Korean War Legacy Project

Alex Saenz


Alex Saenz grew up in Burbank, California, in an era where he witnessed segregation as a member of the Mexican community. He worked as a spray painter before enlisting in the Navy and used those skills in Japan at a ship repair facility. His duties entailed sandblasting and painting ships and performing glass and mirror repairs. He describes his impressions of Japan in great detail and why his experiences there were mostly positive ones. He shares that while he was not exposed to great danger during his service, he is proud of his service and feels he did the best for his country.

Video Clips

Enlistment and Basic Training

Alex Saenz recalls having graduated from high school and working as a spray painter when the Korean War broke out. He recounts quitting his job and enlisting in the Navy. He describes his basic training in San Diego and shares that it was an experience as he had never been away from home.

Tags: Basic training,Home front,Pride

Share this Clip +

Share YouTube:

Share from this page:


Ship Repairs

Alex Saenz provides a few examples of the conditions of ships returning from Korea in need of repair. He details working in the dry docks where repairs from shelling would be made as well as sandblasting and painting following the repairs. He recalls a ship needing repair after running over a whale and shares a more personal story regarding the Boxer CV-21, an aircraft carrier that suffered a plane's crash landing.

Tags: Pride,Weapons

Share this Clip +

Share YouTube:

Share from this page:


Little Danger

Alex Saenz shares his thoughts on serving in Japan rather than in Korea closer to danger. He states that all servicemen were assigned work, and they simply did it. He shares that, in the military, he did the best for his country. He comments on meeting soldiers who had served in Korea and hearing their stories.

Tags: Home front,Pride

Share this Clip +

Share YouTube:

Share from this page:


Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


A:        Alex Saenz.

I:          Alex

A:        Saenz.

I:          Saenz.

A:        Like a sign but several.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        You pronounce it Signs.

I:          Signs.

A:        Signs.

I:          Oh.  What, what kind of name is that?

A:        Well, it originated in, uh, German, Germany.

I:          German, um hm.

A:        And uh

I:          So, you forefathers are from Germany?

A:        No no.  Yeah, forefathers, probably way, my great, great, great, great grandfather.



I:          Right.

A:        I know my grandfather

I:          Uh huh.

A:        And uh, my father and my grandfather were born in Mexico.  That I know.

I:          Oh.  So they

A:        My great grandfather I don’t know.

I:          They emigrated into Mexico.

A:        They migrated into South America, and from there they went, uh, to uh, Mexico.

I:          Oh.

A:        But uh in Mexico, it’s a common name.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        You know it’s not a Mexican name.

I:          Um hm.

A:        You know, like Gomez or

I:          Yeah.

A:        Gonzalez, Garcia.  So



I:          But still popular there.  Still well-known name.

A:        Yeah, I would say so, yeah.

I:          Okay, um hm.

A:        I would say so.

I:          Yeah.  So, when were you born, and where you born?
A:        I was born in Burbank, California.

I:          Um hm.

A:        In uh, 1931.

I:          What month and day?
A:        June the first.  Same as, uh, Marilyn Monroe and Andy Griffith and Pat Boone.



I:          I didn’t know. I didn’t know that Pat Boone also born in June first?
A:        Yeah, June first, Pat Boone.

I:          And Marilyn Monroe.

A:        Marilyn Monroe and and, uh,

I:          Wow, lucky you.

A:        Yeah, and Joan Caulfield.  You don’t remember her.

I:          No.

A:        Yeah, yeah, beautiful old actress.

I:          Okay.

A:        Yeah.

I:          And tell me about your family when you were born and the school you went.

A:        Well, I was born in Burbank and uh,



I learned Spanish before I learned English

I:          Huh.

A:        Because my parents spoke Spanish

I:          Um hm.

A:        At home.

I:          Um hm.

A:        So, uh, I learned Spanish before I learned English.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        And uh, went to school in Burbank.  Burbank was a, was segregation there.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        You know, they had Mexicans in, in, in, in uh, in certain schools.



I:          Right.

A:        And uh, like some of us couldn’t go to some of the movies.  They wouldn’t allow us in there.

I:          Yeah.

A:        And when they started allowing in there, we had a section, and we could only sit there in that section.

I:          Um.

A:        It was called the Mexican section.  And the first time my dad went to a movie, and they told him you can’t sit here, he said why not, I paid, my dad spoke English.

I:          Yeah.

A:        None of his friends couldn’t speak English.


And uh, he would interpret for them.  He was well liked in the Mexican community.

I:          You can sit in every anywhere, but you were not able to understand it because it was in Mexican, right?  Is that what you’re trying to say?

A:        No.  We’re backwards.  You, it was segregation.

I:          Oh.

A:        Yeah.  They was put in certain schools.

I:          Even for the Mexican origin?

A:        Especially for the Mexican origin.  They were very, and, and black people, after 6:00

I:          Uh huh.



A:        they had to be on the, on the bus back or on the bus.  Yes.

I:          That’s awful.

A:        Oh yeah.  Burbank, Burbank was a yeah.  They had a lot of segregation in Burbank in the old days.  There was a lot of people we got along with, you know, what we called White people, Americans you know.  We were all Americans.  But we were viewing them in, in, in the well, in sections of Mexicans.



But uh, now it’s different.  Now it’s different.

I:          So, how did you feel about it?
A:        Well, we, you know, we were just used to it, that’s it, you know.  We didn’t like it.

I:          You didn’t like it at all, right?
A:        Huh?

I:          You didn’t like it at all.

A:        No.  But there wasn’t too much we could do about it.

I:          Huh.

A:        You know, now it’s a different ball game.

I:          Yeah.



A:        But uh yeah.  We, we got,

I:          Tell me about it.

A:        No no.  We got great friends now.  But uh, you know, they we’re like, hey, one big family now, you know.  And uh, but before like, my brother, my oldest brother, when he went into high school, some of the boys grabbed him

I:          Um hm.

A:        Were gonna rough him up.  And there was this one fella. I mean he, this guy was tough, tough fella.



Today he’s a minister.  He’s a great guy.  His dad was a movie star.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And uh, he liked my brother.  And he says no, you don’t do nothing to Fred.  So, you know, he like saved him, saved my brother from getting a beating.

I:          Um hm.  Um hm.

A:        Then when my  brother turned 17, he went in the service during World War II.

I:          World War II.

A:        Yes.

I:          Okay.  Uh, what school did you finish there in the Burbank?
A:        Burbank High School.
I:          Burbank High School?
A:        Yes, Burbank High.

I:          And you became, you came to learn English, how to speak English?

A:        Oh yeah, no I learned English before then.

I:          Okay.

A:        I learned English when I, when I started school I knew, I knew some English, you know.  But uh, uh, went to a school called Luther Burbank.  It was mostly Mexican.  And then I went to uh, Joaquin Miller and others, we went to school strictly for Mexicans called Central.



And then from there I went to John Weir Junior High, and then from there I went to Burbank High, and I graduated from there.

I:          What were you doing when the Korean War broke out in 1950?

A:        I was uh, well I graduated from School in 1950, from high school.  And uh, I was a spray painter. I, I, I was a spray painter.



And uh, I quit my job, and I joined the Navy.

I:          You joined the Navy?
A:        Yes.
I:          So, you enlist?
A:        I enlisted.

I:          Um hm.

A:        All my brothers enlisted, four of us.  Three Navy, one Army.

I:          Um. Why Navy?

A:        Why Navy?  I guess because my oldest brother had joined the Navy.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And we had, and I had other friends that joined the Navy during World War II.

I:          Um.



A:        And uh, when they come on they said get in the Navy.

I:          Were you thinking that you might go to Korea and fight there?
A:        I didn’t know where we were going.

I:          Oh.

A:        We were assigned after we leave boot camp.

I:          Um hm.  Where did you get the basic military training?
A:        San Diego.

I:          Tell me about that.  What kind of, what kind of training did you receive?
A:        Well, we did a lot of marching.  They gave us a, a piece to march with.



And we learned to roll our clothes and to live out of our C bag.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And we had to go and clean our own barracks, you know, and uh

I:          Did you learn how to swim?
A:        I already learned how, I already learned how, I already knew how to swim.

I:          Okay.
A:        But there were some that didn’t know.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        And they taught them.

I:          Oh, really?

A:        Yeah.  They were taught there in the Navy, yeah.

I:          Yeah.  Where, in the river or in the ocean or

A:        No no, in the swimming pools.

I:          Swimming pools.

A:        They had swimming pools there.

I:          Okay.

A:        Yeah.

I:          Um.


A:        And uh, we learned to dive from the platform, like from a ship, to dive in the water in case you were in the ship, and you got torpedoed.

I:          Right.
A:        Yeah.  So uh, it was interesting.  It was something new. I’d never been away from home, you know, maybe for a weekend or something.  But I was never away from home.  And uh, it was an experience.  But I went in the Navy with a good friend of mine.  We were together.  We went through boot camp.  We were stationed in Japan.



I was best man at his wedding.  We were very close.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And he died last year.

I:          Oh, I’m sorry.

A:        Yeah.  Uh, I went to Yokosuka, Japan, and I was assigned to a, a paint locker.  And we painted ships.  We sand blasted

I:          Um hm.

A:        Painted.  We uh, we made uh, mirrors there.  We did glass work in, in that shop.  It was called Ship Repair Facilities.



And ships that were hit in Korea would come in there.  We’d repair them, paint them.

I:          Oh.  When did you leave for boot camp?

A:        Nineteen fifty-one.

I:          Nineteen fifty-one.

A:        Yes.  And I was there till ’53.  I was there 2 ½ years.

I:          Um.

A:        And then uh, then I caught a ship.

I:          How was Japan?
A:        I loved Japan.

I:          Why?

A:        It was great.



It was good, very good.
I:          Tell me about the details.

A:        Oh.  I was gonna tell you the girls were beautiful.  And I, I loved their Saki.  And uh, I learned to love their food.  I loved the girls.

I:          What kind of food did you like, uh, out of Japanese?
A:        Sukiyaki, Jamputa

I:          Um hm.



A:        And uh, they gave me, uh, Gohan, rice with uh, egg mixed in there.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And peas and bits of beef.

I:          Yeah, yeah, yeah.

A:        Great.

I:          Oh.  You liked Japanese food.

A:        I loved Japanese food.

I:          Um.

A:        And my greatest, my greatest 10 days that I had in all that time that I was there, when I was on a ship we, we were gonna be in Kobi for a long time.


So I sent for my girlfriend in Yokosuka to come to Kobi.  It’s like a day and a half on train.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And we, we rented a little house on a hill.

I:          So, it was your honeymoon.

A:        God, it was beautiful.

I:          Um.

A:        And it was sad. I didn’t have a camera.  We didn’t take pictures.
I:          Um.
A:        And it was a nice house.  You could see the cherry blossoms, you know, they’re seasonal.  And the snow on the hill was nice.



It was just, it was just good.  I loved that girl.

I:          How much were you paid at the time?
A:        How much was I paid?
I:          Yeah.  What was your rank, and how much were you

A:        Damage Controlman third.

I:          Huh?
A:        Damage Controlman.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And uh, the pay wasn’t very, very much then.
I:          How much?
A:        I don’t know.  I think like $80 a month.

I:          $80 a month.

A:        I don’t, I can’t remember really.

I:          Um hm, um hm.

A:        You know, I don’t know where that 80 come from.  But uh,



I:          So you spent all of it.

A:        Of course.

I:          Some of, some of them, many of them actually saved.
A:        Let me tell you, I can’t tell you stories now cause we’re on film.  I can’t tell you the stories.

I:          Yeah.

A:        Because, but there’s some stories that I cannot tell you.

I:          Okay.  So

A:        Maybe, maybe off the record I can tell you.

I:          We’ll talk later.

A:        Oh, alright.

I:          Okay.  Um, so how was the condition of the ship that returned from the Korean War?



Were there any shipwrecked or any problems?

A:        Oh yes.

I:          Tell me about those.  Tell me about that.

A:        Yes.  Well, aboard the carrier, aircraft carrier The Boxer, a plane that had crash landed, and it killed I believe it was 21 men on the, on the, on the ship.

I:          Air, aircraft carrier?
A:        Aircraft carrier, The Boxer, CVA21.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        And uh I had a very good friend of mine, two friends of mine.  But one of them was on a flight deck.  He, we grew up together, very very close to me.



I talk to him to this day. I call him and tell him

I:          Uh huh.

A:        where I’m at and all that.  We’re in touch.  And uh, we’re lifetime friends since we were in diapers together. Our parents knew each other.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And uh, I was very concerned when I heard about the men that were killed

I:          Um hm.

A:        Twenty-one men were killed.

I:          Where, where?  In Korea? In the Korean




A:        In Korea.

I:          Yeah.
A:        And then when they brought it in to Yokosuka to Ship Repairs, the officer that was gonna be in charge of the repairs come to the paint locker and he says I want a, a foreman to go with us.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And I told him, I says I want to go.  I want to go because I want to look up a friend of mine to see if  he’s alright.

I:          Um hm.

A:        As it was, my friend was alright.

I:          Um hm.



A:        Though he jumped from the flag deck to the water so he wouldn’t die in the fire.  A destroyer picked him up and then later transferred him back to, to the ship

I:          Um hm.

A:        To the aircraft carrier.  But uh, there was other ships of that, that were uh, that had damages there.  And uh, but we had one that, that ran over a whale.

I:          Oh.
A:        And it bent the screw.  So, they had to bring that in there, and they had to remove the screw and take it to the foundry and repatch it, repair it.



I:          Wow.

A:        Yeah.  There was a lot, lot of things, little shell, shelling from the shore that hit these, these ships, and would come in, and we’d have to have the, uh, oh, work on it. And then we’d, I’d send the painters in there to paint it.

I:          So, you worked in the dock.

A:        Dry docks.

I:          Dry docks.

A:        There was a ship in there they pumped the water out

I:          Uh huh.



A:        If they needed sand blasting and painting, you did the sand blasting and painting.

I:          Wow.  The pump must be really good.

A:        Oh, they were great. They, they, they built the biggest battleship there, biggest battleship ever built, the Yamamoto

I:          Uh huh

A:        was built there in, in Yokosuka, Japan.

I:          Yokosuka.

A:        Yokosuka, yeah.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And uh, yeah. I was uh, it was good duty. I liked the duty there.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        It was good.



I:          And you told me that you were in Korea for just three days?
A:        Yeah.  We

I:          Tell me about that.

A:        We just pulled in there.  I don’t know if we picked up equipment or dropped off equipment to some of the personnel there.  And uh, there I saw, we saw PT boats that we worked on when I was in, in uh, Yokosuka.  We had them painted and worked on them.  And uh,



I:          But why you were in Korea?  Where, where were you in Korea?

A:        I believe it was uh, Pusan. I can’t remember where in Korea.

I:          Did you actually land in Korea?

A:        Well, we, with our ship was right there, docked at the, our ship would go right to the, to the land.  It was a flat bottom.  And uh, they’d open the bough doors, and we would go in and out.

I:          And you fixed the problem there.

A:        Well, we, I don’t know what we did there for three days. I think we, we dropped off equipment or we picked up equipment.



I:          Oh, okay.

A:        Cause we moved troops over, you know, personnel, from one island to another island.  And uh, we just, I don’t know what it, what our job was.  But

I:          Let me just, let me ask this question.  Many of the Korean War veterans were in Korean Theater there.  They fought, and they, some of them died, wounded and still missing.

A:        I had friends of mine that were killed there.

I:          Huh?


A:        I had friends of mine that were killed in Korea.

I:          Yeah.  But you were in Japan, right?
A:        Yes.
I:          And you didn’t have any danger.  How did you feel about that?

A:        How I felt about it?  We all have our work to do.  Whatever we’re assigned to do, we do it.

I:          Um hm.
A:        That’s it.
I:          Yeah.

A:        You know, like I tell people.  I says hey, in the military, I did the best for my country.

I:          Yeah.

A:        That’s it.

I:          Um hm.  Did you hear many things about Korean War from Japan?



A:        Of course.

I:          Get shipped many

A:        Of course.  A big hospital was right there.

I:          Uh huh, uh huh.

A:        And uh when uh, I had to come home on emergency leave when my father died.  And when I went back, I went on a transport back to, to Japan.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And there was a lot of Marines and soldiers on that transport.  And when I was in Japan, I run into a few of them that were wounded in Korea.



I:          Um hm.

A:        And uh, we talked, you know.  We talked. I remembered them.  They remembered me.  So that was uh, it was really something. I  mean, to see those boys out there.  But I lost, I lost some friends, some good, good friends, school, school mates.

I:          Hm.
A:        When they went in, they, they volunteered to go in when they were still in high school.  And they were killed.  Fella by the name of Larry Shiner.


The other one was Bob Box.  There were others that were wounded, whatnot.  But uh, other boys, Mexican boys that uh, that went in with  my brother.  Three of them got hit bad.

I:          Hm.

A:        Three, one was a, two of them were great, three of them were great athletes.  And their, their athletic days were done.



I:          Were there any dangerous moments during your service in Japan?
A:        In Japan?
I:          Yeah.

A:        No except when the Communists used to march. They wouldn’t let us go out on liberty.
I:          What do you mean, in Japan?

A:        Yeah, in Japan.

I:          There were, there were Communists?
A:        Oh yeah.

I:          I know that.  But please tell to the audience.

A:        Yeah.

I:          Tell me about that.

A:        Well, we were, we were restricted to the, to the, to the base.
I:          Base.



A:        We couldn’t go out because you, we, we could see them from, from where we were at.  We’d look across the, the, the, the bay, and we’d see them demonstrating in the streets, waving their banners and whatnot.

I:          Um hm.

A:        And talking about something, I don’t know what, you know. But we were not allowed to go out there because they were in fear that we would, we would get in a big fight with them.
I:          Um hm.  Tell audience the sense of location where Yokosuka was located.  Was it close to Tokyo or?



A:        No no.  It was quite a ways from Tokyo.

I:          Um hm.

A:        It was closer to Yokohama.

I:          Yokohama.

A:        Yeah.

I:          Um hm.

A:        It was about 45 minutes from Yokohama.

I:          Have you been to Tokyo?

A:        Well, yes, I was in Tokyo.

I:          Um hm.

A:        I was fascinated. I was fascinated with, with Yokosuka and big cities. It was really something. It was something different for me, you know.  But see before the War started, World War II, I had Japanese friends.  And when they were, when they were put in internment camps



I:          Um hm.

A:        It really hurt me, you know, because I wouldn’t see my friends no  more.

I:          Um.

A:        And uh, a lot of those boys, you know, they come back to live in the area. They had, I don’t know, there was some kind of feeling there which I can’t blame them.

I:          Yeah.

A:        You know, the bitterness.  So

I:          What is the impact of the War and you being a Korean War veteran upon your life?  How does that affect your life?



Is there a positive impact?
A:        Well, I learned, I learned one thing, that all the Japanese didn’t want that War.

I:          What war?
A:        World War II.

I:          Uh huh.

A:        They didn’t want it.  And uh, I talked with a lot of them over there.  And some of them that were ex-servicemen had fought in Japan, you know. And uh, they had kind of a like a hate for Americans.


There’s a lot of Americans had a lot of hate for the Japanese.  So, I guess it was during the time, when I got there, things started changing a little bit.  We started socializing more with the, with the, the, the young men that worked for us and all that.  We’d go out and and, uh, eat and all that.  We’d buy them cigarettes and uh, there was a lot of them.  And uh, I knew some officers that would pick up rocks and, and throw at the workers.



Had a hate for them.  And uh we told them, we says you know, that’s not right for you to do that.  Even though he was an officer, we still told him, you know, cause I didn’t like that. I didn’t like to see that.

I:          Um.

A:        And uh, he just held it against him, and some fella told me, he said during the War, his ship got torpedoed, and he broke his back.  Well, I says, why should he blame the workers for that, you know.


I:          What did people say to you when you got back to, got back to home about your service?  Where, I mean did they ask?
A:        None of them asked, you know, how was it?  And uh a job, you know.  It was great, good.  It was very good, you know.  But uh, it, uh, they, you know, we grew up together.  And a lot of them were, were World War II.  A lot of them Korean War.  And uh, it just was, you know,



We’d go on with our life.

I:          How’s the life here in the, uh, Veteran’s Home?

A:        Great.  I tell them when they had, uh, the interview,

I:          Um hm.

A:        from my, the last one was after three months, I says you hear about paradise all your life.  I’m in paradise.  There’s angels working around here.  You can’t beat this place.  Everybody’s so good, you know.


Everybody smiles at you, and I mean, those smiles are for real.  They’re great people here.

I:          Um hm.
A:        Super people.

I:          Um.
A:        I love them, all of them.

I:          Very good.  Uh, anything that you wanna say to the audience about your service as a Korean War veteran?

A:        Well, every, every, every American should go in the service, should go in for the experience.



I have two nephews; I have a nephew and a niece in the service now.  And some other friends that are in the service now.  And uh, they both like it very much.  They both have done a tour of duty in Iraq, Afghanistan.
I:          Oh.

A:        One of them I think is gonna go back to do their third tour of duty.

I:          Um hm.
A:        So, and they like it. And they um, and I’m proud of them.



I:          Who is in high school, is he interested in Korean War or anything to hear from you>
A:        No.

I:          No, not really interested?
A:        No.

I:          No.

A:        No.  But uh, I had a nephew that give me an interview one time.  He’s doing a

I:          School project.

A:        No. He’s doing a, a, a story when he was in school

I:          Right.

A:        About what, what his uncle, what his uncles did when they, when they were his age.



And I tell him, I says I used to get up 5:00 in the morning, and I’d go sell papers at a war plant, Pulmanasco, during the War.  And then I’d go home.  I’d have breakfast and then go to school.  I’d get out of school, and I’d go sell papers in a corner.  Then I’d go home, and I’d eat.  Then I’d go to the bowling alley and set pins.  And he said what do you mean set pins?


And I said they didn’t have the automatics.

I:          Right.

A:        Our hands were the, would set pins.  Then we’d go home, you know, to get some sleep.  Maybe it might be 12:00, 12:30.

I:          Yeah.

A:        But you know, you’re young.  And then during summer vacation, we’d go, I’d go work like I had a job doing busboy in a restaurant.  And then later, I’d work in the cannery.

I:          Um hm.



A:        during summer vacation.  When you go back to school, these kids would talk about how they went to summer camp and all that. You know, their parents were wealthy.  Our parents were poor.

I:          Yeah.

A:        We had to work. I worked all my life.

I:          Good.

A:        Till I become a book maker.

I:          What do you mean book maker?

A:        I took bets on horses.

I:          What?
A:        You never heard of a bookie?

I:          No.

A:        Ha ha.  Well

I:          What is it?



A:        Anyway

I:          What do you mean?
A:        It’s illegal.  It’s illegal, something illegal.  You take bets on horses.

I:          Uh huh, uh huh.

A:        People want to be horses,

I:          Uh huh.

A:        They call you up, and you write

I:          Oh, oh, oh, oh, I know that.

A:        Alright.  Well, you’re a horse player?

I:          Yeah.

A:        Are you a horse player?
I:          Yeah.

A:        Oh, alright.

I:          Yeah.  Yeah.

A:        Alright.  So anyway, that was it.  But um,

I:          I, I mean I just did it just once, you know.



A:        Oh, okay.  Well, you’re not a horse player.

I:          No.
A:        You did it once.

I:          Yeah.

A:        You went to the races?
I:          Yeah.
A:        Oh, okay.  Where?

I:          Uh, Kentucky.

A:        You saw the Kentucky Derby?

I:          Yeah, yeah.

A:        No kidding.
I:          No kidding, right?  [LAUGHS]

A:        Well, I’ve never seen it.

I:          I have a friend there.

A:        Oh, okay.

I:          Um, okay.  So, anything you want to say to the, uh, this interview?
A:        No.  I just um, glad I could do an interview.  And uh, if it’s shown somewhere, maybe someone will pick up something.



I:          Yeah, absolutely.

A:        Go join the service.

I:          Yes.  Good.  Thank you very much for the interview.

A:        Alright.  You’re welcome.

I:          I really enjoyed your

A:        And I want you to get there for lunch.
I:          Yes, great.
A:        Alright?
I:          Yeah, let’s go for it.