Donald Dempster grew up one of four siblings during the Great Depression in the 1930’s. Although life was tough, his father was ensured a job with income as a police officer. Throughout his life he has been a stamp collector, which has made him always knowledgeable about the culture and geography of different countries. Although he never learned about Korea in school, through collecting stamps, he knew its location on the map. After high school he enlisted in the Air Force in 1951 because he felt that with this job he would always be guaranteed comfortable living conditions. In the Air Force, he did paperwork for training squadrons, and later, he advanced to work for the Inspector General’s office in Washington D.C. He believes it is important to remember the sacrifices soldiers made and the legacy of the Korean War.
Legacies of Korean War
Donald Dempster feels that it is important to remember the accomplishments of the Korean War. He assisted in keeping democracy in South Korea instead of communism. He is very proud that South Korea has succeeded from emulating the government of the United States.
Why the Forgotten War?
Donald Dempster believes that since the Korean War was after WWII, the American public had enough of war. He further feels that the Korean War has been forgotten by the public because it was not reported by US media as much as other wars. He acknowledges that recruitment was not as large during the Korean War as it was during WWII.
Donald Dempster shares how he was promoted to work for the Office of Special Investigations (OSI) in Washington D.C. He was part of a team that researched any inappropriate activities in the Air Force. He had extra training to receive this special position.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
D: My name is Donald Dempster. That’s D O N A L D. Last name is Dempster, D E M P -S T E R.
I: What is your birth day?
D: December 31, 1930.
I: So you born the last day of the 1930.
I: And that’s one year after the Great Depression.
D: Well, I grew up during a lot of the Depression years.
I: Um hm.
I: Where were you born?
D: I was born in New Jersey, Rutherford, New Jersey.
D: Rutherford, New Jersey.
D: New Jersey.
I: Um hm. And tell me about your family, your parents and your siblings when you were growing up.
D: Well, my father was a police officer and, uh,
I: So he didn’t lose job?
D: He did not lose his job, correct.
D: We always had food on the table, and the family originally, well, we have four children. I have an older brother, Richard who’s turning 90. Dick served over in the World War II in the Paratroopers and, uh, was in Japan.
I: Um hm.
D: I was the next born, and then I have a, we had a younger sister, Carol.
She was born in 1933. She passed away in the year 2000. And then I have a younger brother who was born in 1944, quite a bit of difference in age between. uh, the other three. And he became a Psychology professor and taught at college level.
I: Um hm.
D: And, uh, both of my brothers are retired as I am.
I: So when did you graduate high school, and what high school?
I: I graduated
from Rutherford High School
I: Um hm.
D: In class of 1948. And I have a fellow graduate that I met for the first time since we graduated at one of our meetings, and we’re both veterans in the Air Force.
D: The Korean Air, uh, War time.
I: Um hm. And did you learn anything about Korea for the school at the time?
D: When I was in school, no. We didn’t learn much about Korea at all. However, I knew quite a bit about Korea because I was an avid stamp collector as a child, and stamp collecting goes with geography and history, and I think that, uh, it gives you a good introduction to a lot of different countries.
D: And, uh, with collecting stamps you, you learn their monetary system,
and you get to recognize the writing, the differences and, uh I thought it was a great, uh, help in geography and history. I, I collected stamps until I uh, I gave my collection to my, one of my grandsons about two years ago.
I: Um. How many stamps did you have?
D: How many stamps? Well, I had all the commemorative U.S issues
D: from 1968
till when I stopped collecting was, uh, I believe in the middle 90s. Those were all the commemorative issues because they’re all unused, grand looking postage stamps.
D: Um hm. And when I went to, I went to college after I finished the service,
I: Uh huh.
D: And my thinking at that point in time was on the table, maybe I would want to teach history at the college level
I: What college did you go?
D: I graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
D: And, in New Jersey, and, uh, I thought about that seriously but then I
I: What did you learn? I mean what was your major?
D: My major was business. I went to the School of Business. And we had
D: A little difference then because in order to get into class, we had to have a jacket and a tie on. No jacket, no tie and you didn’t get into your classroom.
I: Um hm.
D: Today you go to the school campus, and you see nothing but blue jeans and
I: Flip flop.
D: Flip flops, exactly, exactly. We were told that you learn to work in business, you have to dress proper, appropriately.
D: And, uh, that was true. Got a good education.
I: So when did you graduate?
D: From college?
D: 1958. January 1958.
I: So when, when did you go to military
D: I, I enlisted in the Air Force in April of 1951.
I: And why Air Force?
D: Honestly, I, I looked at the and had friends including my brother who had not always had a bed to sleep in or a dining hall to go eat
food in, and I decided well, I would rather have a dining hall and a bed to sleep in and a little more creature comforts.
I: So that was very wise decision. I’m from Air Force, too.
I: And so where did you go for basic military training?
D: For basic training, I went to Sampson Air Force Base upstate New York.
I: Yeah. Upstate New York. That’s where I’m from, Syracuse, New York.
Well, Sampson was outside Geneva.
D: Right along the lake.
I: And from there, where did you go?
D: From there, well, and when I finished basic training, I, I’m, my intention was to get into, uh, Air Control School.
I: Air Control.
D: But, but when I went in, the gentleman said well, I see you had been in
person, doing personnel work when you came in the service. I said that’s true. And his response was the Air Force is a new branch. We need Personnel Sergeants. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll give you a choice. You can either go to the University of Connecticut or Penn State and get training there and be prepared to become a, uh, a, uh, Personnel Sergeant.
I: Um hm.
D: So I chose Penn State and went to Penn State
and, uh, spent, uh, almost four months at Penn State, finished second in my class and, uh, we had additional motivation, uh. The top five got a, got the first, uh, additional stripe, and the top 10 got to pick their order of assignment. Well, I finished second. Mine was the first class that did not have a single overseas assignment.
I: That’s a lucky. You could been dragged into the Korea.
D: Yes. I could have gone right to Korea.
I: But you were not.
D: Well, we didn’t have any foreign assignments, so I picked Scott Air Force Base in Illinois as my assignment. There were only two assignments to Scott. The guy that finished first in the class went, and I was the second one. Most of the other graduates went to Texas and Louisiana.
And, uh, so I went to Scott Air Force Base, and the group that I was assigned to, uh, had training programs scattered all over the United States, uh, from Washington up at Fort Lewis all the wat to Atlanta, Georgia and all over. I spent a couple of months at Scott, and then they asked me if
if I would be interested in going to Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. So I did and, uh, I was the, kind of did most of the paperwork in the squadron there.
D: And that was a training squadron, uh. From there, I went to, uh, Fort Lee, Virginia which was another training squadron. We started that one up from, from nothing. It was the first, uh,
Air Force base
or Personnel at that Army base and, uh, then from there, I went to Headquarters Command in Washington, Inspector General, and that’s where I spent my last two years.
I: Um hm.
D: Working for the Inspector General.
I: So when you enlisted for Air Force in 1951, you knew that Korean War broke out.
I: What did you learn, anything about Korean War at the time? At the time?
D: I, I learned
I: Yeah. What did you knew? What did you know?
D: Well, I knew, I knew that, uh, one of our classmates had, had lost his life in, in Korea.
D: And, and he was Air Force. I was a gunner on a, uh, on a air, aircraft and, uh, I knew where Korea was as I said, from my knowledge of stamps and Geography. And, uh, I, I do a lot of reading as well.
So I, I read some, got some information on Korea and, uh, how it came to, came to be. And, uh, I thought, I, I originally was going to enlist in September of ’50, but they had such a backlog of people come, wanting to enlist in the Air Force that I, be, was put on a waiting list.
I: Um hm.
D: And I didn’t get, called me, they gave me notification early
March that I would be going in April, to clear, clear my personal matters up.
I: Um hm. You mentioned that people need to know more about the Korean War, right?
D: They just seemed to, to, there’s a general tendency, I think, in this country by a lot of people to take things that people have fought and died for for granted.
They, they don’t even think about all these freedoms that we have in this country.
I: Um hm.
D: And, uh, for a long time, I think the veterans have gotten the short shift, especially since the Vietnam War, uh. At, when my brother was in the service in, in World War II, of course there was a war economy and, uh, the whole world was involved, and people were much in tune with it
and, uh, at the time, the United States still had a lot of military equipment, uh. We had a lot more bases and, uh, I thought, you know, we, we should still retain that power that we had. But, uh, a lot of people didn’t think so.
I: Um hm. So in your opinion even though you were not in Korean theater, what do you think that we have to learn from the lessons of the
Korean War? What is the importance do you think?
I: About the Korean War?
D: Well, one of the things that I’ve always been proud of is that here are men from the United States that went over there and, the, the Korean war was partly our most bloody war because we had such a significant casualty loss and, uh, people are
unaware of that. I have two grandsons. One finished college two years ago. The other one’s a Junior right now at Pittsburgh University
D: University of Pittsburgh, and I asked them what they learned in school, high school, about the Korean War.
I: Um hm.
D: They didn’t learn nothing. They just passed right over the subject. And that riles me because, uh, you know, fifty some odd
thousand Americans died in that conflict, and, uh, people should recognize that.
I: Um hm.
D: And I, I get, uh, upset with it.
I: So why do you think it’s important, the Korean War? What is it?
D: Well, we, we gave the Korean people some freedoms much like American, uh, citizens have and, uh, we’ve become very strong allies
uh, for the economy, uh. A lot of Koreans have come to the United States to live, i.e. yourself.
D: And, uh, you know, the United States has always been a bell weather in the world. It’s a country that has freedoms, practices freedoms, and will fight to keep those freedoms, and apparently the Korean people have recognized this in the United States
has become one of their objectives or goals to do the same thing and have the same thing in their country at home.
I: And now, do you know where Korean economy is now?
D: The Korean economy is, uh, much like the American economy, uh. We’re
automotive people. To, it, you go in this United States is very ob, quickly obvious that what makes
the economy go in this country is the automobile industry, not only for employment, levels of employment, but just keep the economy moving. There are people that are forever in debt for a car. So they take their first loan for six years, four years in they’ll renew, get another car. They never get out of that debt. And, uh, but it’s good for the economy because it keeps things moving. They
keep buying new cars. You get an old timer like myself, and we’re less likely to do that, and personally speaking I never had a car on time. If I wanted something, I saved my money and bought it. I’m that old fashioned. So maybe that’s why I’m a decent fit for Lancaster Country.
I: Um hm.
D: I’ve lived here for 45 years and, uh, it’s a different economy. When we moved here, my
three children were younger and very much, three girls, very much into, uh, dress and styles of the time, we moved from New Jersey here. The girls said you know, we moved back three or four years in style when we came to Lancaster County. I said well, that’s it. That’s the way it is, and I love it here. It’s been a great, uh, great place to raise a family and have,
have, uh, your retirement years as well.
I: Excellent. Um, Korea is now 11thlargest economy in the world, and Korea, as you know it was the best stated, you know, from the War, right?
I: You know that, right?
I: Uh huh. And Korea is one of the most substantive democracy in Asia, and
what do you think about that?
D: Well, I wish there were more republics in Asia. It seems to me they, they’re going the other way. I remember I got, I read a book about Ho Chi Minh and, uh, while I was reading that book, I couldn’t um, miss, I couldn’t understand why the American leadership didn’t realize
that this gentleman was bent on having his own country, you know. He went to Russia for education. We should have known he was, he was much like Gandhi and a lot of the other early leaders.
I: He’s been to France and the United States, too.
D: Yes. And, uh, the French just didn’t recognize him, and, and, uh, I’m surprised the United States didn’t pay more attention to him and realize
you’re not, not going to convert this guy.
I: Um hm.
D: He’s gonna go the same way as, as Chou En-lai when and, uh, China. And it’s unfortunate that there are other orient nations like Myanmar. I still have difficulty thinking, not thinking of the name Burma.
I: Burma, yeah.
D: And, uh, you know, a lot of, uh, British troops as well as American served
and died in that are, part of the world fighting the Japanese and, uh, I, I, uh, I don’t understand really why so many of those countries have gone the wrong way. They’re controlled by death squads and the people just don’t have a lot of freedom.
I: Um. Why do you think Korean War has been known as Forgotten War? Why?
D: Well, I think number one it was followed just shortly under five years from World War II and, uh, people were tired of all those years of, of World War II, and by comparative nature when we had millions of service at that time, we had a smaller fighting force and, uh, you know,
we, there were certain rules, like the Yalu River was a boundary that we could not cross. I had a good friend at, for the Chosin Reservoir and told me of the difficulties of that batt le and how many Chinese troops were just overwhelmed the position and, uh, people back here in the United States just didn’t pay much attention to, to news stories and, and
the headlines as to what was going on in Korea.
I: Is that because it’s Korea, right?
D: Uh, it could be because it was Korea, because nobody had, there was limited knowledge, public knowledge, about Korea at the time.
I: Um hm.
But, uh, the, the Korean people, uh, have, had, had difficulties through the Japanese as well as the rest of that area of the world,
and the Japanese had been brutal to them all and, uh, they welcomed the, the, U.S. troops and U.S. help those that went. A lot of those that stayed home just didn’t recognize it or, or want to recognize or participate in what was going on in the Korean War. In World War II, people became of age to enlist.
They were right at the recruiting office. When the Korean War came about, that was not the case. There wasn’t that patriotic movement. Now, it could be because the war was not primarily a U.S. war, but it was a, a, a, war of the Far East more than anything. But the United States certainly did a terrific job in supporting the Korean military
and the Korean people there, over there.
I: Um hm. Any other military episode that you want to share with us?
D: Well, I, my last two years was spent in, with the Inspector General’s office. I was in the Office of Special Investigations, and, are you aware of what the OSI is?
I: Tell, tell them.
D: Well, the OSI is, right today you see on the tv they have NCIS. Well, the OSI is similar to the
I: So what is, spell out, you know, because people doesn’t know. Acronym, yeah.
D: Naval Criminal Investigative Service and
I: More OSI.
D: OSI was the Office of Special Investigations, and we reported to the Inspector General and, uh, we policed the Air Force,
not like the Air Police, but in conjunction with the Air Police. We would do criminal investigations, background checks, security clearances and things of that nature and, uh, I, I believe I went to Washington to become an agent, a special agent, where you get into actually, um, investigating criminal activities in the Air Force. And, uh,
when I reported into Bolling Air Force base, they told me that, uh, they looked at my records and said you only have 23 months of service remaining. I said that’s true. You need to have 24 to go to agent training, special agent training.
I: And you needed one more month.
D: I needed one more month. I says well, what, how come I didn’t come in sooner? Well,
maybe someone delayed on your background checks or what have you. But you can go to agent training, and I’ll tell you, we’ll promise you that you can go to Hickam Air Force base as your first duty station. I said I’m not enlisting, re-enlisting for six more years. So I became an analyst in the OSI and, uh, what I did was work on specific, some specific activities that they might have.
For example, uh, one project we had was, uh, reviewing POW, uh, interviews when they were exchanged in a prisoner exchange, looking for commonalities
I: Um hm.
D: that the North Koreans were using and so forth. A lot of what we were involved in was classified and, uh, the Air Force being as new as it was
for example, we didn’t have our own laboratory. We used the FBI laboratory which was just down the road and, uh, I sometimes spent three or four trips over to the FBI lab in a week’s time, and agents would come over to the OSI and, uh, we also worked closely with the CID, Criminal Investigative Service of the Army and, uh, I, I,
I have a lot of laughs in my, in my service in Washington, uh. I get, I got along with everyone except I had a Captain that, he and I were like oil and water.
D: We just did not mix and, uh, one day he came. I was working on a special project with a Master Sergeant who had six or eight hash marks on his arms. He had been in
the Army initially, and, uh, his Captain came in and said we want you, all your desks cleared away because the Inspector General’s coming to look at our facility. Well, he went out the door, and the Sergeant said to me we got too much to do, and we got a deadline to meet . Let’s just keep working.
D: So I closed the door. My back was, his back was to the door. I was facing the door.
Well, about 45 minutes later, the door opened. I looked up, and I could see three stars on each shoulder, so I called the room to attention, and he and I both popped to, to attention, and the General walked in. He had his aide with him and the Captain and our Colonel who was in Command of our unit, and the General walked around, rampedand
promptly said it’s good to see someone’s working around here. [LAUGHS] And with that, out the door they went.
I: Um hm.
D: Well, about 10 minutes later, the Captain came in and said I thought I told you guys I wanted the desks all cleared off? Well, this Sergeant with all of his seniority level, he said Captain, I know you heard what the General said, and the Captain looked at this Master Sergeant, turned around,
and walked out the door, and I’ll never forget that experience. [LAUGHS]
I: Um hm. Okay, um, Donald. What is, what do you think is the legacy of the Korean War?
D: What do I think is the legacy of the Korean War? The way it’s going right now, we have, there’s not much legacy being left. The people my age, people that were in during the Korean War, served during the Korean War, are try, attempting
to get more coverage, better knowledge of the Korean War so that there could be a legacy. But I, in my opinion, the American education system is not paying any attention to the Korean War. They’ve initially bypassed it. They went from the World War II to Vietnam.
D: And, uh,
I: That’s very good point.
D: That’s, that’s what’s happened.
T here’s no, not much legacy to believe.
I: Um. So what do we have to do?
D: Yeah, well we, I think, you know, I, I read a book by, uh, oh, he writes
I: How can we educate more our future generations about the lessons of the Korean War? How can we do that? How can we entice them to the Korean War?
D: That’s a good question. What would entice them? Uh, I think, I think in general, I, I have a lot of younger kids in, in my neighborhood and, uh, they’re just not interested in the history like they used to be. Uh, I’m not sure just how you can adapt the program. We don’t
get enough press
I: This is what we are doing.
I: To have an interview and then analyze it, making it a teaching materials and get young generations hooked into it.
D: Um hm.
I: That’s what we’re doing this. Okay?
I: Yeah. So you are Korean War era veteran.
I: And your points that the American education didn’t really pay attention to Korean War,
just directly jumping from World War II to Vietnam War, right?
I: Yeah. So that’s why we are trying to do this. Yep.
D: It’s a, it’s a great project, uh. I’m history oriented and, uh, I think it’s a, it’s, it’s a significant part of the American history. It may have been a short time, ’50 – what, ’51 is a relatively
short period of time. But one of the big significant things is we lost over 50,000 men.
D: That’s a significant number of people.
D: To lose their lives in that short period of time and, uh, the American populous, when I go to church on Sundays, I used to sit in a particular section of the church.
I was the youngest man in the, of the group. One served in the Navy in World War II. A couple were in the Air Force World War II. The others in the Army, and we would talk amongst ourselves about some of the difficulties and what have you, but in general, a lot of those veterans of World War II did not talk or tell their stories.
I: Um hm.
D: And, uh, now
they’re all gone. I’m the only one that’s left of that little group of people. But when they, when they recognized, on Veterans’ Day they say all the veterans please stand up, there’s not that many people that were Korean veterans.
D: And when, I’m not sure how to attack that problem, how, how to get more knowledge on it. Perhaps
and I’ll just toss this out, perhaps we need a film or two on the Korean War because
I: That’s why, yeah
D: because that has brought a lot of things to the public’s eye. When I was in the service in Washington, we had, a, a lot of Reserve officers came back for the Korean War, and one of the gentlemen and, had his, a program for Reserve Officers in that Washington area.
And one, one afternoon he said to me, Sergeant Dempster, do you think you, you would be interested in giving me a hand with our programs? And I said I’ve got most of my evenings free Major. What would you like to do? He said how about some films? We were close to the Pentagon. You could be able to get access to the Pentagon. I said fine. He made
arrangements. I became a
projectionist, qualified projectionist
I: Um hm.
D: Took a course at the Pentagon on the different kinds of projection equipment. And then I got access to the film library over there. Well, every, I believe most people in OSI had top secret clearance and, uh, a lot of these films were actually camera films from by the 8thand what have you in, in World War II.
And I brought some of these films back, and he says guys were just, they loved it. And in later years, some of those same shots were in movies put out by Hollywood, and they literally, uh, choked the market with World War II stories, pictures, Mt. Suribachi, all kinds of things. Korea does not, the only thing you hear about it is,
is Chosin Reservoir on occasion. And, uh, it’s a brilliant move that General MacArthur made with the landing in Inchon. That’s about all they hear about.
I: Um hm.
D: How about some more history and, and depth or what’s, what was, what was involved in the Korean War and what the troops did and how they did it and how they lived and what have you. You know, the neighbor across the street from me,
was, served in Vietnam. The second day, second day in Vietnam sniper hit him in the arm.
D: And, how do, you, how, how do you tell, how many people have you told that, Mike? Not many. He said I tell you because you’re into this stuff. You’re into history and what’s happening in the military. I, I said well, that’s true. I’m very much interested
in the American government and what’s going on and what, uh, shortcomings we have and the, and the problems that we face, and a lot of problems that we face in this country do not involve recognition of the freedoms that we have, you know. The mass public does not care.
I: Um hm.
D: And, and even our Congress doesn’t seem to care, and Congress is so divided, the Princess Pelosi when she was in the, in the speaker’s chair, she wouldn’t even put Republican bills, let them come through the floor. I mean, come on. You’ve got to get together. It’s the only way we’re going to get any further ahead is by getting together as a united front. I often think our forefathers in this country, I
wonder what they would think if they came to see us today. Most of them were farmers. They came to Washington. They served for a year or a term or two, went back home. Today all those guys standing there are career people. Career politicians. Everything is bent on seniority.
I: Um hm.
D: And that’s not necessarily good. Uh,
I: That’s quite right.
D: I think; I think we need
fresh blood in Washington.
D: Fresh blood that will talk to each other, and if you’re gonna make a bargain, you have to have negotiations. In order to have negotiations, you have to be able to give and take because both sides have a particular interest involved, and both sides want to win. So you give the other side a win, and you, you get your side of the deal. But they’re just, uh, not happening. It’s just not happening in Washington.
I: Um hm.
D: And, uh, anyway, that’s diverts from your,
D: your subject about Korea.
I: So unless you have another points about the Korean War, we can end our interview here. Anything other than what you said about the Korean War?
D: About the Korean War. I don’t, I don’t personally know.
Maybe you know, how many Medal of Honor winners came out of the Korean War?.
I: I don’t know exactly. I don’t remember it, yeah. But far less than, uh, those got from the Vietnam War.
D: Yes. I’m sure of that.
D: I’m sure of that.
D: They, no one paid particular attention. That’s why a number of veterans of the Korean War have just recently
I: Um hm.
D: Gotten their awards or recognition that they deserve.
So, that’s the problem, and that’s why we want to address the problem using this interviews.
D: Um hm.
I: Alright. We’ll find it out, okay?
I: Alright. So thank you very much for coming for the interview.
I: You’re very
D: I appreciate the opportunity. You know I like to talk. [LAUGHS]
I: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
[End of Recorded Material]