Aristides Simoes enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War. He enlisted wanting to use his electronic skills in the war effort. During the Korean War, he was responsible for maintaining new wireless radar technologies for aircraft. He describes his journey to Korea. He also details his job responsibilities and the purpose of his tasks. Lastly, he also discusses the impact these wireless technologies have had on modern South Korea today.
Classroom Understanding of Korea
Aristides Simoes was educated about Korea while in school. He describes that in his middle school civics class, he learned about Korea in relationship to the Joseon Dynasty and Imperial Japan. His teachers were trying to have his class understand the significance of Japan bombing the U.S. at Pearl Harbor after that had happened.
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Journey to the Korean Peninsula
Aristides Simoes describes in length his journey to Korea. During his time in Korea, he describes a variety of different tasks and responsibilities he had maintaining the aircraft radar systems. He also describes the purpose these missions had for the military at the time.
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Warfare Technology in Modern Applications
Aristides Simoes describes how the electronics he managed during the war had a lasting effect on South Korea's economy today. U.S. Military introduced wireless radar, microwave radar, and other systems. These have formed the base for many strong South Korean technological wireless companies such as Samsung and LG.
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Devastation and Destruction of Seoul
Aristides Simoes reflects on his memories of the capital of South Korea, Seoul, after the war. Despite seeing civilians and soldiers on the streets, the city itself was filled with dust, destruction, and debris. He also details the extreme poverty many South Koreans were experiencing at the time.
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[Beginning of Transcribed Material]
A: My first name is Aristides which is spelled ARISTIDES, and last name is Simoes which is SIMOES. First name is Greek. The last name is Portuguese. And I spent a year in Korea.
I: What a combination, Greek and Portuguese. So, what is your descendant’s lineage? Both Greek and Portuguese?
A: No, mostly Portuguese.
But the name, Aristides or Aristdes, however you pronounce it, is common in many different cultures. Of course, the Greek culture. It’s also in Hispanic culture. There’s several people that have that name. You can think of the former President of Haiti.
I: Um hm.
A: Who was Aristide?
A: And then there was a former Panamanian General called Aristide who was prominent in the news. And then there was another Aristide who is very famous for contradicting Hitler’s wish to prosecute Jews by allowing them to escape.
And he allowed them to escape through Portugal.
I: I see.
A: Where they could catch a boat to go to U.S. or to Canada. And then he was ostracized and punished and demoted to nothing.
I: So, what is your birthday?
A: July 10 of 1932.
I: And where were you born?
A: Beta Alta, Portugal.
I: Could you spell it?
A: BEIRA capital, Vi, no Al, Beta Alta, ALTA which means high ridge.
A: IRA is a high. It means high in Portuguese.
I: And Alta?
A: Alta is high. I’m sorry. Beta, Beta is a ridge. And Alta is high.
I: Tell me about the family that you, so you were born in Portugal. When did you come to the United States?
A: I was five years old and immigrated to the area around New York City.
I: Um hm.
A: In a place called Terrytown because that’s where a General Motors factory was at, and my father worked for General Motors.
I: So, tell me about your father worked at General Motors. What about your siblings?
A: Oh, currently I have a living brother who
A: A living, living.
I: Oh, living.
A: And he’s 10 years younger than I am. He’s currently living in the New York area.
I: Uh huh.
A: Spent some time in the Air Force during the Korean War but was stationed in Nova Scotia.
I: I see. So, he is Korean War air veteran.
I: And tell me about your school. What school went through, and when did you graduate what high school?
A: I graduated from Saunders Tech. It was a high school in Yonkers, New York.
I: Could you spell it?
A: Saunders is SAUNDERS. And it was.
A: Yes. It was a technical high school.
A: Technical High School.
I: When was it?
A: Nineteen fifty-two I graduated. Correction, 1950 I graduated.
I: And that’s in New York.
A: That’s in Yonkers, New York. YONKERS.
I: Tell me about this technical high school. What do they teach?
A: Well, I majored in electronics.
I: Oh, there’s a major, too.
A: At that time.
I: At the high school.
I: It’s like a vocational school.
A: Yes, true.
I: Um hm.
A: Because that school also had another section which was for manual arts.
And electronics was a new fad, especially television was just new. And I was fascinated with television repairs, fixing the machines. And that’s what led me into the field of electronics which is what I did in Korea. I helped maintain the radar that traced aircraft to target areas. It helped the aircraft get to where they were supposed to go.
I: Did that school teach about history in Asia and
A: Well no. Prior to that was a junior high school which was called Horthon, and that’s when they taught us about world events in Civics is what they called it.
I: Did they teach about Korea?
A: At that time, I think we called it Chosin.
I: Oh, you learned about it?
A: Yeah, we learned. But is that correct, Chosin was the previous name of Korea?
I: Yeah. You sure? I mean, 99.99% of the interviews that I had or my directors, they, no one actually were, you know, taught about Korea.
A: At that time what brought it up was the December 7 bombing of Pearl Harbor. And then all the schools got interested in telling people about the Japanese and where the Japanese used to be.
I: Uh huh.
A: And what they did to conquer the Orient. And that’s where Chosin came in is that they were subjugating the citizens to some slave labor and other unspeakable crimes.
I: Al, that’s very good.
I: You’ve very exceptional. But did you know where it was located?
A: We just knew it was near Japan, you know.
I: Near Japan.
I: So, everything about Korea was related to Japan.
A: To Japan because the Japanese had invaded Pearl Harbor. And that’s what the focus was. Why are the Japanese mad at us?
I: Um hm. And after graduation, what did you do?
A: I went to work for New York Telephone Company fixing pay phones.
A: You know, they used to have telephones you put money in. And you could make a telephone call. Now they have cell phones. You don’t need to
A: Carry any money.
A: Yeah. And
I: Around that time, even the whole national network of phones wasn’t established at all, right?
A: Well, there was a national network of telephones, yes. You could go in there and dial and call long distance. You could even call Korea if you had enough money to put in the machine.
I: Oh really?
I: From directly?
A: Yes, uh huh.
I: Oh. So, you
A: Oh incidentally. It’s another interesting aspect of coin telephones. That’s where you go to the phone, put money in and dial the number or call the operator. When I was in Japan, there was no place to put the money in.
There was a little box, and you put the money in the box and made change. I say these people are very honest.
I: So, you must have made good money at the time.
A: Oh, you never make enough money. When you live in New York, you need every penny you can get.
I: So, when did you join and how did you join the military?
A: What did I do in the military?
I: No, how did you join the military? Were you drafted or enlisted?
A: No, I enlisted because the war is on in Korea, and if you didn’t join something you wanted to do, they’d have put you in the Army and wherever they wanted to put you.
I: Um hm.
A: And I wanted to stay in electronics. So, I
I: When did you enlist?
A: It was in 1952. May 28, 1952.
I: Wow, you remember that.
I: And where did you get the basic?
A: Upstate New York, not too far from your school
A: Yeah, Samson, New, Samson Air Force Base in Geneva, New York.
A: Overlooking the canal of a lake, Lake Ithaca, I think it was. Is that, you know your geography there better.
I: Ah, but I don’t know where the Samson Air Base was.
A: Well, it was Geneva.
I: Yeah, it’s close to Ithaca, yeah.
A: Nice country up there.
A: Cold in the winter, but nice in the summer.
I: Very nice. I love it, and I love snow. So
A: You get it all.
What kind of training did you receive?
A: In basic, you know, just how to march and how to fight and how to shoot a gun.
I: Then you went for technical, right?
A: Right. I went to technical school.
A: Scott Air Force Base in Bellville, Illinois.
I: Um hm.
A: And I went to school there and learning how to maintain ground radar, radar and also ground telephone communications and ground to air communications.
So, we had, I had about a year of training. And after completing, they asked me to stay on as an instructor. So, I taught there for about six months. And then I wanted to go to the field to apply that learning.
I: You must be very good at the time, you know, because you have a background in working at the telephone company.
I: So, did you like it, right?
A: I liked it. I would have stayed in that field, you know.
A: I enjoyed it.
I: While you were staying in the United States, did you hear anything about the Korean War?
A: When I was in the United States?
I: Yeah, in, while you were working and learning and then instructing about the ground radar and ground air communications and others, did you hear anything about Korean War?
A: Yes. At that time, you know, in the ‘50’s, ’52 especially.
I: Um hm,
A: There was a lot of conflict between
A: Korea and the rest of the world.
And uh, we answered Harry Truman, President Truman’s call to go over there and help. He called it not a war, a police action.
I: How did you know about that?
A: It was all over television and radio.
A: President Truman wanted the Americans to go out there and help the Koreans with a “police action.”
I: Um hm.
A: He didn’t want to say I want to send some people over that had to go to war cause people didn’t want to go to war. They just finished World War II. And the last thing they wanted is go to another war. So, he was very smart in calling it a police action to help the Korean people keep the gangsters and bad people away.
I: Yeah. So, when did you leave for Korea?
A: I left
I: Did you volunteer to go to Korea or what happened?
A: Well, it’s kind of interesting. The equipment I was working on which was microwave radio telephone which was new.
Instead of putting up telephone poles to carry the telephone messages, they put up microwave which were radio towers every eight miles. No, I’m sorry. Every thirty miles, and send the signals via microwave, radio waves, from one tower to another and didn’t have to run wire. It was faster and more secure.
And they were putting that equipment in three places. One was in Germany. Another one was in uh, someplace in the Middle East. And one was gonan be Japan. And the Middle East was supposed to be Korea. But they didn’t say that.
I: Far East.
A: Far East, yeah.
A: I’m sorry, I said Middle East.
I: Um hm.
A: Yeah. Well, the reason is somehow the equipment that was supposed to go to Japan wound up in the Middle East for some political reason.
A: And that means that uh, when I got there, there was no equipment for Korea. So, I had to wait for it to get there, and they put in some other equipment which we used for a while. And that’s the reason I signed up. I left the regular training school to go into the field. And I didn’t know which one I was gonna go to. Whether I was gonna go to Germany or was gonna go to the Far East or the Middle East or Japan.
So, they sent me over to Japan. From Japan, they sent me to Korea. And I wound up in Seoul at a radar station that tracked aircraft on Migg Alley. That was tracing the Russian aircraft at the time the Saber jets went after them and after the Miggs, it was like a game they played up there, chasing nobody but not firing anybody.
I: So, the microwave radio telephone, that’s the beginning of wireless communication.
I: And our mobile phone, right?
A: That’s it, yeah.
I: So, there was very new technology.
A: Yeah. That’s why I chose it.
I: Um hm. So that micro radio telephone equipment supposed to be in Japan but went to Middle East. So, they brought it back to Japan?
A: Yes, uh huh.
I: And then you went to Japan.
I: When did you leave for Japan?
A: From Korea?
I: No, from the United States.
A: No, I’m from the United States directly to Seoul, Korea.
I: When did you leave, from where?
A: Okay. I left from Scott Air Force Base where they had the school that I was training at.
A: Scott Air Force Base.
I: Could you spell it?
A: SCOTT. And from Scott, I went to San Francisco to get on a ship to go to Tokyo, Japan.
A: In Tokyo, Japan, I stayed there three days.
And then I got on an airplane that landed in Seoul, Korea.
I: Where, Kimpo?
A: No, outside of Seoul.
I: That’s Kimpo.
A: It’s what?
A: I didn’t
I: Um hm.
A: Kimpo Air Force Base, huh?
I: Yeah. And when did you land in Korea?
A: Uh, that was back in January of 1954.
A: Um hm. And where did you go from there?
A: I stayed in Seoul until for, I think it was about a month. And then they said there was an opening at a detachment at Kangnam if I’m saying that correctly. And it was a radar station up on top of a hill. And the purpose of that radar station was to guide aircraft to what they called Migg Alley, MIGG Alley.
I: Um hm.
A: And there the American jets would play games with the Russian jets. It was practice you know.
They didn’t fire anything because it was a truce. But they still stayed in practice. And then from there, they learned that the equipment I was supposed to be working on microwave radio technology was gonna be arriving. But it was a different type. So, they had to send me to Japan for training. So, I became a student, went to Japan, was there for two months.
I: Um hm.
A: And then I came back to help install the new equipment at a location at a base at a location called Uijeongbu.
I: Um hm.
A: And we set up that radar station. And the purpose of that radar was to track aircraft and guide aircraft to bombing areas. And these were all practice runs. There was no hostilities. But they still stayed in practice.
I: Is that microwave radio telephone or different?
A: Well, we had both.
A: That station.
I: So, microwave radio telephone system and radar came both to Ujieongbu for the first time?
A: I, it was there when I got there.
I: Uh huh.
A: See, here’s something interesting. You met Tom Stevens.
A: He flew bombers.
A: He was the tail gunner on a bomber.
A: And he’s got his instructions on where to go. But at that time, there was war. And they had very few bases in Korea because the movement of troops.
I: Um hm.
A: You couldn’t establish a permanent location.
I: Um hm.
A: So, there they established the, I lost my train of thought now. But oh. When Tom Stevens was in there flying to his targets, there were no land-based radar stations to help guide the aircraft to a target area.
Those that controlled that radar tracking was on board ships. U.S. Navy helped them go to the target area.
A: Then after things stabilized and there was a peace treaty, they wanted to set up a more permanent and stable tracking system. They wanted a radar station to be on land. And they et that up at Uijeongbu. So Uijeongbu had a radar tracking station, and they also had radio telecommunications to Japan so they could coordinate their bombing runs.
I: Very good. But that was after the War.
A: Oh yeah, it was after the War, yeah.
I: So, I think that is very important aspect that we haven’t really talked about. The Korean War veterans, they fought during the War. But at the same time, it’s not just about the War but also it is the contribution of American military to Korea that those kind of technology transfer has been made
I: So that the Koreans for the first time have a radar station there, and they were able to use microwave radio telecommunications, right.
A: Right. That is correct.
I: Yeah. And that’s very important contribution made by the American military to the Korean society.
I: Because we didn’t have that technology.
A: No, you didn’t.
A: That is true.
I: Yeah. And military hospital, all the equipment that came from the United States in hospital, military hospital.
And the Korean medical doctors and, you know, staff stayed, they began to learn about those things.
I: So, it’s not just about the fighting or battle but every aspect of this kind of technology transfer, knowledge transfer, has been doing during the Korean War and after the War.
A: And the Koreans done well with all electronic development.
A: You see the Samsung.
A: And what’s the other one that’s pretty hot?
A: LG, very, very good equipment. And really it’s, that has had an adverse effect on people working in the United States. LG made nice washing machines.
A: They used to be made right up the highway here in Iowa I thought.
I: Not actually adverse. Now we are working together so that Samsung and LG, they put out their factory here so that we can hire more Americans.
A: Well, that’s not what happened here.
I: Oh, not here. But
A: They closed a factory in Iowa which was Maytag.
I: Uh huh.
A: Maytag closed their factory, and those people were without work because all that was now being made someplace else by LG.
I: It’s a constant replacement
A: Yeah, right.
I: old jobs, new jobs and new employees.
A: And it’s a little adjustment of the work force that had to go through.
I: But don’t you, what, I mean you made a good point because the wireless microwave radio technology wasn’t there.
Now Samsung and LG, they are one of the top competitors in the world market.
A: They are.
I: What do you think about this transformation?
A: Transformation, it’s cause, well they helped establish a good industrial base for Korea. At the same time, they forced the American manufacturers to transition their work force to higher levels.
A: So, it’s had a beneficial effect. But there were some pains in the transition.
I: But did you imagine that Korea would become like a big in this electronics in world market?
A: I see pictures of Korea today, I can’t believe it. They have skyscrapers that are great.
I: Let’s talk about technology that you are good at. Did you imagine that Korean people developed such high tech so that we can compete in the world market at the time?
You never, right?
A: At the time, I didn’t think so, no because the people in Korea were devastated, you know. They were, they had been displaced from their homes. And some of the military installations took over farms that belonged to people which affected their livelihood. And our base there in Uijeongbu took over a man’s farm.
And he wasn’t too happy because that was the way he made a living.
I: Um hm. So, this is great, isn’t it? The country completely devastated didn’t know nothing about microwave radio technology and communication. Now we are at the top.
A: You’re at the top.
I: And despite such successful outcome came out of Korean war and your sacrifices and honorable service, our history textbook doesn’t tell much about it.
A: Yeah, that’s right.
I: Why? And what should we do?
A: Well, I think what you’re doing is what’s gonna, is needed is to kind of bring about how a police action turned Korea into a world-class industrial nation.
I: Yeah. So that’s why we are doing it. You’re right.
A: Another thought, too, is my image of a Korean occupant was a poor devastated displaced person. A lot of them were orphans. And you wonder what’s ever gonna happen to these people. And now as a result of technology, they’re working for LG and Samsung, and they have some brilliant people coming here to the United States schools and going back to Korea to operate the higher technology.
I: And that is your legacy.
A: Yeah, well.
I: And you are being part of it.
A: Yeah, I am proud of it. I’m glad I’ve made a lot of good friends in Korea. A lot of them were natives. A lot of them were fellow Americans. Some were from other countries like Australia.
We had a detachment next door that was from Australia. And part of the team that was monitoring the peace were Polish. And so, we had a lot of people from different countries, and we met and got acquainted with the world neighbors.
I: So, when you were in Uijeongbu, in your team, in the radar station, were there any Korean soldiers there? Officers?
A: No, civilians. We hired civilians to help with some of the maintenance and, but we had no other military. It was a secure area.
I: Um hm. So how was life there? I mean, you were not in the middle of war. It was after the War. And how was, where did you sleep? What did you eat? How much were you paid? How was your life there? Tell me about the soft side of it.
A: The center of our life was to help the aircraft get to where they were supposed to go. We had a mission.
A: It was practice mission. And in that, we’d have time off. We’d go into Seoul, or we’d go to somewhere else and visit people and just get acquainted. Some were Americans. Some were from Australia. Some were from England, and some were Koreans. And we’d take pictures.
And one thing that I found interesting, we saw a nice family on Sunday going out after church, and we wanted to get a picture of a family. So, we asked the father can we take your picture of you and your family? He says no.
A: That’s my family, not yours.
I: You told me you went to Seoul. How was Seoul? How, describe the detail of the Seoul city, how devastated, how people were, everything please.
A: Oh, during that time, it was alive with people on, like on Sunday, going out and walking around. And there was stores. I can remember the trolleys. We used to ride the trolleys. And, but it was dusty. And we, a lot of military vehicles on the road. And it was interesting because well, we met a lot of people and enjoyed it.
I: But still there was no real reconstruction begun, right?
A: No reconstruction.
I: So how was the city?
A: Well, we walked by the capital, and it was all bombed out. All you could see is debris all over the place. And somewhere in the background in the hills was a former factory, and all you could see was the outline of the steel frame. So, you could see it had been bombed badly. And you’d walk by, I can remember seeing a store with all holes in it, you know, from 50 caliber machine, artillery.
I don’t know who made the holes. It could have been Americans fighting the North Koreans or North Koreans chasing the South.
I: Yeah, because when there was Inchon Landing on September 15 of 1950, and then after that Marines went to Seoul to recover the capital city of Korea. And that’s what happened. And how were the people? Were they still looking for food? Were there many orphans in the street looking for anything to eat?
A: Yeah, the kids, young kids were the most common. And we’d help them out. And some would be very thoughtful. And of course, because of the impoverished nation, I can remember one incident which stands in my mind. One little Korean boy had his hat opened to get, asking for money. And as I reach in my pocket, he goes up with his hat past my pocket and I heard something click. And my pen and pencil would disappear.
A: So, I said you poor kid. You need a pen and pencil more than I do. Here, you keep them. And here’s some money.
But you know, it was so desperate to find things that they were really struggling to live. And you can’t blame them for that, you know.
I: So, he was pocket lifting, lifter, right?
A: Yeah. He just, he had a very unique, his hat.
I: That’s very good skill, right?
A: He had a wire rim, a coat hanger
I: Oh, my goodness.
A: Underneath his hat, and he could go up here and pick off your pen and pencil with that wire.
A: because he wanted to get something to go sell so he could eat, you know.
You can’t blame him for that.
I: That’s how desperate they were.
A: They were desperate, yeah. And you can’t get mad at them for doing that.
A: So, I helped him out, threw some money in his pocket, in his hat.
I: So, what were you thinking when you saw those things, when you experienced that.
A: I couldn’t get mad. I couldn’t get angry. I felt sorry. So, I wanted to help him.
I: That’s very different, isn’t it? Different from the United States.
A: Oh no. You find people in poverty here doing the same thing.
I: Uh huh.
A: Now they just go up with a gun and say gimme your money. That Korean boy didn’t have a gun. He had smarts.
I: But now that Korea becomes 11th largest economy.
I: Do you know that?
A: Because ingenuity
.I: I mean, do you, are you following up with the developments being made in Korea?
A: Well, the latest thing I’ve had is the turmoil that’s going on in Korea.
I: Um hm.
A: About these bribery and scandals where the President was
A: Impeached, right.
I: And that’s how vibrant our democracy is.
A: It is. And all’s because of something happening with LG and Samsung.
A: So, the good
I: (INAUDIBLE) relationship.
A: Good brought the evil, you know. So, from good comes evil. But the evil can be driven out by impeachment.
I: But you know the, how good the Korean economy is right now, right?
A: It’s good. And they survived that.
I: What do you know? Tell me, tell students about your knowledge of current Korean economy. How big is it, how.
A: Well statistically, I don’t know. I know it’s vibrant. It’s got some good companies and heavy industry and light commerce, consumer industries. So, they’re doing alright. And it’s recovered from the scandal. That’s the best part.
It went through a crisis and came out alright.
I: Do you know how big South Korea is in terms of territory?
A: How many kilometers it has, how many, what do you call it, acres or hectares?
A: I don’t know.
I: Territorial size.
A: It’s not that large, you know. It’s a little bit bigger than Japan I think.
I: No, it’s smaller, much smaller than Japan.
A: It is.
I: South Korea.
A: Oh., you’re talking about South Korea. I’m talking all of Korea.
I: All the Korea even smaller than Japan.
A: Is that right?
A: But it’s altogether, right?
I: Yeah, right.
A: Japan has got islands.
I: But South Korea is a little bit bigger than state of Indiana.
I: Smaller than, much smaller than Kansas.
A: Oh, it’s
I: And you know how devastated the Korea was in 1954, right?
I: It’s the 11th largest economy in the world right now.
A: It’s, they’ve come a long way. They’re doing well.
I: Eleventh largest.
I: Isn’t that wonderful?
A: It’s, yeah. It shows you if you give people the freedom and the resources, they can make something of themselves, yeah. Uh and you know, you can see that in other parts and other times, World War II. Those countries there were devastated and brought down, and they recovered.
I: Yeah. But Germany, France, England, they were the strongest power before the War. So, they are just going back to where they used to be.
A: Where they were, yeah, right.
I: Korea was almost primitive, right?
A: Yes. Because of what reasons? Why? Before the Japanese took it over, Korea was an agricultural economy. And that’s all they wanted to do, and that’s all they knew about.
And then the Japanese came in and brought some industry which they, and some labor. They used the labor. And then the War came and created a lot of confusion. What time’s your next appointment? Okay.
I: But, so that’s why, that is the difference.
A: Um hm.
I: The Korean economic development and simultaneous democratization is completely different from the reconstruction of Germany and France and other European countries after World War II.
It was from nothing to right now 11th largest.
A: Okay, I see, good point. And now the German and France, they were trying to get back to where they were. Now we have to focus on the future.
A: What’s gonna happen to Korea?
I: Yes. So, what do you think? What’s going to happen in Korea?
A: Well, I don’t know. They’re on a peak. Will they stay on a peak?
Will they slowly hit a norm, or will they go back and get lazy and go back and not
I: What do you want?
A: I want them to stay busy.
I: And we have a big task.
I: Which is reunification.
A: Oh yeah. That’s gonna be tough. And there’s such a polarization there. I don’t know how we overcome that.
I: Um hm.
A: And it’s being strengthened and the South wanting to reunify and industrialize and the North, they don’t want anything to do with that.
I: History changed, and things are happening. So, nobody knows. But really yeah, you’re right that we have so much polarization in even within South Korea about this issue.
I: And we have a North Korean regime. So, we have a lot of things to do. But we hope that we can achieve the reunification soon.
A: That’s gonna be a tough job.
I: Yes. So, when did you leave Korea?
A: That was in November of 1954.
I: Um. So, when you left Korea, had you thought that Korea would become like this today?
A: No, I never thought it would. I just hoped they would stay in peace and go back to their rice paddies and live a happy life with their families. But it turned out to be an industrial renaissance.
I: Al, thank you so much for sharing your story with me. And on behalf of Korean nation, we want to thank you for your honorable service.
A: Very good. I appreciate it.
I: In Korea. Thank you, sir.
A: Thank you.
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