Edwin S. Leak
Edwin S. Leak was born on April 26, 1935 in Lake Odessa, Michigan. He joined the Army National Guard while still in high school. After graduation in 1954, he volunteered to serve active duty and was sent to basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia and communications training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. He was ordered to Korea and arrived at Inchon in March 1955 where he was assigned to communications in the 19th Infantry Regiment, Tank Company. His unit was located near the 38th parallel where he served until he rotated home in 1956. He was discharged from the Army and went to work as a millwright at a GM plant until his retirement.
Edwin S. Leak describes what he called during the war "line crossers". Line Crossesr were North Koreans defecting to South Korea after the war. He discusses reasons he felt they were defecting to the South post-war.
Living Conditions on the 38th Parallel
Edwin S. Leak describes living conditions on the 38th Parallel in post-war Korea. He elaborates about sleeping quarters and food provided. In addition, he explains improvements being made to improve the devastation caused by the war.
00:00:00 [Beginning of Recorded Material]
Edwin Leak: My first name is Edwin. E-D-W-I-N. My middle name is Sherrard. S-H-E- R-R-A-R-D. My last name is Leak. L-E-A-K.
Interviewer: All right, what is your birth date?
Edwin Leak: 4-26-35.
Interviewer: You very young.
Edwin Leak: [Laughs]
Interviewer: Just 80 years old, right.
Edwin Leak: Yeah.
Interviewer: Compared to other Korean War veterans. So where were you born?
Edwin Leak: I was born in uh, Lake Odessa, Michigan.
Edwin Leak: They had a local hospital there at that time.
Interviewer: Tell me about your family, your parents and your siblings, when you were growing up.
Edwin Leak: My, my uh, grandmother. . .
Edwin Leak: . . .came to this country from Germany. The family was uh, farmers.
Edwin Leak: Uh, they farmed. And uh, my uh, my mother was raised in a family that, uh they were all sisters. They was no boys. And uh, my mother’s dad had a pony ring that traveled the circuit of fairs and things that went on during the summer time.
Interviewer: I see.
Edwin Leak: And uh, my folks, uh, once they got married. My folks went to Angola, Indiana to get married. Got up in the morning. Drove to Angola, Indiana. Got married and got back in time to do the chores at night. [Laughs]
Edwin Leak: That’s the way it was in those days.
Edwin Leak: And uh, my folks farmed the farm until their passing. And uh, we were raised there from the time we can remember. We were the, uh across the road from us was a Baptist church. An independent Baptist church, and uh, we were raised in that. And once we got, I went to, got into school, uh into high school, played sports, basketball.
Interviewer: What high school?
Edwin Leak: Lake Odessa.
Interviewer: Lake Odessa High School.
Edwin Leak: In uh.
Interviewer: What year did you graduate?
Edwin Leak: 1954.
Interviewer: So when did you join the army?
Edwin Leak: Once, well my military service started when I was 15 or 16. 16 I think. We could join the reserves, the National Guards.
Interviewer: Right, yep.
Edwin Leak: And so I joined the National Guards and had uh, had a lot of military under my belt before I went in and active. I was uh, the unit that I belong to there was a heavy weapons company. Then once I graduated high school, I volunteered draft and that’s when I, but I had gone to school. I went to school in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Interviewer: When did you join? 1954?
Edwin Leak: 1954 was when I went on active, full active duty.
Interviewer: Okay. So you went to George, Fort Benning.
Edwin Leak: So, yes I took my schooling at Fort Benning.
Interviewer: In Georgia.
Edwin Leak: Yep. And then when I was volunteered draft to go, I was sent to Leonardwood, Missouri. And uh, was cadre, because I was a staff sargent at that time.
Interviewer: Already a staff sergeant?
Edwin Leak: Yes.
Interviewer: And what is your specialties, cadre?
Edwin Leak: Communications.
Interviewer: Communications. So you basically deal with radio operation.
Edwin Leak: Radio, wire, the phone system.
Interviewer: So when did you leave for Korea?
Edwin Leak: I left for Korea in, some things are hard to remember at 80 years old. I’ve had 2 strokes, which slows everything down. Um, I went to Korea in 50. . .
Edwin Leak: 55.
Interviewer: Did you know there was a war in Korea?
Edwin Leak: Oh yes. Yes.
Interviewer: So how did you heard about it?
Edwin Leak: Well, my folks never had a TV, until I got old enough to make enough money to buy a TV for my folks. So my folks, the first TV they had, I 00:06:13 bought it for them. So, most of the news we had was um, from the radio and um, one of the things that when I was growing up, where we lived in Michigan was the flight pattern for the fighters, that were built, I’m sure they were built in Wichita, Kansas. Cessna was building a lot of fighters at 00:06:48 that time. And they were flying them to the East Coast to go to Europe. And I can remember being out in the yard and squadrons after squadrons flying over. And in later years I found out that all of the pilots that were flying them were, uh women pilots.
Edwin Leak: They were all women. Yep. And, uh you know as a young person that was quite an experience to see that going on.
Interviewer: Do you remember the month of the year 1955 when you left for Korea? Was it early or February, March?
Edwin Leak: It was around March, around March. Because my orders, I had a security clearance of Top Secret. My orders any time I moved came directly from 00:08:07 the Pentagon. When my orders came to go to Korea, uh, I called into the office and the company commander told me. . . He said “Your orders says Active Far East.” And he looked at me and he said “It doesn’t mean 00:08:35 Japan.” He said, “You are on your way to Korea.” Then I, um, had a few days leave, went home, from there I went to Seattle, Tacoma, and went through, uh, programming you had to go through programming before you were shipped over. And then we were trucked down to the bus down to the docks, there in Seattle Tacoma.
Edwin Leak: And loaded onto ships. The one I went over on was the General C.G. Morton. We had less than 900 people on the Morton and we were packed 00:09:31 like sardines in a can. It took 20, uh, 21, or 22 days to cross the Pacific because we had to take the southern route and we got into some hurricanes down in the Pacific, even the crew was sick on the ship. [Laughs] So you 00:09:58 know everybody was sick. We pulled. From there we went to, we pulled into Tokyo Bay because we had some supplies that we dropped off in Tokyo Bay. And then we pulled out of there and two days we pulled into Incheon Bay.
Edwin Leak: And when we got to Incheon Bay, then the LSDs came out and we went over the sides into those landing barges that take us to shore.
Interviewer: Do you remember when you arrived in Incheon?
Edwin Leak: I can’t remember the. . .
Interviewer: Approximate month?
Edwin Leak: Uh, it probably had to be in January or February when I arrived there.
Interviewer: Was it cold?
Edwin Leak: It was, yeah, it was not real cold. It was cold y’all. It was cool.
Interviewer: So it has got to be more than after February. It’s gotta be April or May or something like that okay. How was Incheon? You know that the war was ended, right?
Edwin Leak: Just over, and um, when we pulled into Incheon Bay, they was still, you know, a lot of ships and stuff. There were a lot of trash and stuff that was 00:11:54 left in the bay. And then once they got us on shore and took us to the repo headquarters, they start splittin’ up the group that went across and giving us our orders for where we were going to go. I was with my security clearance and MOS, they sent me to the, uh I-Corp first and then from I-00:12:45 Corps they sent us, I-Corps sent us to the 24th division. And regimental, division headquarters with my security clearance and MOS they did not have an opening for me. So they sent me to the 19th infantry regiment. And I got to the 19th and the 19th didn’t have an opening in regimental headquarters for me and the company commander called me in and asked me, he had a line company that needed a communications specialist or chief and wanted to know if I was willing to go there.
Interviewer: What regiment?
Edwin Leak: 19th.
Interviewer: That’s still 19th?
Edwin Leak: That’s still 19th.
Edwin Leak: And the, uh they sent up the company commander sent his chief up to pick me up and took me to tank company of 19th infantry regiment. And I had had no experience in tanks in my training, but it didn’t, it didn’t take long to learn what needed to be done because once they fired the 90 millimeters a lot the, uh the loaders would open up the breech block and the cartridge would come out with still pressure in and once the cartridge came out the radios were mounted right behind it and it didn’t do them any good. It
00:14:45 smashed them up. So I spent a lot of nights pulling out a radio that wouldn’t been was working and finding a tank that had a good radio in it. That, uh the engine had gone or something was wrong with it. They couldn’t use it and transfer it into the tank. And uh, that’s what I did for 16 or 17 months over there.
Interviewer: So was it dangerous, your duties?
Edwin Leak: We had line crossers all the time. You never knew who you were gonna meet. Uh, the North Koreans were, the rumor that we received was that from line crossers was, that the South Koreans was gonna reinvade North 00:15:58 Korea. They wanted to get down on the half way down the decent side, they thought. Every night it was busy with picking up line crossers, and uh they would take them to a compound south of us where they’d hold them until they could release them.
Interviewer: What do you mean “line crosser”? Meaning North Koreans?
Edwin Leak: North Koreans
Interviewer: Why do they cross?
Edwin Leak: Because of the rumor that South Korea was going to reinvade North Korea.
Interviewer: So that they were afraid?
Edwin Leak: They were afraid that because, uh some of the South Korean, uh the officers, the South Korean officers were brutal, and even the South Korean soldiers. So you know it’s the mind that people have, you know, when you think you are gonna be invaded, you’d like to be some place where it was safe.
Interviewer: Tell me about the life, how, where did you sleep, what did you eat, how was the living conditions?
Edwin Leak: When I first got over there, we were sleeping in tents. Um, squad tents.
Interviewer: How many people in a squad tent?
Edwin Leak: They must’ve been about 16 in a squad tent.
Interviewer: Did you have a stove?
Edwin Leak: We had a pot-bellied stove that burned diesel fuel to heat it. And uh nights, a lot of nights that the fuel came in with a rubber hose to the stove from the barrel. And a lot of nights the hose would freeze up and when you’d wake up in the morning it’d be sub-zero weather in there. And 00:18:12 somebody would go out and grab the hose and shake it up and down until you get some fuel going to those pot-bellied stoves to warm, you know, to take the coldness off.
Interviewer: Wasn’t there people watching while you were sleeping?
Edwin Leak: Yes. There was always somebody on guard?
Interviewer: So they could shake up the hose?
Edwin Leak: No they don’t do that?
Interviewer: Why not?
Edwin Leak: I don’t know.
Interviewer: You guys sleeping together and uh that’s too bad.
Edwin Leak: We had, um, when we first went over, we had the, well the only mummy, the only sleeping bags that we had were the old mummy, what they called 00:19:38 the mummy sleeping bags. And basically that’s the way that we lived. We had a mess hall, uh that the guy that cooked, the head cook, was um, I think he was a big, a Polish guy, and he done decent but a lot times with 00:20:15 the rations that we got trucked up to us to make up food. A lot of times people would go through the line and if you didn’t like it, you’d tell the guy “Well I don’t want any of that.” and he’d tell you to just move on to the next guy’ll take it. So, but before I came home we had got billets in, metal buildings, Klein sets and we assembled them. They had a good floor in them and the heat, they were insulated much better than what the tents were. It was good. And I spent my 20th and 21st birthday on the 38th parallel. And I don’t regret any one single bit of it.
Interviewer: Do you know where you were located?
Edwin Leak: Well, I was just south of Panmunjom.
Interviewer: South Panmunjom.
Edwin Leak: Moos
Edwin Leak: Moosonee, Moosonee.
Interviewer: Were there any Korean people working for you?
Edwin Leak: They had Korean people working in the kitchens. And we had Korean boys that done. . .
Edwin Leak: . . . done our laundry for us. And I don’t think they cleaned the billets. I think we kept the billets cleaned ourselves.
Interviewer: Did you like them, Korean boys?
Edwin Leak: Yes.
Interviewer: Remember any names?
Edwin Leak: The one that I can remember, young man, the older guy, that was in our area, his name was Pak Moon San. He was from South Korea. I’m trying to think what area he was from originally.
Edwin Leak: But um, he was probably, you know, I have no. I can’t remember for sure of his age, but he was an older person. And we were assigned some ROK troops, the Korean troops, that were in our area. That basically we trained them and showed them, you know, the knowledge that we had.
Interviewer: Were they good?
Edwin Leak: Most of them. You know, it doesn’t make any difference. You always get a couple of bad apples in it, but the Korean ROK troops were always taking the leftovers from the kitchen and making yak juice. And I don’t know. Have you ever heard of that?
Interviewer: Yak juice?
Edwin Leak: It was potato peelings and anything they could ferment and put in a container and bury it in the ground. And once it fermented, they drink it. It make them a little screwy. [Laughs]
Interviewer: Did you like it?
Edwin Leak: I never tried that.
Interviewer: Oh you never tried it?
Edwin Leak: No, I never tried it.
Interviewer: Did you like Korean food?
Edwin Leak: Yes, I liked. I didn’t. I had a couple trips down in Seoul during my tour. Um, prior to going over, the church that, um I went to, and my family went to, was sponsoring an orphanage child. I went off the front lines at least twice and went down to Osan, to the orphanage down there. At that 00:25:00 time, that was a Methodist orphanage. And I have a lot of slides taken down at the orphanage at that time. And at that time, the Korean government could not afford much food for the orphanages. They were feeding the children cooked soy beans, which is good protein, is good food, but if you cook soy bean and when the oil comes out, you don’t want to get much of that. Because it will give you the diarrhea.
Interviewer: Yeah, so do you have that slide? Where?
Edwin Leak: Back in Michigan, and I’ve been trying to find somebody. One guy that I contacted to have them put on a CD, now I’ve got a full container. The full container, part of it was taken in Korea. Then I have pictures taken of my family, of my mother’s family, of my dad’s family, yet the others and stuff. 00:26:33 It’s all, I got a big metal container that all the slides are in. And it’s, you know, it’s the history of the families. And when I was in Korea, I only 00:27:00 took one R and R. I went to Japan. I went to Ukuzka and stayed there. Ukuzka is the naval port. I stayed there and uh, travelled as much as I possibly could there. Enjoyed the food, enjoyed. I have a personality that I enjoy everybody that I meet.
Interviewer: So you took a lot of pictures of orphans?
Edwin Leak: Oh yes. I’ve got a lot of pictures.
Interviewer: In Osan?
Edwin Leak: In Osan.
Interviewer: So that’s all in?
Edwin Leak: In that container.
Interviewer: Container of slides.
Edwin Leak: [Nods]
Interviewer: And you willing to share that with me?
Edwin Leak: Yes.
Interviewer: I have more than, yes, you saw in my business card. My foundation’s website has more than 5,000 pictures from the Korean War veterans like you and we have converted it and returned the original to the person, so you can trust on me.
Edwin Leak: Yeah, I don’t worry about that. I have a personality that I don’t mistrust anybody. You know, I have the feeling, that if I run into somebody that you know you have the sense you can’t trust. We are, my wife and I are 00:28:38 active. We’ve been active in the VFW, um, here in Arizona. We’ve been active in the VFW back in Michigan. We’ve spent time at the VFW National Home down in Eaton Rapids, Michigan. And if you ever get a chance to go there. . .
Interviewer: How many Korean War veterans in your area? Are there many?
Edwin Leak: Not too many left. Most of them, the agent orange is got a lot of them.
Interviewer: I mean, I’ve never been in Michigan for an interview trip. If you can help me, I can go visit to the Michigan and we need to have some kind of. . .
Edwin Leak: I can put it out through the VFW. Looking for Korean War vets willing to be interviewed. But so many of them, the Korean vets are slim. And now the ones from Vietnam, my brother-in-law, my sister’s husband, spent his time in Vietnam.
Interviewer: Have you been back to Korea?
Edwin Leak: No. I, when they had the 50th tour to go back, I had open heart surgery and I was not in any condition to. And now I’d like to go back now, but I’ve had two strokes and a lot of things. It is easy for me to get lost. If I 00:30:50 went back, I’d have my son go with me. Which our son went to the Air Force Academy, and works for the government today down in Dayton, Ohio. He builds all, he is project manager down there. The job he has is 00:31:16 like the President of the United States. He builds all the new planes, helps with the group of people down there design and build the new planes, the electronics and everything in them. And they build them for not only the United States, but for every foreign country around the world. Him and his wife have gone to Norway to conferences, to Sweden, um. He had one of the countries that, um, he didn’t take his wife, but Norway and Sweden he took his wife.
Interviewer: Okay. Do you know what has happened to Korea after you left? Now Korea is. . .
Edwin Leak: . . . a democratic country now. And I watch the news to see what the northern section, the dictator in the northern section. I’m to a certain extent 00:32:33 politically minded. I like to see what these other countries are doing to their country, their people, and stuff. People in this country and so many young people in this country have no conception on what it is like to be in 00:32:52 a foreign country. You know I didn’t travel that much. I went down to Osan to the orphanage and then spent some time around Seoul, but most of the time I was basically in the company, communications, I handled the communications because the young people that I got over, a lot of them 00:33:23 were alcoholics. Young people that were coming in. They just weren’t dependable.
Interviewer: So you’ve been to Seoul?
Edwin Leak: Yes.
Interviewer: How as Seoul? Was it still pretty much destroyed?
Edwin Leak: Totally destroyed. I’ve got pictures of the Imperial Palace and everything.
Interviewer: It’s not Imperial Palace, it’s just palace.
Edwin Leak: Okay.
Interviewer: So pretty much was destroyed. How was Korean people?
Edwin Leak: Uh,
Interviewer: Did you see them around?
Edwin Leak: Yes, and everybody was friendly. And you know, I don’t say this as a compliment to myself, but I can walk down a street and meet somebody 00:34:25 and they’ll acknowledge me, you know. Where if I can greet somebody and I usually tell them hi or hello or something. We have travelled to several other foreign countries and I have the personality that once they see me, they know that . . .
Interviewer: You’re a good person.
Edwin Leak: I’m a good person, I’m a friend.
Interviewer: Yep. So have you seen the scenes of Seoul now?
Edwin Leak: Just some pictures of them.
Interviewer: Pictures, right? Can you tell the difference between now and back then?
Edwin Leak: Oh yes.
Interviewer: Tell me about it. What do you think?
Edwin Leak: At that time, so much of it was just total ruins, total ruins. And today it is a big metropolis, it’s a big metropolis.
Interviewer: So are you proud of your service?
Edwin Leak: I am proud of all of my service. I was, you know, I was still in high school when I joined the National Guards. And I would’ve stayed in longer, but when I got home from Korea, that I met my wife that I had known prior to going over and, um, I was going to take. Well we had, we was, they was going to run another, um what’d they had a tour?
Interviewer: A revisit program?
Edwin Leak: Yeah, my wife didn’t want that, so.
Interviewer: What is Korea to you now?
Edwin Leak: It’s another, it’s a country, like the United States. It’s a country that it is free from dictatorship, it’s free from oppression, and stuff, that to me so many countries have so much oppression in there. And the United States has the same, it’s not so much oppression, it’s the people that, it’s so many people in this country that don’t want to work. People from Korea, from foreign countries are willing to work.
Interviewer: So many Americans, they are not willing to work?
Edwin Leak: So many of them don’t work. I worked 30 and a half years for General Motors as a journeyman millright. I done all the construction and rearrangement. I done multibillion dollar expansion programs. I had young men, minority people, at that time when minority people had to be hired. I had minority people come in that would not work. You know, “You can’t make me work.” I just, and I see that today in young people today. They 00:38:00 have no outlook on life. Only that they look at the government to support them and everything else. I have a letter in my desk back in Michigan, um from the orphan child that I went and seen that was down in Osan. I am sure over the years, that she was adopted or set, probably she came to the United States some place.
Interviewer: You want to find her?
Edwin Leak: I would like to. It would be, you know, a real experience.
Interviewer: Did you have a very close relationship with her?
Edwin Leak: I met her. I went to the orphanage, uh twice. Took candy, stuff down there. And uh, the children, you know, would break your heart. In the slides I’ve got, you’ll see pictures of the orphanage, of rooms that were probably eight, not over ten foot square that was wall to wall with orphan children.
Interviewer: Thank you very much.
Edwin Leak: Thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]