Herbert Currier grew up on a farm in Illinois. He shares how he was drafted into the Army in November of 1951. He arrived at Ft. Riley, Kansas for basic training in February of 1952. He discusses how he served there for the remainder of his commitment as a Mess Sergeant and as a member of the base’s fastpitch softball team. He describes his fundraising efforts to assist programs for Korean War veterans in nursing homes.
Legacy of the War
Herbert Currier describes an appreciation for the efforts made by the United States to help the Koreans in their time of need. He also shares his thoughts on how the Korean War was handled by the United Nations. He shares his pride in the Koreans' successful development of their infrastructure and economy.
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Herbert Currier shares how although he didn't go to Korea he knew things. He shares how he has pictures from the 38th parallel. He describes the pictures and how they show the only way to save men out of the foxholes in the cold temperatures of Korea. He shares how he felt it was a good thing that America went to help the Koreans.
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Making Sure the War is Not Forgotten
Herbert Currier shares how we must discuss the Korean War with future generations. He shares that it should be publicized and written about. He also shares that movies can help. He explains how he feels photos share the most and are the best teaching tool.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Herbert Currier: My name is Herbert Currier. Herbert is H-E-R-B-E-R-T Currier is C-U-R-R-I-E-R
Interviewer: What is your birthday?
H: 10-18 of ’32
I: So, you are young.
H: Yeah, I’m going to be 85 in a couple months.
I: Only–only 85 [laughing] right. Where were you born?
H: Right here in Freeport, Illinois.
I: This is your hometown?
H: Yes, sir.
I: So, you know everything here.
H: Yeah, I know everybody almost. [laughing]
Can you just move a little bit up, yeah, so that I can see you.
H: Sure, is that far enough?
I: Yep. So tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings when you were growing up here.
H: Well, I– my great-grandfather had the first milk route in the city of Freeport.
I: First what?
H: First milk route.
H: Yeah that was before they had pasteurized homogenized milk.
H: They owned a farm that was a mile square and–and so the–after they moved off the farm, and so then I was back there milk cows and work on the farm. And then, what took place about that time the school board
H: came to my great grandfather and asked him if he’d mind donating some land
for them to build a schoolhouse because there was getting to be a lot of kids in that area. So, he said sure how much do you want? So they just fenced it off and there it is, it’s yours.
H: And so they just donated to them and I went to that Currier School and the school was named after him, after us Currier’s. And the road is also named Currier Road.
H: So we were, [man did] the old ancestors.
is what it boils down to.
I: That’s an honor.
H: Yeah. It was very, very nice.
I: So he donated money or land?
H: The land.
H: And then when they finished the school, they closed the school up I was –I was out of there I was through high school and then they–
I: What was the high school name?
H: Freeport Senior High School.
I: Mm-hmm. When did you graduate?
H: In 1950.
H: And that’s a –I knew where I was going, because the war had just started.
I: Let me ask this question–oh what about your siblings? How many brothers and sisters?
H: I just had one brother, no sisters.
H: And my brother was on the Sheriff’s Department here in Freeport.
H: And he had a massive heart attack and died when he was only 52.
I: Oh, I’m sorry.
H: So, I didn’t have any sisters any other brother.
I: Okay, so in the school
You went through did anybody, history teacher talk about Korea?
H: Well that no–no not you mean Korea? Or–no
H: Korea. No, no one talked about it then. Because again, I was, when I left the–when I graduated from Currier School that was a one room school house and there was about 55 students in it for the one teacher. And then, I went on up to high school and spent four years there
And graduated from there in 1950 and that’s when the war was just started. So we knew where we were going to go. And it was so funny because we had a–a–we–they–they–the doctor and some of them they had a draft and you receive a letter from the draft board and it had on there your friends and neighbors have selected you
H: I’m still
looking for those friends and neighbors. But anyway, I figured I’ll wait and be drafted, spend my two years and then come back home.
I: So when you were drafted?
H: When. In– November 11th of 1955.
I: Oh so you knew that Korean War broke out?
H: Yeah, yeah, yes. So we knew, ’55
And then the war ended in summer of ’55.
I: Hm and you were, what were you doing until 1955?
H: I was working at Fairbanks Morris after high school and I worked in the engineering department designing motors and whatever had to be done.
H: And–and so Fairbanks Morris they employed about 3,500 people in those days.
That’s a big one.
H: Yes it was.
I: And you know that there was a war going on a–a–around and did you think that you going to be end up there?
H: Oh I imagined, yeah. Because at my age, you know just finished high school 17 years of age and the war had started, like I say, in the earlier 1950’s, so you knew where you were gonna go.
I: But you were lucky not to be conscripted before–before
you know the end–the–the end of the war.
H: Right, yeah.
I: Wow, you were lucky.
H: Yeah, I was very, very lucky.
I: Mm-hmm. And you told me that you have no knowledge about the Korean–Korea and the history and culture there, right?
H: Well, you knew a little bit about it from history books, but then, so you read those and you knew what it was.
I: Korea was in your text books?
H: Oh yeah.
I: You learn?
H: yeah you learn it because you knew the North Korean were Communistic
and so the United States went in to protect the South Korean.
I: yeah, but that was after the war. I’m talking about when you were in school.
H: Oh okay, when I was in school, yeah.
I: No–you–they didn’t teach anting about Korea, right?
H: No, not a bit.
I: Hm. So, when did you leave for Korea?
H: Well, I–I left to go down for basic training which was February the 11th of 1953.
I: ’53 not ’55?
H: ’52 ’52
H: ’52 ’52.
H: and so then I was drafted and then when I went into the train picked us up here in Freeport.
H: And there was 55 of us left here at once and go into Chicago for our physical and get your shots and all paperwork and that. And then, I–I went
Down to fort riley Kansas for basic training.
I: Mm-hmm yep.
H: and when I finished basic training, I was very, very lucky, and I say that because I was–they kept me right there to be a cook. Some cooks had left and because they were–had to go over to Korea, so they needed replacements so I cooked. And I also I don’t know if you want this on but I will say it, I pitched
fast pitched softball here in Freeport, Illinois and went down to Fort Riley and they just started the fast pitch league. Well, we were very, very fortunate we won the–we won our division down there. Not only in the training area but up on the main post. So we went up to Indianapolis representing fort Riley Kansas. And so then we spent 10 days there and then came back to
Fort Riley for additional training
H: And then…
I: So, when did you leave for Korea? From where?
H: Well, I–I stayed right there at–at Fort Riley, Kansas.
I: Oh, you didn’t go to Korea?
H: I did not have to go to Korea.
H: I was very lucky I stayed right–right down there at Fort Riley.
H: And I was a cook. And then, about half way through, and then they–they deactivated the 10th division.
H: that was a training sergeant. And they brought in Camp Polk Louisiana to train
down there. And so then I was transferred up to the main post, which was–that’s where all the paperwork and the meat cutters. There was over 900 people were assigned to that Army service unit. And so then I was –that’s when I was promoted to mess sergeant. And I continued pitching my fast pitch softball and we won the Fort Riley Championship again.
H: And again went back to Indianapolis
representing Fort Riley Kansas. So I was very, very blessed there.
I: Wow. So exactly when you become the private first class?
H: That was when I went in the service.
H: February 11th of 1952. ’52.
H: yeah 1952.
I: So, that’s when you become the PFC?
I: So you are Korean War
I: Yeah. Do you know many Korean War Era Veterans there? There are so many.
H: Well, I’ll tell you, we sell our daisies and on that daisy it said there’s 54,000 were killed during our Korean War.
H: And there was a little over 100–I think 104,000 were injured.
H: And so
what we do, like a week ago Friday we went out to Dixon and we sell daisies whoever wants to contribute anything toward it and then we don’t want the money we want to use that money to give it to the nursing homes and–and anyone who needs money we want to help them out. And so there’s an–there’s a couple of monuments around here one in Stockton, and one in
Just started down Thompson so we give each one of them $1,000 to help them get started which was during our Korean War, yeah.
H: And again, I’ll say this, when I–one time while I was– was cooking mess sergeant down in Fort Riley and here I–I was in company I
H: and I got orders, the first sergeant gave me orders, I had to go down to K company, which was just down the street. And so
okay I had to turn in my cook whites and that and our Company Commander Carpenter came along and he says good morning Herb, how are you? I said fine. And I said I’ve got orders I have to go down the street so I took my orders out of my pocket and I showed it to him. And he says no. I don’t think so. We’ve got a good softball, fast–this is fast pitch, we’re throwing the soft ball about 100 miles an hour and it rises and drops and curves. And so he says we got a good softball team I want to keep a good softball pitcher.
So, he comes with me in the office. We went in there he called some general or someone and that took care of it. Go back and go to work.
I: So, when were you discharged from the military?
H: No–no February the 10th.
I: Ah. So, what did you do then after that?
H: When I came home?
H: After I got out? I went back to my job
that I had with Fairbanks Morris designing motors. And in those days, they–the company that you work for they said you can have your old job back, even if someone is working on there and they’re more seniority than you, you still get your old job back. But I was designing motors and I stayed right there until they closed in 1950– ’63 1963. And then I went to Honeywell.
I: And what did you do there?
H: Well, some was designing switches. When the astronauts would–on the first capsule and the ast–astronauts went out and we had to make sure we had the switches right because if–if they failed the astronauts did not come back
H: to the capsule. So, that’s what I–I was doing. I over–oversaw all that. And the ladies that worked for me they made sure that–that the switches were
H: correctly according to spec. and we were in charge of doing the testing. So we, you had the design engineers and them. We had a nice group of fellas that all worked hard together to make sure that everything was designed and worked properly.
I: Hm. So, how did actually–many of the you’re your colleagues that who
received the basic training they went to Korea, right?
H: Yes sir.
H: In fact, there was 205 of us in the basic training.
H: And 201 went to Korea. So, there was just the four of us stayed here in the states. And when you got orders to go to Seattle, Washington,
H: You know where your next destination was.
I: [laughing]. Yeah.
H: Sorry to say now, we should’ve just keep driving North Korea out to sea.
H: But that’s too late now.
I: So you were very lucky
H: I was.
I: To– to stay here and was that because you were good at softball?
H: Well, it was cooking and mess sergeant and then pitching softball.
H: So, it was a combination.
I: Combination of those.
H: In fact, when we finished basic, go back a little bit, finished basic
H: And then the cavalry they were looking for some softball players. Well, they–they really didn’t want us
because they knew where we were gonna go. We were gonna go to Korea. And so I called home and got my spikes and my gloves down there and it was all history then. Then we started winning the games. Well, then they wanted me to stay right there, which I did. But I was very, very fortunate. The guy up above certainly looked after me.
I: Did you join the Korean War Veterans Association?
H: Yeah, we have–I’m–I’m the chaplain for our Korean Veterans Association right here in Freeport.
The chapter 150.
I: Yeah. When did you join them?
H: well, after I finished the. I don’t know exactly how old it is, but it was after–after we all–I’d say quite a few years after we finished the war. And Clyde [Croop] became our–our director.
I: So, when they–when you joined them you knew that you are Korean War Era Veteran right?
H: Oh yeah. Because we had–we had
all of our paperwork and credentials and things, yes sir.
I: And, and the people welcome you, right?
H: Oh yes.
I: Yeah. Yeah Yeah. So you know what happened to Korea?
H: I certainly do.
I: Tell me about it. Tell to the students about the war that you know and how Korea became like today. Tell, tell, tell children about it, please.
H: Okay, I was–when I fished basic, and again there is a almost the entire
company was directed to go over to Korea. And Korea, you knew what the weather was about 40 below zero in the winter time and it was more mountains and rocks. And so that–all the people–all the fellas went over there and very unfortunate, because in the winter time it’s so cold we have pictures here on the 38th parallel and it shows some fellas
helping other guys get out of fox holes and their feet are froze in the fox hole and it was 40 below and the only way to get them out is cutting their feet off. Or have to cut their hands of. And it’s–it–it isn’t good. Very bad. So that’s, that’s–that was the best thing the United States could have done was go over there. Re–remember, we were only there three years and then everything finished. They signed the peace treaty and that was the end of that war.
I: They didn’t sign the peace treaty, it was a ceasefire.
H: Oh, you’re right cease–
I: Yeah ceasefire in 1953.
H: In ’53
I: Right, but at the time Korea was completely destroyed, but do you know about the Korean economy and Korean political system now?
H: Yeah well, we know it by–by reading you know. What–what Korea has done to come back, highways underground and just many, many things like that. And so they’ve–Korea really
worshiped the United States, for I’m gonna call it bailing them out
H: And we certainly did. Anything we can help our brothers, we’re all brothers, yeah they were–they that and now, if anyone goes over there they–they really worship you.
I: Hm. Yeah, you know, we don’t–we don’t want to forget what you did for us 70 years ago. And because of that we are now 11th largest economy in the world. And it is
most vibrant democracy in Asia. So, what you did and all the Korean War veterans did was something that catalytic that the Korea becomes so powerful right now.
H: We have one fella in our group, Curtis Pilgrim, I don’t know if he’s–if you’ve talked to him yet
H: He’s a fella down from Argo Fay
H: and he was right at the front line.
H: and about two years ago,
his church the pastor asked him if he’d mind sharing what he did over there. And I mean there was mortar rounds come out, came down right alongside of his fox hole. Very fortunate the mortar round didn’t go off, it was a dud. And so he’s–he–he could really give you everything first hand. In fact, I have a copy of it he–he gave me one. Of what he read and preached on.
I: Yeah Curtis–
H: Curtis Pilgrim.
I: Curtis is first name, right?
H: Yeah. C-U-R-T-I-S
I: Yeah. He’s–he’s here in the list, so he will come, yeah.
H: Oh is he? Okay. You’re really going to enjoy him.
I: Mm-hmm. I see.
H: Yeah, he. And he was–I mean he was there riding in the Jeep with some other, you know, South Korean. But they made a wrong turn, they drove right smack into another battalion coming from North Korea and coming right into them. So, they–they had to turn around quick and get out of there.
I: The thing is, the problem is, our world history text book doesn’t tell much about Korean War. Why is that?
H: I really don’t know, to be honest with you. I–I–you–you’d think it would because it was a war, and again there was 54,000 that were killed.
H: So our text book should definitely have some things that took place, how they took place, again the pictures and that.
When–when you’re–when you’re losing 54,000 United States soldiers in only three years, it–it definitely should be well notarized. Because and then you–then you look and you’ve got other ones right in that same location. Anything we can do to help them out. Yeah, so it–it–it’s bad. Wars no one wins. And like Curtis would tell you,
there was a lot of North Koreans, communists didn’t have guns, didn’t have ammunition but they were charging right into our– our United States soldiers. In fact, I had a–a good friend of mine, we grew up together, played ball together and everything, lived about four houses apart. And he didn’t want to continue in–in high school. So, he went to Korea, got drafted, he spent three weeks over there and he was killed. Those are the ones that really touch your heart.
I: So, what do you think we have to do to tell our future generation that it’s not forgotten, it should not be forgotten, we should be able to teach more, but how do you think we can do that?
H: I think what your doing is publicizing it, writing about it, showing pictures about it. Again, this–this movie that I mentioned to you, when you see fellas that don’t have feet.
H: and these two fellas that did the narrating,
everything those fellas were not actors, they were real life fellas like you and I. No hands, because their hands were just froze. And like they said was, your M-1 rifle, you–you have to clean it spotless because otherwise you get a little oil on it they will not function. But I think too, just what we’re saying and you look around and say boy, my buddy lost is feet, I tried to help him out and he has no feet
no hands, I think what you’re doing is again, more literature about it. Show, show pictures. Pictures is the best thing, I think.
H: and those are –those are the memory things that… Now again, when I left Freeport Illinois, like I say it was 35 of us. Some good friend of mine went to California for his basic training.
H: So, we just kind of went–went all over. And Fort Riley Kansas, there was–there was only about five of us went down to Fort Riley so they just
put them wherever they could–could work them in.
I: So, even though you were not in Korea at the time, but you still proud of yourself as a Korean War veteran.
H: Oh, I certainly am.
I: And what is the Korean War to you personally in your life? What is it?
H: Well, I think it’s–it–it shows, first of all, I think the United Nations should have been the ones got together and when North Korea, when they were
coming into South Korea, our–our United Nations should have stepped in right there, rather than just the United States, but they didn’t.
H: so, I take my hat off the United States did what it had to do to more or less, I’m gonna call it save your–your fellow man. Even though your fellow man was many miles away in–in South Korea. We want to help them. Because what if you were in that predicament? You would be thankful that someone come and help you.
I: Absolutely that’s why we
we are doing it.
I: And Korean government is running Korea revisit program. So they take–invite them back to Korea for a week program and Korean government pays for it so that they can see what’s been done there.
I: After the war.
I: And they– they couldn’t believe their eyes because it’s completely different country.
H: Yeah. And I take my hat off to them doing things I’m going to call it more modernistic,
rather than waiting for someone to come help, they went in there and–and–and take care of themselves. With their–I’m going to call it their trains–their underground trains I believe I’ve heard. And Clyde [Fruth] he’s our commander, and he’s been back over there, and John Bloom, his boy is a pilot and so he–he took John back over there. Or brought Bloom back over there. So it was a–and when you see it for yourself,
that–that–that to me is where it’s more meaningful. It’s all good, but that’s the best thing.
I: Yeah. Any other episode or message that you want to leave to this interview?
H: No, I guess I would say that, in fact, some might say, why did we go over there?
H: Why? If you don’t go over there, they’re going to come here.
That’s a very interesting point.
H: And I’m thankful that the United States isn’t sitting back where Iraq and that and North Korea where they–they have these bombs.
H: the rockets and supposedly the rockets will–could reach the United States. But I believe from what I’ve read and heard, because I watch all that, we have rockets that will intercept and blow them right out of the sky and that’s what we have to do. So, it
We don’t want them here, but we don’t want them over–back over in South Korea again.
H: That’s what I said initially we–I guess we should’ve drove them right out to sea in the beginning.
I: Hm. Very nice point, I mean interesting. What was–what do you want to say about the, your military career and its impact upon your personal life, private life?
H: Well, I think–my personal opinion, I think everyone who finishes school should have to go to –should have to go through basic training. And if there’s a war on, then you’re ready, but even basic training just to leave you see that hey, you can’t get up out of your bunk and go to the refrigerator.
H: You’re not the boss anymore.
H: You know, your sergeant is the boss. And– and again,
with me cooking and mess sergeant, they–they’re the boss. And–and–and–and–and it’s–you have to be able to take a–to take command and if you don’t, well then… Again, with me cooking, and I had a rule on that when you went through the–the chow line, and you had the metal mess carrier and even if you just left maybe a fourth of that little cube of butter,
you just volunteered for KP. And some think that’s kind of severe, no. You took that, that means you’re the one should be eating it. I didn’t put it on your plate.
H: So, whatever you take, you make sure you eat.
H: And then as you look around… I have a nephew, he’s a chap–he’s a he–he–he’s over in–he was over in Thailand just about three weeks ago, he’s a missionary. And
when you see how other countries live and it–it–it’s a shame, so however we could help them, we definitely should.
H: Even to me, I– have a–we have the homeless here in Freeport, homeless all over. And I have enjoyed our church, when it’s our turn to go down and I fix breakfast for the homeless. Give them four eggs and hash browned potatoes, and bacon and that, toast. If they want more, I give them more. And that to me is what life is all about
Helping the other person. So just think instead of four eggs, now they come back and they had eight eggs
And more raw fried potatoes and more bacon and toast. So again, you’re helping your–even though you don’t know them, but you’re helping your fellow man.
I: Very nice. Very nice.
H: So again, I’ll go back just a little bit. Yeah, I–I was fortunate that I didn’t have to Korea, but I was trained for it. If I’d had to go, I would have been over there.
H: And then the cooks, you know how they take care of the cooks.
H: The cooks aren’t at the front line. Because if the enemy wipes the cooks out, you don’t have anybody.
I: [laughing] that’s right, mm-hmm.
H: But I did, I enjoyed my time there. Thankful that I went back and forth. And, but again, if I had to–had to do over again, I’d definitely help the other guy. Because I know the other guy’d been helping me.
I: What is your favorite menu to cook?
H: Well, if you want certain ones, a easy one is meatloaf.
I: Meatloaf, yes.
H: Meatloaf, because you put them in big trays and–and you can control the temperature and make sure that you have good meatloaf. And one thing you learn in there as–as a cook when the troops are out in training
And they come back and chow is 6 o’clock, you better have it ready at 6 o’clock.
H: And if you don’t, the company commander will be–probably come over and visit with you.
H: So it is there’s those are the things that–that teach you–
H: That’s right.
I: Yeah. What is your favorite food?
H: Good old chicken. [Laughing]
I: [laughing] how–how do you want it cook?
H: No, I–I–I really like, well chicken
i–I–I like it roasted, but steak. I like steak because you know you can turn it and you’re in–and again when you’re cooking you’re in charge of it
H: and if it’s bad you’re the one who made it bad and I’ve always said in the military, The military gives the best food, whether its steak, whatever it is, sometimes it’s actually what our cooks do with it. Sometimes they–they burn it or–or don’t watch what they’re doing.
I: Yeah, my father was air–Air Force pilot in Korea and in Korea the air base shared with the–the U.S. Air Force and they have officers club. And I still remember the best New York steak strip that I had ever was from there,
I: officers club in Korea. You know.
I: Best vanilla ice cream. [laughing]
H: [laughing] Yeah it–it–its all good. Again, it depends
On how our cooks are. What they do with it.
I: Yeah, I think the–the food from there is–was very authentic American way, you know.
I: Yeah. And the material was really good, you know.
H: And even on, like on Sunday, you learn, unless you want to be in KP you better get off you better go to chapel or someplace to write letters. And but what I did, because I–I appreciate being able to help your c–your comrade
and when they’d be down there for breakfast come back behind and–and–and what–how do you want me to fix your eggs? Over easy? Sunny side up? Because I want you to relax. And if you can relax then–then–then you actually have a good– a good–good soldier.
I: Wow. Very nice talking to you about your military career and how you think about the Korean War and its legacy. Any other message that you want to leave to this interview?
H: No I–I just appreciate and– you doing this and help other ones that happened to be there. They just have to–and so we’re–we’re–we’re like an interpreter.
H: And so like I said, that once you go in there that’s what I said I think if everyone would have to go, even just basic training. You learn. You’re learning that you have to take orders
and your disciplined and you do what you have to do. And again, as you go through–all the way through basic training whether you’re crawling on the ground and bullets flying over your head a little bit and in the gas chamber and that, but those are the things that some people think why? Well, all we’re doing is getting ready in case they need us.
I: Thank you very much for this opportunity and it’s my great pleasure and honor to meet you and thank you for your service
For the country and for the Korean nation.
H: Thank you, very much and i–I appreciate the opportunity to share the things that we went through with–with–with other troops–boys or girls.
[End of Recorded Material]