John Sehejong Ha
John Sehe Jong Ha was born in Seoul, Korea and he was living in Pusan, Korea, as a refugee from Seoul before enlisting in Pusan, Korea. His military service as Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA) was carried out from 1951. During his service period, he was stationed at Pusan, Korea and he served in the US Military, 8th Army Signal Corps. He was an official interpreter between the 8th Army Signal Corps and Korean Military Units. Although his experience involved no actual combat, he witnessed the aftermath of the combat.
"We were Fooled"
John Sehejong Ha describes listening to the Seoul radio station to get information about WW II. He shares how the Korean President Syngman Rhee told the people we were winning the war on the station. He explains how he soon realized "we were fooled. He shares how he found out it was not true not only by word of mouth but also how he saw the Korean refugees fleeing from the North passed his house.
The Luxury of Food
John Sehejong Ha describes obtaining food during wartime. He shares how he had the responsibility to get food and market. He explains that they could buy food but it wasn't much. He explains how eating more than once a day was a luxury. He shares how he is not sure how they managed but thankfully they were able to survive.
John Sehejong Ha describes being at Douglas MacArthur entering South Korea. He describes being in attendance for the Seoul recapture. He shares a memory of seeing S. Koreans who had been forced to collaborate with North Korea's army. He shares how he witness the first group of US Marines enter South Korea.
John Sehejong Ha explains the role of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA). He shares his duties as a translator. He explains how he was often escorted by military police (MPs) all around Korea to translate as needed. He shares how he went to the field hospitals to translate for US medical staff aiding South Korean soldiers. He shares all the places he visited doing his translator duties. He shares the destruction he saw as well.
[Beginning of recorded material]
J: I’m called, uh, John. That’s my, uh, first name.
I: Um hm.
J: Korean name is Sehejong.
I: Um hm.
I: Uh huh.
J: And the last name, it’s family name, is H-A.
I: Um hm.
J: So if you laugh two times, you’ll never forget my name, Haha. Indians called me, uh, Miniha.
I: Uh huh.
J: So that’s what it is.
I: You are Korean.
J: Yes, yes. I was born in Korea.
I: Ah. When ?
I: When, when and where and could you tell me about your childhood?
J: I was born in Seoul, uh, on February 12, 1934 and
I: Nineteen thirty
J: Thirty-four, nineteen hundred and thirty-four, February 12th, February 12 is, uh, Lincoln’s birthday.
I: Ah. So you share a birthday with Lincoln.
J: Well I, uh, I wish I were Lincoln, the famous President.
J: But anyway,
I was born in Seoul and, uh, Candidate school, Primary school kindergarten and a primary school in
I: What primary school did you
J: Yes. That’s, uh, located in Halbok, [INAUDIBLE] That’s the, uh, village of [INAUDIBLE] uh.
I: I myself graduate of [Tongsong] High School.
J: [Tongsong] High School. It
I: Right around the [INAUDIBLE]
J: traffic circle.
I: Yes sir.
[INAUDIBLE] oh yes, yes. That’s where and, also I went to, uh, Pusan, uh, Junior High as well as a Senior High School.
I: Very good school I know.
J: Thank you. And, uh, then I went to, uh, uh, [INAUDIBLE] University.
J: And I studied Political Science. And, uh, that was way back in 1900, early 1900’s,
So, uh, that’s my background.
I: So how old were you when the Korean War broke out?
J: When the War broke out, I as just turning to, uh, 17 years old.
I: Um hm.
J: And American age is one year less.
J: So it’s 16.
I: Uh huh.
J: And, uh, uh, June the 25th which was Sunday
I: Um hm
J: and all
I: Nineteen fifty.
J: Yes, 1950.
And, uh, I didn’t know, I did not know what the War was like, and I heard about it, uh, through the textbooks in, in nature. And also, I had, uh, uh, little experience during the Second World War, too. I was young, uh. I knew something was going on, but I didn’t know exactly what, uh, what the War was.
But I was told that, uh, once you go to the Armed Service, Armed Forces and, uh, uh, Navy, Air Force and so forth, you’re gonna get killed. That’s what I was told about through the radio. That time in Seoul, I understand only one radio station, Seoul, uh, radio station and through which, uh, for instance Syngman Li came on
and he announced that, uh, War is on and, uh, and North Koreans had invaded South Korea. However, uh, our Korean, uh, troops were advancing, were advancing, uh, toward North, and we are winning.
I: That’s what you heard?
J: Yes. Yes. Yeah, uh, many, many times it came on and, uh, so I guess, uh, we were fooled.
But we believed in him because he was our President, and he was announcing that we were, um, and our troops went there, I think, went. And, but, uh, later people were talking about War, it’s not actually, uh, we are losing the battle and, uh, we saw so m any refugees coming down from
the northern part of, uh, I think Korea. So we knew, uh, we were losing the battle. And that was on t he 26th and 27thin the morning, early in the morning of the 27th, uh. By the way, uh,, our house was located right by, right by the, uh, main traffic, uh, which was leading from the north, uh, [Haywon, Haywon Circle]
I: Um hm.
J: to, uh, [Chinhamwon]
I: Um hm, um hm.
J: And our house is located, uh, on the right hand side.
I: Close to Sungkykunkwan University.
J: Uh, in between, uh, the traffic circle
J: and the Sungkykunkwan University.
I: Yeah, right. And we heard a lot of commotion early in the morning and, uh, we heard some tank, noise of tanks.
J: And some motorcycle, uh,
you know, thundering outside of a, motorcycle. So we didn’t know exactly what was going on. And that point in our household, uh, my, our grandfather and grandmother and my mother, uh, myself and, uh, my younger sister and a few other people were there. And my grandfather said, uh, let’s take a look
what’s going on outside. So we were still big enough to open the window to look outside over the, uh, over the fence. And rather it’s old, wall, uh. It’s a wooden wall. And all of a sudden, uh, we saw the rows of
motorcycle with a, uh, machine guns right on the side of, uh, motorcycles, uh, German made.
I: Um hm.
J: Later on which I found out. It’s a two-man bike.
I: Um h m.
J: The driver and, uh, a gunnery right on the side of the motor bike. And we saw the tanks come in, coming in.
And, uh, I would say about five or six tanks passed by, and all of a sudden, uh, there was sparkling gun shot. And the first thing I knew, I was on the ground. And about 10, 15 minutes later, I, I woke up and I as bloody, uh, on my, uh, back here
J: my, uh, neck.
And my grandfather was, uh, hit by a sniper, you know, all kinds of, uh, I don’t know what hit him. And my grandma was, uh, hit by a bullet. It went through her forehead, and she died on, uh, later on, uh, because of that wound. Uh,
I: So they actually targeted you.
J: Uh, they didn’t know who we were. We were just opening up. Uh, we, uh, did open t he window and looked outside. So they feared we might be
I: So they saw you.
J: They saw us. So, uh, they just, they shot, they shot at us. And, uh, fortunately, uh, no one killed at that time. But my, uh, grandmother died of, uh, once later on. And that was my first experience, uh,
of a war. And then my grandfather’s, grandfather says, uh, well, uh, I think you guys should run for your life. You guys gonna stay here, uh. You may get killed. So my mother and myself and my younger sister, u h, all of the people
were staying home. They said, uh, you just, the three of you take off and, uh, go somewhere and see where you can live. So that very morning, uh,
I: That’s the 27th?
J: Yes, 27th. Uh, we started to run from the house
I: Who? You and
J: My mother, myself and my younger sister.
J: She’s, uh, three years younger than I am.
Uh, we ran toward, uh, [Tukson]. That’s uh, uh, east side of uh,
I: Hahn River.
J: Hahn River. And it took us, uh, two days to walk from [Hawadong]
I: To [Tukson]?
J: To [Tukson].
I: Why does it, did it take so long?
J: Well, because there was some fighting in the city, uh, city fights, okay, between the, um,
uh, North Koreans and the South Korean, uh, troops. It was skilled fighting and not, uh,
I: Not total, yeah.
J: Yes. So we had to, uh, go, uh, the alleys behind the city, okay, where we can, where we’ll find all this. So
I: Were you able to eat?
J: Uh, not too much, uh . We, we couldn’t find anything to eat that time.
I: So what did you eat?
J: Uh, we just, uh, run. You know, we
I: You didn’t eat [arrow]?
J: No. Nothing at all.
I: For two days.
J: Until, yes. Until we hit, uh, [Tukson] area. And we saw tomato, uh, field, and also cabbage and what have you. And there were thousands and thousands of refugees, uh, getting at the food. So it
was kind of a, a, either you die or
I: It’s survival of the fittest.
J: Survival of, uh, uh, your life. Anyway, uh, amongst the refugees, uh, tons of refugees. You can’t even count, and children and old and young and women, you name it.
And there were hundreds, hundreds of, uh, defeated, uh, South Korean Army. And they were all wounded. Uh, most of them were wounded. And, uh, they were coming down to escape from the North Koreans, okay. Uh, we get, thousands of thousands of people coming down to, toward the Hahn River
to cross the Hahn River. But it, there wasn’t any boats or anything to, uh, ride on, to, uh, go across except it’s called [thenmo] uh, which means in English translation, it’s a wooden, uh, wood-based, uh, kind of a
I: Simple carrier.
J: Yeah, a carrier. And, uh,
the Army that time, I think it was the Army, uh, personnel, they directed, uh, the, uh, old men and the young children to get on, uh, that [thenmo], uh, first, uh. to go across. A lot of them, uh, swam through, uh,
swam across, uh, the River, uh. It was, the current was very, uh, hard, uh, you know, to, uh, swim across, uh, Hahn River that’s
I: Um hm.
J: kind of a, I don’t know how many yards. But it’s quite a bit of a distance, you know. But anyway, uh, I got on, uh, uh, the [thenmo] and, along with my sister and my mother, and
I: You were lucky.
J: Yes, we were
one of the lucky, uh, luckiest people.
I: I assume that there are not many [thenmo] up there.
J: No. Only a few, few, uh, around. But, uh, somehow we managed to get, get on it. And it was too heavy to go across. So the soldiers said, uh, whoever able to, uh, swim, uh, why don’t you guys tie up your body
with a rope and, uh, some can push it from behind. Some can swim up front so that we can go across. And, uh, I knew it would have saved me, so I just got, got off it and I pushed it, pushed it and, uh, finally, uh, we managed to, uh, go across. Uh, right now, the place is called, uh, uh, [INAUDIBLE]
J: That’s one of the temples of, uh, South Korea.
I: Yeah, yeah.
J: that are in Seoul. And we got there. Somehow we managed to, uh, you know, at that time it wasn’t, uh, the roads weren’t there. It’s all mountain and, uh, rice paddies and, uh, what have you. And as soon as we got there, uh, the monks, uh, had received
us, and they said, uh, you guys cannot stay here because this place is already occupied by the North Korean troops.
J: So you must go back, and we turned around, and we had to come back to Seoul and, uh, stayed in Seoul until, uh, September the 27th,
September, yeah, September the 27th of 19 hundred and 50.
I: What happened on, on that day?
J: During, during three month period, uh, between June 25, uh, June, uh
J: And September the 27th, uh, partially we, our family was in Seoul, staying at our house,
uh, hiding, uh, most times because the North Koreans were fighters, uh, and in our village, uh, came around to look for the able young persons to, uh, to have them go to, uh, fight against the, uh, South Koreans, Korean [Turks].
So partially we were hiding and partially, uh, we could hide from them, uh, because just about every day, they’d summon us, summon us to, uh, to witness the, what they called People’s Court
I: Um hm.
J: Uh, it’s called, in Korean, uh, [Inminjipa],
And if you don’t go out to watch or witness People’s Court, uh, you may be, uh, regarded as a non-sympathizer.
J: to, uh, North. And you may be prosecuted. And so we had to, uh, by force, uh, to go out and witness. And I saw a
few, uh, executions, of innocent, uh, village people.
I: On the spot.
J: Right at the, right on the spot, you know. They, what they called it, they said, uh, well, you are the judge. So pick whoever are there, they are the judge.
I: Um hm.
J: And, uh, the North Korean, uh, troops, uh, and, um, uh, sympathizers were
judges and prosecutors, okay. So whenever they said, uh, we have to kill this guy everybody had to applaud. Yea, yea. And I feel that, uh, that still, nowadays I feel guilty because number one, I watched innocent people die and second, uh,
I was part of, uh, a witnessing group saying yea. Uh, although I wasn’t agreeing with them totally. But otherwise, you’re gonna get killed.
I: Um hm.
J: So, in that sense, I feel, uh, very guilty, uh, of, uh,
saying, you know, I agree with them to kill, uh, innocent people, you know. And it was the, uh, not so much in our, uh, village, but it went on all over the place.
It gives me such a chill.
I: Must be. How did you able to eat, were you able to buy stuff?
J: Uh, yes. Uh, we had to buy, uh, groceries, uh, from a local, uh, market.
I: So they were still selling and buying stuff.
J: Yes, yes. There were, uh, some food around. But, uh, you know. Groceries around.
But, uh, it was my part of, responsibility where it’s my mother and other family members go out and get some stuff for us to eat.
I: Um hm.
J: So I don’t know exactly how they managed it. But we survived, uh, not much food actually, you know. Whatever we could get hold of.
We just barely survived and maybe once a day, uh, twice a day. If we’d eat twice a day, it’s a lot, you know. But that, that’s the kind of ordeal that we went through.
J: And that lasted about three months and, uh, during that time, uh, my mother and, I couldn’t stay in Seoul because, uh, I was afraid of
being drafted or, uh, being forced to go to, uh, to war.
I: Um hm.
J: So we went to Uijeongbu, uh, one of the temples where, uh, we knew monks. So finally we made it there, uh. It took us about a good four days to walk from Seoul to there.
And as soon as we got there
I: All of your family?
I: All of your family?
J: No, only three of us. My, uh, sister, myself and my mom. And also they said, uh, you cannot stay here because if you wanna stay here, you have to be registered. And once you’re registered, you’re gonna be investigate, and the chances are you’re gonna get killed. So that’s why we had to, uh, come back, uh,
to Seoul. And somehow, three months has gone by, uh, through all kinds of ordeals we went through. And finally, uh, General Douglas MacArthur, uh, came in, uh, at the Inchon Landing on September 15.
I: Um hm.
J: Uh, he liberated us.
J: At Seoul.
I: September 27.
J: Uh, yes, September 27. And I was there in Seoul to witness, uh, the first Marines of the U.S., and also the Korean troops came in to, uh, uh, to, to retake Seoul.
J: And the final city battle took place at, uh, Heywa Traffic Circle.
I: Uh huh.
J: There were, I would say, more than 70, between, if my memory serves me correctly, I think there were between 70 and 100, uh,
troops were all tied, uh, their arms and legs, you know, little, several ropes.
I: North Koreans?
J: Altogether. With the, uh, North Korean, uh, uniform on. But later on, we found out they are not all the North Korean troops. They were part of, uh, the South Koreans who were going [INAUDIBLE]
I: Uh huh. Collaborating with North Korean soldiers.
J: You know. And , uh, forcefully, uh, they were served, they served as, uh, North Korean troops. And North Koreans, uh, left them there
J: by tying the legs and arms and what have you, and left them with, uh, some kind of ammunitions and what have you.
J: They were the last one to, uh, uh, fight against, uh, First Marine Corps coming into uh, uh, retake Seoul, okay.
I: I see. So that North Korean soldier and those collaborated, collaborator first by the North Korean Army were tied so that they cannot move around but just fight against the
J: The could not, they could not, they were away from, they could not get away from the [INAUDIBLE], okay?
J: So it was like a human, uh, waste.
J: Uh, Papasan, okay.
I: That’s defense
J: They can use him as a buffer zone. And they were all killed. And also, uh, when they were, uh,
going back to uh, uh, north, uh, they, I saw them carry the bamboo sticks. They didn’t have enough guns, and a lot of them, a lot of them were wounded soldiers, too, you know. But, uh, anyway, uh,
that was the last battle of [INAUDIBLE] I saw. But before, that was like, uh, I would say at 5:00 in the morning.
I: Oh. September
J: September 27th.
J: Okay. And, uh, I think it was around 3:00, yeah. I would say 4:00, 5:00, somewhere around there.
I couldn’t tell it exactly, uh, what time it was. But, uh, we saw [INAUDIBLE] gunfights, no ace. And finally they stopped. And that was the last gun, uh, fight, uh, took place in Seoul, uh, uh, as I just said. And
I guess about half an hour later, we hear, we heard a lot of commotion saying, [Amunsay dow] which means hooray.
I: Um hm.
J: Everybody come out. Everybody should come out, and people were yelling outside like crazy. So my grandfather says well, Americans are here.
So let’s go out. And that first, uh, uh, silence by, uh, North Korean troops were fooling us so that people would come back, come out to the street, and they gonna shoot them down, okay. And so we,
luckily we didn’t go out to see what’s going on.
I: So then there were North Korean soldiers still remaining there?
J: Yes, some remained
I; on September 27 morning?
J: Yes. Yes. And they were hiding, uh, in, uh, I guess, uh, in all the houses
I: Um hm.
J: they were, you know. And around 6:00
somewhere around there, all of the noise was going on like crazy, saying well [Munsa, Munsa] come out, and there was the, uh, South Korean, uh, troops were saying please come out to greet us, you know. Uh, but night before, 10:00, I remember distinctively, uh, all our family was, uh, staying in one room.
My mother said that we shouldn’t sleep in different rooms. We should gather in one room so that, uh, we’ll be safe. And somebody was knocking down the front gate, bam, bam, bam.
They kick it and kick it. And finally they broke down, uh, the gate. And we heard footsteps throughout the house, you know, they have the, uh, Korean houses are set up. It’s ground, uh, courtyard and all that, right? So we hear, uh, some footsteps, uh, through the courtyard, and somebody says you check this room.
You check that room. You check this room. And luckily our room wasn’t checked.
I: So your mom was really, really right.
J: Our room was not checked. Only room, you know. And we survived.
It’s very hard to, uh, uh, tell you all this kind of stories because it reminds me of such a pain and agony I went through, uh. And you cannot describe it. It’s, it, now it’s 60 years, 60 some years later I can say it in front of you. But, uh,
I’m still afraid of a night sometimes just because since you went to, uh, school in, uh, [INAUDIBLE], [Tongshun] High School, I guess you, you know the Seoul National University Medical Center, uh.
I saw literally hundreds and hundreds of bodies stacked up in the morgue at, uh, Seoul National University’s, uh, medical, uh, center. Right around [INAUDIBLE] That’s called [INAUDIBLEL] That’s the outer
I: Um hm, um hm.
J: And they were all covered by a few little coal, you know.
I: Um hm.
J: And, uh, one day the rain, the rain was coming down like crazy, uh, severe storm weather. And so what happened, so happened, uh, uh, our family and other friends were passing by that
particularly there, and we saw bodies all washed and, uh, they surfaced.
I: Surfaced from where?
J: From, uh, from the coal, you know, till the coal was all washed up.
I: Oh, okay.
J: See? It was covered by, covered with
J: [INAUDIJBLE] coal,
and because of, uh, severe
I: Rain, right.
J: storm and rain and what have you, still washing down. So bodies were, uh, exposed. And that memory stays with me until today. And, uh, whenever I close my eyes, I can’t close my eyes. And also,
uh, they excuse you and so many troops, uh, South Korean troops during that time, were killed, uh , right on the, uh, trucks, right on the, uh, Jeep, right on the street, all over the place. And they were just slaughtered by the North Koreans.
That was before I went down to, uh, at Pusan, uh, after, uh, January 4 of, uh, 1951.
I: Um hm.
J: At that time, the Chinese troops, almost 180,000 Chinese troops came down on the, uh, American troops, uh, you know.
So we had to retreat to, to go South. …by walk, by walking and, uh, by, uh, ride on some trucks if you’re lucky, uh, you know. Trucks were not going all the way down to, uh, Pusan, right.
J: Goes from one point to another point. So in between, if you’re lucky, uh, you get, you get a ride.
I: Many people in the street?
J: Ah, it, it, it’s not many.
It’s uh, literally speaking, hundreds, thousands of people, I mean, it’s a mountain, mountain of people coming down.
I: Was it through the road or is it through the mountains?
J: It was through the roads. It, uh , speaking of roads, it’s not even a road. It’s, it’s a, a dirt field, uh, dirt road.
And the mountains, through the rice paddies, uh, you name it , you know. I’d say that. Tons of, tons of, uh, refugees coming down, uh, trying to escape from the North Koreans. Again, you know. Everybody they invades, okay.
I: Were you able to eat?
J: At that time, yes. Uh, we had to, uh, we managed to, uh, uh, get some food [INAUDIBLE], you know.
Uh, somehow, uh, whenever, uh, we stopped by the villages, uh, we managed to eat, yes. So that was my, uh, uh, younger days experience, uh, beginning 1950 and the first part of / 51.
I: Hm. But when did you join Katusa?
J: Oh, uh, in May of, uh, uh, 1951.
I: Where? Could you tell me about that, Pusan?
J: Yes, yes. I, uh, I joined the, uh, I volunteered for it, the, I didn’t know whether I was a Katusa at that time. I never heard of it, you know. But as a student, uh, a student fighter.
Either you’re gonna be drafted or you’re gonna have to join. So I volunteered to, uh, join. And, uh, uh, before I go to, uh, I went to the, uh, training camp, uh. I was assigned to, uh, u h, they asked me, they tested me, uh, the language, uh, skills. And at that time, I was, uh,
second grade in high school. Uh, I knew some, uh, English language, uh. But I wasn’t fluent in it. But, uh, they tested me and they said well, you can translate enough. So, uh, we will assign you to, uh, the 8th Army Signal Corps.
I: Uh, Army Signal Corps?
J: Yes. The U.S. A. Signal Corps.
I: Um hm.
J: So I was, uh, uh, commissioned as a,
as an official, uh, interpreter for the 8th Army Signal Corps in Pusan.
I: Um hm.
J: And from May to, uh, May 1951 through October of, uh, 1953.
I: So you served as a Katusa, and throughout that period, you were in Pusan?
J: Uh, yes. It’s, uh, part of Katusa. It’s a student, um, a fighting unit, you know.
So later on, I found out it belongs to Katusa. I didn’t know that at the time.
I: Could you explain what Katusa means, spell out that acronym for the general audience?
J: A Korean Augment, uh, to U.S. Army.
I: Um hm.
J: Which means a Koreanized, uh, Army deployed from Korean Army to, uh, U.S. troops
I: Um hm.
J: To help fighting.
I: So what did you do in Pusan?
J: In Pusan, uh,
I: as a Katusa?
J: Oh. I was
I: What was your job?
J: … gonna go as a translator
I: Um hm.
J: at the beginning and then, uh, I was assigned to go to, uh, different parts of, uh, the country, uh, whatever they needed me as an interpreter. So for instance, uh, for instance, uh, if they need, uh, so me translation or
you know, uh, uh, not some but a lot of work, uh, involved, uh, at the, um, uh, field hospital, uh, it’s not out front, the frontline. It’s at least, uh, I would say 5, 10 kilometers, uh, behind it [INAUDIBLE], you know, for it’s battle line, uh. I went there to help, uh, translate between the U.S., uh, medical profession
and the, uh, the Korean wounded soldiers.
I: So tell us about where you been during that time.
J: I was in, uh, [Kumha],
I: Um hm.
J: Uh, our, first of all, I was based in, uh, Pusan and then, uh, sometimes I go to [Pohaw] and Taegu, uh, Taejon. Taejon, by the way, it’s all [INAUDIBLE] that time.
I: Like now.
J: Uh, it, it flat, uh.
You can, there was an, there was two buildings, uh, remain. And, uh, Uijeongbu, uh, the [INAUDIBLE] and [Tunchon] area, uh, [INAUDIBLE] and wherever they needed me. I was assigned to one particular place to stay, and uh, usually an M.P., military police, uh,
take me, uh, to wherever they needed me. So I had, uh, uh, I had seen, uh, a lot of aftermaths of, uh, the actual combat.
J: Uh. It’s horrible, horrible scenes, you know. Their tanks were blown up. Uh, the poured pots of the, uh, the paddies were blown up. Uh,
It, luckily the, the, uh , South Koreans and the American troops, they were, uh, as son as possible, they, uh, they were taken back to, uh, to the, uh, uh, front scene to, uh,
J: uh, the hospital sites and the other sites for, uh, uh, not so much burial but for, I, identification purposes. And, uh, so, uh, but the North Korean troops, um, and the Chinese, uh, they were taken care of immediately.
There wasn’t enough, uh, personnel to, uh, to do that, you know. So, uh, it’s just horrible scenes.
I: How was government function around that time?
J: What do you mean by that?
I: North Korea, South Korean government function, right?
J: Well, I wasn’t particularly aware of what they were doing. I was
busy, uh, thinking of, uh, doing my job and at the same time, when am I going to die. Am I going to survive or am I going to be killed like that. It’s a, it’s a, it’s kind of fear, uh, that goes through your spinal cord every minute.
I0:43:30: Let’s talk about little bit
lighter side of your experience. How was your English improving?
J: My English?
J: Well, first of all, uh, my, uh, father, uh, bless his soul, but he, he passed away a long time ago. But
I: Before the break out of Korean War?
J: He, yeah. He, um, uh, he graduated from a Japanese, uh, uh, University called [INAUDIBLE]
I: Uh huh.
J: And, uh, he majored in English Literature. And when he came back to, uh, Korea, uh, he hold a professorship
I: Uh huh.
J: at one of, uh, it’s called [INAUDIBLE], professional, uh, Pusan High School, uh, college. And later on, he was a teacher
at Pusan High School. And later on, he, uh, he established, um, a primary school in, in, uh, [Sundol], uh area.
J: Uh, it’s called [Sumson] [Sumson] [Sumson]
J: Yes. [Sumson], uh, Primary School. He was the founder and the first President of the institution.
So, uh, he had tons of, a lot of books in English when I was growing up. And I didn’t know what it was, used to look at it and, uh, my father says well, that’s a book. So I said what is book? That is the book, see? So one by one he taught me, uh, uh, English words and, uh, told me the combinations and what have you.
So I was kind of familiar with, uh, language tones and the sound of it. But I wasn’t particularly care
I: Uh huh
J: uh, to learn, uh. By the same token, during the, uh, Japanese occupation, you are not, you were not allowed to speak and learn other than Japanese.
J: So however, uh, uh, my family taught me, uh, to uh, to read and write and so forth, uh, about the Korean language. Uh, and, uh, when I went to, uh, when I began, uh, Junior High, uh, we had a very efficient, uh, and very, uh, oh,
I would say he’s kind of a scary teacher. And his name is [Yu Jung Sang] And we called him, uh, [Mootalk]. He didn’t have a the jaw, uh. I don’t know whether he was hurt in his mouth. He, he was educated in England and came back as a, a, teacher, English teacher.
And he really drilled on us, uh, the English, uh, not only words but everything under the sun. So I learned English from him for three solid years under his, uh, kind of, uh, dictatorial, uh, mandate.
I: Uh huh.
J: Uh, teaching. So I was quite, uh, familiar with the language. But I wasn’t fluent enough to communicate well. But the, as I was serving along, uh, in having proved tremendously at the same time, uh, a good friend of mine, uh, he was Corporal, uh. We served together. Uh, he was my, uh, kind of my mentor and
uh, he taught me everything under the sun about English language. Uh, on account of him, uh, I improved quite a bit. And, uh, he was spending day and night with everybody. So you had to, uh, learn
and you had, one particular guy, uh, he, uh, he said whenever you make a wrong pronunciation and a wrong syllable and you stop at the wrong place, I’m gonna have to charge you a buck.
I: Best medicine.
J: Yes. Uh, that was, uh, good for me.
I: So when you were discharged from Katusa, or did you continue to work as a Katusa?
J: No, no, no. Uh, I, I was discharged in, um, uh, I think it was July, July of 1953. And I stayed on, uh, with the, uh, 8th Army Signal Corps until, uh, October.
I: And then what happened? Did you come to
J: I went back to school, yes. I went back to high school to finish it and, uh, then, uh, after, after serving, uh, with the 8th Army, uh, as soon as I went back to, uh, high school to finish it, uh,
I: You must be a
J: I remained as a, I remained behind one year because of my service time. And, uh, t hen the government says well, whoever, uh, wants to go to high school or university, you got to be trained as a military personnel because one, uh, not everybody was in the Army or Armed Forces and,
uh, not everybody was war trained as a military personnel. So they mobilized, uh, the student training camp, uh, high school and colleges and universities. So I, uh, I participated again, uh, as a student, uh, Army, uh, student military training.
I: Weren’t you qualified to be a teacher at the time, after all those years of, uh, interpreting between soldiers in Korean?
J: Yes. See, all the while I was, uh, uh, instructed to, uh, uh, to be retrained, uh, because of my experience in the past, uh, they assigned me to the teaching position.
I: Oh, okay.
J: which I have
J: [INAUDIBLE] yeah. So I was kind of lucky, uh, in that sense.
I: Were you paid during your service as a Katusa?
J: Uh, Katusa pay was very, very little.
J: Uh, and nothing, uh, I would say American dollar wise, I think it was about $5 a month or so, you know. It wasn’t much at all.
I: What did you, what were you able to do with the $5?
J: Well, that was a lot of money, too. Actually, I, I wasn’t, uh, going around the market to spend money, uh . I was too busy, uh, going on servicing my, uh, duties. And, uh, as a, as an interpreter, I got paid, uh, I think $78 a month.
I: Oh, okay . So regular Katusa were paid $5. But you were,
J: I was a
I was a, I was a commissioned
I: Uh huh.
J: Office interpreter.
I: So you were paid $78.
J: Yeah, $78 a month.
I: So about half of what U.S. soldiers got at the time. I heard it was around $130 or $140 per month.
J: Well, the Corporal was getting paid about $ 90, see, that was not the, uh, uh American,
it was American dollars, but it was the, uh, military
J: military, uh, dollar.
I: Yeah, yeah,
J: Okay? So there was some, there were some differences, yeah. Uh, I think Corporal was paid, getting paid, uh, $190, uh, and Captain was, if I’m not mistaken he was getting paid, uh, somewhere around $160, 70.
J: You know.
I: So that was enough to, to feed your family and so on.
J: Oh, it was a tremendous amount of money for me, you know. And for anybody at that time, yes. I was, I was very lucky.
I: Please tell us about how you came to the United States and when and how.
J: Well, you see,
uh, because of my service, I got to, uh, know
so many soldiers including the officers [INAUDIBLE] See, uh, I should have written down all the names.
I: Uh huh.
J: But, uh, I always called, uh, Captain so and so and Lieutenant so and so. I never called, uh, the first name.
J: Uh, but it’s your buddies, you know, like a Staff Sergeant and, uh, uh, Sergeant and what have you. We joked, they were young, too. So we joked and, uh, we communicated as friends. So we called, I said if your first name is Jim, uh, we called him Jim and Fred and Paul and what have you. We never called the first, uh, last name. So most times, you couldn’t remember their last name.
But anyway, uh, we. we had a, we had a good time with them and, uh, one day, uh, I just know it was during, uh, I don’t know if it was ‘ 52 or ’53, uh.
The Captain [Worksen] He was one of the Commanding officers to me. He said, uh, well John, uh, if you want to go to America and study, uh, what would you think about that? So I said well, I don’t even know whether, uh, I want to pursue,
study like that overseas. And he said, uh, look. Look at all the mountains here. He said, uh, you went through so many different places throughout South Korea. And did you see any kind of, uh, trees? I said I don’t know. I didn’t see, you know, I mean the trees were there before. But during the War, everything burned up.
I: Um hm.
J: So he said, uh, why don’t you, uh, go overseas and study forestry
J: and come back and serve your country. And that would be a good future for you.
I: Um hm.
J: And not only your future but also for the Republic of Korea, and I will, uh,
find a way for you to go. So I said well, let me think about it. And time passes and, uh, when I was, while I was in, uh, [INAUDIBLE] University, uh, on the third year, that was 1956, uh, but long before that, a couple of years before, uh, I decided
uh, to come to the States to study, uh, the forest. But while I’m there, since I’m studying Political Science, uh, why do I have to change to, uh, Forestry? What am I gonna do with it, you know? Anyway, I decided to come in ’56.
So I came here, uh, November 20 of 1956 as a college student.
I: By yourself?
J: Yes. I came to, uh, I finished at Arizona State College that time. But now it’s called Northern Arizona University. And I tried to, uh, study
Forestry, but I, I couldn’t make head or tail out of it. So I changed my major, uh, studying for Economics.
J: And, uh, I finished, uh, Arizona State in 1950 in May and then went to
J: American [INAUDIBLE] School
I: Nineteen sixty.
J: Yeah, 1960.
J: And then I went,
I went to, uh, American [INAUDIBLE] School for International Management which is called [Thunderberg] school of, Global Management now. Uh, that’s a graduate school.
J: In, uh, Glendale, Arizona.
I: Um hm.
J: And I was the first to graduate as far as Korea is concerned.
I: Um hm.
J: To study International Trade and Management. that part.
And, uh, as soon as I finished there, I was hired by, uh, an advertising agency called McCan Erickson here in New York City. So they brought me over here as an employee. And ever since, I stayed in New York.
I: Did you invite your family into the States?
J: No, no one came except, uh, I invited, uh
my younger sister.
I: Um hm.
J: And she came here, when was it, 1965, and she finished at Columbia University, and, uh, she is retired as a teacher, English teacher and also Accounting teacher, both.
I: You have such an
extended and intensive experience working with the American soldiers.
I: And you have observed everything that has happened after that in Korea and the United States. You are in the unique position to evaluate the nature of the mutual defensive alliances and the mutual alliances that has worked out since then. What is your opinion about it ?
J: Oh, my feelings
and my, uh, personal opinion, uh, is that without the help of, uh, U.S. troops, uh, none of this is so much about alliance, uh, to Korea. But it is the pure, uh, selfless, uh, desire to help South Korea
from the North, uh, Communists. Help what it is today as far as South Korea is concerned. They are the backbone of, uh, the economy, education, culture, sports, uh, you name it. [INAUDIBLE]. And a lot of people think, think that
they were, see, actually G.I. is called, um, you know the connotation of G.I.?
J: Government issue. Uh, but a lot of young folks, uh, they were deployed, uh, to Korea to help, uh, the Communists, I mean, to protect the, uh, [INAUDIBLE], uh, and they [INAUDIBLE]
Um, it’s a, it goes beyond the brother and sistership. And during the Korean War, uh, they, the American troops didn’t, uh, didn’t know exactly what they were getting into.
J: And they, uh,
I: They were not even aware of where Korea was.
J: No. One hundred and 76 thousand who served during the Korean War, see, although, although there are millions of people who serve in Korea, okay. But actual number who served in Korea during the Korean, actual Korean combat area, uh, era, was 176,000.
Out of that, 34,000 got killed right there then. And about 20,000 more were killed, uh, because of wounds and what have you. So altogether 54,000 were dead.
J: And about 8,600 were missing, and 7,600 were, uh,
I: prisoner of war?
Prisoner of War, POW, and 1,7000 got wounded. Only 3,400 survived. And that’s it. From real, real sacrifice. It’s not only sacrifice, but it’s the, uh, I don’t know exact word.
America and Korea is beyond brothership, okay. So at the time they were serving in Korea, they, uh, they didn’t know that Korea would be 60 years later like this. But when I was with them
during the Korean War, uh, they all wanted to help Korean people. Not, not only for fighting but also civilians. They were really into helping, uh, the children, refugees, orphans and, uh, they were providing foods and medication and, uh,
shelter and, you name it. So that, uh, South Koreans they felt they were safe enough to us about it. Um, they shared so much of their, [INAUDIBLE] A lot of people, of course, saved some money, uh. But most people spend their money
for the welfare of the Korean people. And for that, I really appreciate them.
J: And, uh, they were the ones who, uh, really, really construct, uh, reconstructed, um, the, uh, not only the economy but also the bridges and the roads and the, you name it, schools and what have you.
So it’s, uh, it goes beyond the bond of, uh, relations. And during, during the War, uh, some people hated Korea all of a sudden. I mean, they, they lost their legs and their arms and, uh, eyes and what have you. They, they were incapacitated. On account of that,
some soldiers, they really despised Korea. Why, why
I: Why I have to
J: Why was I sent here?
J: You know?
J: And why did I sacrifice my life like this? Uh, but if you go to see the wounded soldiers, they’re all into
nowadays, late ‘70’s, ‘80’s and 90’s, they’re in VA homes, veterans homes. And they analyzed and, uh, they’re like a vegetable. They don’t know whether they’re coming or going. But a lot of people are still, in good sense, they do not
hate Korea. They are fond, very much fond of being saved for Korea, for the Korean people and, uh, they, you know, mentally here and that they read and everything about Korea through, you know, different sources of media. So they are well aware of our well being. And they think that’s the kind of contribution they put into.
So, uh, uh, one word I could say is God bless America and thank you from the bottom of my heart. But first of all, the, uh, Forgotten War. It’s not actually forgotten. It’s just, um,
being silent, uh. That’s because Truman, uh, President Truman, when he stepped out of, uh, U.N., uh, conference, uh, way back in 1950, you know, he, uh, he announced the Korean War and, uh, he asked for the U.N. troops to go to help Korea,
and at that time, the, one of the, um, reporters asked is it the Korean Conflict? So he said yes, it’s the Korean Conflict. It’s not a war. He didn’t say war. And that phrase remained as Korean Conflict
until, uh, Clinton said no, it’s not Korean Conflict. We have to make it the Korean War. So he recognized it as a Korean War and, uh, submitted his bill to Congress for passage as the Korean War. And since then, the Korean War has
revived, okay. But during, uh, up until, between 1950 and up until, uh, uh, Clinton presidency, it was forgotten, okay. But now, everywhere you go has a American veterans, uh. We are being appreciated by the American people
as well as American, Korean, um, Americans here, uh. Whenever we go to Korea for certain, uh, ceremonies, we were extremely welcomed by the Korean people and the society as a whole. And in order to carry on our legacy
I: Um hm.
J: of, uh, Korean War, uh, we have to do a
few things yet. First of all, we have to educate the young people so that our Korean War Veterans Association, national ones, national chapter has the same program as well as our chapter and the state chapters. What they call Tell America program. And this program
well, I participated in several, uh, this, uh, events to tell, uh, the actual combat experiences and what it’s like about the War. And, uh, once they participated in the War, it doesn’t make a difference whether it’s, uh, small, large or whatever, whatever. Once you come back, you’re gonna be a different person.
And you will have a different perspective for your life. And you have to really watch out for your well being. Otherwise, mentally you’re gonna get sick. Physically you’re gonna get sick. Socially you are not being accepted, okay. So, uh, it’s, it’s, uh, a kind of education we have to, uh,
take to the young people so that they will be prepared, prepared for t heir life. As long as we live as a human being, there will be all kinds of wars, everyday, killings, killings. So we have to prevent the killings first, okay. And, uh, second of all, uh, and to carry our legacy, see, Korean, uh,
government as well as American government, um, by the same token the people of, of both countries, I don’t know about any other countries people, we are doing such a tremendous job, I mean, we are putting such a tremendous effort to have, uh, ceremonies and, uh, for instance, uh, anniversary, the 60th anniversary and, you name it, all, all the way.
And, uh, they, uh, the Korean government is inviting us to, uh, come to Korea to participate in all different events, I mean. As an old soldier, I cannot allow, in my clear conscience, to have our children in the future, uh, leading to, uh, North Korea.
Uh, that’s my concept.
I: Um hm.
J: And, uh, to carry out our legacy, uh, I wish the American government do a little more to, uh, establish that, uh, the history and concept and concept of the War and, uh, you know, all that might doing,
by helping the, uh, old, uh, veterans more.
I: Um hm.
J: Uh, they are doing their most, I mean, I’d say so many veterans around, like you said, from Viet Nam, Korea, Korea, Viet Nam and, uh, Afghanistan and Iraq and so forth. I mean hundreds of thousands of, uh, the young folks from overseas,
and they come back here, uh, cannot even find jobs, right? But that’s the economy side. But what I’m talking about, what I wish is the, the soldiers who came back or are coming back, government should find a way to help them out, to stabilize their living, okay. And by the same token,
as far as our Korean, uh, War veterans are concerned, uh, I’d say from 10 years from now or 15 years the maximum, I don’t think, uh, any of us will remain in this, in this world. And even so, really even, uh, we’d survive, we’re not gonna have enough strength to, uh, do anything.
I: Um hm.
J: You know? So withing that period of time,
I wish, uh, the, the American government, uh, should help, uh, at least, uh, living a little more comfortable. So that way, uh, and also, uh, our legacy is to have, it’s, it’s our responsibility actually, we should, uh, mobilize or we should, um,
invite the Korean War, as Korean War veterans who served in Korea, okay, doesn’t matter if they’re away from, uh, 1950 to 1955 period. Beyond that
I: Um hm.
J: there are millions of, uh, American personnel served in Korea.
J: We should all call them
J: Korean War veterans so that they will carry out our legacy throughout the years to come and throughout this second, uh, and every [INAUDIBLE] come.
I: Thank you very much, uh, Mr. Ha, for your, um, detailed description, explanation and the points that the future generations need to know about the Korean War and sharing that with us. It’s a Korean War Veterans Digital Memorial.
I: It’s, uh, quite different from all concept of museum where that exhibition or individuals and, you know, all those stuff. It’s in the cyberspace. And I think the average age of the Korean War veteran is now 82.
I: And sooner or later
J: I’m the youngest one.
I: So your interview and your pictures and everything will be data based in our website that I constructed in, uh, last year. And I think
that’s the most effective way and most economical way to preserve your witness and your memories.
J: … for having me here today and, uh, I wish I had a lot more time to, uh, go into more details. But, you know, uh, perhaps, uh, what we have next time around, I’ll tell you some of the stories.
[End of Recorded Material]
John Sehejong Ha is in this picture with friends after military training. His job was to interpret for the US Army in the Korean War from May 1951- Oct 1953. He was commissioned as a Battalion Commander at the military training exercise location in Pusan. The photo was taken on October 20, 1954.
These three pictures show the Bosung High School Military Training Commencement Ceremony which took place in Myungdong, Seoul at the Gaesung High School. This was the facility Bosung High School used for training. This picture was taken on October 30th, 1954.
Never Escaping Reminders of War
John Sehejong Ha describes memories of the war. He remembers footsteps and being saved by pure luck. He shares his fear of the night many years after the war. He describes the strong visuals of war that remain with him and cause him agony.