Charles Hoak and his twin brother Roy were drafted into the military six months apart before being sent to Korea. Due to a rule that kept twins together, Charles was transferred to a combat engineer battalion to be with his brother. In Korea, he worked as a dispatcher and company clerk and never ventured within a mile of the frontline. His work included planning and building roads in Korea. When he returned home to Virginia, he enrolled at George Washington University with help from the G.I. Bill. After education, he worked with the federal government as a road inspector and later worked as a private contractor for over twenty years.
The Reality of the Situation
Charles Hoak describes being seasick for three days and his brother being seasick for seventeen days on the way to Korea. He recalls their arrival in Korea and remembers taking a train to their base. He describes how he could see and hear mortar fire on the train and how, at that moment, the reality of war set in.
Last Push by the Chinese
Charles Hoak tells the story of when the Chinese Army were making a last push. He recalls being in the trenches with weapons loaded and U.S. Army airplanes dropping flares on their location so that they could see what was taking place on the battlefield. He remembers how the Republic of Korea (ROK) troops held the line and thwarted the advance of the Chinese Army.
Life after the War
Charles Hoak discusses his wages for service as well as his early life after his service. He recalls saving two thousand dollars and purchasing a car when he arrived home. He speaks of the benefit he received from the G. I. Bill.
Just Trying to Forget It
Charles Hoak describes his thoughts on the legacy of the Korean War and the hope of North and South Korea reunification. He notes the significance of the Korean War as the United Nations stopped the advance of Communism on the Korean Peninsula. He discusses how some servicemen are hesitant to talk about their experiences because they just want to move on with life.
[Beginning of recorded material]
C: My name is Charles Hoak. I was born here in Frederick County, Virginia, which is about 13 miles west of Winchester.
I: When is your birthday?
C: 1932. Yes, March the 20th.
I: How about school?
C: I went to a little school in Gore, Virginia. I started there the first grade and graduated there. It was grade 1 through 12. During my senior year, I was called for a physical examination. This was in 1950, for The Korean War.
C: However, I thought just as soon as I graduated they would draft me. Well, they didn’t draft until 18 months later. In the meantime, I went back and took a postgraduate course at the new consolidated high school here in Frederick County that consisted of all the five districts.
C: It was a consolidated school. So I took a business courses that year to wait until they drafted me. I graduated in 1950, but I took this post graduate course so I acquired five more credits.
C: Was you know was abiding just time until they drafted me which they did in September 16, 1952.
I: They drafted you September 16th?
C: September 16. Yes.
I: You knew there was a Korean War going on?
C: Yes, that’s the reason they gave me my physical examination while I was a senior in high school.
I: Okay, what did people know about The Korean War?
C: Well a lot of people didn’t even know where Korea was. Where’s Korea? And it was sort of a shock because you know four or five years we just got out of the World War II and so it was quite… It upset a lot of parents. It upset my parents, and I’ll go back… I had a twin brother.
C: This upset my mother knowing I would go to Korea, but they didn’t call him for his examination. I don’t know. But they didn’t call him for his examination.
I: Why not?
C: I don’t know. So I, in September, 1952, I was drafted, sent up the Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania for infantry training. I was there eight weeks and low and behold they called my brother in for a physical examination and the next week they drafted him.
C: and low and behold they called my brother in for a physical examination and the next week they drafted him. They drafted him and sent him to Fort Belvoir which is a combat engineer training facility. The Army has a policy, I suppose they still do, that if twins want to
C: stay together, then they can stay together. So then my mother put in a transfer with the Pentagon and got me transferred to Fort Belvior after I had eight weeks of infantry training.
I: What was your brother’s name?
C: Roy Hoak. He was a junior, named after his Dad.
C: The downside of that is that I had to take all my training over again so instead of having sixteen weeks of training I had twenty-four weeks of training. After our training was completed there we were sent to Korea.
I: Did you stay together?
C: Yes, we stayed together.
I: It was very hard for your mother?
C: Yea. Yes, we didn’t have the nerve to tell her that half the company we were in was sent to Europe and half were sent to the Far East. So we didn’t have the nerve to tell our Mother and Father we were being sent to Korea. We told them we were being sent to Alaska.
I: How did they decide that half of the troops went to Europe and half…
C: You got to ask the Pentagon.
I: From your Mother’s perspective, she could have saved one son rather than send two to the battlefields.
C: I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. If my brother went to Korea, I wanted to go to Korea with him, too.
I: Did he volunteer to go?
C: No, he was drafted just like me.
C: No, we didn’t have much say in that. But, if we went to Korea, and I was going to be sent to Europe I would have changed my orders. The policy is twins stay together. She was very upset. We didn’t tell her we were going to Korea.
They sent some of the guys to Alaska. She was upset anyway, but we said, “Mom, we are going to Alaska.” It was the only time we saw my Dad cry, when we left. So he was very upset about it, too. We were three in our family. I had a sister, seven years older and two boys, just Roy and I.
I: What were your feelings that you were assigned to go to a country that nobody knows America, nobody knows about Korea and the fact, the prospect that you might be dying there. What were your feelings?
C: Well, we, you know, its, we were apprehensive, but, remember, a lot of guys we knew from World War II came back, so we though our chances of coming back were pretty good…
I: I lot of people died.
C: Yea. You know your chances, but like the sergeant in basic training said…
C: …There are more people that got killed in Chicago at night than did in Korea. You are sort of optimistic. You always look at the positive side and mathematically I thought I would come out of it ok. I have always been optimistic.
I: So where did you leave for Korea?
C: When we got to Korea?
I: No, where did you go and leave for Korea? From Washington?
C: Well, that was the other interesting thing, um, the half that went to Korea, they flew them from Washington to Fort Lewis, Washington to get on the boat.
C: Six of us, they sent us down to Union Station in Washington, DC. That was my brother and I, and four other. They sent us first class. We had first class accommodations all the way to Fort Lewis. And then from Fort Lewis we got on the boat. Not with the guys we trained with because they were already gone.
C: Then from Fort Lewis we went, I guess, to Yokohama, Japan at, what’s that, Fort Drake.
I: Camp Drake.
C: Yea, Camp Drake. Stayed in very nice barracks and stayed there for a week or so and from there they put us on another boat, and we landed in Incheon.
I: When did you arrive in Incheon?
C: Sometime in January.
I: Of 1952?
C: And there, we had summer clothing. They fed us, put us in winter clothing, and issued us ammunition and rifle, and put us on a train, and sent us all the way over to what was called the Punchbowl area. I meant to bring a map with me.
C: Sent us over to the east section of Korea called the Punchbowl area. We stayed there until the armistice was signed. We were assigned to a combat engineer unit.
I: Tell me about your journey…to the bowls area? Tell me anything you remember.
C: When we got on the boat, we left at night and right away they sent us to a fairly large room to watch a movie, for entertainment…
as the boat left, the boat started rocking, and everyone got seasick. And you stayed seasick for about two or three day, it was horrible. My poor brother stayed seasick the whole seventeen days. I really felt sorry for him, it was terrible. You ever been seasick?
I: Not really.
C: It is such a terrible feeling. You think you are going to die and then you wish you were going to die.
C: And the same thing happened to him on the way back. Seasick the whole 17, 18 days, whatever it was. But after two or three days most people get over it. You get over it, you are okay. But some guys…I talked to a guy the other day, he said he stayed seasick the whole time.
And the sergeants in charge make you get up, clean the deck just so you have something to do, just to keep your mind off of being sick. That was terrible for two or three day, and it was worse for my brother, he couldn’t shake it.
I: Now, two boys from Virginia, you are in Korea for first time, a country you never knew about, and you were headed to the front line of the battle. It is like a movie topic.
C: They put us on at night, like 7 or 8 o’clock, it was dark, so you get on the train and you sit on these wooden benches.
C: And as you keep going, and continue your journey, you start seeing fireworks, artillery, you start hearing guns, so then they realize this is real. You start to wake up, and say hey, this is reality.
I: This isn’t fun at all.
C: You wonder what is going to happen. You wonder if there is a mortar or shell going to hit this train and blow you up, you know.
I: By the time you were on the train to the Punchbowl, did your mother know?
C: No, she didn’t know. We didn’t write back until we got there
I: Riding together, did you say anything to each other?
C: No, we weren’t that scared. It wasn’t that scary yet. We didn’t arrive to our destination until that morning. Apparently, they do the shooting at that time, at night. In the daytime, they stop shooting. When we arrived at our unit, things were quite peaceful.
I: Things settled down?
C: When we entered this company, they had been there. When they, they were use to it, the artillery at that time wasn’t going off. We weren’t really that worried at that time.
I: How did they treat you as a twin brother? Any special treatment?
C: Well, no special treatment. I was kind of treated special, I guess.
C: Well, when I got there, we were assigned to a Company C, the 1343rd Engineer Combat Battalion. I’ve got some of that stuff here.
C: The First Sergeant comes to us and assigns my brother to the motor pool. The reason they assigned him to the motor pool. He use to be a mechanic, they use to be a garage right here (pointing). A Lincoln – Mercury garage, called George Washington Lincoln -Mercury
C: Was right here in this area, where the bank is now, he worked there as a mechanic and they assigned him to the motor pool as a mechanic. And the First Sergeant says to me, where do you want to go? I said, I want to stay with him. And he said, well, we will make you a dispatcher. Dispatching the equipment out…trucks.
C: …construction equipment. Keep the inventory of the petroleum oil and lubricants, which was a nice, cushy job compared with what the other troops had to go out every day, build roads in the mud, sleet, snow. So I was a dispatcher for a couple months. The First Sergeant comes up to me…
C: and he says to me, the company clerk is rotating home, would you like to be the company clerk? You are the only person I can see that can type. Thank goodness I took that post-graduate course, and he says, I was sort of hesitant, because I didn’t want to leave, we were assigned to a squad tent with eight guys…
C: and I liked the guys and I didn’t want to be down near the command post by myself, at night. And he says, if you take the job, I will make you a corporal next month, and you can stay here in the tent. So I said okay. So I was made the company clerk so I didn’t have to go out in the field and work on the roads.
I: That is rear area of Punchbowl?
C: We were about a mile back of the frontline. The ROK troops, we had South Korean troops in front of us at that time. We were building roads up to their line.
I: Much safer than the front line?
C: Oh yeah. I never really was up on the front line. We were about a mile back.
C: So while we were there we built roads along this river, along this river going up to the front lines. The only thing we worried about were snipers, shooting at some of the guys that were building the roads, but fortunately we didn’t have anybody that got killed. We had a lieutenant that got shot in the arm once.
C: While we were there for the six months, nobody in my unit got killed or wounded, except that lieutenant. Every once in a while, the ambulance would bring out a civilian or a ROK soldier in an ambulance and I saw that once where these legs blown off.
I: So there was not that dangerous moment in your?
C: Yeah, one night the Chinese, the Communist forces made this big push and they tried to break through and we had to stay out in our trenches the whole night with our weapons loaded, and we had a small airplane, the army had a small airplane up above dropping flares. They were so bright you could read a newspaper if you wanted to.
C: In order so we could see them if they broke through, so we could see them coming and shoot at them, but the ROK troops, the South Korean troops, held the line. They didn’t let them come through
I: So they did a good job?
C: Yeah. Thank goodness. I often wonder what would happen if they had come through, okay, all these years, what would happen if they broke through.
C: Would we have gotten orders to jump in the trucks and go south. That was answered a couple years ago. That was answered a couple years ago when I went to the Kennedy Center for a show. It was about hold at all costs. Outpost Harry. Have you ever heard of Outpost Harry?
C: Jot that down. You ought to look that up. It was a nine day battle and I think that was when, which was probably twenty miles from us.
C: And I think was when the Chinese made their big push. I think that was when the Chinese made their big push, during Outpost Harry. President Eisenhower was President then. You know who was running the war, who was actually running the war? He was, because in this movie.
C: Major General John Eisenhower, who was President Eisenhower’s son, sent the order down, hold at all cost, in other words, there will be no running, so that answered my question when I saw that movie, we wouldn’t have evacuated because the orders were to hold at all costs. When the Chinese…
C: made that final push. And the reason the Communists made their final push, they wanted to get back some land. You know where the Demarcation Line is? They wanted to move that line back. So that is the reason the Demarcation Line is where it is…we held it.
I: The name of the movie is Outpost Harry?
C: Outpost Harry – Hold at all Costs. It could be the other way…Hold at all Costs – Outpost Harry. It was a seven or nine day battle.
C: It was a lot of casualties. The last division that came was a Greek division. They brought the Greek division up. I don’t know how many soldiers were killed in that outpost. So after the armistice….
C: …which was soon after that. My unit, the 1343rd Engineer Combat Battalion moved back near Uijeongbu, a village close to Uijeongbu, and we stayed there the rest of 12 months or whatever it was, maintaining roads, and making them better than what they were.
I: So let us go back to your Mom.
I: Do you remember the day you wrote back to her and said we are here together, not in Europe, but in Korea, at the battle ground. Do you remember?
C: It has been a long time. It has been so long, sixty years is a long time. I guess…
C: I did, we were in Korea, I had to tell her. (laughs)
I: So you write around February?
C: Yeah, that would have been February, or something like that, to tell her that we were there, and I guess, things settled down.
I: Do you remember what you write?
C: I don’t. I guess tell her that we were here. We were safe.
C: We wrote weekly. I guess that calmed her down. I tell you what really worried me going to Korea. In basic training they would feed us World War II C-Rations every Wednesday. They were terrible. Terrible. I had a good idea we would be sent to Korea. That worried me all the time.
C: If I have to go to Korea and eat those C-Rations every day I don’t think I am going to make it.
I: You were pretty spoiled.
C: (Laughs) My mother was a good cook, but when we got there at the end of the conflict, we got fresh vegetables every day from Japan.
C: We had to eat powdered eggs and powdered milk and I can live with that, but we had vegetable, lettuce, tomatoes, radishes…good food. Never had a C-Ration while I was there and there was plenty of beer. But I am not a beer drinker, I hate the stuff.
I: What was the name of the beer?
C: Oh, all kinds I think.
C: Never paid attention to beer, but that is where I learned to cultivate a taste for it. I didn’t never like beer, but the water over there was so chlorinated. I hated the water so at the end of the day I would go up, we had a little enlisted man’s club, that you could go up. I learned, we had plenty of ice, for some reason. We got ice somewhere. You must remember we were in an engineer unit.
C: And we all kinds of wood, plywood. You know what plywood is?
C: And we would. You could always take a piece of plywood and go down to the next unit and trade it for something and we had plenty of beer and plenty of ice. I liked beer better than I liked chlorinated water so I cultivated some taste for beer and I would have maybe one or two beers in the evening.
I: How much were you paid?
C: Well, you started off at 65-85 dollars a month and as your time increases your grade, but I will tell you this, my brother and I saved $4000 when we were there. We didn’t need the money. We sent all our money home.
C: We had a $2000 each when we got home.
I: You made a fortune.
C: If I had brains I would have invested it in a piece of real estate and been a millionaire today, but you don’t have brains….
C: but you know what we did, we went right here to this Lincoln and Mercury garage that sits here and bought two new Mercury’s, two ’54 Mercury’s. I was pretty ambitious…
C: and went to Washington after I came back, went to Washington
I: What did you do?
C: Well, before I went to the Army I couldn’t get a job, but the Department of Transportation hired me as a highway and bridge trainee inspector, okay, here in this area. So when I came back here I wanted to go to Washington and take advantage of my GI Bill.
C: So I went to Washington and got reassigned there in Fairfax, Virginia as an inspector. Went to school, enrolled in GW University for a while and stayed down there, okay, and stayed with the state government for about ten years, and went with a general contractor because there was a lot of building in the area, still is…
C: …and was with this general contractor for 26 years.
I: So you made a good salary.
I: Can you tell me the day you came back, came back to your family. How did your Mom your react, your parents?
C: Well, they made us at Fort Meade, Maryland
C: They came down to take us home. I was shocked how much they aged.
I: Did your Mom cry?
C: Yeah, Dad, too. So, I remember Dad’s hair had turned silver. Mom’s hair was gray. And they were still fairly young.
I: Because they were worried about you guy?
C: I guess.
I: So have you been back to Korea?
C: No. Umm, well I should go, it’s a good deal.
I: Free visit program?
C: Yes, I should go. There would be, things have changed so much that I wouldn’t recognize it or anything for one thing.
C: But I may go this summer. Korea is doing okay. Korea is doing great.
I: What do you think is the legacy of Korean War and Korean War Veterans?
C: A legacy? Well, I think it is going to keep improving. The Korean people are very appreciative of what we have done. I am little…
C: I think, my thinking, Korea should be united, be one country. I don’t know how you are going to overcome that, unless you go up there, and take him out. That could be another bad war. I don’t what China would do…
C: …if war would start. If they would do the same thing as the first time.
I: China is busy with their economic development. They don’t want any interruptions.
C: I would think so.
I: And so. This is the place that the American soldiers and military have committed themselves for more than sixty years. There are no precedents in American military history, sixty years.
C: Right. This is the first time the UN has stopped communism. The Korean Conflict. This is the first time the UN took action. It is really a very important twentieth century event because we never stopped Russia from taking those other countries over, you know, like Hungaria…
C: …and these other European countries. Of course, they all collapsed now, they are now all back independent. We did, Harry Truman, made a decision that we are going to go in there and stop it.
I: It was a very unpopular war and it is called the Forgotten War. What do you say about that?
C: For what?
I: Americans say it is the Forgotten War.
C: Oh, Forgotten War. Well, it was. You are right, it was a forgotten war.
C: I guess people just didn’t want to, to think, did want to think. Apparently, when we were over there, and even before I went, the worst part of the war was in ‘50 and ’51 and ‘52. It was on television. People just didn’t want to.
C: They were busy trying to…you know…
I: Recuperate for World War…
C: Yeah, right. They just didn’t want to think about it. So, when we came back, we didn’t have parades….it was like, so where have you been? (Laughs) So you go on with your life. And I have never really talked about it either since I came back.
I: Why not?
C: Well, you just don’t I guess, for some reason.
I: What is that reason? People say that, but I don’t really…
C: Well, it is something you have done and you just want to forget about it, I guess. Just like my father-in-law who died a couple months ago and he was in World War II, he was a pilot at D-Day.
C: But he never, his children said he would never talk about it. They asked him about it and he said I would rather forget about it. It is something in the past. She said he, he was a college professor over here in Shepherdstown, West Virginia and he never talked about his, but he finally sat down and wrote a book about it. He didn’t do that until the last ten years of his life.
C: He finally talked about his war experiences. So, I don’t know, you just, I don’t know why. Well, when you talk about, some veterans do, some like to talk about it. And would if somebody asked me, but if nobody asked me, you don’t want to sound like a braggart. Well, I will go back and tell you.
C: After we moved back, we moved back and maintained roads. The first sergeant that I had lived with for nine months in small quarters in the command post he got an emergency leave because one of his sons was a having a serious operation and the last two or three months I was there they made me first sergeant of my unit..
C: …which was at the time, I didn’t realize (laughs), they made a twenty-two year old first sergeant, and they promoted me over a platoon sergeant who had more time and more rank than I had so I guess I was doing something right, and of course my twin brother shortly made him a motor pool sergeant.
C: So we both came home as staff sergeants
I: So there is nepotism here, huh?
C: Yeah, that is right.
I: Is he older or younger?
C: He is twenty minutes older, but he died, he has been dead fourteen years, he got prostate cancer.
I: Oh, I am sorry, but you must be very special for each other.
C: Oh yeah.
I: You were on the battlefield together and survived. Stayed all together all the time.
C: (Shows his Ambassador of Peace letter)
I: Charles Hoak, so this is your medal?
C: Thank you very much, that is very nice.
[End of Recorded Material]