Ernest Benson was born in 1930 in Mt. Vernon, New York to Swedish immigrants. After being drafted into the army in 1951, Ernest Benson went to boot camp at Ft. Knox and was sent to field wiring school and pole climbing school. Ernest Benson was assigned to the 31st Field Artillery, 7th Infantry Division. While in Korea, he was primarily in the Kumwah Valley and discovered how to be promoted quickly. He explains how he was still impacted by the war years later, turning to drinking to cope with his PTSD. Ernest Benson
Pole Climbing School
Ernest Benson describes some of the challenges involved in learning pole climbing, one of the two options that they had for him as a business. He explains that he did not enjoy it, especially because the poles had been used a lot. He remembers getting a "devil pole" that no one liked, a very scare experience.
How to Earn a Promotion
Ernest Benson describes how he pursued opportunities for new training and promotion to get away from the mostly manual labor that he was initially assigned to do when he arrived in Korea. He thought that there must be a better way to be promoted. He explains that he got interested in being a forward observer and he went up the ranks quickly.
The Culture of Alcohol
Ernest Benson very frankly discusses the culture of alcohol that permeated base camp during the War.
Ernest Benson discusses how PTSD manifested itself in his post-war life. He found out when he was tested by the Veterans Hospital around the year 2000. He explains how he was functional, but still impacted by the war and often drank.
The Personal Legacy of the Korean War
Ernest Benson characterizes his time in Korea as his most important coming of age event. He explains that he came out of the war not looking the same. He remembers not being socially the same when he returned because he was two years behind everyone.
Ernest R. Benson: My name is Ernest R. Benson. E-R-N-E-S-T R. B-E-N-S-O-N.
E: I was born in Mount Vernon, New York.
E: Raised in Floral Park, New York.
I: When were you born?
E: August 26, 1930.
So, tell me about your family background. Your parents and your siblings.
E: Ah. My parents were Swedish and they–my father came over here on a–as a personnel on the Swedish liner, back in 1920’s. And when it docked–docked in New York he walked off and they never saw him again.
Female Voice: He immigrated.
E: And my mother was a —
I: Self- immigration, right? [laughing]
E: [laughing] Yeah. My mother was already in this country visiting an aunt.
E: And she had made other trips to this country besides.
I: From where?
E: From Sweden.
E: Oh, so both of–
E: Both of them came from Sweden.
I: Oh, but they didn’t know each other when they–
E: They didn’t know each other they met in this country and– at a dance at a firehouse or something like that
F: In Fuller Park
E: In Fuller Park and then she went back to Sweden.
they corresponded. My father stayed here. I understand they were looking for him in Sweden too [laughing] because he never came back with the–with the ship he came on.
E: And then she over they were married in–in–in Brooklyn in the First Lutheran Church. It was the first service in their Swedish church that was there–that was located there
E: And as a result of that. I was the the
offspring and the first child Baptist– baptized in that church.
I: Mm-hmm. Do you have brothers and sisters?
E: I have a brother, Ralph.
E: He lives in New Hartford, New York. That’s up here somewhere
E: And that’s it. Family is–is other that, I have some children I have my son, Court, and he’s in his 40’s. I have a–a daughter, Lisa, she’s in her 50’s. And have a deceased daughter who was a flight attendant for TWA and she died at the age of 40–44, 10 years ago. And that’s the–that’s–
I: Was it an accident?
E: No, she had multiple sclerosis.
I : Oh.
so she suffered a great deal.
I: Mm. I’m sorry. So, what school did you go through?
E: Well, I went to grammar school.
E: Of course. And then I graduated high school.
I : When was it?
E: I graduated high school in 19–
E: 50 actually.
F: Oh, 50?
I: Around May?
E: Oh, no, I was in January graduate from the 49th. You know,
from the year ’49. The reason for this being, I had in my sophomore year in the class of ’48 I had left school. I went to Sweden to live with my relatives to get to know them. The war had just ended, my grandmother was old and I’ve received permission to travel.
E: From the government
E: I came back a year and a half later and I did some school over there, where I learned to speak the language fluently.
E: After that, I came
and we went–I went to school up in Connecticut, high school there, and there I took ill and had to come back down to Long Island. And there, I reentered my old alma mater, Sewanhaka High School, from which I graduated.
I: So, that’s the January of 1950?
E: That’s it. January I guess, between 49 and 50.
I: You speaking Swedish.
I: So, say something about this interview in Swedish.
E: [Speaking in Swedish]
I: Whatever you say. [laughing]
E: I think it’s very, very nice to have this conversation
I: Oh thank you very much. I really appreciate your time. So, let’s start this conversation, okay? Did you know anything about Korea around the time that you were graduating high school?
E: No, nothing.
I: The school didn’t teach anything about Asia?
E: In– when I was in grammar school, I used to see in the history books pictures of junks, those ships
and I said to myself, I’d love to go there and see these things. However, I never realized that it would actually materialize.
I: Okay, so you didn’t know nothing about Korea?
E: Other than there was a peninsula called Chosin.
E: It was never referred to as Korea. It was the Chosin Province of China.
I : Province of China.
F: That’s what our books said.
So, how did you come to know about the breakout of the Korean War? When did you know and how you know? Was– were you in the street reading the paper or–
E: No, I didn’t know–
E: I didn’t know at all. I was in my own world as a young man.
E: And I know that there was– we’ve had a–a depression on and I went looking for work and I–I saw an ad for
the National Cash Register company.
I: The national what?
E: Cash register company.
I: Cash register.
E: And they were looking for an apprentice to start– enter the business. They needed one person and they were to assist in repairing small motors and things like that.
E: And I said I’d like to do that.
E: So, I went there and got on line there must have been two hundred people on line, but I was confident. I don’t know why, but I just knew I was going to get the job,
and I did.
E: And I was serving with the–with the–
I: Was it right after the graduation about your high school?
E: Yes it– it–it wasn’t right after it was –alright because I had entered Farmingdale. And I did one semester of college there that–and it was– I could see that I was not–it was not for me. It was agricultural, and I was not about to be in agriculture. But, I was very aware of the dormitory being
emptied out from the–the draft of people being drafted to–into the Army. And so the–now I–I–and I had just registered. So, I was concerned about–being called up for service. And that’s about the beginning when I started to become aware of a war in Korea.
I: Mm-hmm. So, have you ever thought that you could be dragged into the Korean War?
E: I didn’t think much of it, at the time, because it was–
F: You were 20 years old. [laughing]
E: Yeah I was young. But evidently– I found out later on in–after I had returned some angry neighbor had– with–who had some influence with the local politicians had my draft date moved up to get rid–get me out of the neighborhood.
E: He really disliked me.
E: And when I returned, he gave me a hell of a greeting. He says you’re back, I wish they could kill you over there. [laughing]
I: [laughing]. Oh.
E: The sad part about it is when I– when I got the news I was going– you know we have to train, basic training I got the news that.
I: So, did you enlist or were you drafted?
E: I was drafted.
I: Drafted when?
E: The exact date
I: Month? Yeah?
E: Let me– let me just think about this. It was–it was in August.
I: August of?
E: August of–of ’51.
I: And Army, right?
E: Into the Army, yes.
I : Yeah yeah.
E: And we
reported to Hampstead, to the draft board there. And we take the buses to Whitehall Street, New York. Where they got–where we went through all the physical. Then, there’s buses to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, where we spent the first couple nights.
E: And that was some experience.
I: Tell me about it.
E: Oh I got enthusiastic because I thought, well at this– you know, I’m going to be in this, I might as well get into it and–and get involved. And we had to
fall out that–early in the morning and, of course, I did that and I was a pretty big guy and they said, we–we’re here to find assignments for you. And we’re looking for people to be investigators.
E: That sounded interesting.
E: And G-men, to be partic–particular. And we’re gonna– anybody who’s interested step forward, so I did. And then, it was quite a few of us. And–they say–yeah–they pick around
you’re too scrawny, you’re this, you’re that, do–do–do–do
E: So, I got picked I was very proud. And then they said all right this is what you’re going to be done–doing, you’re G-men, that stands for garbage man and you’re going to investigate every garbage can on the post and make sure it’s empty.
E: That’s–we were humiliated, but [laughing] we did it.
I: How did you like it? [laughing]
E: [laughing] that only lasted a couple of weeks, then we were shipped off the basic training,
which was at–
E: Fort Knox Kentucky.
E: And then we went through–I went through eight weeks of basic training.
I: So, what was your specialty assigned?
E: Well, they decided since my–the line of work I was in before when I was drafted was the cash register business, they–got tested and then they had to two–two possibles courses for me, small arms repair or field wiring and electrical.
E: And they needed we– field wiring and electrical more than small arms repair.
E: So, I went to field wiring school at Fort Knox Kentucky and then on to pole climbing school. Needless to say, pole climbing school was not to my liking because those telephone poles have been climbed up and down, up and down right many classes–
I: Yeah. Yeah.
E: and they were–they were barely standing up. And I was–
I did not like heights.
I: Ah. Me either. I am–I’m afraid.
E: in the beginning there was one pole, in particular, that nobody wanted and everybody ran for the other poles when they said get–find your poles. I got tripped and I wound up with this one particular devil pole where the top was cracked and it would lean like that.
E: And we had to go to the top. And there was exercises that we had to perform it–I froze up there.
I: Yeah, yeah.
E: And I just braced that pole
and I would not come down. I just could not move.
I: Big bear at the top of the tree and–
E: And they were threatening me and they threw stones at me and the sergeant said, if I’m coming up to get you and he says I’m gonna put this spike in your head. You know, because you got spikes on your shoes. And when it got dark, then I climbed down. [laughing]
I: [laughing] For how long did you stay there?
E: Until the sun went down because I was– then I couldn’t see the ground.
I: So, several hours you
Are up there?
E: Yes, I stayed there.
I: Strong man huh?
E: Yeah it was–it was frightening. But after that, I could–you know I managed to force myself and I–I got through the pole climbing school.
I: Oh, so.
E: I became a field wireman.
I: Field wireman.
E: And–and the–on poles and things. From there, I went home for Christmas.
I: 1951, right?
E: Yeah this is the winter of–of–
E: ’51 and ’52. And I told my– I wrote a letter saying that I was gonna– getting orders to go to Korea.
E: And my father read the letter and–and he had a heart attack and died on the spot. so I had to go home.
I: Because of the letter you wrote?
E: That’s what he was reading it when I–when he died. And he had just been to the doctor and gotten a clean bill of health.
I: How old was he?
I: Oh my goodness.
E: So, the Red Cross sent me home. And I’ve– they gave me thirty day leave and then they said I did not have to go back into the service, but I–I couldn’t not go back to the service because then this would have all been for nothing, his dying.
E: Then it would have been it– I would have been worse for me. So, I said I’ve got to go back I want some payback.
I: You want to have something good came out– coming out of your–
E: That’s right. Absolutely.
I : father’s pass away
E: Absolutely. And I wanted–I wanted to get back at them over there.
I: Wow I never–I never heard this kind of story. Oh my goodness.
E: So that’s what–
I: Do you still keep the letter?
E: No. My mother had it. And that– its– I don’t have the letter.
I: Oh I’m so sorry to hear that. Oh boy.
E: Well, I never saw the letter again.
I: What did you write? You said that you just going to Korea?
E: No, I said well we’ve got two orders to go to Korea I’m going to fight in Korea. Because by then we were totally aware of it, and the people who were training us were veterans of Korea and they told us some very hairy stories about their experiences over there, so.
I: Oh ca–can you share some of those
stories that you heard from the trainers?
E: Well, the–you know, have it was– hordes of them and there were so few of ours. And there was a quite often we–they’d lose a lot of people. And those would scare stories I’m sure. And they were true. But that didn’t matter.
I: Mm-hmm. So,
what happened to you then?
E: I shipped out at– we went– we left when–when I left the house, I gave all the money I had to my mother because she had none. And she went on sort of like–relief or something like that.
I: What was your mom’s reaction to your decision to continue on this?
E: She–she didn’t say that’s just– not strange, but
she was strong, and I said to her, I have to do this. And she wasn’t going to argue with me. So, I have to do this. Besides, my brother was home also. He was younger– two years younger. Anyhow, we shipped out from San Francisco. Landed in Tokyo bay, there was a ci– acity there.
E: Yeah and then we got on a train we– and the train was–was like a bullet train and it was filled and it went through the ar–the area where the a–atomic bomb had landed.
E: Yeah and that was, you know, interesting to see all this. There was–and the people there. And there was just twisted metal that had been factories and buildings. From there, we went to Camp Drake.
And from Camp Drake we got a boat to Korea and we came in and landed at Inchon.
I: Do you remember when around?
E: Around April.
E: At the end of March–last days of March and then they–we came ashore on landing barges. Now, Incheon had already been taken and– but we didn’t really know that.
And you could hear the noise, you know, they’ve shells in the background far off. And the Marines were there and they were taunting us as we came off those landing crafts. And it was not like you see in the movies. We sat backwards.
E: We sat backwards in the landing craft in this manner like so.
I: Uh-huh. Uh-huh.
E: And the– they hit the beach
I don’t know why at the–at the doo–the front of the landing barge came down and we rolled off of that like coal off a shovel.
E: I could not explain that I was only a private nobody. I couldn’t explain that. It’s not like I saw in the movies where they come charging off it. Incheon was already secure and they just was shuttling as fast as they could before the tide went out.
I: Oh my goodness.
E: So anyway, we got on a train
and they–we traveled up to where they call the repple depple, which is a replacement depot for–
E: And we spent the night there. In the morning, they rallied us and we–we were got our assignment. My buddy who–I’m still contact with him, he’s in New Jersey– the two of us were assigned to field artillery units, but not the same one. I went with the 31stfield and he went
with the 57th field.
I: Where did you go? Where–what was the region the location do you remember? Is it Chinch’on?
E: Well mine was– I went up to Chinch’on.
I : Chinch’on.
E: Yeah and he went to wherever his–his location was. So, we parted company there
I: So you said what is the name of the regiment you said?
E: Oh I–I was with–
E: The– it was the 31st Field Artillery Battalion and the 7thInfantry
E: 7thInfantry Division.
E: Field artillery.
I : Field artillery.
E: 31 FA Charlie battery.
I : And 7th division.
E: C battery. 155 howitzers.
E: The heavy stuff.
I: And then you said that you move around right?
E: Oh yeah to the– I–I–I was assigned to the detail section where they put people like myself who did not, you know, do anything with the cannons we did the electrical work on the– you know, put the phone
wires are in for the first unit or electric whatever we had to do. Operate the radio, you know, we was specials.
E: To that–they kept us all in place. Some were Jeep drivers. Some were clerk typists. You know, that what it takes to do the internal work of the–of the unit. Two days later,
someone sticks his head in– or was it was the next day? Someone sticks his head in the tent and yells, “Incoming mail!” and everybody runs out of the tent. And I said well, there’s no mail for me it–I have–it hasn’t caught up with me yet. So, I stayed there. And next thing you know I found artillery shells from the other side came pouring in on us and that was the incoming mail.
So I– so I– I got out of there in a hurry and everybody’s up in a cave on the–on the reverse slope and yelling, “Come on run! Come on run!” [laughing]
E: From there I could watch the shells going over and–and landing and–they went to–
I: In the tent?
I: Landing in the tent where you were?
E: No, not–not that time but the landing and they were trying to reach another unit that was just beyond us.
But as soon as it was over with we packed up we left now because they had our coordinates. And that day, I learned what incoming mail meant.
I: Funny, huh?
E: No one explained it to me. [laughing].
I: Did he, Viola, did he talk about this?
F: Lots of times he did and it helped him. It helped heal him. To talk about it.
I: So, he talked to you about it?
I: Yeah. Please introduce yourself. Your name?
F: I’m Viola
V: Ernest and I grew up together.
V: In the same town.
E: We have a picture of us together when we were seven years– seven years old.
V: We have a picture of us when we were seven years old. And we met up at our high school
E: We got back together again
F: We both had married. He’d been married twice and I’d been married and widowed. And we met again.
I: When was it?
V: At our 50th high school reunion.
E: We’re in–we’re in our eighties now.
V: He sat down at my table and didn’t leave and we’ve been together ever since.
I: Ah. Are you from also Sweden?
V: I’m Swedish descent and Danish. My father was Danish.
I: Oh my goodness you–
V: But my mother and his mother knew each other.
E: Our parents knew each other.
V: We played together as children, when we were young. And have a picture of us when we were 7 years old.
What do you think about his fight for a country that he never knew before and coming out so beautifully? You know what happened to Korea right?
V: Oh yes.
I: After the Korean War.
V: I do.
I: What do you think about that?
V: It was sad
V: It was sad for everybody involved.
V: Sad that people was suffering that they sent our–our young men over and they were getting maimed and hurt, and killed too so…
It was sad. We were young, you know. We’re same age.
V: But I didn’t know him then.
I: Were you aware that he was in Korea?
V: I correspondent with his brother who went to Korea, so.
E: You knew I was there.
V: And he was there after.
I: I– I missed the part. You–your brother was there in Korea with you?
E: Not with me. I was leaving and he was arriving.
I: Oh, okay okay.
V: And I was–I was.
E: It’s the same division we just missed each other.
I: Mm-hmm. So, tell–
V: It is kind of complicated.
I: Okay so tell me about major locations your stat– your your stationed in. Where were you after Chinch’on where did you go?
E: We–we were
in North Korea. Chungyang-ni, which is na–North of Seoul.
E: There, we were attacked there with Chinese bulleters. And at that time, I time ex–excelled in my job as a radio operator and I was awarded the Army Commendation Medal for action in that day. In that encounter.
I: What–what was the occasion? Did you do so–
E: It was Chungyang-ni.
I: What was your action to be recommend–
E: Well, its–I’ll to have to back pa–back. When I first got, you know, involved in locations I was a private and all they had to do at those times was menial work, digging, whatever crap needed doing
you were doing it and I did not like it. So, I said there must be a better way, this is not what I came here for. And so I started look around where you could make some rank.
E: And I asked around and I found out these– they needed spotters for the artillery. They’re F-Os.
I: Yeah full–
E: Full observers.
E: So, I got in– got interested in that, found out what I needed to know, and I said
I’d like to give it a shot. So, I did, and it went well. And I’ve FO’d on a–several different hills. And every month it seems I got a stripe. And I went– I went up the ranks to become a sergeant in a matter of months
E: In fact, I was the last sergeant maybe. Fourth rank was frozen.
I: From private.
E: From private.
I: What– where was it? In Chorwon?
I: Was in Chungyang-ni right?
E: It was Chungyang-ni.
I: And after that where did you go?
E: Well, Kumhwa Valley and that was our–our home base. From there I would–I would go out on missions, you know, to locate and Y radio back their positions too,
so that he could fire of artilleries on them. And also I have to credit my– my executive officer– Lieutenant that he chose me to be his–his number two, which was the radio sergeant, because we were an FO team. And I wondered why he chose me but–but it seemed that I had qualified in the weapons that I have a–
I was sharp shooter right or left-handed. I became a sharpshooter.
E: And I really worked at–at getting that status. So I have– got a certificate for that. And that’s what he wanted. He wanted somebody else to cover his–who could shoot and cover his back.
E: So together we made a good team. He got promoted to company commander of another–or battalion commander of another unit.
and that was the last I saw of him.
I: Please describe a typical day in the Kumwha Valley. Tell me the details where did you go? What you did and then if there were any occasion where that you are encountered with the enemies–so on.
E: While I was in Kumwha Valley, all hell started to break loose.
Not in the valley itself, but in the Iron Triangle.
E: And I got the call to go up there as a field artillery observer for the 32ndRaid Infantry regiment, the polar bears, which I did. And it was– it was really a slaughter up there.
I: Was really what?
E: A slaughter.
E: Slaughter, you know, killing.
V: A lot of killing.
E: Oh big killing field up there.
I: Oh–oh–oh–oh slaughter, yes.
E: And I traversed the hill twice, got up the top and had been there just about a half a day, when we got under attack again. The lieutenant and I went down to search some bodies for a map or intel and one of the people that was, you know, in the r–in a foxhole stood up on the ridge line taking pictures of us and therefore became a focal point.
They were able to tri–angulate right on us.
E: And the shells came raining down. Well I–I managed to get up and get back into a foxhole and so does the lieutenant and the fellow who was taking pictures he kept taking pictures and he got a full blast right in the face. So, he lost his face. And but the–you know, he didn’t lose his vision he just got burned because it’s
what they–what the shells were was white phosphorus and that just burns us. That’s, you know, like flame it’s just long as it gots oxygen it just burns. And I had it on my hands and pieces of the–the shrapnel from the casing. I got a scar right in here. And I got first-aid, you know, the aids. Medic! Medic! You know, and they–they–they
Come over and they patch you up and they says, okay you’re good to go. Go get them! You know. That is– unless you’re taken out on a helicopter or on a stretcher you don’t go to the aid station they patch you up right then and there and you’re back on the line again. The next day, I got relieved and one of my best friends came up and he says all right you can go now I’m taking over. And my officer, at the time, said when you get–when you get back there I’ll put you up for the Purple Heart.
Well, he never got back and the fella who relieved me, he was in the hospital before I got back.
E: He was–he took a piece of shrapnel and the lieutenant took a– took another piece and he expired. So, there was no Purple Heart to be gotten. And sometimes I wish I had– I had the heart and other times I– it doesn’t matter. It just…
E: Feeling that I–I’ve–I did something
So, we got to the Jeep. He relieved me in the foxhole, I got to the Jeep. The Jeep was all shot up. They had hid it at the–on the top of the of– Jane Russell Hill there was a trail that the engineers had dug up there and trying– a Jane Russell Hill was a major hill. A bloody hill and–got in the–in the Jeep and it couldn’t be started
and it they– had been shot full of holes but they hadn’t shot out the tires and so, it was three officers and myself. I got behind the wheel, they pushed the Jeep out of the–the hiding space and it’s all down the mountain I drove it down. And we got towed back to our home base and that was it. Then I went to rest at a rest center.
I: Another occasion? When was it actually when were you actually wounded on your hand?
E: On October 26 19–
I: October 26–
E: 1952. I had also on the back of my hand.
E: Is its–its it little– they’re like little flaming pellets that go in the back of your hand. And I also covered my face with the hand– and the and–and my rifle butt.
I: So, you were almost ready to go back to home?
E: [laughing] No.
E: I was unconscious.
E: I re– when I revived someone was stuffing a rag down my throat, and I never did know who that was or why. They was fingers of my mouth stuffing a rag down. I don’t know where–who it was. When I started to come to, that person disappeared. The sergeants were never popular anyway.
I : So what happened
E: Well, that’s when we, you know, we went down. And that is what–what–what happened there.
I: Any other occasion where you really were in danger to lose your life?
E: Yeah. When we took–when we became under fire at Xiang Yun Lee. I was in my tent and–
I: It is after the Kumwha Valley again?
I: It is–was it after the Kumwha Valley?
I: Oh, so you went back to Chungyang-ni?
E: No, it was before the–
E: I was in the tent and I could–from the flap that was open– it was a squad tent we had sand bags up about that high around the sides so that you could lay on the floor if something happened.
E: It was no floor, it was dirt. And all of a sudden, the rounds came in and we g–we got a hit on the tent and I crawled out of there on my belly
and I got to headquarters. You know, the–the command post. And there was no communications lines left opened. So, one of my– one of my men ran a– Corporal Sok–[Sokolowski] his name was–he ran in line to–down the road and as far as he could run with it, got it over to headquarters. Meanwhile, I went out and rescued the commander’s Jeep, which had the shortwave radio in it. And I stayed on the radio while
it–it exposed. Totally exposed maintaining communication at all times with everything that was coming down. The camp was a disaster and I took– I saw a lot of pictures of that after was over.
I: You have a camera with you?
E: Yeah–I–at–after that was over, I grabbed my camera and I started taking some pictures of it. I took a picture of my tent from the inside. It looked like the Starlight roof, it was so full of holes.
I: Let me ask you about the soft side of the service–your service. How much were you paid?
E: Well, as a sergeant when I–at– at the beginning, I was like $80 a month. But as a sergeant, I got $205 a month. So that was–
I: 200 what?
E: $205 a month.
I: Wow that’s–
V: How much to your mother?
E: Well, by that time she had gone back to Sweden.
I: So, you send those money to your–
E: No–no. I sent money orders home to– to be saved.
E: You know, to be banked.
I: You didn’t spend anything while you are in Korea?
E: Yes I did. They–they–they had what they call a PX truck came around.
I: Yes, yes.
E: And I bought a–a very expensive wristwatch and I bought a 12 gauge shotgun.
I: [laughing] during the war?
E: During the war. Any time I had a–
I: Do you nee another gun?
E: Brand–brand, well, no, I mailed it home eventually.
but I thought to myself, maybe I should hang on to this, because it’s a good scattergun. It’s, you know, for close work. But then I said no, it’s brand-new is full of cosmoline it’s never been used, it’s in a box, I’m gonna mail it home. Which I did.
I: Any reason you bought that expensive watch?
E: I always wanted one.
E: I always wanted a good watch. I never had a good watch. Now, I have, thanks to this wonderful lady I have this one.
E: She bought me for my birthday.
E: And that’s one of–my pride and joy.
I: [laughing]. Where did you sleep in [Kuma] Valley? Did you stayed in tent or–
E: In [Kuma] no, we had a bunker.
E: Bunker dug into the side of the hill
I: Tell me about this life inside of the bunker. How many were there? And smelly as–
E: Well, it was smelly, yeah but you got used to it because, you know,
it becomes a way of life.
I: Yeah we are the man.
E: And it was cold. I bet–I–you know, you learned how to keep warm. The warm air is always at the top. So, I always took a top– top bunk because–
I: Because you are sergeant.
E: Because the closer to the floors the colder the air is, and little things like that. We had the pot-bellied stove. It was fueled with gasoline. There was a risk involved, but it was heat.
And we had a–we had a–a– sergeant in charge. He was a mast–not a master sergeant, like a sergeant first class, he was in charge of the whole operation. I was comi–ca–I was the communication sergeant but they have more jobs for you than just being that– you know that’s my MOS was common– communication sergeant. They also made me that– the rat sergeant. And I’ll explain that. Also, the TI in each– training information education.
I would re– get a the–the news every week and then keep the troops up to speed as to what was going on in Korea, the war and the peace talks, and the–all the news I could gather from stars and stripes.
E: And I would rep–report that. I would–I’d read it to the–to the troops. As rat sergeant, I organized some Korean KFC workers to build rat traps out of shell
casings and a piece of wood. And we put poison in them and we’ve hit them in areas of the–the tent where more than likely we would have the visitors of the furry kind. Because hemorrhagic fever was pretty heavy over there.
E: and I managed to keep it under control and we had no incidents and we would get rid of rats mostly. Because they would eat it and then go down to the–. So, I was a celebrated rat sergeant. [laughing]
I: Hm. What did you eat in the tent? What did you have? a hot meal or–or C-ration?
E: Yes, yess we had a hot meal. Peace talks were going on and they had rigged the tent and they have made some ta–tables out of old–old crates and boxes and they–and everybody ate in the tent. Sergeants had their own tents and they had the people there that would bring the tray to you. You didn’t have to go through the line you just–
I: So what, scrambled eggs?
E: So it–it was pretty nice. Well, we get a lot of chopped meat every day–that–every day there was some form of chopped meat. You know, Salisbury steak, hamburger meat, meat balls, meat sauce, things like that, and rice. Oh did we eat rice. [laughing]
I: Did you like the rice?
E: I like rice bit some people don’t the rice that much. I’m never gonna eat rice again I can’t stand it.
I: So, it wasn’t not too bad about the meals right?
E: No, the food was good.
E: Food was good. We also had the C-rations. They were from World War II. And some of those things in the C-ration cans they were–they were something else. But there was some good ones. Pork sausages and– greasy, greasy pork sausage or pork patties they were phew. But the beans were good. And some of the other things. The vegetable soups. And there’s a block of chocolate that’s been there so long it’s started turn like with
white crust on it. Hard as a rock. But, that was a really good thing because you could gnaw on it like a rat, or whatever, you got or you needed energy.
E: Because you could never completely consumed this thing you could just scratch it with your teeth.
E: So, that was good. And, of course, there’s a pack of cigarettes in every one. And they said with the slogan on it, Lucky Strike Green has gone to war.
E: Which was the slogan from World War II.
I: Lucky Strike
I know the brand.
E: Yeah, Lucky Strike Green. Is because there wasn’t the red red patch on it anymore, it was a green patch because that was a uniform color. And they were from the 1940s, which [laughing] so, they were pretty stale.
E: And a sheet of toilet paper came with it.
E: One sheet.
I: One sheet.
E: One sheet. [laughing].
I: So, how did you deal with the rest of your–
E: Well, I could show you I mean if –its–its if I had
a sheet of paper I could show you exactly how you deal with it.
I: Let’s see.
E: Okay this–this–say this–this
I: Don’t tear now.
E: Say this is a piece of toilet paper.
I: Hold on–hold on– let me refocus. That’s it.
E: So, you would take it and you’d fold it into fours, like so,
E: And you–like that. And you then you tear this corner out.
I: Yeah don’t–don’t tear it don’t tear it.
E: Oh I just did.
I: Oh just leave it.
I: And then?
E: And then you open it up.
E: Right. And you insert your finger through this.
E: Now this piece that you tore out is very important because after you like that you use that little piece to clean under your fingernails.
I: Have you heard about it?
E: I’ve told her about it, but I’ve never [laughing] demo’d it.
V: Well, I guess– You gotta do what you gotta do.
E: Yep. We had to do what we had to do.
E: That got to be a standard joke.
I: What is it?
E: That with this one sheet of toilet paper because no one hardly ever did it.
E: We had toilet paper. But every time you open up the can everybody did the demonstration. [laughing]
I: [laughing] did you write back to your mom?
E: Yes, I wrote to her.
I: What did you write?
E: I had a girlfriend back home I wrote to at the time.
I: What did you write?
E: What I was doing. Little nice things we, you know, we were going together before I got drafted and–
I: Your girlfriend?
E: Yeah and she was waiting for me when I got home. We even got engaged.
I: Very nice.
E: That didn’t go through.
E: [laughing] so, that was that.
I: Did you think about your father while you’re in Korea? Who passed away because of the–
E: What I had written.
E: Yes. I did occasionally, but I was, you know, some-it would I’d–it well, they have this expression in Sweden [speaks Swedish]. That was–it was a–it grieved me too much to do that.
I: Yeah. So, when did you leave Korea?
E: May 3rd1953. It was just before that last push at Pork Chop Hill and they were getting me ready for it.
E: When suddenly my name came up on a rotation list and I was one happy camper.
E: I stayed in the bunker, I’m not going out anymore. [laughing.]
I: You want to be alive back home.
E: That’s right I don’t want to be listed as the last one.
I: So tell me about it. What it–how do you put all this sort of happenings to you–you never
imagined that you would be in Korea. Your father died of your letter that you are headed to Korea. You were participating in the very extensive battle, and you coming back. How do you put this things to–into a perspective?
E: Well, there’s–there’s things I–I don’t– I don’t really talk about. And these are things that you witness through the course of the war.
On– on– say for instance, the battle at Jane Russell Hill. I went down the hill to a collecting spot down at the base of the hill that was still under fire and there were all the dead were piled up. The dead Chinese and they were piled up like logs along the side of the road.
E: And the Americans were laid on individual stretchers. And, of course, they were not covered with blankets or anything like that. Because there just wasn’t anything we cover them with. They were all–rigor mortis set in in the grotesque positions and expressions, and suddenly I was thought I’d recognized somebody I knew. And I went over there and I was greatly relieved it wasn’t. I felt sorry I was– I thought to myself, it–it’s very fortunate his brother can’t see him like this. And while I was there, a–a truck pulled up, a Dusenhalf,
and unloaded replacements. And these young privates, they jumped off the back of the truck with their new clothes on and their duffel bag. And they told them, well you won’t need your duffel bag, thrown back on the truck. Where you’re going, all you’re gonna need is your rifle. And these–these guys, their eyes lit up and then they saw the bodies laid out and they started to cry and when they sat down on the ground
and they were ordered to stand. And two of them stood, shaking and one just lost it. He couldn’t– he couldn’t get up off the ground. “I’m not going! I’m not going! I’m not going!” So, they, you know, they–when they first got off, they said where–where we going? And they say well, you’re going to repl–I didn’t say it, the man, he was a little sadistic, you got to read I’d insisted the bed he was a little statistics I was doing the pickup, he says well, you’re replacing these guys over here any points
to all those dead Americans.
E: And meanwhile, they’re loading the– all these dead Chinese onto the truck, like logs, to be taken down to where they–to where they’re going to dispose of them. So this was, you know, this is pretty grotesque to see. Plus, there was a lot of, you know, where–where artillery shells had landed in foxholes, there was body parts. And these things were–they–they were just a bit much.
V: You never forget.
So, with that, comes post-traumatic stress disorder
I: You have it?
E: Yeah. I’m work–it’s working out now.
I: What do you mean, working out?
E: Well, when I first got back, you know, I want to step back into my role that–that I had before I was drafted. I wanted to go back to the job I had. I wanted to go back to where I lived. And I–I wanted to go back to the girl I was with. In the first six months that–
I got all those three things. But then the engagement went South and she decided she was– she wasn’t that keen on it. And–
I: How it happened? Did you reveal the symptoms of PTAD and that’s why?
E: No, I– all of a sudden I couldn’t–she was not home or– she was there and she wasn’t there on a weeknight. So, I–I went and I parked outside the–
near her house and at three o’clock good morning she comes home with someone else. So, I asked for an explanation, she passed me this engagement ring and that was the end of it.
E: She didn’t want to be engaged anymore. She went–she wanted to play the fields. So, you gotta take your losses, you take your losses. It wasn’t meant to be. But, two out of three isn’t bad. So, I got the job back that I loved and I lived
where I–where I wanted to live and eventually got married. It was not a great marriage. And that’s about it. I–I–I became an alcoholic. But I only drank during–after.
I: Since when? Since you return from Korea?
I: Was it because of the sufferings?
E: That wasn’t really it. What it was is, they– they gave us
alcohol as a–as a treatment for the–when you come down, you know, off a–a skirmish or something, then you–
I: In Korea?
E: Yeah, and you, you know, you’re uptight or something to that effect. I got four bottles of bourbon a–a month, a case of beer, and a case of soda, which I shared with my troops. And the–the liquor was–wasn’t free, it was four dollars for a bottle of–to a bottle
I: Oh, you have to buy?
E: Well, you had the privilege of buying it.
I: Privilege of buying it, yes.
E: Yeah $4 was not a lot of money.
E: For–for 100 proof of old granddad bourbon or something like that.
E: Top–top of top shelf you know? But anyway we got to consuming that. Plus we had a sergeant first class there who was he was like to the Grand Master of this stuff, you know, he really got everybody drinking with him.
E: He was nasty. He was–
I: Was it endemic, like everybody that they were kind of encouraged to drink or forced to drink?
E: Not forced, encouraged. If they wanted to. Nobody made you do it. Its just that you–you find relief, if you know what I’m saying. I need a drink. You know?
I: When did you find that you have a PTSD?
E: When I got tested by the–by the V–by the VA in Northport.
V: 10 years ago?
E: No, more than that.
V: More than that?
E: Yeah. About 14 years ago.
I: So, about 2000?
I : But wasn’t, didn’t, were you not suffered from PTS–
E: Because I was functional. I was very functional. I had a good job I–I–you know, I was a very excellent in my work, but after five o’clock, I was off to the ba–cocktail lounge. And I would drink a bottle a night.
I: And did you have a nightmare?
E: I’ve–I had a few.
I: So, then what is–what was your PTSD symptom?
E: Well, I could get very, very hostile. In fact, the last–the last time I had a sip I was 72 years old and I took some guy out at the supermarket. He–he pressed the right buttons and, you know, they say you
see red well, I didn’t see red I just saw white– blazing white. It was like a white sheet in front of me. And I lashed out. And you get such an adrenaline rush you have super strength. But other than PTSD, I–I was never that seriously injured. I have frostbite on my feet so it–difficulty working– walking, but it really didn’t start to become a problem until I start to get old.
Much, much older. I have what they call Charcot Foot.
I: What is that?
E: That’s when your feet fall–start to disassemble. The bones in them and they flatten out like pancakes and they get longer and wider.
E: So, I went from a–from a size 13 to a size 15 now.
I : That’s why its so–
E: And I have to have custom made shoes.
I: Have you been back to Korea?
E: No, I haven’t.
I : Okay. Do you know what happened to Korea after you left?
E: Yeah, yeah it’s–I kept, you know, busy with the what– what goes on. Especially up at the M–at the DMZ. And there has been quite a few incidents up there and at least sixteen thousand workers have been killed up there yet.
I: I’m talking about Korea’s economic development and–and democracy. What do you–
E: Oh yeah, well I’ve been, you know, watching the progress of the– of the rebuilding of Korea. It’s absolutely amazing. They’re even making a great car now. That Kia is really smart looking.
I: You own Kia?
E: No, I’ve got that Chevy van, it’s a handicap van.
E: But, this year I’m noticing a big difference, as your cars are larger and they’re better looking and they seem to have a lot more appointments and they really–they’re coming into their own now.
E: But earlier, they were just another car, but now they’re–they’re not another car now, they’re at the stage where I would consider buying one.
I: Do you have grandchildren or great-grandchildren?
E: I have grandchildren.
I: What age?
E: I have two granddaughters, one 17, 18 and I have a grandson who is 14.
I: Huh. So, 17/ 18 they are in high school?
E: One is graduated.
E: The 18-year-old is out.
I: What’s she doing?
E: Well, that’s my son’s children and she is–she has a job in an office. She’s going to college night for it– free time.
I: Okay. I mentioned about Youth Corps, the descendant organization that organized last year, to keep the legacy of the Korean War Veterans. Do you remember? I talked about it in the morning.
E: Yes, yes that interested me.
I: Yes. So please, would you be willing to talk to them?
E: I would–I would–my grandson I’m sure would be interested.
I: Mm-hmm. How about granddaughter in the high school? No?
E: They’re–they’re into boys.
I: Oh okay. [laughing]
V: That’s what girls are when they’re teenagers.
I: Oh yeah.
E: Yeah, but my grandson is a straight-A student. He lives on Martha’s Vineyard, up in Massachusetts.
I: Oh please PLEASE invite him.
E: And, he’s going to England on a class trip this year.
I: What’s he doing now?
E: He’s going to go to England.
I: No, no,no– he finished with the school, right?
E: No, he’s 14.
I: Oh okay.
V: Over the summer he’s going to go to England.
E: He’s going to go to up there to England for a couple of weeks for a class
trip with, you know, exchange student.
I: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
E: I don’t know how many other children who he’d be going with but he’s going and stay with a family there. And learn about England and then come back.
I: Got it. Yeah. So, he’s 14.
I: So, he’s in the middle school?
I: Yeah. Maybe he is too young to– to join the–
E: Well, he’s brighter than most.
I: Oh. Just–just in case, please
ask him to contact me, okay?
E: Yeah. He’s very into computers. He wants-when he grows up he wants to design computer games.
E: And his–his grades are up there in the– the A’s. He’s a mathematician.
I: Very good. Ask him to contact me please. You know, this is three days three nights and four days in Washington D.C.
My foundation cover every expenses, except half of the transportation. So where are– where is he located?
E: On Martha’s Vineyard.
E: That’s just off the coast of Massachusetts.
I: I know but–the Cape Cod.
E: But its out in the water completely.
I: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
E: He was born there.
I: So, for example, he driving from there to Washington D.C.–
E: Well, he don’t drive. He’s 14.
I: Oh yeah right 14. I’m sorry.
If he whatever transport–
E: He would fly.
I: Half of the–the flight ticket will be reimbursed by the foundation.
I: And you can chip several dollars to–to his ticket and everything else is covered. Except the registration fee of $50.
E: Yeah, I would pay his way.
E: Sure, I’ll pay his half.
I: Yeah, so.
E: I’ve done that before for trips and things like that.
E: He went to some college for–for
two weeks for computer studies.
I: Very good.
E: And I paid for that.
I: So, tell me what is Korea to you?
E: It was a memorable experience to me. It was a–like a coming of age. I went in a boy, I look like a boy, I come out–I don’t–I didn’t look the same.
I was a man.
V: You grew up, but…
E: And yet, socially, I was two years behind when I got back. And it was trying to catch up that was difficult. I had to resolve social issues. They—they weren’t playing to same songs, they didn’t do the same dances, didn’t wear the same clothes, I had to reinvent myself.
E: And I did.
I: That’s good. So, tell me about your thoughts on the legacy of the Korean War and the Korean War Veterans. How do you want to describe the legacy of your own?
E: Well, whatever–you know–you see how it’s old. We built it form–when I look at my album, which is rarely,
but when I do, of pictures I’ve taken of Seoul when it was– there doesn’t seem to be many walls standing. This was rubble. Block after block of brick sins and huts made of beer cans and– and all kinds of things like that. And then you see how it is today. I said to myself that’s– you know–I I felt like I was part of it. I was–I had contributed.
E: It’s like you–you–you given them the land and they will farm it. They will plant it. They will build on it. So, we gave them back their land.
I: As I mentioned in the dinner, over the dinner, I am not I–I don’t know how I can figure out what I would do and what I would be without your fight during the Korean War.
E: Gave you a chance. I feel like I–I’ve contributed something to that. I took a chance too. I could’ve died.
I: That’s why I think all the Korean people never forget to thank you,
E: Oh they do.
I: The Korean War veterans.
E: We have large commun– Korean communities on Long Island and in–in Brooklyn and especially in Flushing.
And sometimes I find a–a note on my windshield “thank you for saving my country” I get all choked up.
I: Mm. That’s why. It is–it was very important war, but it’s been forgotten in.
E: Oh it’s so important it was the first attempt of communism to spread.
E: And if– in the East. The the plan was to take over Japan and then spread communism
all the way. And Stalin was dead and if– the only reason the–the– with the war, actually what got us involved, is when it came up to vote at the UN the Russians were absent on a hissy fit.
E: And they weren’t there to veto it, which was their big blunder, but it was your gain and our gain.
E: and we stopped it. We nipped it in the bud.
And since then, the Berlin Wall has come down and Russia’s states have disassembled. Communism is on its way out. There’s only a couple of holdouts, and we know who they are.
I: Yeah. It was a very, very important war.
E: Very important.
I: It actually shaped the–every aspect of whole people in the world into a two different poles, communist and capitalist free country.
E: Right. Right. And that’s exactly the point I make.
E: If we hadn’t, you would be marching to a different drummer today.
I: Exactly. Anything that you want to add to this interview?
E: No, it–you know, it–it really bothered me when I started hear about the things being said like the Forgotten War. That really annoyed me. Then I–I bought a baseball cap that said Korean War Veteran. And I–I promised myself I’d wear that
every day for the rest of my life and I’ve been doing just that. And if– I want to–everywhere I go, people know me by that hat.
V: And your license plate too.
E: And my license plate.
I: What is it? How what–what does it–?
E: Korean War veterans 31st field. This one that you see here I got from the Korean ambassador when he was touring a going through different chapters
V: Last year.
E: This was from last year.
In fact, I’ve got a picture of it on my–on my cell phone. This, my shooting expertise’s and what else do I got here? Oh thank you.
I: Great, thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]