Korean War Legacy Project

Burt Cazden


Burt Cazden enlisted in the Navy in 1953 after the Army attempted to draft him. He served in the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans during the Korean War. He offers a glimpse of the food provided in the Navy at the time and describes the limited entertainment options available aboard ship. He shares that he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to earn a degree in Optometry and describes in detail how the financial support provided made his education possible. He comments on the respect he has for those who served in Korea and is proud of what South Korea has become today.

Video Clips

Korean War Veteran Clarification and Memories

Burt Cazden recounts enlisting in the Navy in 1953. He provides clarification on the labeling of a Korean War veteran, stating that those who served during the war's time frame--despite location--are Korean War veterans. He states that he has the highest respect for those who served in Korea and shares a memory of a Native American friend who served in Korea and suffered wounds.

Tags: Chinese,Front lines,Weapons

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Navy Food and Entertainment

Burt Cazden describes the food provided during his service in the Navy. He recounts a combination of foods from cans and one particular specialty, SOS. He mentions that there were few entertainment options but recalls watching movies on the ship deck via a makeshift screen hung from a gunner turret.

Tags: Food,Living conditions,Weapons

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G.I. Bill

Burt Cazden describes using the G.I. Bill to continue his education at the University of California. He provides a detailed breakdown of expenses during that time frame and comments on his path to becoming an optometrist. He shares that he was given the G.I. Bill for four years on the condition that he maintain a certain number of course units.

Tags: G.I. Bill,Home front,Living conditions,Pride

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Thoughts on Modern Korea

Burt Cazden shares that he supported US intervention in Korea and agreed with President Truman on the matter. He states that the war was won due to South Korea obtaining its freedom. He offers his thoughts on the accomplishments of modern Korea and describes it as a marvelous country.

Tags: Impressions of Korea,Modern Korea,Pride,South Koreans

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Video Transcript

Burt Cazden: 1        Interviewer:2

I: Your name is Burt Cazden?

B: Cazden, very good. Well I am a second generation American.  I was born in New York City. And.

I: When?

B: February 4th, 1934 which makes me 80 years old.

I: You are young.

B: Yeah, well for a Korean War Veteran. I didn’t get in the Navy until 1953. Right at the end of the war before the armistice. I went to public school. I went the University of California on the GI Bill afterwards and got 110 dollars a month. paid for everything. Amazing.  $110 went a long way in those days.

2:What was your family background? Brother sister mother father?

1:I had a mother and father. They stayed together. Like so many people that doesn’t happen. My father. He was a civil engineer. In the first world war he made naval mines. Then after that he decided to become something else and became an MD. So he was a physician. And my mother was home. She didn’t want to be home but she had to be. She wanted to do other things. And she was a nurse actually. And the first time I ever saw war ships was at the end of WWII. We lived on upper Manhattan. We were up high on Washington Heights. And the Hudson River, which is about a mile wide, all the war ships were anchored in the middle all the way up. And President Truman came up and reviewed the ships. And some of them were the Missouri, the uh, famous ships. Enterprise, so forth, you know. All the famous ships from WWII. And every time he got close to a ship they would start a 21 gun salute. And a 21 gun salute all the way up the Hudson River. It was magnificent. Plus, there’s one other thing. It was either 1200 or 1800 planes from the carriers flew up on the Manhattan side. I don’t know how far up, I couldn’t see. Then down on the Jersey side. And they were all flying low and slow. So you could see their faces just about. It was absolutely magnificent. I was thrilled.

2:When did you finish your high school?


2:In new York city?

1:Yes in new York City.

2:What were you doing? Did you know about Korea? Did you know about the Korean War?

1: Oh, absolutely

2: Oh, tell me about it. What were you doing when the Korean War broke out?

1: I was in school. I was in high school

2: Absolutely

  1. And I heard that and I agreed with President Truman absolutely. That we should have intervened because it was naked aggression.It was obvious to me. There was no doubt in my mind whatsoever. And I was a little too young to go in at that time. I was only a Junior at they time. I became a senior in 1951. And I didn’t go right into the navy afterwards. I tried to go to college. And I was too young and immature. Didn’t know what I was doing. So I didn’t do well in college.

2: What college were you in?

1: Well the first college. I went to Cornell for 1 year. And I was on probation after the end of that year.

2You were in Cornell?

1: Cornell.

2: Ithaca Cornell?

1: Ithaca, you got it right. Ithaca

2So you had a pretty good GPA at that time?

1: Well they accepted me. I didn’t know it but I had, and I still have it, dyslexia.  I didn’t know it. So my learning was a different way. I read slowly. And it handicapped me later because I went to medical school and I couldn’t get it.  It was just too much.  So I switched to optometry. I became an optometrist. That was at the University of California, another lifetime after that.

2: So did you enlist or you were?

1: I enlisted yes

2: Navy

1: Navy

2: Why?

1: I had an uncle who was in the first world war. He was a Scotsman.  He told me lots of stories. He was not hesitant to talk about his experience. And I didn’t want any part of a foxhole in Korea. I would much prefer to be in the Navy. And I don’t care if we had to shoot and get shot at. I would rather be in the Navy.

2: Why did you have to enlist? You were able to continue on your college education

1: I wasn’t in.. No, I was working. Cause I wasn’t a good student. I didn’t know how to study. And I was too immature to be perfectly….

2: But you were matriculated into the Cornell University.

1: Yes I did. And I was on probation after that…

2: Academic Probation or?

1: I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to study. You know it was a big shock.. first time away from home also.  So then we moved to California. Right after that year, ’52. I went to California. And I started junior college. And I worked in a machine shop. And then I got drafted for the army. And I said, “I’m not going in the army. I’m going in the Navy”. So, I enlisted.

2: So that’s why you enlisted.

1: That’s why I enlisted. Of course there was the air force too but ….

2Where did you get the basic training?

1: San Diego. It’s long gone. Actually, Pendleton is right next to San Diego. That’s the Marines. And the company I was in in the navy was in Camp Elliot which part of Pendleton. And they closed that down. After us.

2: What was your specialty?

1: In the Navy?  Well in boot camp, everyone does the same thing. I went to electronics school. I became an electronic technician. And because I was young and stupid, I turned down the opportunity to get flight training.

2: Well at least you are not the fox hole.

1: I was not in a fox hole, no. But I heard a rumor, which could have been true, that right out of boot camp you go on a ship. You go over to Korea. And because you are the low man in the totem pole they put you on a whale boat. They send you into Korea, so you can spot for the guns. It sounded true. I don’t know if it was. But half the company I was in in boot camp went on the cruiser Los Angeles which had the record for how many shots it fired at North Korea. It was a cruiser. It was a heavy cruiser. So they were, I guess they were replacing casualties. I don’t know. That’s a pure guess. The navy has a nice word for rumors.  It’s called scuttlebutt.  I like that word better.

2: So, when did you leave for Korea?

1: I never went to Korea.

2: You never went to Korea?

1: Never. I was. After ET school they put me… I just go where they tell me to go. Gotta follow orders. They put me on a destroyer at Norfolk Virginia. And the first cruise I took was in the North Atlantic.

2: I see

1: That’s indelible up here. First cruise. Cause the waves were… 45 to 50 foot high. I can’t forget that ever. Ever. I was. But I never got sea sick. Lucky. I was one of the lucky ones.

2: Maybe your stomach is made out of iron.

1No, I don’t think so. I think it’s just pure luck.

2This is the Eugene Akrey. (holds up a picture) And he was a dive bomber pilot who died in the battle of Midway. And he flew off of the enterprise. So they named the ship after him.

1So that. That’s the ship you were on?

1: Yes, that’s the first ship I was on, right.  That’s a destroyer. And it doesn’t exist anymore. They had modified it so much. There is a class of ship like this up in Massachusetts. Same class as this. And I went aboard it and I could recognize that. They had changed it so much. Took off the guns. Put on a helicopter pad. You know. They just kept modifying it.

1: The second ship is a small one.  It was 600. No, 890 tons. Tiny. And it was an ex-mines sweeper. During the second world war it got eight battle stars. But it was converted into a geodetic survey ship as you can see. It was up in the artic and that was an adventure. Because we were not set up to break ice but we broke ice. By ramming it. It’s like running into a brick wall.  We kept on doing it again. Over and over again.

2You guys never listen right?

1: (laughs) We were leading the fleet! Because…

2: What you were supposed to do right?

1: As a sailor you just obey orders. You just tell me what to do and I do it. And sometimes in the navy you don’t say yes sir all the time. Sometimes you say ay-ay sir. I still say that.

2When did you finish your service?

1: 4 years. So, in ’57 I got out.

2 57?

1: And I grew up. And I was motivated to go back to college and I made it in the university of California.

2: We’ll talk about that later.

2: You’ve never been into Korea

1: Never

2: and you enlisted in 1953 when the Korean war was almost over?

1: It. It was still going. And I didn’t know. Nobody knew when it was going to end.

2: Right. But you are Korean war veteran. Explain it to me.

1Because I was in during the Korean War.

2: See Ivy. That’s why there are many other U.S. soldiers who are Korean War veterans but never been on Korean soil. They need to know about that.

1: But for every soldier. I’m not sure what the number is. But for every soldier that’s in the front lines, there’s 7 or 8 guys behind the line that never get any action. It’s always been true. You name the war and it’s always true.

2: So, what do you think about that you are the Korean war veteran? Do you have any opinion, or any, any…

1I have the highest respect for the guys that went to Korea. Highest respect. And I had a friend. He was the only full blooded Indian I ever knew. And his children and my children played together that’s how I knew him.  And he went. He was a marine. He went to Korea. He was there for 2 weeks. And he got wounded. 50 caliber bullet hit is left hand. So he had this finger, let’s see. This is all leather. He had a thumb and then a metal plate. But he had no.. this part of his hand was gone. And also, a Chinese soldier bayonetted him and missed some of the vitals here clipped his vocal cords. So he had kind of. Kind of a hoarse voice. It was hard to understand everything he said.  He was my friend, I really liked that man.

2: Any dangerous moment during your service as a navy sailor?

1: Hanging on looking up at the 50-foot wave (laughs). That was dangerous. and we were up in the artic and we got hazardous duty pay for that because if you go up over the side you have something like 3 minutes before you are dead. So, they rigged a big sling on the side of the ship. They didn’t have enough time to launch a boat to rescue you. And they would make a pass and pick you up on the sling. If they missed you’re gone. So it was danger… It was hazardous duty.

2: How much were you paid during your service.


End 15:05


Interviewer: “How much were you paid during your service?”

Burt: “Well I remember when I became a seaman apprentice I got paid 90 dollars a month, but then I ended up first class, so I got 200 something as a first class. I was living high on the (inaudiable), there was no place to spend the money.”

Interviewer: “So, what did you do with the money?”

Burt: “Kept it. You know, in the bank or something like that.”

Interviewer: “You didn’t play cards?”

Burt: “I wasn’t a gambler.”

Interviewer: “Okay.”

Burt: “I didn’t like that, and I wasn’t much of a drinker. After getting drunk once, when everybody said this was fun, I said no this is not fun.

Interviewer: “How old were you when you enlisted?”

Burt: “Well, I was 19 exactly. It was on my birthday.”

Interviewer: “Ohhh 19! So, what did you leave back, a girlfriend or?”

Burt: “Nope, I had no girlfriend.”

Interviewer: “No girlfriend.”

Burt: “I got married later in life.”

Interviewer: “After you got out?”

Burt: “Yeah.”

Interviewer: “And so how long did you serve?”

Burt: “Four years.”

Interviewer: “Four years.”

Burt: “Four years active, four years inactive.”

Interviewer: “And you were talking about, you were talking about the fox hole a few minutes ago. Can you kind of explain what that is?”

Burt: “Well, it’s my idea of what it is, I can watch movies, I don’t know what it is. Uhhh, you know I used to watch all the war movies and you dig a hole in the ground and get into it. Haah, and try to hide!

Interviewer: “So you never had to do that, you were on a ship. *Laughter*”

Burt: “However, on the destroyer, there is no armor what-so-ever, so no matter where you are on the ship, if they shootin’ at you, you can get shot.

Interviewer: “Right.”

Burt: “There’s nowhere, there’s no place to hide. But, you know, it’s a little different atmosphere.”

Interviewer: “What did you eat, like what was y’alls meals?”

Burt: “We had good food on the navy and uhhh just about every meal was a hot meal. Cause uhh we weren’t at battle stations like they were in the second world war, where you get cold sandwiches because you have to stay there. And uhhh we ate pretty good. Sometimes we had steak, the steak wasn’t real tender, but we had steak.”

Interviewer: “You’ve become grateful *Laughter*”

Burt: “We had fresh fruit and fresh vegetables for about two weeks. After that, it was all canned……. And we ran out of milk.”

Interviewer: “Oh no!”

Burt: “And I’ll tell you something that I, nobody else could eat either was powdered eggs. When we had fresh eggs, they would make a platter of eggs this big. Regulations said you had to serve eggs, so they would make powered eggs, it was a platter this big. Everybody looked at it and walked right by. I tasted it once, it was inedible, it was just awful. But we didn’t have anything else, so we had…… They baked bread every day on the ship.”

Interviewer: “So what did y’all to keep y’all entertained?”

Burt: “Entertained?”

Interviewer: “Entertained.”

Burt: “When we were tied up, our enterta *cut off*, even when it was calm, on the destroyer there’s a gun turret on the back.”

Interviewer: “Can you hold it up again please?”

Burt: “On the rear is the gun turret and by hand the gunner would go and turn it sideways, so they side of the gun turret was our screen for movies. And this part of the ship is called, the aft end is called the fantail, we’d sit out there and watch a movie. That was it, that was it for entertainment, there was nothing else. A lot of guys gambled, I was a gambler. I didn’t enjoy that too much.”

Interviewer: “Was it allowed to gamble there?”

Burt: “It’s never allowed officially, but unofficial they sort of wink at it.”

Interviewer: “How was food?”

Burt: “Not bad!”

Interviewer: “What kind?”

Burt: “Well, one thing I remember, it was called SOS. You know what that is?”

Interviewer: “I don’t know.”

Burt: “*Loud Laughter* Do you know what it is?”

Interviewer: “Yes!”

Interviewer 2: “What is it?”

Burt: “It’s called shit on a (Inaudible). *Uncontrollable Laughter*”

Interviewer: “It’s pretty good if it’s made right.”

Burt: “It’s called, yeah it wasn’t bad. It was chipped beef, cream chipped beef on toast. And it, you can’t, I don’t even know if you can buy chipped beef.”

Interviewer: “No, I mean the way that we make it now, my mom makes it at restaurants, you just get bread and you make white gravy and you put ground beef and salt and pepper.”

Burt: “Ground beef yeah, yeah.”

Interviewer: “That’s how we make it nowadays anyways.”

Burt: “No, it was chipped beef in the Navy and it was good. We had spam and somedays that tasted good. Cause that’s canned, that’s easy to transport.”

Interviewer: “After your discharge from Navy, you went to University of California?”

Burt: “Correct.”

Interviewer: “And you talk about you were able to do it with the G.I. Bill.”

Burt: “Correct.”

Interviewer: “Did you know that you were going to be able to get the G.I. Bill before you were enlist Navy?”

Burt: “I, it wasn’t a goal, but I had a feeling in the back of my mind that I knew about it. I think I did, cause they did the G.I. Bill for the second World War vets.”

Interviewer: “Exactly.”

Burt: “And they continue, and in my opinion, it’s one of the, absolutely one of the best government programs ever.”

Interviewer: “Absolutely.”

Burt: “And they should continue it right now!”

Interviewer: “So tell me about the G.I. Bill! Detail! How much you got it and how much you spend for what.”

Burt: “110 dollars a month. That, I remember I had my own place and the rent was 50 dollars a month and of course books, I got to use books when I could. Uhhh, and the University of California then, it was an incidental fee I remember something like 30 dollars a year or semester.”

Interviewer: “How much?”

Burt: “30 dollars is what I remember.”

Interviewer: “And that’s incidental, what did you use?”

Burt: “It was called an incidental, it was a free education, but that’s why they called it an incidental fee.”

Interviewer: “So is it like a tuition actually?”

Burt: “They didn’t call it tuition.”

Interviewer: “Incidental.”

Burt: “Yeah.”

Interviewer: “And that’s for semester?”

Burt: “One semester, right.”

Interviewer: “So that’s all you paid, 30 dollars?”

Burt: “Yup, I paid 20 dollars to join to get a card for the A.S.O.C. The Associated Students of the University of California. And that allows me to go to football games and basketball games. And I was a member of the baseball team, for a while.”

Interviewer: “You mean UC California?”

Burt: “Correct.”

Interviewer: “And you said 30 dollars per semester?”

Burt: “It, it’s what I remember. I may be wrong on that, but it was very little. It was affordable.”

Interviewer: “So, roughly you have to pay about 100 dollar per year to go to school and it cost 50 dollars to rent an apartment.

Burt: “Correct.”

Interviewer: “Were you married?”

Burt: “No.”

Interviewer: “You were single?”

Burt: “Single. I got married the last year of school.”

Interviewer: “So what did you do with the rest of the money, tell me. *Laughter*”

Burt: “Food, *Laughter*, and books, and a little entertainment.”

Interviewer: “What did you study?”

Burt: “Well, I went for pre-med to start with. I ended up in medical school one semester, one year rather. I was too dyslexic to continue. So, I switched to optometry school and I became an optometrist for almost 90 uhh 50 years.”

Interviewer: “Ohhhh!”

Burt: “I am retired now, obviously.”

Interviewer: “So how long were you in the school?”

Burt: “Well it was more than four years because I switched. I got into medical school after three years. Then, I went to optometry school for another year and then I had a problem. I ruptured my disk and I had to have surgery. Playing baseball of all things. And I bent down to pick up a ground ball and I heard a pop.”

Interviewer: “When did you enter the University of California?”

Burt: “Uhhhhh 57, 57.”

Interviewer: “57. How long did government provide you with the G.I. Bill?”

Burt: “Four years.”

Interviewer: “Four years. That’s flat, right?”

Burt: “Four years.”

Interviewer: “So everybody that retired during the time got four year G.I Bill?”

Burt: “Four years, correct.”

Interviewer: “Is there any qualification to get it. Do you accept that you have to apply for it?”

Burt: “You just applied for it. I don’t think there was much, they wouldn’t give you the money unless you went to school and you had to have a certain number of units as I remember. And I always had more than enough. At least 12 or something like that. And they would pay for that or they would pay for other training, too. If you wanted to become a pilot, they would pay for pilot training.”

Interviewer: “Yeah, I know that.”

Burt: “Yeah, I became a pilot on my own later.”

Interviewer: “So, did the G.I. Bill cover all of your expenses in college.”

Burt: “No, but most of them.”

Interviewer: “Most of them.”

Burt: “No, I, I had a job. I worked at…”

Interviewer: “Well, what else do you need to get into the school?”

Burt: “I mean food and books, you know get expensive.”

Interviewer: “But you got 110 dollars, you were a millionaire.”

Burt: “*Loud Laughter* a millionaire! I may be wrong with the incidental fee, but I mean some of the books were 50, 60 dollars.”

Interviewer: “Are you kidding me?”

Burt: “Oh god yeah. That’s cheap now.”

Interviewer: “In 1957, 50 dollars a book?”

Burt: “The books were big, fat books.”

Interviewer: “I think you are also mistake about that.”

Burt: “I don’t know, and I don’t remember the exact prices, but I had to supplement that 110 dollars with a job. And I worked in the University that had jobs. Well, I was an electronic technician, so I had that background. As long as it had tubes, when it came time to have transistors I was lost.”

Interviewer: “So, you have a very positive reaction about this G.I. Bill?”

Burt: “Oh absolutely. Absolutely.”

Interviewer: “Um, do you have anything to share with us today, for this interview, about your service?”

Burt: “Well, as I said, I really supported the fact that we went into Korea and I didn’t agree with McArthur that he should conquer North…. We just wanted to stop the war. I agreed much more with Truman than McArthur, but you know we did a good job and we won because South Korea’s free and they have a marvelous, a marvelous country now.”

Interviewer: “You know about what’s happening after that?”

Burt: “I’ve seen pictures, I’ve never been there. High rises in Seoul and you got bullet trains, you got high standard of living. There’s one picture in the book I got from South Korea. I got a book when I went to the anniversary, the 50thanniversary, and in it was a picture of the Korean Peninsula, taken at night, and you can see the DMV, above it is dark. Nothing. Below it is bright.”

Interviewer: “What about the relationship between the U.S. and Korea right now?”

Burt: “Well, not North Korea, they’re crazy, but South Korea’s marvelous. You see the Hyundai’s all over the place. I have a friend who just got a Hyundai hybrid and says it’s the best car he’s ever had. So, he’s very thrilled with it. Uhh, and from what I’ve seen from Korean, you know the materials they work on, products I mean. They’re high quality. They’re doing a good job.”

Interviewer: “Would you have any interest in going and seeing South Korea, today?”

Burt: “Well, it would, you know, I don’t think I would pay to go because I’m living on social security, but my wife enjoyed it. And uhh, she went to see her niece who is stationed in Korea. That’s why she went, and they were having a baby and so forth and moving, so they needed some help. So, she went there. Uhh that’s why she went uhh and went in the tunnels in the DMV. I didn’t know that.”

Interviewer: “Do you have any children?”

Burt: “I have three children.”

Interviewer: “Are any of them in the military?”

Burt: “No, they’re not likely to go. They’re rather anti-military. Which, is there choice you know. And I have two, I have three grandchildren, now four and they aren’t interested in the military either. And umm half of them are girls.”

Interviewer: “No great grandchildren yet though?”

Burt: “Oh god no! My granddaughter is the oldest and she is 18.”

Interviewer: “18?”

Burt: “18.”

Interviewer: “So, high school or college?”

Burt: “High school. I’m gonna go back to California to see her graduate high school.”

Interviewer: “Thank you very much again for coming for the interview and we’ll let you know when this video is going to be uploaded into the website.”