Frank Torres describes a rough childhood. He explains as a teen that he had to avoid troubling situations so he joined the Marines upon his early graduation from high school. He shares his role as a rifleman and the action he saw at a variety of places in Korea including the Inchon Landing and Chosin Reservoir. He shares how he remained in the military for twenty years and as a gunnery sergeant. He describes returning back to Korea.
Experiences at the Inchon Landing
Frank Torres describes being part of Inchon landing. He discusses how the group made ladders for the terrain. He shares a story about witnessing the death of his commanding officer. He describes the dangerous situation.
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The Reality of the Front Lines
Frank Torres describes defending a pass at the Chosin Reservoir. He describes situations he experienced on the frontlines. He shares the outcomes of his experience and provides insight into the reality of decisions that are made under those conditions.
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Frank Torres describes the amazement of modern Korea. He explains that the growth he saw in the economy. He explains he has had the opportunity to return to Korea twice. He shares the importance of studying and learning from the Korean War.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
F: My name is Frank Torres. T O R R E S.
C: Um hm.
F: And I was
C: When is your birthday?
F: My birthday was May 20, 1930. That’s 1 9 3 0.
C: Where were you born?
F: And I was born in New York City.
C: New York City?
C: I’m from Syracuse, New York.
F: I beg pardon?
C: I’m from Syracuse, New York.
F: How far are you from New York?
C: Four hours. I’m from Syracuse.
F: Oh, you’re from Syracuse.
C: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
C: Nice to meet you, sir.
F: Nice to meet you, sir.
C: New Yorker.
F: My pleasure.
I: Tell me about your family when you were growing up, your siblings and your parents when you were growing up.
F: Well I, I grew up in, in 109th Street and, near Central Park in New York City
F: Which at that time was the Puerto Rican section. My parents are from Puerto Rico, so they were, they were
immigrated from Puerto Rico to New York, got married, had two children, myself and my brother Henry, and I grew up there, and I had my 18th birthday in boot camp because I, I, I graduated early from high school.
I: When, when was, when did you graduate?
F: I graduated in March of 1948. So I went to Marine Corp. in 1048
I: Um hm.
F: And three months later
I was, became a Marine. And then I went to Paris Island. From there I went to Barstow, California, and I stayed there for a while, and I don’t know what else you want to know.
I: I just went to Puerto Rico this January.
I: And I did interview 70 of them, the Korean War veterans
I: Are you familiar with that?
F: Well, I understand that there was a Colonel there
that tried to get the, the Puerto Rican Battalion to go to Korea to fight, and he couldn’t get them for a long time, and he finally agreed, it was agreed, to go take his Battalion over there. Funny story that I heard was that the Chinese were, had a, a, a, a squadron coming down a, a road, and there was, there was a mountain and they were talking to each other, the Chinese were talking to each other
I: Um hm.
F: and the, the Puerto Ricans were talking to each other across the mountain
and they saw the Chinese coming, and they were talking, and as they were talking to each other in Spanish, the Chinese didn’t realize that, that, that they weren’t Chinese, and so they kept on coming, and the Puerto Ricans caught them as POW’s, and they interviewed one of the, one of the prisoners, and he understands that, that the, the Puerto Rican language was a different dialect of Chinese,
and that’s why they didn’t stop, and they got caught.
I: You kidding me?
F: Yeah. No, that’s supposed to be a true story. I wasn’t there, but I was told that this was true.
I: My goodness.
F: I never did meet the, the Puerto Rican Battalion that was there. I sure wish I could, but I didn’t.
I: So where did you go from there?
F: From Barstow, California?
F: From Barstow, California then I went to, I went to,
I went to a, I don’t know where I went. I, I, I went, I wound up going to, oh, the Korean War started in 1950.
F: So I got called, I volunteered to go to Korea to fight.
I: You volunteered?
F: To fight, and from Barstow
I: You were not afraid?
F: From Barstow.
I: You were not afraid?
F: There were 30, no, I was not
afraid. I was, I was, I had nothing to be afraid of. I knew that I had, had to get away from New York City because the gangs were going to kill me. So rather than be killed by them, I’d rather be killed in a War time.
I: Why gangs wants to kill you? Why?
F: Why what?
I: Why gang wants to kill you?
F: Oh. The gangs, the gangs in New York wanted to kill me in New York.
I: Why? Why you?
F: They wanted to kill anybody.
F: They were there, all they wanted to, they were, if you, if you weren’t a gang member, they’d try to recruit you into being one of their, one of
their gang members. And I didn’t want that. So I thought well, I might as well go in the Marine Corp. and be a gang with the Marine Corp. and go in a war and make my life worthwhile for something, for somebody. Anyhow, as it turned out, I wound up going to, to 1st Marine Division, and I was assigned to the Able 1 Company which is the Able Company 1st Battalion
5th Marine Regiment
I: I’m sorry. A, A
F: Yeah. Which is Able Company 1st Battalion 5th Marine Regiment 1st Marine Division.
I: Um hm.
I: What was your specialty?
F: My specialty then was, was just a rifleman.
I: And when did you leave for Korea?
F: Beg pardon?
I: When did you leave for Korea?
F: I left for Korea in April of 1951.
I: And where did you
There was only three of us left from the Brigade. We had gone home from the Brigade to join the beginnings of what was referred to as 5th Marine Regiment. There were a lot of veterans in, in Guam, and they had come over, they had been recruited to come to Camp Pendleton to become the 1st Marine, the, the 5th Marine Regiment. So I became a 5th Marine Regiment recruit.
I: So where did you arrive in Korea?
F: Where did we land in Korea?
F: I don’t remember.
I: Pusan, Inchon
F: Yeah. Pusan, Pusan.
I: And that was April, around April, 1951.
F: The what?
I: When did you arrive in Korea?
F: In, in early, early 1950 I arrived in 1950.
I: Uh huh. And what happened to you?
we, we went from there, we, we fought in the Peninsula that was being captured by the Chinese, by the North Koreans at the time which was a very small amount at the time. And we, we fought some of the, some of the, the entries that the North Koreans had made into the, into the, the, the little encirclement that they had with the, with the Pusan area. And after a while
MacArthur I guess and his command decided that they were going to make the Inchon Landing and free Korea that way. He was fought by the, by the higher ups, but he finally convinced them. enough people, that he was gonna make the Inchon Landing, and he did, and I was there.
I: You were there?
F: I were there, for the Inchon Landing.
I: Inchon Landing?
F: I made the Inchon Landing with, with the, with the, with the, with, where, with the group, yeah.
I: September 15?
F: September 15, yeah.
I: How was Inchon Landing? Tell me please.
F: Well, the Inchon Landing, there was a lot of ships going you know, and we, we got there okay, and we we landed, and we went, we went and had, we had, we had, we had, we were making wooden ladders so we could, with hooks so we could get up on the, on the, but we didn’t need them. We, we had, we had them, they were useful in some way, but anyhow, my Commanding Officer, who happened to get the Medal of Honor, he, he
went up first and then I went up behind him, and he went to the left, and a machine gunner caught him and gave him, gave him some rounds, and he killed him real quick. I went, I happened to went forward, and I caught the same machine gun nest. It was a couple of teenagers, they were North Koreans, teenagers, and they just threw their hands up, and that’s why I took the machine gun, and I turned it in, and I turned them in to the MPs, and I went on. And we went up to, we went up,
our 5th, our unit went up to the mountains, and the other units, they went downtown into Pusan
F: Inchon. Yeah. So that’s, that’s all I remember about that, about that event.
I: From there, where did you go?
F: Well, from there we went, we went to several other places, but eventually we got called down from the mountains to go to, to, to go to North Korea,
and we did go to North Korea.
F: How? Well, it was a 78-mile one road, one road going up to North Korea. For the most part, we walked. we walked at 78 miles mostly, and we got up to a place called Chuncheon
I: Um hm.
F: All the way up there.
I: But did you, how did you go to the Chuncheon? Did you go to Wanson?
F: Yeah. We went through Wanson
I: Yeah, yeah.
F: Yeah. Yeah.
So we went through Wanson, and we wound up going up to, to Chuncheon
I: Um hm.
F: You know, up there, no, North Korea, and I thought well, my, my, my chances for surviving is good so far. [LAUGHS]
I: [LAUGHS] So far, yeah.
F: So far, so far so good. The gangs didn’t kill me in New York. The North Koreans didn’t kill me. The Chinese are trying to kill me, so maybe they’d get me now. But they didn’t get me, and after three days’ up
in the mountains, the word was given down to evacuate and go back down, down the one hill 78 miles back down to, to the, to, to, [inaudible]
I: Hungnam. Hungnam.
F: Where the ships were waiting, you know,
I: Hungnam, Hungnam
F: to, to, to get us, South Koreans people, you know. In the meantime, the South Korean soldiers knew who the enemy was imitating the South Koreans,
the North Koreans and they would pull them out of the lines and kill them I guess because we never saw them again.
I: But did you see that?
F: I saw that. I saw some of that, you know, yeah.
I: So tell me about where were you in Chuncheon Reservoir. Were you in Hagaru-ri or Kotori or Yudamni, anywhere?
F: The place called, no, it wasn’t Kotori, no. Kotori was farther South.
F: Yeah. No, we were right up at the top with the, there was only, there was only three, three battalions, well two battalions that I know of, the 5th Marine Regiment and the 7th Marine Regiment. the 7th Marine Regiment was up on the top, and that was us.
I: So you were in the Yudamni.
F: Yeah. Yudamni, Yudamni, yeah.
I: Or Tukdong Pass. Is that familiar?
F: How is it?
I: Tukdong Pass.
F: Yeah, Tukdong pass, yeah.
I: So you were there?
F: Yeah, oh yeah.
I: And you were there when Chinese attacked you?
I: Tell me about that.
F: The Tukdong Pass?
I: And the Chinese attack.
F: Well, the, the, the Chinese never, Every morning we would get up, and we would see a stack of Chinese, dead Chinese because they would always, they only had one way to come up, and that was up to the same ravine that we were trying to cover. And so every morning we would see three and four feet of Chi, dead Chinese up on the top. The thing that I remember the most, and it still stays with me, is that I had a radio man
who insisted that a, a Marine friend of his that he had, a childhood friend of his wanted to come up to the front lines to fight. And he, we would see, he was, been in the rear with the gear, and he says it’s not like John Wayne movies. He said you can get, you can die, he said. It’s pretty dangerous up here. You don’t want to come up. Anyhow, he made it somehow. He talked to a bunch of people, and he came up, and I’ll make this short, but he
I: No, take your time. Take your time.
F: Yeah. He said, he said I’m gonna put him in your platoon. I said okay. He said why are you putting him in my platoon? He said because I know you, and you’re gonna protect him. You’re gonna try to protect him, you know. I said I can’t protect anybody. I said, when the Chinese come with their machine guns, you know, we don’t know who, who the, who the, who the riflemen are. The Chinese, they kill anybody. So anyhow, I put him in my, my, my, my, my little spot that I had. We didn’t have any tents.
Somebody asked me a while ago, a lady asked me, she says did you have tents? I said tents? There was no tents. We just had the gran, the, the ground was hard as rock. We couldn’t, couldn’t dig in. So we just made a parapet as best we could with some rocks or whatever, and sometimes we had nothing. So anyhow, I had this one, one individual, he finally made it up to the front, and I said okay, this is your spot. I’m gonna go be next to you, and then we had, we had to guard a machine gun nest. Our machine gun nest,
which I still remember the Chinese grabbing the, the muzzle and, and then the smell of the, of the, the skin burning on it because he had, he had to pick up his machine gun and shoot him in the face. Anyway, he, he stayed there for a little bit, and he ran out of ammo.
And the next thing I knew, he remembered, I remember him saying Frank, I need, I need some ammo. Do you have a clip? I said I think I do. I went to give him the ammo, and by then a sniper, I guess it had to be a sniper, caught him in the forehead, and shot him right in the head, and the next thing I know I saw the blood dripping down his face. I knew he was dead. So I pulled him down off the line, and, and it’s, I, I, I felt, I felt a little guilty at the time because at that sniper had the sight set up for me
but I, instead, when I, when I, when I moved into my spot, he got it instead of me. So, but anyway, he, he, the next morning my, my, my friend who asked me to watch out for his friend, you know, he went crazy. He had a, he was a radio man. He got his 45 and, and he’s shooting, and all of, all the time he’s got a still squirming and trying to freeze themselves to death because there was no, no need for them to worry about anything. There, there was nothing
to go back to in China. They, they didn’t have a, a VA like we had, and of course I’d, at that time I didn’t know anything about a VA benefits or anything. But I knew that, that, that they were a poor country, and I knew that they were poor soldiers, and some of them were recruited as peasants from farms, you know, and so they had nothing. So, anyway, that was it. And then we left there after about three or four days. We stacked up our, our packs,
and we burned them, and the Chinese came running down, down the hills to warm their hands, and we could see them, but we couldn’t shoot them. The thing that, that, that you won’t see in the, in the history books is the Tootsie Rolls. That is what saved our lives. Really, really, really, really truly saved our lives because we couldn’t eat the C, the C-rations which was in the cans in World War II, and it was hard as rock. So we
would eat the, the Tootsie Rolls. They gave us the energy and the, and the, and, and the, the incentive to move on, you know. So after three days, we burned all our equipment, and we rolled down the hill. There was only one road going down, one road, the same road, came up, and we had to fight the immigrants who were side by side next to us
I: You mean the refugees.
F: Trying, trying to get, go down the same road. But we made it out, and I, and I thought well, okay. So that’s four days now. I, I’m ready to be okay.
And now I gotta worry about Christmas. I don’t know if I can make it to Christmas. We got, at the end of the road, we got there on the 28th or 29th of December I think it was. Well, we got up on the top of the hill, it was the 27th or 29th of November, and then we, we came down, yeah.
I: So from there, where did you go? You went to Pusan, right?
F: Yeah. We went to Pusan from there, went, well, well we went to the Bean patch there, and then my platoon Sergeant
came up to me and he said to me at the end, he says you know, there’s only three of us originals people, Marines, that have not left the, the, to go to the hospital or to go get wounded or anything. Well, I had been wounded, but I got, that’s another story. I caught a shrapnel. Anyhow, I, he says there’s only three of us left from the original platoon, and we haven’t left since everybody else is gone.
Either they got killed or, or they went to the hospital or they got transferred or whatever. He says what do you want to do? He says which one of you want to stay? He says I’m staying. So it’s one, it’s up to you, you two. And we were, we were sitting, sat side by side in the foxhole, and I said I don’t know. So for the first time in my life, I never ever won a coin toss. I, I, I, I turned a, I turned a coin like this here, and I won the toss of the coin, and I got to go.
So I took all my stuff I had in my back pack, I had the, the, the, the Chou-En-lai and, and Mao Tse Tung and all those posters, all those cool posters that I had taken off the wall, and I turned, and I had a Chinese pistol, and I said you guys can have it. I said, I’m outta here. Goodbye. I’ll see you. I hope you make it. And I left.
I: You left Korea?
F: I left Korea.
I: When? When was that?
F: That was about 15 April.
About 15 April.
I: ’51 April
F: In 1951, yes.
I: And have you been back to Korea?
F: I’ve been back to Korea twice.
F: Well, the last, the last five years twice, two times. But I don’t know the, the years. Don’t ask me. I’ve had, my, my memory is very good, isn’t very good, but I’ve been, the last time I went to Korea my wife and I, my original wife, I’ve been married twice now, my original wife
and I went to China on the second tour, and, because I, I didn’t believe that they could be that poor.
I: Um hm.
F: But I, I could believe that the, the grandmothers were sweeping the floors on the, the roads. They were so poor, and if you wanted a job, yes, you could, you had a job, but the job might, might insist of maybe painting one leaf all day long, $2 for a day
I: Um hm.
I: So when you go back to Korea, what did you feel? What did you see?
How was it?
F: Well, when I went back to Korea, I was, I was, I was totally amazed at how wonderful it was.
I: Tell me.
F: The, the, the, the economy had, had arisen, and it was, it was, it was, I couldn’t believe what I saw. But my question to one of the, one of the, one of the people, residents in Korea was what would happen if you were to get an earthquake or a war, and all of these
people were in these condominiums and coming down and climbing up the roads. What would you do with that? They said we don’t know. We never thought about that.
I: This Korean War produced very concrete outcome which is the successful South Korea, right?
I: And the Korean War deterred the Communism. It’s historically very important war, but why do not, why don’t we teach
about this in our history class?
F: I don’t know. I don’t know why. Why, Why don’t you teach the Korean War in school? The Korean, the Korean War and the United States is, gets very little publicity, and I don’t understand that. And it’s very disturbing to me as a veteran of the Korean War
F: why we get more, more advertising.
F: Just like the Tootsie Roll Company. They never got any, any advertising, either. And if it wasn’t for them, we, I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now.
I: Um hm. Yeah. I don’t know why. So that’s why I’m trying to do more interviews so that they, the young children can listen from you directly and learn from you. That’s why we are doing this.
F: I don’t know why. Don’t you have a, a history class in Korean War?
F: In Korea?
I: In Korea, we do teach, but how about here in the United States? That’s what I’m talking about. In the United States, why we do not teach about this.
F: Yeah.I, I don’t know.
I don’t know why.
I: Um hm.
F: We don’t, we don’t, we don’t teach to, about the Korean War much.
I: And you saw Korea in 2000, and you couldn’t believe your eyes.
F: I couldn’t believe my eyes that it had grown out of, out of, out of ashes and grew up to be a country that, that it is now. I think that’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful.
I: Yeah. So is, isn’t it good example to, to, to learn more about it, right?
F: Yes. I think it’s a good example, but you have to be very careful to work
with the Chinese and then North Koreans relationship going on right now that, that, that Korea is caught in the middle right now. Has to be very careful.
I: Exactly. Exactly. Any other, any other stories that you want to leave to this interview?
F: No, that’s the only story I got.
I: Frank, I wanna thank you
F: You’re welcome.
I: on behalf of Korean nation
F: You’re very welcome.
I; for your service.
F: Thank you.
I: And this interview will be used in our classroom.
F: Okay, good.
I: Students will learn from you.
F: Yeah, [inaudible] Okay, thank you, thank you students. I hope that you learn a lot from me that war is not easy. It is not kind. They don’t care who get dies, and I saw a lot of death. To this day, I cannot cry. My, my tears, I know they’re there because if I watch too much tv, I
I tear up. But I cannot cry for some reason. I saw too much death in my time. My, my youth was taken away from me
F: You know, in the War, and that’s what’s gonna happen to you as a young child, that you, your youth, if you go into any kind of war, I don’t care what kind of war, whether it’s North Koreans or Chinese or whoever. Whoever your enemy is, they’re not going to care about your youth being taken away. It will be taken away. And you must fight it.
You have to push yourself in order to go. I’m 86 years old by the way. Eighty-six years old. Remember that I was born in 1930, so now I’m 86. So as a young, as a young man, I wish I could do some of those years over again. But I didn’t, Anyhow, I came back from Korea, and I stayed out for about a year, and I decided, I decided I should, I, because all my family were,
were blue collar workers. They weren’t, they weren’t officer types. They were, they had no corporation experience, and so I knew that I was, I was doomed as far as trying to get in corporation and become an officer and so forth. I did, I did get a chance to become an officer three times, but that’s another story. Anyway, I came back in the Marine Corp. about a year later, but I lost the rank, and I, and I was told that
I could, I could go into one or two sections in the Marine Corp., that is drill instructor or recruiting duty, and I decided to go to be a drill instructor. So that’s what I became. For three years. At that time, after about three years or so, the Commandant of the Marine Corp. decided that they were going to incorporate themselves into the technical part of the Marine Corp., and he
said that up till now if you had a MOS which is a Military Occupational Specialty number, that you couldn’t, you couldn’t receive anything else, that you were stuck with that. And I had a, a, had a, a rifleman’s MOS which was not bad. But I knew that I had some, some intelligence left, and I thought well, maybe I’ll take the Math test, and I passed it. They sent me to Great Lakes Naval Training Station,
and I, I learned to become a Radar Technician. Eventually, I did that for 10 years. And so I put my 20 years in the Marine Corp., I got out, retired as a Gunnery Sergeant, and then I went to work for the U.S. Postal Service for 10, for 20 years, retired from that, then I went to work for, by, it was 38 – 48, and now it’s 49 or 50 years old when I went to work for the, for the, the
Orange County, Orange County we call it the, the, the, I’m trying to think of the, the, the term that they use. It was a, for the, the health of kids, and, and eventually I went to the ESL Program. The ESL Program which the English, English as a Second Language
for the Spanish ladies. I had one, one, one, one superior lady that she became the, the, the, the, the Public, the Parent Teachers Association President. So that was good. But all the rest of the ladies, they were just there to kill time.
I: Um hm.
F: They didn’t, I would ask them the key question, I said when you go into a store, do you choose someone who looks like you, speaks like you, yes, and I said and you turn on the novellas on the tv when
you get home? Oh yeah. Well of course their husbands had to work, so they, none of them ever came to the classes. So that, that ended that. I did that for about 6 ½ years. So, that was any of that.
I: Frank, thank you again, for sharing your story with me.
F: Oh, you bet.
[End of Recorded Material]