Korean War Legacy Project

David J. Smith


David J. Smith was born on June 19, 1933 in Pennsylvania. After graduating Malvern Prep High School (1951) and studying at Philadelphia Textile Institute, he volunteered to be drafted into the US Army in 1953 at the age of 19. He attended basic training at Fort Meade, Maryland before training to be a combat medic at Camp Pickett, Virginia. He was deployed to Korea in December of 1953 and was attached to the 47th MASH Unit in Chuncheon as a medical technician. He returned to the US in early 1955 and began a career in real estate.

Video Clips

The 47th MASH Unit

David J. Smith talks about his job as a medical technician attached to the 47th MASH Unit. He describes his job working with doctors during surgery, interviewing patients who came in off the field, and taking care of sick soldiers during sick call. He also describes the layout of the unit, comprised of seven quonset huts.

Tags: Chuncheon,Front lines,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Transcribed Material]


D:        David J. Smith, Philadelphia, PA, June 19th, 1933.

I:          I’m sorry.  Could you repeat the birthday again?
D:        June 19, 1933.

I:          Please tell me about your family background, your siblings, your parents and the school you went through.

D:        Well, I had a sister.  She died the year before I was born.  She was three when she died.  I had two brothers.



My oldest brother Wilbur was, he’s passed away just before he was 87.  He served in the Seabee’s during World War II.

I:          Um.
D:        My other brother, he unfortunately was 54 when he passed away, Edward.  And he served in the US Army Air Corps in the Second War.

I:          Um hm.

D:        That was prior to the



official Air Force that they had, have today.    What can I say about myself?

I:          What school did you go through?
D:        I went to Malvern Prep and Philadelphia Textile Institute.

I:          Philadelphia Tex?

D:        Textile Institute, PTI which is now Philadelphia College.

I:          Oh.

D:        Unfortunately, on



my military record, they had me majoring in knitting. I can knit with 2,000 needles, but I can’t knit with two.

I:          Wow, that’s a very unique experience.
D:        Well, we were in the textile business.  My father had a rubber covering thread, elastic yarn manufacturing as they called it.



I:          So, that’s why you got into Textile Institute.

D:        That’s how I got in there.

I:          Is that, what is it, college?
D:        It’s a college, yeah.

I:          Uh huh.

D:        I took, my classes included knitting, weaving, cotton yarn manufacturing, knitting analysis weaving analysis, color, um, English, chemistry.  I mean, there was


regular college courses, not just machinery.  And I left there to go into the Service.

I:          So, when did you actually graduate?
D:        I didn’t graduate. I left the school.

I:          How about high school then?

D:        High school, I graduated in ’51.

I:          Nineteen fifty-one.  Did you know anything about Korea, the breakout of the Korean War and things like that?
D:        Just knew that the War had started.  I didn’t know anything about Korea per say.



I:          And when did you, so when did you, did you enlist in the Army?

D:        Well, I enlisted in the Navy.  But they had quotas.
I:          Uh huh.
D:        In the meantime, I met my future wife.  And I ended up going down to the Draft Board, and I said I’m volunteering.  The next morning, I had my draft notice for the Army.

I:          Oh really?

D:        It was from



4:00 till 10:00 the next morning.
I:          When was it?

D:        Nineteen fifty-three, I guess.

I:          Do you remember the month?
D:        No.  I know I went into the Army in April of ’53.

I:          So, you met the girl. And you had to go.  Did you know that you were headed to Korea?
D:        Yes, I did at that point.  I had what they called FECOM, Far East Command



orders.  And I was 19, and I was allowed to become engaged to be married because I was going away for two years.

I:          Uh huh.

D:        And

I:          Was it risky to have an engagement before you were going to the War, the battlefield?

D:        No.  I was, I decided not to do that.

I:          What do you mean not to do.

D:        Well, when I got into Fort Meade, Maryland,



they finally put me in the training at Camp Picket, Virginia for medical training.  And I came out, it took eight weeks of Infantry training and eight weeks of medical training and was given a combat aimen’s designation.  But when I went into basic training, they asked for volunteers which I volunteered.


And he said go down to the Motor Pool, get your military license, bring back an ambulance.  So, I was fortunate enough to be able to pick up the guys that fell out marching.

I:          Uh huh.
D:        And then when I left Camp Pickett on my way to, I can’t think, Fort Lewis, Washington.  That was it, to go overseas, I finally

I:          When was it?
D:        I’m not sure.



It was in December of

I:          Yep.

D:        And then when I got on the ship, if you know the troop ships, they had about six to eight racks going straight up.  I happened to have the bottom one which I did not prefer.  So, I volunteered again.  They told me grab your duffel bag, follow me.  So, we went



up to Sick Bay.  He said pick out a bunk in the Isolation Ward.  You’re gonna run Sick Call.

I:          What is that, Sick Call?
D:        Sick Call.  You know, when the troops get sick, they come into the Sick Bay and get pills or whatever they needed.  So, I did that for three weeks going over.  I didn’t have to put up with the, I had the full run of the ship.
I:          You were smart.
D:        I’m trying.  And then I got into



Sasebo, Japan.  Don’t remember the week there.  But I get on the General Pope and went over to, they took us into Inchon, put us ashore there and went up to a place called Yeongdeungpo which was a replacement depot.

I:          Um hm.

D:        And got in, from there I went up to the 47th MASH.

I:          Forty-seventh MASH?
D:        Yes.

I:          Um hm.




D:        What had happened is my MOS was changed from combat aidman to medical tech.

I:          Uh huh.
D:        Which kept me out of the field and into the hospital.  And I spent my 16, well actually about 15 months there in Chuncheon.

I:          So, 47th MASH was located in Chuncheon?
D:        In Chuncheon, yes.

I:          Okay.  Wow.  That’s,



so, what did you do, specifically in the MASH?
D:        Well, I’ve, just about everything.  As a medical tech, I did Sick Call.  We interviewed the patients coming in, treated them in Sick Call.  I also worked in surgery.  That was about it pretty much.



Once in a while, I’d go into the Command Office and work a phone or something like that.  But most of the time, I was on the Sick Call or surgery.

I:          How crowded?
D:        It wasn’t that crowded.
I:          That means that not many people were actually wounded.

D:        Uh, no.  It was

I:          So, we’re talking about it’s only 1954, right?

D:        It was the, yeah.



The very last week or so of ’53 to end of ’54.

I:          Um hm.

D:        And, it was, the actual combat wasn’t going on.  But there were guerilla problems once in a while.
I:          Uh huh.

D:        Because the first day we got into Yeongdeungpo, a red alert went off.



I watched an ambulance going ahead of us.  Two doors opened, and two guys jumped out, and the ambulance kept going by itself.  We didn’t have any steel pots to put on our head, you know.  I mean, we were just brought to Korea.  But being medics, we were supposed to be non-combatant.  So, we didn’t get into that.

I:          Tell me about the facility there, the 4t7th MASH,



how many operating beds, how many doctors, how many nurses and so on.

D:        Oh.  The number of them, I couldn’t say.  They’re, I’m just going back, the unit was comprised of Quonset huts.  There were one, two, three Quonset huts and then four, five, six and maybe a seventh connected by one corridor,



Hallway down the middle.

I:          Okay.

D:        The rest of it comprised of tents, squad tents.  And that’s where we lived, in a tent.

I:          How many doctors?
D:        I can’t say for sure, it’s been so long. I don’t remember.

I:          Ten, twenty?
D:        Oh, at least 10.  And maybe 20 nurses.  We were just doing the same thing every day.  Once in a while, something different



would come up. One time, we had a Korean lady come in, and she was pregnant.  She was gonna have a baby, and we started to prep her, if you know what preparation for having a baby.  And right in the middle of it, a nurse walked in straight from the States.  She just transferred in, and she hollered at us. You men get away from her.

I:          What?
D:        She said you men get away from her meaning, you know, the corpsmen and the techs that were



prepping her.  We just turned around and we said Lieutenant, there’s the door.  Get out of here.  Not bad as far as the duty was concerned.  I guess I was a little more fortunate than a few of them.  We had a veterinarian and a baker in my tent.

I:          Oh really?

D:        And the veterinarian didn’t take care of animals.  He just inspected the food coming in on a taste.  We made the best of it.



I:          How much were you paid compared to other combat soldiers?
D:        Well, I think I made about $32 a month.

I:          Did you write a letter back to your family?

D:        Oh, I wrote mostly to my future wife, Kathleen.  Well, I got out in April.

I:          Nineteen fifty-four?
D:        Fifty-five.

I:          Five.

D:        And I was married in October of ’55.



And we had a daughter in September of ’56.

I:          What did you do?
D:        Real estate mostly.

I:          You changed your specialty from Infantry combat to medic and then changed again to real estate?

D:        To real estate, mortgages and insurance.

I:          Where?

D:        Philadelphia.  I ended up I had my own office for 17 years.  And then I finally got fed up with the business



And closed it down and got on the road putting in franchise stores around the country.  I did Cottman Transmission, Sparks Tune Up, West Coast Video, Dictaphone Corporation, United Check Cashing, all their, franchise locations.  I’d pick out the location, do the demographics and negotiate a lease.

I:          So, you did good.

D:        It was



very enjoyable.

I:          How did Korean War service affect you after you returned from Korea, as a businessman, as a father, as an American citizen?
D:        I don’t think it really changed me that much other than I was proud of it.

I:          Why were you proud of it?
D:        I just, well I don’t know.  It was, I was a little different.  I went away to boarding school at 13.  So, it was not new going away from home into the Army.



Course the first night I was in the Army, they put me on what they called Barracks Watch, handed me a Billy club for protection.

I:          Yeah.

D:        And I sat on the steps listening to all the guys that were new away from home crying for the first time.

I:          Why?

D:        Yeah.  You’d hear them whimper once in a while.  They’d never been away from home.

I:          Hm.  But you were experienced.

D:        Since 13.

I:          Why do you think people used to say Korean War is forgotten?



D:        Basically, it is.  Just, right down here for example at this museum of soldiers.  They’ve got the Second War, Viet Nam War, and then they skip right over the Korean War.

I:          Why?
D:        I have no idea.

I:          Because people were not really aware of Asia.
D:        Yeah.  They weren’t aware of that.  They didn’t really protest the Korean



War.  Maybe because it was full United Nations that went in together.  But we give away a scholarship once a year to a high school graduate who write a 250-word essay about Korea.  And unfortunately, I got the copy yesterday of the essay, and I was shocked.

I:          Why?

D:        Well first of all,



Syngman Rhee and Ill Sung or whatever he was from North Korea

I:          (INAUDIBLE)

D:        Yeah.  The two dictators.  Well, I didn’t think Rhee was really a dictator.

I:          Um.

D:        He was elected President of South Korea.

I:          Um hm.

D:        Uh, they kept referring to the word battle.

I:          Um hm.

D:        Instead of War.

I:          Who wrote that?
D:        A high school senior going to college.



I:          Uh huh.

D:        And she did not do the research properly.

I:          In here?
D:        In here, in this country for the Korean War.  It was very, I don’t even feel like giving her scholarship funds.  But I’ll probably be overruled.

I:          Have you been back to Korea?
D:        No.  And I heard what you were saying with Joe.



I understood that we pay half the airfare going over.  And the rest of it is free.  And that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t been going.  It’s just too much, the expense of the airfare.

I:          I see.

D:        Everything else would be good.  But I don’t know if I could sit that long in an airplane



going over.  I’d get.

I:          Fourteen hours.

D:        Yeah.  That’s

I:          So, you know what happened to Korea, right, now?
D:        Oh yes.  We just got a new book.

I:          What is it?
D:        Published by South Korea.

I:          Korea Reborn, right?
D:        Reborn, I think that’s the title.  I wasn’t sure.  But it’s about Korea as it is today.

I:          Yeah.  And what did you see?
D:        It was, it’s very good. It’s, well, let’s put it this way.  I went on to



Google Earth.

I:          Uh huh.

D:        And put in Chuncheon trying to find out about where we were stationed.
I:          Uh huh.

D:        Forget it.

I:          Why?
D:        Every inch of ground has built on I think there.  And it’s all metropolitan.  You just could not even see an idea of where we were in the valley there.  Chuncheon is just completely built up.  And uh,



the only other place I was in was Uijeongbu.

I:          Uijeongbu.

D:        And I got up there about three weeks before I transferred back to the States.  But when I was getting ready to come home, it was getting down towards the end of the tour, I was able to get a two-week leave over to Tokyo.  And when I reported back, I was basically a week AWOL, Absent Without Leave,


When I walked into the command post, saluted the commander, said reporting for duty, sir, he looked up and he said oh, you back already Smitty?  Being absent without leave didn’t mean anything at that point.  But they were the good days.

I:          Are you proud of your service?
D:        Very much so.  I’m a member of the Honor Guard for the chapter.  I’m also the Treasurer.  I spend all their



money.  Wasn’t me naturally.  No, But I’m very happy and very proud of having been there.

I:          What do you think is the legacy of the Korean War?

D:        The legacy of it?  I have no idea at this point.  The way that things are going today, I think they’ve forgotten all about what can



happen when you mess up.  And they really messed up North Korea.

I:          Any other message that you wanna leave to this interview?
D:        No.  I can’t think of anything else.  Like I said, I’m proud to be a Korean War veteran.