John A. Fiermonte
John A. Fiermonte was born in Auburn, New York. He enlisted in the United States Air Force and served from December 1950 to 1958. While serving in Korea and was stationed at Yeongdeungpo from 1952 to 1954 as a member of the US Air Force 5th Division. During the war, John A. Fiermonte was a senior mechanic and performed all manner of transportation needs. This included transporting supplies and ammunition, vehicle recovery and civilian evacuation. He was awarded the United Nations Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the Bronze Star, and the Korean Presidential Citation for his service. After he returned to the United States, John A. Fiermonte was stationed at Carswell Air Base in Fort Worth, Texas. After being discharged from military service, John A. Fiermonte got married and went into the service station business.
Impressions of Korea
John A. Fiermonte describes how he felt upon arriving in Korea as a young man. He also describes seeing how the Korean people lived.
Traveling to Korea
John A. Fiermonte talks about his journey traveling to Korea via Japan. He explains the types of instruction they were given in Japan prior to arriving in Korea..
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
John Fiermonte: My name is John Anthony Fiermonte.
Male Voice: And how old are you John?
John Fiermonte: 80 years old.
Male Voice: What year were you born and what date were you born?
John Fiermonte: …oh 2/25/31. 1931.
Male Voice: And where do you live John?
John Fiermonte: I live at 38 Frances Street in Auburn, New York.
Male Voice: When did you enlist in the military? Or were you drafted?
John Fiermonte: I enlisted in December 1950 in Syracuse.
Male Voice: What branch did you join?
John Fiermonte: I joined the United States Air Force.
Male Voice: What was your specialty?
John Fiermonte: I was a senior automotive mechanic.
Male Voice: So you took care of all the vehicles, all trucks, all cars?
John Fiermonte: Anything that had wheels on it.
Male Voice: Did you go from destination to destination? Did you learn any basic training?
John Fiermonte: Yes, I went to basic training in San Antonio, Texas.
Male Voice: When did that occur?
John Fiermonte: That occurred when I enlisted.
Male Voice: In 1950?
John Fiermonte: 1950.
Male Voice: From there…How long were you in basic training?
John Fiermonte: about 6 months. Which really they pushed us too fast, but uh,
Male Voice: What did you do in basic training?
John Fiermonte: Uh, they taught me how to use a rifle, you know, I went through ground tactics, movements.
Male Voice: Did you go from destination to destination in basic training, or did you just stay in one place?
John Fiermonte: No, just one place. I had done guard duty, you know.
Male Voice: Did you have any additional training for mechanical work?
John Fiermonte: Not there, no…
Male Voice: You had known mechanical work already?
John Fiermonte: No, I learned it, by myself…
Male Voice: By yourself?
John Fiermonte: Oh yes, there was no technical training by the army to work on these vehicles, not at that time, no.
Male Voice: Ok. Are there any stories you would like to share with us before shipping out in Korea? You went to basic training in what state?
John Fiermonte: I went to Montgomery, Alabama. From basic training, they flew me to Maxwell Air Force Base, which is the air war college of the air force.
Male Voice: Where’s that?
John Fiermonte: That’s in Montgomery Alabama. I stayed there for three weeks and then they shipped me to a satellite station.
John Fiermonte: Which was 7 miles across town to a field called Gunter Air Force Base.
John Fiermont: There I was attached to a 38 61stair installation squadron, what I mean by that is, air installation has to deal with everything- fixing air, refrigeration, anything you’ve got, so they call that air installation squadron.
Male Voice: Ok so when you …
John Fiermonte: I was assigned as a yard master.
Male Voice: What’s a yardmaster?
John Fiermonte: A yardmaster takes care of all of the trucks, when they come back in. Make sure they are washed…I didn’t wash them..someone washed them. I seen that they were washed and cleaned…
John Fiermonte: And then the hoods go up… and all night the hoods stay up until inspection in the morning.
Male Voice: Oh I see, so you stayed at this yard, did you ever go to Korea?
John Fiermonte: Sure,
Male Voice: When did you do that?
John Fiermonte: I went to Korea in 1952.
Male Voice: So from 1950-1952 you were in the United States?
John Fiermonte: Right.
Male Voice: And in 1952 you were… how did you get there?
John Fiermonte: How did I get there?
John Fiermonte: Well, we went to California, on a ship, we went on up the coast to Seattle and picked up 1500 more troops.
John Fiermonte: And we went right on up to Japan. The total number of people on that ship was 5,000.
Male Voice: 5,000 troops, Wow!
John Fiermonte: And we got in the middle of the ocean, I would say it was day 14 because it takes 17 days to get there. We had the storm. It laid the ship on it’s side. We were stuck for a while.
Male Voice: Oh my God, the ship began to sink?
John Fiermonte: No because it was on its side.
John Fiermonte: It could have sunk, yes.
Male Voice: But what did they tell everyone to do? Go to the other side?
John Fiermonte: I don’t know what they told everyone to do. But eventually the storm subsided and we went on.
John Fiermonte: We were supposed to stop in Hawaii, but we never got there. We went right into Japan.
Male Voice: So you went to Japan and how long were you in Japan?
John Fiermonte: We landed in Japan, Yokohama Harbor in Japan which was nice scenery really. Beautiful mountains in Japan, from there we, you know, had a few classes.
John Fiermonte: Next thing I knew I was on a transport plane going to Korea.
Male Voice: Classes on what?
John Fiermonte: Oh you know, don’t monkey around with the people, with the girls and don’t do this and don’t do that. So instructions basically, warning instructions… they wanted to make sure you act like a man and don’t act like a dummy.
Male Voice: Before you shipped out of Japan?
John Fiermonte: Oh yeah. They told us all about the food in North Korea and South Korea. Don’t eat this, don’t eat that, don’t drink the water..
Male Voice: So you were in Japan how many days?
John Fiermonte: Two weeks
Male Voice: And how did you get from Japan to Korea?
John Fiermonte: They flew me to Kimpo Air Force Base, south east of Seoul.
Male Voice: So you went to Seoul.
John Fiermonte: Yes, it is not too far. It is about 14 miles from Seoul.
Male Voice: So what did you do when you got to Seoul?
John Fiermonte: They put me on a truck and they trucked me into Seoul to a village called Yungdung Po.
John Fiermonte: Their the tents were set up for my outfit.
Male Voice: And when you got there what was your job?
John Fiermonte: My job was to drive a wrecker, a 4 and a half ton wrecker.
Male Voice: What is a wrecker?
John Fiermonte: A wrecker is a vehicle that picks up cars and trucks that are disabled.
John Fiermonte: It was a 4 and a half ton Lord French wrecker. Which I had to have a special license to drive.
Male Voice: It was a pretty big vehicle?
John Fiermonte: Yes, it had air breaks and everything.
Male voice: So it had 10 wheels, 15 wheels?
John Fiermonte: I don’t remember the number of wheels it had on it, but it was a big vehicle.
John Fiermonte: I know the boom was 18 foot.
Male Voice: So it had the big tow truck kind of thing?
John Fiermonte: Yes, it was a tow truck. I used to pluck cars out of the reservoirs because the streets were short. The streets are not wide in North Korea and South Korea. They are narrow. A lot of guys went off in the ditches.
Male Voice: Did they get hurt?
John Fiermonte: Oh yeah, a lot of them got killed that way too. I used to pluck them out of the reservoir, bring them in.
Male Voice: What reservoir was it?
John Fiermonte: I can’t remember, I think it was Chosin Reservoir. It was way up north.
Male Voice: So you were up at the Chosin Reservoir, a famous…..
John Fiermonte: Well yeah, our outfit was all over South Korea and North Korea.
Male Voice: So you were basically at Chosin Reservior where you would….
John Fiermonte: And most of this was done at night, no daylight.
Male Voice: You would pick them up at night.
Male Voice: What were your impressions when you got to Korea? What you first saw, what was it like?
John Fiermonte: I was sick, I cried.
Male Voice: Why did you cry?
John Fiermonte: I don’t know. I was wondering what am I doing here.
John Fiermonte: What was I doing this for? This is crazy. All I seen was mountains and wind and dust and everybody running here and there and everywhere like maniacs.
Male Voice: And how old were you then?
John Fiermonte: I was 19.
Male Voice: So you were 19?
John Fiermonte: 19 and I sat down and cried.
Male Voice: As soon as you got there? Because you could not believe you were there?
John Fiermonte: I said what the heck am I doing here? This is crazy. There was nothing but mountains here. What are we fighting for? Then I realized these people in North Korea are crazy people….laugh. They want to take over South Korea, so….
Male voice: What were your impressions of what you saw? When you saw the mountains, did you see villages? Did you see vegetation? What did you see?
John Fiermonte: The villages were mostly all shacks. I mean there was no houses and there was no living quarters. People were outside in caves cooking, you know. And the houses were nothing but boards put together and just one mess.
Male voice: You felt sad for them?
John Fiermonte: Yes I felt sorry for them because they had no food.
Male voice: No food?
John Fiermonte: They had nothing.
John Fiermonte: If It wasn’t for the United States they would have all died of starvation.
Male Voice: Did you see fighting, John?
John Fiermonte: I didn’t actually see combat, no, but we were ten miles away from the front lines and I could hear them. Guns going off.
Male Voice: Did you see any men come back wounded?
John Fiermonte: No, I didn’t see that. I’ve seen one truck backing up in the ammunition dropping a …..
It blew up the whole ammunition dump.
Male Voice: Did anyone get killed?
John Fiermonte: One got killed and one lost his hearing.
Male Voice: In the yard?
John Fiermonte: In the yard, yes.
John Fiermonte: It happens because when they back of the truck, the South Koreans they had working there,
they guide the truck in and forgot that the shovels were there on the ground and drove right over the ammunition dump and blew it up.
Male Voice: Did you get to meet any of the allies there, Turkish, South Korean soldiers? You talked about the one South Korean backing up the truck, Did you see any other allies, Canadians, English, Turks?
John Fiermonte: No, I never seen anybody?
Male Voice: And did you hear anything about the allies and how they participated or helped out?
No, all I heard about is what our Army was doing, like the east army, you know they were building bridges. They were doing this. We were trying to rebuild bridges so that we can get supplies.
Male voice: Were the bridge parts on your yard? Did they put them on the trucks that you were in charge of?
Male Voice: Did they bring the bridge parts from somewhere else?
John Fiermonte: We, no, the bridge parts, they came to us, they came by ship. and like I said ..they ….we had satellite places all over Korea. I mean….Not just my outfit, but all over South Korea.
Male Voice: So your men would take the bridge parts on your trucks that you would maintain?
John Fiermonte: In other words, I was awarded the presidential citation but actually I did not participate in that bridge, you understand what I’m saying? but my outfit did.
Male voice: So everybody got the presidential citation. When were you discharged from the military?
John Fiermonte: I got discharged in 1954.
Male voice: Do you have any paperwork on being discharged?
John Fiermonte: Yes, I have one right here.
Male Voice: Can you hold it up for the camera? What is that?
John Fiermonte: This is a 201 file.
Male Voice: What is a 201 file?
John Fiermonte: It is a file about everything I did in the service, my job.
Male Voice: Can you read a few things from it?
John Fiermonte: First of all, my name is on the top of it.
My serial number is on the top of it, my MOS, which is my job, was a 47151.
John Fiermonte: Which means that I am a senior automotive mechanic and It goes to say that I am a senior mechanic. On the 21stday of October in 1953 I was released from active military duty. Because I was released….was because they, the United States budget for the Air Force was going bad.
John Fiermonte: So they released a lot of us. They released me in 1953. And then put me in the reserve. Air Force Reserve. They called it active reserve because anytime they wanted me they could send a letter and it said I had to go.
John Fiermonte: All total I had 2 years, let’s see, I had 2 years and ten months and 1 day of active service.
Male Voice: In Korea?
John Fiermonte: Yes, in the service and the paper said I had gone in the reserve
which they gave me 7 years, 10 months and 1 day. Total. 7 years.
In other words if I had re- enlisted they would have given me the 7 years 10 months credit. Or If I had gotten a federal job, I could have gotten…
Male voice: And what year were you discharged?
John Fiermonte: I was discharged in 1958.
Male Voice: 1958?
John Fiermonte: That’s when my papers came through.
John Fiermonte: It says right here, 1958. (John is looking at his discharge papers)
Male voice: John, when you returned to America from Korea. Was their any impact that you remember about your service there? How people respected you, disrespected you? What do you think the people thought about you being there?
John Fiermonte: They were glad to see us, they were sad when we left.
Male voice: The South Koreans or the Americans?
John Fiermonte: They were sad because we were leaving, but then again on the other hand, they kept sending troops in to replace us. But they took their blessed time about it, because they were in no rush. They were well protected pretty good…
Male Voice: Did the American people have any animosity about you going to Korea? We had just gotten out of WW2.
John Fiermonte: No I know that, no because um…I think they called it police activity…No I think American people, they just like to see you help other people. We are noted for that anyway.
Male voice: So when you returned, was their anybody saying anything to you at the shop, when you were home about you were there, what did you do there?
John Fiermonte: Oh yes, they asked me, you know. Of course my mother was glad to see me.
Male Voice: Did you return to any familiar things that, did you take time off, did you return to work?
John Fiermonte: I couldn’t find a job, really, I’d take anything at that time. I took a job at Columbian rope. It was a factory at that time. I couldn’t stand it there.
Male Voice: You went from the military to a factory.
John Fiermonte: Yes, I didn’t want to. I could have collected checks, but you know..
Male voice: How long did you work at the rope factory?
John Fiermonte: About a year.
Male voice: And what happened then?
John Fiermonte: I left there and 1955 I got married.
Male voice: So you were married before you got discharged?
John Fiermonte: No I was married after discharge?
Male voice: What year did you get married?
John Fiermonte: 55
Male voice: What year did you get discharged?
John Fiermonte: 58
Male voice: But your official discharge papers say you were discharged in..
John Fiermonte: 58, I worked in the laundry, I used to deliver laundry in the laundry truck.
Male voice: But you were still in the active reserves.
John Fiermonte: Right and the job didn’t pay nothing.. I’d get paid $50 a week if I was lucky.
John Fiermonte: I said jeez I gotta do something. So anyway my wife and I, she had the first child and…
Male Voice: And what’s her name?
John Fiermonte: My wife’s name is Helen.
Male voice: And you had your first child in what year?
John Fiermonte: 56. And um, the child was born premature, but she fed that baby right through and the girl today is 55 years old and real healthy,
but anyway. .She bornt six children, two boys and a girl. And stopped at that I guess.
Male voice: Do you hold any animosity towards the opposition- Russians, the North Koreans?
John Fiermonte: Naw, I don’t really, I just can’t understand what the hell they wanted, you know. Like North Korea- why you gotta bother South Korea? Why don’t they just mind their own business?
John Fiermonte: If they want rice, let them grow it. The Southern Koreans don’t bother them why they gotta bother South Korea?
Male Voice: You know it’s been 60 years since you have been in the army, do you ever think about Korea and what happened over there every now and then?
John Fiermonte: I’d like to see what it looks like. They tell me it looks beautiful.
Male voice: You’d like to go back.
John Fiermonte: I think so. I don’t know if my wife would let me or not.
Male voice: Why don’t you go together?
John Fiermonte: I don’t know if she would like that or not. I can’t even get her to move to …. let along go to South Korea. (Both laugh)
Male voice: What would you do, if you were young today? And another war started out similar to Korea. Or we were going to protect some county? What would you do?
John Fiermonte: I don’t know. I would probably tell them to take me in and I would enlist.
Male voice: You would enlist?
John Fiermonte: I would enlist if they take me. They ain’t going to take me. I’m 80.
Male voice: But if you were young then?
John Fiermonte: If I were young I would go.
Male voice: Just like you did before?
John Fiermonte: I have no fear, I lost that a long time ago.
Male voice: What do you mean, you lost your fear?
John Fiermonte: I lost my fear. I went to work for the Sheriff department, the custody department. My first week out I said, ”what am I doing here.” These people are nuts. Really they were crazy. I get used to it you know.
John Fiermonte: There were some toughies in their you know.
Male Voice: In where?
John Fiermonte: In the county jail. I was a sergeant in the second shift. I only had three men and one female working for me. Today they have over 100 odd people working there. Doing the same job I did.
Male voice: Is there any message you would like to give to the future generations, um… who will be listening to this interview today, about the war or anything?
John Fiermonte: I’d tell them to join the army, join the air force, join the navy, join the Marines, join anything you want to get there. There’s no better place to be than in the service. Believe me.
Male voice: Why’s that?
John Fiermonte: You can get all the education you want in the service. You can get free insurance, you got medical, free insurance, life benefits. You get all the meals. They even pay for your apartment, if you are married. They pay you for your vacation. Where can you go and get a job like that? No place..
Male voice: What can you say about the legacy of the Korean War veterans? We hear about heroism in World War 1, heroism in WW2, Civil War. We don’t hear much about the Korean War veterans. What can you say about the legacy of the Korean War veterans you knew and yourself? What can you say about those soldiers?
John Fiermonte: Well they done the best they can. You know being there in the front lines. They done the best they can.
Male voice: Against all odds?
John Fiermonte: Against all odds, sure.
Male voice: I heard that the equipment was not as good as it could have been.
John Fiermonte: Naw, carbine was worthless to me.
Male voice: Why is that?
John Fiermonte: I think it was an obsolete gun myself.
Male voice: What about the armament? Was the armament old? Or?
John Fiermonte: Some of it, yeah. They used a lot of the World War 2, you know.
Male voice: What about the truck? The trucks that you worked on were they modern?
John Fiermonte: No, they were not the best in the world, but
Male voice: You had old technology?
John Fiermonte: Yeah, they were kinda old, but we repaired them.
Male voice: So you were able to repair them pretty good with the knowledge you had?
John Fiermonte: Oh yeah, if we needed parts, we used to have a couple of people fly all over for parts.
Male voice: Fly over, what do you mean?
John Fiermonte: Fly over to Japan.
Male voice: to get the parts you needed.
Male voice: Now you have brought a lot of photographs, a lot of history, other papers, Why are they important to you?
John Fiermonte: It just reminds me why I was in the service and all. I don’t know, I even had the map of South Korea and North Korea.
Male voice: You have that with you today?
John Fiermonte: Yes,
Male voice: Did you show it to anyone today?
John Fiermonte: Yes, I showed it to him in there.
Male voice: Is they anything else you want to say, to people, to kids in the future about your time there, family, anything?
John Fiermonte: War is a bad thing. I don’t wish we get another war, but there’s going to be another war some place. So you might as well be prepared.
Male voice: We hear about this term, The Forgotten War and we hear about this term police action. What do you think about police action?
John Fiermonte: I don’t like that.
John Fiermonte: I don’t like that at all because the term police action.. those men on the front lines did more than what a policeman does. They were shot at. Period.
Male voice: So the word Forgotten War should not be used?
John Fiermonte: And not only that, they were in conditions that were 60 below zero.
That’s not too good to fight in. You know that. You are in the snow, they froze their feet. A lot of them died.
Male voice: How can we tell people about the Korean war and tell them not to forget it? How can we do that?
John Fiermonte: Well I think one way of doing it is to get a better army, get more men in the service. And start building
a bigger and better army. And then we will be prepared for good. You know. Like we did with those guys that bombed the towers, you know.
Male voice: What do you mean?
John Feirmonte: Well if we were more alert now, after bombing the towers in New York City, you see what we’ve done. We started to build up so we can fight against them.
Male voice: This project will probably be televised some day, what would you like to say to the people?
John Fiermonte: There not much I can say, except God bless us.
Male voice: God bless us. You did what you had to do..
John Fiermonte: That’s right, you know. I was proud to be in the service.
John Fiermonte: I liked the service really, I think it’s beneficial to a lot of kids. Instead of taking drugs, being on the street corners, and starting fights, stabbing people. You might need to join the army. It might make a man out of you. If it doesn’t, then somethings wrong with you.
Male voice: Well thanks John. It was a wonderful interview. I am so glad you came.
[End of Recorded Material]