Korean War Legacy Project

Bob Imose


Bob Mitsuo Imose served in the United States Air Force near the end of the Korean War and beyond. After completing pilot training in 1954, he joined the 5th Air Force in Okinawa, Japan for a special mission. He recounts preparing propaganda materials written in both Korean and Chinese to be dropped by B-29 bombers in anticipation of another war in the region. He served in Japan (1967-’71) as a communication electronics officer with the 5th Air Force where he assisted in maintaining communication within the region that included Korea and Japan. Fortunate to have revisited Korea on two occasions, he expresses amazement at the changes he witnessed in post-war Seoul and the Korean people.

Video Clips

A Strange and Rewarding Career

Bob Mitsuo Imose shares about his time flying B-29 bombers with the 5th Air Force based in Okinawa, Japan. He offers details of the typical crew carried by these planes. Reflecting on his involvement in a special mission after the conclusion of the war, he details his role in the development of propaganda materials, written in both Chinese and Korean, to be dropped in Korea in anticipation of another potential war in the region.

Tags: Basic training,Front lines,Weapons

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Making Sure Communication was Always On

Bob Mitsou Imose recounts one 1954 flight mission to penetrate air defense systems in the western part of the peninsula. He describes his time in Korea as a communication electronics officer with the 5th Air Force beginning in 1967, working in cooperation with the 8th Army Division, to ensure communication always remained on. He details the military bases he visited in Korea as part of his duties during this period.

Tags: Busan,Kunsan,Osan,Suwon,Fear,North Koreans

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When I Went Back, I Could Not Believe It

Bob Mitsuo Imose recollects Korea as a region that was very rural with few high rises during his time there from 1967-’71. He notes that seeing much of the country was hampered by the 10:00 p.m. curfew which required them to be on base. Fortunate to return to Korea in both 2018 and 2019, he marvels at the growth of Seoul with all its high rises, condominiums, and new bridges. He recalls the traffic jams and the new cars he saw on each of his return trips.

Tags: Seoul,Yeongdeungpo,Impressions of Korea,Modern Korea

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But the Korean People Never Forgot

Bob Mitsuo Imose, following two return trips to South Korea, marvels at what the country has become. He shares his amazement at how the South Korean industry blossomed in such a short time. Although the Korean War is often called the "Forgotten War", he remembers an encounter with a little girl on his return trip in 2018 that showed that the Korean people never forgot.

Tags: Seoul,Impressions of Korea,Modern Korea,Pride

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


I:          Beautiful city of Honolulu, Hawaii.  My name is Jongwoo Han.  I am the President of the Korean War Legacy Foundation which has more than 1, 500 interviews of Korean War veterans, not only from the United States but also from other 21 countries that participated in the Korean War.  We are doing this to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the breakout of the Korean War which occurred in 1950.



Specially commissioned by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of the Republic of Korea.  We are doing this to preserve your memory first of all because it’s been a long time ago already, more than 70 years ago.  And we want to honor your service as a Korean War veteran.  But at the same time, we want to make this interview into curricular resources for the History teachers so that they can use this interview when they talk about the Korean War in their classroom for their own students.



I met you at lunch introduced by Mr. Tommy Tahara.  I want to thank him for all the arrangements for the interviews in Hawaii. And thank you for coming for this interview to share your story with me.  Please introduce yourself.  What is your name, sir?


B:        My name is Bob, nickname is Bob, Imose, IMOSE.

I:          So, that’s a Japanese name.

B:        My middle Japanese name is Mitsuo, MITSUO.



I:          SUO, Mitsuo.

B:        Mitsuo.

I:          Okay.  And what is your birthday?
B:        My birthday is March 26, 1931.  That makes me over 90 years old.

I:          Ninety years old.  You look very healthy and young.  Yeah.  Where were you born?

B:        Born in Honolulu, Hawaii.

I:          Honolulu, right here.

B:        Yeah.

I:          And tell me about your family when you were growing up,



Your parents.  What did they do, and your siblings, brothers and sisters?

B:        Well, I have two brothers older than me.  I have four sisters.
I:          Um.

B:        I’m the youngest of seven.  We were raised in the River Street area near the Water Street which is the middle of Honolulu.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Near Chinatown.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        With the school, it’s called Kauluwela School in Honolulu.



I:          What school?
B:        Kauluwela.  KAULUWELA.

I:          Kauluwela High School.

B:        No, elementary school.

I:          Elementary.

B:        Central Intermediate School.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And Farrington High School

I:          FA?



B:        RRINGTON.  It’s named after one of the governors in Hawaii, Wallace Ryder Farrington.

I:          And when did you graduate?
B:        Nineteen forty-nine.

I:          Forty-nine.   And in the school when you were in high school, did you learn anything about Korea?

B:        I have taken courses for pre-college courses, so we had a lot of geography, English, math and so forth.



So, after high school, I went to the University of

I:          But when you were in high school, did you learn anything about Korea?

B:        Not very much but by the way it was because we were taking geography.

I:          I see.  Uh huh.

B:        We knew that in high school after the War, Korea was dominated by Japan for quite a few years.

I:          Um hm.



B:        That’s why it was some of the subjects in school when we were there.

I:          And so, what happened? When did you join the Army?  Were you drafted, or did you enlist?
B:        I enlisted in the Air Force.

I:          When?

B:        Nineteen fifty-one.

I:          And where did you get the basic military training?

B:        I beg your pardon?
I:          Where did you get the basic military training?



B:        They sent me to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        Then I went to Tech school in Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.  Then I got assigned duty in Long Beach, California.

I:          Long Beach.

B:        I was trained as an electronic technician from the Air Force.  And I was fortunate enough to be selected to go to pilot training.



So, I took 15 months of pilot training from the Air Force.

I:          Um hm.

B:        And I graduated in 1954, got sent to Korea, I’m sorry, sent to Okinawa.  There was a first duty station.

I:          So, how was that training, the pilot training?  What kind of plane did you train on, and how was it?

B:        Well, there was, I never had any experience in flying before.  So, it was a very strange and rewarding career I thought.



But it’s like riding a bicycle.  You have a hard time in the beginning, but once you get used to doing it, it’s okay.

I:          So, what was your rank after you graduated?
B:        When you graduated, you were commissioned as a Second Lieutenant.

I:          Second Lieutenant, um hm.  And what was your unit?

B:        My unit in Okinawa was the 5th Air Force Sub Outfit of the 5th Air Force.



I:          Um hm.  And what kind of airplane did you

B:        I would fly B29s.

I:          B29.

B:        Yes.

I:          So, tell me about the B29 to the young students.  What kind of aircraft was it?
B:        It was originally built by Boeing about 1942.  But it really started active duty in the Japanese Theater War.



And it was the primary airplane that bombarded the Japanese mainland.

I:          Um.  So, it was a bomber, right?
B:        It was a bomber.

I:          Yeah.  And how many pilots were there?  How many navigators and gunners?

B:        There were two pilots. It’s a four-engine airplane, two pilots, one navigator, one engineer,



Three gunners if you wanna call that.  Depending on the mission how many people they’d take.  Sometimes there was a radio operator.  Sometimes it’s just a basic crew, probably about seven.

I:          So, what kind of bomb did you carry and drop?
B:        Well, we were in a special outfit that primarily using propaganda materials and (INAUDIBLE) and stuff like that.



I:          Hm.

B:        So, we were a special mission outfit.

I:          So, you didn’t really drop the bomb but propaganda materials.

B:        Yes.
I:          Uh huh.  So, what kind of material was that?

B:        We know it’s propaganda material.  But we really didn’t know.  It came in packages.  So, we just dropped them.  There was this whatever language it was.

I:          Uh huh.



They had prepared some in Chinese back then and some in Korean, depended on where the situation was.

I:          So, when you arrived in Okinawa, already the War had ended.

B:        The War ended.
I:          But what kind of operation did you do?  Why did you still have to drop the propaganda materials?
B:        Well, we didn’t really drop anything at that time.  But they were preparing, expecting a War.

I:          I see.

B:        So, everything was in preparation at that time.



It was the Iron Curtain days.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        So, everything

I:          So then, what was your main duty every day?  What did you do there in Okinawa?

B:        Well like I said, preparing the Intelligence briefing and things like that.

I:          Uh huh.  Did you fly, too?

B:        Yes.  We would fly to keep our training up.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        The worst mission we had to Korea back in ’54 was we flew from Okinawa to the west side at low level, penetrate the Defense ID zone



Then turned around to see if we alerted any Korean Forces, North Korean Forces.

I:          North Korean, okay.

B:        So, we went up to North Korea, turned around to see if we alerted somebody.

I:          Um hm.

B:        Come up.

I:          What happened?  Did you alert anybody?
B:        We don’t know.

I:          You don’t know.

B:        We just flew the mission.  Way above the ground, watching and listening are the ones that, that’s why we flew the mission for was Intelligence.



I:          Were you scared?

B:        (INAUDIBLE) a little nervous.

I:          How high up in the sky?

B:        Well, we started very low.  And we pulled up to 5,000 feet then climbed up to 30,000.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        Depends on what the mission was.

I:          So, how was the North Korean Air Force at the time in 1954?

B:        Well, they were supposed to have a lot of MIG 15’s at that time.  But we’re not sure.


It was kind of like Armistice time.   But they just wanted to check their Air Defense.  That’s what one of the missions was.

I:          Um hm.  And so, then you didn’t encounter any North Korean enemies.

B:        No.

I:          Uh huh.  And when did you leave Okinawa then?

B:        I left after 2 ½ years, 1957.

I:          Fifty-seven.

B:        Yeah.

I:          And during that time, had you been to Korea?
B:        No.

I:          Not at all.

B:        Not at all.

I:          Not at all.



B:        I began my career and experience in 1967.

I:          Tell me about it.  How?

B:        I got stationed in Japan at the

I:          You were still in the Air Force?
B:        I was still in the Air Force.  By this time, I became a Communication Electronics Officer.

I:          Um hm.

B:        So, I was on the staff for 5th Air Force which had command over Korea, too.

I:          What kind of mission?



B:        Well, part of my mission was to make sure communication was always on.  We had to work with (INAUDIBLE) in Japan but also with ROK in Korea.  So, we worked with 8th Army at that time which controlled Korea, all the land line communication,



Teletype information, telephone, all the communication there is to really involve with.

I:          Um hm.

B:        So that’s why I visited most of the Korean bases that we had.

I:          Oh, really?

B:        Yeah.
I:          So, Taegu?
B:        Taegu, let’s see.  We went to Osan, Suwon, Punta, Kimpo, Quanzu and Taegu was down by Pusan.


0: 12:03


I:          Um hm.

B:        Those were the bases that I visited.

I:          So, you, that was ’67.

B:        Sixty-seven to ’71.

I:          So, you saw major cities of Korea at the time.  How was it?

B:        In my opinion, it was kind of like country.




I:          Not city?
B:        Not city.  Seoul was a little bit better, you know.  But I would say like it was like what’s down in Hawaii (INAUDIBLE) you know.  They had some three or four-story buildings.  But not too many high rises.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        So, but



At that time, they had a curfew.

I:          Right.

B:        So, I didn’t get to see too much.  All my dealings with the Korean Air Force was during the daytime.  Nighttime, 10:00, everything’s off.  You have to be on base.

I:          Um hm.

B:        So, most of the time was spent on base.

I:          Base.  What was your rank at the time?

B:        By the time I got to Korea, I was a Major.

I:          Major.

B:        Yeah.

I:          Uh huh.



Were you married at the time?
B:        Yes.

I:          Yes.  And your family was in

B:        Japan.

I:          Japan.  So since then, have you been back to Korea?

B:        Yes.

I:          When?

B:        Twenty-eighteen, twice.  Twenty-eighteen and 2019.  Fabulous.

I:          Tell me about it. How has it been changed?



Mr. Imose, you are the only one who saw Korea in ’67 to ’71, and you can compare that with the Korea that you saw in 2018 and ’19.  Tell me details.

B:        Well, when I was in Korea, when we went to Seoul, it was like, just like going to the regular town with no high rises.  They made the highest building was three or four stories, a lot of shops, buildings.  And there was only one high rise which was 40 stories.


And there was a hotel.  The reason I know it’s a hotel is because we stayed there while we had a conference in Korea with the ROK Air Force.

I:          Um hm.

B:        But when I went back in 2018, I couldn’t believe it.  It was like being in New York or San Fransisco or even Los Angeles.  It was all the high rises.  Beautiful condominiums all over the place.  It’s amazing.  It was really amazing.  It was, I think 10x bigger than Honolulu.



I:          Um hm.

B:        In my opinion anyway.  And the most surprising thing for me was the amount of bridges that was over the Han River.  When I was there during ’67 to ’71, if we landed in Kimpo, we had to go all the way down south to get to the one bridge that crossed the Han River to get to Seoul.  And it was right around Yeongdeungpo,



Where the ROK Air Force was.  We went right across the bridge to Seoul.  So that’s the only bridge I remember.  But when I went back this time, there was up to like 32 new bridges in there.  So that was one of the biggest things.  I couldn’t believe it.  Really amazing.  Korea really got terrific growth.  They’re fantastic.



The other thing that really surprised me.  There are traffic jams.  A lot of brand-new cars, a lot of Jettas.  A lot of American, no, European cars, Mercedes.  I was really amazed.  When I was there, they had little bicycles and what they called motor bikes.

I:          Um hm.

B:        A lot of bicycles in those days.  But now they’re all cars.



I:          There are many Japanese cars, too.  Toyota and

B:        Well, I didn’t see too many, but a lot of Korean cars, Hyundai, Kias. Jettas is really what impressed me.

I:          Yeah, right.  So, when you left Korea in ’71, did you ever imagine that Korea would become like this today?

B:        No way.

I:          Why not?  You underestimate Korean people?



B:        At that time because I was in the Air Force, I knew Korea was gonna, industry wise, they were just beginning.  But I never thought they’d accomplish so much in such a short time.  Back in those days, I remembered, there was no peace treaty between Japan and Korea.  They were still (INAUDIBLE) at that time, no peace treaty.  But I guess back about ’70 something, they finally got diplomatic relationship.



So, they really blossomed I think.  Really fantastic.

I:          So, are you proud about that?

B:        Say again?
I:          Are you proud about that?
B:        Oh, very proud.  I was very, amazed more than anything else and very proud, yeah.

I:          Yeah.
B:        Yeah.
I:          That’s why the Korean War has such a legacy, right, such a legacy.  Beautiful outcome came out of your whole service.  But the Korean War has been known as Forgotten War.



People say that when you got back from Korea, where have you been?  They didn’t know.  And they didn’t give much attention to it, and they never thought that Korea would become like this today.

B:        But the Korean people never forgot.  There was a little girl with her mother that came up to us when we were there in 2018.  She came up with flowers and said thank you.

I:          Um hm.

B:        I couldn’t believe it, a little girl.

I:          Hm.



B:        She said thank you very much.  And her mother was right there with her.  But they never forgot.

I:          So, this Hawaii chapter, the 25th Division, 21st Division were here, and many of them from Hawaii willing to, with the 7th Division, right?  And they were in the very early beginning of the Korean War.  So, the Hawaii veterans are the ones who really shed blood and served with honor in the Korean War.



So that’s why my foundation has a lot of interviews from Korean War veterans in Honolulu, and I just came from Hilo and Kona and Maui so that we can add more interviews.  And next time, I want to go to another island, and I wanna preserve their memory before it gets too late.  So, I wanna thank again Mr. Tahara for arranging this wonderful interview.



He’s the one who treated us to lunch. I want to thank him.  But is there any other story or any other message that you wanna say to the Korean people?

B:        Well, you met my son.

I:          Darryl.

B:        Yes.  He went with me, and he wants to go back again.  He really enjoyed it.

I:          Um hm.

B:        He thinks Korea is one of the best places he’s ever been to.

I:          Uh huh.

B:        We love Korea now.



Really, really terrific.  The people are so generous, so nice, so pleasant.

I:          This is very good because we are neighbors, the Koreans and Japanese are neighbors.  If they live peacefully together and live harmoniously, the two countries can be really strong.  Think about it. Japan is number three or four in the world.  Korea is number 10.


China is number one.  But they are fighting against each other.  That’s very bad.  It’s very bad.  It’s stupid actually.

B:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.

B:        It is.

I:          So that’s why my foundation is trying to work with the teachers and students.  Mr. Imose, I want to thank you for your service as a Korean War era, Korean War veteran even though you were there in ’54 by the definition of U.S. federal government.



Korean War veterans from June 25 of 1950 to January 31 of 1955.  So, you belong to that group.  And you did your service as an Air Force officer.  And then you did work on the communication, electronics with all the Air Force bases in Korea, Taegu, Suwon, Kimpo.


That’s where my father served.

B:        Is that right?
I:          Yeah.   My father was a phantom, F86 Phantom F5A.  He’s the first one who did an air show with the F5A.

B:        Wow.

I:          Left Eagle.  So, I know all about this.  And you made such contributions.  So, you should be proud of yourself.



B:        Well, I’m glad I got to go to Korea again.  So, I want to thank the Korean people for taking very good care of us when we were there.

I:          Ah.  That’s obvious.  But again, thank you.  Thank you, Mr. Imose,

B:        Thank you.

I:          For your service.

B:        Thank you.

I:          Okay.