Robert “Bob” Garcia was born on January 9, 1933 in Bronx, New York. After graduating from Haaren High School in Manhattan, he attended City College of New York before dropping out to enlist in the US Army in February 1950. He completed basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey followed by radio and communications school at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. He was sent to Korea in October of 1951, spending time in Yokohama, Japan before arriving at Incheon in January 1952. Over the next year, he was attached to the 39th Field Artillery Battalion near Kelly Hill (#371). He rotated back to the US and was discharged in 1953. After his time in the military, he finished college and began a long career in politics, first in the New York state legislature and eventually as a six-term Congressman.
Joining the US Army
Bob Garcia talks about enlisting in the US Army in 1950. He describes his early sentiments about joining and his experience in basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey. He also talks about his prior knowledge of Korea as the Korean War began.
A Birthday to Remember
Bob Garcia recalls arriving in Korea at Incheon on January 9, 1952, his birthday. He talks about the "repo depot" and being assigned to the 39th Field Artillery Battalion as a radioman. He describes the mission of this unit that featured 105mm artillery guns.
Daily Life of a Radioman
Bob Garcia talks about his job as a radioman. He describes his specific duties in support of the forward observer, setting up communication lines and gathering intelligence.
Fear on the Front Lines
Bob Garcia talks about his first days on the front lines in January 1952. He describes, at the age of nineteen, being "scared to death" by the strange noises found in an artillery battery.
[00:00:00 (beginning of interview)]
Bob Garcia: Hi, my name is Bob Garcia and I represent the 18th Congressional District; New York City.
Interviewer: Congressman, thank you very much for your time and coming for the interview. Uh, would you please look at this, uh, poster?
[00:00:18] I: You…I think I got from your [unintelligible] available in the internet, that you, uh, belong to the third division, right infantry division.
BG: Third infantry division, yeah.
I: Can you find your patch there?
[00:00:31] BG: Yeah, right here!
I: Right there, right?
BG: Yeah, right there.
I: That’s what, uh, my, foundation is doing, the Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial Foundation. We do interview with the Korean War Veterans, and we collect the artifacts from them. Whatever it is—a picture or the letters that they wrote back to their family or letters that are received…
I:…any public or private documents…
[00:00:58] I: …including posters, maps, and diaries and so on, and we make it available to our future generations and that’s, I think, is the most effective way, an economical way, to preserve your sacrifice and honor your service and educating our young generations about the importance of the Korean War.
[00:01:17] BG: Right.
I: Yeah. So we are going to make that poster, uh, available for the sixty years anniversary of the armistice when we gather at, uh, Washington, D.C. We’re going to make it available.
[00:01:32] BG: Wow.
I: And you can see that the Korean Peninsula is covered with, uh, memories of the Korean War veterans there.
I: Yeah and that’s, uh…
BG: Quite well done.
I: You like it?
BG: Yeah, I do. Very much.
I: And do you recognize what you’re looking for?
BG: Well I don’t really recognize it because my eyes are not what—
I: No, I mean the third one. The poster. The flag.
[00:01:55] BG: Oh, yeah. Sure.
I: That’s the stars and stripes. I mean, that’s too obvious. But the next one. Can you show that to the camera?
BG: Just a second, let me get it. This one?
I: Yep. [BG holds picture to camera] That’s right. That’s the Korean Flag.
[00:02:16] BG: Right.
I: Covered with all the memories of the Korean War veterans there.
[00:02:21] BG: My name is Robert Garcia. I was born January 9, 1933. Uh, my parents were both born in Puerto Rico and I was the fourth of four children. Uh, I was 17 when I joined the army. I graduated from high school, I started city college in New York uptown, and what I decided to do I didn’t want to go to school anymore so I decided to join the army. But wh—
[00:02:58] I: When was that?
BG: That was March, no February of 1950.
I: Mmhmm. Was it army, right?
[00:03:08] BG: Army. I wanted to join the Air Force but the quota was full for that month so they talked me into joining the army and I did. I was drafted in the—I was, uh, inducted on or about March 28 of 1950 and I started basic training soon thereafter that at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Uh, I can tell you that uh, that uh, for me, the experience when I first joined the army I was not too happy.
[00:03:45] I: Why is that?
[00:03:46] BG: I thought I made a mistake, you know? Why should I be in the army? This is long before the Korean War started. Well not long before, it was about three or four months before the Korean War started. But, uh, but I realized that, uh, I probably should have stayed in school. But it was too late. I had a contract. I signed up for three years, uh, as an enlisted man, and so I had a contract to fulfill, and I was smart enough–young enough and smart enough– to realize that, uh, there’s no way I get out of this until three years are completed.
[00:04:23] I: Mmhmm.
[00:04:24] BG: And then I finished basic training–which would be very, um, of interest to you—in June of 1950. And it was a Sunday, I believe, I was home on leave and I heard that the North Koreans had invaded South Korea. And my immediate reaction was that uh, ‘Where is Korea?’ I had no idea where Korea was.
[00:04:58] I: So you didn’t learn anything about Korea from your high school or any–?
[00:05:02] BG: Not that I can remember. Maybe I did, but maybe I fell asleep during that period of time. But, uh, no. The answer is no. I knew about Japan and China, but frankly, never, nothing about Korea. And so I had already been assigned to the signal corps which is Fort Monmouth, New Jersey.
[00:05:24] BG: And so I went to what they call radar training—radar school—uh, and there was the signal corps—you know, radios and radio men and things like that—and so I eventually became a radio man. And then in, uh, October, or maybe September, of 1951 I received orders to Korea.
[00:05:53] I: To go to Korea?
BG: Yeah, in ‘51.
[00:05:56] I: What was your reaction to that, honestly?
[00:05:59] BG: My reaction was one of fright. One of uncertainty. Listen, I was just 18 years old. And, uh, but I come from a deeply religious background—my dad, my sister—and, uh, I had to, I have to say, tell you, say to you that uh I never really worry about, you know, those things because I have faith.
[00:06:29] BG: Through faith that God will protect me and carry me through. And so, and I grew up with that as a foundation—that was my foundation, my Christian foundation. And so for me personally when I got the orders, while I didn’t like it was kind of adventurous, you know? It was kind of exciting in a crazy kind of way.
[00:06:54] BG: And then, uh, I got about a two or three week leave and then before you know it I was on my way to Oakland, California to a camp there called Stoneham. Camp Stoneham. Boarded a ship and for two weeks I crossed the Pacific and then, uh, landed in Yokohama–was there for about a week; seven days.
[00:07:20] BG: I was then assigned, in Yokohama, to the third infantry division from Yokohama as a radioman. That was my MOS. An MOS is, um, what you’re classified; the job that you have is what they called MOS in, in the Army. My MOS was radioman. And so when I landed in Korea–
[00:07:42] I: Oh, let’s go a little bit back…
I: …to the time that–around the time that you, um, left for Korea. What was the reaction from your family or the people about the Korean War and you going there?
[00:07:55] BG: Well it’s interesting. Just before I got those orders, a good friend of mine was killed in Korea. And that was the talk of the neighborhood. And remember I grew up in the South Bronx, tenements, ya know, these were not rich people these were poor people like–eh– not poor people; we were rich spiritually, but materially we did not live on Fifth Avenue or Park Avenue. And so there was a–and he was one of the best baseball players and football players.
[00:08:21] I: So your personal friend?
BG: Yeah, personal friend.
[00:08:23] I: Wow. What’s his name?
[00:08:25] BG: Hector..what was Hector’s last name…Castro. Hector Castro. And, uh, and so, and then I got orders right after that. So you know, people were a little–because we had one or two other people who had been killed in Korea, but we didn’t know them that well. But Hector was like the Joe DiMaggio, you know, the real..the real sports star and, uh, he got shot and killed in Korea.
[00:08:54] BG: And then I got my orders to go so that would–the timing was not so good cause here a close friend of mine was shot, killed, in Korea and I was now going to Korea.
[00:09:05] BG: And so when I got to Yokohama, uh, it was also a place where people were coming home from, you know, the…and interestingly enough–and I want to be brutally frank with you and with the people who are viewing this–the people who were coming home when I got there were people who had been through the Chosin, through all those retreats. These were really hardened combat veterans.
[00:09:32] BG: When I got there the line was pretty much stabilized. So I don’t want you to think for one second that I was a big hero, you know, charging up the hill. We had our moments–we had some moments that I could do without–but nothin’ like those people at the beginning, you know, who, uh, who really were outnumbered: four and five and six to one.
[00:09:56] BG: They didn’t have a chance. And I’ve read all the books on the wars and on the war in Korea. About, uh, General MacArthur and, and the fact that he established–instead of, uh, establishing…You know Korea comes down like this, [he gestures outwards with his hands, implying a bulged figure] has like a waist, you know–
[00:10:14] I: Yep.
BG: Instead of establishing the main line right there at the narrowest point, you had to go up to the Yalu [?], which is the widest point, which made, um, the distributions of, of uh, of uh, ar–not arms, but, uh, uh, uh, what we call G2, the uh–not G2–but the..the supply line was much more difficult. But–
I: But ca–
[00:10:39] BG: Go ahead.
I: Can you remember what the day that you arrived in Korea–
[00:10:44] BG: Well I know it as if it were ye–
I: How about the month of the year?
[00:10:46] BG: Well, I’m gonna go, go better than that. I arrived in Korea on an LST, Inchon Bay.
[00:10:54] BG: Inchon. On my birthday. On my birthday.
I: So January 9 of 1951? Right?
BG: Fifty–I left in October. I got the orders in October ‘51 and, and I got over there in January 9. That’s why I say the line was pretty stable at that particular moment. There wasn’t, you know, as back-and-forth, back-and-forth.
[00:11:22] I: But you said that you entered the army on 1950.
I: February 1950.
[00:11:27] BG: That’s correct.
I: So for about one and a half years you were in the United States?
[00:11:31] BG: That’s right.
I: Alright, now it makes much more sense. So after you arrived in Inchon, where did you go? Where you were–
[00:11:39] BG: There were trucks waiting for us. Uh, we got into these first–got into these LST’s–and went, and went, went on shore and uh the trucks ran, we took one to a replacement company. Or the army slang was a “repo-depo.” Went to a repo-depo. And there were all assigned to different places.
[00:12:01] BG: We went to the third division repo-depo and there were given specific assignments; to what outfit we were going with and, uh, that’s when I heard I was going to the 39th field artillery, which was actually from everything I was told, was a National Guard outfit from Tennessee.
[00:12:24] BG: From Tennessee. And, uh, what we did then was, uh, we got on a train. We got on a train if I remember correctly, from Inchon going up and then they…(stumbles for a few seconds)…
[00:12:39] BG:We got on a train, I believe, and then we went up close to the line then trucks were there to pick us up. And, uh, and take us to our outfits and I was, ended up with the 39th field artillery.
[00:12:54] I: The 39th field?
[00:12:55] BG: Yeah. They’re 1-0-5 guns. They’re the smaller guns. We were in support. It was like a, more like a regimental team type of, uh, artillery outfit. But you probably have interviewed Charlie Rangel, or you will, and he had the 1-5-5s. Those were bigger guns and they could go further. Our guns were little more–just a step above the mortar.
[00:13:18] BG: But they were just enough to go over the hills and, you know, and pinpoint, uh, patrols that were going out, uh, out on a uh, night, uh, a night’s patrol, a night’s maneuver.
[00:13:31] I: But you said you were the radio man, right?
[00:13:34] BG: I was the radio man!
I: So could you explain to the audience…
[00:13:38] I: …what is your job description and–[rest of question is unintelligible, Bob Garcia begins talking over him.]
[00:13:40] BG: Well my job descri–Okay. My job description is as follows:
[00:13:45] BG: There were two methods of getting information to what we called the forward observer. The F.O. One was by radio, which was set with crystals. You had to set those radios with crystals.
[00:14:00] BG:The problem with that is that they then, sometimes the Chinese or the Korean–we had Chinese on our side, across the line from us–it wasn’t the North Koreans, we had the Chinese–they had people who understood English and understood those radios, and they could intercept. So then we had the wire.
[00:14:24] BG: So we had to, we had to wire it all the way up by phone you know, the–[makes cranking sound] and then you answer.
[00:14:28] I: So no interception? No tap?
BG: Right. So we had to have both alternatives; both wire and radio. And, and you know in case something happened to the wire you still had the radio–but you had to have the two devices.
[00:14:43] I: So that’s what you did?
BG: Yeah, I used to go up to the line that–I was in front of a hill called Kelly Hill.
[00:14:50] I: Kelly Hill?
BG: 317. That was where the Puerto Rican 65th made their reputation for the most part after the retreat of, uh, helping the retreat out, uh, through the, through the, uh through the, uh, the harbors of North Korea. But, uh–
[00:15:09] I: Did you belong to that Puerto Rican units?
I: No, right? Yeah.
[00:15:14] BG: No. I–I–I should have, but I was born in New York so you know, the, the people who, who did the personnel moving here, moving there, kept me with the, with the, with the 39th Field instead of sending me with the 65th.
[00:15:34] BG: But you see, it’s important, because my MOS was radio. So it fit more with the artillery than it did with the infantry.
[00:15:44] I: Mmhmm. So could you tell me about your typical day of your mission? You were engaged in artillery attack or–?
[00:15:53] BG: Yeah. Yeah. Well, what I can remember is this–is that just about every night we had patrols going out. And the artillery served a purpose of shielding that patrol.
[00:16:07] BG: You know…and uh, and most of the time those patrols went out; first to feel out the terrain but also sometimes they went specifically to try and get a prisoner who was on the other side of the line. But it was by bringing that prison–prisoner–back you find out who he is, what outfit he‘s with, and then you’d have a better idea in terms of G-2 Intelligence, knowing exactly who’s on the other side.
[00:16:36] BG: But you know the difference between the Korean War and every other war we’ve fought since, in Korea, everything we named the Main Line of Resistance– MLR– in other words; bad guys, good guys.
[00:16:53] BG: Today, and all the wars since, you could be sitting next to somebody who you think is your friend and he shoots you! He’s the enemy. But Korea was the last type of war that we had that symbolized that type of…that type of, uh…military operation.
[00:17:10] I: Mmhmm. So you belonged to this, uh, patrol platoon and just go up there and try to find any Chinese soldier–
[00:17:20] BG: Not me! I didn’t go. I, of course–I was with the Forward Observer. We were there with the artillery and making sure that he–we–got the communications. So I would go up there with him sometimes but I didn’t go on a patrol.
[00:17:33] I: Right. So tell me more about the specifics of what you did with the artillery, you know, teams.
[00:17:40] BG: Well, just frankly, I was in support of the Forward Observer, who was an army officer.
I: But that’s–[both are talking at the same time, cannot understand question]–mission, isn’t it?
[00:17:48] BG: Well, yeah. We had to make sure everything was functioning and working ‘cause you had troops, you had patrols out there that had to be protected. Absolutely.
[00:17:57] I: You mentioned that the line of main resistance was mostly stabilized, but there sho–you know–the exchange of artillery or what–
BG: Oh, yeah.
I: Tell me about those.
[00:18:08] BG: No, no, no, the line was stabilized. There were two incidents–three incidences–in which we thought the Chinese were gonna break through. Actually, everything was geared–the artil– everything was sealed, ready to go–trucks were ready to move out. And that, that came down from headquarters.
[00:18:26] BG: You know, obviously they knew something we didn’t know. And so then there was a barrage of artillery that would start coming in and lo’ and behold, I can tell ya, I think it’s safe to say that, uh, that it didn’t materialize. There was two or three different times like that.
[00:18:45] BG:And then the first time, which I really would like to divert just a little bit. When I got there it was in January, and as a Korean you know that January in Korea is not the place to be, you know, it’s–
[00:19:00] I: Why not?
BG: Oh, it’s ice cold. I’ve never been in such cold weather in my life! And, uh, because I was new, in the first week they put me on guard duty. It was two hour shifts–guard duty–and there was a machine gun and a machine gun was here and there was, uh, sandbags all around.
[00:19:25] BG: So I was responsible for the machine gun from, from, from be–be–between the hours of two and four in case anything happened. Now frankly I hadn’t shot a machine gun since I was in Fort Dix!
[00:19:39] I: Basic training.
[00:19:40] BG: Yeah. And then, remind you, I just got there. And so they gave it to me because that was the worst shift. You know, 9 to 10 that’s not so bad, but 2 to 4.
[00:19:51] I: So 2 to 4 in the morning?
[00:19:53] BG: And a full moon. Full moon. But that was the first time in the three or four days I was there that I heard the artillery pieces going off. Now, mind you, I come out of Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, signal corps. No artillery there, you know. That’s Fort Sill or one of the other army bases where you had, uh, artillery training.
[00:20:20] BG:But to make a long story short, what happened was that, uh, I heard…Now mind you that the battery was from here–the road was here–and we’ll just be behind, behind where Tom is sitting. And, uh, I heard ‘click, click, click, click, click, click, click.’ Now, mind you, I, I, I don’t know where that noise is coming from. It’s coming from the batteries. It was coming from all the artillery groups there.
[00:20:49] BG: They were getting ready to fire, they were all ready. And when I heard that barrage of cannons go off at the same time, [makes small screaming noises]. I got so scared I never heard it before, you know?
[00:21:01] I: So you were not aware of all those preparations?
[00:21:04] BG: No, no but I sure got there. Don’t think because, you know, there were people who got to Korea with one MOS and it never did something–they ended up as if they were doing it all their lives. You know, those were tough times. So, uh, I remember that as if it was yesterday.
[00:21:23] I: So you were scared to death, right?
BG: Oh, yeah. I was a kid. I was just a kid. 19 years old. ‘Oh, mommy! Where are you, mommy?’ You know.
[00:21:31] I: By the way, did you write back to your family?
BG: I did.
I: Uh-huh. What did you write?
[00:21:36] BG: Oh, that I was safe, I was somewhere in Pusan and that I–
I: So you lied to them?
[00:21:41] BG: I did. I did. I did. I’d tell my mother don’t worry about a thing, I’m okay. And for the most part–compared to the guys who were there in ‘50 and ‘51–it was a lot easier. But it was still…ya know, uh…but I would never tell my mother I was on the line.
–End of Interview–