Chuck Lusardi grew up in Michigan and followed in the footsteps of many others in the region by joining the U.S. Army upon graduation from Escanaba High School in Michigan. By this time, he and his older brother, George, had both been members of the 107th Combat Engineer Battalion of the Michigan National Guard for over a year. He learned about the outbreak of the Korean War while at the bus station on his way to basic training at Ft. Knox, KY. He received additional training at Ft. Belvoir’s Engineering Training Center and Engineering Research Center in Virginia alongside his brother. Ultimately, both brothers decided they wanted to operate heavy equipment. Upon arrival in Korea, he and his brother were both attached to the 54th Engineering Maintenance Company where he operated a D-4 bulldozer providing access to regions of troop movement. He finished his military career in Europe initially as part of the 20th Engineering Brigade sent to develop a Strategic Air Command (SAC) Base in Torrejón, Spain, which did not materialize because of Franco’s opposition. They then were sent to Lapalisse, France. He is a proud Korean who would gladly do it all over again.
Learning of the Korean War Outbreak
Chuck Lusardi, on his way to basic training in Ft. Knox, KY, recalls reading the headlines in a newspaper stating the Korean War had started. He notes that at that point people did not really have a sense of the war just yet, but he could see the concern on his mother's face. He shares his time scheduled for twelve weeks at Ft. Knox was ultimately cut to eight weeks upon his arrival.
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Training as Heavy Equipment Operators
Chuck Lusardi shares both he and his brother George were sent Ft. Belvoir, Virginia's Engineering Training Center and Engineering Research Center near Washington, D.C., following basic training. He explains he and his brother had an engineering background because of their time in the Michigan National Guard. He notes they had several options for training, but both chose heavy equipment operator.
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Heading to Korea
Chuck Lusardi recalls the process of learning he and his brother were both headed to Korea while he was at Camp Stoneman, California. He recalls how, from Camp Stoneman, they were consigned to a troop ship which took about three thousand five hundred men on a fourteen-day voyage to Yokohama, Japan. He remembers that upon arrival at Camp Drake, there were no ships left because they had been dispersed from the Heungnam Evacuation. He vividly recounts the masses of humanity upon arrival in Busan on January 11, 1951, estimating the throng of refugees to be about two and a half million.
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Chuck Lusardi shares how after arriving to the Headquarters and Service Company of the 65th Combat Engineering Batallion, 25th Infantry Division, he received his assigned duty which was to operate a D-4 Bulldozer near the front lines. He explains his main job was to provide means of access to support everything going on. He boasts that after a while he could probably have made the longest access routes for troops there.
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One of Those Things You Did, Survived, but Never Want to do Again
Chuck Lusardi offers a detailed account of what it was like to be on the front lines as a heavy equipment operator. He recalls living conditions and that they varied greatly depending on what type of unit to which they were attached. He shares a recollection of the front wash stations to which they would occasionally have access. He recounts how his second winter in Korea worse than the first.
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The Hardest Part
Chuck Lusardi describes the hardest parts of his time in Korea revolved around seeing the great suffering of the civilian population. He recalls the worst living conditions for Koreans seemed to be near the Iron Triangle. He shares how much of his time was spent within sight and sound of the front lines, and he is proud he never hit a mine with his equipment and was never hit by a sniper. He remembers jeeps bringing out the severely wounded as tough times as well. He notes feeling totally helpless at times.
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Never Saw a Korean Cry
Chuck Lusardi recalls finding it difficult to see what humanity had to do just to survive during the Korean War. He shares he was impressed with the resilience of the Korean people. He notes that everything in his memory from his time stationed in Korea is in black and white.
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[Beginning of Transcribed Material]
I: It’s the beautiful city of Wilsonville in the state of Oregon. My name is Jongwoo Han. I’m the President of Korean War Legacy Foundation. We have about more than 1,500 Korean War veterans’ interviews, not just from the United States but from other 21 countries. I just wrapped up the last country which was India. And I came from India so that we have 22 countries Korean War veterans’ interviews completed.
This is the only one in the world that has 22 country Korean War veterans’ interviews. I’m so proud, and I’m very thankful about that. We are doing this to preserve your memory first of all because it’s been already more than 70 years ago. And we want to do this so that we can honor your service and sacrifice. But at the same time, Korean War has been known as Forgotten War, and we don’t want that.
So, we want to make this interview into curricular resources for the teachers when they talk about the Korean War in the context of the Cold War to their students, they can use this interview. So, that’s why we are doing this. I want to challenge the reality of the Korean War as Forgotten War. It’s my great pleasure and honor to meet you again here in Wilsonville because we met at Tacoma First Baptist Church, right?
So, you can talk about it. But it’s my honor, and thank you for coming with your beautiful wife for 67 years?
C: Sixty-seven, yes.
I: Sarah. So
C: That was 67 years yesterday.
I: Yesterday. Congratulations, and happy anniversary.
C: Thank you.
I: Please introduce yourself. What is your name, and spell it for the audience please.
C: Okay. My name is Charles Lusardi. I go by Chuck.
Lusardi is spelled LUS as in Sam, ARDI.
I: Is that, what is the ethnic origin of this last name, Lusardi?
C: Well, ethnicity wise?
C: It’s Italian.
I: Um hm. And what is your birthday?
C: Well, birthday is December the 24th in 1932.
I: Nineteen thirty-two. That makes you
C: I will be 90 years old on December the 24th.
I: Ninety years old. I don’t know. I think it’s a common denomination of Korean War veterans that they look so young.
C: Well, those of us who are left, as you know, I’m sure. I was just reading a chart that says by the year 2036, we will see the last of the Korean War veterans.
I: Yes. That’s right.
That’s why we are doing this before it gets too late. We want to preserve your memory.
C: Well, I wanted to thank you for doing this because it is obviously to Korean War veterans and to their families, it’s important. But it’s important in just the historical context. So, thank you very much for the work you’re doing.
I: It’s my honor, sir. And thank you for the recognition. And that’s why we are doing this. You’re absolutely right. And you were born Christimas Eve?
C: Unfortunately, I ruined my mother’s Christmas, yes.
I: No. I think you really celebrated your mother’s Christmas Eve, right?
C: Maybe I should look at it that way then.
I: Yeah. Be positive, okay, young man? Where were you born?
C: I was born in Gladstone, Michigan.
I: Uh huh.
C: As far as my birth certificate’s concerned. I was literally born in a logging camp in upper Michigan.
I: Upper Michigan.
C: Um hm.
I: Beautiful. Yeah. And tell me about your family background when you were growing up, your parents, what they were doing and your siblings, brothers and sisters.
C: Well, I come from a family of five boys. My mother was a homemaker. And of course, with five boys, that was more than enough work. My father was a truck driver.
I: Uh huh.
C: Basically, he started out on his family farm.
In Upper Michigan, there was farming, and more often than not, there was some logging associated with it. So, that’s the background on it. Five boys, I was the second born of those five boys. I had one older brother, George. As a matter of fact, I’ll mention here that George and I both were in Korea.
So, two of us at the same time.
I: What’s your brother’s name?
C: George Wayne Lusardi.
C: Wayne, WAYNE.
I: And same time, or when was he there?
C: Same time.
I: Same time. When was it?
C: Well, as we unfold my story here, you’ll see that we both ran a parallel course in many respects, even though he was a year and a half older than me.
I: Um hm.
C: And if I just jump right into it, coming out of high school,
I: What high school?
C: Escanaba High School.
I: Could you spell it?
I: Escanaba, N as in Nancy.
C: N as in North.
I: Yeah. Escanaba High School. When did you graduate?
C: I graduated in 1950, June of 1950.
C: George, being older than me and a person of his own, you know, he had his idea of where life should take him, and he had left high school a year prior at the request of the principal.
I: Um hm.
C: We won’t go into the details.
I: That’s a very positive way to describe that.
So, but what is your Korean War service.
C: Well, my
I: From when to when?
C: Korean War service, I started in the regular Army in June of 1950.
I: Um hm.
C: Right out of high school. However,
C: Enlisted. Prior to that though, George and I were already members of the Michigan National Guard.
C: Because we had, I had joined the National Guard at 16 years old.
C: Course on the records, I was 17. But that being the case, I had, that was in February of 1949.
I: Um hm.
C: George and I became members of the 107th Combat Engineer Battalion of the Michigan National Guard.
I: One Hundred Seventh.
C: Hundred and Seventh Combat Engineer Battalion.
I: Combat Engineer Battalion.
C: Um hm.
C: Of the Michigan National Guard.
C: So consequently, we were already under service conditions if you will. And when I, I graduated with the agreement with my mother that if I did graduate from high school, she would sign for me to go into the regular Army.
C: And much to her chagrin, I did graduate, and she had to sign.
I: Why did you want the Army so much that you had to have condition?
C: Well, because you have to look at the historical aspects of Upper Michigan.
C: It is a backwater to Michigan in general. It’s a recreation portion for the Lower Michigan state people.
I: Uh huh.
C: So consequently, there is no future, no significant future in terms of work that one could, you know, apply themselves to in the Upper Peninsula area.
So, a lot of our younger men at that time went into the service.
I: Oh. And so, you wanted to follow that.
C: Well, not, it was just the normal, the, you know, the practical and normal thing to do.
I: Um hm. So, we’ll go back, I mean we will get back to the service period later. But let me ask this question.
Did you learn anything about Korea, Korean history or geography, about Korea while you were in high school?
C: The answer is yes, but qualified. By that I mean I was always interested in geography. That was one of the subjects I really moved towards.
C: And in our day in high school, it wasn’t Korea, it was Chosin.
C: So, yes. I knew of Chosin. However, the interesting aspect of it was that at the time that George and I signed up for regular Army service, we were, we got our separation papers from the National Guard, and we actually went to get on the bus to go to basic training on June the 26th of 1950.
When our folks took us down to the Greyhound bus station, now we’re in Upper Michigan, and we were to report to Fort Knox, Kentucky.
I: Um hm.
C: And as we got to the bus station, here’s a newspaper, and it says War in Korea. So that was the send off that we had from Michigan.
And of course, that was a very difficult moment I’m sure for my mother and my father, too. But anyway, so George and I left.
I: So, you enlisted to the Army with your brother George without knowing Korean War broke out, and you were on the way to Fort Knox, Kentucky, and you happened to know the breakout of the Korean War through newspaper.
C: That’s exactly it. However, we were in the Army already signed up
C: Because that had happened on like June the 10th.
C: So, there was an intervening period. But yes. When we went to get on the, to go that morning
I: Um hm.
C: To report to Fort Knox, Kentucky, we had no idea.
C: We hadn’t heard. There was no tv. We hadn’t heard it on the radio. So yeah, it was a surprise.
I: So, did your parents know that the Korean War broke out before you left for Fort Knox?
C: They knew it, they drove us from our home downtown to the Greyhound bus station.
C: And the minute they saw the newspaper, they knew it.
C: It was an interesting moment, yes.
I: So, your parents sort of imagined that how their two sons could come back in one piece.
C: Well, you know, at that moment, people didn’t realized the significance of the magnitude of the Korean War. So, I’m sure they had some thoughts of that nature. War, sons going, hey, that’s bad. So, yes, there was that aspect, you know, how they were able to measure it with the minimum information we had about what’s this war all about.
I: What did they say, your parents? Do you remember anything they said to you and your brother?
C: I don’t, literally I don’t remember other than I suppose the look of well, just the look on my mother’s face.
C: It was like saying get back in the car. We’re going home.
I: Oh, that must have been hard for your mom, really.
C: Yeah. That was.
Well, you know, life throws situations like that at us all through our life. And that happened to be one of the most memorable ones for me at 17. And I’d, cause this was June, so I’d had my 17th birthday in the prior December. So, I was 17 ½ years old if you will.
I: What was George’s attitude about it? Reaction to it?
C: No problem.
I: No problem?
C: Oh no. Well, neither one of us reacted to it in the sense of oh my. We don’t want to do that. We didn’t even think that.
C: Our thoughts were just hey, we’d better get going. But we felt comfortable in one sense that we’d already had a year and a half of National Guard training with two summer encampments and the basic military training under our belt.
And the fact that in the Michigan National Guard, we were with the 107th Combat Engineering Battalion. That would come into play later.
I: Yeah. So, what did you do in Fort Knox? It’s a basic military training.
C: Total basic military training, at that time the basic training schedule was for 12 weeks. And immediately upon our getting to Fort Knox, it had been changed to eight weeks basic training.
C: So, they just knocked a month off it.
So, our training was literally from June 30th
I: Um hm.
C: On through until August, in August we completed our basic training.
I: But you were already a soldier. So, it was a piece of cake, right?
C: Well, yes and no. I had minimum minor problem at basic training because Fort Knox, Kentucky has been an area that has a lot of poison oak and poison ivy.
C: And when I went through the Infiltration course, I wound up, here I was with poison oak, or poison ivy, on both arms. And they really, in a matter of a couple of days, I was hospitalized. Well, that really upset me because I thought oh my God. I’ll not graduate with my training class
Which is a group of 200 men. Each training company is 200. And I thought oh, this is not good cause I wanted to stay with George. I just want to get this over with. Well, I didn’t have to worry. Things were in such a state that by the time I was recovered and sent back to my training company, I never missed a beat. So, I missed a few things. But I’d already had the opportunity to do a lot of that stuff in the National Guard.
I: So, where did you leave for Korea from? When?
C: Well, from Fort Knox, Kentucky because of the fact that we had National Guard training with the Combat Engineering outfit, we were the only two individuals pulled out at the end of that training cycle and not sent to Advanced Infantry training.
Because basic training is basic. Then they go to Advanced Infantry training. But on the morning when we graduated which that picture is indicative of,
C: This one.
I: Can you show that to me, us?
C: Yeah. This is a picture that’s taken
I: Up to your chin, yes. Wow.
C: A picture that’s taken at the time you graduate. Every recruit, you’re a recruit at that time,
And even though we were PFC’s in the National Guard, we didn’t get recognition for that at the regular Army level.
I: Um hm.
C: That was just something that. But in view of the fact that we had engineering on our record in one fashion or another, what happened was as they called out, you know, assignments,
Where to go because they’re spread out over a whole host of different
C: Well, different fort, different training centers.
C: Lusardi, Lusardi, come over here. And we got orders to go to Fort Belvoir, Virginia. And Fort Belvoir, Virginia is the Engineering Training Center and the Engineering Research Center for the US Army.
C: It’s just outside of Washington, DC. You probably might be familiar with that. And that was an interesting thing. That was another
C: You get that. Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
C: So, we were given just a very short few days to go home and then report to Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
C: We did. We went through basic training, or engineering training there. When we got there, they said okay, we have five schools that you could take your pick.
C: You can have construction. You can have bridge construction, just basic construction. Bridge construction, demolition, topographical mapping which would be a surveyor
I: Um hm.
And heavy equipment. Well, George and I, having come from sawmill country, and we were on heavy equipment all of our short lives already. So, we immediately thought two things. Well, if you’re gonna be over there in Korea having a big chunk of steel set behind is pretty smart thinking. And you know, that’s the route we want to go. So, we both chose Heavy Equipment Operator.
So, we had 10 weeks of training at Fort Belvoir, Virginia operating all types of equipment from Caterpillar Tractors to graders to turnip poles, whatever. So, when we finished that, at that time we were then qualified “equipment operators”, and we were given 30 days, I think it was less than 30.
I think it probably about 20 days that from the time we left Fort Belvoir, Virginia and were then ordered to report to Camp Stoneman, California.
C: Which is a debarkation center.
C: In San Francisco. So, by December, I think right around December 15, we had taken our leave at home, taken or first big train ride from Chicago all the way to San Francisco,
Arrived at Camp Stoneman, and we were at what they called a Replacement Depot. And these were replacements going to a host of different commands. So, that was the case. So, I had my 18th birthday at Camp Stoneman. There was a lineup, and they had all these orders, and they’d start calling names, people would fall out.
They went two directions. There were two warehouses to go into. One of them you went into, and you came out with a fur parka. And we thought oh my goodness. Those poor fools are going to Korea cause they needed, it’s wintertime over there. And we wound up going through the M1 rifle. So, we spent the next day and a half cleaning rifles up. Still no order as to which way you’re gonna go. But we found out that that was an indication of where you were going, whether you got a fur coat or an M1 rifle.
If you got a rifle, you were going to Korea. The others were going to Alaska because they were building up defense positions in Alaska because of a concern, you know, that something might happen over there also. So that was it. And that was the first trip that I made out underneath the Golden Gate bridge.
George and I were still together. We went through every one of these series of events in lock step. So, the next thing was be consigned to a troop transport which there was about 3,500 of packed on this troop transport.
And off we went, and about a 14-day trip across to Yokohama, Japan.
I: Started from San Francisco?
C: From San Francisco, yep. You go down to the Oakland Army docks
C: Is where the ships departed from. And in my records, I was going through and looking at, and they have you on a shipment number. It was WJ3609 or something.
Your shipment number’s. Like sending freight. So anyway, that was it. We arrived in Yokohama, Japan. And that was interesting because it was, you know, you’re going into a whole new world. But debark from a ship there and went to Camp Drake.
I: Um hm.
C: Which was the Replacement Depo in Japan,
Primary Replacement Dept I believe for all activity there in the Far East command. They had no ships left because they were still dispersed from the Hungnam evacuation. So, we wound up going from Sasebo to Pusan on a Japanese ferry which was another interesting experience. Arrived in Pusan, I think it was January the 11th.
By the time we hit Pusan, there were probably 2 ½ million refugees packed into that city. It was one terrible mess of just humanity. And so, you know, that added to this whole environmental situation I’m sure. But anyway, we arrived on the dock in Pusan, immediately boarded deuce and a half truck and tried to get through this mass, literally mass of humanity.
And made our way just north of Pusan. I don’t recall where it was. But we moved up within two days, we were in Taegu. And at that time, what we were assigned to, we didn’t have no idea where you were going. You don’t really have orders. At that time, it was so chaotic that, you know, okay. Whatever’s happening, just go with the flow.
We found out that we were assigned to the 54th Engineering Maintenance Company.
I: Fifty-fourth Engineering Maintenance Company.
C: Yep. It was
C: It was what they called a bastard outfit which is not part of a division. It supports a division, but it doesn’t belong to it. And there are hundreds of these units like that that are.
I: Completely independent of any battalion or any regiment?
They can be assigned, you know, at the whim of the Administration there, the Generals, wherever they’re needed. And it’s a quick move. Fifty-fourth, however, I did find out in later years that it was basically associated with supporting the equipment maintenance for the 25th Division. So, anyway, George and I were assigned to that.
And that really.
I: Together again.
C: Oh yeah. We never got separated whatsoever. And we were really upset about that because hey, what do you mean maintenance? But this is January, and it is
I: Why were you upset, because it was just maintenance?
C: Well, because we wanted to be bulldozer operators.
C: We wanted to be equipment operators. That’s what we were trained for. But the conditions then, that was my first winter in Korea, and it was cold. I mean, it was so cold that everything froze instantaneously if you didn’t have some protection.
It was behind the lines. We stayed in Taegu oh, for two, probably 90 days or more. And then moved on up to Tajon. Well, it finally got to the point where the Company Commander called us in and said you know, what are you idiots up to, you know? You got, you’re in good position here.
C: Yeah. Well, and we tried to tell him basically, you know, hey, that’s not the problem.
The problem is that we are something else. We think we’re heavy, we love heavy equipment. Well, the next day we had orders to get out of there. Back her up and, you know, throw whatever you got left in your duffle bag and, you know, be here at such and such a time, and off we went. We got on a deuce and a half and headed north. And that took us up just oh, just north and east of Uijeongbu.
We both went to Headquarters and Service Company of the 65th Combat Engineer Battalion.
C: Combat Engineer Battalion.
I: Um hm.
C: Twenty-fifth Infantry Division. Now, the reason for the emphasis and designation on Combat Engineer Battalion is that if you are an integral engineering element of a division,
then you’re that combat engineer support group for that division, and you just, that’s all you work with is basically that division. So, H & S, Headquarters and Service Company is what that is. And normally they supply personnel to all of the line companies, A, B, C, D. And we wound up getting there on, you know, in the back of a deuce and a half truck traveling, it took us two days to get up there.
To work our way up front. Get out, jumped down from the truck and never even got to stabilize there. They immediately, here’s a First Sergeant coming out there, and he had paperwork for us. And they brought some with them. And it said hey, Lusardi, George, get on that truck over there, and Lusardi, you know, C, get on that ¾ ton unit over there. They were ready for us.
Things were still busy up there. So, the ¾ ton, I don’t know where George went. But I do know that George wound up being assigned to operate a D8 bulldozer.
I: What is that?
C: That’s the biggest bulldozer that Caterpillar made at that time.
C: And so, the D8, though, are, they weight about 35 tons.
So, you don’t move them up into harm’s way because you can’t move them out very quickly.
C: Well, George went off, and they work on airfields, things like that. And you know, they’re in a support position where they’re taking care of all of the stuff that’s keeping everybody on the line going. I wound up getting in this ¾ ton unit which had a 55-gallon drum of diesel fuel and a grease gun and a case of C-rations and a couple other things.
And this, you know, here you’re pretty naive. You aren’t acclimated to that type of environment up there as to what’s going on. So, I asked the driver, you know, where are we going? He just looks at you and doesn’t say nothing, you know. If you do talk to him, you don’t get much response. They don’t have much, they aren’t very, you know, outgoing to outsiders.
If you’re part of the team, you’ve been there a while and you know what the hell’s going on, you’re treated, you soon get treated different.
C: But anyway, we drove for probably 35 miles. God, it was a long ways. It seems longer because there was no, literally the roads were almost non-existent at, in those days. Pull up into a patch of weeds out there, and here’s a D4 bulldozer setting there.
Well, a D4 is the smallest bulldozer that Caterpillar makes. And it only weighs about oh, seven or eight tons. And so, it’s more mobile. It can move around. It can be moved with lighter equipment and whatnot.
C: So, I was given that D4. I’d never seen one before. That was not one that we had trained on.
To make a long story short, the guy just dumped, we dumped off the 55-gallon drum of fuel, my case of C-rations cause that was gonna have to last me a while I found out, and the other equipment that he had there, and I was just left there with this D4. And we were, you’re at the front now. However, the beauty of Korea, as you well know in the north up there with the hills and whatnot,
I was usually on the backside of the hill, and the poor Infantry guy was on the front side of the hill. My job, though, was I think of it, and I reflect on it. And it was really being in a position to provide some means of access to support everything that was going on, you know, where the real action was going because we had people sitting on top of ridges and whatnot that just were impossible to get to.
There were no roads. The roads were creek beds. So, my job was to try to push some kind of what I call cow trail up these hills and ridges, wherever I was assigned to so that you could get a jeep up there because a jeep was the mule. The jeep was the one that went up with supplies, ammunition, food supplies, whatnot, and brought back out the wounded.
And I guess that was, you know, I felt good about after several months of really horsing that thing around, that I was good enough that I could make a road, I bet I could do it farther than anybody else.
C: You know.
I: It was critical that you had to have a road so that logistics can be supplied, right?
I: And for our soldiers.
I: So, after you departed from your brother George, were you able to communicate with each other?
C: No. No communication whatsoever. However, what did happen on two, maybe three occasions, I can’t remember. I tell you, things do get confusing because over the years, you know, you read so much about the history of Korea that things get intermingled. But I’d say George and I met two or three times during the next seven months. And that was the case only because he lost his D8.
He had a problem with it. It literally fell apart because the equipment we used was what we called rust buckets. These were old leftover World War II pieces of equipment coming out of Okinawa, Japan and other areas in the Far East. And they were not, at that point, in ’50, ’51 and even into ’52, it wasn’t until mid-’52, ’53 that they started getting in the new military equipment as I understand it.
I: And when did you leave Korea by the way?
C: Well, then left Korean in March of ’52.
I: And, until you left Korea, I mean, so your main service was to build a road for the other people, right?
C: Well, to support anything. I served, for example, for a while, I, a short time I served with the Turk brigade.
The Turk brigade was attached to the 25th.
I: Um hm.
C: Just like the French were attached to the 2nd Division and stuff like that.
C: And so, with the Turks, they were just part of our unit. So, if they had a need, and particularly, it was an interesting story because the need that they had, they had received a D7 bulldozer, and nobody knew how to run it. So, and again, I’m not away of anything that’s going on.
Somebody comes to me and says hey, load ‘er up. You got a truck here. And more often than not, I would move my D5 in the back of a five-ton dump truck. I could smash it in there backwards. I mean, literally I’d spread, the trunnions on my Cat would spread the sides of the bed of the truck to get it in by a couple of inches. But anyway, we’d haul off, and they said this particular time I could go to an Infantry regiment.
I could go to an Artillery outfit. I could go, one time I went on what they call a probe with a group of tanks which was foolishness because they didn’t have a tank dozer. So, they said well, we’ll send this, this D4 can go along with you. If there’s anything to push out of the road, you know, he’ll get it taken care of for you. Well, that’s a long story. It didn’t work.
But with the Turks, I went to the Turks, and come to find out, they had this really nice D7 which I loved. D7 was the perfect guy. And they had this youngster who, you know, I’m 18 years old by the way. And here they had this real kid. I think he looked like he was like 15 years old.
C: Anyway, this little Turkish boy, and the officer could speak English, but nobody else could. So, he told me.
He says well, we’ve got a Cat. We have nobody to operate it. This man’s gonna operate it, this kid, and you train him. Well okay. So, I spent almost five days with him there. And anyway, and I got him to the point where he could, first we learned how to service it and then how to start it and then how to operate it. And he did well.
I: Very good. So, tell me about this.
What was it like to be there as a soldier, combat engineer soldier and operating a bulldozer and living conditions? Where did you sleep? What did you eat? How was it to be there?
C: Well, every soldier has half a pup tent, right. So, we got a pup tent.
I: Um hm.
C: But you only got half of it because you always got a buddy. It’s a buddy system.
Well, I didn’t have no buddy.
C: Alright, because I’m me and my Cat. I slept under it. There was
I: Under it?
C: Sure, yeah. You take it and with the Cat that’s beautiful cause you can plow the rocks out of the way, make a nice smooth, flat place, and you put the blade down, and you’re protected on that end. You crawl under the back end, and there you are. Or what we did, I should have brought a picture of it.
One time George was with me, so we had two tent halves. And you tie it to the track of the Cat, peg it down, and you got this nice house under there. More often than not, most of the time, that’s how I lived for the next seven months. If I had a cot to sleep on, it had to be, if I was supporting an Artillery outfit because they were back just far enough, usually three to five miles.
And they, here they got fuel kitchens. They’ve got their command center, their operations officer. They’re in tents. And they often have tents with a cot in them. Well, that was a momentary, you know, piece of Heaven cause we could enjoy that. But no. That last seven months was on the ground. I mean, it was, I don’t camp. I don’t, never go camping. I don’t’ want to go camping no more.
I: Because you had enough.
C: Well, yeah, I had enough, you know. That’s okay. But no. It was a dirty, messy. If you wanted to get clean clothes or whatnot, there was only one way to do it up on the front. And they have what they call wash centers. They’re units that go around with deuce and a half truck with generators and water purification stuff and whatnot.
They set up an operation where you’ve got a big, couple of big, huge tents where you go in one end, and they’ve got a shower system set up. And as you go in, you strip off, get rid of whatever you’ve got on, pack up only our helmet and the stuff you’re gonna pick up again, and as you go through, you go through the shower, you get rinsed out, and you come out the other tent, and there’s all these clothes.
Well, so you’re picking up a whole new set of fatigues and, everything but boots.
I: It’s like a car wash system.
C: Caddy car wash, I think, exactly the same. So, you come out of there and
I: How often were you able to take a shower?
C: Only when you came across one.
I: I see.
C: And so, it could be a month. It could be, you know, I don’t think less than a month.
I: You could be very smelly.
C: Oh, by the time you got done with that, your fatigues were in rags. They literally rotted off you. There were times, now this is the second winter also. The second winter was worse than the first for me. And I caught Walking Pneumonia. I had all kinds of, you know, difficulties. They never shot me down, but they sure weakened me.
C: Anyway we, we made it through that. And it was one of the, I don’t know, one of those things you did and survived but never wanted to do it again.
I: What was your rank?
C: Well at the time, we went in, when we went overseas, we were PFC. We’d made PFC.
And then somewhere in about, I lost all my records because those that were burnt up, you might have heard
I: National Archives?
C: Yep, in the National Archives. However, the story, to jump ahead, is that I lost all my records. So, when I came out of Korea and got to the United States again after we were departed there, I got to Fort Ord, California,
And I was hospitalized for two weeks. That’s what they were trying to find out. They never did pinpoint it. In later days, I found out they had all these x-rays and that, he said well, he’s got, from the Walking Pneumonia what I had, I had a lot of scar tissue on my lungs. Well, that turned into being well, I keep jumping around here. I went to Fort Ord, went to the hospital,
Was classified fit for duty. So, George and I were both then reassigned to an Engineering outfit in Fort Huachuca, Arizona and down on the southern border. And we no more got there and that unit that, 597 Light Equipment Company, they were called up to go to Spain to build a sack base along with another bunch of engineering outfits that were put, we’re taking too long.
C: The brigade that was being put together was called the 20th Engineering Brigade. And we were supposed to go to Spain to build a new Sack base at Torion, Spain. To make a long story short, we got down to Arizona, spent about two months down there getting ready. All of our equipment along with a whole bunch of other outfits up to the Oakland Army Pier again, right where we left the last time,
And loaded them onto a ship and headed out down through the Panama Canal. So, we got to see the Panama Canal. And wound up going out into the Atlantic. No more got out there by the Azores, Captain comes on and says listen up. We’re not going to Spain. Franco doesn’t want us.
C: Cause Franco was still in charge of Spain. But we’ll be going to Lapalisse, France.
Sum total is, I spent the rest of my first three-year tour in France. George, too. We’re still together.
C: One hundred percent. Same outfit going on. The only time we were separated was in Korea when he went his way, and I went mine.
C: In France, we had the same situation.
I: But let’s focus on Korea because, you know, the thing is when you were there, what was the most difficult thing.
If I ask if you could pinpoint something, what was the most difficult thing or, you know, hate d?
C: Well, actually you know, any of the things that we were doing that were part of our job, I can’t even put those in difficulty. Those were things that we could accommodate. We could do something about. The thing that was most difficult for me in Korea was seeing the civilian population on the few occasions that.
In the first seven months, we saw the civilian population. Matter of fact, when we were in Taegu and Tajon, you know, you’ve got the houseboys, and you’ve got
C: The washerwomen and whatnot. So, you got a houseboy or someone there that’s, you know, they have it so well organized. They could take all your fatigues up. They’d come back all cleaned up and pressed and, you know, folded beautifully and whatnot.
And that was difficult to see families and youngsters and the women. For example, in Taegu there, right on the river, and I got a picture of all these women washing clothing on the river and all the kids, the little ones, running around, you know. And that was bad.
But the worst came later when I went forward
I: Um hm.
C: Because even in the forward areas and the damndest situation you can imagine
I: You mean Uijeongbu area.
C: Well by now, I’m over in the Iron Triangle area.
C: I’m over in Kumhwa.
C: Oh yes. Twenty-fifth Division wound up being planted right in the middle on the Iron Triangle. So, the work I was doing was being done in Charwon, Kumhwa and on up into that Apex up to Pyongyang.
C: Well, there’s Pyongyang and Ponggang.
C: Ponggang is the most northern point of the triangle up there.
C: Now Mundani Valley, all that area, that’s where I spent my time.
I: That’s one of the most severe battle grounds, right? And when you were there, it must be late 1951 and early ’52.
How was the situation there? Will you describe? And how far were you in the front lines? Tell me about it please.
C: Well, I was within sight and sound of it on a daily basis. But I was not in a, well, I’ll put it this way. Two things that I look back and say somebody was watching out for me
I: Um hm.
C: And that is number one all of the ground that I plowed with on D4
C: I never hit a mine.
C: And you never think about it. You don’t sit there and worry about that.
I: Yeah, right.
C: That’s not a consideration. I plowed some up. But I never hit one that blew a track or took me out. Secondly, I was never picked off by a sniper.
C: A Cat, operating a Cat in those environments,
You’re literally a sitting duck for two reasons. There’s no armament, you know. Everybody says well, what kind of armament did you have? I said well, we had a t-shirt, and we had a fatigue shirt, you know. Both of those were, but this is more before they had armored vests of anything. No. In that sense, the closest was looking at when I’m trying to push accessibility into an area that something had just happened
And watching the damn jeeps come out with the hamburger that they were bringing back out, that was tough.
C: That was bad. But the other aspect of it was there were times when we were within this range of activity. When you think there’s no civilians whatsoever. There couldn’t be.
I: Um hm.
C: And out of nowhere
C: He’s some little ones.
And it’s always either gonna be women, old, old men and children. The rest are all, you know, (INAUDIBLE) That was the hardest thing. That was.
I: You mean you felt that it was too sorry for them.
C: Well, look at here, Dr. Han. You’re sitting there. You’re doing your thing. And there’s not one thing you can do for these children or these mothers or whatnot.
But I say not one thing. There is one thing you can do. First thing you did is you unloaded all your C-rations. Anything you had edible, give it to them, you know.
I: Um hm.
C: No. I, at my age, here you’re still 18 years old, and you’re learning. This is a new exposure you’ve got to what the world’s all about or some aspects of what the world’s got to offer, you don’t like it.
I: Um hm.
C: Because you feel so helpless, you know.
Like what do you do? You get back on your Cat and go do what you gotta do.
C: Yeah. The funny stories are when, Greg likes my story. He says well, what’s the funniest story you ever remember? I said well, one of the things that I have as a standing order was if there is any structure standing, knock it down.
I: Um hm.
C: Cause of snipers. And you know, just,
And out in the outer country, it wasn’t communities you were seeing. They were these little family enclaves, four or five huts or houses or remnants of them, what’s left. And the one that, Greg really liked this story he says. I was digging out this one house. It was a, you could tell it was the head person’s house. It was really nice. Well, it was burned out, a couple walls standing. And the D4 isn’t very big.
The blade is only 10’ wide. So, as I was pushing the remnants, the wall down there, I didn’t realize where the honey pot was of the house
C: And as I came over there, it was square, a big one. Like I apparently hit it just right on the diagonal cause the blade just popped right into it. And when it did, the fan on the Cat, the front of the Cat, went in, and the fan blade caught this.
Crap all over, God almighty. And you can imagine. You get the picture.
C: Well, what do I do? I immediately back out of there, and I’m backing up, and I was working on, there was a river there, a small river. And so I thought holy (INAUDIBLE), and I had no idea, I knew it wasn’t very deep. But the bank was a drop off about that afar in the water.
So, I just spun that Cat around, and I just started barreling towards the river. It was only about 50 yards away. And I just rolled right off and went right into the water.
I: Um hm.
C: And so, I’m sitting there in the water letting the fan wash me up, and I thought well geez, this is a good time to do some fishing. I always carried hand grenades in my toolbox.
C: So, I unwrapped one from an old t-shirt I had, pulled the pin, and I just threw it as far upstream as I could. And underwater, it doesn’t make a big deal. (INAUDIBLE)
C: And I’ll tell you, this is one of those cases that goes back to the people because all this little crill and whatnot come floating up, you know,
C: And they’re all, out of nowhere
C: There was two women, and I think it was three or four children, little ones, came out there, and they were in their long dresses with the aprons, you know. (INAUDIBLE) They went wading right out in the river and scooping those things up. And they brought them up on the shore. And then they, and I was there for a bit.
So, by then they went and built a fire, and they put all these things on a log in the heat, the smoke can cook them. I told Greg that.
I: That’s the American way to fish.
C: Well, yeah but I told Greg. I says, excuse my English. But I says, Greg, that’s when the shit really hit the fan, you know.
C: Then I says, but this was the outcome of it.
But anyway no. That was most difficult thing, seeing what humanity had to do to survive.
C: Under conditions like this. But the thing that I have always countered that with is the resilience of the Korean people.
I: Have you been back to Korea since you left Korea as a Korean War veteran?
C: Yes. Sarah and I went back to Korea.
C: Nineteen ninety-six.
I: And? That was it or
C: That was it.
I: That was it.
C: Um hm.
I: So, even though it was not the 21st century, it was the end of the 20th century. And when you went back, please give us sort of a before and after picture of Korea. What did you see in 1951 and ’52, and what did you see in 1996?
C: Well, in 1951 – ’52, everything in my memory here that’s on is black and white, alright. Ther was no color. I can’t get away from that aspect of it.
C: Going back in 1996 was like, it was, when we came into Seoul, it was like going into Los Angeles. And I thought I can’t,
However, we had seen the, just prior to that, you know, the Olympics had been there a few years prior. And we had watched the pictures, and I was sitting there
I: Nineteen eighty-eight.
C: Sitting there agog at that. But no. Looking at Korea and the statement I’ve always made to the students that I speak to and whatnot.
I: Um hm.
C: I said well, and again going back to the resilience and the ability of the Korean people to respond to whatever the need is, what they have got available to do something
It was unbelievable. I just can’t say enough about it.
I: So, you saw the resilience of Korean people during the War. And another interview that I had with Merle Smith. He was the Third Engineer of Meredith Victoria which was the civil ship that
C: I remember it well.
I: That carried 14,000 North Korean refugees.
And what he said to me over and over again that he never saw any Korean person who actually was crying during that disastrous War period. Do you agree?
C: I absolutely agree, even the children.
I: Even the children.
C: Even the children. You know, we use the term stoic, you know, stoicism. But it’s more than that.
And it’s neither resignation nor anything else. But it is that ability to recognize that hey, I can’t waste my energy feeling sorry for myself here. I’ve got to see what I can do to survive here. Survival.
C: No. That, I would echo his sentiments 100%, yeah.
I: When you left Korea in 1952, did you ever imagine that Korea would become like this today?
You know the rank of Korean economy now in the world economy, right?
C: Well, I didn’t really give it a lot of thought for may years here, Dr. Han, because even coming back, what happened is the Korea thing, the European thing. I came back, George and I came back.
I: Uh huh.
C: Same thing, same boat, here we are. Come back to Fort Dix.
I: That’s amazing.
C: We went through the East coast.
But what happened was we were debating whether or not to re-enlist
C: Cause our tour of duty was up.
C: So, I hadn’t made up my mind. And George was yeah pretty, uh, I’m going back in the Service which was good. He was made for it. But what happened was in, I broke down with TB.
C: I started hemorrhaging.
C: And wound up going into the VA Hospital.
I: Tuberculosis you mean.
I: Tuberculosis, Tb.
C: I didn’t understand it.
I: TB means tuberculosis.
C: Tuberculosis, yeah.
C: Well, you know, that’s one thing about the Korean environment at that time.
C: You had Hemorrhagic Fever, Tuberculosis, and you know, Frostbite.
I: Um hm.
C: Those were, other than being shot, those were the three highest elements that took people out.
C: On both sides.
In my case, it got, it goes back to that time I was hospitalized in Fort Ord. They missed the boat cause I had TB at that time, and they didn’t know it. And so, you know, by then I was really going down. I was down to, you know, less than 140 pounds and, you know,
C: And I just didn’t have it. Obviously, I was on my way out.
Well to make a long story short on that one, I did go in, I reported to the VA Hospital I n Sawtelle in Los Angeles because my folks had moved from Michigan to Redlands, California while we were in Korea. So, when we came back, they were in Redlands just out of San Bernadino. And so that’s where I was in this intervening period. George and I both.
Well, I wound up going in the hospital. George wound up re-enlisting and said okay, see you later. I’m off. And my stay at Sawtelle was very short because they said well, okay. You’re in such bad shape. We don’t think you’re gonna make it anyway.
C: So, I wound up going to
I: That serious.
C: Oh yeah. So, they said, there’s five different hospitals that operate, for TB.
Well, they’re, they would be, what do you call them, the wards are, I can’t think of the word. But anyway, they’re where you’re a secluded ward, where you can’t get in or get out cause you’re a threat to society. But anyway, I wound up choosing going of the five that they offered me, there was one in Fort Whipple, Prescott, Arizona.
Well, I know Arizona cause I was in Fort Huachuca, right? Well, two different things. Prescott, Arizona is a mile high.
I: Um hm.
C: Got snow and all that. But anyway, that’s where I went, Prescott, Arizona. I spent the next 18 months there, well 16 months cause I already spent a couple there. So, in the process of that, though I, when I went in, I found out later because Sarah was one of my nurses.
C: And that’s why we have been married for 67 years,
Because when I did survive and was let out of the hospital in 1955, Sarah and I were married. So
I: Wonderful story.
C: Well, that, you know, of all the things that go around.
I: But going back to the topic whether you imagined Korea would become like this today.
C: Had no idea of what Korea, I didn’t give it a thought.
For 40 years, we didn’t do anything, even, that’s why I intervened with this other. We survived and started a family and whatnot. That 40 years was, I went to college on the GI bill and whatnot. Never thought much of Korea. As a matter of fact, I was working with individuals. I work I worked for Techtronix here in Oregon for 10 years.
C: And there were people that were working there that were also Korean War veterans.
I: Um hm.
C: We never talked about it.
C: We didn’t, I don’t know why. I can’t answer that one. That is unanswerable.
I: That’s why I think it’s been forgotten because even you didn’t want to talk about it. You forgot about it because you were busy. You had to marry. You had to have a family. You have to raise children. And you have to make money, right?
C: Right, exactly that.
I: Uh huh.
C: But the other aspect of it was that for many, it wasn’t something you really wanted to recall, you know.
The aspects you had seen. So, trying to relate that to what Korea was becoming was a non sequitur. You just didn’t.
I: Excellent point.
C: Uh huh. So, and we have found since then that most of the veterans that we talk with and work with pretty much had the same experience.
C: We didn’t, you know, that wasn’t the important element of life.
It wasn’t that we weren’t trying to impress anybody or tell anybody. However, we did feel a little bit like the Viet Nam veterans did. We weren’t considered, you know, any kind of heroes if you will.
I: You are not the same generation. The Viet Nam veterans and Korean War veterans, they are different, right?
C: Yeah. Exactly.
I: And so, you have this very unique perspective and position to be able to give us comparative picture of Korea in 1950 and now, 21st century. What would you say to yourself about your own legacy as a Korean War veteran? What is your legacy?
C: I’ll tell you the term that Sarah and I use when we reflect on this which, in our older age, is very often,
is that the term that we would use is we’ve been blessed. I look at things maybe as the Oriental culture, the Asian culture, and that is things were meant to be.
I: Um hm.
C: Alright? If one thing had not happened, another will not happen. So all of those things taken into sequence or in order, I would not have met Sarah had it not been for Korea.
So, I guess maybe I just answered something in my own mind and that is I really come back to Korea was the starting point for our real life.
I: Rest of your life.
C: Well, I’ll give you one quick example. Dr. Star, the heart surgeon?
I: Um hm.
C: You know, he was a Korean War veteran.
C: Oh yeah. He was a surgeon, a MASH surgeon. And he’s here, you know.
He was the one of those first did the heart valve thing.
C: And he’s still here. He’s coming up on 100 years old.
C: Oh yeah. And I’ve been trying to get him for years to come to our meetings and talk, but he won’t. And I understand. But Dr. Star, I’ve talked to him, and I asked him. I says, you know Dr. Star? Of all the, your experience in Korea, how do you relate that, how does, what does it have to do with what you did when you came back into the world again so to speak?
He said one word, everything.
C: Now, and I point that out because, you know, for me as an individual in the role that, you know, I happened to play to have that thought. But for an individual like that who survived and then went on to do such significant things, and I asked him, I said well, in what respect, you know? How’s that?
And he said well, in Korea, he said, when we were providing medical service to the wounded veterans, he said, or the wounded soldiers, he says we were under real strict military orders as to what we could and could not do, procedures we could and could not, he says we had to just throw those away.
C: And he says we took our chances if somebody called us down.
But anyway. So, but Korea today, I can’t, I just feel so good about it that Korea, now I know, I don’t know if you know we have a John Lim. Have you ever met? John Lim is out first Oregon Korean senator. And John and I, I’ve known John since ’95. And he was one of those houseboys. John was a houseboy in Korea.
C: Yeah. He told me.
I keep telling John. I said well, John, you know, you were just a kid. When I went to Pusan, you were probably in that crowd standing there cause he was 14 years old, alright, at that time. But anyway, there are people like John, and all of the Korean communities here in the greater metropolitan area, the Koreans that we have met, the accolades that the Korean government and the Korean people have provided to Korean veterans, it’s undiminished even today.
I: Um hm.
C: And we really appreciate that. So, the work that Greg and I are doing now, I’m getting to the point where I’m running out of gas. I’m ready to set back. But Greg came on the scene, and the work we’re doing with KWMFO, the Korean War Memorial Foundation of Oregon
C: And the city of Wilsonville, which is out host here, I can never give them enough accolades as to a thank you for being there and doing what you’ve done
Cause this is the legacy, that is the legacy that Sarah and I can leave.
C: And I include Sarah because she has been, she is my life, has been, I’m here, our family’s here. We have three children, two boys and a girl. The girl is our oldest. They’re all non-drinkers, non-smokers, providers to the community.
I: You’re going to live forever.
C: Why were we so blessed? I don’t know why, and I’m not gonna even question it.
I: Where’s George now?
C: George died in 1994 of the residual, he came back from Europe after he spent 10 ½ years, almost 11 years in the Service. He was in Europe and was shipped home with TB.
And he died in ’94 which is another interesting story because Sarah’s father who was a Second World War veteran, Navy veteran, lived with us for 35 years. George came out in the last three years of his life, he spent each summer with Sarah and I, another one of those blessings.
C: And then he went back, and he died of TB in Veteran’s Hospital in Springfield, Missouri.
I: Are you proud of your Korean War service?
C: Am I proud to be? Absolutely. And I’m proud to be a veteran. I don’t care what people think of our, I don’t care what the general population thinks of our military. I’m not proud of our country at this moment in time whatsoever. As a matter of fact, a lot of the things that we as veterans are proud of from the military family standpoint,
Are being stressed right now very, very badly.
C: So, yes. I am proud. And I would do it over again. Yeah.
I: So, we met at the Tacoma First Baptist Church in Tacoma. And now we met again. And now I have your story.
So, we’re going to edit this and upload it so that teachers can use it. But on behalf of Korean nation, I am a US citizen but Korean American, on behalf of Korean nation, I want to thank you and your brother, George, and your family, your parents, for letting their two sons to serve in the Korean War. And I want to thank you.
And because of your honorable service and spirit, Korea is now what it is. So,
C: It’s a two-way street.
C: I realize. But the Korean people, without that inner something, you know, they made it happen.
I: Thank you again for coming and sharing your story and for your service.
C: Thank you for the opportunity. And the best of luck with your whole program.
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