James Samuel Pigneri is the son of Italian immigrants. He was born April 28, 1928, in Des Moines, Iowa. He graduated high school in 1945 and decided to join the military at 18 years old, following in his father’s footsteps. He was rejected by the Navy, but was drafted in 1950 and served in the United States Army. During his time in Korea, James Pigneri helped to transport new troops and supplies to the frontlines and was detailed to transport soldiers killed in action.
Commanding from a Ditch
James Pigneri describes first getting to Korea and going straight into the war zone. The command post was in a ditch. Here he tells of his first official job transporting deceased soldiers while coming under enemy mortar fire from the Chinese.
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Interaction with Korean MP's
James Pigneri talks about his time serving with two young Korean military police officers. Because of the dedication of the MP's, Pigneri goes unharmed but the MP's die tragically in battle.
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Awards and Air Drops
James Pigneri discusses the awards that he received during the Korean War. He also gives details about how he and other soldiers received their rations and supplies via air drops. The receiving of supplies was a dangerous mission where many soldiers were killed trying to supply the combat soldiers with their daily necessities.
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James Pigneri: My name is James Samuel Pigneri, son of two italian immigrants that came to america. My mother Josephine my dad Roco and i was born in the midwestern town Demoine, Iowa. My parents came here at a young age. My mother came here at a young age and my father came here after WW1. My dad.. he had fought. He was attached to a British unit and he was captured in battle somewhere in Austria or someplace like that. He was a prisoner of war 18 months and during WW2 he worked for the railroad. and he worked 7 days a week. My mother went to work for a fence production company. I forgot the khakis backpack or something and everyone that i knew in that particular time, of that time of history, was involved in WW2 and now shortly after WW2 I graduated. The world war ended in 1945 and i graduated form high school. Abraham Lincoln Highschol 1946. I was 18 years old. Right after graduation there were a couple of people, a couple of school mates. We all decided to join the navy. Two of them were twins and they were all born the same day i was. Birthday was April 28th 1928. We go down to join the navy and they said i was colorblind and flat footed. It wasn’t really that kept me out. Everyone wanted to join the navy because the navy is a more glamorous and more safe or whatever. All 3 of us got turned down for some reason or another. And i later was drafted and i was hoping that when the draft came along they would say “oh we don’t want you, your colorblind or flat footed.” but that was the navy saying we have had enough, come back some other time.
Interviewer: wow thats interesting, when were you drafted?
James Pigneri: Drafted? I can’t remember the date that we had to, the law was passed that you had to sign up for the draft and some carried over to WW2. I was drafted in August of 1950 and thats when i signed up and i started to get papers “you’re in the draft.” I was not called till September. In early September, weeks after i had signed in, I was ordered to report to the Federal Building in Demoine for induction to the US army on October the 2nd. we were shipped and went by train. We were shipped to saint louis. We changed and got on another train and ended up in the ozark. A place called Fort Linenberg, a camp. It was deactivated after ww2. Quickly activated, and it was activated and the 6th armor division was gonna reactivate again. They were a big tank division that served in Europe. When i got to Fort Lieneberg in fact everyone that was on that train, everyome from Demoine, Iowa. I have a list of the names, they were assigned to an engineering company. Now this engineering company belonged to a reserved unit and they didn’t know that a lot of them were from ww2 that would in months or years they would be back in the service and they were the cambney that trained us. They were flying people from Dallas, Texas and they all worked for one big engineering company, Browing Furse. Browing Furse is still around. I think they have something to do with the California speed route. They trained us. I finished basic training six weeks. It must have been December and after basic training what the decided to do was people that lived on the East side of the mississpii river, all went to Europe, Germany whatever. We that lived on the west side, were called a theecom, it is just far easty command. A group of us, they must have picked us up, Im not gonna say. They wanted us to stay back and train the new draftees coming in. And i was one of them that was chosen. and went to some type of school. Actually we did a lot of close order drilling. I guess thats how you teach how to work together, or whatever it is in close order drill. Anyways, i was assigned then to a position of instructing the draftees and actually it wasn’t instructing, it was more of a test because they have already had how to handle a rifle and i was in charge of a rifle range. It had pull up targets, they had rope and they pulled up the targets. You were supposed to get 6 rounds. and it wasn’t a dead or winner and i was not happy with it there and i wanted out of there. i don’t know whatever possessed me. if you can eliminate some of this?? whatever possessed me down to wanna go pipeline. Im a printer of civilian life. there are printers in the army, stars and stripes. I said if i go pipeline, i had a good chance of going to wherever they were printing in the army. low and behold the army had changed us because it was being done by civilians and i was in what they called pipeline. Okay, i still was assigned to the engineers because i had engineering history. I was assigned to camp Creek, in japan. and i went to japan. if you were signed to korea you would go straight to Busan. but i went to japan and i was supposed to report to camp creek. I can’t remember where i ended up in Japan. yokahamas where we disembarked. Somewhere in that period of time, a very short period of time, the chinese had started their big spring offense. their object was to wipe out the army. and they were doing a pretty good job of it. and the second entry division between the wounded and the equipment that was destroyed and so forth. I was in alot of disaray. I was assigned to infrantry, the second entry division. i might have stayed at the camp creek for a week and a half. the next thing i knew i was on a train going to Busan. I take it back. I was on a train going to Okasancka and from there was on a ship to busan. and busan is where i landed in korea. Busan has to be close to Soel.
Interveiwer: Soel is the southern tip of Korea.
James Pigneri: I don’t want it
Interveiwer: are you sure?
James Pigneri: No I, Im fine, Im fine.
interviewer: Maybe we will leave it here.
James Pigneri: You can leave it here
Interveiwer: so you were apart of the second infantry.
James Pigneri: I was assigned to the second infantry.
Interveiwer: and what was your rank
James Pigneri: my rank at the time was a private E-1 or E-2
James Pigneri: I, because of the basic training, or whatever it was. i was assigned to a head quarter company. In other words, I was down at the bottom. i mean this is where all the action for the time. We had three regiments, the. I take it back, we had three companies. and we had easy fox george and a heavy weapons company. and the battalion headquarters was the heart of the operation.
James Pigneri: Anyway, i was assigned the second battalion and we went from kusan we went by train to a place called wanju. and that was a main supply group or something. I take it back, the end of the railroad. or whatever it was, it might have been destroyed or something. And from wanju, we went to another area by truck. and going up there by truck was very very depressing because when we went up there, there was jeeps that had bodies of two on the hood and we saw those. one, two, three, i mean it was something that for a person that just landed in Korea it was not the most open sight.
James Pigneri: Anyway we got another to get to the second battalion command post. we had to walk, we had to hike because the roads ended there. when i got there, it was in the afternoon. I couldn’t believe it was not what i expected. i left Fort Linen-berg, everything organized. This everything was in a state of confusion. there was a a lot of artery going on. Whatever it was, it was not what i expected. to give you an idea, the command post was in a ditch. and it was all open the people in those days had a walkie talkie or a telephone.I was in the area, in the assignment, not even two hours when, “we have a detail for ya, you’ll go out with 6 civilian transport cars,” and plus there were two other soldiers that had experiences. they had recovered a body of a platoon sergeant. The body they generally mark, to me i said, “God is this,” the thought went trough my mind I’ve seen, that they were people passed away, deceased in a casket. Ive never seen anyone that was shot up in a field. I wonder what were going to find. Anyway we started going up there and all of the sudden we kinda, there was a barrage of molders and from what i had learned in, when you attack in basic training, generally they lay down molders to soften up the enemy. but the molders were from the enemy. It was not friendly molders and we could see in the hills the forward observers. That was with us. He had the glasses and he could see in the hills and he said there was a line of, ive forgotten what, they had a term for it, for what it was the enemy. They tried to identify north koreans and the chinese communists. The communists of the chinese had come in the war then and they said to the communists that there was no way they were going to get there. so we aborted the mission and turned around and got back and we had sea rations. I ate out of a can and we ate out of a can on the train coming up for one of our meals. and we were there for the next, well i can’t remember how long we were there for but little by little, the second division was surrounded by, I’m gonna say, like 10 chinese divisions. I mean they were surrounded and the division fought back and you can’t believe it. I mean i got my first experience to see someone that they are fighting and they are determined that they are not going to be brought out of that thing. and we were able, we set up perimeters. I wanna interject here, i was a combatant but not a combatant that had to take a hill. i was in situations where i became a combatant. I’m going to talk a little bit later about how i earned my combatant enferee from my badge and there were times i had to go in a block position, a listening post, go through no mans land, if you were attacked or you ran into the enemy, you had to fight. but you didn’t. that was not your primary line of duty. the duty was, our pattoon was to supply all of the anumation that was needed up in the front. and when the soldiers are up fighting he doesn’t turn around and comes back down the hill, you go up there and almost hand it to him. if someone is shooting at him, they are shooting at you. ok anyway, and then we had a, well actually i was in charge, it was the pinarpatoon. pineair was kind of a catch-all name. anything that you needed to dig in or whatever it is, create a fortification and we had the concentine, the bobwire. we had things, we had some but not, it wasn’t our, it wasn’t really our, position of furnish boogie traps. but the booby traps but the booby traps were handled by another pattoon, another special company boogie traps. thats when there were armory in a life of defense in their stand. then you want boobie traps. they want the cocentine of wire, they want the tools that i had available for them. in the meantime i also went up and carried down ammunition.
James Pigneri: Well i didn’t, excuse me, i didn’t carry the ammunition. The CTCs, i don’t know if they do it often.
Interviewer: ok,Wow, did you have any interactions with Korean soldiers while you were there.
James Pigneri: Yes
Interviewer: Ah, can you tell me about that? Do you remember how, what they were like? what did you do…
James Pigneri: I have a book, I’m going to show you some pictures.
James Pigneri: I remember pock, he was camera person. in those days we didn’t have. pock, pock 1. Joe 2 and the reason we call him Joe 2 is because we couldn’t pronounce their Korean name. so he was Joe 1, Joe 2. Pock was either 1 or 2 or 3. Pock’s dad, he was a camera person because he would send some cameras or something to us. and I had, you asked me the question, interaction with some soldiers i, as i, think back I think i owe my life to a couple of Korean soldiers to end peace. now when you say interaction we met along. i was back behind the line, i was getting ready to go up to the line, the front lines. some replacements, they needed some men up there and i was going up there. and whatever they wanted me to do up there. anyway i bet they weren’t 17 years old. they were young boys, of course i wasn’t that old either. they were in peace, Korean in peace and they spoke good english. all of the Koreans outside the CTC spoke english and they spoke it well. Joe too, Pock and there were a couple more but i forgot their names. The pop of pock didn’t speak much english but he knew how to take care of me, my personally needs. Anyway, we gabbed for awhile like GI’s and we asked them questions, they asked us questions and we probably gave them some cigarettes or something because we had a lot of that stuff the Koreans didn’t have. anyway, we gabbed for, we tustve gabbed for an hour anyway. there was, theres one service that i remember. i can’t recall his name, he was form Chicago. and he got talking, he was Catholic and so we started talking and all of sudden the Koreans take off to end peace and they were going up that hill too, they were taking that path. It was a draw, you go in a draw because they enemy doesn’t see you, okay. Well they didn’t know the enemy had that draw zeroed in and whoever would have went in it first, both Koreans were killed by morder folder.
James Pigneri: Yeah, so i was not familiar with that area or how we are gonna get up there. I got these replacements, i had the CTCs had some ammo and there was some wood that had to be pulled off and i said we better scatter and i went one way and i said thats where we are gonna head, up to that hill. so i told them to scatter, everybody. wish i probably shouldn’t have, but you know there was nothing else to do, so we kinda scattered and we kinda hugged a hill but we stayed away from that guldge. and all of a sudden i find myself in a hastily minefield. what it was, was a half ton, half blocks of TNT. The debtanator in it, what it was, was a shoe bomb, you kick it and it went off and i walked in because between where we were at and the hill, the enemies still while they weren’t there they still had the access to those positions so before we got there or something the enemies must have laid them and just tossed them on the ground and i got up to the hill and I said, the men i was supposed to take up, got there before me, i was, i said what am I gonna tell them, I said you know, i’m gonna that was, it was, yeah.
Interviewer: Wow, What do you think you have, you probably have so many stories, what do you think is one of your most difficult situation that you were in and then on the other hand your most rewarding and even happy?
James Pigneri: Well one of the lousiest, a lot of them were, anything we did was undesirable, i mean it was just something we had to do and it was either that or like digging fortification bring up ammo, take down the woota or take take down the KIAs. We were in some type of an offense we broke out of that, the division broke out of that trap it was little by little we broke out of it. anyway it was an assignment they needed extra men and they didn’t have enough men, and what they wanted mostly was a listening post. and we had communication with them and we were not to engage in it. In other words if they didn’t bother us we were not to bother them. but there was, at night there was, when your up, in some areas there was always patrols. probing patrols they’d come out in probe. we would come out and probe. they want to see where you’re at and see and we wanted to see where they were at. sometimes they would come out and fire something, anyways. Listen here, i went 72 hours with out sleep. and i mean, i was, i could not handle another night ill never forget the guy i was assigned with we were scattered out about ten feet, twenty feet, between positions. and that was clear cross that hill top whatever it was i can’t remember the details anyways. you slept one hour and got up one hour. thats how it was. we decided one and one, one and one. well, it worked out for a while then we tried something else. it worked out towards the end and we had little, little rations we didn’t know we were going to be up three nights because we had to be called back. they said, “you stay there until we call you to come back and get you.” and there was a whole string of men clear across that line. well I was with this solider from brook land newyork. his name was Abraham Weiss and ill never forget him because he went to sleep on me a couple of times. We got pulled off after the third night and we were told, we had a little puff tent back in the area back there and they fed us, they had food for us and we slept. i slept for a long time i don’t know how long a day and a night. the next day whatever it was after i was sleeping and cleaning up a little bit so forth we had to go back up there, this abraham weiss, he just broke down i mean he just he was having a problem he couldn’t handle it. and i felt sorry for him but i said no i didn’t want to go up but i went i didn’t want to say he didn’t want to go and they needed me. whatever it was every little bit of assignment someone was depending on you. I didn’t stay there three nights i stayed there one or two nights when was i had someone else and after that i forgot, we, i was given a little bit of time i had what they called light duty. That took a lot out of you because you had to stay awake. another time that i found difficult was real difficult, i was assigned, ordinarily i don’t handle a lot of ammunition so they had to, there was something going on, we were probably taking another hill and i had to take an ammunitions carrying party up the hill, well the CTC’s liked to walk, they don’t like the side, they got these heavy boxes of ammo, they don’t like to walk the side of the hill, they like to walk the ridge line and I told the interpreter, I always had an interpreter cause I didn’t speak Korean, I said tell them not to walk the ridge line. I said someone’s going to spot us and we’re gonna draw fire. Sure enough, I hadn’t finished talking, start getting mortar fire. you can hear it, hear it coming closer, closer, closer, next thing we were in the center of a mortar barrage. It’s not the first time but fortunately I found a position, everybody found positions and we just laid there, I don’t know how long. Eventually the mortar fire cleared up and they stopped and we were able to proceed up with the ammo. That was, I didn’t like that situation. That mortar. Very, very few people are killed by rifle bullets. You’re killed by mortar. A piece of shrapnel. A mortar, if it’s a big mortar, has a lot of shrapnel. They’re very sharp and hot. That’s the shrapnel, the mortars and the artillery.
Now when I was up on that other hill 72 hours or whatever it was, there was all kinds of artillery fire but like we didn’t have to worry about it because the artillery could not land the way artillery goes. The way an artillery shell goes, it goes at an arc and we were too close to them or whatever it is, and we got to wherever we were sittin’ in the daytime and this artillery shell was going to our positions.
Interviewer: Were you wounded at all?
James Pigneri: No
Interviewer: Oh good.
James Pigneri: Come pretty close. Had a lot of prayers said for me.
Interviewer: I’m sure you have so many hardships.
James Pigneri: You know when you look back at it, when I first got there I was depressed because i got there because I messed up. I got a good position, good assignment. I had a second assignment and then the whole 8th army was in chaos and they didn’t want to give up their ground they fought real hard for it.
The hardships was, Korea has a rainy season. I mean it rains and rains and rains. Now most of the time you’re going to ask me a question about how was my living quarters. I didn’t live in a hotel. None of us lived in a hotel. There’s some of our quarters you get used to it. You know you’re so happy that you have something. You’re safe and you feel good about it. But most of the time or I should say at least half of the time you either slept out in the open air when the weather was nice or in a pup tent if it was raining. You have a shelter half your buddy, in my case it was Bleekman, he had a shelter half, we put them together and that’s where we slept. The first time we slept in one I’ll never forget, we forgot to dig the ditch around it and I ended up in the morning, but I slept through it, my back was wet. The air mattress is about 2 – 3 inches. We had carried an inflatable air mattress. You blew in it and you slept on it. Water got up to my back. Any place you stop to sleep for the night you always dig a foxhole, if there’s none there cause you might need it. You don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night and somethings going on. You dig it within one jump from your pup tent.
Interviewer: Do you often think about the Korean War
James Pigneri: Not really. I’m gonna tell you, I was in Korea, I slept every time I had to sleep I slept every hour every bit of it. If we had a 10 minute break I’d fall asleep. My wife will tell you the same thing and i’m still like that today. I went to sleep and I got a good night’s sleep , whatever it was. Some night’s no sleep.
But no I didn’t , the only thing that bothers me that I think about is my best friend. Ok he was killed in the Korean war. He was in the Navy-Frank Cataldo. He was the only one from Iowa that was killed in the Navy from Iowa – the only one killed. There were a lot of people that were on the navy that were and he was the only one. He was on a ship that was shelling the North Korean shores and a shell lobbed on to him, got him. I had already returned from Korea and I was back working and he was going, he was in the Navy, and he was shipping out, I’ll never forget, he pats me on the back, We were like brothers, we went to vacation together, dated girls together, he was younger than me, he was actually 2 – 3 years younger. And he pats me on the back and he has the miraculous medal on and he says this thing is going to get me home. It probably got him home. That was the only thing I dwell on
I says yeah. For awhile I had his letters I didn’t open, his last letters. My last letters I sent to him, they were sent back to me.
That’s the only thing that bothers me. It bothered me because he lived on the next block and i don’t know, from the Korean War I don’t know if anyone from DesMoines was killed during the Korean War, I don’t know. Maybe you could find it.
It gets back to me and I say to myself, was ya really scared or depressed or something.
When i was sent back from Korea, I had an assignment Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Chicago. A terrific place to be. I mean it was one of the best assignments. I think more about that assignment than I think of Korea and I had only 3 months. When I was getting discharged they they gave me an early discharge. They knocked off 3 months. i told them I said, I told the commanding officer, I don’t want those 3 months, I want to stay here. I go back, I’m going to have to go back to work, you see I got. Every day I’m in a class A uniform like a job.
When i’m assigned there, the first assignment was the 174th and the 179th MP, military police.They’re flunkies ya know. They did all the glamorous work we did all the crappy work. and one of our crappy work was we had to, there was 2 set of barracks there, one was the ones that were AWOL and the other barrack was the ones that were Fort Levinsworth-those guys were facing 20 years to life. You were assigned it. You working one of them. My friend from Chicago was taking care of one, the guy found a piece of pipe , hit him over the head and ran away. Okay the deal is if you lose a prisoner, I don’t know if this is facts, you had to do his time. Or if you lost a round of ammo you were in a lot of trouble because if you were issued ammo you had to either bring the empty shell or the ammo back.
Interviewer: So we can talk about your living quarters situation
James Pigneri: The living quarters. When we relieved the first marines on the Kansas line, they had built the bunkers. Some of the bunkers were good, some of the bunkers were so so. The marines terrific. They were a little different than us. They were gung ho and they had a lot of tradition. I always felt good when the marines were around. They got by with things that we couldn’t get by with. You had to have a shirt on, your fatigue jacket had to be buttoned down. If an officer or someone caught you with an open shirt, they’d give you, they’d write you a disciplinary report. And you had to wear a white t-shirt under your fatigue clothes. The marines were younger, i presume they were younger anyway. I wonder if they cam from California were from California.
Anyway, that was on the Kansas line. That was the only time I can remember we had bunkers we could actually use. The bunkers were on the side of the hill and the one I picked out – you had your choice-Like picking a bedroom in a hotel. It had so you could see all the way around. It needed some reinforcement. It didn’t have any sandbags on it. I don’t know whether they didn’t have any. The bunkers were generally, I don’t know if I told you about stealing lumber from the bridge people, 4 inches thick, and then you laid that on top. You build your bunker, you support the bunker between whatever it is, then you put some sandbags, if they’re available, and most of the time if you’re fortunate and we were, the CTC’s did the work for you. You told them you want this and what you do is you slip them some extra cigarettes or something. and they took care of it. So we on a couple of bunkers, i herd this story that the soldiers that occupied them almost drowned in them. I don’t know how you could drown in a bunker. The bunker was generally about 4 feet deep. 3 feet, 4 feet I don’t remember. And they just weren’t too careful. It’s just like the first time we set up a tent, they weren’t too careful about doing something to get you a run off for the water. All this was a terrible month of rain. It rained about every day.
Interviewer: from when to when did you stay in Korea?
James Pigneri: From May about 17th, I arrived in Korea May 17th to late March or early April, it had to be early April. And then I rotated. You said, you asked what was my favorite-when they came up and they gave me the papers and says you’re going home.
The couple of months before rotation were very difficult. You took extra care,”I’m so close to going home, I’m so close”, but there was a period of time where you really didn’t care. In other words you got over the fright and you become acclimated to whatever going on and it’s every day living. It wasn’t like living every day but you knew what was going to come. If you knew the assignment you knew what was going to come, what to expect.
One time we had complete duty of getting the KIA’s back to the rear. We were not rear we were back in the lines but we had to get them back to the rear and when you put one or two, and there were days when we had like 15. And you didn’t like that cause you know you said that could’ve been me. Two men from our platoon were killed and it was while we were in that detail but they sent someone-they didn’t want us to handle them. They thought it would’ve been just a little bit too much. So someone else came and said we’re going to take care of them. Generally if we’re going on after them we’d have to go and put them in a rubber bag and the CTC did that most of the time except if it didn’t have a head on, they would not touch it, then it was your job. Generally only 2 GI’s and troopers and CTC. And they were good about it, I could see that. But there was something about, I don’t know it was…
Another time I remember is I was coming off a hill I’d brought something up a hill with CTC’s and they told us to wait till dark to go back down to where we were at positions and it meant going through no man’s land and it took quite a bit of, . We took a wounded, that guys, he was in pain, pain , pain. The medics up there, I guess they gave him something. Whatever it is it wore off by,… we moved him almost a foot at a time because the hill was very, very treacherous and we didn’t want to lose him. And I got to a place where I couldn’t handle it, he was yelling and creaming, he was in a lot of pain. A lot of pain and that had an affect on us and so forth. We finally got him down. They were able to get him to the jeep, … there was a helicopter pad that some of the seriously wounded they would take them out with a helicopter. Get them real quick to the MASH.
Interviewer: Do you know if he survived and made it back to the states?
James Pigneri: Oh yes, a lot of them.
All the time I was there we had, the front line took the brunt of the fight. We came close another time- you said was I ever injured?, we were going down a main supply line and it was kind a path or whatever it was. It could be a wide road but that’s the way you got your supplies cause everything you had came from the back. And there was some engineers working and we always stopped and talked, talked to another GI and someones pick hit a land mine and I heard the land mine go off. I says dear lord, I expect any time, only thing I got hit with was some dirt and gravel. No one was really injured. It was more of a percussion mine, in other words the movement of the mine was supposed to knock you out. It was not a fragmentation mine, like most mines are. It’s nothing like what those poor soldiers are going through in Iraq. that was the only time I come almost, but I wasn’t a foot from them. I didn’t get none of the metal. I didn’t , that’s a s close as I came.
Well, my first combat, the only thing between me and the enemy was my shirt. that was an experience. I’ll never forget, it was Memorial Day back home we’d be going to a parade or something, no we were in combat. We were moving, we were doing real good. The whole unit was moving, but anyway, one of the supply trucks, we called it a supply train, was missing. I don’t know if we even knew where it was at or what happened to it. It might’ve went back we don’t know. But anyway we were assigned to go back and find it. So there was one or 2 trucks. The commissioned officer that was, I forgot what we called him, platoon officer that was in charge of us, we were in one truck and there was another truck, I don’t know where they were from but our 2nd platoon was in this truck another guy that was there, I’ll never forget him, he was kind of loud but not, he didn’t provoke you or anything he was just loud. Nice guy to be around but loud. And he was on there and Manning and we walked into an ambush. We drove right into an ambush. River on one side, hill on the other side, Ange River, and we walked in an ambush, they were waiting for us. I don’t know whether they sent that truck back or something, they’d know we’d come back and look for it, i don’t know, whatever it was they were waiting for us. The ones on the riverside, they had it good. They jumped and got down in the riverbank. And in my squad, the truck with our commander, some of these guys were there for 4 or 5 months and I don’t know what happened to them. So I go on the other side , next thing I know there’s all kinds, you could see the tracers, small arms firing. One guy had me, whoever it was, and I could see the sand as he was hitting on one side or the other and I thought I was a goner. And at that time I had an M1. I was very familiar with an M1, I worked on it. I could take it apart and put it back together blindfolded. And the thing let me down.
I want to backtrack a little bit. During basic training, we were told kill or be killed. Okay. Another thing they told us only about 5 – 10% of you are going to fire your weapon the first time your in combat. I wanted to be the 5 or 10%. i says I gotta get one shot off, I gotta get a shot off. Well I went to fire my first shot, we had bayonets attached, we were told to attach bayonets. I was shaking, I was never in a battle or anything. Anyway, they said attach your bayonet so i threw my bayonet there. Okay , I finally was able to get in a stupid position, I kicked back the carriage , the slide that holds the ammo, I was able to get in the chamber to fire it, so I got it off, fired. What I didn’t know was that the doggone bayonet was not attached correctly. The next thing I see is the bayonet going like that, plop. I said where’s my bayonet? I reached down for it and what I did is i had part of it. the little part of it was touching the gun and as i shot towards the enemy, I shot the bayonet off my rifle. I pick it up, I can’t put it back on my rifle so I put it back in my ? and when I get back I try to tell everybody, the enemy shot me and it wasn’t and they wouldn’t buy it but anyway I get off a couple of rounds I get to a place that whoever was watching me couldn’t get to me and then all of a sudden one of the first sergeants, whatever they had more rank than I had, says you go over there and you help the machine gunner. I says how am I going to make it over there? I finally got there, he was able to come up to me without drawing any fire, I come across that road, I made, How am I going to make it back over there. Honestly
I tell ya , in the back of my mind I says I’m a goner. I saw my mother getting that telegram. I made it over there. I got to the doggone gunner, he took one look at me and he says what are you doing here? He had the machine gun. He had ammo on a belt and generally someone helps feed it. I said I’m going to help you feed the ammo. He says you gonna help me feed, I’m out of ammo, I’m out of here. He only had one belt. He says what the hell you doing, I’m outta here. And he got out and I got out. He was able to crawl out. And finally we got things under control. I want to go back to this other guy. On the truck we had a 50 caliber anti-aircraft gun. We were prepared. Loaded and everything . We couldn’t get back to the truck, everybody jumped off. he made it back to the truck was able to get some rounds off and scatter the enemy. You know a 50 caliber, you cut trees with it. And whatever that was up there, probably just a squad of Koreans or something. It wasn’t a,… because it was no man’s land.
And they scattered so we were able to get out of there but lieutenant Manning, I saw him take I bet 5, 10 rounds, I don’t know, across his chest. They had a burp gun. The reason they called it a burp gun is it goes burp, burp. Before one shell is out the muzzle there’s 10 shells right behind it and it cuts you up. But it’s only a real small caliber. And evidently he must’ve , he didn’t get hit in a vital organ. but he was bleeding. But he was terrific. he go the man. That was my first and I was awarded the combat infantryman badge because you come in contact with the enemy.
i’ve got some medals, I’ll show you. I’ll go get those.
I have a presidential citation, there was only 3 of them that the division ever got. That was presented to us by Vice-President Barkley, who came all the way from the united states to present it to us. Big, big ceremony. And I have a couple of good conduct medals and I have a Korean service medal with three campaign battle stars, in other words, I participated in 3 of their major campaigns, which is the most you could do in Korea because, I could say the most you could do if you only had a 10 months period because they go over a length of time they’re not individual objectives or something their big campaign. One was the Chinese offensive that I walked into when I was first assigned. I was in that – that took us about a month a month and a half. We finally broke outta there. We were surrounded. the only way we could get our supplies now when I say surrounded, it’s not a small area, it’s a big area. You think about here to Irvine, we were surrounded. And the only way we could get supplies was by air. And I forgot the name of the plane but there were twin fuselage plane and they’d come in and they’d drop ammunition, medical supplies, rations, and whatever we needed in there. And they flew very, very low. This was on a Sunday. We were standing in chow line and when you stand in chow line you stand about 10 feet apart because they stay stand apart one pingpong apart. They will get you if you’re too close. In other words, they said one shot in amor they didn’t want a bunch of men killed they wanted one.
Interviwer- “Right, Right”
James Pigeri- then they say, “stand apart.” anyway so, we were there and all of sudden they there was a five zero two, Nickerotre. Nickelotre five zero three. The nick name was a nickelotre. It was an all african american battalion and they were providing us with cover fire. they kept the enemy from us. well they almost had to fire ordinary. Like i said, artillery shell lobs. they almost had to fire almost point blank, very very straight and one of the planes runs into the shell. right over head, here it is and you look up and see nothing but a loon there in the air. another airplane comes down behind for the second drop and it hits that and crashes and you watch that thing going down. there are 12 men on each one of those planes. they lost their life trying to drop food to us, thats war. yeah
Interviewer- “ can you tell us how much you were paid?”
James Pigeri- my last paycheck as a corrple was 70 dollars a month plus i received 50 dollars combat pay, monthly combat pay. The combat pay i was not payed until my last check because they added up every month and my last check was 400 and something dollars, i take it back it was 800 dollars plus. that monthly pay in todays dollars, that 70 dollars is like 600 dollars today and that 50 dollars you had to do so many days in combat but now its changed, i mean, they just brought that out in the korean war.
interviewer- “ i see”
James Pigerni- because for some reason it wasn’t paid till the end till my last paycheck.
interviewer- “ have you been back to korea, by chance? would you like to be invited?”
James Pigerni- I don’t think i could handle it now, i have health issues.
Interview- “okay okay”
James Pigerni- yeah I’m fine if i could make it there, yeah yeah.
Interviewer- you do know how much growth they have had, right? in terms of their economy, democracy? its so different now.
James Pigerni- they are terrific
James Pigerni- they’ve bounced back real quick. they’ve been resilient. what is being done, i should ask. what is being done to keep the korean war from being a forgotten war. In my mind it was, a war is a war. cause a smallest unit on whether in korea, germany, japan. something is the smallest unit they are fighting and you’re fighting for survival.
James Pigerni- so thats a war, thats hell. they can call it what they want but when you get over a million people, civilian killed, and the chinese that were killed. cause we did, most of our big offenses were against the chinese. the air force went in and slaughtered them in coloumns. and you go by the streets and you see them stacked, bodies. they were people, they were sons someone and they were husbands on someone. bodies along the street. one after another after another, hundreds and hundreds of them.
James Pigerni- there was one area where the air force caught them and just slaughtered them. that war is hell.
James Pigerni- one thing i rememeber is when we got off the ship in Pusan, whoever addressed us on the loud speaker says, “you’re not hear,” these aren’t his exact words but I’m gonna try to give you crumbs of what he told us. “you’re not here to be a hero, you’re here to save your ass. and from now on when you’re doing that, also bring victory to the.” i forgot what his word was but. “you’re bringing victory to the United States.” or whatever. “you’re doing that, you’re doing two things. you’re saving your life and you’re achieving our objective in the war. one, two, there, four, five, six, seven. seven awards. one is i received a beautiful award, a korean medal. i received i have to show you a letter i received form the president of south korea. On the 50th anniversary, i have it up there. this is a presidential citation. this is a combat badge. this is a, these guys, the 38th, i mean, they even went to japan and had this thing and you wore it everyday.
Interviwer- yeah, it looks very good. how about your photo now. here, this is you. do you remember when that was taken?
James Pigerni- about two days, right after my discharge in demoine. oh actually i should put that in my book. thats my shot record. thats when bobason took care of me in demoine. see, he made hot water. he had on a helmet. okay, see the blocks, thats camo wire. you know communication wire. you get a roll of it. some give it to you. and look he got the wood. I was a private for his class and we picked up our beer ration, we got a case of beer.
James Pigerni- this is a guy, the only guy i keep in contact with, real preserved. he’s in that. okay, let me tell you about this. we had this commander, the tank commander. he had to be my age. you wouldn’t know what bermasigns are. the old days, before the freeways, they had the two lane highways going each way. Birmashave was something men used to shave with a razor and they have these sayings. they were funny. and they made you laugh so he comes up with this and he tells me to pay him. he says, “ hey yo pritter, although the front lines are insight, you know there are no cause for freight. for up ahead with colors bright, waves the flag of the spare headers in pale white.
Interviwer- wow, you did that?
James Pigerni- i painted it yeah.
Interviwer- wow, looks great
James Pigerni- you know what? i don’t rememeber a brush. look how cold it was.
James Pigerni- thats fleekdone. thats a fire in the hill. that is the front lines. we went out in the dead of winter and with a, oh this is a, a, oh what the hell is this thing. from the tip of Louisianna. McDonald or something. and look at that, those guys. they were from the south and they were freezing. and look at me, i only had was my fill jacket. they had their parka. to me it was, yeah i didn’t know what it was. i come from the midwest.