Korean War Legacy Project

Cletus S. Pollak


Cletus S. Pollak was drafted into the Korean War at the age of twenty one years old. He was never sent overseas as the war was winding down by the time he had completed basic training. He describes that once the war was ending, soldiers from his battalion would be sent overseas to Germany and Korea to fill in missing members from other military units. He also details his response when he went home, an almost total lack of knowledge that the Korean War had even happened. He finishes by describing his feelings towards war in general, in particular the ambivalence surrounding the Vietnam War.

Video Clips

Filling in after the War

Cletus S. Pollak describes the function of his battalion at the end of the Korean War. He explains Eisenhower becoming president and his desire to end the Korean War. He also describes how members of his battalion stateside would be selected to fill in missing members of units overseas in Germany and Korea.

Tags: Home front,Impressions of Korea

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Were you gone?

Cletus S. Pollak shares that the Korean War was not the topic of conversation and describes coming home after the war and the reaction from most people being one of ignorance. He explains that the American populace was tired of war after World War II. He describes how the nation was tired of rationing and this contributed to the Korean War becoming known as the forgotten war.

Tags: Home front,Impressions of Korea

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Useless Waste of Men

Cletus S. Pollak describes his feelings towards the Vietnam War after having served in the Korean War. He explains his feelings of ambivalence towards the war itself. He also includes his feelings that the war was a waste of men and resources.

Tags: Front lines,Pride

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Camaraderie through the Years

Cletus S. Pollak shares that he formed friendships during his service from all over the country. He recounts keeping in touch with a friend through Christmas cards and attending the funeral of another after his passing. He adds that he has developed a close camaraderie with other Korean War veterans as of late.

Tags: Home front

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


C:        My name is Cletus Pollak, and I was born in Mankato, Minnesota back in 1929, almost 85 years ago.  We were on the farm. West of (INAUDIBLE) and, with my parents.  And I was drafted in 1951.  And then my parents left the farm afterward.  So, I went from very deep snow in Minnesota, I went to California where it was nice and warm for my basic training at Camp Cook, California.



And then we trained as a battalion. We were a Signal Corps unit.  And we trained as a battalion.  But the War in Korea was slowly diminishing.  And so, we were not required to go to Korea as a battalion.  So, we were split up.  Some people went to Germany.  Some did go to Korea.



And some stayed Stateside.  And I was one of them who stayed Stateside.

I:          Before you were drafted, you were working on a farm?
C:        Yes. I was with my parents, my dad, farmer.

I:          Did you finish high school?
C:        Oh yes.  I have a high school education, yes.

I:          What year was that?
C:        Nineteen forty-seven.  A long time ago.

I:          So, how old were you when you were drafted?

C:        Twenty-one.  Yes, 21.  Just turned 21.



My birthday’s in November.  So, March of ’51.

I:          What was going through your head when you were drafted?  What did you think of that?
C:        I was suppose bewilderment because I had no idea what the future would be for me, and I suppose in the back of my mind would be Korea because the War was going on in 1951.



I figured that’s where I was going, I would be sent.  But I had no idea.

I:          And what did you know about Korea at the time?
C:        Nothing other than that there was a War going on in this far away place. I didn’t even as much as look on the map where it was.  Or on the globe where it was.

I:          So, when you went out to California for the training, can you describe what was that like?  How long was it?



C:        Oh boy.  I’m thinking six, uh, I don’t remember for sure, 16 weeks of basic training I believe.  Basic training was, it meant I was in the Signal Corps unit, and the basic training was much less active or severe as if it would have been Infantry training.  It was so-called easier.  But it was a nice, warm climate.  Where I came from, it was cool, no snow.  So, I liked that part of it.



I:          What were you being trained for?

C:        I really did not, it’s a Communications battalion.  But I was not trained as anything in the Communications, not a radio or teletype or wire.  They had a company where they put telephone poles in and strung wire.  They had four different companies in this battalion, and I was in what they called the Message Center Company,



And they put me in the Motor Pool.  So, I became the dispatcher for the battalion, one of three dispatchers.  And I kept that job for all the time I was in.  And I was on my way to overseas.  Had everything turned in, and my name was called out, you can come back.  So, I didn’t get to go to Korea.



I:          About what time was that?

C:        That was probably in the later part of 1952.  Fall of 1952.  And I only had a few months left, and then I would be discharged.  It would be March of ’53 I would be discharged.  And this was November about ’52 when they took some troops out, and I was called back.

I:          Did you have any kind of specialized training?

C:        No, other than to drive a truck.



And I already knew how to do that.  But I did teach driving.  And there were men that did not know how to drive a car or a truck.  So, it was an experience in teaching them how to do that.  So, that’s the extent of my teaching in the Army, in the Service.  I remember, now that you mention that; I remember that now.  I’m starting to remember things that I didn’t think I’d remember.



I:          So, were you stationed in the US for your entire military career?
C:        Yes.  Camp Cook, California, and Fort Hood, Texas for three months.  There were big maneuvers.  And then back to Camp San Luis Obispo, California.  And that’s where I was discharged from.  And that was a beautiful place.  One more than one occasion in the wintertime, I wish I would have stayed there. It’s a beautiful part of the State.

I:          So, what were your duties?
C:        The duties of a dispatcher was just to show up every morning and send the trucks out.



Whoever, whatever they needed, you know, supply trucks or whatever they needed.  There was always somebody going out early in the morning. So, I had to write a lot of trip tickets.  So, it was recorded what they did and where they went and took them back in when they came back.  That was a very simple job.

I:          What was life like on the base?
C:        Oh yes, most certainly, yeah.  The trucks were in the Motor Pool, and the drivers had to pick them up from the Motor Pool.



And then we gave them the tickets, so they had permission to leave the Motor Pool with the ticket.  They just couldn’t take one out and have fun with it.  It was not legal.

I:          What was life like during your time of service?

C:        It was easy.  This job apparently had some perks to it.  After a while, I didn’t have to do guard duty, and I didn’t have to do KP, and I didn’t have to do parades.


And so it was kind of an easy job.  I couldn’t complain about it.  And I didn’t.

I:          What kind of hobbies did you have?
C:        I didn’t have a hobby.  But I did have an automobile.  I bought a car.  And I had that.  For the last three years I had a car, and I had it on the post.  And so, with a car, I didn’t have much money to drive anyplace.



But there was always somebody else who had money and could buy gas for it.  So, we did some traveling with it up and down the coast.  So that was about the extent of the.  As for a hobby, no. Not per say.

I:          So how long when you were in the military before you were discharged?

C:        Two years, exactly two years.

I:          And what was your date of discharge?


C:        Oh boy.  March, 21st of March 1953.  I was discharged.
I:          So, the War wasn’t even completed yet in your time of service.

C:        The War was considered, you know, I guess even in the military, the War was considered that it was over, going to be over shortly.  And then the new President Eisenhower said we will stop the War, or the War will be over when he was inaugurated President.



So, we took that as an answer that the War was over.  And we also knew because the battalion did not go as a unit.  It stayed and was split.  People went everywhere.  If they needed someone in Korea to fill a unit, they would take them from our battalion because our battalion was being dissolved.  And so yes.  Some did go to Germany.



Some did go to Korea, and some stayed in the United States.  Some were spread throughout the United States. So, that was our function I guess mostly after the War was lessened or going down.

I:          How much was Korea in the news?
C:        You know, that’s a, how in the news?  We probably lessened a little.



We didn’t really study it that I know of.  I, even in conversations with the other men, it was not the topic of conversation.  When you get close to discharge, that is the topic of conversation.  You check off each day until the day arrives.

I:          So, where were you when the War actually ended?

C:        I believe I was home already, back home in Minnesota when the War ended.



I:          What kind of a response was there?
C:        Oh, were you gone?  We didn’t miss you for two years.  We were the so-called forgotten, Forgotten War.  It was nothing like World War II.  And when the World War II personnel came back, I believe then the public also felt that’s it.  It’s over with.



But then when Korea did come, it wasn’t nearly, well it wasn’t worldwide for one thing.  So, it wasn’t that important in the, and besides, everybody was sick of war because of rationing.  That was all over with now.  Things were really moving upward.  The War was not talked about, that I remember.



I:          How did that feel to you, even though you hadn’t actually gone there?  You don’t spend time serving. How did that feel?
C:        I guess I had to accept it that I was home.  I was alive, and I was safe.  And the two years gone and just forget about it.  And I did for a number of years.  Completely forgot about it.



I:          Was there any friendships that you formed?
C:        Oh yes, definitely, friendships from men from all over the country, especially the west.  Our battalion was formed from people from Minnesota, South Dakota, Washington, Oregon and very few other people from other states.  It was mostly from the northern tier states that we were formed.  So yes. I did have friendships, made friendships.



I:          And did you keep in contact with any of them?
C:        Yes, I did for a while with a gentleman from Washington.  We were good friends.  And we’d send Christmas cards back and forth.  And one day he wrote a card that said that his wife had left him, and I never heard from him again.  So, I have no idea if he’s still alive or not.  So that was kind of, that struck me because I had another friend gone.



And another one of my friends from Jordan, Minnesota, just maybe 15 years ago, died of cancer.  And I went to his funeral.

I:          What kind of camaraderie do you experience now among the veterans?
C:        Very close, very much camaraderie which surprised me.  Why now?  But we’re all the same age.  And we’re getting old, and we all have been through life’s trials and tribulations.



And we’re going into new ones now with our health. So, you know, it’s the camaraderie. I don’t know.  I can’t explain it other than that.

I:          How did your time of service in the military affect your feelings toward military and war?
C:        My feelings toward the War, especially during the Viet Nam time,



I have to admit I was, what would you say, ambivalent about it. I could understand why we needed the War.  But I could also understand the people that were against it because it was such a useless waste as I considered it, a useless waste of men and resources and reputation of our country.



So, yes.  At one time, I thought if it were me going, maybe I would go to Canada. I don’t know.  I don’t know how I would have reacted if I would have had to be called to go.

I:          What do you think of the legacy of the Korean War or the Korean War veterans?
C:        The legacy probably should be almost the same as World War II.



We went into a very hostile region.  And at that time, the threat of Communism was real, at least it was real to us as it was portrayed to us.  And I felt, you know, that was an important thing to do.  So,

I:          What were things like around the 1950’s with the Cold War?  What did it feel like to be living at that time?



C:        We knew the threat was there.  And my wife and I were married during the Cuban Crisis.  Both of us recently married each other, and we didn’t know if we would be even in existence tomorrow.  So, the Cuban Crisis was severe, and we knew it was dangerous.  But we were just married.  That was most important.



And we survived every day.  Every day we woke up, and this thing was still here.  So, you know, we lived through it.  And I wasn’t a part of it because I had put in my time.

I:          What do you think about US/Korean relations?
C:        Oh, it’s wonderful.  It’s amazing how the Korean people respect the personnel that were there at the time.  And the country.


What the country did for them.  That’s just amazing. I think it’s probably the only country that does it really as I see.  Other people, other countries, you know, they bailed them out with billions of dollars, but yet you don’t hear the thank yous and appreciation for what you did other than from Korea.



It should be a lesson to the rest of the world, but it’s probably a hard lesson to follow.

I:          Why is the Korean War called the Forgotten War?
C:        We came back and were you gone?  Where were you?  I was in the Army.  Oh, you were?  Why?  What’d you do?  Nothing.  It was just a terrific letdown after World War II.  It was so close together.



But it was, World War II was over with.  In people’s minds, there was no other war other than the people that went, had to go.  So, that’s why I believe it was forgotten.  It was forgotten immediately after it started.  My own personal opinion.

I:          Is there any message that you would like to see, take to younger or future generations?



C:        I have a grandson graduating from the Marines today.  His parents are in San Diego.  So, I didn’t push him into it.  He went into it by himself.  And so, and there are other young men and women now, that go into it for their country, not just for the glory of it, you know.  Marine training is not very fun.  I’m proud of him.



I hope his parents are.  They’re gonna pick him up and bring him back.  So, yeah.

I:          Is there anything else that I haven’t asked that you wanted to share?
C:        Uh, yes.  In 1952, the atomic bomb tests were in Camp Desert Rock, Nevada, north of Las Vegas.


And we sent troops there from our camp.  And I dispatched the trucks, you know, and sent the troops there.  They observed one of the above-ground tests.  They came back and they explained you know, the wonderful big boom and mushroom cloud and everything.  It was a very lonely camp.  It was out in the desert, and there was no place to go.  You were just trapped there.



However, a few years later, we went to reunions of our battalion in Reno, Nevada.  And these men, a number of these men that were out there were suffering from multipole cancers.  And my friend here in Minnesota died of cancer as I mentioned before.



I thought of that on a number of occasions.  In my mind, they died for their country.  They weren’t on the battlefield.  They still died for their country because they witnessed and were witnesses of this bomb test.  And to me, they’re heroes just as anyone on the battlefield cause they did die for their country died before their time.



They died being young, young men.  And so, at that time, our country really didn’t want to recognize this danger that they were put in.  And they didn’t want to admit to it since it really was a danger that these men were getting cancer much more than the general population.



So that is one of the thoughts that I carry, you know.  To me, it’s not only forgotten war, but people died because of it.  But they were on their own land when they did it.  So that’s kind of a strange feeling that I have about it.