlines, and I used to call on Korean Airlines in Los Angeles, Los Angeles airport, and, and I couldn’t believe the level of fluency
and, and English and, and their business behavior and everything, and, and they kept telling me, you know, you won’t, you won’t know. There’s no more honey buckets and honey carts and none of that. And so, and besides American Airlines had a hotel in Seoul, a flagship hotel and, and, uh, but, but I never went, went there. I got to Japan and some of those places, but,
uh, uh, I, I understand you step out of a building, and you wouldn’t know you’re on Fifth Avenue, New York or Fifth Avenue in Seoul.
I: Right. Are you proud of your service for Korea?
A: Yeah. I, uh, I feel that, uh, military training is good for anybody that’s, they owe
for what the country gives them. But it’s gotta be universal military
A: and, and, uh, uh, I think whenever you see, uh, what your country’s doing in the world, uh, it gives, it gives you a reason to be proud of it.
I: Next year will be 60th
anniversary of Armistice. There’s no war lasted more than 60 years after an official cease fire was signed. There are many problems in North Korea right now, but just from the perspective of war veterans who actually fought there, not the politicians who dragged you down there, if there is a petition to sign for the replacement of Armistice
with a peace treaty, would you be willing to sign?
A: I, I guess, especially with the young man who’s in North Korea now. He maybe more amenable to, uh, that type of an uh, uh, uh, overture to them and, and that, the, the Korean Peninsula should be one.
I: Should be one, yes. Any comments for the, our young generations?
A: Uh, yeah. I, I think it, um, my comments are, uh, you gotta give something to your country, uh and, and not look on it as a, a burden, uh. I, I, went through seven years of my life, uh, attached to the military and Merchant Marine and the Army.
But I don’t begrudge that. I begrudge it if the guy next to me doesn’t do anything. [Abrupt Start] Sometime get cynical about the, the, the, uh, the world picture, all the, all this fighting and, and, uh, uh, and, and I don’t, uh, I, I don’t feel that the children get the importance of their behavior in this setting, and how do you teach them? This is, could be a project.
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