Daniel M. Lopez
Daniel M. Lopez enlisted in the Marine Corps which landed him service in the Korean War. He recounts multiple experiences on the front lines, recalling his memories of dangerous battles and events. He recalls his actions one night on guard duty when he woke his sergeant and fellow soldiers just before an enemy attack. He also shares recollections of the capture and torture of an American sergeant, in tandem with his own capturing of an enemy soldier. He speaks highly of his service and expresses that he learned many life lessons while serving in the United States military.
A Strange Sound in the Night
Daniel M. Lopez recounts a dangerous experience on guard duty. He remembers hearing a sound and waking his fellow soldiers and sergeant. He recalls that North Koreans attacked them shortly after. He shares the aftermath of the battle, putting the dead on stretchers and trucks, was the worst moment of his touring career in the Korean War.
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Strung to a Barbed Wire Fence
Daniel M. Lopez shares a memory of an American sergeant being captured by North Koreans. He recalls the sergeant being hit and strung to barbed wire. He remembers a captain calling in a Marine plane to destroy the body and remembers watching the scene unfold. He adds that memories like that stay with a person, but he expresses that he is not sorry he joined and is proud to have served.
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Bridge Over Barbed Wire
Daniel M. Lopez details capturing an enemy soldier. He explains that the North Koreans would make a man-bridge over the barbed wire separating American and enemy troops in an effort to attack. He recounts capturing an enemy soldier scratched up from the barbed wire and requesting an interpreter to translate. He shares that the enemy soldier escaped and ran towards the South. He also adds that the interpreter ended up joining the U.S. Marine Corps.
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[Beginning of Transcribed Material]
D: My name is Daniel M. Lopez. I was born in El Paso November 7, 1933. I went to Bowie High School. And after that, I joined the Marine Corps. I went to we went to Korea. We landed on the East Coast March of ’52.
And then they sent us back to the West Coast. And we got there, it was a very cold night. We did not have on our regular combat boots, I mean, cold weather boots. We called them Mickey Mouse boots. And we didn’t have those. We had the regular combat boots.
We came to a river. And that river was frozen. We had to cross a river, and it was very hard. I can imagine my other friends, you know, how they suffered because I did suffer. I caught frostbite on my toes. And we couldn’t change socks because we had clean socks,
new socks on our backpacks. But we couldn’t stop because the Koreans started throwing stuff at us. So, we had to get out of there, although we couldn’t stop. We couldn’t stop to take, you know, take cover. We just had to keep on going. And this was around midday. And it was snowing.
It was a very bad day for us. We went to a place where it was kind of safe for us. And we stayed there overnight. We were told to take off our socks and hang them up wherever we could, you know. But I mean, it was no use. I mean, they were just like frozen, you know.
And we couldn’t do anything about it. The boots were frozen too, so we just had to suffer and go through all that day, all that night. The next day, around 5:00, we got to a place where we were supposed to be going to our regular hill where we were supposed to go.
We went to Hill 298. We stayed there. And of course, we could change socks and stuff like that. But still, the boots were frozen you know. We were very cold. And we stayed there about two months on Hill 298.
And later on, we came down off the hill. And then we went up to Hill 229 where it was our home for three months. And the history of the Marine Corps, I understand that there was no other outfit that stayed up three straight months in the front lines. But since
our commanding officer, his dad was a general in the Marine Corps., I guess he wanted to impress his father. And he kept us up online for 90 days. And incoming day and night. Some of us were going crazy up there, you know, with all the artillery. I mean, it was terrible. Day and night. And
finally, we got off the line. And then they said let’s do the line up there by Panmunjom, the Peace Treaty city. There were lights just like this, like here and reflectors like for the airplanes. And we guarded that
section there. We couldn’t use firearms. If they caught you using the firearm, they would give you a court martial. So, some of the guys in the one section, they fell asleep, you know, because they felt that they were safe.
Well, when we went to look for them, they were all dead. The Chinese came in and killed them. They cut their throats off. But we were not supposed, we were supposed to stay on alert, 100% alert. It was a Peace Treaty city, you know. We couldn’t,
we couldn’t just take a chance. But we stayed there maybe two weeks. Then we came back. We came back again to another hill. And it was close to the 38th Parallel. We could see the Chinese
looking at us. And one day we, I was on guard, and I heard a noise like a bird, pigeon taking off, and I threw myself on the floor, on the deck, and nothing went off. So, I got up. And I said to myself there’s something out there. And I better wake up the guys. So, I
woke up the Sergeant. I said Sergeant Stedam, I said I heard a noise out there, and I think there is somebody out there. There is something out there. So, he got very angry and started cussing me out and all that, that that was all shook up, that it was time for me to go back to the States and this and that. And I said well, what do you want me to do? He said well, get the other guys up, and let’s go on 100%
alert. So, I did get them up. I woke them up and God. I mean, they were cussing me all over. About 30 minutes, here they come. The enemy comes. And we had a battle. Three of our men got killed.
My friends got wounded, but not too bad. They were wounded, slightly wounded, you know. But still they had to go back to get first aid. I stayed there by myself. And next day we counted 79
North Koreans dead. Some of them were agonizing for help and stuff like that, you know. So, what we had to do was kill them, you know. There was no other way. They were all destroyed, you know. They were just torn to pieces. And we just had to do something with them. But what we were told to do was put them on stretchers and run them
down the field. And then there was another crew down there going down and down until, you know, take them up to a truck and just dump them in. And I think that was the worst time in my, during Korea, you know, seeing all those torn pieces of individuals, you know, and some of them asking for help,
you know. And it comes to me all the time, you know. And I hate to go to like to the cemetery and stuff like that, although a friend of mine that joined with me, he got killed up there. And that has been with me for the rest of my life. And it will be with me for the rest of my life. And, because I,
we were like brothers. We really cared for each other, you know. And this happened to me. When we, when they went up on the hill, we were on standby waiting to see if we could help them. So, when everything was over with, I went up and I asked some of the guys, I said hey is Del Toro, his name was Sal Del Toro.
I asked them hey, is Dorito okay? And they told me no, he got killed, you know. And at that time, you didn’t have time to cry or nothing, you know. I mean it was a battle that you had to just stay alert, you know. And it was very bad. Then another time,
we had a Sergeant Chadwick. They went up on a hill, and what happened was that he got hit. And what the Koreans did, they strung him to the barbed wire. They crucified him to the barbed wire, and we tried to bring him down but to no avail, you know.
It was too costly for us. So, the Captain told us to leave it alone. But he was going to suggest that Marine airplanes come and destroy his body, you know, so we wouldn’t take a chance of getting more men killed. And we
just saw the planes come in and destroy the body. And those things, they stay with you. There’s nothing you can do, you know. But I am not sorry I joined. I’m proud of what I did. I was just a young kid, and that experience
Took away with me. And it was a great experience that you don’t want to go through, you know. But it served me right. It helped me a lot. It made me from a young man, I came back a full-grown
man, you know. And I’m proud of what I did, although things happened. And that’s war, you know. Those things, you never know what’s going to happen. And nothing happened to me, you know. I was amazed that my gun was taking care of me, you know. I just couldn’t understand. There were times that the guys got hit and nothing
would happen to me, you know. And I was amazed. It was incredible, you know. Even when we were picking up the bodies of the dead Koreans, North Koreans, it was broad daylight. And not a shot, not a artillery round or anything like that, you know. Everything was like peaceful, you know. It was during the day,
about midday. And not a bullet, nothing, you know. They knew we were picking up their bodies, you know. And they didn’t bother us at all. So, I was amazed at, and I mean, it’s incredible that nothing happened to me. I just don’t know, God was taking
care of me that much, you know. And like I say, it was a great experience. But I would leave that experience for myself and. I really don’t like to talk about these things. But there are times that you have to, you know. You have to talk about all these things that happened to you.
And it’s, I wouldn’t want my, I wouldn’t want my son or my relative of mine to go through that, you know. It’s very bad. War is war. I don’t care what, I don’t care what kind of war it is. War is war, you know. And it’s very, very bad, you know. It’s very ugly, ugly. But like I say, I’m not, I’m not sorry
I went through it. I’m proud of what I did. And some people say that if I could do it again, I would do it again. No, not me, you know. Once is enough. Let someone else do it for me, you know. But it was something that I will hope that we don’t have any more wars, you know.
But it’s impossible. It’s one of those things that there will be wars and wars. It’s, I don’t know. Those things, they just happen. And I don’t know. I feel sorry for the
guys in the military that have to be deployed. And when they come back, you know, and it’s real bad, you know. It’s very bad. Another thing when we came back, we had to take the bus, get on the bus depot here in El Paso
and take a taxi to the house. And nobody was there to greet us, you know. And I went on this Honor Flight, and it was a beautiful plane. I mean, I didn’t have the reception when I came home from Korea. But I had it just a few days ago, and it was wonderful. It was beautiful.
There were, the airport was full of people, little kids, little children, little, all kinds of, a lot of soldiers were helping us, great, great reception. I never thought that we would have something like that, you know. And I felt good, you know. While
at the cemetery, a Korean woman came to me and she asked me if I had been in Korea, I said yes. And she came to me, and she hugged me and she started crying. And well of course, we started crying, you know. And she told me that she was, I think she said she was nine years
old when the War was on. And that she was thankful that the Americans went in and did what they did, you know, what we did for them, you know. We, they are very grateful. They are people that are very grateful for what we did for them, you know. I haven’t seen other people like them, you know, that every home we go.
And sometimes I ask them are you from Korea and they say yes. And I hug them and, you know, and they hug me, too. And like I say, they’re very grateful people. And the industry that they have, they, I mean it’s, it’s just like I guess being in the United States, you know, the way they are.
They’re very industrious people. And they’re building their own cars. They’re building everything, you know, that they can do. And they’re not like another country. They’re always doing something. All the Korean people are very grateful. And I see that we have, sometimes they
have functions for us, for the Korean veterans. And they go out and have lunches and everything for us, you know. So, I’m, we’re very grateful to them, too because we helped them, and likewise they know that we helped them a lot, too. So, it’s a wonderful feeling.
And I just am grateful that I came back, and nothing happened to me. Like I say, I was so lucky. And I look back and I say I was there, you know, and my friends got killed and my friends got hit and all that, and nothing happened to them, you know. I mean, nothing happened to me,
you know. So, I just know that my God was taking care of me, you know. And well I came back, and I got me a job with a cement firm here in El Paso, a very good company.
They paid us very well. I sent my kids to college, you know. And they got a very good education. I don’t want them to be like me, you know, because I wanted them to be professional and do a lot better than me, you know. Although with the little
education that I had, I did very well. I did very well where I was working. And I’m thankful to that company because they helped me a lot with all kinds of benefits. And I, there’s no other company, there was no other company, not even the El Paso Electric or El Paso Natural
Gas, they paid us better than them. So, I was very lucky. And I retired from there after 28 years. It was a wonderful place to work for. I really enjoyed it. I started as a laborer and went up to become a supervisor. So, I did very
well. I did quite, everything I could do. I was always working, always, never absent. That would never happen. So, that means that I enjoyed my work. And the supervisors were very good to us, you know. I had a very good life, and I had my two kids,
My daughter and my son. And my wonderful wife. We’ve been married 58 years now. So, we met in high school. She waited for me while I was in the Marine Corps. I came back, and then we started going
together. And then we got married in August of 1956, no. We’ve been married 58 years now.
I: What was the date when you rotated home from Korea?
D: It was March of ’53, March the 18th of ’53. I came back from Korea.
I: And where were you when the Armistice was signed?
D: I, when I was here in El Paso, I used to work at the Union Depot as a busboy. And I started washing dishes and mopping floors and everything. And then I would see the
chef cooking, you know. And I’d go and ask him hey Jim, can I help you? And he was very nice to me. He said sure. Would you like to cook and learn how to cook? I said yes. So, he would take me. And after a while, he wanted to adopt me because he didn’t have any children.
And he wanted to adopt me. But I told him no, I have my parents. Well anyway, when I came back from Korea, they sent me to, I was sent to Cook and Baker School because I had experience. And then a brand-new Mess Hall was coming up. And the Sergeant told me, he said Lopez, you and Sergeant Marshall
are going to have a brand-new Mess Hall. I said well, I asked him how long has Sergeant Marshall, I didn’t know Sergeant Marshall, how long has Sergeant Marshall been in the Marine Corps., and he said 16 years. I said oh, good. Then I’ll be under him. He said no. What’s going to happen he’s going to have a crew, and you’re going to have a crew. And I didn’t feel that I could do it, you know. I didn’t feel that I had that much experience
because at that time, with feeding 1,500 men, you know. And I felt like I was not experienced, you know. But all the Sergeants were very good to me. And they told me Lopez, if you need help, we’ll help you. They were always helping me. I was the youngest one (INAUDIBLE). And they were very good to me.
So, that’s why I stayed there as a chief cook the later part of my career in the Marine Corps. So, I got out September the 16th of 1954. And that’s when I, about two years later I started, that’s when I started working at the cement plant.
So, I had a good career in the Marine Corps. I wanted to stay, make it a 20 year. But I thought that my wife couldn’t take anymore cause it’s a lot of hassle, you know. And then with my daughter, she was
terrible. She was always getting into everything so. But I got out and I stayed in the Reserves because the Truman years, after we got out of the Service, Truman put four more years of Reserve in case Korea, in
case the Peace, the Truce talks didn’t go, you know, through. So, we were on standby for two years. So, I stayed in the Reserves for two more years. And I was lucky. I was not called for Viet Nam. I don’t know if I had been called for, to go to Viet Nam,
I don’t think I would have gone. But I don’t know. I guess once you do it, you know, you know what you’re up, you know. So, I got out in September of 1954. I recall going in. It was September the 16th. On September the
16th is a Mexican holiday. And you could hear the music from, I don’t know if you’re acquainted with the train depot here in El Paso. It’s just across the river, you know, from Juarez. So, you could hear all the music and everybody having a good time. And we were on board
on the train going up to Camp Pendleton to the boot camp. It was hard. It was, boot camp was hard. It was(INAUDIBLE) I left with the things that the drill instructor used to do to us, you know. When they, they treated us like dogs, you know.
They were very ugly to us. But they knew what they were doing, you know. So, I would say when I get out of here, I’m gonna get that guy, and I’m gonna do this and that. And we made Honor platoon, you know, the Brigade. And that’s a very, I mean,
Hardly anybody does that, you know. We made Honor Platoon. So, all the guys that were talking bad about the drill instructors were up there hugging them. And hey, I thought you were going to kick him and do this and oh no. He’s a good instructor. Later on, we had a very good relationship, you know. They, I wish I had stayed with one of them. But we had to go. That’s when we had to go to Korea.
They sent us to Korea. And they told us everything you learn here, you’re gonna to use it up there, you know. Yeah. And sure enough, everything. I caught a Korean prisoner. And he was all scratched up. But they did, what the Koreans did was we had barbed wire.
We had barbed wire. And what the North Koreans did was they would make a bridge, a man bridge, you know, throw themselves on the barbed wire so their friends could come over to our side. And he was all stretched out. He was not wounded. He was all scratched up. He was telling me a bunch of things, and I didn’t understand what he was saying. And I took him to the interpreter.
Buc Won Su, he was a South Korean, very good interpreter. And I told him Buc, I said, try and get some information out of this guy. And he started talking to him and he said Danny, I don’t understand what he said. And I don’t understand what he’s talking about. He must be Chinese or Russian or Mongolian or something because I don’t understand what he’s saying.
But he tried to run away from me. But he did. He was all disoriented. And what he did, he ran, he went towards the south instead of going to the north. So, I was safe, you know. And I, sometimes I wish I could get ahold of the
interpreter, about Won Su, you know. But I don’t know. Maybe he got killed. I don’t know what happened to him. But he spoke very good English. And these guys what they do, they join the Marine Corps, our Marine Corps after being with us for so long, you know. Most of them join the Marine, our Marine Corps instead of theirs.
But like I say, it was a great experience. But that experience, I’ll take it with, to the grave with me, you know.
I: What kind of life lessons do you feel like you learned through your military service?
D: What kind of lessons did I learn?
To discipline mainly. And to take care of people, you know. Be good to people. And that’s what I do, you know. I’m very kindhearted, you know. I see a person, and if I can help him, I’ll do it, you know.
And that’s the way I am. And I taught these things to my children. Take care of them. Take care of those people that can’t take care of themselves, you know. And I try to do as much as I can to help other people.
But then there’s the discipline. I’m very nice. I’m very good. But only to, I don’t like people to take advantage of me, you know. And some do. Some people take advantage of me. But that’s the way people are, you know. They take advantage of you because you’re a good person. But like I say,
I’m a good person when I want to be, you know. I have two good children. My daughter is, she’s an angel. My daughter is an angel. And my son is very good too, you know.
We taught them good morals, you know. And we, not to be like me, you know. I was always, when I came back from Korea, I was always drinking, you know. You’re a different person, you know. You don’t come, you’re not the same. You come all crazy,
All you know, I guess because of the things you’ve seen, you know. I used to see the little children when we’d go on guerilla hunts. I used to see the little children. Hey Marine, candy, you know. They’d ask us for. We always had Hershey bars, you know, little Hershey bars and gave them to them because they were always
asking for Hershey bars. And it used to break my heart to see them, you know. All dirty, all, you know. Some of them didn’t want to leave the house, you know. They didn’t want to leave the place where they live. I mean, it was, I guess it was worse than when the people
From Mexico, from Juarez, you know, the places where they lived, their homes. But it was a home for them, you know. They used to come, and they wanted candy, and we’d give them as much candy as we could give them, you know, because
they would give us rations of C rations, and we’d keep them and instead of us eating them, we’d hold onto those candies to give them to them, you know. And they were very good kids, you know, crying and, it was very bad. It was miserable, you know.
And my daughter and I are going, supposedly we’re going to Korea next year on a visit. The government pays for most of the flight and everything. So, I would like to go and see what it, you know, where I was.
I know it’s not the same. But I would like to visit, would like to visit. She takes me everywhere. She’s always with me going here and there. And you know, like we went to, on this Honor Flight. It was a wonderful experience.
I mean, like I say, the reception that I got coming back, when we came back from Washington, it was incredible. It was beautiful. My tears started coming out, you know. I couldn’t hold it, you know. And the people were so good to us.
I mean, like I have never seen the airport as full of, with so many people, you know. And I’ve been here all my life, you know. I mean, it was packed with people, soldiers, sailors, all kinds of people.
And children giving us candy and stuff like that. And it was beautiful. It was wonderful. Something that I will never forget. This is me and I said, we were like brothers. We did everything together. He was always hugging me and
kissing me. And always telling me that he was his brother, although he had two brothers, older brothers. And one was wounded in Korea. And I said once, he was the type that never stood still, you know. And we used to, his father used to have a car,
A real beautiful car. And we used to go around to the high school and look at the girls. And everybody used to tell us that we looked like brothers, you know. And yes, I think we did. And it hit me very hard when this happened, you know,
to him. But I felt that I was the instigator of us, of him going in the Marine Corps because I was the one that started about joining, you know. Three of us joined together. Tootie, my
other friend, died about three years ago. But he was not very close to us. But we were always very close. So,
I: Can you put them down so we can hear you talking?
D: Um hm. And we
He was always telling me that he was my brother, although he had four brothers, you know. And like I say, one of them was wounded in Korea. And that was the reason
his parents didn’t want to sign for him, you know when we were going to join. His parents didn’t want him to join, didn’t want to sign for him. Because his dad used to tell him look what happened to your brother. He got wounded in Korea. And is that what you want? No dad, you know. But his main
idea was to buy his parents a house, you know, because we lived in the first town, poor side of town, you know. And yes, we all wanted to do better, you know. We wanted to do better. And when he got killed
his parents bought a house. They bought a real nice house here on Stanton Street. And one of his brothers kept it after the parents died. So, that was our main idea, you know, main objective of buying our parents a house, you know, a home. And I did get my parents
through the GI Bill, I did get my parents a house. Although they didn’t care for it too much, you know. But that was the idea of us joining the Marine Corps and doing better, you know, doing better. And like I say, with the money that
his parents got from his insurance, you know, when he got killed, they bought a house. And his brother kept it. But I understand that his brother’s in the rest home. He’s not doing well. I have to go visit him. So,
I hate to think about these things, you know. But hey, you can’t, you have to live with them, you know. You just have to do the best you can. But like I say, I hope,
I hope that the guys in the military, I hope that they don’t have to go through another war, you know. It’s the worst thing you can experience. It’s the worst thing you can experience. It’s very bad, very bad.
I, but like I say, it’s a, it’s a thing that you just have to live through, you know. And it’s, that’s what I wanted. And like I say, I’m not sorry I went through it.
And I’m just sorry that things didn’t go the way we wanted them to go, you know. I did, I did very well, thank God. And my,
my President from our chapter, he’s a Korean War veteran, too.
I: Um hm.
D: He was a prisoner of war.
And he’s such a nice guy, you know. He’s always acting in everything, I mean, that man, him and his wife, Jo, you know, they’re
always going to Washington, going with the veterans, going here and there. I mean, I don’t know where they get all that pep that they have, you know. I mean, they’re always basically doing something. Always doing something. And doing something for the chapter,
too, you know, always, they’re volunteers at the VA here in El Paso. They go into everything. I don’t know what keeps them up. But I love that man. I love, he’s such a good man. He’s, although
he’s not doing too well, you know. He’s been sick. He’s a wonderful man, a wonderful person.
I: I forgot to ask earlier. What unit were you a part of when you were in Korea?
D: I was with the Second Battalion Fifth Marines First Marine Division.
And like I say, we were the only company in the history of the Marine Corps that stayed up on the front lines three months.
I: And do you have any piece of wisdom or like a message that you would like to communicate to younger generations?
D: Yes. That have peace, you know, and
be good to your fellow friend, you know. Be at peace with him, you know. Help him as much as you can. And be good to him. Regardless of race, regardless of who they are. Be good to them, you know,
because some of them need help, you know. And that’s what I would say, to help other people because other people are not as lucky as we are you know. And then we’re
the caregivers of the world, you know. We, America is founded by God, you know. America is all the, I hear the anthem. And I hear God Bless America and all those things.
Whoever wrote those songs were thinking about helping other people, about being good to other people. And some people get angry because we help like the Africans, you know, with this Ebola case. But they, it’s us because of a
great nation that we are, you know. And yet, some of them don’t like us. Some of the other people don’t like us, you know. But America is the best country in the world. It’s, there’s no other country like America. It’s a beautiful, beautiful country.
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