Edward Wong was born on July 17, 1930 in Honolulu, Hawaii. The oldest of seven children, he graduated from Kamehameha High School in 1948 and went to work at Pearl Harbor. In January 1950, he enlisted in the US Army and attended basic training at Fort Ord, California followed by communications school at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Upon completion of his training, he was deployed to Pusan, Korea where he worked at the communications center and was transferred to Daegu Air Base where he helped repair runways. He rotated back to the US and was discharged in January 1953. Back in Hawaii, he used the GI Bill to attain air conditioning and repair training. Today, He resides in Hawaii and is active in the KWVA.
School and Work Life prior to Korea
Edward Wong went to grammar school in the Pālama area of Hawaii. He graduated high school in 1948. After graduating high school he worked at Pearl Harbor for 1 year prior to entering the military.
Entering Military Service
After working at Pearl Harbor for 1 year following high school graduation, Edward Wong had many friends joining the military. He decided to join the US Army in January of 1950. He completed his basic training in Fort Ord California for 4 months which he describes as "hard." He remembers being paid $100 a month and sending some of the money back to his parents.
After completing basic training Edward Wong moved to New Jersey to attend communications schools. His MOS (military occupation specialty) was in communications. He learned Morse code as well as other communication types. After one year of communications school, Edward Wong was assigned to go to Korea.
Heading to Korea
In April of 1951, Edward Wong left New Jersey to head to Korea. He flew to California and then left by ship where he remembers sleeping in the engine rooms. He was assigned to the communications center in Busan where he arrived in May of 1951. At the communications center in Pusan, he answered telephones and replied back. Later he was transferred to Daegu to work with the Air Force Engineering Battalion to drive trucks.
Image of Korea
When Edward Wong first arrived in Korea he remembers seeing small villages, non-modern homes, and no big buildings. Edward Wong went back to visit Korea in 2009 where he saw big buildings that were modern. He noticed how everything had changed so much. He was so happy and honored to get to return back to Korea.
What is Korea to you?
Edward Wong remembers Korea as being extremely poor when he was there during the war. He is glad to have helped in their improvement. He stated that Korea is prosperous now.
[Beginning of recorded material]
Interviewer: This is first time for me to do interview Chinese-American Korean War Veterans. So this is my great pleasure and honor to meet you here, and let’s start our interview, okay? Please introduce yourself. What is your name?
Edward Wong: My name is Edward Wong. I was born in Hawaii
Interviewer: When were you born?
Edward Wong: I was born in the month of July 17, 1930. And in Chinese we have the months and I was born in the year of the horse.
Interviewer: Ah, yes, horse. I’m cow.
Edward Wong: Oh, you are cow, I see!
Interviewer: So you were born and raised in Honolulu?
Edward Wong: Yes, I was born in Honolulu July 17, 1930.
Interviewer: Tell me about your parents. When did they come to Hawaii?
Edward Wong: Well, it started off [with] my grandfather, I remember my grandfather when I was a little boy when I was about five years old, he used to take me around, you know, Chinatown and [Manikea] and [Manapua]. And so my father, I was named after him, is Edward Wong also. And my mother is Annie Wong, she come from the Big Island. You know we have seven islands that make up the Hawaiian Islands.
Interviewer: Is your mom also Chinese?
Edward Wong: My mom is Chinese also, and she has ¼ Hawaiian.
Interviewer: I see.
Edward Wong: My father is 100% Chinese, so that makes me 1/8 Hawaiian.
Interviewer: Tell me about your family.
Edward Wong: I have three brothers. Larry is next to me, I’m the oldest, then next comes my brother, Larry, then next younger one is Ronald, and there’s another brother, Ben. I have three sisters, [Melcyan] and Candice. Oh, I’m sorry, that’s two sisters and four boys. So we come from a pretty big family and I’m the oldest.
Interviewer: You are the oldest. So tell me about the school you went to in Honolulu.
Edward Wong: Well, you know I started off when I was young, I went to a school, my grammar school in Likiliki School.
Edward Wong: Yes, they always say it’s in [Palama] area. Also [Calihi] where a lot of Chinese come from. And so I went to the next school was [Farragan] High School then I went to Kamemea High School. So I graduated 1948.
Interviewer: Then what did you do?
Edward Wong: Okay, after my graduation in 1948, I went to work at Pearl Harbor, so I worked there for one year.
Interviewer: What did you work?
Edward Wong: I was working for a supply department.
Edward Wong: Pearl Harbor, where you know that’s a navy base, Pearl Harbor, where all the ships come in. That was 1949, and so form there, all of my friends join the military and they all went to Korea.
Interviewer: In 1949?
Edward Wong: No, they go in 1950 when the war started, in 1950.
Interviewer: But before that, so you work in the naval base in the supply department for a year, and then what did you do?
Edward Wong: And after one year, I join the military in 1950. And then the war started in April 1950.
Interviewer: When did you join the military?
Edward Wong: I join January, 1950.
Interviewer: January? And you volunteer, I mean, enlisted?
Edward Wong: I enlisted. So I volunteer.
Interviewer: To what, navy?
Edward Wong: No, to United States Army.
Edward Wong: Yeah.
Interviewer: So where did you go to basic military training?
Edward Wong: Basic training for four months in Fort Ord in California. That’s where we all go to take our training.
Interviewer: Fort Ord, right?
Edward Wong: Fort Ord
Edward Wong: O-R-D, yeah.
Interviewer: Four months, that’s a long training.
Edward Wong: Yes, it is, you know we have to learn how to use a rifle, and we go up in the mountain for two weeks to learn how to survive over there, and all those things. Basic training so you be prepared for the war.
Interviewer: Had you been to mainland before?
Edward Wong: Um, no, that was my first time.
Interviewer: So, how was the training? Was it difficult? Too hard or was it too easy, what was it?
Edward Wong: Well, it was hard, you know, you have to run and exercise and all of those things that train you for combat. Everything that was basic training, you know, learn the fundamentals of war.
Interviewer: Did they pay you when you were in basic training camp?
Edward Wong: Oh yeah…
Interviewer: How much?
Edward Wong: [Laughing] Well, at that time, 1950, I think basic pay was $100 a month.
Interviewer: $100 a month? Are you sure? No…
Edward Wong: I’m not kidding, I mean at the time was big money for us. Everything was expensive so $100 was, and I used to send home, to my parents some money for them to support the family so maybe $50 and I kept $50 and so
Interviewer: Very good. So what unit did you belong?
Edward Wong: Okay after basic training I went to school.
Interviewer: What school?
Edward Wong: Communication, I go to signal communications school in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Took me one year to learn how to do the communication.
Interviewer: What kind of technique did you learn from there? What did you learn? Tell me the details.
Edward Wong: Well, you know that, I was assigned to that… what do you call it, forgot, you press the thing… deet deet deet deet deet deet deet deet …
Interviewer: Morse Code?
Edward Wong: Yes, Morse Code. And that took us about one year. And that takes all day, about eight hours a day, we get a little break at lunch, so a lot of people cannot stand it, they had to go to the [welcome] medical for something to make them comfortable. So for one year I did that, and so it came out okay. That was my job anyway.
Interviewer: Your specialty. MOS.
Edward Wong: Yes. It’s called MOS?
Interviewer: Yes. Military Occupation Specialty.
Edward Wong: Yes, well it’s been a long time you know. In 1950 it was like 65 years ago.
Interviewer: So when you were in New Jersey in the communication school you already knew that the Korean War broke out
Edward Wong: You know, not really because we don’t have, you know, I don’t have the newspaper or anything to read about. 1950 yeah the war started, but I heard about it and people talking about it, but I never dream that I would go to, never ever go to Korea.
Interviewer: Nobody want to dream!
Edward Wong: The army is like that, you know, when you complete your training then they assign you, and I was assigned to go to Korea, so.
Interviewer: Did you know anything about Korea before you left for Korea?
Edward Wong: I have no idea, whatsoever, I don’t know anything about the war in Korea because the second World War was in 1941-1945, I was 11 years odl when the second world war started.
Interviewer: Anything about Korea before you left for Korea?
Edward Wong: Well you know military, they don’t say anything. Because we are going to go on a boat, you don’t go on a airplane, so from California, New Jersey I caught a train back to California.
Interviewer: But historically China and Korea are very close, we share the civilization. But you didn’t learn anything about Korea when you were in school? And you didn’t know anything about Korea?
Edward Wong: No.
Interviewer: Did you know where Korea was there?
Edward Wong: I had no idea, I just came out of high school, you know, and I never thought about war, of another war except for the Second World War.
Interviewer: So where did you leave for Korea? From where?
Edward Wong: I left for Korea from Fort Monmouth, New Jersey back to California, we caught a boat, a transport boat so you know we slept way down in the engine room down there. It maybe takes us two weeks. We went to Hawaii and refueled.
Interviewer: Do you remember the date that you left?
Edward Wong: Um, I know I went to Korea in April, 1951.
Edward Wong: So after you know, the war just started in 1950, I got there in 1951. I was assigned to the communication center in Pusan.
Interviewer: When did you arrive in Pusan? Was it May?
Edward Wong: Yeah, it could be May 1951.
Interviewer: And you were in the communication center.
Edward Wong: Yes.
Interviewer: What was your job?
Edward Wong: My job was to answer the telephone and reply back, whatever the commander wants and all that, but I didn’t stay there long, they wanted to transfer me to another outfit. They called it the Special Category Army Air Force, so they put me with this Engineering Battalion to drive a truck, and I was assigned to Taegu, we had the air force base and the, you know all the jets over there, when they land, and all that damage on the airfield. We have to repair it so that when they land or take-off they don’t crash or get into accident. We repair and maintained on the airfield. So I was transferred from communication to construction battalion. From Pusan I went to Taegu Air Force Base. I stay in Korea one year.
Interviewer: So tell me about your image. When you first arrive in Pusan, how was it. What is your image of Korea when you first landed in Pusan? What do you remember?
Edward Wong: Well, I remembered small little villages and houses, not the modern houses like today, just like a village, it’s not modernized like today. Very… the road was all not modern too. Everything was just not modern, so you don’t see the big buildings like you see today. I return back to Korea in 2009 and I was so amazed that I see all the buildings there so modern, so high, not like the small little villages where poor people live. Outdoor bathroom or whatever. It really changed.
Interviewer: You couldn’t believe that, right?
Edward Wong: I couldn’t believe, and I was so happy, honored to return back to Korea. And the Korean Government really honored us with banquet, and they took us to, I was amazed they took us to the cemetery. And the cemetery are so big, they went to the museum after that, and all my classmate, five of them died in the Korean War, that’s the one I went to high school with, and they tell me, I join the army with them, and if I went I probably wouldn’t even be back here today because 5 of them died.
Interviewer: What was your unit? You belong to division or what?
Edward Wong: No, I wasn’t in the infantry, just Construction Battalion of the Air Force. They called it Special Category Army, I am Army, Air Force Battalion.
Interviewer: I know it’s you are army, but you work with the Airforce.
Edward Wong: Yes, yes, airbase, you know, it was construction battalion, under the army, anyway, but we are under the air force and do the job for them also.
Interviewer: But you were communication expert, but the actual job that you did in Taegu was different. Tell me about the typical day of your job routine. What did you do, when did you wake up, where, how did you sleep? Tell me about those old things.
Edward Wong: Well I’ll tell you, you know, when I went there it was not like here or back home in Hawaii, we so modern, we have anything we want. We had a camp over there. We live in a camp, you have 12 people live in a tent, and it’s so cool over there. You know it’s April, I not used to the cool weather, and we have one heater in the middle that’s supposed to keep us all warm, but we are all crowded and what, so. It is not like, you know…
Interviewer: It’s not like Hawaii. [Laughter]
Edward Wong: No, it’s not like Hawaii, we were cold, and when we stay we stay out in the open, it’s so cold, some people get frostbite. I’m lucky I didn’t get frostbite.
Interviewer: What was your job there in Taegu?
Edward Wong: In Taegu, I have to drive a big truck, a four-ton truck or something like that, that carry material, asphalt, to repair the airfield so that the plane, when they land they do not crash. That was the job we did, to repair the airfield. We have to wait when it’s all clear, when the jets came back, we make sure the airfield is safe for landing.
Interviewer: You did drive the big truck, what did you carry?
Edward Wong: We carry asphalt, dirt, cement, all the things to repair the airfield. And then after that we stay there we have some other people, all that I do is bring the material, other people have the machine over there to do the repairing.
Interviewer: So did you know what you were doing there?
Edward Wong: Well, they gave the instruction what to do, where to pick up the material and take it there, otherwise we get lost, after we return back to our base, we don’t stay over there.
Interviewer: No, my question was did you know why you were there, what was your mission?
Edward Wong: Well, it’s just that everybody has their job, so you know, I was communication at first, then where they need you they send you over there, I don’t ask question, I just gotta go.
Interviewer: Yes, you just answer the call.
Edward Wong: They need you there, you just have to go. They tell me to be a cook I be a cook. They tell me to wash a dish, I wash a dish. I was the enlisted man, I was not the officer, I have to do my job as best as I can, I get the instruction what to do, and you know, that is how we do it. We don’t just do it on my own, we do it because someone gave the instruction higher command.
Interviewer: You said the cold weather was very hard to stand, any other things that were really difficult for you to be there? Difficult things?
Edward Wong: Well, just the cold weather, that’s about the only thing that I encountered that I never experienced before. Back home in Hawaii it wasn’t cold like up in Korea, wow it was, I don’t know how many degrees, maybe 20 degrees. But I know it’s cold. We have to wear a heavy coat and all that thing.
Interviewer: Were you lonely, were you discouraged, or did you write a letter back to your family?
Edward Wong: Well, you know I was a young boy, I was, let me see, I was about 20 years old I think, yeah. So you know, I write back to my family to tell them how I am, how everything is okay. But whatever gonna happen to me, I serve my country, that’s all I can think of. If they give me instruction what to do, I just have to do it. So that’s my job, you know.
Interviewer: Were there many Chinese-American soldiers with you?
Edward Wong: I don’t know, there might be, but for me, I don’t remember any.
Interviewer: So there were not many Chinese-American soldiers at the time.
Edward Wong: Well, there were Americans, blacks, and there’s whites. I’m oriental, so. There’s not too many Orientals in the place I serve.
Interviewer: Were there any discrimination against Oriental, Asian people?
Edward Wong: No, we all work together. We never had any bad feelings or anything. We work together as a team.
Interviewer: So they treat you nice, everybody was treated equally?
Edward Wong: Yeah, everybody was treated equally.
Interviewer: What did you eat, and where did you sleep?
Edward Wong: We get ration, yeah.
Interviewer: Always? In Teagu, you didn’t have a hot meal?
Edward Wong: Wait, let me think, it’s been 65 years ago, you know. I think we had a mess hall they call it, that’s right, we had a mess hall. And I remember, we have a meal, but it’s not like steak and lobster or anything. It’s a regular meal, breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Interviewer: But it was hot meal, right?
Edward Wong: Yeah, yeah, that part is okay.
Interviewer: Where did you sleep?
Edward Wong: We slept in a tent.
Edward Wong: A tent, big enough to hold 10-12 people, like I said they had a heater in the middle. The food was not very fancy or not, like a ration or something. Hot anyway. I been to China, well, you know after the Korean War. Places where I see big buildings. But never like in Korea when I went back there in 2009. I was really surprised. When I was there I don’t see those high rise apartments or units over there that people live. Everything was the road, traffic, lot of traffic there, modern.
Interviewer: What is the image of Korea in your brain, in your memory, in 1950, 51, 52. What is the image, what are the images you had at the time.
Edward Wong: Well, I did my job, you know. We don’t go out on a furlough. We do our job from morning to night, then we go to sleep, we get up, we do our job. My image, we just gotta do our job that’s all. We don’t go sight-seeing.
Interviewer: That’s right.
Edward Wong: No time for sight-seeing or what. There’s only work work work.
Interviewer: So now, what is Korea to you personally.
Edward Wong: I’m glad that South Korea has improved. People there are prosperous now, not like before, they were so poor, you know they sleep in what do you call that, villages. Not like today, wow wow, there’s so many cars, they ride on the bus, cars all over the place and what not. People are shopping too, you see so many things that they sell, and Kimchi [laughter].
Interviewer: Do you like Kimchi?
Edward Wong: I do, yeah, honestly I like Kimchi. But I never eat as much Kimchi as I was in Korea after I came back.
Interviewer: So what did you do after you came back from Korea?
Edward Wong: After I came back from Korea I went to school under the GI Bill of Rights. The government pay our education. I went to take up a trade. Air conditioning. That was my trade. Sheet metal air conditioning. The government really takes care of us. And today, we have a trip to the hospital, they take care of all the veterans. All the veterans, you don’t have to serve in a war. I’m very fortunate, any kind of medication I need, pills, I had a surgery, you know. The military, government, take care of us. Is something I really appreciate.
Interviewer: Are you proud that you served in the Korean War.
Edward Wong: Yes, I am proud. My future, you know. I didn’t thought I would be in the Korean war. But I’m glad, because we liberate the South Korean from the North Korean. North Korean is communist country, and it’s just too bad that South Korea and North Korea cannot come together as one Korea. So I’m glad that I went to Korea and served in the Korean War. It’s just that I was lucky, I was not in the front line, but I did my job. Communication and with the construction battalion. Like I say, if they tell me you gotta go up and get a rifle and fight the enemy I will do that. Because I serve my country.
Interviewer: Very nice. Do you have any message to our young generations now, based on your military, Korea and experience?
Edward Wong: Now you have the Afghanistan War, the Iraq War, and all those wars. It’s different from the Korean War. Those war is uncalled for. The United States taking all the burden. So many men, and other countries, they don’t help as much. So it’s just that the other war is something that hopefully will have a peaceful ending. People come together, and not fight. And you know when you kill people, it’s something that, the good Lord, I’m a Catholic so, the good Lord will maybe one day bring, the whole world will come together live in harmony and peace. And hope that this war will end in Iraq, Iran, and all those countries like that. It’s terrible.
Interviewer: It is.
Edward Wong: It is, the killing, killing innocent people. Like me, I fought in Korean War. I saw what happen, and I can’t imagine what’s going on now, killing people. I hope everybody come to a peace. Not killing people.
Interviewer: Any other things that you want to say to this interview?
Edward Wong: Like you say about the young ones, I have three children, two sons. They are not in the military. All the young ones now, if you have to serve your country, that’s a time for you to stand up and serve and protect your country and the people around the world. So for the young ones, what I went through is just one of the things. You know if we have war like that, we all have to do our part. And hopefully the world will come to a peace. No more fighting or anything.
Interviewer: Mr. Wong, this has been a very interesting interview, and your experience during the Korean War tells a lot to our young generations. So I would like to thank you for sharing your experience and your memories with us. This interview will be edited and uploaded to the Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial in the website in the internet so that everybody can see it. All right.
Edward Wong: Thank you. Kamsa-hamnida.
Interviewer: Any other message you want to say to me?
Edward Wong: Well, for doing a good job you know, we have to, as a family, keep up the good work.
Interviewer: Thank you, sir.
Edward Wong: Because the Korean war 65 years ago, maybe I won’t live to 100, I’m 85 now, so I maybe only get 5 more years to go, so we gotta keep that legacy going on. [puts palms of hands together and bows head forward].
Interviewer: Absolutely, Thank you very much.
Edward Wong: You’re welcome.
[End of recorded material]