Korean War Legacy Project

Gustavo Mendez


Gustavo Mendez was born on April 27, 1929, in Las Marias, Puerto Rico. After high school, he moved to New York City to work and was drafted into the United States Army in 1951. He received basic training at Camp Tortuguero, Puerto Rico, before being deployed to Korea as a part of the 23rd Infantry Combat Team. He participated in several battles, including the Battle of Old Baldy, and returned home in 1953. He has spent his later years in the town of his birth, singing songs, writing poems, and is known as “the Gentleman of Las Marias.”

Video Clips

"I Don't Need Bullets"

Gustavo Mendez shares that he arrived in Inchon and then served in the Battle at Old Baldy. He recalls dealing with prejudice against Puerto Ricans after arriving in Korea because he did not speak fluent English. He recounts how a South Korean soldier warned the U.S. troops that many Chinese were headed their way. He remembers how as he engaged the enemy, his rifle jammed. He shares that he thought it was a sign from God.

Tags: 1952 Battle of Old Baldy, 6/26-8/4,Yeonpyeong,Chinese,Fear,Front lines,Living conditions,Physical destruction,South Koreans,Weapons

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"The Next Day, I'm a General"

Gustavo Mendez recalls a first sergeant who wanted him to stay in Korea for three additional months and become a sergeant. He remembers cleverly replying, "If I go home to my house, the next day, I'm a general." Dr. Han, the interviewer, makes a connection between the treatment of Puerto Ricans and Koreans.

Tags: 1952 Battle of Old Baldy, 6/26-8/4,Yeonpyeong,Front lines,Home front,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Pride

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Prayer and the Bible Was All that Was Needed After being Drafted

Gustavo Mendez recalls being drafted into the United States Army in 1951 while living in New York. He remembers asking if he could go back to his hometown to attend basic training, and the U.S. government allowed him to move back to Puerto Rico for training. He shares he was a Christian and that he was nervous about having to use his weapon in warfare, but as he read more of the Bible, he learned that he would be protected which made him feel better.

Tags: Basic training,Fear,Home front,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Physical destruction,Weapons

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