Fred Liberman shares his story about his time in a Korea- a story that makes him melancholy to think about and one that he never really shared with his children when they were growing up. He describes the moment when he thought he was going to die while he was under attack. He also explains how the war changed his outlook on life, something that he considers a positive outcome. Fred Liberman also shares what he called a “very shocking experience” that still troubles him today. Overall, he sheds light on the emotional sides of the Korean War.
Fearing For One's Life
Fred Liberman experienced many situations of death while he was in Korea, but in this clip, he describes a moment when he thought he was going to be killed. As his group was being attacked on a hill, he found himself in a hole in the line of fire of a Chinese soldier with a burp gun. Fortunately, he was able to escape and began shooting back at the enemy.
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Positive Personal Outcomes of the War
While the war itself was not a positive experience, Fred Liberman explains how some positive outcomes did come out of his time in Korea. He gained an appreciation for the outdoors. More importantly, he realized that relationships and good friends are much more important than material things.
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"A Shocking Experience"
Fred Liberman describes a "shocking experience" that he had while in Korea. He recalls having to raid a village and forcefully remove civilians, including the elderly and children. He explains how he wrote a letter home to his brother about it. This is an experience that still bothers him today.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
DH: [00:00:00] So you must have had a lot of occasions where you might be killed.
FL: Yeah, Yeah.
DH: Tell me about those please.
FL: Alright the things that come to mind, well the one time in October, when I was wounded. But I knew I was okay because it wasn’t a very serious wound with my buddy that we were in the hole together with, we got, we were going up into the attack [00:00:30] and we dived and mortar rounds were coming in, so we dived into a hole, the hole was near a tree.
DH: Uh huh.
FL: The damned mortar came in and hit the damned tree, exploded and we got an airburst above us my friend got cut right by the throat and he bled to death and me I was right next to him he died. Which I helped try to bring him down the hill, we tried to call a medic and they took care of him and they took care of me, [00:01:00] and I was back online very shortly.
DH: Where were you wounded?
FL: The shrapnel, on the left hand side here.
DH: So, did you go to MASH or what did they do?
FL: Went down to the bottom of the hill.
DH: Uh huh.
FL: Yeah, there was a unit down there, the medic treated me. I went down there and they patch me up and right back.
DH: That’s it?
FL: That’s it. [00:01:30]
DH: And you saw your, your, your guy just killed right?
FL: Yeah. I started to get, guilt, guilt feelings about him several years ago.
FL: Because I was the last one to see him, and be with him and of course when I was 23 years old and I came home and got married and went about my life. So, I guess a 23 year old thinks very differently than a 70 year old. And I was about 70 [00:02:00] or 75 and I said ‘gee you know, if I had thought about it, it would have been a nice thing to do to get in touch with his family, I was the last one that saw him’. And the thought of course never occured to me then, but it started to bug me later in 1951.
DH: Um hm.
FL: ‘52. Our unit, our division was, taken, sent to, Japan, our whole division was sent to Japan in ‘52 [00:02:30] because of losses and we needed recuperation, get fresh and then I think it was the 45th from Oklahoma was going to replace us. But, so all of, all of my combat was 1951.
DH: Yeah. Tell me about how you were almost killed?
FL: Yeah, when I thought I was going to die, we were in the attack and I was going up [00:03:00] the hill and how I got into this position I don’t know, but all of a sudden I was being shot at, and bullets were coming all over and I dived into a hole and it turns out it was a Chinese soldier up above with a “burp gun”, fortunately it was a “burp gun,” because if he had a rifle he would have killed me right away. But he had a “burp gun,” a “burp gun” does not have..
DH: A “burp gun?”
FL: A “burp gun,” it’s an automatic, hand machine gun.
DH: Uh huh.
FL: So, it fires 30 caliber bullets all [00:03:30] over the place.
DH: I see.
FL: It’s like walking into a room and just spraying bullets everywhere. You don’t look at anything.
FL: He had a “burp gun” and bullets were hitting all around me and I says ‘oh my god’ and I’m crouching and the hole and he’s up there on that ledge and I thought any second I’m preparing to die. And I thought to myself ‘what is it going to feel like when the bullet comes into my back?’ Any how couple of my buddies opened up fire and cleared the ridge. And, and [00:04:00] they yelled at me, ‘get out of there GI, get out of there’ and I got out of there and jumped and ran and there was a stream nearby. I jumped into the stream and hit the bank, turned around and grabbed my rifle and started to shoot like crazy. I wished I could see somebody to shoot at. But I thought that was the closest I ever came. I thought I was going to die then.
DH: [00:04:30] Were you afraid? Scared?
FL: You know I don’t think I had anytime to be afraid or scared. I think I just act on instinct. I thought I was, when I was in that hole, I think, you know, oh yes, you know what I think I said? I think I heard myself say ‘mom.’
DH: Did you write back to her? [00:05:00]
DH: How often?
FL: As often as I could. I used to write to my mother, I used to write to my sister, my brother and my fiance.
DH: You had a fiance?
FL: We were engaged to be married.
DH: Tell me about her.
FL: At a dance in the Bronx.
DH: Were you working part time?
FL: Yeah. Well I was, she was 17
DH: Uh huh.
FL: So I [00:05:30] was about, yeah I graduated high school and I had started college, night and I was working during the day.
DH: Tell me about the kind of feeling that you had to leave her, to the war.
FL: I felt fine. I felt, the thing that concerned me was, you know, going to the Army and traveling and that was exciting and the, you know marriage would just have to wait.
DH: You said that you have [00:06:00] PTSD, right?
DH: Since when do you have that symptom?
FL: Hmm. I guess I must have had the symptoms. I don’t know, how long I cannot tell. All I can say is that, I spoke to a therapist down at the PTS, at the VA and they said you know you, you may have PTSD. I said ‘come on, I’m great, I’m fine, nothing wrong with me,’ [00:06:30] ‘you outta see the doctor.’ I said ‘well, can’t hurt.’ I don’t mind seeing a therapist, I’ve been in therapy in my, in the past. So, I don’t mind seeing a therapist. Anyhow went to see this guy and we had a long talk. It was, the talk was so good that I said ‘gee, can we meet again?’
DH: So you don’t have nightmares?
FL: Nightmares, no.
FL: No, but I get melancholy [00:07:00] about it.
DH: Uh, I see
FL: Very often, very often, every time I hear about deaths and war, it’s sick
DH: Um hm.
FL: It’s sad, today I got very touched. We had this big ceremony today, with the 25th Division and I got touched, very touched.
DH: Tell me about the most difficult thing, to you during your service. What was the most difficult thing? [00:07:30]
FL: I’d have to think about that. I cannot think of anything that was so difficult. I cannot tell you. I can tell you some positive things.
DH: Yeah, what is it?
FL: Some positive things that came out of it was I learned to love the outdoors, learned [00:08:00] to find that the most important thing in life is companionship and a good friend and material things went away thinking material things were very important. I came back, not knowing this course but I realize now that I was a different guy that came back and material things mean nothing to me, very little to me, I shouldn’t say nothing. But far far less of importance than the things, but more important to me is good relationships [00:08:30] with people and understanding people and understanding their feelings. That’s what’s important. Material things do not make me happy.
DH: Mm hm.
FL: They don’t make me sad, but I don’t need material things to be happy.
FL: Or to impress people.
DH: That’s quite positive. Something came out of your service during the war.
FL: I believe so. Yes. I believe also that, that [00:09:00] probably was a very important factor in the break-up of my marriage. Because when I went away, my ex-wife, their mother, knew me one way and we were, had similar desires, and similar hopes, and similar plans. But, when I came back, those plans, I had different concepts.
DH: Uh huh.
FL: And we ran into lots and lots of conflicts, so [00:09:30], you know I believe now looking back that this was no fault of hers. She’s a good gal. Well intentioned woman and just that we were two different people then. It was sad, because it’s unfortunate for her, unfortunate for me. And unfortunate for the children they were exposed to a lot of crap.
DH: Right. Wow. [00:10:00] That has tremendous impact on you and your life.
FL: I think so, yes, I think so. Because of the army, love the outdoors, appreciate the outdoors, appreciate being physical, appreciated hiking, climbing. And still do and still go.
DH: But during the war, how was it? What did you eat?
FL: [00:10:30] We ate sea rations.
DH: All of the time?
FL: All of the time.
DH: Not hot meals?
FL: Occasionally, they bring up a hot meal.
DH: Uh huh.
FL: And we’d line up to get some hot food, yes. But most of the times it was sea rations. And the fun about sea rations is, we all, everybody had their favorite cans of food.
FL: And so we start opening up our food, big trading went on.
DH: I see.
FL: [laughing] ‘Anybody want corn beef hash?’ ‘Oh, I got sausage patties’ [00:11:00] ‘Oh OK, I got hamburgers,’ ‘franks and ham,’ ‘franks and burgers’ and we would all trade it off.
DH: What’s your favorite?
FL: I did have a few favorites, yeah.
DH: What was it?
FL: Let’s see. What were…franks and beans, I liked.
FL: And sausage patties.
DH: How much were you paid?
FL: I don’t recall. I don’t recall. [00:11:30]
DH: Average about the amount that I’m remembering from all of the universes is about $90 or something.
FL: Oh no, I think I got more than that. But first of all, I was a Sergeant First Class, so with my rank, I think it was something like $175 a month. I really don’t recall.
DH: One hundred, what?
FL: One hundred and seventy five a month.
DH: That’s not bad.
FL: I don’t know [00:12:00] where that number is coming from because I really don’t recall. But, I think…
DH: What did you do with the money?
FL: Well, I never got it.
FL: I may not spend it until I got home, until I was getting separated, going on home then I could get back pay. And then I get regular pay every month, like every other soldier.
DH: So you didn’t spend anything in the war, in Korea?
FL: There was, I could not, no I did not spend anything in Korea.
DH: You didn’t gamble?
FL: [00:12:30] No.
DH: No? You didn’t play cards?
DH: No fun. You didn’t drink.
FL: Not true. I mean playing cards is the only thing that gives you fun.
DH: No, many Korean War veterans mentioning about it.
FL: Cards, gambling never interested me.
DH: Did you have any contact with the Korean Soldier or the Korean people, while you were there?
DH: No, no Korean soldier or fighting with you? [00:13:00]
FL: We had, every platoon, when I first joined the company and I got my platoon, yes there were two Koreans, South Koreans. I thought they were civilians and I thought they were there to help us, supplement us with our work. But someone recently told me that that’s [00:13:30] not true. The ROK soldiers were assigned to American units at the beginning of the war.
FL: And they were there to be used as the Captain needed it.
DH: Um hm.
FL: But at that time, I just accepted them as Koreans, Koreans who were also helping us fight.
DH: Korean Service called KATUSA [00:14:00]
FL: I don’t know what they were.
DH: So when did you leave Korea?
FL: We left when the whole division was pulled out in January of 1952.
DH: What was the most rewarding moment during your service during the Korean War?
FL: I don’t know.
DH: When is the happiest moment? When you left?
FL: [00:14:30] I was certainly happy to be going home.
DH: Did you know what you were fighting for at the time?
FL: Give me what, are you asking me what caused?
FL: Did I understand the cause?
DH: Yeah, did you understand that?
FL: Or did I understand the significance of what we were doing, no. No. I only knew that the war was started and South Korea was being overrun and that the President Truman [00:15:00] ordered the, the army forces there to stop it. For his political reason, whatever the political reasons were. And a few months later the first thing I know I’m being drafted. And called into service.
DH: Have you talked to yourself on ‘why am I here?’
FL: Many times.
DH: Many times.
FL: Why were you there?
DH: Yeah. [00:15:30]
DH: Had you imagined that you were going to dragged into this war going to the country that you never knew lot about it and and fighting there and you almost losing your life?
FL: No, it was sad to see the state of this country when I got here. The way people were living and, very sad. Very sad for civilians [0016:00], both for North and South, I imagine.
DH: How were they?
FL: In pretty bad situation, pretty bad. Buildings first were, the two days I was in Seoul, about September of ‘51, you know, hardly a building standing. There was hardly a building in tact.
DH: Mm Hm.
FL: Roofs were missing, buildings with hollowed-out [00:16:30]. People were dressed very poorly. I imagine the country, I saw the country as a place of mud and rice patties and mountains. Rice paddies everywhere. We had a, a very, [00:17:00] ‘what word should I use,?’ shocking experience, which made me feel very very bad. I remember writing home to my brother expressing my feelings to him about it. We had to go into some village, and get the people out.
DH: Mm Hm.
FL: So, we had to go in [00:17:30] rifles drawn of course, going from house to house making sure that whoever’s there, get him out. And all we found was old women, old men and children. And, we had to give them two or three minutes, grab their stuff, get on the truck, out. And the women, young girls were scared as hell and running away. Guys with chasing after them and [00:18:00] God knows, I don’t know what happened if anything happened.
FL: And we had to push all these poor people onto the truck and the truck drove away, the village was cleared. And I wrote home to my brother and told him, Marvin, I said Marvin, ‘I felt like Nazi Storm Trooper.’ Horrible soldiers coming into some innocent village, old people [00:18:30] all the younger people were gone, I don’t know where they were. I don’t know if these were North Korean people, South Korean people, they were people. Pushing and shoving them. Some guys pushing them with rifles.
DH: Mm. Hm.
FL: Horrible. It made me very sad and very ashamed of some of us soldiers. The only documentation you have now as we see things through our eyes, sixty-two years later.
DH: It’s [00:19:00] 2014. Right? June 23?
FL: You’re right.
DH: And you are in Seoul, Korea?
DH: What is Korea, now? What do you see? How is it different?
FL: I see, I feel like I’m in Paris or London. That’s what I feel. I feel like I could be in New York City here. You know, why, I know the advances that this country has made economically. [00:19:30] I know what they are, I know their, I see their products all over the world. I see their cars in New York City. I know, what advances the country has made economically, politically, socially. I meet Koreans in New York City all the time. Because I volunteer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.
DH: Oh Really?
FL: Yeah, and I say hello [00:20:00] to a lot of people and when they’re Korean’s I extend the conversation because of my experience there. And of course they’re very grateful they usually express gratefulness.
DH: What is the legacy of Korean War veterans?
FL: Men can’t get along. Human beings don’t know how to get along. The killing and the time we’ve been walking on the planet will continue and continue and continue forever. We just [00:20:30] don’t know how to get along. Too many emotions. That’s the legacy.
DH: What do you feel about this accomplishment of economy, rapid economic development, democratizations and social advancement made in Korea?
FL: I think the people have, have shown ambition and shown a desire [00:21:00], growth, lots of growth. You have got a lot of intelligent people, them leading your country politically and socially and economically in reasonably right directions. Maybe some of them have made mistakes in the past 62 years, but, bottom line is you are up there in world picture. I think your a benefit, benefits socially to the world [00:21:30] and economically to the world.
DH: Mm Hm. So looking back 60 years you never imagined to be in Korea? You fought here.
FL: I thought about, I knew of the program, of bringing, the revisit program, but my schedules and my activities. I was teaching part time.
DH: What did you teach, accounting?
FL: I taught accounting yeah. [00:22:00] And traveling to other places that I wanted to go to. And then when I retired last, which would be my second retirement, July 1st of 195*, sorry 2013. I said ‘Wow,’ now my schedule is very, very flexible. Maybe now I’ll think about going [00:22:30] to Korea.
DH: Mm hmm.
FL: And go back. I’d love to go back. And I started planning for that.
DH: What is Korea to you now?
FL: I feel close to the country, always felt close to the people because of my experience. [00:23:00]
DH: What did you do after returned from Korea?
FL: I went back to school, got married immediately.
DH: Mm hmm.
FL: Matter of fact, when I came back through San Francisco, we all had the opportunity to now to call home.
FL: So, we had one telephone, public telephone, we all lined up.
DH: Uh Huh.
FL: And while I’m [00:23:30] online I’m thinking to myself ‘who do I call my mother or my future wife?’ I’m thinking about that online and when I got down to the phone and said that ‘gee you had better call Claire’, I better call my wife, tell her I’m home so she can start planning the wedding. And so, I called her and I said ‘And don’t forget, tell my mother I’m home.’ [laughing]
DH: So you went back to the [00:24:00]college and then?
FL: I went back to school, went back to work. I went back to school part time, went to work. Uh no, stayed in the army for 5 to 6 months until July. Got separated in July and then went back to work and back to school had children and got on with life. I’d love to introduce my family; on my right is my daughter [00:24:30], she’s the first born, she’s Gail Robyn.
DH: Gail Robyn?
DH: Y-N, OK
FL: Yeah that’s important. The Y in place of the I is very important.
FL: And on my left is my son and his name is Mitchell H, middle initial H, Liberman.
GR: I’m here with my father because he told me about this program and he said [00:25:00] he could bring, he needed to, he wanted to bring somebody with him and I said ‘I’d be glad to go with him.’
DH: Did you know anything about Korea before you come?
GR: Not that much. Um.
DH: Not that much?
GR: I’m learning. Not that much. I’m learning more about it this week, on this visit than I’ve ever known before.
DH: Hmm. Let me investigate about the Korean War veterans in general. Did your father [00:25:30] ever talk to you about his service?
GR: Not that much.
DH: You said that you, you used to talk about it, but they never heard about it. What’s going on here?
FL: Gayle is married, she married and moved out.
DH: No, no, no. We are talking about when she’s growing up. Why didn’t you talk about the war that you fought?
FL: I [00:26:00] can’t, I don’t know. I don’t know. All, it seems to me that the memories of Korea have been with me every day of my life, everyday of my life. If I didn’t talk to my children about it, if she didn’t, if she’s saying she didn’t hear me talk about it, I didn’t say I didn’t talk about it, she saying she didn’t hear it. My recollection is, I talked about it [00:26:30] with friends and other veterans all the time.
DH: Anything you remember you heard from him about Korea?
GR: I can’t recollect that much that he’s ever really said about Korea.
DH: So you’ve been here for five days already right? What do you think about what your experiencing here?
GR: It it’s unbelievable.
GR: Because, I’m learning more about what these Korean, with the [00:27:00], the veterans the soldiers went through, the battles, the looking at the battlefields. Just even learning about Korea, you know, and the way it was and the way it is now. It’s beautiful now, the country is gorgeous. The DMZ, the lines, I mean I’m just learning more this week than I’ve ever known.
DH: Do you like this revisit program? [0027:30]
GR: I think it’s great. I think it’s great because, as I said I never really, you know, spoke about it to, you know, it was I don’t know what he’s going to say but it wasn’t spoken, you know, he didn’t speak to me too much, it wasn’t brought up in the family too much. And this week, [0028:00] you know, I’m hearing things. It’s just a great connection.
DH: Family connection. That’s a very good point. So, what does this revisit program make you feel about this relationship differently than before.
GR: It makes me feel, I’m very proud of my father. That he went through all of this and, it was a hardship and he pulled out of it.
GR: At least physically.
DH: He did.
GR: You know, [00:28:30] emotionally, you know there were issues and scars.
DH: Did you hear anything about, he saying about Korea?
ML: Yes. We spoke about it very often, all through my childhood and all through my adult years. And I’ve heard many stories, maybe more often than once. And we talked [00:29:00] about the war and about his experiences. I went to the State University of New York up at Albany, not too far from Syracuse University.
ML: And for all 4 Years, wore his Korean War jacket. And I wore it proudly.
DH: Anything you remember from what he said to you?
ML: Sure of course.
DH: What? Can you share with?
ML: Specific stories? [00:29:30]
ML: Emotions, near death experiences, scared. Yes.
DH: You knew about what happened to Korea after he, they left the Korean War battles? What did you know?
ML: Well, what I read and I take interest in history and so, I enjoy reading about WWII, WWI, Korean War, Vietnam War, War in Iraq [00:30:00], Afghanistan, Cold War, Hot War, etc, etc.
DH: The korean War was the signal or the beginning of the Cold War that actually had shaped every aspect of the people in the world. They divided up the whole world into two poles, right?
DH: Bi-polar Systems?
DH: And, but the Korean War is being regarded as a forgotten War. Why do you think that was the case to the American public? [00:30:30] Why? Why is it forgotten, despite the importance of the war.
ML: I don’t know if it is forgotten. I think it is considered to be a very important war in American history and in Korean history.
DH: You are exceptional, because most of the Americans.
ML: Many people have told me that over the years, that I’m exceptional, yes.
DH: So what do you see here, do you, have you been to Korea?
ML: First time.
DH: First time? What do you think about it?
ML: You have a beautiful country. [00:31:00]
DH: What do you think that your father did for Korea?
ML: I am so proud of my father and I’m so proud of all of his fellow GI’s for liberating your country. If not for the United Nations and more specifically American GI’s, they represented 85 to 90% of the troops in Korea, we would not have a free Korea today. Ah, [00:31:30] you and your family would be under the rule of North Korea, communism, suppression of Human Rights and human dignity. I can’t be more proud of my father’s accomplishments and all of his fellow GI’s accomplishments of the United Nations and of my fellow Americans, can’t be more proud.
DH: Beautiful Point. Good thing you brought them together with you.
FL: I know.
DH: Uh huh.
FL: [00:32:00] He mentioned my field jacket. And all the kids wore military stuff when he went off the school. I gave him the field jacket I said he’ll wear it and he took it when he came back and graduated and he moved down to New Orleans. And he got his life down there and got married one day, I don’t know if it was in Houston where he lives now or in New Orleans, but I think it was Houston. I came down for a visit [00:32:30] and I’m putting my stuff in the closet, ‘there my field jacket I wore in Korea, Oh my God, there it is,’ so I said ‘Mitch, this is my field jacket,’and he says, ‘yeah dad,’ he says, ‘you know I don’t use it anymore,’ but I took it home and I still wear it. I wanted my two children to come, because the Importance was this was the place I almost didn’t come back from and if I didn’t come back they wouldn’t have been born. [00:33:00] And that was significant to me, you’ve got to come back with me to see where my life really began here. I would like to add that it was an opportunity, pleasant opportunity to speak to you and say the things, talk about the things that are dear to me and all the feelings that I have. But when I talk about it I always get melancholy [00:33:30] and the reason I get melancholy is it always brings me back the waste of lives, of civilians, children, North and South and particularly of all the soldiers from all the nations and in South Korea that died. Such waste, waste, waste. [00:34:00] That’s what it brings me back to. So it’s an opportunity to talk to you because it helps me feel better to talk about feelings that I have.
DH: And your interview will be published in the website that I told you, www.kwvdm.org and it’s going to be accessible from anywhere, anytime, by any people. I want to thank you and enjoy the rest of your visit. [00:34:30]
FL: Thank you very much.
ML: Thank you very much.