[Beginning of Recorded Material]J: Jack Allen. I’m 81 years old.
I: Okay. And of course you know a little bit about the project. You brought in some great pictures. I like to get an idea of how you feel personally about participating in the project and kind of what it means to you.
J: I think it’s very important that I, and when this first came up, um, I was very excited over the fact that, um, we could
tell you what we felt like, uh. We have been treated with extreme, uh, courtesies from everyone I’ve ever seen of Korean background, and I’ve said to many people that, were the situation reversed, I’m sure we would be very thankful of those who came to our, to help us, and we’ve been to a number of Korean events, and without exception, we have
been treated royally. Um, and so I, so when he came back and said that, uh, the only problem we had, those of us at the Korean War Veterans group, is how is he, how you gonna finance this thing. I mean this is, this is crazy. There are so many people, that’s and, and, who I’m sure are willing to talk about what it was like and, and what went on. How do we, how do we finance it? Well, he came back with, with the
the thought that the Korean government is willing to, uh, underwrite this, and I think that’s fantastic. I really do. Um, I don’t know, I, I, I have no difficulty talking about it. I remember when I first started talking about it and, um, uh, I, I remember the day, my sister said to me a number of times I never talked about when I was in Korea, and I
have a great deal of, of, uh, feeling for people who something they, they, they can’t talk about, and I called Joe Owens one day. Uh, there was an article in the paper about they were collecting money for the Chosin Few and who the Chosin Few were and, uh, his mother said he’d gone to get a paper, and she’d have him call me back. Well, he did, and so we got talking, and I started crying.
And he kept saying to me that’s okay, that’s okay, and I never talked about it.
I: So this is the first time you
J: This is the first time I’d ever, I’d ever talked, this is, I don’t know, 15 years ago or so. And the more I talked about it, um, after talking to him, I was, I, it, I was able to talk about it then, and as time went on, I, I, I talked to one of my sons and told him what I did, and he had no
idea, and my sisters had no idea, um. But it was a, it was a, it was an experience and a half, um. I said earlier that we had, we had gone off to the Mediterranean in, I think it was April, and uh, we transferred from another company, another Battalion Headquarters, to the battalion that was going, and so we did, and we left there
in April, and went to the Mediterranean, and sometime in, I think it was June, the war broke, broke out, and they extended us for a year and, uh, we went through the Suez Canal and around onto Japan where we were going to regroup because we were, had been aboard ship. And, uh, so we did that, um. I’ll never forget, uh,
our communications officer, we were going into, into, uh, wherever the, I forget where we’re, we’re landing, but they were going to, uh, unload the ship and combat load it which means take everything off, and the thing that you need the least goes on first and until you get to a point of where, uh, the most important thing is the last thing put on. But my Com.Officer said to me, uh, “I want you to go up to”, I think it was the, uh, I don’t know,
if, I forget what I, near Osaka, uh, Japan, there was a, a division had been there who were in Korea, so he said “Take a couple jeeps and whatever, what all you need and everything and set up a, a telephone system because when you get to unload, we’re all coming up there”. So we went up there, and he had a dial system. So we had nothing to do, but we drank more milk and,
and we had more fun, um, and then two days later the guys all came up. They’d been working their buns off, and we were up there. Luckily didn’t have to do it. Well then, so we stayed there for, I don’t know, about three or four weeks, and then when the Inchon Landing took place, we were the Reserve aboard ship, and we’re standing there and we’re watching these guys going in, and we’re all saying why could, who, who chose them
them to go? Why couldn’t we be the ones to go in there? And as I look back on it, I probably wouldn’t say that today. But then we were all mad because we were in the Reserve, and we weren’t the first ones to go in. And so we went in the next day, and it was different. We’re, we’re walking up the road, a dirt road and east, east of the tracks, and we hear a whir. We could hear the, we could hear the gun. We could hear the, the, the, the booming.
That was a different feeling. I mean,
I: What was that like?
J: That, this is serious stuff. We ain’t messing around now. This is, we’ve been on, see I’d been in the military for three years at that point, and we had been on maneuvers a couple times and, but that was always, um, fake stuff so
J: We’re walking along, and all of a sudden we hear like a bird flying, except that we look ahead, and everybody on the road has jumped off into the side. Well, let
me tell you. We couldn’t jump fast enough
J: because we could hear it coming probably 10 miles ahead of us, and this is, this is the real stuff. So we did. The funny part of it was one of the guys, uh, had a bunch of telephones and wires with him, and he jumped, and he landed in a hole that turned out to be where an outhouse had been.
I: Oh no.
J: And he was up to here in it,
and he’s screaming bloody murder [LAUGHS]. I’ll never forget it because he’s having a hell of a time. I mean, he’s just, we, we just went ashore, and he’s up to his eyeballs in this, and he couldn’t get his clothes and everything off fast enough
I: I wonder if, if he had known that that was an old outhouse, if he would have stayed on the road [INAUDIBLE]
J: Uh, he would never, oh, oh you’re right. You’re right. Well, I don’t know how much wire we left, but it was a mess. But we went on, and, um, I guess it was a couple days later that we moved up to the front, and um,
we went from there to Kimpo Airfield, and I remember going in there, and we took that back from the North Koreans, um, and then we moved on to Seoul where we were above the city looking down, and it was just shambles.
I: And when was this,[INAUDIBLE]
J: Uh, this had to be Sept ember 15thI think it was, at the Inchon Landing and, uh,
it had to be not more than two or three days after that, um. Of course you gotta remember that when the Inchon Landing took place, um, the North Koreans were all the way down to Pusan, almost to Pusan, and General MacArthur, who put together this idea, it was, uh, it was one of these you can’t do it, but we gotta do it type of things, and when we landed,
it cut the supply lines of the North Koreans that were south of us, and they were in, they were in dire straits then because we were behind them. They couldn’t get any supplies now. We could cut them off and do anything we wanted to do. They’d starve them to death. They couldn’t get ammunition, they couldn’t get food, and they couldn’t get anything except what they got right, from themselves right there, and so I think it was easy that we went through
Kimpo Airfield, and they, they got out of there, um. When we got over to, uh, Seoul, did, we didn’t know how far away Seoul was from, from, from Kimpo. We were just doing what we were told to do, and the next thing I know we’re sitting on a, on a hillside looking down, and of course being telephone people, um, we always stayed with the, we were assigned to a, a line company, in my case it was H Company, How Company,
uh, that we were assigned with. And when we’d start out in the morning, um, we would find out from the company commander how far we were going to that day and what were the plans of where they were going to stop. And we would get enough wire and enough telephones to, when they stopped for the night, we would string the wires back to the battalion headquarters, and now we had telephone connections, and at
that time they used to have radios that you were on different frequencies, and anybody could listen to it if they could find the right frequency. But when we had a telephone that had a line, a wire line, we could talk with anybody at headquarters or vice versa.
I: So that’s probably so important to
J: And that’s right, and no one knew that, what we were saying.
I: Um hm.
J: I remember saying to my son that we would, we would, usually late in the afternoon they would settle down for where they were going to be at that night. We would
then go to the company commander and they would tell us to stop, and we would hook up the telephone, and we’d start laying a line back to where battalion headquarters was, and it’d be after dark, and we’d go back, and there’d be two or three of us that would go back to check the line because if somebody cut it or someone tapped into it, they could listen to what we were talking about. So we’d go back, and we’d have it in our hand, and we knew where he’d put it. It was kind of scary, but, uh, we’d go back to, to battalion headquarters, and we’d
see a bunch of guys that we knew that were, were friends with us, and we’d chit chat with them for a while, but then we had to turn around and go back to the rifle company, and now we gotta go back the other way, and now it’s important because we’ve got to be sure that someone hasn’t tapped into that line or cut it. And so we’d have to follow the line that we had and, and if we found somebody had tapped into it, we had to unhook it. And my son said to me, well, did you go to find out where these guys were doing it, and I said
I: That’s what I was just going to ask.
J: no, no, no, no, no. We, we weren’t looking for that. We
didn’t, we didn’t, we would try our best to take the wire that they’d hooked in and cut it up and then hide it, throw it away, and then change where our line was so that they couldn’t find it again. I mean, this is after dark. And so if we could do that, uh, we knew that we were safe.
I: So it’s kind of like a cat and mouse
J: It was.
J: And when they, when they said did you grab it, I said hey, I don’t know who’s out there. There may be 100 guys. There may be a million of them. Maybe
only one or two. But I don’t wanna know that, uh, cause he don’t want me around, either.
J: And so we’d go back, and then we’d stay the rest, the rest of the night with them and then the next day when we start out again, it was just another hop, skip and jump from where we were going. And so we did this for a number of days, and we got up to Seoul, and then Seoul was taken back, and as it turned out then, the, the, the, the programs changed because
they were going to take us back out from there to go around to the other side of Korea and go up into North Korea, and I’ll never forget, um, this Red Shawl was a young friend of, was a friend of mine. He was a radio man. We were laying on, on the, we were waiting for the ship to come in, we’re laying there, and I said you know, this would be great, I mean a nice, sunny day. We’re just laying there, and I said, uh, wouldn’t
this be something if we were out on a hunting, uh, trip.
J: What would you do? He says I’d pack up and go home.
J: And we laughed over that, um. I got to know Red then and, and that became a very interesting relationship over the years. But we did. We went back to, to, I guess it was Inchon, and went board ship and went around, and we got off at Wonsan I guess it was. And then we got on a train, and we were going north into the,
into the, uh, mountains, and it was amazing to me because you’d look at, be on a road and it would go straight up on one side and straight down on the other side, and you’d say wow, you know. Over here you’re getting to be way down there. I mean, this is big mountains and, uh, we kept getting farther, farther north, and we getting colder and colder all the time. Now this is in November and, uh, we hadn’t even got there yet.
And, um, we would run into little pockets of people here and then, uh, one day we were, we were, we found that we were the farthest north company that had been in Korea, and we took turns going ahead and walking off to the side so we, we were each, for a little while, the northern most person
I: Um hm.
J: in all of Korea. And, uh, it was kind of interesting because,
uh, we’re going through hills and fields and, it was, it was crazy, um. I remember a couple of things as we were going up there, and I had it in one of these pictures. The, the, several companies were ahead of us fighting, and they come on a little hill that had, they were, they were hiding in caves or holes in the ground where they would have tunnels
between, and so they could hide in them, and when we went past or got there, they could jump up and, and crucify us. And I’ll never forget we were going along and there was a hill, oh, probably 200 yards ahead of us that these guys were all, they found a place where there were a lot, lot of holes and a lot of caves where they had, where the, uh, North Koreans had dug into, and being out of sight, um, you’d
go on past them and think about it. But they caught onto it, and all of a sudden they ran out of hand grenades
I: Oh yeah.
J: And so the word came back they needed hand, hand grenades, and I have no idea why. I, I, I, I never could, could fathom why, I volunteered to take a case of hand grenades up to these guys.
I: You wanted to help them out.
J: Shh, hey. You’re going up there. You’re, you’re, you’re right in the middle of it now. You’re, you’re, you’re, you’re,
I: So you wanted to
be, you wanted to be in the action.
J: Well, I guess that was it. I knew they needed it, so up I go with this big box of hand grenades and, um, I got up there, and they were, guys were all around, and they, they, where they’d find one they’d shoot into it or they would drop the grenade in it, and it, and it would kill somebody, um. And I got up there, and this Marine stopped and he
looked at me and he aimed his rifle at me, and you could tell by the look in his eyes that he was gone. He just, he, he,
I: He was
J: he went over. He went out.
I: He couldn’t take the stress of the
J: He, he just didn’t know where he was, what he was doing, and I was somebody coming in that he didn’t know, and about three guys kept hollering at him, put his gun down, and I just stood there for a minute because I, I wasn’t going to move, and a couple guys, one guy grabbed his rifle, another guy
took him away. I’ll never forget the look in his eyes. He, he just had lost his whole mind. He was just, he’d hit it and, uh,
I: Why do you think that happened?
J: He’d been shooting too many people. I mean, he was in, I mean this is, this is not fun and games. This is big stuff, uh. He just got to a point where his mind broke. He, he, he, he, he was out of his mind.
And I was forever grateful that these guys, they saw him and, every now and then this would, this would happen. Every now and then it would happen to somebody, and what could you do? Nothing. You’d ship him back and send him to a hospital.
I: What were the thoughts going through your mind when that happened? You know, if I’m gonna go out, I don’t wanna
J: I, I, I’m not gonna move. I’m not gonna move. And I, and I was forever grateful that these guys saw what happened cause if I, I think if I had moved,
I’d have been gone.
I: Um hm.
J: Uh, he, he, he didn’t know what he was doing,
I: Um hm.
J: and, uh, anyhow they took the, the hand grenades and they cleaned out this area, and we went on and, uh, that was, that was an experience, though, that I, I will never forget, and so we moved on, and then a couple more days, and then we finally got a, this is the, toward the end of November, and I don’t know how many days
difference it was. But we’d gone north and we were on this ridge, and this is a rifle company ahead of us and, and they were ahead of us, and they had set up on this ridge that went down the hill, and it was quite a, quite a steep and long mountain down, and they had several machine guns, uh, set up on this edge. Must have been around 9:00 or 10:00 at night. We could hear, we had
heard this earlier, but we could hear whistles and bells and drums and hollering and we knew there was somebody down there and, uh, we debated on getting out of our, of our sleeping bag. I mean, it was cold. So we finally did, and they attacked. It had to be close to midnight, and it was the, it was the Chinese, and they came up and overran us. They went through, and the
next day you could look down that mountain, and you could see it looked like cord wood of bodies that they had come into an incredible, uh, place because there were about four or five machine guns that would just cut them down, and it was, it was
I: So they just had so many people come in.
J: Uh, they just, and they overrun us.
J: They went, they went over the hill beyond us, and now this, now we’re glad, obviously, that we got out of our, uh, sleeping bags.
I saw a guy with his bayonet tearing up my sleeping bag. And then they, they, they went back over the hill to regroup, was, as they did this, this guy threw a concussion grenade. I, it never come bouncing by me, and it blew up, and I had, I was wounded in my right, there was a, cut a nerve in my arm, and,
which caused me to have no feeling in my right arm, and I had another piece that was, hit me in my knee, and I couldn’t walk, and I had speckles of it all over the side of my face and my right side, or left side, and, but they were all small pieces and, um, but I, I became quite fearful because they were concerned about freezing, and I, I, I didn’t want my arm to get frozen because
I couldn’t feel anything in it. And so the company commander said get all the guys that are wounded and get them outta here. And then the next morning, uh, they moved a whole bunch of us outside. They had stray, straw left on the ground and to cover the tarp, and we were all laying on this, on the tarp, and they were loading all of us, two at a time, under a helicopter.
And they put me on a, in a, in a wire basket, put me on the side of the helicopter, strapped me in, and I’m looking up and I’m thinking hope this thing flies.
J: There was one on each side of it, and they, then we, and I was, think I was one of the last two guys to get outta there. And, took us back about 10 miles back, and we waited there for a while, and then they moved us to another town a couple of miles farther back,
and, where there was a large air enough, a large airstrip. They could put us in a twin engine, I don’t know what it was, plane that took us to Japan.
I: To a hospital?
J: To a hospital, and, um, the funny part of that was we were in this, I mean there were so many injured coming back. I mean, there were hundreds, literally hundreds of people wounded. I mean, there were companies that we had that,
out of two or three hundred people, maybe there were 20 that were still survived, um. The one thing I will always say I was in the Marine Corp., and we knowingly did not leave anyone behind, and I thought more times God, it could have happened that I could, they could just run off and left me, but they didn’t and, uh, we, we went into a tent,
and we were all, a big tent, and we’re all laying on the ground, and this priest came in, and he said how you doing, guys? And nobody said much then. And so he said, uh, think we could say the Lord’s Prayer? I will never forget this. I, I, we were at the disposal of God. We could do nothing. Whatever he wanted to do with us, he could have done.
I never forgot that. And it’s, it’s, it’s been, I will never forget that because that’s the closest I ever came to not surviving. I always said I don’t know what He has in mind for me, but
I: He wanted you here.
J: He, He saved us that day
I: Uh huh,
J: and, uh, so then they flew us back to Japan, put us in the, uh, in an Army hospital and, uh, I’ll never forget. I was there,
in a, in a hospital bed, and this nurse came in, and she was going to give me a tetanus shot. Well, the tetanus shot you put it in the hind end, so I had to turn over and, uh, she said well, this is going to hurt for a minute, and I said I, I knew it, but I knew we had to have a tetanus shot or I’d get poisoned if I, where I had the metal I had in me. So she laid the, the needle on my hind end and skidded it along until it caught and went in.
I said where did you learn to give a, give a, a tetanus shot? It’s the first one I ever gave she said.
I: After she gave, gives it.
J: I said there, let me show you how you do this. I said you slap them hard and jamb the needle in before the sting is gone and, oh my God, she said. Nobody ever taught me how to do this.
I: Yeah. That hurt worse than the [INAUDIBLE]
J: Oh, that was terrible. I mean, that was, I mean, you know it’s gonna catch pretty soon and, and the needle’s gonna be in. And so, but then we stayed there for, I guess we were there about a week or 10 days,
and what was happening, there were, uh, a lot of wounded people going back to the United States, and so they, they were putting people up, uh, with a six or eight hour, uh, time where you could go, they’d take you out to send you to the, to the airport or where you were going, and they found out there were six of us that were Marines in an Army hospital. Oh, they couldn’t be in an Army hospital, so they took us and
shipped us back to Yokosuka Naval Hospital.
I: Why wouldn’t they want the Marines in an Army hospital?
J: Well, we were Marines. We weren’t Army. We were, we were Marines.
I: They had to keep the branches separate.
J: I don’t know. I, I, I understand.
J: I said hey, we got a bunch of Marines. You guys are supposed to be in a Naval, Naval hospital, so we’re, we gotta move you. So they did. And we were already on the 24 hour, uh, time when we could have gone back, but we didn’t make it, and that’s okay. Uh, we went back to Yokosuka Naval Hospital.
We walk in this hospital. There were bodies, people, laying down. Their hands were frozen. You could take some people and snap their fingers off. That, they were frozen so badly. This is about a 25 or 30 bed hospital, and there had to be several hundred.
I: So what’s that like to see all this, you know, suffering and pain and, it must have been kind of, hit you pretty hard.
J: You, you, you had, oh God, it was. It’s hard to imagine
some of these poor guys that were really in bad shape. I mean, really in bad shape. Um, I didn’t know in, at that time, what was wrong with my arm except I had no feeling. But some of these guys had left, had lost arms and fingers and toes and, it was, it was a very tragic thing to see, and ultimately they, they kept me there, and a neurosurgeon repaired the nerve in my arm.
He didn’t do anything, I mean, um, for the rest of it. It was probably 20 years later I remember a piece of shrapnel came out of my thumb, um. It just, it took a long time for the feeling to come back as is true with nerves and, uh, I eventually was shipped back to the United States, went into, uh, Oakland Naval Hospital. I got back,
it was on the 13thof February, and I called my mother, and it was her birthday.
I: It’s a good birthday present for Mom.
J: Oh God. She was the happiest lady the world has ever seen, and I, I, I, I’ll never forget that. She’d been worried. She’d gotten a telegram that’s in that scrapbook, and she didn’t know anything and, uh, then she knew. She didn’t, she didn’t know how I was hurt, how bad I was hurt or anything. She just knew I was hurt
and that nobody was gonna tell her anything until the time came. And so, uh,
I: So she had no idea how badly you were hurt?
J: Didn’t know anything.
I: Could have
J: She just knew I’d been wounded. She didn’t know which hand, how badly it was. She didn’t, she didn’t know anything. And so being able to call her, I was an only son. I have four older sisters and, uh, that was a, that was an experience and a half.
I: Was it kind of getting more dangerous
J: That’s true.
I: closer to the line.
J: That’s true.
I: What was that like? What were you thinking going, you know, was it getting scarier and scarier as, as time progressed?
J: No. Um, you really didn’t think about that. I, I think it’s the young person feeling. Uh, you’re untouchable. Uh, I, I don’t think I would say that today, but this was over, I don’t know, I, I, I’d have to think about it how many weeks
where it was the 28thof November that the Chinese came into the war. We had seen a few of them around. They, they had been captured and, uh, so as we were getting farther up in the Chosin Reservoir area, we knew that there were Chinese around. Well, uh, General MacArthur said that we were going to go to the Yalu River which is on the cor, on the coast of Chinese and of North Korea, and he was ultimately fired because
President Truman didn’t agree with our going all the way to the Chosin, or to the Yalu River because they kept saying the Chinese are not going to sit there and watch you stop at the side of the river. And yet the, the, uh, uh, pilots that were saving us all the time would not go across the Yalu River. They, they would chase these Chinese or North Korean planes across the river.
They would not cross it, but that’s how these guys got away from them. And as time went on, you’re right. It got colder and colder and colder, and it was very difficult because the night that we didn’t get out of our, the Chinese came in, my, I remember my boots were in the bottom of my sleeping bag, um. And when I got them, they were warm and dry. Um,
but if I moved from, in my best recollection, oh a lot of things happened that, uh, are, aren’t fun and, and, um, um, we didn’t get any beer over there. I think since that time, they’ve given beer to the Vietnamese or the, we never
I: Even some veterans that I’ve talked to that have beer in their, their camp.
J: I’m sure they did. Yes, they did. But at that time, all we got, basically what we got was fruit juices, and we, we, we wanted, I’m not a beer drinker, but that doesn’t mean anything. Um,
but why couldn’t we get the beer? And, but we were getting all kinds of, well one day somebody, I don’t know who it was, got into the medical, uh, uh, alcohol and stole a quart of it or something, and they had these big vats that you used to mix stuff in. Then we had, and we had all this stuff poured in, and we poured all these cans of the fruit juice,
and it was pretty good stuff except if they ever found out who stole the alcohol, it would have been a big problem, that’s true. Um, we had a corpsman that, uh, was, was putting some wood on the fire, and he was breaking wood on his knee. He broke his knee. He had to go home. So for the next three days, we’re all trying to break our knee, not really, but
I: Let’s go home, guys.
J: Right. How come he can break his and I can’t break mine? But, um, things like that that, that, uh,
uh, you do. It’s interesting. You, you remember more of the good things
J: and the fun times that, than you do the, the hard things. Yeah. Um,
I: I guess that’s how you deal with what’s going on is kind of keep going and push ahead.
J: Yeah. If you, if, if we had been attacked some night by ourselves when we were out, we’d have been dead in 10 minutes. Checking the line back, um.
I remember one of the guys, there was a guy who was dead, a North Korean, and all I was thinking was, was his head was sticking out of the side, but he was deader than a door nail. And this guy I was with, all of a sudden he’s got his pistol out and he’s shooting, and he’s putting about five shells in this guy. We got there and, what’d you kill this guy for? He’s been dead for days? And he says, and I don’t, I’m not gonna ask questions. I saw this guy’s
I: You didn’t want to take any chances.
J: I saw this guy standing there. I didn’t know that he was dead yet,
and, and, and so you, you, you you got in a frame of mind that you, you didn’t mess around, and there were times to, and there was times not to, and, uh, it was very, uh, you, you became hardened more as time went on, um. But at the same time, you knew you had a job to do, uh. I, I think of the time I took the, uh, uh, the, the grenades up. Hey, somebody had to do it.
I: Um hm.
J: The quicker you did it, the better, the quicker we could get out of here, the quicker we could go on and go on safely. And so I, I, I’ve often thought I, I, what possessed me to do that. But we were of the mind that our lives were at stake. A lot of guys lives were at stake, and so we did what we had to do.
I: So it’s not only just this, you know, whatever actions you have to do to, for self-preservation, but it’s also almost like you have this brotherhood
so you have to care for your fellow Marine.
J: That’s true, that’s true. And, and, very true, and I, and that goes back to when I first joined, I don’t even know why I joined the Marine Corp. I enlisted. I wanted to enlist before I was 18. My mother would not sign for me, so I waited two more weeks and joined on my own. Um, we went to boot camp. We got out of boot camp. They shipped us to, shipped
me and several other guys to a telephone school out in California
I: Uh huh.
J: and we were there for several months, um. There was a big ravine. It’s, it’s, it was where the Delmar Race Track is now, and I never knew that until just recent years, um. But there was a big ravine, and if we goofed around or anything, they had a, a wall there where it showed this net over it, and we’d, for punch, uh, for pun, for punishment, they would
make us go over the side. Well, what they really were doing was making us do something we ultimately did when we went ashore at, at Inchon. We were over the side of the ship, went down a, a net, got in the boats, and we had done so many times those of us that were telephone guys had, uh. We had to lose our rifle, our helmet or something like this, we didn’t break our neck getting caught in the net, they’d been, uh, we had been learned that if we goofed up in class or something, you’re gonna be goin over the side
down in the ravine a few dozen times. But it was good practice for us. And so we were all pretty much, I mean we had, we were lucky
J: because we had done a lot of this. Um, I, I, I, I can’t express enough the camaraderie we had as Marines, and I, and I’m not saying this disparaging anybody else, un, any other service or anything else except
that we all were one of a kind. We all had a job to do, uh. Marines, everyone’s a rifleman. They have specialties. We do all kinds of things, but bottom line is if the time comes, we are riflemen. And the night I took over for that switchboard, he knew what he was doing. I knew what he was doing, and I, I went there out of habit, uh. I
I didn’t think about whether I wanted to go or not. Um, but he knew that, what his job was, and I knew what mine was, and I knew how to run the, the switchboard with only one hand and, uh. So that never entered my mind in, in, in, in the time. Um, but in, but in this process, you, you get, um, a feeling that you can rely on any of your, any of the guys cause they’ll do exactly what you will
do if you have to do it. And Joe Owen is a good example of that. Oh my God. Well, How Company lost three company commanders that night. Three guys were killed and replaced, and new guy came in knowing full well what was happening. Did he hesitate? Not for a second. And, uh, there’s a camaraderie
I: Um hm.
J: that has never left me.
I: You knew you can depend on each other.
J: Yes, yes. And we would not leave somebody behind. Uh, we would not, not help them. And, uh, I, I’ve taken you through, I don’t know how many weeks. We went in the 15thor 16thof September, and this is the end of November. So it was October, November, it was 2 ½ months, um. But this is what you remember because this is what you were there for, um.
I can remember when we were coming in, when we were getting ready to leave Seoul to go back and go up to Wonsan, up, up in North Korea. There was a consideration that they might go north with a truck, um, convoy to go all the way across to Panmunjom which was the North Korean capital, and to, a surprise takeover, uh, take over that city.
That would, would be a terrible blow to the North Koreans to have their capital city now in the hands of the South Koreans or of the, of the, uh, of the, the military. And, we didn’t do it. I was surprised at that. I was at a meeting at 2:00 in the morning when they were talking about doing this. I don’t know why we did not. I, but there was lots of thoughts about how we were gonna do, what we were gonna do. And as we went north,
uh, into, into the, uh, Chosin area, I never did see a reservoir, um. We were close, but never did see one. But obviously, it was all ice and you didn’t run around too much there. It was, it was so cold to give, to, to, to sit down and eat a, it was all canned food, um. You’d try to warm it up, and you can’t. We’d carry it under your arms. You’d carry it, I mean wherever you could do it
to, to, to, uh, make it edible, um. It was, it was just you, you, I, I think you condition yourself to the conditions that you’re in. Um, if we’d been having a fun time in the sun, uh, we probably wouldn’t have felt that way. But we had, we went farther north, and it got continuously colder.
And so we had to do with what we had.
I: So you just do what you have to adjust.
J: We, yes, yes. Um, the guys that goofed around paid for it. Um, I was very fortunate. I was very fortunate I didn’t get frozen feet, toes, um. There’s still guys that are, are feeling the, the, the pain of that, um. I, I, I know several who have lost whim, fingers, um,
that were just black, uh. They were frozen so badly. It was a tragedy. It was horrible, and you come to realize this, and you didn’t joke about it. This was, this was, this was real. And I think of today, uh, some of these guys are over there, phew, um. It’s gotta be horror. It’s gotta be horror. And yet a guy said to me you’re,
you, you, stuff that I had is obsolete. We used to have telephone. Everybody’s got a cell phone now. Guy says 30 seconds you can get help. We didn’t have that. We had a telephone with a, hook a wire on it and string the [INAUDIBLE]
J: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I didn’t know about it for a long time, um. But it was, it was an international brotherhood that somehow got started, uh,
of anybody who was on, at or over the Chosin Reservoir during November and December of 1950.
I: Specifically because the conditions were so bad and
J: That’s, well, you gotta remember now. When, after the Chinese came in, um, they were going to, they were going to annihilate, they had like three or four divisions of Chinese that were going to annihilate the Marines that were up there.
And obviously there I was. Uh, somebody said Marines never retreat, and the guy said retreat hell. We’re just attacking in a different direction.
J: And that’s what happened. Uh, getting us out of there who couldn’t walk, uh, got us out of the way so that they had, they had the ability to, to do what they had to do. And so everybody went back and regrouped in their companies, oh boy.
And orders were given. We’re going back, and they’re not gonna wipe us out, and we did. I didn’t. I was not on that. That was probably the worst, but it was the most famous battle I think the Marines have ever been in. Um, everybody was walking. Those who got wounded on the way got on a truck, but they turned and started back down, and they were, they had several, I mean,
remember, the mountains went like this and down, and there was a road then it was straight down from there, and there were several places where they blew up the bridges that went across some breaker. Well, how do you, how do you, you can’t take a truck across that. And so they had to fix that. And so they did, and they came out of it, uh, to the everlasting glory that, that we got everyone out of there. There were Chinese on, on all the high ground.
To get to some of these guys, you had to go through four feet of snow, and guys did that, um, because they were being shot at from somebody above, and they didn’t know where they were until they started shooting, um. I don’t even know how many miles it was, but they, they brought them all back, and it’s, it’s, it’s, it was an amazing march to come back down there. I, I, I, I, I, I was
so lucky that I wasn’t on it. I mean, that had to be another two weeks of, of total war. I mean, you got somebody that’s, um, bound and determined to wipe you out, but they didn’t. And when they got down
I: It was a testament to the leadership of, and dedication also.
J: That’s true.
J: Well, the thing that was interesting there was a, there was a, a, an Army group that was to the west of us, and
I forget who the generals were. But the, the general that was, that was with the Army was critical of the, of the general of the Marines farthest to right because we were taking our trucks with us and to which the general said we need the trucks to carry our supplies, and they said you don’t need the trucks if, if you’re getting into a tough area. Well, as it turned out, uh, we got out better than they did because we had vehicles with which to
turn around and get out of there as fast as we could and, uh, when they got down to I, I don’t know if it was Wonsan or where it was, but there were ships were waiting. They took out thousands of military, but they also took out a large number of South Koreans, uh, that wanted to get out of there and, uh, I wasn’t there for that. But I’ve heard a lot about it, and, and, am I surprised with it?
No. Um, I was just lucky that I didn’t have to go through that suffering,
I: Um hm
J: of fighting all my way out, my way back to where I came from. And, uh, that was probably the, the, the, the most wonderful battle that there ever was. Was it, was it easy? No. Awful lot of guys died. Awful lot of people got hurt. Um, but the Chosin Few is
made up of, there were some Turkish people, there were some, oh my gosh. It’s, it’s, it’s an international, um, group. But at the same time, it’s a last man standing group. At some point in, in our life, the last guy who became a member of the Chosin Few, is going to die. We don’t know when. We don’t know who, how many there are. But I’ve never been in a, a group such as that.
That, that you had two months to be there, and if you were there, you can, you’re, you’re a member of the Chosin Few and, uh, uh, I have some pictures of, of a group of us that get together a couple times a year. What do we have in common? We were there when it was really big.
J: It was, that’s right. That’s right. Nobody else can join, and yet there, there’s no, no, uh, uh
refusal, uh, whether you’re in Turkey or, or Great Britain or Italy or wherever you were from, and there were a lot of other, other, it, it’s an international group. But we all know, and it’s, and it’s, and it’s becoming more well aware of it as time goes on. I mean, here it’s been 60 years since that happened. A lot of guys have died out. A lot of people are getting older. I’m 81, and I was one of the younger guys
that was there, and my wife tells me, I go to Korean War Veterans meeting and she says you’re one of the youngest guys that was there. Well, I probably was.
I: Um hm.
J: But I’m not so young now. But those that were in the Chosin Few, I don’t know how fast, but there’s a lot of them going every day.
I: Well, hopefully you sitting here gives, you know, an opportunity for the memories of their bonds.
J: We all say we’ll have a bottle and we’ll drink to the rest of you as, as, as, so I, it, it, it got to a point of where the Chosin Few
in, I was, I’m a member of the North East Area, um. We’re seriously concerned with that, uh, because guys are, every two months I get a letter that says so and so and so and so and so and so is gone, and how many years? I don’t know. I don’t know. Um, but I was very proud to be a member of that group. Well you know, the thing that, I don’t know how many
years it was, I never talked about my, my experience in Korea. My sisters all said to me you never told us anything about what went, what went on, and I didn’t. It wasn’t until I talked to Joe Owens and started coming out. Um,
I: This is like a, a weight coming off of your shoulders once you first started talking about it, like you were almost carrying around this
J: I guess so, yeah.
I: It’s like, almost a burden.
J: Yeah. I, I, yes. I, it’s,
Interesting thing happened several years ago on, uh, Memorial, not Memorial Day, but anyhow. At church they were gonna have a bunch of war veterans talk about their experiences, and it must have been, I was over at the War Memorial and there was a group of us there, and I went over to, I told them I was gonna be late and, uh, I had the uniform on, and I have, have a blue jacket,
ribbons and black pants, black tie and so I went over to the church for the War Memorial, and there were six or seven guys in there that were, had been talking to, uh, it’s a kind of a forum that we would have after church, talking about their experience in the military. And one guy was crying, and he’s as old or older than I am, and I, I, I had a feeling right then that he had not really, he’d been in, I
don’t know if it was Vietnam or World War II. But I had a feeling that he had not talked about this and not overcome this. And we talked about it for a while afterwards. It’s easy for me to talk about once you’ve, one, once you’ve come to face to face with what you, what you, what you went through and somebody up there was looking out for you
I: Um hm.
J: Um, but over time, I, I, I, I lived
with it. I, I, I mean it’s, and once I, once I got out, phew.
I: So why do you think you didn’t want to talk about it or other veterans didn’t want to talk about it? It’s something that you just kind of wanted to forget about?
J: Well, I, I’ve always thought, and I, and I used to think, think of it to this day, um. I didn’t ask to do this. I, I joined the Marine Corp. It happened during my tour of duty, um.
I don’t remember, by virtue of a job that I had, a lot of guys were in an outfit that they knew the guys for years.
I: Um hm.
J: And so they go to a, a convention, and they see all these guys and have a great time. Well, I’ve never gone to a convention. I, I, I’ve never gone back to Korea. Now I don’t know why. I just have no strong feelings that I should, and yet friends of mine have said you should go, and I probably should. You would never recognize Seoul, and I understand that.
Um, but I, I, I, I never, I called several guys, and there was one guy out in Ohio that, I called him up. God, he says. Jack, you’re the one guy I wanted, I wanted to find. I’m glad you called. His wife had died. I think he has died since that time, but we were so, we were so isolated from, I mean, I wasn’t in the, in the rifle company.
I was closer with the commanding officer of it, and then I was only there overnight with him and, um, so I, I really never got into the convention and all that other stuff. Several friends have tried to get me to go, and I, who knew why, I, I mean I
I: You didn’t have anyone to share it with.
J: Yeah. I, I, I, and I, and I felt the whole time hey, I was no big deal, let me tell you. I was just one of a
zillion number of them. Uh, I was there
I: But you played your part, and the [INAUDIBLE]
J: I did what I had to do, and it was a part of in my life that I got out of it, so I was okay. And, um, I, I, I, I, didn’t anything more than a lot of other people did.
I: Can I, can I interrupt here, and I wanna ask, um, is there any, something that makes you feel that you don’t want to talk about it, bad memory or it, does that bring
you more scars? That’s why you didn’t want to talk about it? What, could you please specify why you didn’t want to talk about it?
J: Well, a lot of guys
I: Sorry if this, my question is offensive to you.
J: No, no, no, no, no. No, that’s fine. A lot of guys, when they go to a lot of these, they like to talk about their, their, their, their, their situations they were in, uh, the shooting and the drinking and whatever else it is, and I ain’t never felt this way. I, I never felt that. I’m very proud of the fact that I have a Purple Heart. I have to admit that.
Beyond that, um, hey. I don’t get any joy out of telling someone how we killed a lot of people. Um, war is bad. Everybody gets hurt somehow or other. I don’t see any great, uh, value in drinking with the guys to talk about how lucky we were to get out of this or that.
God helped me to get out of that. I, I see it that way, and, and I, and I, and I really don’t see where, um, it’s anything to, to be so, so happened in my lifetime. Um, I, I was saying earlier about Red Shawl, the guy that we were waiting to go aboard ship at Seoul to go around to go up to North Korea, and I’d seen Red Shawl. He was a red-headed guy, and he had a
red handlebar, uh, moustache and, uh, a number of years later my daughter graduated from Geneseo as did her now husband, and they had a wedding. He, in, in, my son-in-law David came from Binghamton, and after the, I guess it was
I think it was the, the, the, uh, dinner we were having, and they were all over to our house, and there was this young guy there that his, uh, Pat Shawl, and I said to him you’re from Binghamton, and he says yes. I said does your father have red hair, and he says yes. I said so does he have a handlebar? Yes. I said I know your father.
J: And turns out he, Pat Shawl and my son-in-law were very good friends in high school,
and known each other their whole lives. And it reconnected me with Red Shawl and his wife. Now Red married a Japanese lady, had an awful time doing it because at this time in our lives, we were, Japan was still, uh, what’s the word? Under the control of the United States. Uh,
General MacArthur was treated like King over there because he put together everything and, and, and he set the rules and he set the Constitution and everything, and you could not marry a Japanese wo, woman. Took Red nine years. We were invited to their 50thanniversary, and this young lady, it was his bride, his First Sergeant was there from back then.
His wife’s best friend came over from Japan to be at their 50thanniversary. He’s a very good friend of mine. He and I both came very close to going to a convention, and we were, we were sitting on the ground one day when, I don’t know which one of us said it, but wouldn’t it be great if we were on a hunting trip, and the other one said let’s get the heck out of here.
J: And, but that’s a, that’s a, it just makes it a small world, doesn’t it?
J: And, uh, I’ve seen a number of, of, of Korean-run programs, and, with the, with no exception, we have always been treated with the, I’ve always felt, and I know that there’s a very large Korean community in Central New York, I never knew that. And, uh, to a person. They are
forever indebted to us for what we did.
I: How does that make you feel, that, you know, there’s this whole group of people that are recognizing the acts that you and your fellow Marines and American soldiers did over there to help their country?
J: Oh, hey I, I, I, I, I’m so proud of the fact that I was there and saw them before.
I: Um hm.
J: Um, they have done wonders. They have done
wonders, and I don’t think there’s a one of us that were in the war over there that wished they had twice as much to finance background of, you know, the 12thor 13thlargest financial country in the world. And it was a long road and, uh, I, I think, the thing that amazes me and I think we’re all very happy over this fact that these little orphans, they should know all this. They should know all that
took place just like I said to somebody earlier. I said to, to Joe, um, I feel, I felt at times as if I was a Korean because when I was five or six years old, my mother and father had split up. I had four older sisters, and my mother took in washings for us to survive, and it was a tough time.
I moved on to a farm and lived on a farm for a number of years, and I went in the military, went through a war, came out, sat around for a couple weeks and got a job, and as time went on, I was able to move up the ladder as high as a vice president of a life insurance company. and, and I remember saying when I got that, I wish my mother could see me now, when the Board of Directors had voted me to be a vice president.
I was very proud of that. Now, I didn’t tell a lot of people that, but I, I said it because I know what she would have felt, and we have been very fortunate with my family and our kids and our grandchildren and, phew. We’ve just, we’ve just been so lucky over the years. When we came back, uh, it was no big deal.
Um, we just came back. Um, World War II had been over, uh. Vietnam had not started, um. There weren’t that many of us that were coming back. I think that probably had a difference in it, too, because while there were a lot of people killed and wounded in Korea, it was not where there were 40 divisions over there.
And so as we came back, um, it took a while for us to, to be aware that we were Korean War veterans, and that was, that was something to be. That was a, I didn’t know for a long time. I remember there were three of us that, that had gone to, uh, in Syracuse the, uh, American Legion, and one guy was a lawyer, and one guy was a stockbroker and myself and, and we gave up on it because all they did was, were at the American Legion
on, when it was downtown, and sit at the beer, at the bar and drink beer, and none of us drank beer. So we thought that was a waste of time. So we did, we really, so we kind of all went our way, and we didn’t know who was and who wasn’t and, uh, unlike in later years, um, other wars, there’d been too, there’d been a lot of politics to it. There was politics to
this. I, I can remember Harry Truman, um, when he fired Douglas MacArthur, and he was probably right. I remember talking to a girl one time at church who had lost her father. He’d been a pilot, and I said to her we prayed for guys like your father because when the skies were up and they could fly,
they protected us because when they were in the air, uh, the North Koreans or the Chinese or whoever couldn’t show themselves too much because there was somebody up above. And, and that was true. And, uh, so it really never, I, I, I remember I got discharged. I went down to Quantico and I was, I was discharged and, uh, came back to my mother’s house in Cortland.
I sat around for about two weeks and I got tired of not doing nothing, and so I went looking for a job and got lucky and found a job.
I: And you worked your way up?
J: And I worked my way up, that’s true. And so, um, life goes on. Um, I think everyone who come back, everyone who’s in the Korean War Veterans group right now has a story to tell. I think they, they, it may be different, but it’s the same and, um, I think that’s what, I think that’s what you guys are gonna find out in, in, in getting different people’s opinions. I think this is going to be great because you’re gonna find a wide range of theories about whether we should have went or not. I don’t get involved in the politics of it. I was too young to know what politics were all about. I’m not sure I know about it even now.
But, um, in her case, we were having lunch one day and she got crying over it, and she said uh, I said to her that they’re collecting, uh, what is it, uh, something that you can find from a person that, uh, the remains, uh, what’s the word I’m trying to think of? Where they
get some from a living people and the chances of their, if they find the remains of someone who matches that
I: The DNA?
J: DNA, and they’ve had a number of it. I think that this is one of the most important things that, personally I think this, that, I’ve been to three funerals of young men coming back from Korea 50 years later, and I’ve
talked to their families. I’ve talked to their sisters and, and there, there was one just recently in the paper up in North Syracuse, uh, a young Corporal from North Syracuse that just came back. They found his remains, and I said to her, and she said I have already given them DNA remains in hopes that someday, uh, they’ll find my father. Um,
I: It helps put closure I guess on it.
J: It did. It,
that’s true. Um, uh, we were at a, at a, in Utica. A young man came back, and they had lived in Utica a long time ago, but he was, he was buried in, in, uh, the National, uh, in, in, uh, Washington.
I: Um hm.
J: And, but they wanted to have an event in Utica because they had lived there as youngsters. And after the, there was probably 20 of us that were there
and, uh, afterwards, the VFW asked us to come over to his house and have lunch. So we went over, and we had, we were sitting across the table from, uh, his sister and her husband, and these people were coming up to her, glad to see them because they hadn’t seen them in a long time, and I said to the husband, I said what did you guys think when you got a phone call that, after all these years, they found him? He says, [INAUDIBLE]he said Joe,
we thought somebody was trying to pull something on us. And I said when did you find out there wasn’t? Well, about two weeks after that, two or three people from the mili, from the, from Washington, called them to tell them they really did have the remains of this person. And it was, it, I mean, it’s amazing when you think of it. Um, we went to one in Elmira, and the, and they had a, a service, and the, we couldn’t figure out when they were coming, and the priest said
he would have been 80 years old today.
J: Now we knew, and it was pouring rain, and that place was packed, and here’s this guy come back. He’d been dead 50 years. But he’s a human being, and he deserves
J: the respect to come back home. And the third one was up North Syracuse, and the same
thing. We had dinner with a Korean general and his family the night before. Phew. That was something, too. I mean all of a sudden we’re back in, we’re, you know, and this guy had, had been found, and he came back, and there was this, I just, I don’t know, three or four days ago they had, there was an article. Was it in that, or was it in the, I think it was in the paper, and we went up to North Syracuse to the cemetery, and, phew,
and the whole rafter was there. I mean hey. You, you, you can’t, I mean, think of it. How do you find somebody like that after so many years?
I: Yeah. So what’s, what’s the legacy that Korean War veterans have? What are, what are they gonna leave behind on the United States, on us, on society?
J: I don’t know. I, I, I would like to say that they would leave
behind a common word. I don’t think that’ll happen because we’re all different individuals. Um, we go to a meeting and have 40 people there, and they’re all different. They’ve all gone their own way, and the one thing that they have in, in, in, the same is we all fought in the same war. Um, I don’t think there’s any one thing they’re gonna, except that they took part in something that was
one of the worst wars there ever was. There’s no war that’s any good, but this was a terrible one, and a lot of guys paid the price that we didn’t have to pay. And, uh, beyond that I, I don’t know.
I: So I have one more question for you.
I: You know, through this project when, when family member or someone is conducting research on the Korean War and they look you up, look another veteran up to, to find out about their experiences, I’m wondering
if you could maybe give them one, one message that they should learn about in life or regarding the Korean War in anything, if you could kind of
J: I, I would hope, and I, and I, and , and I’ve, and I feel comfortable with this. I think that to a person, you
interview someone who was in the Korean War. I think you’re, if you’ll admit that he was there, you’re gonna find a person who is very sober on warfare. He didn’t choose to go to Korea. He was in the military. But he went, and he did all he could do, and he was fortunate enough to come home, and beyond that, I don’t know. I, I, but I think that, uh,
that they would all say they were very fortunate. They weren’t the heroes. They were the guys that were lucky enough to come home, and that’s how I feel about it. And I think it’s a great thing you’re doing because you’re going to get a lot of points of view and a lot of experiences that I’m certainly not aware of. But at the same time, someone 20 years from now is looking at, on this and studying this. They’re gonna find that
the world is not as big as we used to think it was, and people do care about other people. Um, I don’t remember any, um, hollering against our going to Korea. People were in trouble, and they happened to believe the same beliefs that we have and for that, it was worth it.
It’d be interesting when you get all through it, all the, it’s gonna be very interesting to
J: Yeah, it would.
I: Mr. Allen, I really appreciate you coming and sitting next to us and
J: Thank you.
I: it was really interesting to hear about your experiences. Um, before we invite you, your wife up
I: we would, we have this medal which is the Ambassador for Peace medal given by the
J: Oh my God.
I: Korean government.
I: It’s by the Ministry of Patriots and Veteran Affairs and the Korean Veterans Association
I: they have this medal in your honor. If you wouldn’t mind, I can put this around your neck.
J: No, go ahead. Boy, that’s beautiful. Wow.
I: So, they’d like to thank you, and we’d like to thank you for coming and speaking with us.
J: Thank you for having me. That’s beautiful. Wowee.
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