Bernard Smith recalled similar struggles both the Korean people throughout the war and his family faced during the Great Depression in Somerville, Massachusetts. After attending basic training at Army Signal School in Camp Gordon, GA, Bernard was promoted as a Circuit Supervisor for the 8th Army. He oversaw a 14-man crew responsible for monitoring and ensuring the operation of voice and teletype channels during the Korean War. Bernard Smith was grateful for his overseas experience and the connections he made with the men he worked with in his unit. He felt his experiences provided him with an education and a chance to see the world from a different perspective. He also had tremendous respect for the Korean peoples’ resilience and their appreciation for what the soldiers did that gave them the opportunity to be innovative, accepted and generate new ideas. Bernard would go on to earn the Ambassador of Peace Medal for his service.
Bernard Smith- Struggles with Equipment
Bernard Smith described that the equipment that was set up was only good for a 50 mile radius and many times they would need to reach as far as 200 miles to get a signal. Since there wasn't a hill in between their location, they could operate from machines and make compromises to get it to work. They had multiple diesel-fueled generators to ensure they were able to continue to operate if the other ran out and the freezing cords were another concern as Bernard Smith lived through the cold winters in Korea.
What Adjective Would You Chose to Describe Korea during the war?
Bernard Smith described Korea as if the conditions and people during the war went "back in time." He said he could equate what he saw to living the harsh life in rural America where people had next to nothing, but were still happy. He described children would pull empty Hershey boxes with a string as if it was a toy truck and were so content.
Bernard Smith's encounter with Seoul when they arrived was a devastated and torn apart city. An example is a governmental business that had its windows blown out and walls collapsed, but what parts were still standing and areas safe enough to work, the government continued to work there. The area where Bernard Smith was stationed appeared to be untouched.
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B: My name is Bernard A. Smith – B E R N A R D A. S M I T H
I: When is your birthday?
B: September 27, 1929.
I 29. So you are a baby of the Great Depression.
B: Yes, yes. We experienced the need and, you know, it was,
as we’d go through the Korean villages, it reminded me of Depression times
B: because people had nothing, but they coped, and they were happy because they accepted their fate at the time as we did during the Depression growing up. We didn’t have, nobody had anything basically. So we were all in the same boat, and we helped each other, you know.
We borrowed food, and they borrowed from us, you know, a cup of sugar, a cup of flour for cooking and so forth. I’ll tell you an anecdote that
I: Could you speak up a little bit?
B: my, I’ll tell you a story of my sister who’s 14 months older than I, and when we were probably, I was about 11 years old,
my mother made the dressing for poultry, and she needed some Bell’s dressing, and she ran out of it, and so my mother asked my sister Marie to go downstairs which, a duplex, to ask Mrs. McMahon if she had any Bell’s dressing, and
my sister came up a few days, a few moments later, and she said Mom, Mrs. McMahon does not have any Bell’s dressing. So my mother, as usual, said we’ll do with what we have, and a couple of days later she encountered Ms. McMahon in the yard, and Mrs. McMahon said to my mother what did you
want that velvet dress for rather that Bell’s dressing. And so it was kind of, the experience of growing up, my dad died when I was 10, my dad dying when I was 10, and so we really had nothing but we all shared.
I: So it was really hard times that you’ve been growing up and then that reminded by the Korean situation, right?
I: How was Korea when you saw it?
I: How was people, and what was the conditions there?
B: The people, today when I meet a Korean, they’re so appreciative of the American support for their country, and I felt that
they were very good innovators. They adjusted to whatever conditions that they were in. And so I came away from Korea with a great respect for the Korean people and what they had gone through.
I: So we’ll talk more about it. But you have a medal. What is that?
B: That is the
Ambassador for Peace award given by the Embassy in Washington, the Korean Embassy, and it is awarded to those military personnel who were boots on the ground from June of ’53 I believe until August, June of ’50 until August
I: Do you like it?
B: Yes, it’s the most beautiful medal I’ve received, and it’s just another example of the Koreans thanking us for participating and saving their country as many
of them say.
I: It was made by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs which is USVA, Korean VA, presented by the Korean Embassy here. Tell me where were you born.
B: In Somerville, Massachusetts.
B: S O M E R V I L L E, Massachusetts.
I: When did you graduate your high school?
I just had my 70th reunion this past week.
I: What high school?
B: Malden Catholic.
I: Could you spell?
B: M A L D E
B: M A L D E NN Catholic. C A T H O L I C
I: Did you learn anything about Korea when you were in school?
I: No because the Korean War hadn’t
started. I knew vaguely about Korea having been dominated by the Japanese for 40 years, and they had their freedom after World War II, and when I tend to say South Korea versus North Korea, but Koreans just say Korea because the peninsula is Korea, and
Hopefully it’s going to be unified at some point. But I, I, I guess I learned somewhere along the line that Korean, the Korean language was forbidden by the Japanese. And so the only people who knew the pure Korean were the older generation. The young children had to learn Japanese.
I: So after graduation,
what did you do?
B: I worked in an office in the petroleum industry, and I was drafted in 1951, in June of 1951.
I: Where did you get the basic?
B: At Camp Gordon in Georgia, Army Signal School.
I: So you were a radio man?
B: Radio man. But it was VHF communication from hill to hill, transmitter to receiver, transmitter to receiver, and each division had their own frequencies which we then had to cut manual antennas to the particular meter or if a ship came into Inchon we
communicated with the Navy and set them up to communicate crosswise.
I: So did you go to extra school?
B: I went for six months’ radio school in Georgia. Prior to the Army service, I knew nothing about radios except turning them on, and so we became
radio technicians, but when I got to Korea, we were on hills, and we had the highest point from hill to hill to hill, and then we had a base station each time, and all of them were different frequencies, and they were crystal controlled radios and receivers, and so the exact frequency then
had to be tuned. The equipment had to be tuned to that, and our job was to monitor the three voice channels and a teletype channel because if the decibel level wasn’t sufficient on the teletype, then it would be crazy garbage coming out, and that’s where their reports were filed. So the voice channels were fairly simple,
but we did have difficulty at times because the equipment was only basically for a 50-mile radius, and we got a couple hundred miles by jerry rigging the equipment so that we would get signals because we wouldn’t have a hill in between, so we had to compromise.
And so I became a circuit supervisor, overseeing the, we had 14 men on a hill, and we would run shifts, and then we would go back to a base station for lodging, for bunk beds, and then we’d drive up the hill when we were on duty, and we had these
power generators that operated on diesel, and we had dual sets so that at 3 ½ hours we would switch over to the other one and then refuel the one we’d just disconnected in order to have that going to the next cycle. But it was difficult sometimes in the cold weather because it
was like a lawn mower. You pull the thing and pull the rope and get it going. But fortunately we never lost communication.
I: So, when did you leave for Korea, from where?
B: I left from Fort Lawton in Washington
B: Fort Lawton in Seattle, Washington, and, let’s see. I came home
I: When did you leave?
B: In December of 1951. I arrived in Korea in January of
B: In Pusan. Well, actually we went to, our ship, the General Miggs, went to Yokohama, and then we processed at Camp Drake in Tokyo,
and then we took a train from Tokyo to Sasebo which is the lower tip of Japan, and then we took the Red Ball Express over to Pusan from Sasebo.
I: From Pusan, where did you go?
B: From Pusan, I went to Seoul, and then the last six months or so I was up in the Japan Sea, I believe
it’s either Kaesong or Kosong. It was about 30 miles above the 38th Parallel.
B: Kosong, and
I: And we call East Sea, not Sea of Japan.
B: Is that right?
I: Yeah, East Sea. So I’ll appreciate it if you call it East Sea.
B: East Sea.
I: Yeah. Because it’s a sea in the East of Korean Peninsula.
B: Oh, okay.
I: So, what did you do in Kosong?
B: Up on the hill and
we maintained communications actually parallel to the line because each regiment was a different frequency, and when they moved, like the 7th Division swapped places with the 1st Marine Division, we’d set the frequency of their equipment. Otherwise, they’d lose communication.
I: What was your unit?
B: It was the 57th Signal Support Battalion, and then it was switched to the 89th Signal Support Battalion.
B: 81 89. In fact,
I: And that belongs to any division?
B: The 8th Army.
I: 8th Army.
B: And we were on TDY, Temporary Duty.
Actually, we thought, when our orders were cut, oh great. We’re gonna be in Tokyo. Well, Tokyo was the Command Headquarters for the 8th Army, but we were on temporary duty for all of those units that were governed by the Army.
I: Tell me about Korea you saw in 1952. How was it?
B: It was, well in Pusan,
it was, it was almost, well, outside of the city it was kind of barren, and we didn’t interact with the locals because we were new there. We were new there. So we didn’t interact with the population, and yet I was able to observe, it was the first time in my life
that I had seen a woman sitting on the sidewalk nursing a baby. That was a shock to me because I came from a very conservative family. But even then, we were in, like Sosong which was a little tip South of Pusan, and then we had mountains that
we went to, you know, the hills so we’d have line of sight transmission, and that was good, and because, I forget what the timeframe is, but I eventually our unit got transferred up to Seoul. We went through Taegu, we took the train up
from Taegu to Seoul
I: Let me ask this question. What adjective would you pick to describe what you thought about Korea at the time, just like the Korean woman nursing her baby in the street. What adjective would you pick to describe the Korea you saw there?
I: To be honest.
B: Yeah. It was, I’m
trying to think of the word that best describes it. It was like going back in time, and it reminded me of the pictures of rural America where the people had next to nothing, and little children, they didn’t have cars and trucks that they played
with. They had empty Hershey Bar boxes with a string on it, and they were happy to pull that along as if it was a toy truck.
B: And so they were very innovative, and those are the impressions at first in Pusan. But it was, it was
a job we had to do, and I didn’t feel as though I was being put upon. I enjoyed it. I learned a lot in the Military. I learned a lot about the world because back home, you’re kind of in a little cocoon. You’re isolated, and you really don’t go outside that
protective cocoon that you have. And so it was a whole new world, and people just continued living, and I can remember in the rice paddies that the crows were the most intelligent birds. If we didn’t have a round in our weapon, they’d fly.
Once they heard the click, they disappeared. But it was [INAUDIBLE] Speaking of like when I was in Seoul, when I was in Seoul, the 5th Army headquarters was one side, 8th Army on the other, and it was in the summertime, like in August, and the
honeycocks with the oxen filled with the human excrements that they used for farming tipped over, and it wasn’t an asphalt road, and that smell lingered forever it seemed. But, I mean, those are things, and the first time I heard a jet, I didn’t know because jets were
just incorporated into the Air Force, and I thought we were being bombed because I didn’t see any plane, but the sound was after the plane disappeared, and I had never used the word sonic boom. But it was, if I can say it, I enjoyed
my service in Korea because it was an education. I met a lot of nice guys because it being on a hill with 14 and a cook, we got to be very close. In fact, I came across a letter that one of our crew left in rotation
before I came home, and so he had my home address, and he wrote a letter when he was in Chicago asking how I was, and there was, he called me Pear Shape because we had a Major who actually was built like a pear. He was narrow shoulders and wide hips, and so we called him Major Pear.
And, you know, not to his face, of course, and so I’ve been trying to locate him, and I can’t because where he lived is no longer there. He told me that he was working for one of the meat packing houses as a traffic manager, and I called the Personnel Dept., and
they couldn’t track him. In fact, one of my granddaughters is a student at Loyola in Chicago, and I asked her to check the neighborhood, assuming it’s safe, and try to find out where the Duffy’s live. But nothing of the sort.
I: So when did you move to Seoul?
B: Let’s see, it was in probably August of ’52.
I: And what was your mission?
B: I’m sorry, no it wasn’t because Eisenhower came in January of ’52 before he took the oath of office, and I was already in Seoul in January. So it had to be in
late ’51 that I went to Seoul from Pusan.
I: No, you arrived in Pusan ’52.
B: Well, January of ’52.
B: January or ’52.
I: And Eisenhower came to Korea in ’53?
B: ’53, it had to be ’53. Right. Okay.
I: And what was your mission? Where were you?
B: We had three hills outside of Seoul, North of Seoul, South, East and West, and we set up communication, and there was a typhoon that raised havoc with our communications equipment, and we had to cut, actually cut the antennas to the right frequencies,
and we had three of them in addition to the one we had on a mast. And so when that blew down, we had to go up and get another one. But that was probably the most difficult part because we really wanted to keep communication alive. Otherwise,
you know, people on the ground wouldn’t be able to communicate.
I: How was Seoul? Was it completely destroyed or what happened? What did you see?
B: I’m looking toward the government building, and it had a wide thoroughfare, almost like going up to the Washington Monument, and the shell of a building, there were blown out windows, and yet whenever
Seoul was taken back and forth I think three times, they used the parts of the building still as the administration. In fact, I went to a mission, a Catholic mission in a church that had all the windows blown out, and it was in the middle of winter. We had parkas on and so forth just to keep warm. But the
devastation in Seoul was very heavy, and it was, The surprising thing is that the old Seoul University where our base was and with the 5th Air Force, they didn’t seem to be damaged at all. But downtown, they were because with that
wide thoroughfare, I’m sure tanks rumbled back and forth, and when Eisenhower came in “53, they had a parade for him, and I’ve got pictures at home of the signs welcoming Eisenhower, and being a military man I thought he would extend our stay for another year. But instead, he brought peace.
I: Have you been back to Korea?
B: No I haven’t, and I’m hoping that September, included in the Revisit Program and since my wife passed away 10 months ago, I’m going to take my, one of my sons-in-law.
I: Have you seen the modern picture of Seoul?
B: I haven’t, well, maybe
I: Have you followed up with the Korean economy and modern Korea?
B: I drive a Hyundai Genesis, the second one, and it is everything that a Mercedes and BMW is not. There are so many things in that car that I don’t even use because I’m
Not in the car that frequently any more. But this is my second Genesis, and I’ve been very happy with it.
I: So you know what happened to Korean economy and democracy and so on.
B: Oh, well unfortunately, you know, they’ve had some problems with the Presidency, but I can remember when I was in Seoul Syngman Rhee was the President, and there was an opera, American
woman, a big woman, gave a performance, and Syngman Rhee and his wife were about three rows in front of me. So I can remember that. But the economy, I read, is booming, and unfortunately, you know, North Korea sometimes things happen, and then the
economy tanks for a couple of days until they understand that it has no bearing, and then the economy rises. The markets rise again. But like I say, I believe the Korean people are very innovative, and they make things work. So I can understand why the economy and of course, South Korea at the time
I believe was just bombing basically, and the North Korea wasn’t the industrial. So they had to build the industrial complex, and they’ve done a very good job in doing that.
I: Korea is now 11th largest economy in the world. Can you believe that?
B: I can’t believe it . But obviously it is.
I: Why we don’t teach this? In our History textbook, Korean War is just one paragraph. Why is
it known as Forgotten War despite such beautiful outcome came out of South Korea’s economy?
B: Because it was such a short duration, I believe. I think historians want many years to write about, and from 1950 to 1953 and remember, a good part of that was stalemate, looking for the positioning of the line of demarcation.
In fact, you know, as I said, I was in North Korea in my last post because I was about 30 miles above the 38th parallel, and so I got home in May of ’53. The Armistice was in July I believe, July or August, and that portion that I was
at was now North Korea, and so I was thankful that I wasn’t there those last few months of jockeying because we would have had to move from hill to hill, and on the sea, you don’t find many high hills on the sea coast. You gotta go inland.
I: Bernie, please explain what pictures are you holding up right now?
B: These are the pictures when Eisenhower came to
Korea in January of 1953 prior to the January 20th when he took the oath of office as President. He promised he would come to Korea, and he did, and with his business cabinet, and these pictures were taken on 8th Army Headquarters side. 5th Air Force was on the other side of the street, and
old Seoul University
I: So that’s Seoul National University, right?
B: Yes. Yes.
I: That building behind this President Eisenhower is the Seoul National University building.
I: I was able to just instantly tell it. Did you take these pictures?
B: Yes, I did. See, I had a pass to come in the compound because security was very tight, and because we were sleeping
there and we would take the Jeep up to the hills, I was able, I was able to take these pictures, and General Mark Clark is in one of the pictures who was the Commanding General with the 5th Air Force, and some of his business cabinet which, unfortunately these years I can’t remember their names.
I: How neat that was, huh?
B: It was great,
and like I say, even the parade, I mean, the Koreans were so thankful that he came. He came to see, and it was, if it was July 4 in Korea because of the celebration, and they felt confident that Eisenhower would end the War.
I: And you said that you have many other pictures?
I: How many?
B: Oh Jesus. I have an album of photos with Korea and some of the villages where I took pictures of pagodas and things of that nature. Some of the hill top people that, that, you know, people who did our cooking and so forth, you girls
And mamasans and, I, you know, just wanted to record whatever I could and with that little camera. I was able to at least, you know, remind people at home what it was like and what we encountered, and one
of the most poignant pictures, one of the most poignant pictures was that because food was so scarce, and Americans are so wasteful of food, that after the meal, they would cart it off to a dump area,
B: and the native people in the area would pick and choose off that,
and they would find something nutritious that we waste.
I: That’s how we started, but now it’s a beautiful country, strong economy
B: I understand it’s like New York City, Seoul.
I: It is bigger than New York City.
B: Is that right?
I: Oh yeah. And it’s newer than New York City. Seoul is one of the 10 biggest metropolitan cities in the world.
B: Is Seoul University still there?
I: Oh, right there. Oh, they
moved to outskirts, but the old building is now Seoul National University Medical Building, Medical School. So you will be able to see it if you go back. What is Korea to you personally now? You didn’t know anything about Korea
B: Before the end.
I: Right. What is Korea to you?
B: I find they’re a nation that thirsts for freedom that
they’re very innovative, they accept new ideas, they generate new ideas. In fact, when I look at the automobile manufacturing between Japan and Korea, I believe they top quality of any other country making vehicles.
So I’m impressed by their progress which is why I want to go back to see the difference, and I’m hopefully going to go in the September group, and I will say one of the few expressions, Kosameta
I: Komopsameta, yes.
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