Iluminado Santiago was born in 1926 in Isabela, Puerto Rico. After high school, Santiago moved to Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Iluminado Santiago was drafted into the United States Army and was sent to Puerto Rico for basic training. He served with the 65th Infantry Regiment and the Second Division. He remembers being at White Horse Hill and the Battle of Kelly Hill (Outpost Kelly), an event he will never forget. His combat experience causes him nightmares, but he is proud to have served his country and the nation of Korea.
Iluminado Santiago remembers places but not always their names. Memories of injured men plague him. Other memories cause him to value the good fortune of people in the United States.
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Rice and Beans
Iluminado Santiago explains that the U.S. Army provided rice and beans for the 65th Regiment. The food reminded him of traditional Puerto Rican food. His platoon slept in sleeping bags in tents wherever they went, despite the extreme cold. He clarifies that he served his country and that he felt lucky to be able to fight for democracy in Korea.
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Pride and Best Wishes to the Korean People
Iluminado Santiago reflects on the advancements in modern South Korea. He is proud to have served in Korea to stop the advancement of North Korea. His message to young people includes his pride in the Puerto Ricans who served in the war, and he wishes the best for the Korean people.
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INTERVIEWER: It is February 17, Arecibo Puerto Rico, my name is Jongwoo Han, I am the president of Korean War Legacy Foundation, this is my great honor and pleasure to meet you, and thank you for sharing your story with me, so that it can be recorded on the internet and everybody would be able to listen from you, ok?
SANTIAGO, ILUMNADO: OK.
I: Oh right, So, please introduce yourself.
I: What is your name?
SI: My name is Iluminado Santiago.
I: Could you spell it?
SI: I L U M I N A D O S A N T I A G O.
I: A G O. Iluminado, Iluminado Santiago.
SI: Iluminado Santiago.
I: Yes. What is your birthday?
SI: November 29…
I: So how old are you now?
SI: So, I am going to be 90 next November.
I: Next November. You look young. Where were you born?
SI: Isabela, Puerto Rico.
I: Isabela right there?
SI: Right there maybe about 15 minutes from here.
I: I’ve heard that it’s a beautiful place. You have a beautiful beach, right?
SI: Beautiful, yes.
I: Hmm. Tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents, your brothers, your sisters, when you were growing up.
SI: Well, my father and my mother were… I think that my father and my mother, they born in Isabela.
SI: And I born in Isabela too, the whole family…
SI: …five kids, all males.
SI: All males.
I: All males. And what school did you go?
SI: San Sebastian.
I: And when did you graduate High School?
SI: Well, I finish the High School 1948.
I: 1948 and what did you do?
SI: For then after, I went to… started the… [0:02:29 inaudible]
SI: …yeah after I went to New York, to New Jersey.
I: New York University?
SI: No, but I went to Perth Amboy New Jersey, where I expend, so, I think, like three years before I go to the ARMY, and then, went to the ARMY come back, get married, I came to Puerto Rico, came back to Perth Amboy New Jersey, So there I got my kids, five…
SI: …all of them, just one lives here in Isabela, but four of the they stayed in Perth Amboy New Jersey.
I: Then, who is she?
SI: This is the younger one.
I: Your daughter? Hmm, what’s her name?
I: Janeth nice to meeting you. Mhm, and when did you join the military?
SI: I think, 1952…
SI: …to 1953. But I forgot the date, you now?
I: Hmm. Were you drafted or did you enlist?
SI: Well, they just called me in, you know, I was there in Perth Amboy when they called me, and the day when I was supposed to go wherever I was supposed to go, I came back to Puerto Rico and I stayed here in… I reported here…
SI: … in the Buchanan, it used to be military camp, training camp. I stayed about 16 weeks, and then from here I went to Korea.
I: So that, when you received the basic training, it was 1952?
I: Yes, and did you know anything about Korea at that time?
SI: I didn’t know anything.
I: You didn’t know.
SI: Until I got there.
I: Had you imagined that you could ended up been in Korea before?
SI: I never heard about Korea until I got there. I… you know, when I left Puerto Rico, from here I went to… some country like Colombia for a day, Panama Canal for two days, Hawaii for two days…
SI: Tokyo, Japan for seven days, and then from there I went to Pusan, from Pusan I took a train to Seoul, I stayed for a night, and the next day in the morning I left to the line, the front line.
I: Front line?
SI: Yeah, but I forgot the name, you know, just only one place I know, or I never forgot…
SI: …Kelly Hill.
I: Kelly Hill, yes.
SI: I was in Kelly Hill. I remember we started there the combat about six in the morning, then we had to left because we can’t make it, we can’t get the hill, you know.
I: Hmm. How was Korea when you first see Pusan and Seoul, and so on? How was it?
SI: Well, it was nighttime, so I didn’t…
SI: It was nighttime, the train go so slow that I can’t see during the night, I see.
I: So, tell me about, what was your specialty?
SI: What, what?
I: What was your specialty? A rifleman?
SI: I was a rifleman then after I was a rear repairer, PRC tender…
SI: …where you were… I used the rear gunner, I got there but then after I went to the second division. When there I was a rifle man.
I: What was your duty? How was like a typical day of your service, what did you do?
SI: Well… when I was in the service?
SI: Well, that’s so… stayed in the…
SI: …platoon, and go from there to different place, wherever they go. Where I was supposed to go. Until I got out from Korea?
I: Where there any dangerous moments?
SI: No. But I want to say one thing, I was there until they finish. So, that means…
SI: …after a few days ended combat to the IC.
I: Mhm. What was the most difficult thing in Korea?
SI: Well, about the people over there you mean.
I: Yeah, when you were in Korea…
I: What was the most difficult thing?
SI: Well, a difficult thing was… tried to be…
SI: …friendly with the Koreans soldiers, because wherever we go, we have one Korean soldier that speak the two languages, English in Korea.
SI: So, I can settle with them because most of the time I was on the line, on reserve, but I never took a vacation over there as they used to do it, you know, but only…
SI: …seven days in Japan, beautiful Japan at that time.
I: Hmm. RnR.
SI: I didn’t want to go back though.
I: Mhm. Tell me about the life in Korea, where did you sleep, what did you eat?
SI: Well, we didn’t sleep too much. You know.
SI: But we ate…
SI: …the American food, when I was in the 65th regiment, we ate Spanish (Hispanic) food but then after we had to adapted to the American food.
I: What kind of Spanish food were you able to eat?
SI: We used to ear rice and beans like we used to do it here, Korean people.
I: So, they cooked it there?
SI: Yes, they have a kitchen wherever we’ll go.
SI: Or if we be a little be far of the line…
SI: …or from the kitchen, so, some way we ate it, the rice and beans, the meat, the chicken like we did it here.
I: Really? Where did you sleep? Was it in bunker, or tent, or sleeping bag, or where were you?
SI: Sleeping bags.
I: All the time?
SI: Most of the time, then tents like we used to go in reserve for two weeks, or three weeks, wherever we go…
SI: Wherever we go, we go for training, and then they have the tents.
I: Wasn’t it too cold for you?
SI: Was cold, really cold, below zero.
SI: But one thing I remember, when the snow staff, they stayed there until next April, and we had to walk off over the snow…
SI: …But I am going to tell you, I was in the ARMY, and I was in Korea, but I wont say that I didn’t like the ARMY because it was my country, wherever it serve I might have to go, you know?
SI: But I am not disappointed for being a soldier, or been in the war or… we’re lucky, that we always…
SI: …go some place to fight for the democracy.
SI: We don’t let they come to this country because, its going to be different, you see?
SI: But, you know, I would like to go on vacations one day to see.
I: To Korea? You want to go back to Korea?
SI: I don’t have the money to go, but I would like to go, like…
SI: See the differences. Because when I was young, I used to know Seoul, they have… transportation they have was trains, buses, that have not too many road as they used to have today, I think. But I remember…
SI: …not too much about. You know, more of fifty years, you know.
I: The Korean government has a program called “Re-visit Korea program”.
I: They invite you and most of it will be free. Would you be willing to go if Korea government invites you?
SI: I would like to go.
SI: One day.
I: Yes. And you not going to believe your eyes, because Seoul has been so much develop…
I: …do you know anything about it?
SI: I heard.
I: What is it? What did you hear?
SI: I heard about big hotel they don’t have it before, the roads they don’t have them before, I don’t know maybe, the transportation that they used to have, and the one they may have now. Because they didn’t have like cars factories over there like they have two now.
SI: And then…
SI: …so, the differences that must be today, but who know if some day, I have the chance to go, if I get the money.
I: Yeah. Noemi and other people that I’m working with, we will work together to see if many of the Puerto Ricans Korean War Veterans can get invitation from Korean government.
I: So, isn’t this nice that the Korea you remember was miserable, right? Very poor.
SI: Long time, you know. I can remember some place but no the names.
SI: You know, like “White Horse”, I think they had the…
SI: …the Hill they called “Papa-San” or things like that.
SI: But no. not enough like I went to.
I: What is the impact of your service in the Korean War upon your life, how did it affect you? Affect your life?
SI: Well, too much.
I: Tell me about it.
SI: When I…
SI: …you know, when I, before I get the… I was young, I liked to dance, I liked to sing, I like to have a girlfriend and go out. Bet then after I got there…
I: Mhm. Nothing.
SI: I don’t have those things. But I got a little mind sick, I couldn’t sleep so good, like…
SI: …Como tu dices pesadillas? (how do you say nightmares?)
I: PTSD. Yeah, Post Traumatic… right?
SI: That was for long time, I think for few years, then little by little I started to forget everything.
I: What bothers you? What was it? The sin? Did you… What bothers you?
SI: You know…
SI: …since us that, sometimes we were on the line, you see somebody wounded, or somebody crying because we used to cry over there like a baby, you know…
SI: I don’t think I never cry but… that thing I never forgot, to see a wounded crying, like me, remember when I was in Kelly Hill…
SI: …by 11 o’clock we had to withdraw, and then I was so tired that when I got… maybe five or ten minutes form the… I got sleep.
SI: So, it got dark. And I was in the Hill right in the outpost, and I didn’t know who he was until I heard some Spanish speakers…
SI: …I asked them how to get out from there, and they say, go dawn the hill and you’ll see the company, your company is over there, I got there, but those guys were so mad because we didn’t took the hill, and they say “keep going”, until I got somebody pick me up from the… you know, from the company. I mean, if I can get that guy…
SI: …I didn’t know where to going.
SI: But like I said you could…
I: Could you speak a little bit louder?
SI: I was there and I don’t remember too many things, but Kelly Hill was really a nightmare.
SI: I don’t like war…
SI: …but I am lucky. Or we’re lucky the American people, we everyone goes some other place, we didn’t have to wait until they got here. I think Korean people they lived in peace now and they don’t want war.
I: We are still divided by north and south. Do you know North Korea, right?
I: …and still divided and the war has not been finished.
I: Yeah, what do you think about that?
SI: Well, I read the paper, sometimes, the news, and we are not sure some day the North is going to attack the South, you know, because communism…
SI: …you know, you can’t trust them. But I remember, like I heard from some Korean people. In the beginning the North they go like a guerrilla, before they got paid for, they give pay by the guys over there, and then after they went to guerrillas you know.
I: Went to the war?
SI: And them…
SI: …I remember that South Korea they got 29 divisions.
SI: And then, after the North attacked the South, they have left 9 divisions. I didn’t hear so much about that, but when I was there, I was thinking about what people was saying…
SI: …but I heard big different now. Big buildings, big roads, big transportation, big business, two car dealers, I mean, Hyundai and Kia.
I: Hyundai and Kia.
SI: Things that they don’t have before.
I: Mhm. South Korea is 11th largest economy in the world.
I: Can you believe that? It is a very small county without any drop of oil. We don’t have oil. And now we are, in term of the ranking, we are 11th, can you believe that?
I: The county you fought for, 65 years ago…
I: …and very poor and completely destroyed, now there is one of the best economies in the world. That is your legacy.
I: You fought for us, so, we were able to re build our economy and democracy.
SI: Like I said, I was proud to be there because I know why we had to go there. You know.
SI: Because I think…
SI: …I may believe that North Korea wants to take over South Korea, and from there they wanted to go for Japan. Maybe, that’s what I am thinking. That was like the second war, you know, Germany, they wanted to take whole the Europe, from there go to South America, from South America go to US…
SI: …I was proud to be in the ARMY.
SI: To be in Korea.
I: You should be proud of yourself.
SI: Yeah. Too old to be back.
I: Yeah, you have to see it. Until you see it you cannot believe it. And when you see you´ll be really, really, proud of yourself, so we want to invite you and we´ll work on it, ok?
I: Your daughter is seating there, and do you have any message to our young generation about your military service in Korea?
SI: Well, the thing is that I don’t know how many Puerto Ricans still alive, because I don’t know to many, I know a couple, they were there in Korea, they fought, they were in the line, but the thing I will say is…
SI: …I wish the best for the Korean People, and they don’t forget that the 65th regiment was there.
I: Yes, that is why I´m doing this.
SI: So, that is might else what l can say. But where do you live? here…
SI: …do you live in Korea?
I: I am form South Korea, Seoul, South Korea.
SI: South Korea.
I: Yeah, but I live in Syracuse, New York.
SI: New York.
I: Yes. And we have done this, so the foundation has more that 700 interviews form Korean War Veterans.
I: Yes, and we have many, many pictures collected from Korean Wars Veterans. And the purpose is to keep…
I: …your oral history, witness and then educate our young children about the Korean War that 65th regiment fought.
SI: Well, like I said, nobody likes war, but we had to do it, we had to defend the democracy. We had to do it.
SI: We don’t what they to come to this country, you know what I mean?
I: Mhm. That´s right.
SI: We had to stop them before they got here.
I: Absolutely, that is why many Puerto Ricans veterans shared their blood.
SI: Yeah, and I tell you the 65th regiment was the best, was the best.
I: I know about that. So, are you proud of yourself?
SI: I am proud of myself, but I never cried like some US´s did it. Puerto Ricans never cry.
I: Never Cry.
I: Yeah. Very courageous, any other message you want to leave to this interview?
SI: No, that´s all I say. I was proud to be there. So, I will one day, how knows? if I go there, I don’t want to take the train I took in Pusan to Seoul because, that´s the long way, but you know I got there, we don’t know that we had to go to Pusan until we got there. But I got there…
SI: …without building or train or whatever, because before we got there, they threw like smoke bombs or, I don’t know what everything dark, you know, we got there at 8 in the morning. For the Korean people, the South Korea people I wish the best and I am glad that they change their live…
SI: …And I wish for them the best, no war. But get ready if sometimes they have to do it.
SI: Because you don’t know the enemy, sometimes it is behind the door, and you don’t know it.
I: That´s why we are doing this, and en nombre de Corea gracias por todo (on behalf of Korea thanks for all).
SI: But that it takes you to all men, because young people totally don’t think about it. You know?
I: Yeah. Thank you very much.
SI: Well, I am glad to be here. I´m glad to know you. So, I wish the best for you. You have family in Korea?
SI: And for them the best.
I: Thank you, sir. Thank you, sir.
SI: The best from the best.
I: Thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]