Jack Spahr served in the United States Air Force towards the end of the Korean War. He recounts his duties while serving as a clerk in Daegu alongside his first impressions of Korea. He shares scenes of refugees and their plight to survive amid the destruction of war. He expresses that South Koreans seem very thankful for the aid provided by U.S. soldiers. He is proud to have served and of the prosperity South Korea has enjoyed since the war, expressing interest in returning to observe himself how far they have come.
Traveling Overseas Near the End of the War
Jack Spahr details his journey overseas to serve in the Korean War. He describes his duties as a young serviceman in the Air Force nearing the end of the conflict. He shares that he served as a clerk in Daegu, assisting in keeping track of personnel while administering payroll and tests among other duties.
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First Impressions of Devastated Refugees
Jack Spahr expresses that he knew nothing about Korea until he entered the service. He shares that his first impressions of Korea were depressing as he saw many refugees searching for food and assistance. He recounts servicemen trying to help them as much as they could. He recalls several South Koreans working on the base with them and states that they were paid well compared to what they would get elsewhere at the time.
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Honoring the Soldiers Who Served
Jack Spahr expresses his interest in returning to South Korea to see the changes since the Korean War. He shares that Korean people were very thankful that U.S. soldiers were there to aid. He adds that South Koreans are dedicated to honoring the U.S. soldiers who fought for them.
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Jack Spahr Transcription
Korean War Legacy Foundation, 2018.
Transcripted By: Paige Marie Wright
JACK: Name is Jack Spahr- S-P-A-H-R.
INTERVIEWER:Sparh? Is that a German name?
JACK: Yeah, it is German.
INTERVIEWER: So you are the German descendant?
INTERVIEWER:Good. What is your birthday?
JACK: August the 25th 1934.
INTERVIEWER:34th? So you are pretty young?
JACK:Yeah got abirthday coming up.
INTERVIEWER: Yeahand where were you born?
JACK: Kansas City, Missouri.
INTERVIEWER: Righthere. And so Kansas City belongs to Missouri or Kansas?
JACK:Well it’s on theborder line Kansas and Missouri.
INTERVIEWER: So why do you stay at the…
JACK: Missouri justa neighbor I’d say…
JACK: Of course I was born over there, but eventually ended up over here.
INTERVIEWER: And tell me about your family when you were growing up your parents andyour siblings.JACK: My father, my father was a butcher
JACK: And my mother she was a shetook care of the children of the womenwho worked in the bases she had about 20full-time girls that she took boys boys and girls as she took care of during seven days a week while their mothers worked in defense plants. AndI had two brothers I got three brothers-I had three brothers- two of them was in World War two one of them was in the Navy, he was a signaling in the Navy. And the other and was in the Merchant Marines and the reason he was in Merchant Marines and the reason he tried to enlist but he had flat feet and he didn’t take service at that time depending on what sir she was. So he went to Merchant Marines which was quite, quite something. He in they traveled basically everywhere, that they were needed. And the
USS BM I believe my brother was on, not sure about the merchant ship that… Then my youngest brother he was of course too young. He’s a firefighter for the can say Missouri Fire Department. And my wife forgot married, she passed away with cancer in 2004. We had two daughters Deborah and Patricia. Patricia died two years ago of complications and Deborah’s living over here in Shawnee also. I have four grandchildren and two girls – oh three girls and one boy.
INTERVIEWER: When did you graduate your high school and…
JACK: Well I’m all graduated. Oh I didn’t graduate I went to side school at Central High School in Kansas City.
JACK: And I quit my sophomore year
INTERVIEWER: When was it?
JACK: I’m sorry?
INTERVIEWER: When was it? 1952?
JACK:It had to be 1950, I guess.
INTERVIEWER: Why did you quit?
JACK: I quit to join a service. And I would join the Airforce in November 1951 we do and of course before that I was I was a I was a paperboy.
JACK: And we in the service of course if we had to get our parents okay at that time because the age. And I wentinto service in was assigned to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. And after basic training went to Castle Air Force Base in Merced California. That’s where I was stationed for for two years yeah by two years at which time I volunteered to go to Korea right at that time they didn’t tell you where you were going as a lawn care to go too far east which is either Japan or Korea. And so we went over there.
INTERVIEWER:When did you leave-
INTERVIEWER:When did you leave the United States?
JACK:You left in 1953 1956 57 56…
INTERVIEWER:Was it after the war?
JACK: 19 see we had three 1953. Yeah. 1953 were left for Korean.INTERVIEWER: What, what, what month-
INTERVIEWER:What month did you leave for Korea?
JACK:What was I?
JACK:Oh what month.
JACK: You’re bringing up a lot of dates here I wasn’t prepared.INTERVIEWER:I just want to know whether you went to Korea before the war.JACK:I mean, I mean during the war the war waspresently going on-INTERVIEWER:Right. So, it’s uh, before July, right?
JACK: Yeah. And went to Camp Stoneman went my ship 18 days to Yokohama. that’s when we found out we were going to Korea at that time-
INTERVIEWER: But you said, that you volunteered-
INTERVIEWER: But your-
JACK: Yeah, the Korean War was there right at the point of armistice at that time 1953. Am I right, 1953?iNTERVIEWER: Yes, yes.
JACK: And we was there was in the middle of the armistice when when we went I went to k2 which is gonna takeINTERVIEWER: Ooh yeah.
JACK: And sign to headquarters fifth Air Force they assigned me to the 61 51st air base group which is in Taegu.INTERVIEWER;Could you repeat that? The fifth Air Force and what?
JACK: And they assign you to an air base group-
JACK: Which is 54 6151 air base group and Taegu was not a base per se was up in a town and uh-
INTERVIEWER:Yeah I know the place because I was brought up and my father was in charge of that k2 whole airbase.JACK: Yeah?
INTERVIEWER: Yes I know very well. I can actually draw the matter right now.
JACK: It’s probably changed a bit since I’ve-
INTERVIEWER: Yeah so you gotta be careful now the location of it. I’m so glad to find theone who served at k2-JACK: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER:But beforewhat was your MOS-
And then from there they flew us to Korea-well
INTERVIEWER: Yeah.JACK: Semo-250,INTERVIEWER: Which is?
JACK: Which is an, excuse me, might say orderly room clerk in office I was NCO and charge of the office and of course at that time we had a lot of duties I was a testing in seal for various testing ofthe servicemen around the country around Cape Korea it would come in there for testing you know after a possible advancement to another grade or possible advancement to another service. And also we did payroll-we took payroll out to the troops outside the base. Payroll you know they love payroll-
INTERVIEWER: So let me ask about that, because I’ve been asking this question to other Korean War veterans.JACK: Yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And about how much they get and youknow it’s about 100 the officers about 200 and 300. But let me ask you this question-what was the salary arrangement? I mean the range, do you know?
JACK: The center range you say-
INTERVIEWER: Salary range for typical rank.
JACK: I’m sorry I didn’t understand.
INTERVIEWER: So for example, if you are corporal-how much do you actually pay to them?JACK: How much attention to-
INTERVIEWER: How much do they pay, you pay them-
JACK:Oh did they get paid-
INTERVIEWER:Yep yep yep.
JACK: Oh geez, It was very little. I don’t know maybe it depends on if they if they have put on a yearly or weekly or whatever. But if at that time I can’t remember you know it could be thirty five forty dollars a week, possibly a month I don’t really remember too too much about the pay end of it. We just went out there and handed it out to them they signed for then we went back. Of course we had a heavy escort coming and go ahead you know so you never know what’s going to happen over there. So we were well taken care of but they would the serviceman would come to our base and we would test him you know for dairy various, various reasons and some of them would some of them are highly classified so of course we did to see the questions they answer they always had a senior officer there on that end of it. We just started them and close them out. So no and then we just took care of the basic ever just keeping track of the personnel on the base and assigned them you know as they came in to wherever they had to go and occasionally I was a courier to take different papers over to Japan for either us or the Korean government. And it was quite intensive you know they had we had a lot of duties- of course we didn’t have a lot of personnel-so we have a lot of duties or each individual had a duty you know.
JACK:Mine was just keeping track of all the personnel where they were and all
INTERVIEWER: So when you about the time that you joined the Air Force which was 1951 and I bet that you didn’t know anything about Korea right?
JACK: Sorry what?
INTERVIEWER: Did you know anything about Korea when joined-
JACK: When I went in?
JACK: Oh absolutely not.
INTERVIEWER:You didn’t know where Korea was located?JACK: No.Nobody knew anything.
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t know anything about Korea?
JACK:Not so we got in a service actual service you know and then they were just a little bit of what we heard, but no there really wasn’t much talk about the Korean War or any war really slightest. Like I said 17 young and at the at Castle Air Force Base is basically the same as I was over in Korea. So it is basically the same thing in there and castle as I get in Korea a little bit more scaly you might say so-
INTERVIEWER:Be honest with me, when you first saw Korea and k2o Degel how did you feel about it? What was the scene? How people were there at the time and how was the city just give me some detailed description of what you saw there in 1952.
INTERVIEWER: 3, I’m sorry. Yeah.JACK: Yeah it was very depressing.INTERVIEWER: Why?
JACK: To see, of course I guess the refugees werespread out on a river bank you might say. I don’t know what River it was that ran throughthere, but if it was it was dried upwith the refugees I guess coming down from the northwhen nowhere to go they were settleddown there. And it was quite devastating and then tosee him walking up down a street youknow looking for for food or assistanceor anything like that. But no we paid alot of attention to them you know we tryto help as much as we could and other than that we had a few on a base at workforce Koreans workforce. And they were you knowwell they really enjoyed it on base naturally you know. Wepay too well I mean well compared towhat they would get. I was there duringMPC chains when they changed militarypayment certificate. And the idea therewas to get all the money off with aBlack Market you know an issue new newMPC to the Troops or whoever waseligible for it. And that was a surpriseeverybody even us you know we didn’tknow how they hit the basewhat was going on and of course the basewas closed out. And people outside wereor held out unless they’re militarypersonnel, but of course there was a lot of Black Market money involved you knowthey were trying to get it back into usfor exchange, so that was that was quiteexperience.
INTERVIEW: Tell me about how this BlackMarket was created you are in charge ofdispensing the money right the salaryand-JACK: Well-
INTERVIEWER: And who did it?
JACK: I think we were partof supplying a Black Market by say Imean-
INTERVIEWER: I think you are getting a little too honest right here…
JACK: And we had on base of course not everybodydid it naturally you know. And someonewould take it off base or a lot of times we would order stuff. We would order setwho economy Woolworths your Sears at thetime you know. And those became Black Market items on the outside but nothingbut booze was a big who’s a big BlackMarket iron.
JACK: Whiskey and-
INTERVIEWER: Okay. No wonder you described there-
JACK:No, I tried to stay away as much as possible.
INTERVIEWER: Are you sure?
JACK: Because in my position.
INTERVIEWER: Oh you describe very depressing the Korean Korean people at the time and the scene right? What else did you see? What were you thinking when you see them?
JACK: Oh I see very inadequate housing you know. And of course I didn’t have a chance to go in any of the houses per say but you know they just didn’t have any any way to make make a living you might say. And of course they dreamed up a whole bunch of different ways with a lot of them of course was was bad you know. But it’s just the way that the world was at that time. But there’s a lot you’d like a done form but you know what could you have done for mother than help them you know on base. And of course when I did go into town we go into what they call you know approved places to eat and a drink. And then of course we had to come back a certain time but I know we four of us checked out a jeep one time you know were to go out and see the countryside. And as was going out the base they won’t know where farms were. We had to go back check out firearms you know rifles and pistols and all that. So we went up in the and seen of various tanks that were taken out the various rows you know and the troops where the troops had come through. And of course I think Kucera Taegu was just about the last last stop form you know an area so it was quite a few tanks that was taken out down around there. And seeing some of the villages you know along the way. And of course we were advised not to you know already stopping in any of them, because you never knew-we didn’t know that it was anything could happen you know. So but we was on the base most of time had a lotof entertainment on a base. And we got togo to Japan you know two or three times forleave and come back and start all overagain. But no the Korean people werevery very very nice you know they justwant to help you all the time you know. Andof course you would like to help them tothat we can only do so much. So we could do what we could when we could. You knowwe can clothes we could and so but otherthan that we didn’t mingle too much withthem.
INTERVIEWER: Where there are any dangerous kindof moments where you could have beenkilled or anything like that?
JACK: Yeah well Idon’t think we realized it at the timeyou know when we went over there coursethe Armistice was more or less in aprocess. So I think the fighting was moreor less over. There was a few skirmishesI’m sure. But I don’t know the next bigdeal was the present war change. And Iwas trying to be a part of that I volunteered for but they all they hadplenty of people you know plenty of GI’s to go up there on that and other thanthat no there was a few air rage you know before dead just to keep us on our toes. You know but other than that it wasrelatively quiet not for ourselvesanyway so.
INTERVIEWER: Have you been other part ofthe Korea rather than k2?JACK: No.
INTERVIEWER: No? When didyou leave Korea?
JACK:Left Korea in 1954.
INTERVIEWER: And came back andwhat did you do?
JACK: And design – BergstromAir Force Base in Texas. Of course I wasbelong to sack you know as a cycle andonce you’re in Sacre streets – 3G AirCommand you’re always in sac so I wentback to I was at bursts of air forcebase in Austin Texas. And say more orless the same capacities I was prior to mydischarge in 1951 well prior of that wewant TDYto England in 1955, early 1955. When TDYto England they took the whole wing overthere at that time so we went to supportpersonnel. And I went over there and Iwas over there TDY was supposedly athree-month Duty but it turned out to befour weeks or four months so the stationthat what to call stir gate. Which is inthe middle of a farm you might say. And from there we came back to Bergstrom and that’s where I was dischargedfrom in November 1955.
INTERVIEWER:And have you beenback to Korea
JACK: No I’d love to you I’ve heard so much. Well you know we was aparticipant in the Memorial Day / KoreanWar Memorial and of course a Koreangentleman come up to me while I was overthere while I was there introduced himself. And he said he was in the Koreatill he was 10 years old. And then I was classy seen of his fatherand that’s always sorry to hear suchstuff like that,but no I’d love to go back you know I’veheard so much about Seoul, Seoul changedquite a bit for what it was at that timeand it was up in Seoul but I know it’s abeautiful beautiful city now. And I thinkthe Korean I don’t know they’re just- theKoreans you meet now they just can’t doenough for you you know it’soverwhelming you know that they justthey’re just so dedicated to to us they served in the service. I don’t know aboutthe rest of the services you know for the rest of the wars. I’m sure a WorldWar II was about the same I’m not sure about the other two you know so but I know that the Korean people were veryvery thankful that we were they’re.
INTERVIEWER: Verythankful because Korean War was the- soif I’m making events in the Koreanhistory before Krell was really underthe Japanese colonial control now it’sthe 11th largest economy in the world. Can you believe that? You’re not going to believe your eyes when you go back andsee how table has been transformed-
JACK: Oh I know I know it has been changed quite abit. Well I think the same thing was withJapan you know when we went Japan weseen a lot of from the war you know we see of destruction there and howthey build up. When I was England is the same way you know they build up quite abit since the war and I seen all that.
INTERVIEWER: But England is very different-
JACK: Oh yeah.
INTERVIEWER: And Japan is also very different because apparent-
JACK: Very different.
INTERVIEWER:By only twentieth century Japan was oneof the strongest nation in the world andthey were strong enough to attack theUnited States right?
INTERVIEWER: But Korea has been afailed state until the Korean War began-
JACK: And that’s when everythingbroke out again. I guess they still it isthere a lot of problems in North Korea. INTERVIEWER: So if you I invited you want to go Korea?
JACK: Oh I would very definitely no look andI’d like to see you know the improvementthat they made. And just see some some of what we helped you know build and giveback give back your freedom. Which thereso you know they really want to take care of it South Korea very well but they want toNorth Korea to go away everybody doesyou know. So I think other than that, Korea would be a very good place tovisit you know as a tourist or SouthKorea would be anyway.
INTERVIEWER: The Korean government running revisitKorea program and they can take care ofevery other expenses except half of yourairfare.
JACK: Understand that.
INTERVIEWER: And you willhave a great time there you will seewhat you did and what you planted there50 60 some years ago
that you did forsome Koreans now it’s a unbelievablecountry.
JACK: Hahaha I know it would be and that’s why the lastadmission would make it so great to go over there and see what well I’ve seenit before. And you see it after. And tosee the improvements it has been made and I know we helped you help him quitea bit probably they did it all on her own I really do they did a lot on their own. We helped them maybe financially and allthat. They built it back the way theywanted it, but no it would be great to seeit and I intend to make that tripeventually you know. If health allows it.
INTERVIEWER: You look healthy you are young you areyoung and group of Korean War veteranyou born 34 so you born after the car depression I will let MPV a Ministry ofpatriots and Veterans Affairs know thatyou are want to go back you want to goback okay?
INTERVIEWER: Yeah. So there are verysuccessful outcome out of your servicerightSouth Korea 11th largest economy in the worldwe don’t have drop of oil we are smaller than obviously cancerit’s a much bigger than us. We nowhelping other countries who need know? So there has been successful outcome out of your service, but our history textbookdoesn’t talk about much. Why is that?
JACK: How is what?
INTERVIEWER: Our history world history textbook in high school they they don’ttalk about Korean case very one paragraph why is
JACK: I’m not sure thereshould be a lot more in there now thanit was I know there is more now than it was but it could be a whole lot more I’msure come on oh my kids don’t know muchabout Korea until I was telling them allabout it you know and they it’s hard forthem to believe you know it really is-
JACK: They’re breathing more and more nowbecause my daughter she goes to a lot ofthe functions are not as well that folks are individual functions that allow theKorean functions like this memorials and that and I had a privilege that going tothe to see all the memorials inWashington. One month or one day. And Ienjoyed that very much, but no I enjoyhistory. I wasn’t much in when I was inschool was my history buff, but no I readquite a bit as much as I can on Koreaand other places I’ve been.
INTERVIEWER: Myfoundation hosted a Korean War veteransyouth corps convention it’s agrandchildren club of Korean War veterans and I found some historyteachers among the descendants of theKorean War veterans. And I asked them to analyze the history textbook about theKorean War. And it’s one paragraph and itstill says Forgotten War and it stillsaid some of them saying conflictsrather than war and then it’s all aboutMacArthur. General MacArthur and Meccasudden they don’t talk about Jack sparat all right so-
JACK: Well you know theydidn’t talk about us at all. I mean whenwe came back exactly very very but hererecently probably the past two or threeyears it has really changed quite a bitfor all veterans just not Koreans it ofcourse we were always known as aForgotten War. But I think that’s allchanged quite a bit. And our people are are honoring us a lot more than they everdid the past. And no it’s changed quite abit on any another quite a bit you knowwe didn’t come back expecting a wholelot. You know a whole lot of recognition, but in other words we were kind of forgotten once we even got back you knowbecause it wasn’t much more much going
on. Of course now the you know thank goodfor Korean Veterans Association you know a lot of that is coming back. You know so all of us know what’s been going on it’sabout not be we’ve got a great chapterpresident-
INTERVIEWER: Mm-hmm. By the way he is with usright now and I’m going to ask him tojoin you a little bit later, but let meask this question: You said that youdidn’t expect much when you returnedfrom Korea right? You didn’t expect much when you returned Korea?
JACK: All right.
INTERVIEWER: Did you ever have you everthought that creel become like this today when you left Korea in 1954? didyou think
that creel turn out like today?
INTERVIEWER: You didn’t have any hope about thefuture of Korea?
JACK: No I didn’t you know get I think there’s going to be what it istodayback then not really not really you know I think it’s a service man you don’t think too much about thatof course you want to get home in one piece-
JACK: That’s your main subject, but Ithink once you leave you you know youdon’t hear too much. You’ll see too much, so it’s not a public forum you know like it is now it’s getting more and more. Thanks to people like you. Megan aware of it you know they’re doingit good or not I don’t know, but I feellike we are you know. But no I get moreand more questions no matter where I goabout Korea. You know people don’t evenknow you know they knew I was in Korea. They didn’t realize I was in Korea you know
INTERVIEWER: That’s the ridiculous isn’t it?
JACK: Because we didn’t wear it on our phoneour flag you know. Where we list who wasduring a war or what we did during thewar but most of us when we got back you know we just got back try to get backand in our everyday services you know. So after that you knowwe didn’t think too much reallyyou didn’t care too much you know untilthings happen you know?
INTERVIEWER: So are you proudof your service as a Korean War veteran? JACK: AmI-
JACK: Very very very proud very proud. And my service my four years. I figured Idid as much as I could and there’salways more to do, but you always got theothers coming in hopefully. I think theservices are more available now and theyever were before-before we had to go outand get them. Very few volunteers my brothersboth are volunteers I was a volunteer sothey didn’t have to come after them. Sothat was always proud to see that aspectof it you know. And they they’d come backand tell us a little bit about what they’d seen you know their World War II. Of course my one brother was on MerchantMarines you know and of course theydidn’t have any armor on on the shipsthey weren’t allergic not of carryingguns or anything.Of course they wasn’t allowed to be shotat either but what they were but everytime they got shot at they got a bigbonus. Well just kiss kid kidney you knowthey sit out there on a shoot me shootme no not really, but no they so it was avery dangerous merchant ships were asthe Navy was you know. Why I joined the Air ForceI’m really not sure, it just look good youknow Air Force look good.