Korean War Legacy Project

Congressman James Conyers


Congressman James Conyers was in the Michigan National Guard and attended Fort Belvoir School of Engineering for Officer Candidate School.  After graduation from combat engineering school, in 1950, he was activated and sent to Korea. Congressman Conyers served in Korea for 12 months. During that time he established fortifications and participated in other engagements. Congressman Conyers would like to see reunification between North and South Korea.

Video Clips

Combat Engineers

Congressman Conyers describes the front line service of the combat engineers. These duties included, but weren't limited to, establishing fortifications for troop support. What was unique about combat engineers was their ability to serve in a dual capacity, as both combat operators and engineers.

Tags: Basic training,Front lines

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Hopes for Reunification

Congressman Conyers speaks of the alliance between the United States and South Korea. He supports maintaining open lines of communication with North Korea. Congressman Conyers reflects on his activism promoting peace. He describes his work with Dr. Martin Luther King and toward resolving differences through peaceful means.

Tags: Impressions of Korea

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Many Friends Drafted

Congressman Conyers reflects on the draft. Initially, he thought his status as a college student would exclude him from being sent to Korea.

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Video Transcript


JH President Park and she asked the Korean War veterans who the congressmens.
JC Oh yes, I remember when she addressed the uh House of uh Representatives uh this month.
JH Yeah.
JC And uh she was very impressive uh, and she singled myself and 3 other members of Congress, who also served in Korea, and I was I was very honored uh uh to have her know that and and mention us by name.
JH Yeah.
JC It was very, very generous of her.
JH How you like her address?
JC I liked it, I liked her speech; it was a very good one. It was talking, uh the part that that interested me the most was reunification, which is a uh difficult subject, but it is very important, and so it’s in that spirit uh that I uh felt that that would be a final resolution of that war in in the 50s. Uh and uh I remember it very well, because when I finished Officer Candidate School at the uh Fort Belvoir School of Engineering…
JC I, I uh, I and and, I and all, all of my classmates, well, most of my classmates, were immediately uh given orders uh to go to uh Korea; depending on what our skills were, but they needed combat engineers and uh so that was that was my uh my role, I was with the, matter of fact, I was with the National Guard unit in Detroit.
JH What time frame are we talking about?
JC June 1950, and then uh, actually my Michigan National Guard unit was activated, and uh and then we went to Fort Lewis Washington, and uh uh from there I went to Leadership School, and then Officer Candidate School, and uh I was uh, uh then uh uh I got my commission, and then I was given a tour of duty for 12 months in Korea, that’s how long it lasted. And uh I went over there and I was assigned to uh a Special Category Air Force with Army, and what we did was uh on the I think it was the Western part of the country uh, we uh we uh maintained the air fleet uh that went up and back, we were we were in a place called K9.
it was uh in the uh western, kind of the northwestern part of the county. And uh, uh it was and and the the the thing that I remember clearly, is that there were planes, there were Chinese aircraft, that came over laterally, from I don’t know, the Red sea, I don’t know what the body of water was between Korea and China…
JC but frequently,
JC yes, the the uh Chinese aircraft came over, uh we never, we were never strafed, but there was always that possibility, and ‘cause we did not know what they were going to do, we were not on good terms with them, and they knew that we were based there and so it was uh, it was something. Finally, I remember that many of my classmates that were assigned to Korea, a number of them, we never saw again after they, they went to Korea; and uh, many of them were in the infantry, assigned to infantry divisions, and they, they never came back.
JH That’s the category that you serve, it’s very special it’s a special category of Air Force.
JC SCARWAF – Special Category Army With Air Force.
JH Army with the Air Force?
JC Yeah.
JH Let me go back a little bit uh, before you left Korea. You what were you doing when the Korean War broke out?
JC Oh, I I was in a National Guard unit, I was in
JC College No, it was not. It was part time, it was part time and in the summer uh you have two weeks training, military training, up in in Michigan uh you go there for training, uh uh what happened was, with the uh increased hostilities, the uh, army activated the whole battalion. Uh, there were all uh young, young men like me who were, uh we were we went to training I think it was every two weeks or twice a month and then two weeks in the summer, but they activated, I remember 1279th Combat Engineers, they activated everybody in it and I thought that I, I might not be involved, but the uh, but, I was told, because I had gotten a leave to go to school, my, my uh I was at Wayne University in part time, and I, I thought and they had agreed that I could miss the uh the uh training session; but when they activated the whole unit they said ‘Nope, uh you go, everybody goes, uh even though you were, we had let you off uh because of your, your education.’ So, everybody went to Fort Lewis, Washington and it was uh, uh, it was very unusual because there I applied for leadership at OCS, and uh their six months Officer Candidate School. Uh and uh, I I when I finished there, I got sent to uh, to Korea.
JH What did you study in the university, while you in the National Guard for __?
JC I think it was liberal arts curriculum, uh I was just starting out.
JH Have you known anything about Korea at that time?
JC No, I was, I I learned it all as as a result of uh, going to Korea.  I I met, I met a number of people there, and uh, I met, I met people there, but I had no background on the history of Korea, and uh they’d been through some very difficult periods themselves, and uh I came to appreciate that.
JH What was your reaction and people’s reaction about the breakout of the Korean War and the possibility that you might be threatened to that war without knowing anything about the place? How did you react to it?
JC Well, they activated us all and so when you when you’re when you’re in the military, you don’t you don’t have any options uh. If you’re if you’re in the service, uh even if I hadn’t been activated, uh, there were a number of uh fellow students that were drafted into the army that had not been in the National Guard, and so uh, uh they they they weren’t happy about it, but but they were they were drafted and they were not in the National Guard. My whole unit was activated, so everybody went, including me.
JH So, you all work for the US Army Corps of Engineers. Would you please tell what this is doing, for the young generation, they might not have any idea about this.
JC Oh, well, the Corps of Engineers, especially the Combat Engineers, were the ones that were put up in the front lines because they were trying to uh establish fortifications as well as uh there, there there would be a military action going on at the same time, and that’s why there’s a difference between the Engineer Corps and the Combat Engineer Division because uh they ended up, they could very easily end up in military action as well as engineering.
JH But what you belong to? Did you belong to the Combat or just Engineer?
JC Well, I was I was the one that was Combat Engineer, that was both uh that was one unit, one one division of the military, the Combat Engineers.
JC I got out uh before the war ended, uh yeah.
JH Would you please describe a typical day of your service in that Combat uh uh Engineers? What did you do?
JC I was in, uh I was in Headquarters and Headquarters Service uh Company that handled the uh records, attendance, health, leaves; and it was administrative. Uh, unfortunately, uh, we we still have, and I’ve I’ve been there a couple times, uh that that line between North and South Korea, where the military is is still uh marching uh, and and uh, uh they they have uh a military division between the two countries. I’ve seen that, yes, and uh I regret that and I’m hoping, although I know it’s very difficult now because of the North Korean leadership, uh uh that could be resolved and uh I’m hoping that someday there may be reunification of the whole nation
JH Absolutely!
JC I think that’s very important.
JH Yes.
JC That’s an important goal and I’m hoping that uh it can be accomplished.
JH And you’ve been active in promotion promoting the peace ? around the world, ? and and this year will be the 60th  anniversary of armistice so…
JC Yes.
JH You support your leaders will be … ?
JC Well, I worked with Dr. Martin Luther King and he uh advocated that uh differences between people and countries be nonviolent and uh uh I I’m a great supporter of him and the Southern Christian Leadership Council uh that he created with, uh, Dr. Abernathy and Rev. Andrew Young and and others Rev. Jesse Jackson.
JH You’ve been working on the Judiciary Committee and also in the past Committee of Oversight and Government Reform.
JC Yes.
JH Korean government is trying to do a series of reforms. As a all wise uh petitioning of the congressmen. Any other kind of advice for the kind of effort to do reform, government affairs.
JC I’m not on that committee any longer, I’m only on Judiciary, but uh we uh welcome uh delegates or representatives of uh the Korean government uh and I know that some have been here to examine uh uh the strategies that we’ve used to try to uh create a democratic system between the 50 states uh so that there is federal representation, but there is uh local representation as well and we’ve we’ve tried to preserve that in our set-up uh the way the federal government and its relationship with the states work and it’s pretty complex at times. And we have a a federal judiciary and we have state judiciary in the 50 states; uh so it its uh its been worked out over the last 150 years and I think it’s working pretty well now.
JH I have two just very quick questions, the status of the Korea and US alliances, where is it and where should we go? And if you have any message to the young generations to come about your service in the Korean War and…
JC No, I I don’t I don’t have any information. I was happy to have the President of Korea address the Congress, that was a first and uh it was very important and she made very uh important speech and I think it it augurs well uh for us to be working together uh as closely as we can and uh and I could tell that that was her goal and it was warmly received by the members of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives.
JH Any message to our young generations?
JC No, I I don’t have a message for them. I hope that that  they study. Uh well, I could urge that they study the life and contributions of uh Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who broke down, led the battle to end segregation in the United States and championed the cause of uh peace and nonviolence among people and among nations as well. He was, he won awards for Nobel Peace Prize, and uh with the United Nations and and other groups, he’s he’s internationally renowned for his efforts in uh continuing and promoting peace efforts.