Korean War Legacy Project

Bernard G. Kenahan


Bernard G. Kenahan was drafted into the United States Army during the Korean War. He acknowledges having no prior knowledge of Korea before his draft. He explains his journey to Korea via ship, detailing his experiences and duties aboard. He recounts several interactions during his time in Korea with KATUSA and American soldiers. He is highly appreciative of how well he and other Korean War veterans have been treated by South Koreans.

Video Clips

Drafted With No Knowledge of Korea

Bernard G. Kenahan explains his plans to work at a lumber company office upon graduation. He describes how his plans changed in 1952 at the age of 21 when he was drafted into the Army. He remembers having no knowledge of Korea prior to his draft, never imagining he would be sent there.

Tags: Home front,Impressions of Korea,Prior knowledge of Korea

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Route to Korea

Bernard G. Kenahan describes departing for Korea in 1953 via ship. He describes making multiple stops along the way, including stops in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and Japan. He recounts the living conditions regarding showering and explains that his duties aboard ship entailed overseeing the sleeping quarters.

Tags: Incheon,Seoul,Home front,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions

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Guard Duty

Bernard G. Kenahan shares his most difficult encounter during his service in Korea. He describes performing guard duty despite being issued a medical slip. He recalls being allowed to sit during his assigned duty.

Tags: Living conditions

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


B:        Staff Sergeant Bernard, BERNARD George, GEORGE, Anthony is my Christian name.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And Kenahan, KENAHAN.

I:          That’s the last name, Kenahan. What is your birthday?
B:        September 10, 1931.

I:          And where were you born?



B:        Kitchen table of my grandmother’s house in Providence.

I:          Providence.

B:        Yeah.

I:          And tell me about your family when you were growing up, including your siblings.   You said that you.

B:        Well, when I first was born, I had the cord wrapped around my neck.  So, I was purple.  And I had two aunts that wanted to be godparents to me.



I:          You told me that you have two other brothers who served in Korea?
B:        Yeah.

I:          What’s their names?
B:        David.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        Walter.

I:          And?
B:        Kenahan.

I:          Yeah.  And

B:        Robert

I:          Robin.

B:        Robert, yeah.

I:          ROBIN.

B:        No. ROBERT.

I:          Robert.

B:        Robert, no that’s robot is OT.  It’s Robert.

I:          Okay.

B:        BERT.

I:          David and Robert.

B:        Yeah.



I:          Yeah.  And these two other brothers served in the Korean War.

B:        Yeah. The only two that are left out of 15.

I:          Yeah.  And tell me about the school you went through.

B:        I went to Lakewood

I:          Um hm.

B:        Grammar School.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Which was grades one through six.

I:          Yeah.
B:        And when I completed that, they (INAUDIBLE) with me cause I was a little bit troublesome.



And I went to Aldridge Junior High School.

I:          Robert Junior High School?
B:        Aldrich.  ALD

I:          AL, okay, Aldridge.

B:        RICH.

I:          Junior High School.  And when did you graduate?
B:        From, that was from 7th to the 12th. That was just when I graduated in 1949.  And I was the only boy in a commercial course, and there was 40 girls.



After graduation, I worked in a lumber company.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        In the office.  And in order for me to do that cause I was only 18, and I didn’t have a car. So, I used to have to walk the railroad tracks which is from my house and Lakewood, it’s Warwick now.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Rhode Island. And go to Cranston for the lumber company.


which was probably 15-minute walk.  And I stayed there until I got my notice when I was 21 years old to report to the Fields Point which was a shipyard where they used to make the Liberty ships.  But that was where they had us enlist, you know.



They gave us shots and this, that and the other thing.  Then they took us on a bus

I:          When did you enlist?

B:        I didn’t enlist.  I was.

I:          Were you drafted?
B:        I was drafted.

I:          When was it?
B:        When I was 21.

I:          Twenty-one which is 1950.

B:        Nineteen fifty-two.

I:          Fifty-two you were drafted.

B:        Yeah.

I:          And to where, Army?

B:        Well yeah.  I was Army.  I didn’t go Navy or Marines.

I:          Where did you get the basic military training?



B:        I had to go to Fort Devens to get uniforms.  Then they put us on a train, and I went to Fort Eustis

I:          EUTIS?
B:        Yeah.  Fort Eustis, Virginia.

I:          Huh.

B:        Which was transportation.

I:          This is the first time to hear about Eustis.

B:        Yeah, Fort Useless (LAUGHS)

I:          Useless.  That’s another good name.  And what was your specialty?



B:        Well, I came out, my MOS was working in the office typing.

I:          Typing.

B:        Yeah.  So, when I got there, they made me a platoon leader, and I had 14 men under me, and I was supposed to tell them what they had to do while we were doing boot training.

I:          Um hm. Did you know anything about Korea before you joined the military?



B:        Never knew where it was.

I:          You didn’t know my country?
B:        No, never knew where it was. I found it, though.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        By ship, yeah.

I:          So, teachers didn’t teach anything about Korea during your high school days?
B:        No.  I don’t recollect that they did.  I think we were just mostly all you know, office work, typing and stuff.

I:          No, I’m talking about during your high school days.



B:        That’s what I was talking about.

Female Voice:  He was in a business program.

B:        I was in a business program.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        And history, I don’t recall them doing anything about Korea.
I:          Oh, any

B:        Sort of like World War II.
I:          Any country that you were aware at the time in Asia?
B:        No.  Yes.  World War II cause I had a brother in Guam.

I:          Yeah.

B:        He was in the Seabees.

I:          So, you know about Guam.

B:        Guam.
I:          Did you know about China?



B:        Well, I knew about it, but that’s it.

I:          That’s it.

B:        Yeah.

I:          So, you didn’t know.

B:        They got a lot of people there, too many.

I:          So, you didn’t know where Korea was located.

B:        No.

I:          No.  And you didn’t know nothing about Korea.

B:        No.  Nothing.
I:          Had you imagined that you would be in Korea?
B:        No.
I:          No.
B:        Because when I got out of boot training, they put me in the dental department at the Fort Eustis Hospital.




I:          Useless.

B:        So, I figured I got it made.  I’m not going, you know.  Well, that wasn’t the case.  I was married, and they sent me a notice that they were gonna give me 30 days’ leave, I could go home, and I would come back and report to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey.

I:          Um hm.


B:        And at Camp Kilmer, they put us together, gave us, we already had a uniform bag, that’s what I call it, I can’t think of what the name of it is.  And they put us on a ship.

I:          From New Jersey?
B:        From New Jersey.

I:          To?

B:        To Korea.

I:          From New Jersey to Korea?
B:        Yeah.

I:          Directly?
B:        No.

I:          No. Where did you go from New Jersey?

B:        We went to Puerto Rico,



And dropped off 900 men, and we picked up 900 new men to go to Korea.

I:          So, when was it?  When did you leave New Jersey?
B:        Nineteen fifty-three.

I:          When?  Do you remember the month?

B:        It would be in March.

I:          March.

B:        Yeah, because I had February as my 30 days.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        And then from Puerto Rico

I:          Yeah?
B:        We went through the Panama Canal

I:          Um hm.

B:        And there was a camp at the end on the Pacific side.



And we stopped there.

I:          What is the name of the island?

B:        Of the camp?
I:          Yeah.

B:        I can’t remember.

I:          Okay.

B:        I think it began with a B, but I’m not quite sure.
I:          Alright.  And then?
B:        Well one thing is on the ship, my assignment then was to sort of oversee where we were sleeping, so sleeping quarters.



I:          Um hm.

B:        And then after we left there, oh.  Of course, we had saltwater showers.

I:          Yeah.

B:        On the ship. And when we went through the Panama Canal, we had freshwater showers.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Cause that was fresh water.  Then after we left that camp after a weekend, we went to Hawaii.

I:          Yeah.

B:        And we stayed a weekend there.



But the ship was quarantined. They thought somebody had meningitis.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And Saturday night, they decided he didn’t. So, they let us off on the dock in a warehouse, and they had some hula girls come over, and they had, you know.

I:          That’s what you want to talk about, huh?
B:        Well yeah, they were nice.

I:          Let’s talk about the War story, huh, not hula dancers, okay?
B:        Well, that’s in there, you know.  Of course, then they had

I:          I like this gentleman.



B:        But they didn’t let us walk in the, from the raft off the wharf.

I:          So, you went to Japan from there?
B:        Yes.  We left that Sunday, and I went to Sasebo, Japan.

I:          Sasebo.
B:        Yeah.  And then from Sasebo, they put us on a train to Tokyo.  And from Tokyo, they gave us our weapons and gave us our Korean clothes which was all green uniform.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And the fatigues.



And then from there, we went back to Camp Sasebo.

I:          Uh huh.
B:        And got on a ship again, the same ship.  And that took us around Inchon.  And we got off at Inchon, and we stayed over the weekend in Seoul.  The second Logistical Command.

I:          Second

B:        Logistical LOGIST

I:          Yeah, Logistical Command.
B:        Yeah.



Was at the beginning.

I:          Yeah.

B:        And the General that was on that compound, he lived in a bungalow, and he had two WACS, they had a bungalow in the northern part of the compound.  And then we slept in barracks more towards the main gate of the compound.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And everything on the compound was UF, Quonset huts, regular bathrooms. I got to know him.



So instead of living in the barrack where I had to get up for reveille, I went and lived in a movie house, opened the projector room.  I had my own little place up there.  And I was entitled to (MUMBLED) three meals, I had four, breakfast, dinner, supper and midnight if I wanted it.



I:          No lunch.
B:        Yeah.  I called that dinner.

I:          Okay.
B:        And then I call.

I:          You call lunch dinner?

B:        Yeah.  And I call dinner supper.

I:          Supper.

B:        That’s what it was when I grew up in 1931.

I:          So, what did you eat for midnight?

B:        What did I eat?
I:          Yeah.
B:        Well, whatever they had there.  Whatever I wanted.

I:          C rations are you talking about?

B:        C rations? They were up north.


We had stateside meals.

I:          Huh?  You are lucky.

B:        Very lucky.  And being in the Orderly room, I had the use of any vehicle I wanted to take.

I:          You were married.  Did you write letters back to your wife?

B:        Yes.
I:          Were there any dangerous moments during your service in Korea?
B:        Yes.
I:          Tell me about it.

B:        One night, Syngman Rhee decided to let the prisoners

I:          Yeah.
B:        Out.



That was an extreme moment.  So, we had to mend weapons around the compound. I was behind the 30-caliber sitting there because we didn’t do nothing.  But in the warehouse, one of the guys gave me an air mattress in case I had to go out in the rice paddy so I wouldn’t have to sleep on the ground.



I:          That’s a dangerous moment?
B:        What, to go out in the rice paddy?

I:          Yeah.
B:        Yeah, that’s. well, the next one was when Pusan burned down.

I:          Burned down by whom?
B:        Pusan on fire, by somebody in the ramshackle, cardboard tin shacks.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Where they lived at that time.  They didn’t have anything modern at all.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And of course, when they went to the bathroom, I guess you don’t want me to tell you how



I:          No thank you.  Let’s stop there.

B:        The honey bucket.

I:          Yeah, honey bucket.

B:        Yeah.  You remember the honey buckets?

I:          I don’t.  But I wasn’t born at the time, okay?

B:        And the A-frame.

I:          A-frame, yes.  But that’s the story that many of the

B:        That’s how we got out knapsacks.  The A-frame.

I:          Yeah.

B:        I think.

I:          What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?

B:        The most difficult?

I:          Yeah.



B:        My first Sergeant asked me if I ever pulled a guard while I was there, and I said no.

I:          Um hm.

B:        He says how come? I said I have a medical slip. He says you do? I said yes.  He said where is it?  I said well, I don’t have it.  He said well, you go back to the 12th General Dispensary and get one.  So, I went back, and I got one. And I handed it to him.  He looked at it.  He went into the Commanding Officer, he come back out.


And he, cause he was regular Army, and I was U.S.  And he wasn’t too fond of people being drafted.

I:          Um hm.

B:        I didn’t volunteer.  So, he said to me, well, you got your medical slip. But you are gonna serve one night as a guard. I was a Corporal then.  He says you’ll be Corporal of the Guard in the Guardhouse.  I didn’t have to do any patrolling.


And the officer, or the guard left that night was the CO’s Assistant.  He was Lieutenant Keneely in the office which we used to drink together in the warehouse.  And he come in and he said oh, they did get you.  I said yeah.  The First Sergeant made me pull guard for the one night.  He says okay.  Well, that’s okay, he says.  Just sit here.  Don’t go anywhere.  Just sit.



If anything happens, you can let me know, and I’ll be over at the Officers’ Club.  So no, he’d be at the warehouse cause I don’t think he went in the Officers’ Club.

I:          You are very spoiled.

B:        I was driving a jeep in Pusan.  And I was coming back to Hialeah Compound.  It was raining.  And my jeep, I had to put on the brakes or something, and my jeep took off, you know, when you put on the brakes.



It took off on the railroad tracks cause I was actually on the railroad tracks, and I went to the right onto the supposedly muddy sidewalk with Korean people.  And when the jeep stopped, it was a Korean woman who was pregnant in front of me, and she fell down.  I don’t think I hit her.  I don’t recall hitting her.  But I think it was just the idea that I was coming after her which I didn’t mean to.



And she fell down.  Well, I got out of the jeep and of course apologized.  I had another fellow with me.  And a couple men came over, and they started talking to me in Korean. I didn’t know what they were talking about.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And they wanted to keep me.  And just about at that time, a jeep come up with two MPs, military police.  They stopped and asked me what was going on.



So, he said well, tell whoever you can that you’re gonna come with us.  And he said when we get to the circle, I have to go to the right.  He said you go back to the compound.  I said okay.  And that was the end of it.

I:          Okay.  Have you been back to Korea?
B:        No, I wanted to, but I didn’t have the money.

I:          You want to?

B:        I didn’t have the plane fare.  I know when I got there, it was all free.  You Korean people have been tremendous with us.



I belong, like I said, I belong to the Korean War Veterans Chapter III

I:          Um hm.

B:        In Gloucester.  And you have invited us to all your cookouts and your parties, both Rhode Island and Massachusetts.  And they’ve given us medals.

Female Voice:  Bernard, did you have any contact with your brothers in Korea?  Were you there at the same time?

B:        No.  I was in there from 1953 – 1954.



My youngest brother was there from 1956 – 1958, no I’m sorry.  He was there 14, better than 14 months cause he come home when my father died.  He got home the day after.  That’s another story.  And then my other brother was on USS Antietam, the aircraft carrier.  So, I never got to see him.

I:          I see.

B:        But he was in the Korean waters.



I:          You know, three brothers from one family serving in Korea.  That’s amazing.
B:        I had three brothers in World War II.

I:          Yeah.
B:        So, that’s six out of the eight.  The other two weren’t eligible to serve.

I:          Wow.  That’s amazing.

Female Voice:  Bernard, I heard that you stayed with some monks when you were in Korea.  Did you go to a monastery?

B:        I went to a monastery, yes, up on a mountain, yeah.



Female Voice:  How did that happen?  How did you get invited, or how did you find

B:        No, I just took the jeep cause I went down to the motor pool and told them I

I:          Pusan, right?
B:        In Pusan.  I told them I was gonna take the jeep.  And another soldier and I went up to the monastery.  But there was nobody there.

I:          And do you have any questions?
Male Voice:  Not that I can think of.

I:          How about you? No?

B:        Oh, when I had the Pusan fire, there was four of us walking down the main street to make sure that nothing happened.



And I saw a dead baby naked.  But I’m walking there and one of the guys says to me your hat’s on fire.  I says you’re kidding me.  He says no, I’m not kidding you. Your hat’s on fire. You sure?  He says yeah, take it off and look.  So, I took it off, and a charcoal from one of the embers had landed in my hat, and it was on fire.



And it was almost burned through to my head.  So I, of course I put it out, and we continued.

I:          See, another lucky.

B:        Yeah.