Korean War Legacy Project

Charles H. Brown


Charles Haronga Brown was born in Mangatu, New Zealand. Following his parents’ divorce, he was adopted by his grandmother who raised him. He began his naval career when he joined the New Zealand Navy in 1951, first as an ordinary seaman and then as a telegraphist operating radio communications while serving aboard the HMNZS Hawea. He operated the radios as the ship patrolled the West Coast of the Korean Peninsula. His ship frequently encountered the enemy from its base in Baengnyeongdo. He entered the conflict one day before his birthday in 1952 and left on Armistice Day July 27th, 1953.

Video Clips

Enemy Attack

Charles H. Brown describes his service on the New Zealand frigate HMNZS Hawea. He recounts the shelling of North Korean positions by the USS Missouri. One position was shelled, but the North Koreans soon rebuilt. Later. this same position attacked the HMNZS Hawea. Charles H. Brown describes the evasive maneuvers the ship took to elude enemy fire.

Tags: Yellow Sea,North Koreans,Weapons

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Shift Work

Charles H Brown discusses the most difficult thing about his time in Korea. He describes being undermanned on board and working around the clock. He worked in alternating 4-hour shifts with one other operator to man the radio.

Tags: Living conditions

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Attacking a Target

Charles Brown describes the attacking of a North Korean target. He remembers just beginning his shift work. He went on deck and noticed how close the ship was to shore. He recalls the sky being very bright. His ship was attacking a North Korean target.

Tags: Yellow Sea,Front lines,North Koreans,Weapons

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Becoming a Telegraphist

Charles H. Brown explains he became a basic seaman in the New Zealand Navy following basic training at Motuihe Island in Auckland Harbor. He remembers that after a few months, the New Zealand Navy began looking for communications operators. After taking a test and some training, he became a telegraphist and recalls being stationed aboard the frigate Hawea.

Tags: Basic training,Chinese,Civilians,North Koreans

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]


C:        Charles, C H A R L E S Haronga, H A R O N G A Brown B R O W N.

I:          Haronga.  That’s a middle name.

C:        Yes.

I:          And is it [MARIO]?
C:        Yes, my mother’s name.

I:          I see.  Could you spell it again, I mean could you say it again?
C:        Haronga

I:          Haronga.  Very beautiful.


What is your birthday?

C:        Five August, 1934.

I:          So you are now 85?

C:        Four, 85, eh, August.

I:          In August you’re going to be 85.

C:        Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  Where were you born?

C:        Um, not far from here, uh, 20 miles away, oh, 30.

I:          Thirty miles.

C:        A place called Mangatu.

I:          Mangatu.


C:        Mangatu.

I:          Could you spell it?

C:        M A N G A T U.

I:          Mangatu.

C:        Yes.  Place called [Fatatutu].

I:          Fatatutu.

C:        Um.  Spell that?

I:          [LAUGHS]  And tell me about your family when you were growing up as a child, your parents and your siblings.

C:        Uh, my father and mother divorced very young

I:          Oh.


C:        and, uh, I was adopted by my grandmother

I:          Uh huh.

C:        who brought me up.

I:          Yeah.

C:        Uh, well first of all was other two siblings, two sisters, were brought up by my step-father  Glen.  My mother married again

I:          Um.

C:        and then they had a family.  So I had


uh, about five in all, step brothers and sisters.

I:          So you had a big family.
C:        Well, I never lived with them.  I loved alone

I:          You  never

C:        No.

I:          Um.

C:        Well, I was brought up by  my grandmother by myself.

I:          I see.  I see.

C:        Yeah.

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

C:        [INAUDIBLE] District High School.

I:          High school.

C:        Yeah, yeah.  DKDHS.


I:          And did you learn anything about Korea from your school when you were a student?
C:        No.  However, uh, we knew there was a war on, well, I knew at, what kind of school.  That there, there was fighting going on.  But that

I:          That was it.

C:        That was it, yeah.

I:          Did you know the location of Korean Peninsula at the time?

C:        A fair idea.  I knew it was off Japan somewhere.

I:          Somewhere.


C:        Yeah.

I:          But it always either China or Japan, not Korea, right/
C:        Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I:          And, so when did you join the Navy?

C:        Uh, September 1951.

I:          So you already knew that Korean War broke out, right?
C:        Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

I:          Were you thinking that you can, you could be in that war as a Navy seaman?

C:        No.

I:          You never thought about it.

C:        No.

I:          Yeah.


And so where did you get the basic military training?
C:        HMNZS Tamaki.

I:          Um.

C:        Uh, same word Don mentioned before.  Uh, on an island, at an [INAUDIBLE] in Auckland and I did, uh, oo, September till that December, I


was a seaman, a, uh, ordinary seaman.

I:          Um hm.

C:        And then they wanted communications operators.  So they rounded us up, and we all took a test.  And next day they said you, you, come with me.

I:          Um.

C:        So I ended up as an ordinary telegraphists.

I:          What is it?

C:        Telegraphist.


I:          Ah.

C:        Uh, radio operator.

I:          Radio operator.  Is there any special knowledge that you learned about those radio operator?  Did you use a secret code or

C:        Morse, Morse Code.

I:          Morse Code.

C:        Yeah.

I:          So tell me example.  How did you do it?

C:        Operator, uh, every airway, went to school every, every morning.  I learned to type


because, uh, um, we had to attain a reading up to 25 words a minute to pass on.

I:          Um.

C:        And, um, we had these exercises that they called these Morse Exercises, and we sat there typing every morning for about half an hour reading these, um, texts.


I:          Was it not that difficult, right?

C:        Uh, it wasn’t a little, uh, in the beginning.  Uh, uh, but after while, it, uh, you got pretty good at  it.

I:          Very good.  So you became the Communication Operator, Radio Operator using Morse Code

C:        Yeah.

I:          And from there, did you go to Korea?

C:        Well, uh, a friend, uh, of mine,


his name was, was, uh, Sunny Smith. He was from, uh, New Plymouth, [WHANGAREI]

I:          Um.

C:        And, um, the, we had a first class pass. When they gave us our first class pass, and, and we got pulled off the Island and sent to HMNZS Hawea.
I:          Hawea. H O


C:        H A

I:          A.

C:        W

I:          W

C:        E A.

I:          E A.  That’s a frigate.

C:        Yeah, a lot class work you say [INAUDIBLE]

I:          It’s a frigate, right?

C:        [LALACLREA]

I:          Yeah.   So when did you leave for Korea?  1952 or ’51?

C:        Yeah, uh ’52.  Uh, August I think it was, uh, August 4th, yeah.


August the 4th.  Anyhow, day before my 18th birthday.

I:          And you left for Korea August 4, and so you were in the West to Seaside of it, right?
C:        Yeah. on the West Coast, yeah, yeah, yeah.  Uh, we, uh, stopped every, uh, well every night we did pa, uh, patrols and sometimes a few shoots early in the morning.  I like bombarding at


Coastal areas.  And we’d come back to, uh, uh,, the, [off the Peninsula and we anchored the Peninsula], and [INAUDIBLE]

MALE VOICE:  Kangwon-do.

I:          Kangwon-do

C:        Kangwon-do.

I:          Yeah.
C:        Okay.  Yeah.

I:          So you stayed there, or what happened?
C:        I was just anchored off during the day.

I:          Um, during the day.

C:        Yeah.

I:          So you were able to walk around at Kangwon-do?

C:        Oh, I went ashore once.

I:          Once.


C:        Oh, oh, yeah.  I  mean, we still did, I did a lot of shift work and, um, for a break we went, went ashore and walked around an American, they had an air base not far from Ni.

I:          Um.

C:        Anyway, we watched a couple Americans, uh, mechanics of, of working on a, a jet, back on the beach.  They must have lan, landed on the beach and, um


must of got shot up or something. And, uh, they were working on it, and we watched them for a little while.

I:          Um.  Were there any Korean people living there in Kangwon-do?

C:        Never saw any.

I:          You never saw.

C:        No.

I:          Um.

C:        Na.

I:          Were there enemy attacked you, your ship?  North Koreans or Chinese?  Did they ever attack your ship?


C:        North Koreans.

I:          North Koreans?  Tell me.  When was it, and how did it happen?

C:        Uh, we went into, and I don’t know, uh, remember that, that, uh, whether it was before or after.  But we went into spot for the USS Missouri.  It sat, sat out on the horizon, and we directed its’, um,


yeah, we were shelling and we’re shelling this [INAUDIBLE] and the North Koreans used to have, uh, guns on rails inside, and when we had a, when the ships went past it , come and push them out on a rail.  So, um, the Missouri bombarded, and, uh,


and I, I[ thought got us into that].

I:          Hm.

C:        But we went and, and, uh, one night we did that a couple of times.  But this particular morning, early in the morning,

I:          Um hm.

C:        we went in, and we started shelling same, same area.  Puffing away there with our 4 ½”. And, um, and then all went quiet,


and everybody, uh, [INAUDIBLE] you always had axis bases.  And my axis station was with another gentleman that was down after the ship.  Where Don talked about the [INAUDIBLE], we were underneath, had a house underneath in case the main [INAUDIBLE] office got wiped out, we were, our job was to run up and reconnect [INAUDIBLE], um.


to resume, or try to communicate anyway.  That was our, our purpose.  And, um, they call out, they’d stop the ship and there’s a stop and, besides where they, uh, um, give charters, [INAUDIBLE] they, and a friend of mine, he was, a,


a radio mechanic, and he walked down to the, with the, where on, on, on the, was on the starboard side.  And, uh, he leaned up and rolled a smoke.  Smokers.  He said, he rolled them a smoke and then he smoke, and I was looking down, I was talking to somebody I think at the time, or waiting for my friend to come out, and, um,


and this spout of water that 24’ from him, directly behind him, shot up in the air, you see.

I:          Oo.

C:        And I thought what the heck was that, uh.  Next minute there was another one and another one.  And I turned, cause immediately the, uh, pipe system went and access station, access, so we had to get our ship in our back in our little cubby hole.


Well, by the time I turned to head back to my station, this guy went past me [LAUGHS] But he got a bit wet.  But that’s how close they were.  Anyway, I, there was a, I, I don’t know how many shells were, were that, they straddled us all over.  We were lucky.


I:          Lucky.  So nobody

C:        Very lucky, yes.  Um, uh, I don’t know how many shell, but there were quite a few.

I:          And you were not hit.
C:        We were lucky.  We weren’t hit.

I:          Um.
C:        And

I:          How close was it?

C:        The what?
I:          How close you were from the enemies?
C:        Oh, oh.  God, Five kilometers away, 10.


I:          Uh.

C:        Maybe about from here good top of the, quite a hill away at the time.  But, uh, um, And we turned to go [INAUDIBLE] we got, we got, uh, bombarded, and they were landing, the shells were landing all over the place, all around us.  So we, the engines kicked into gear and, uh, full speed ahead was the, we could do.


About 18 or 20 at the time.  And, um, zig zag.  Start ed zig zagging, making smoke and, you name it.

I:          Um hm.

C:        We were doing all sorts to get away.  Anyway we, we finally got out of range, and I think that was mentioned in the papers back home here.

I:          Did you revenge them?

C:        Well, we went back and plugged some more shots in every

I:          You did?


C:        I doubt whether we hit anything.  But, uh, they were still active for years.

I:          I see.  Any other, any other dangerous occasion where that you could have lost your life or being attacked seriously from the enemy?
C:        Oh.  Uh, I went on a, a motor torpedo boat, uh, a communications with the ship,

I:          Um.


C:        And we, at night to Korea, night and, uh, we went on board late afternoon I guess.  And then we took off.  And [INAUDIBLE] went for ages, uh.  reported  back to the ship when the radio, and then I went to our next schedule in another four hours, three or four hours,


and, uh, went, went to bed.  [INAUDIBLE] Next, uh, the guy wakes me up.  So I get  up [INAUDIBLE] helmet on, big duffer, had a duffel cot.  It was free, you know, it was freezing.  And went up on deck, and all I could hear was just docks, and we were starting,


all I noticed first was the crest of the white waves.  And we were not far, you know, heading in towards a beach and I thought what the hell we getting this close for.  Anyway, I’m standing there looking at all this, and next went the whole sky lit up.  Everything just went white.  And I thought boy, all I


gotta do is wait, to just, for the cold water to hit me cause I thought we were hit.  And, um, next when all hell broke loose, the, these, uh, MTBs, uh, they’re fantastic.  They had a [INAUDIBLE].  In the front, they had mortars.  On the sides, they had, uh, eight [INAUDIBLE] just four each side.


And all the kin on the bridge.  And boy, all these things started up.  And, uh, God, the noise and, and it cleared, and I could see there’s a building.  And they were shooting at this building.  And people coming running at the building, running up the hill, and as we were pretty steep, steep hill


straight down to this building and a couple of others following

I:          Was the North Koreans inside there, right?

C:        Must have been.

I:          Yeah.

C:        And, uh, next one of these guys ran, and you could see the shells more than you, um, [INAUDIBLE] dust flying up behind them and a couple of them fell over and, and, uh, next, next


we all went quiet, spun around, boom.  We were gone.  And that was it.  But that gave me a bloody fright.  Went back on board, and these, uh, MTBs, we used to have, uh, what do you call, um, NKP, yeah, North Korean

I:          Yeah.


C:        and, um, always had two ships every now and then, and they went in shore and did attacks.  Then they’d come back and report us during the day and, uh, probably entertained the skipper and the award room was something in, and they would take off at night.


Sometimes when I went to, they’d come along and to, to, um, we had to use, spray hot water on their guns to, so they, their guns could move.  They were all frozen.

I:          Yeah.

C:        And, um, then later on we got, those MTBs came.  That’s the one I went on.  And I believe they, we went towards the latter stages of our tour, um, never saw them again.

I:          I see.

C:        But somebody said they got shot up somewhere.  So I, I don’t know what the story is, but

I:          So when did you leave Korea and seas?  When did you leave Korea?  Was it ’53?


C:        Yeah, um, late


MALE VOICE:          Third week of July.

C:        Late ’53. July was it?

MALE VOICE: 27th of July.

I:          Twenty-seventh of July?

MALE VOICE:  The day the war finished.

I:          Wow.


C:        [INAUDIBLE] Armistice [INAUDIBLE]  That’s right.  Armistice Day is the day we came out.

I:          So did you hear that we signed the Armistice?

C:        Yes, yes.

I:          What was your, what was your feeling?

C:        Oh, great.  But we were just being relieved for other ships that were coming up, you see.

I:          Yeah.

C:        And, uh, they were, they continued a police action then.  But, um, they had Armistice Day here.


I:          Yeah.  That’s great.

C:        We come out, yeah.

I:          So you went to Korea one day before your birthday, and then you left Korea on the day of Armistice in 1953.

C:        Yeah.

I:          What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea, if I ask you to pinpoint one thing that really bothers you, what was it?

C:        Shift work.


C:        Uh, shift, we, we, uh, communications, we did a lot of shift work.  And at one stage, we were short, uh, handed, and my friend and I, when we left, uh, training together, were in two shifts.  We’d do four on, four off.

I:          So tell me more, more detail.  So what time?  How long did you work?
C:        Oh, well it started [INAUDIBLE] 8:00 in the morning.  One of us would start at 8:00 in the morning.


I:          Yeah?

C:        Finished at 12.  The nest one took over at 12 – 4.  The other one come back 4, we don’t want that.

I:          Yeah.

C:        So you got sleep whenever you could.  And you still had to comply with the weaker nations of the ship, uh.  [INAUDIBLE] we just go up before the morning.  We, we slept in hammocks those days


I:          Um hm.

C:        Then, uh, we just slept anywhere
I:          Hm.

C:        where you could get some sleep cause four hours later, you’re back on watch again.

I:          So every four hour, did you have to work?  Or just one twice a day, right?  So altogether, you worked for eight hours a day.

C:        No, no, no, n o.  Four hours


[INAUDIBLE] cause you, if I started at 4:00, at 8:00, I came back again 4:00 in the afternoon

I:          Right.

C:        and I came back again midnight.

I:          Oh.

C:        And then I came back again 8:00,  and we went on

I:          You were a show off.

C:        Well, we did that for, uh, a month while we on patrol until we got back and we got, uh, uh, [INAUDIBLE] to relieve


so we could, normally we in three watches.

I:          I see.

C:        We did two, that, that was the

I:          Have you been back to Korea since then?
C:        No, no, no.

I:          Not at all?

C:        No.

I:          No.  So do you know what’s going on in Korean economy and Korean politics, democracy and so on?

C:        Yes.

I:          Do you know any, yes.

C:        Uh, well, um, I know you had a


bit of problems with your political hierarchy for a little while on and off.

I:          North Korea you mean?

C:        Uh?

I:          North Korea?

C:        No, no, South Korea.

I:          South Korea, yes.

C:        Yeah.  And, um, your economy, uh, especially in the field of manufacturing vehicles, um, everybody


thought well, this is coming out of, out of Korea, like, I think they thought like Japan did.

I:          Um hm.

C:        when Japan first exported to the Datsun.  Everybody said I won’t buy that bloody rubbish.

I:          Um hm.

C:        But eventually, uh, they found that the Japanese are producing some very god vehicles.

I:          Um hm.

C:        Well, everybody thought the same thing about the Korean cars.

I:          Um.


C:        I think just to make a observation [INAUDIBLE]

I:          Yeah.

C:        But they  were, they’re very good, so, yeah.

I:          Are you proud to be a Korean War veteran?

C:        Yeah, yes, sir, yeah.

I:          Um hm.  By next year, it’s going to be 70the anniversary of the War, never been replaced by the Peace Treaty.  Do you have any thought  about it, that it’s been 70 years?  We are still technically at war.


C:        Yeah, yeah.

I:          What do you think?

C:        So um, well I, the Peace Treaty.

I:          Uh huh.

C:        What, is that another re, renegotiating with North Korea?
I:          Right now?

C:        Uh, about the Armistice?  Is that right?
I:          Yeah.  To replace that Armistice with the Peace Treaty.

C:        Okay.  Is that going well?

I:          No.  It doesn’t seem to be dragging and dragging, and so we hope that we can have it so


we can have a

C:        Yeah, yeah.

I:          But there are lot to be done.

C:        Yeah, yeah, I bet there is. Yes.

I:          Do you have any special message to the Korean people?
C:        Uh, I think they, if they continue on the way they work and, and, uh, put all their efforts into what they do, success is


bound to, to come.

I:          Um hm.  How many grandchildren do you have?  Many?
C:        I don’t have grandchildren.

I:          Oh.

C:        I, I married a woman who had three children, so, they, uh, their children.

I:          Um hm.

C:        So I’ve got, um, two.

I:          Two?




C:        Yeah, in Auckland, yeah.

I:          In Auckland.

C:        Yeah.  Well, one’s a tv, on the tv cameras.

I:          Oh.

C:        TV engineer.

I:          TV engineer?

C:        Ensec, tv ensec

I:          TV ensec?  What, what does he do?

C:        Uh, on a camera.

I:          Camera.

C:        Yeah.

I:          Doing camera.

C:        Yeah.

I:          Oh.  Anybody who is teaching in the school?

C:        Uh?

I:          History teacher, no?  No history teacher in your child?


C:        Teach me?

I:          No, no, no, no.  Any children you have who are teaching in the school?

C:        Oh.  uh, teach school, no.

I:          No?
C:        No, no, no, no.  Uh uh.

I:          Any other episode that you wanna share with me you remember but you didn’t tell me?

C:        Terrible memory.

I:          You don’t?

C:        [LAUGHS] I can’t remember.


I:          Charles,

C:        Yeah, what?
I:          It’s been great pleasure to meet you and to hear from you.  Thank you for your service.

C:        Thanks.

I:          And because of that, Korea was able to rebuild our nation, and this is one of the top economy in the world

C:        Yeah.

I:          and very democratic.  So I wanna thank you for that.

C:        Thank you.

I:          Thank you.


[End of Recorded Material]