Korean War Legacy Project

James Warren


James Warren enlisted in the United States Air Force after graduating from high school with the encouragement of a friend. After discharge, he moved to California and attended film school. He later joined the US Army and was soon assigned to Korea where he served two tours. During his first assignment, he was a photographer, while during his second tour, he worked as a legal specialist at JAG headquarters. He spent much time in Korea where he met his wife. Due to his time served in Korea, he became very active in the KWVA chapter in Texas where he now lives.

Video Clips

The Surface of the Moon

James Warren describes his first impressions of Korea. He explains how it felt as the plane he was aboard was landing. He explains how he had thought it would look compared to what he really saw.

Tags: Impressions of Korea

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Through the Lens of a Camera

James Warren describes how he used his own camera to become an Army photographer although he had hoped to capture video. He explains the struggle to find a camera film. He explains posts of his job as an Army photographer in Korea in the early 1970s.

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The Korean People

James Warren explains his adoration of Koreans. He discusses his wife, who was Korean, to whom he met and married while stationed in Korea. He discusses the close-knit community, and how he is still involved even after her passing.

Tags: Civilians,Impressions of Korea

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Video Transcript

James: My name is James Earl Warren. I was born on June 22, 1947 here in Tyler, Texas. I am one of five kids. Um after I graduated from high school in 1965 Upon a suggestion of one of my friends I decided to enlist in the military. I had no plans and no thoughts about doing it but my friends suggested we uh a good thing to do so I enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1965. Uh I served in the Air Force uh for four years and received an honorable discharge. After I left the service I moved to California to attend school. I attended school for uh two years then got an associate’s degree then um I decided I wanted to go back into the service because I missed the traveling and the people that I had met. So I decided to enlist in the Army after talking to the Air Force and I thought the Army offered the best opportunity for me to uh make up the missing two years. Uh so uh I enlisted in the Army and uh I stayed in the Army for over 16 plus years and retired from the Army with about 23 years of military service in 1987. And after that retirement I returned here to Tyler, Texas uh because I wanted to be around my family that I had been away from for so long. And uh so I came back and went to work for the State of Texas and worked until I retired in 2011 and here I am.

Interviewer: Ok, well um so how old were you whenever you decided to enlist?

James: Eighteen about

Interviewer: you were 18?

James: I turned 18 in June uh 1965 and enlisted in August 1965.

Interviewer: So were you stationed in Korea? Uh In the Air Force or Army or were you stateside?

James: Uh no I was stationed um after basic training San Antonio stationed for about 2 years in California and then 2 years in Japan before discharge I wasn’t stationed in Korea until probably about 1971 I believe 72 after I had enlisted in the Army in 71

Interviewer: ok now did you know that you were going to be going to Korea?

James: Uh no Idea whatsoever what happened was uh I received orders to go to Vietnam so uh I took a 30 day leave before uh I was supposed to report to California to go to Vietnam but while I was home on leave um um it came over the news that the Par Paris Peace Accord had determined that they were gonna stop fighting in Vietnam so at that moment I assumed I probably wouldn’t be going but anyway for my time came I report to California and they told me what I uh suspected that I was not gonna be sent to Vietnam. But I will be reassigned somewhere else and after a week in Oakland, California they said that they were gonna send me to uh Korea.

Interviewer: Did you kinda know where Korea was or uh?

James: I had No idea whatsoever but to be honest with you um we flew into Korea and it was nighttime and we start to land but but there was enough light that you could see uh if you got closer to landing you could see uh the land and all I could see was cause it was in November and all I could see was dry rice patties and it was all cracked up and everything and it looked like the surface of the moon or something and you know I was really disappointed because cuz cuz it just made me think this is a terrible place to be and I was willing to go to Vietnam and sac and maybe sacrifice my life for my country and instead they send me to a place like this so

Interviewer: so did you have any knowledge on the Korean War and what had already happened um you know in 1953?

James: Well yeah uh just general stuff you pick up in school but uh not detailed or anything like that.

Interviewer: Were you nervous to be there?

James: Uh no I wasn’t um what the what the um Air Force had done for me mine was just in general being in the service had made me an independent person. Uh the and so I had no fear of going to a foreign place in fact um I was looking forward to traveling uh because that was kinda one of the aspects in those days of going in the military service to get away from hometown explore some place new uh meet new friends and you know new ways of thinking and stuff like that. So I have Um I was looking forward to it

Interviewer: And um what military unit were you with or what rank?

James: In Korea uh when I uh went to Korea I was actually what happened was I was in personnel uh but I had requested to change uh in my military occupational field so I was sent to uh motion picture photography school at which was uh what I had what I was looking for because that was what I was going to civilian school for and got a 2 year degree in so I went to motion picture photography school I returned to San Antonio and then they sent me to Vietnam in my old personnel mos but they said dont worry about it they would change to your new MOS when you get to Vietnam but uh they diverted me to Korea and they send me to a place uh that had no motion picture you know all they had was steel so they said well you gonna have to do steel photography and oh by the way do you have your own camera? And I go well yeah I do have a camera and I go you gonna be using it that to do official Army stuff and we don’t have no cameras here. So errbody in the photo lab would do using their own cameras to take uh you know official Army photography. And the hardest thing in the world was to get film uh we ordered through supply channel and we could never get film so uh whenever we got an assignment uh we would go to the first sargent and say hey first sargent we don’t have any film and the first sargent would say how much is film uh about a 1.50 a roll and he would take money out of his pocket and he’d go get ya a couple of rolls and then we would go and shot the assignment but whatever film we had left we just left in the camera so when the next assignment came along then the person would grab that camera and finish shooting film, so however long it took us to use a roll we didn’t waste anything and uh so uh so that’s what we did so there was uh no motion picture which I was very disappointed cuz I really wanted to do that ya know and that was gonna be my thing. In fact I had envisioned myself going to Vietnam and just being right in the middle of war with the infantry just while bullets was whizzing by my head I be spreading the middle of action and just taking the film and stuff like that of course that never happened but uh um I did enjoy doing um steel photography ya know so uh one thing in the military you learn to adjust to you conditions until you learn new things so they didn’t have motion picture I just did steel.

Interviewer: Do you still, do you have access to the photos that you took? Or some of them?

James: no uh everything I did while I was doing steel uh you had to send copies for official vows so uh no matter what it was they would uh uh capture the back of it saying this is what was going on and the photographer uh this picture was taken on a certain day by this photographer and then a copy of the back would be sent off to uh I think somewhere in Philadelphia or Pennsylvania for permanent vow and uh uh I didn’t was never had no access to that but over the years ya know I’ve wanted to look at some of the stuff I’ve taken and that’s supposed to be you can go to the archives and look it up but I’ve never been able to successfully get to the right place cuz I took the pictures um one of the biggest families we had was Bob Hope I wanna think they was one of the last OC’s to he would wanna do or at least in that area so he came to Korea and they uh fought everybody around in the surrounding areas to where I was stationed to see Bob Hope and I was one of the photographers assigned to you know photograph from the activity and stuff and um I did a lot of that and that was probably one of the best events that I attended or was involved in as a photographer

Interviewer: Where were you stationed at I’m sorry in Korea?

James: Oh ok my first assignment the first time I was in Korea twice uh first time I was assigned to company C 122nd stigma battalion 2nd infantry division at Camp Casey Tung Du Jung Korea. And uh I was all another thing that was interesting was they have what they call catusas are you familiar with catusas? Catusa is a Korean augmentation to United States Army when they had Korean soldiers who communicated English working with American soldiers. And stuff We had a Catusa working it our photo lab. So you know you got to learn a little more about people and stuff about talking to the enemy and everything like that.

Interviewer: How were your conditions while you were in Korea as far as sleeping arrangements, food, weather, clothing?

James: Ok uh well I guess I lucked out because we had like a three-story building like from the modern barracks today and I lived in that building and that was pretty cool and all modernized and everything uh but from the places that I worked weren’t necessarily as modern. At least through my second tour of Korea I worked through the old Kwasi huts we had to everyday go get the gasoline and kerosene and had to walk so far and load up the kerosene tank and walk it back to the office put it in there light the thing and pump it up and get it going in the wintertime to uh warm the building up and in those days it was cold in Korea. The coldest I have ever been was in Korea. The second time I was there I was at change jobs and I was now in the legal field so I was a legal specialist and I was assigned to a JAG office at uh headquarters company US Army Garrison in Camp Humphries we were in Pion Tek, Korea. As a legal specialist my main function was to process claims whenever a military person shipped their goods to Korea if they got damaged or lost they would file a claim the government would process the paperwork, Pay the claim and then go against the carrier for the damages so that is what I did I shared an office it was just me one man operation and I shared an office with a defense attorney and he was always gone because he was very good at his job and he would be requested all throughout Korea and the United States So he was on the go all the time doing court marshall. I was pretty much a loner in that job just me and the Kwasi hut. You know it worked out well I enjoyed the job.

Interviewer: How much were you getting paid

James: I don’t recall not a whole lot I can tell you when I joined the Military by the time they took the taxes out I was making about $77 a month. That paid for pretty much everything cuz you were in the military and everything was pretty much taken care of so once I was paid what they used to do was payday they paid you in cash you had to report for pay so on payday there was a long line of people ready to be paid, and you had to present your ID and they would verify you and then you would report for pay then they would pay you I cash, then once you got paid you would go down to the next table and they would tell you that you owe $10 for a haircut and then you would pay that then you would go to the next table and they’d tell you that you owe $10 for laundry and then you paid that then you would go to the next table and if you owed for anything, you would pay that and then when you finished everything leftover you would do whatever you want and stuff and so you get all your bills and get that taken care of and everything so

Interviewer: How are your relationships with other troops and foreign troops in Korea?

James: uh for me personally I got along with everybody, I am a people person and I uh sometimes do have a sense of humor and humor can bring people together uh uh so I had no problem with people uh in fact uh I met one of my best friends today I met while I was stationed in Korea and I really didn’t know him personally I knew him only because I saw him and we passed in the hallway ya know seeing each other and saying “what’s happening and how are you doing?” and stuff and it wasn’t until after I left Korea that I ran into him again and uh we came fast friends. Because we thought we remembered each other from Korea .. awe you was in Korea so

Interviewer: and uh while you were there, was Korea still recovering from the war? If so how? Physically were they still building ya know growing?

James:    From the place that around where I was uh ya know they look a little bit run down a little bit like the ghetto so I am going to assume that was the result of the war because a lot of time you take care of the bigger places first and you work your way down to taking care of the smaller villages or smaller cities uh the roads weren’t so great uh the actual the transportation the roads to get to let’s just say where I was to get to Seoul they seem like 30 or 40 miles away but took you like a couple of hours to get there by bus and everything. Uh so I don’t remember cuz I was a young person and I was just ya know enjoying life and having a good time so I don’t remember a lot of negative things, I remember some positive things about the people that I encountered they were nice, they were friendly and uh I still know a lot of Koreans today even from the church I attend uh so I uh know uh they are really great people and in fact my wife was Korean and uh I met her while I was stationed in Korea, I fell in love, I got married and uh we uh spent over 40 years together until she just recently passed away and stuff and so I still come to the church and still know pretty much everyone in the church and stuff and a bunch of people will be around and the thing I like about Korean people is that they are close-knit. I remember after I got married we moved around in the military, one of the first things I would do was I was always going to make sure my wife felt comfortable wherever we were assigned. As soon as I found a Korean somewhere I would say hey, me and my wife just got here she is Korean ok here is my telephone number have her call me and they would give me their telephone number and I would have my wife call them, and they’d get together and once you know one Korean, you know them all and stuff.. and so my wife has always had more friends than I did when I went places. A good thing about the Korean people

Interviewer: Uh what were the contributions made by the US Military in Korea post-1953? What was the military doing since there wasn’t an actual war going on, it was a cease-fire. What was the military doing?

James: uh they were working to maintain the peace and security of the country uh they had people stationed all over Korea for that primary purpose If the North Koreans want to start up the war again or anything like that there were standing by and ready to repeal that activity. That was the thing that must maintain the peace and security that they had achieved.

Interviewer: Did you, what were some of the most difficult, dangerous, rewarding and happiest memories that you recall on your stay?

James: Meeting my wife probably the best, uh you know meeting a lot of good people, meeting my best friend. Being able to experience I had been to Japan with the military and I was in Korea and I found Korea to be better than Japan in the people sense. You know they seemed to be more friendly. The Korean people seemed to be more friendly and stuff than the Japanese people. You can talk to them more and the Japanese were like stuck up compared to the Korean people stuff like that. Easy to talk to them, easy to get along with and always helpful and friendly and I enjoyed that. One of the things I did as a photographer we had a change of command ceremony, the commander of the second infantry division at the time was General Jeffrey Smith and he was getting ready to be reassigned back to the states and they had assigned a new general coming from the states to take over the second infantry division so what they wanted me to do as a photographer was to go to every uh camp in the second infantry division and photograph something significant to that camp. For example, if I went to this camp over here and it was primarily composed of infantry people then I would take some things that would symbolize infantry. If I went to another camp filled with artillery soldiers then I would take pictures that pertained to field artillery. And I did that to all the second infantry divisions and going up to the DMV and photographing things and the purpose of that was to brief the new general once he arrived in Korea by debriefing by showing him different places that were going to be under his command.

Interviewer: What was the impact of you being stationed in Korea and did it impact your life at all after you returned home? Besides the fact that you met your wife?

James: That was probably the biggest impact of all.

Interviewer: Is there anything that you learned or that you took with you from Korea or being surrounded by the Korean people maybe?

James: I’m sure I probably was impacted in more ways than I can think of at the time and stuff like that but what I really appreciate about the Korean people even today is their closeness and their values like all Koreans are friends to each other, that I have experienced and we need to have more of that in all people. Especially in my race of people, we need to be more of that family, friend feel like in relationships and stuff. So I learned that from meeting people and working with Korean people while I was stationed in Korea.

Interviewer: Have you been back to Korea?

James: I was stationed there twice and have not been back. My wife went back many times but I did not go with her or anything like that and she communicated with family by telephone. I met some of the family while I was stationed there but I haven’t been back. That was probably one of the things that we were gonna look at doing if she got better health wise.

Interviewer: So this is just kinda a question I have, In 2013 we witnessed the 60th anniversary of the armistice which was signed by China, North Korea, and the UN on July 7, 1953. There is no war in modern history that has lasted 60 years after an official cease-fire. What do you think we have to do to put a closure on it?

James: You know, I don’t know. To close it you have to put the country back together and not have a North and South just Korea. I don’t know how you could achieve that. North Korea is not going to say here you go and stuff and they are not going to negotiate so I don’t know. I don’t know what you could do. I wish I could answer that question.

Interviewer: Would you support a kind of movement to petition the end of war officially? Or maybe replace the armistice with a peace treaty?

James: That is a hard one. Uh because if you have North and South agreeing to things…you do your thing and I do my thing that probably would work out but you cannot trust North Korea. My understanding is the North wants to be unified so if South Korea was satisfied and said just give me a peace treaty we will let them live their life and we will live our life the North would not go forward with that. They would all be instigating doing things. So I would say so let the armistice continue until such time the country can be unified and in the end, you will have peace.

Interviewer: Do you think it is important for younger generations to understand what the Korean war was and that it is still going on today unofficially?

James: yes, one of the things um this is my understanding of the Korean War versus association. The Korean War is called the Forgotten War. It is the mission of the Korean war association to not let the people forget that. Many people died and sacrificed so you just can’t forget that. The Korean soldiers are dying out now so when they’re gone the memory of what they did will be gone. So what they have done is incorporate people like me who served in Korea but who didn’t serve in the Korean War so we can keep their story alive so that it won’t be forgotten. They do things to try to keep in the public eye so that it is not a forgotten war and should never by a forgotten war. They do things like a program called Tell America…where they go into schools and they tell about the Korean War and the things they did in the Korean War to the schools. They have received a lot of great response from that. So they must, it’s historical that all history must be repeated so people won’t forget and repeat.

Interviewer: Why do you think the Korean War in your opinion is known as the Forgotten War?

James: I really don’t know, I think people, First of all, we came out of WWII and people were tired and war-weary and not too long after that we entered the Korean War and because it wasn’t so much a win situation but the way it did North and South it’s easy to be placed under WWI and WWII. The main thing is why it’s forgotten is they never really called it a war. It was kinda like a police action. We do police action and stuff and so if you view the phrase over time and say it’s a police action and its actually not war then people gonna remember the war but not a police action. And people forget that when they talk about war sometime so that’s why I think it’s forgotten. But by being in the association I know those guys who in the air doing things, on the ship doing things and the ground doing things and I heard their stories. I mean it’s a story worth retelling.

Interviewer: Um earlier you mentioned something about the legacy of Korean War veterans during the Korean War. What do you think that legacy is?

James: Uh that the people who fought and died and the people who sacrificed would not be forgotten. I think that’s the legacy.

Interviewer: And uh do you think the Korean War veteran’s digital memorial that we are doing here interviewing veterans is important? I mean

James: Yes, it is very important because it serves to remind us of the war that we don’t want to be forgotten. It is a tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. And to those who fought and lived it’s a tribute to those who supported that. It is not always the guy on the ground or the guy flying in the air its all the support that the guys who are doing it. It is a tribute to all of those who had anything to do with the Korean War. Let me just say this about the Korean people they are truly thankful for what the Korean War veterans did to make their country a free country and the way it is. They express it all the time. They express it here in the church because they honor those veterans here every year. We have been to activities in Dallas where they reiterated how much they appreciate what the Korean War veterans have done for their country what it is today and stuff. When you hear those people say that you know they are saying it from the heart.

Interviewer: Is there anything else that you would like to share, maybe memories or messages or something to do with your occupation that you would like to have preserved?

James: uh the most important when I re-enlist in the military I was a young man and had no idea what he wanted to do with himself. I was contemplating on whether or not I should go to college or should I just get me a regular job. I had no way and my friends suggested the military so I enlisted in the military just to find myself. After being in the military that might be what you want to do or get an education but it instills patriotism in you. The fact that you want to serve your country and the result of the willingness that you may end up in a war or you may end up dead. I would like to think I am a true patriot because of the time I spent in the military. You don’t have to be in the military to be a patriot but it made his patriotism greater. All the other veterans should be thanking us.