Donald D. Lanternier
Donald Lanternier was drafted into the United States Army in 1952 and is proud to have been a “small part” of the Korean War. Having come from Buffalo, New York, he witnessed a lot of new experiences and sights during his time in the military. He recalls his first impressions of Pusan when he first arrived in Korea. He explains what it was like to serve as a Radio Operator during the war. Having revisited Korea three times, he also describes how different the modern country is now compared to when he was there in the service.
First Impressions of Pusan
Donald Lanternier describes what it was like arriving in Pusan in 1952. He explains that it was a very busy place, with lots of troop ships and supplies on the docks. However, he also notes how impoverished the people were. He remembers that the children were still happy regardless of their circumstances.
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Life as a Radio Operator
Donald Lanternier describes what it was like to be a Radio Operator. He explains that they were often on top of a mountain trying to intercept communication, but also relaying messages. He never experienced combat, but this was still an important role to play.
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Donald Lanternier shares he has revisited Korea three times since his service in the Army. He describes how different the modern country is compared to what it was like during the war. He makes notes of the cleanliness, the number of parks, and the new bridges across the Han River. He is amazed at the progress that has been made.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
D: My name is Donald D E E Lanternier, L A N T E R N I E R .
I Lanternier, what is the ethnic origin of this last name?
D: Oh yes, Lantonia
I: So you are the decent of French.
D: My grandfather immigrated from France .
D: Oh, around the, just before the turn of the century. He served in the Spanish American war
D: in the United States
I: No, no, no, no.
D: No, no. This is about
D: 1895, something, Spanish American war.
I: Yea, yea, yea,
D: Yeah, I don’t know the exact day.
I: What is your birth date?
D: July 18th, 1933.
I: Where were you born?
D: Buffalo, New York.
I: You’re from upstate.
I: Nice to meet you.
D: You, too.
I: I know Buffalo (laughing)
D: Good, you know the snow and the weather, right?
I: Oh yeah (laughing)
I: Once when I was in Syracuse University, I was a master students in, you know, Maxwell School,
D: Um hm.
I: my friend, uh, studied in the SUNY Buffalo, so I took a Greyhound. On the way to the Buffalo, it was in the middle of December
D: Um hm.
I: we had to stop because of snow
I: Suddenly, in 20 minutes. In 20 minutes.
I: Tell me about your family when you were growing up, including siblings.
D: I was, uh, born in Buffalo,
D: the youngest of 4, 4 boys and, uh, my Mother died when I was 3 years old. My father kept the family together through the Depression. Most people were out of work, but he managed to keep the family together. Uh, I had a very good childhood. We were poor. I had 3 brothers in World War II, a brother called back into Korea and myself into Korea.
I: Your brother?
D: Yes, one of my older brothers my brothers. Yes
I: What’s his name?
L O U I S.
I: L O U I S .
D: L O U I S A. Lanternier.
I: What’s his birth date?
D: Oh gee, uh, you got me there.
D: In fact.
I: 30, 20
D: No, he’s got to be 25, around there. His middle initial was E not A. Louis E.
I: When did he go to Korea?
D: Right after the start of the Korean War. They called him back into the Navy. He, he had experience .
I: Uh huh.
D: In World War II in the Navy.
I: So as a Navy
I: And what, what happened to him?
D: Well, he, uh, he served until, uh, the end of the war, and they let him out of the Navy.
I: Ah ha
D: And he went back to his job and resumed civilian life.
I: Did he write letter back to you?
D: Uh, yes he, he, uh, wrote a few letters, but, uh, I you know, just a normal
BS you get from the Navy.
I: Do you have those letter?
I: No. So you knew about Korean War?
D: I knew about it because I was in high school in, uh, when the Korean War broke out?
I: What high school did you
D: Riverside High School.
I: Um. In Buffalo.
D: In Buffalo, and we all knew, and the war was not going good the first couple years, and we knew, we were al gonna go in the service. We knew that, you know,
In fact, all my classmates went
I: Um hm.
D: into the service.
I: And, did you learn anything about Korea in your school, school days?
D: Not a thing. Not, I never knew where Korea was.
I: You didn’t know my great nation?
D: No, never heard of it.
I: How about any other Asian country? Did you learn anything?
D: We learned about Japan. We learned to hate Japan, but that was during World War II. Uh, we learned about China, but that’s about it.
I: So when did you join the military?
D: I was not
D: I did not join. I was drafted.
D: Uh, let’s see. 1952.
D: Army, yes.
I: And where did you get the basic?
D: Uh, basic training was at Fort Gordon, Georgia which is now, I’m sorry. It’s, It was Camp Gordon, Georgia. Now it’s Fort Gordon.
How was it? The basic?
D: I didn’t like it.
D: Well, it was, uh, I just didn’t like the, um, regimentation, the discipline, uh, things like that. The food was not that good and, uh, the living quarters were not that good. In fact, the barracks we stayed in were Prisoner of War barracks from World War II, uh. But we were
all in the
same boat. We all treated, uh, treated the same.
I: So then when did you leave for Korea?
D: I left, oh, it was around, uh, 1953, I gotta say January 1st. I was right after Christmas, uh, the first part of 1953.
I: Where did you departed from?
D: I, uh, Fort Lewis, uh, Washington.
I: Um hm.
D: Left from, uh, Seattle, and, uh, I think 18 days later or something.
We did stop at Yokohama for one day and then over to Pusan.
I: Um hm. Tell me about the Pusan, when first, when you first landed there? What was it? How was it?
D: It was, it was, I don’t want to say it was messy. It was busy. Busy with troop ships and soldiers and sailors, and all that and, uh, uh, huge supplies on the docks,
uh, just, I don’t want to say pandemonium, but it was a very busy, busy place.
I: And how about Korean people at the time, in Pusan. How was it? How, how did they look?
D: Well, they looked impoverished. The country was, we know it was devastating. But everything was very ppor, uh. People were not dressed. Most of them had Army blankets sewn in their pants. Uh, but the children were happy. They’d be playing and kicking a ball.
The children were happy.
I: That’s, that‘s children.
D: Yeah, that’s children. Yes. Yes.
I: Uh hm. And what were you thinking, the country that you never knew before, you are there to fight
I: And looking at all those, what were you thinking?
D: Well, our, our President sent us there. He had a good reason, and, uh, you know, we hated Communists. We hated the Russians. So we just, naturally had a hatred for the North Koreans. So we
thought it was our duty, you know.
I: And what was your unit and specialty and rank?
D: I rose to the rank of Private First Class. I was a radio operator in the 7thSignal Corp..
D: Signal Corp.
I: Um hm.
D: Company, and that was attached, well, that was part of the 7thInfantry Division.
I: Radio operator, right?
I: Tell me about that. What is it?
D: Well, they would put us on Cotton Mountain most of the time, and we’d relay communications, well, sometimes it was to Division Artillery. Sometimes it was the 7th, uh, 17th, uh, Regiment, uh. It was different points that we would relay, uh, communication so that was line of sight, so it was usually at the top of a mountain with our antennas and, uh, to a distant location.
I: Um. hm. So from Pusan, where did you go?
D: Well, they, it was north of, uh, north of Seoul, into North Korea, and they never really told us where we were going or what. But I remember the hills were all marked by numbers, 721 or 331, and somebody says it was the Chorwon Valley.
I: And when was it? It was around February?
D: Yes. The bitter cold winter.
I: How cold was it? Describe it.
D: The same as Buffalo. 20, 30 below, wind howling. It was Buffalo weather. I survived very easily, but the poor guys from Hawaii, South Carolina, they froze and, of course I’d get up in the morning, go out, shake the snow off the tent and say ah, another beautiful day.
D: But, you know. You’re kids and I, you know, you’re, you do things like that.
I: So tell me about the living condition. Where did you sleep? What did you eat.
D: Well, just about all the time it was C-rations.
And, uh, we would, sometimes we would supplement our meal, uh, we had, would have a Korean houseboy when we were on the radio relay team. He’d go into the village and buy eggs, and we’d supplement our C-ration with eggs. Uh, one day he took my M1 rifle and went down to a stream. He was shooting into the stream and got some small fish, brought the fish back, and we had a fish fry. They were basically small minnows, but, uh, we supplemented whatever we could there.
I: Do you remember him, his name?
D: Uh, his first name was Kim, I’ll say it’s Kim Soo Sung, but I don’t think it’s, that was, and that ended up being your President, wasn’t it, Kim Soo Sung?
D: No, well, that’s his name, Kim Soo Sung.
I: What, uh, how old was he?
D: Oh gee, I don’t know. Maybe 14?
I: What do you think of him now? Was he, was he good?
D: He was good to us. He would come in and, you know, in our tent. He would, uh, rake the floor and
cigarette butts off the third floor, uh. He did everything we asked him, and, uh, we fed him, and I can’t even remember if we even gave him any money, but he got
I: You didn’t even give money for that work?
D: I can’t remember for that work. He was happy to get three meals a day. I, I’m sure we must have gave him something.
D: But it was all, uh, MPC, Military Payment Certificate, uh. We didn’t have any U.S. greenbacks.
I: Um, what was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?
D: I guess being homesick, you know, uh. At the time, uh, Dr. Kinsely, Kinsey, put out the Kinsey Report which indicated that, uh, your wives aren’t being truthful to you, and, of course, the propaganda from the north told us that, uh, your wives are home with, uh, the,
your boyfriends and that, uh.
I: How do they promote that?
D: Well, we were radio operators remember. We had spare radios, and we’d tune in some of the stations, especially Radio Beijing, and they had good, classical music which I enjoyed. But you get, you took your propaganda. But it, you know, we laughed at it.
I: Right. That’s funny, right?
D: Well, yeah.
I: And you were able to listen to Beijing radio?
D: Oh yes. Well, we had these super radios. They,
I think they were R19s. They were electron tube theory, long before the transistor. But we knew how to, we were very smart when it comes to radios. We could cut our antenna the correct length, you know, aim across to China, and tune in their radio stations, yes.
I: My goodness.
D: Now, if we got caught, we might have been court martialed doing it. But, yeah, well, you know. You’re kids. What do you care?
I: So were you able to tap on North Korean or enemy’s communication at the time?
D: Not [INAUDIBLE], no.
Um. Did you write letter back to your family?
D: I, I wrote quite often. I was, uh, recently, yeah. Um hm.
I: What did you write about?
D: Well, I love you, the typical things, uh. Weather’s nice. Met some nice friends, stuff like that. Uh, just chit chat, you know.
I: Do you still keep their letters?
D: No. I, I came home, and my wife had them all, and I burned them all.
I: Were you married?
D: I was married yes.
I: At the time?
D: Um hm. I was, uh, supposed to be permanently stationed in, uh, uh, New Jersey, Fort Mommoth. But I got a seven-day leave to get married. I got married, and I come back to the base, and they says Lanternier, go down and see the company clerk. You’re name’s on the wall, and I was, it was assigned to the Far East. So I had, oh, maybe part of a week before I went to New, uh, Fort Lewis, Washington to be shipped to Korea.
So I was married maybe 10, 11 days.
I: Must have been very hard for your wife.
D: Well, it, it was, yeah, to an extent. But she lived with her parents, and she was working, and, uh, we’re still married to this day you know, so.
I: You are in dangerous species.
I: So did you send the money back to your wife?
D: No. Uh, I was married, and I think I got about $40 a month when I was in Korea, and
they sent her
I: No, no, no. More than $40.
D: Well, don’t forget they took the subsistence for the wife out of my pay. I might have been getting, uh, $90,
D: Something like that. They gave me part of it, and they shipped the rest to my wife as a
I: So that’s what I’m asking. You send the money back to your wife?
D: Well, the government did, yeah.
I: Yeah. Yeah. Institutionally.
D: Yes, they did, yeah. Well, it was a good thought, yeah.
I: Yeah, yeah.
D: And there was nothing to spend money on over there.
I: Right. I mean, uh, the South Koreans had their little stand. They’d be selling anything. Mostly they’re selling, uh, insecticide that was Army issued, Army blankets, stuff that they acquired on the black market or something, you know.
I: In Texas, insecticide. What is that, um?
D: Spray, bug spray.
I: No, no. White powder, what was it, um?
D: It was probably DDT.
I: DDT, yeah, yeah.
D: And we didn’t know the difference. Nobody did.
I: Um hm.
D: So. But then, uh, I did go to Japan for R and R.
D: And, uh, I, uh, they, they shipped me back to the company area, and, of course, we’re dirty, you know, you got the same clothes. You didn’t wash, you didn’t, it was close to a month without a shower or bath.
I: Um hm.
D: And I walked into the company area, and the supply Sergeant I, I graduated from high school with, and I, he got me all new clean clothes, everything else. He even got me some sheets. He said don’t tell anybody. These are only for the officers.
So I even got a set of sheets, and then I got, uh, shipped to, uh, Japan for R and R for seven days, and then I come back, and he is located out some place and, uh, when I got home I looked him up, and he was killed in Buffalo in an automobile accident.
I: When did you leave Korea? ’54?
D: As, uh, yes. It was ’54, but I, I can’t remember the month, uh.
I: And the Armistice was signed when you were there. How was it?
D: The 1953, I think it was July 20
D: Right. Uh, what was it like?
D: It was just a really, well, you know it was coming. We all knew it was coming. They’d been negotiating for what, a year? And, uh, we knew it was coming. But I was not a, uh, a combat infantry man. Excuse me. I was, I was not in combat. I was
supplying communications to those guys, but.
I: But still you were in very up front, uh, Chorwon Valley, you were able to see the, you know, the, the, the worst battle is going on.
D: I could see all the activity going on, but I was far enough back that I did not participate in it.
I: Thank God, right?
D: Yes, yes.
I: Um, after you return, what did you do? You said, you told me that you were Judge?
I: I went to University of Buffalo on the GI Bill.
I: GI Bill. So tell me about the GI Bill. How much were you paid?
You don’t have to pay tuition, right?
D: Yeah. The tuition was free, and, uh, I, I got a job. I worked for, uh, New York Telephone Company, and, uh, I, I went to school, night school. I, I went to, for University of Buffalo for six years nights and, uh
I: What did you study there?
D: Well, I studied Engineering.
I: Um hm. Engineering?
I: And then?
D: And then, uh
the job became available in our community, in Niagara County at, for Justice of the Peace. At that time, you did not need a law degree. I ran for the job and got elected as a
I: You studied Engineer?
D: I studied Engineering. I worked at, for the telephone company as management, but I ran for Justice of the Peace and got elected as a Justice of the Peace.
I: What is that, Justice for Peace?
D: Well, it’s, uh, all
small crimes, some, uh, you know, misdemeanors, ordinance violations, uh, traffic violations, uh, domestic violence, things like, the lower classification of crimes.
I: But you didn’t have expertise on law.
D: No, I learned it on the job.
D: It, it was very simple. Don’t forget that was, uh, 1956. It was very simple.
The laws weren’t as complicated as they are today.
I: So you must’ve been popular to the district people. That’s how you elected as a judge.
I: Without expertise, and you learn it
D: Nobody had expertise when they run for Justice of the Peace. You’d have an auto mechanic, uh, this and that, a construction worker, uh. But then as the job evolved, uh, the training become much more stringent and we had to be trained, and it’s very, a very, uh, difficult job today.
I: I know.
D: It’s a, it’s not
a, just a walk through what I did. But I was, I was elected, uh, nine times to a four-year term.
I: Nine times are 40
D: Uh, nine times to a four-year term
I: So 36 years.
D: No, nine times four is 36.
I: Yeah, 36 years.
D: Oh yeah. But, yeah. I served 33 years. I quit early. I, I was elected
nine times, but I quit
mid-term so I had 33 years as a judge.
I: You must be very popular there in Buffalo.
D: Oh, I am.
I: My goodness.
D: Everybody loves me. [INAUDIBLE]
I: Where do you live in Buffalo?
D: Well, I lived in the Riverside section.
I: Which is from Niagara Fall. Where, where is it?
D: Well, it’s probably, uh, the closest part of, Buffalo to Niagara Falls.
Um, have you been back to Korea?
D: Yes. I’ve been back, uh, three times.
D: About 12 years ago, I went back with the Chosin Few.
I: Uh huh.
D: There was two of us soldiers, and the rest were Marines, and I just, through a quirk, got on that trip, uh. There was a Colonel Ruskin from Buffalo, a Marine, that organized a trip,
D: And there was an opening, and I went, even though I was not, nowhere near the Chosin Reservoir.
I: And when, and after that, when did you go?
D: I went back, uh, twice more on the, uh, Revisit Program, maybe seven years ago, and then I went back three years ago.
I: Wow. So tell me. The Korea you saw in 1953
I: And the Korea you saw 2004, nine and thirteen.
D: Well, uh, 2004 they were still rebuilding a lot, but I was amazed at the progress. And then, uh, of course my memory slips, fades me a little bit, but I know the last time I was there I was really impressed with the, uh, the cleanliness of the city, the parks, the bridges over the Han River. When I was there, it was just
one Bailey Bridge across that the engineers had built. I was amazed at the progresses this country, that country made. Uh, and, and everybody seemed to be working, you know. But, uh, and they loved Americans, especially in this country. You talk to somebody from Korea that’s been there, they can’t do enough for you. I gotta tell you a story about, forget Korea. I went to get my hunting license. The girl was behind the counter, maybe 21 years old. The computer’s stuck. I was making
casual conversation with her, and I said I’ve been hunting since I’ve been 14 years old. My father used to take me hunting, my brothers took me hunting. I only missed one year when I was in Korea, and the girl looked up at me and she says what were you doing in Korea? I says I was in the Korean War. Then she said did you shoot anybody? I said not really. Well, she said that counts as hunting. So I’ve been hunting since I was 14.
Rabbits, deer, squirrels, people. Yeah. But that’s the mentality is people they forgot about the war.
I: Exactly. That’s why we are doing this.
I: That’s why we are doing this, and my Foundation did, were you at the membership meeting when I make a report?
D: No, no.
I: We are doing this, uh, as a digital history textbook, and my Foundation, if you look at the brochure there, in the middle of it,
my Foundation invited 90 teachers from 25 states in this year Orlando, Florida.
D: Uh huh.
I: And we cover every expense, and they are working on right now with their students listening to this kind of interviews. They transcribe this, they put the meta data into it, and I just came from Baltimore, um, Maryland from the first big meeting
of the Digital History textbook making teams. We have, uh, curriculum writers and movie makers, you know, history teachers, storytelling maps. We going to make it so that students learn about the Korean War and your legacy and then modern Korea. That’s what we are trying to do, and that’s why we are doing this.
D: Well, on the 19thof this month, I’m going to go to Baltimore, to Washington, D.C. with
the Honor Flight for the veterans. I’ve been selected to go on that. I’m looking forward to seeing the memorials, although I have seen the Korean War memorial shortly after it was decorated,
I: Um hm.
I: So what do you think about Korea? What is Korea to you personally? You, you didn’t know anything about Korea before
D: It’s probably the most exciting, most exciting part of my life other than our honeymoon. But, uh, you know, for a kid from the inner city, I had never been on a train, never been on an airplane, never been on a troop ship with 3 or 4,000 other guys. It was an experience, a learning experience, part of growing up I guess. Of course, my family is, we all served at one time and, uh, the, the service or so.
I: Is there many Korean War veterans in Buffalo area?
D: Very few. Uh, the ex-Sherriff of Erie County, Buffalo, was a Korean War veteran.
But, uh, I can’t recall that. I, I’ve known a few, but they all died.
I: You don’t have chapter there?
D: There may be, but it has to be awful small. I never joined the local chapter. I belong to the International or the National, but not the local chapter, no.
I: So not many Korean War veterans there.
D: Uh um.
I: Hm, because I live Syracuse, and I never been successful getting interviews from the Buffalo area.
maybe if you went through the chapters, and I don’t belong to the local chapter, so I never knew.
I: Okay. Any other comments you want to leave to this interview?
D: Well, it was a, a experience growing up, uh. I look back now and was proud to have served, and, uh, I know we keep 27,000 allied troops there, and I know we gotta keep them there or the north would walk down right through South Korea again, and, uh, it’s just remarkable Seoul changed hands
four times during the war, and, and you would get into Seoul occasionally. And now it’s, uh, it’s like New York City only it’s clean.
D: It’s uh, it, it makes me feel good that I was a small part of it, a small part of it.
I: Um hm. That is your legacy. And we need to teach about that.
D: Yeah. And, uh, of course being a veteran, I do get a little, uh, break on my income tax, and, not income tax, my, uh, property taxes.
I: Good for you.
D: So it’s, uh, I get something out of it.
Thank you so much.
[End of Recorded Material]