Israel Irizarry-Rodriguez was born on November 26, 1933, in Lajas, Puerto Rico. He quit school and joined the Army at the age of eighteen to help support his family, knowing that he would be sent to Korea. He was sent to Korea in 1952 where he trained KATUSA (South Korean soldiers assigned to U.S. units) before being sent to the front lines north of Seoul. He shares how, while in combat, he would volunteer to man his unit’s Observation Post (OP) as well as go on patrols that would put him in close contact with the enemy. By doing so, he rose in rank from Private to Corporal in a very short time. He recounts his interaction with orphans and details the weaponry he used while serving during the war. He reflects on the outcome of the war and expresses his pride for having served, adding comments of his fondness for the Korean people and culture.
Manning the Observation Post
Israel Irizarry-Rodriguez speaks of being put on alert every night at midnight. He shares memories of the tactics used by the Chinese to lure the Puerto Rican soldiers out of their bunkers with Puerto Rican music and beer. He recounts losing two members of a patrol.
Israel Irizarry-Rodriguez recalls his interaction with South Korean orphans during the war. He shares how he felt seeing the orphans and remembers wanting to help them. He speaks of how he and other soldiers would take the orphans to get food.
Observation Post Attacked
Israel Irizarry-Rodriguez shares memories of the fear he experienced while being in Korea during the war. He recounts being in a foxhole and an attack on his Observation Post (OP) occurring. He elaborates on how he defended his position with hand grenades.
Reflection of Service
Israel Irizarry-Rodriguez shares his thoughts on his service during the Korean War and why the United States went to help South Korea. He expresses his fondness for the Korean people and culture. He shares his pride regarding the progress South Korea has made economically since the war.
[Beginning of recorded material]
J: It’s February 14, 2016, Lajas, Puerto Rico. My name is Jungwoo Han. I’m the President of Korean War Legacy Foundation. It’s a great honor and pleasure to meet you. Please introduce yourself for the audience, your name and spell it for the audience please. Look at me.
I: I am, uh, Sergeant Israel Irizarry from Puerto Rico. This town where we are right now is Lajas.
J: Um hm.
I: Lajas, Puerto Rico.
J: What is your birthday?
I: My birthday is November 26, 1933.
J: You are a young man.
I: [INAUDIBLE] we take it to.
J: You’re a young man compared to other veterans here.
So, um, tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings.
I: Well, when I went over there in, in, in July, I guess 19th, uh, my
J: July what?
I: When I went to Korea you’re talking about?
J: No. I want you to talk about your parents and family.
I: Oh, yeah. Well
J: When you were growing up.
I: And, uh, my mother. [INAUDIBLE] doing my mother cause you know my mother is dead.
J: Um hm.
I: But, uh, uh, uh. My wife is dead.
I: Yeah, two years. I’m living with, alone but I got to help me my, my [tongues]
J: Um hm.
I: I got, uh, four sons, uh, boys, three, one girl.
I: They’re working in the medicine two,
uh, doctors from this town, from Lajas, uh. I have a good family.
J: Uh huh.
I: I feel right good.
J: Um hm.
I: I feel, eh, eh, fine to be in Korea in 1952. I had to go over there like [INAUDIBLE] have to go. Yeah, I lie.
J: No, you better not.
I: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
J: Thank you for your willingness to fight for, again, for us. But we don’t, we don’t want you for the War. We want you to be there as a person who wants to see what’s, what change has been made. That’s what we wanna do.
I: You want, you want me to see the difference.
I: You know when I was in Ujung-ni I took a bus to Seoul [not out, uh, not then]
very, very good people, nice people, I love Korean people.
J: Thank you. We love you, too. And we are doing this so that the Korean people can listen from you in 10 years, 20 years. At the same time, young children from Puerto Rico and the United States, the mainland, so that they can learn from you. That’s why we are doing this.
I: I got to there when I was 18 years.
I was in Japan for three months, uh, trying to learn English, to get up in the morning of Korea to attend a war, a war. People from Korea. By that time, June ’52,
I was in, I was close to Kelly Hill. There was a little
J: Kelly Hill?
J: Yeah. When did you arrive in Korea?
I: I arrived to Korea in 1952 and, by the end or the, the end of 1952.
I: Eh, by Inchon.
J: Inchon, yeah.
I: We were, I took a boat, not eat, took the boat.
with my rifle. There is no place to walk to the mountain. I, and it was all in the water. The Sergeant said put your rifle up and command and we got up.
J: Uh huh.
I: three hills. Always ready to fight for my people, for my nation. My love for U.S.A, too. Yes.
J: What was your specialty?
I: Eh, I was a rifleman, Infantry. I was a machine gun, not machine gun, a Browning automatic rifle trying to make Corporal. I was Corporal then, aye.
Then I was Sergeant, Sergeant, aye, I have a lot of achieve to do, to, to talk about the moment the [last time] in Korea.
I: Trying to go.
J: Um hm.
I: What I was supposed to do.
J: Tell us. Tell me.
I: As soon as I get in Korea, I was
in the line, uh, [INAUDIBLE]. And the bunkers, I was in front of, and they were, I was on one hill. In front of me was another hill with the North Koreans. Myself with this South Korean was on the other side. We were supposed to protect
the South. That was, I was going over there in Korea. You want me to tell you about some experience
I: or what?
I: When I was there, I was, uh, I teached Katusas
J: Uh huh.
I: Katusas Korean with us to [INAUDIBLE] about the day. I don’t know [ INAUDIBLE]
May I tell you
I: Uh, the Commander told us to go on. That I remember. It’s been more than 60 years. My mind is not so good. Tell it. We at War.
J: Um hm.
J: Uh huh.
I: [COUNTING IN SPANISH]
J: I understand that.
I: No, that you don’t understand?
J: I unders
I: I, uh, [INAUDIBLE]
J: Turn left, turn right.
I: [MORE SPANISH?]
J: So you trained Katusa.
I: A Katusa.
J: How was Korean Katusa? How was Korean people?
I: How were
J: They are good or bad or intelligent or
I: Very good.
J: Did you like them?
I: Yes. I, I think that I not going to tell you, but I was protecting Katusa, like all the South Koreans because any [oil] or the [Italians] I don’t
permit to talk loud to a Katusa. Very good people. I got a lot of friends in the picture that I got over there. I went one time to Seoul.
J: So you were in Seoul training Katusa, right?
I: No, no, not in Seoul. In Ujung-ni
J: Ujung-ni, okay.
I: You know where I Ujung-ni?
J: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
I: Yeah, Ujung-ni. I, I, I, I, I
confused him because I, I was twice over there.
I: I was in 1952
J: Uh huh.
I: in combat. After that, two or three years later, I was again because here in Puerto Rico was a different place. I, I, ask, I want to go to Korea again.
J: You are crazy man.
I: I guess so.
J: You agree, right?
I: No. I, but I’m not crazy.
I crazy to go. It was crazy to be there.
I: In Korea.
J: You didn’t afraid.
I: I was not afraid. I was not. In, in any moment. In 1952 and, uh, in 1954.
J: Um. So you went twice.
I: I went twice. That’s what I guess, uh, there are some mistake in my papers
with the,, uh, military service, Marine, [INAUDIBLE] Are you writing it down?
J: Yeah. So were there any, when you were there in 1952, were there any dangerous moments?
I: Dangerous moment. I was in the hill. I was in combat. I
J: Tell me about it.
J: Tell me.
I: In 1952, I was up there in the hills
in the bunkers, uh. Every night at 12:00, was 100% [INAUDIBLE] Everybody out the bunker and to the line. I do that.
J: Um hm.
I: All of, every night. No, no dreams, nothing. You have to be there to, uh, in the place were I was, the enemy was close
to our hill. You know what they do, the enemy?
J: Um hm.
I: They put some music from Puerto Rico
J: Oh really?
I: Yeah. Philipe Rodriguez, us, the singer are working that moment
J: Chinese, right?
I: Chinese. They got music
J: But that Chinese play the Puerto Rican music.
I: Hey you, Puerto Rican. Come over here. We got beer, Cerveza, Cerveza.
And they took the, the, the [INAUDIBLE] mark. India, one of t he Puerto Rican beers. I have India over here for you, but that’s the line in Spanish, [SPANISH – I think] Cerveza.
J: They spoke in Spanish.
I: In Spanish. They do that.
J: So did you wanna go? I’m just kidding. But, so tell me.
I: Yeah. That, that. that’s okay. Uh, when they telling us over there, okay. Tonight we have to go on patrol. I want volunteers for tonight, about 12, uh, soldiers. I always raised my hand. I want to go volunteer over there because I want [MIRACLES] to North Korea about, uh, one yard.
J: One yard?
I: [INAUDIBLE] patrols.
J: Three yards?
I: Huh, no. Three yards close, close. Right in, we heard talk. We heard everything.
I: But [do all of that] you’ll be an expert because you had to cross the minefield.
J: Uh huh.
I: You step over one of, a minefield, you know what happens.
J: My goodness. You were all
I: Close, I work very close because here we are very close to, uh
J: You were not afraid?
I: No. I not afraid to go over there and repeat, you know. No. And the, we have to OP, you know, Observation
I: I like to be more of my time in OP. The OP is right in front
of our lines. And the enemy come over, we gonna be the first, see? We got over there. We, uh, walkie talkie or something like that. I have a lot of stories. I went one time with, u h, four, and they killed two of my friends, uh, Americans, and
Katusa, they kill. I say kill because no, not kill, uh, fool. Ready to die. I took two Americans. I come back to the line with those two Americans, but they [lie it turned out] They lie. The Chinese push bayonet over the eyes.
I: Yeah. But we put
I: But they, like I, I gotta tell you how the
J: Before you tell me, explain this picture please. Can you show that, show, picture in your chest.
I: Yes. Let me see first. Here I, here I am with another, that was my second
I: My, my second trip to Korea.
J: That was during the second trip.
J: So 1954?
I: 1954. [INAUDIBLE]
J: And explain it to me. Um, there is a kid beside you, right? Hold it like this, okay?
I: Si. I gotta show you.
Every time the Korean orphans come over to our, uh, barracks to find the Sergeant to go to the PX
J: Uh huh.
I: And the [friend with me], show me that place because your more time than me over there.
[LETEE] I got a line over here.
I: Uh, Sergeant is already [INAUDIBLE] Sergeant Williams [INAUDIBLE] with orphans, Korean orphans. The orphans used to go to visit us to go to the PX in Buffalo City. Now I forget the place where they were.
J: Buffalo city.
I: Buffalo city.
J: Um hm.
I: To the PX.
J: What did you buy for them?
I: [INAUDIBLE] yeah, and, and Buffalo City are watching for the fire
J: No. When you went to PX, what did you buy for the orphans?
I: Well, uh, something to eat, eat.
J: Do you remember what you bought for them?
I: I don’t remember.
I: No. If they want anything, why should they want it, say what they wanted.
J: You’re e very generous.
I: Yeah, it’s a bit, is a, one boy call it, but he was about 16. The young so, no, king [INAUDIBLE] He always the
time he said to the other soldiers he’s my father.
I: I was not. He is my father.
J: What did you feel when you looked at those orphans, Korean boys?
I: I don’t feel god. I feel bad. I like to help those orphans. They are not boys now. They are, uh, people.
I: But I like, somebody told me that he is an orphan[INAUDIBLE] that, which was in fire or something and the first, turn around and to help.
J: Yeah. Do you wanna go back?
I: Very, very good find it.
J: Do you wanna go back?
I: I wanna go.
I: I wanna see Korea.
I: Because though everybody tell me that it’s not same Korea I, I looked before.
I: I, I around the bus with animals in the hands of the people. But all the, the Koreans very good with me. A lot of friend of Koreans.
I have a lot of friends Korea. [INAUDIBLE] get here, I was with one Korean lady, [INAUDIBLE] more than 60 years. I wanna go. They were teaching me so I don’t know, uh, I remember I, uh, [SINGING ?]
J: Keep, keep singing. Remember? [SINGING]
I: I wanna be there. Yes, yes.
J: Remember that song?
J: Could you sing again?
I: They don’t know that song. Let’s see I know it. [INAUDIBLE – SINGING]
I: I, I, I, I like
You were right. They talk to me. I was singing the song. Korean Katusa teach me.
I: I was, by that time I was talking Korean. They don’t show me hey, Katusa, come here. [INAUDIBLE]
J: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE], yes.
J: Yeah, second.
J: You really like Korea.
I: I really like Korea.
J: You gotta go back to Korea. We, Korean government has a revisit program. They pay you, your airfare more than half percent and everything free.
J: So, um, what do you think about the Korean War? Why is it important? Why, why
do our young children have to know about it? Why?
I: I think, I don’t know if I, I, have mistake. I was there to stop the North Korea to take care of South Korea and all the Korea, and then they will be gone all around. You know, I shook hand with Syngman Rhee.
He gave me a medal. I don’t know what I do with it.
J: Yeah. He is President Syngman Rhee.
I: Yes. [INAUDIBLE] and I gave it to the, I was in a parade, and they made me Sergeant and take me somewhere that I, I, I, I don’t know where [SYNGMAN RHEE]
I: I asked to be Headquarters to know
how are the mans. They tell me that there was a fire, and they don’t have everything. But they like, I like Korea.
J: What was your rank, Corporal?
J: Sergeant. How much were you paid?
I: Ninety dollars over there, no.
Ninety, hundred something, and 90 was a Private. By that time 1952. After that, the pay I, I don’t remember the salary because I, I went to Korea another reason was to help my mother and my father. I was in, uh, in the school by that. I get
to the 18 years, I want to volunteer. They don’t call me
J: Um hm.
I: I went and volunteered to the Army. I feel very, I’m glad I am very good today to, to eat with a Korean.
J: Yeah. You are amazing. Not many Korean War veterans remember the [ARIUM]. I mean, not many Korean War veterans can, can sing like you. But
they like the [ARIUM] as you do. And
I: [INAUDIBLE] and I sing. [SINGING]
I: I wonder where, you can write it in the [INAUDIBLE]
I: I want it, because I, I go with the song in one paper,
[young Korean waves after me]. I love that, uh, love of letters because in Korea, when I was in combat, they told me that the letters we received be better to throw away because the enemy take it, can be [PROWEN] And that’s all I know. That’s why I don’t have any letters from Korea. I was, uh, in
[INAUDIBLE] 96, uh,, 65 Infantry, [INAUDIBLE]
J: Um hm.
I: when something happened. When I went to Korea in, in the big boat, U.S. bought it, the name, I received, when is it, these orders [INAUDIBLE] of what’s happening in Kelly Hill with the 65th, I don’t, I don’t explain because, you know,
and when I, when I arrive Japan, they told me you cannot go to the hill with the 65th. You have to stay here and come [INAUDIBLE] taking English classes.
J: Uh huh.
I: There was a Lieutenant. When I went to, to the fire line, they
assigned me another, I guess it was the 40th Infantry Division I guess. I fight in Korea. I fight in Korea with the same orders that everybody everyone in the line. The line is still over there somebody told me, yeah, yeah.
I can [GO] over there. I can’t go over to Korea again to fight.
J: Uh, what was the most difficult thing during your service?
I: My the only, I don’t, I don’t have difficult anywhere in Korea over there.
J: No, what was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?
I: Most difficult thing was well,
the hour, the 12: 00 in the night, that was, uh, the time that they used to attack. And I was partly, the place where I went, the OP battles. I don’t know. At first time I was afraid like everybody. The second and third, I was okay.
J: Um hm. If I arrange a meeting with a Chinese soldier who used to fight against you, would you be willing to shake hands with him?
J: Would you be?
J: They were, tried to kill you. You were tried to kill them.
I: I was in a hole dug in the middle of the tall hills, South, North
and the, some place in the middle, I was in a hole. They attack, they kill. But because there were three hole, two and one in the center. I was in the, in the center here. They killed the other two. And when I look outside and see the enemy, I lay down because they give me instructions
to, I called the, the, the Company Commander of the, uh, platoon leader. I, I was in the hole, inside the hole, the hole was very full of grenade, hand grenade.
J: Hand grenade.
I: Hand grenade because everybody that goes over there, they don’t wanna carry two more grenade, and they leave it there. And I make a part of throwing grenades forward, grenade backward,
grenade right, grenade left and I, and they went, I don’t know if I killed somebody [INAUDIBLE] checking that, you know.
J: So there is still Katusa in Korea, and do you wanna train them? Can you train them again?
I: Yeah. But have to, I have to, I need a little training to remember because I got inside, I don’t know how to take it out now.
I: But the [INAUDIBLE]
I: Attention. [SPANISH – I think]
J: Turn right.
J: Turn left.
I: I forget [INAUDIBLE] on it.
I: But they, it looked like different, [INAUDIBLE]
J: [INAUDIBLE] the right
I: To the left, [INAUDIBLE]
J: [Apruga] move forward.
I: [INAUDIBLE] move forward.
J: Move forward.
J: That’s enough. So what, you’re not going to believe your eyes when
you go back. If you go back and look at all those
I: Like, [INAUDIBLE] America.
J: It’s even
I: I, I, I, I gonna be happy because I love Korea. I love Korea.
J: How about food? Do you like Korean food?
I: [STAMMERS] I love.
J: What, what do you like?
I: I, I love, I, I forget the name, but they’re like the, the, the they live for something and kimchi, too
J: Isn’t it too spicy for you? Right? Yeah.
I: Are you still talking about that, I’m gonna be in Korea in a minute.
J: You are amazing. You are amazing.
Um, you know, because you have so much familiarity, uh, with the Korean culture, I forgot my questions. I don’t know what to ask. My goodness. Tell me any other stories that you wanna share with the audience.
I: Well, uh,
J: Oh, oh I, I, you were not married at the time, right?
I: Widow, uh, yeah.
J: At the time, you were married?
I: My, my, my wife is dead.
J: No, at the time when you were in Korea.
J: No, at the time when you were in Korea, were you not married?
I: Were not married d. But I wanna tell you the history.
J: Tell me. What is it? No?
I: I love Korean girls, too.
J: Oh, really?
J: Yeah. Tell me about it. You wanna tell?
J: You want to talk about it?
J: Okay. Let’s save it and
I: Because we go every time I was behind a girl, always was two mamasan. Something happened to, uh, to they or no. You know what I mean with mamasan?
I: In charge of the other
When, when I was, uh, [INAUDIBLE ENTIRE PHRASE]. In Korea, girls used to go to the cause they was also there. Another thing that was a Korean PX in Ujung-ni, Korean PX. Ujung-ni is over there.
Here is a bridge to enter to the base and Korean PX. That was [INAUDIBLE], uh, with many Puerto Rican girls [INAUDIBLE] I see, and too many girls.
J: Yeah. Um, did you write letters to your family? What did you write?
I: Well, to tell them, uh, I’m in Korea and I, I, I’m good. I am patrolling. I like it. I like it. And I wait for our twice a year, I go to there to see my mother and father, I like to come back. I seen that guard. Listen to me because in, in one year here in Puerto Rico, they tell me I don’t ask. They send me
to Korea again. What happened? I was in a different place. I was there and glad because I wanna see again Korea is very big. I went to Buffalo City, no other cities were there. See Buffalo City, and there I was in charging, I was in training, I was given training to [INAUDIBLE] the first thing was I was a Private, and when I was
in, in [INAUDIBLE], I used to help the Sergeant in charge of, of us. I, he always took me in Korea of the line to process inductions to the other soldiers. I was with a machine gun, but no machine gun. Uh, Browning Automatic rifle behind the motorcycle [CARPORT?] because you
operate a Browning Automatic rifle, you should read [INAUDIBLE] That’s what I make for [INAUDIBLE] I went, one thing I was in charge the way the, the fence around the, the [CAMP] We wired, wired [INAUDIBLE] I was in charge of it.
J: Um hm.
I: I was [INAUDIBLE] too.
J: What did you do after you came back from Korea?
I: When I come back to Korea, uh, I worked in [INAUDIBLE] when they asked me to, for a test to see, to see what’s actually better for me. I took a rotary test [NOISE] When I finished,
they told me you can be a lawyer. I went to Santa Maria University for about one year.
J: What did you study?
I: I was studying to be a lawyer.
I: Yes. But something happened. Something happened and mistake it with the instructor. They showed me out for one semester
I: Main, main, about five months. I was four months, but I, I don’t wait for nothing for, for anything. Right away, I remember when I was in, in Korea, I buy, uh, tape recorder in the PX. I was, I was brought this. [INAUDIBLE]
Senoras, Senoras, [SPANISH] Korea. Hello people. How are you? Then when they told me out from the other [INAUDIBLE[, I went to the only, the only, no, the first station in my[inaudible] was WPRA, I asked for a job. They told me, uh,
did you got experience? I say [INAUDIBLE] they ask everybody, experience. But they don’t give the opportunity to the young people to practice that experience. I complained to the, to the, the [INAUDIBLE] of the owner. She told me right there it’s a show right now.
With a piano. [INAUDIBLE] I went to the show, uh, they give me opportunity to finish the song, [SPANISH]
I, I guess he don’t wanna start when I say. But a job, I show you.
J: Um hm.
I: I asked for a job. When I finished the show, they, about two hours, the owner told me will you please come tomorrow?
I: Yes. Yes. We got a [INAUDIBLE] work.
J: Very good.
I: After that, including today, I’m, I’m radio announcer just like
J: You’re still doing that?
I: Yesterday, I was working this morning a show. But they, it’s a place
where, it’s a, a, a, the people call to the station to sell a car, to sell a bicycle, to sell a house, to sell any, anywhere. Then I said, it’s funny, [LONG SPANISH STATEMENT]
J: Wow. You are still doing radio program here? Huh?
I: Just two hours a week.
J: Wow, that’s great. You are famous.
I: Yeah, everybody know me. And disc, disc j, disc jockey
J: Disc jockey, yeah, yeah.
J: Very good.
I: I used to work in, in Paris. [INAUDIBLE] four thousand people, um, play Sunday music. [SPANISH]
J: Wow, you’re amazing man. Um, what do you wanna say to young children about your service?
I: To young children, what I’m gonna say? I was in combat in Korea. When I was over there, worked to protect that nation
because that nation is a friend of our world, the United States of America.
I: Every nation, the [Air Force] unit that they from America, [INAUDIBLE] we protect them, we protect. And here I am right now, I have to go to Korea again to fight with that [INAUDIBLE] I don’t wanna speak all that.
J: Uh huh.
I: And North Korea, no.
J: Uh huh.
I: Se. I’ve, If I go to Korea I used to see the city to see those that [INAUDIBLE] that people on all sides. The people from Korea because I love Koreans.
J: Israel, thank you so much again. Because of your love of Korea
and Korean people including Katusa that you once trained
I: Koreans and us to United States Army Katusa
J: Yes. They
I: My friends.
J: And because of your love and your courage to fight for us, we are now 11th largest economy in the world. Can you believe that?
J: Eleventh largest economy in the world.
I: What progress.
J: What a progress, isn’t it?
J: Can you believe that?
I: If you had said [INAUDIBLE]
I: I have to see that.
J: Yes, you have to see it. So you said that you wanna go back. I will try to arrange that, okay? Alright? And Israel, on behalf of Korean nation and Korean government, I want to thank you.
I love you. I love the veterans from Puerto Rico because they were in their very early phase of the Korean War and fought for us, shed blood a lot.
I: I love Korea. I love Korean peoples. I like to be there. If I have to fight again to protect Korean people, I will do it again. I’m glad.
J: Thank you, sir. Any other story you wanna leave more? Any other story that you wanna tell?
I: No. I had another story maybe sometime because in Korea, one time I was, I went out with our, with the Korean during a party. Ujung-ni, Busan, Taegu, Seoul.
There were a lot of, but those places that I was
I: I love Korea.
J: Yeah. I’ll try to arrange so that you can go back to Korea and see those changes that has been made, ok?
I: If I’m gonna go there?
I: I will tell you something because I feel sometimes sick some time, sick. Right now I, like a lion.
J: Alright. Thank you very much.
I: Thank you, too.
[End of Recorded Material]