John Singhose grew up in Washington, where he entered the field of logging before being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1950. Following infantry training at Fort Worden, he was sent to Virginia, where he received engineering instruction on operating Earth-moving equipment and explosives. During the Korean War, he served as a Combat Construction Foreman, supervising the construction of roads and bridges, as well as the paving of an airstrip. He recalls training and working with many Koreans in construction, as well as with soldiers from Turkey, Canada, and Ethiopia. He congratulates the Koreans on rebuilding the country and its road networks. He sends a message to students that they should read the history of Korea to learn about the country and the advancements of it.
The Pass is Open
John Singhose describes working with his men to use bulldozers for building a pass that shortened travel from the "Punchbowl," through the hills of Yanggu County. He recalls hiking overland to construct a tram road, which helped the U.S. Army supply ammunition to the Republic of Korea infantry. He describes supervising the paving of an airstrip.
Working with Koreans
John Singhose recalls being reasonably warm in his sleeping bag when he had to sleep in a tent while in Korea. He describes interacting with Koreans in several capacities, and speaks of them with admiration. He shares that everyone he encountered, from their cook to construction workers, were industrious and honest workers.
Preparing to Build
John Singhose recalls knowing about the Korean War before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He explains basic training in infantry, and the training he received to prepare for his his Military Occupation Specialty (MOS) as a Combat Construction Foreman. He received training in machine operations, construction, and explosives.
John: I’m John Wade Singhose. Age 87
Interviewer: Could you spell your last name for the audience?
John: yes, s-i-n-g-h-o-s-e
Interviewer: What is the ethnic origin of this last name?
John: Pennsylvania Dutch
John: Pennsylvania Dutch
John: There is a difference
Interviewer: oh okay, so where were you born and when were you born?
John: I was born May 18, 1928 in Eden Valey
Interviewer: Eden, could you spell it?
John: Eden, e-d-e-n, and valey, v-a-l-e-y
Interviewer: Where? In Portland?
John: Nope, Eden Valey.
Interviewer: Eden Valey in Washington
John: Yup, it’s right here. You’re in it.
Interviewer: Right and you’re born on the year of the great depression
John: Just before
Interviewer: Yeah, how was it?
John: The Great Depression?
Interviewer: Yeah, at the time you were growing up, how was it?
John: Oh, we didn’t know we were poor, everybody else was poor also. And we raised our own food, ya know? And we had cattle and we had timber.
Interviewer: So you had everything actually?
John: we were pretty good, yeah, but no money
Interviewer: so, that great depression didn’t really affect your family?
John: I don’t think we ever got over it; we’re still kind of tight, kind of cheap.
Interviewer: So tell me about the school that you went through, what high school did you graduate?
John: I graduated from Crescent High School.
John: Uhhh, 194… Just a minute. May 23, 1947.
Interviewer: and what did you do after that?
John: I went into the logging industry and I stayed there until I got drafted in the military and that was in 1950 when I was drafted.
Interviewer: logging industry?
Interviewer: and then what happened to you? When did you go to, you went to go to the war right?
John: Yes but we trained for a long time beforehand
Interviewer: So when did you enlist
John: no I was drafted
Interviewer: when was it?
John: 17 November 1950
Interviewer: 17 November 1950, drafted into what? Army?
Interviewer: and what did you do, where did you go to get the basic military training?
John: the fort worden, Washington
John: yes, w-o-r-d-e-n
Interviewer: Uh huh and how was the basic military training?
John: ehhh, it was kind of tough, but we were kind of tough anyway.
Interviewer: by the way, did you know that the Korean War had broken out?
John: We knew about it right from the very start. I had a cousin who was in the air force and word got out to us right away.
Interviewer: what did you think about it? Did you think you were going to be dragged out into the war?
John: I knew I would probably eventually go, I had my physical and stuff in 1948 and I was classified 1A.
Interviewer: Did you know anything about Korea at the time?
John: I knew a little bit from high school history, world history.
Interviewer: Oh really? What did you learn?
John: Yes, I learned that it was under the control of the Japanese, if I remember correctly. You’re testing my mind here now, but I learned very little about it I didn’t know what kind of industry they had or anything like that. I know lots more now.
Interviewer: What was your MOS?
Interviewer: what is that?
John: Combat Construction Forman
Interviewer: so what kind of work did you do? What kind of work did you learn from the basic training to become a 1729?
John: well actually that came later, the basic training was more, you learned to be a rifle man and infantry training, the front line infantry person, but then we, they started giving us our training for engineer training.
Interviewer: So then later, what did you learn about this Combat Construction?
John: well, the training was pretty extensive. We had it quite a bit at our own fort over here concerning that but they sent bunches of us back to fort Belvoir Virginia. The engineer center and we went through a course over there; about 4 month’s long, pretty extensive training. We went to school 12 hours a day.
Interviewer: What did you learn? Give me examples.
John: we did a lot of mathematics, and we learned about diel engines, bulldozers, shovels, the cranes, earth moving equipment of all kinds, and explosives, demolitions, we did a lot of that.
Interviewer: It’s like a very special job training.
John: I think so
Interviewer: To become engineers right?
John: yes, there is one of my instructors, right there.
Interviewer: So it was a good opportunity to learn all of those things right?
John: Oh gosh yes.
Interviewer: did you like it?
John: I loved it.
Interviewer: So when did you leave for Korea?
John: 1 February of 52.
Interviewer: from where to where?
John; I left from fort worden to go to camp Stoneman California and then we went by ship to Yokohama and then Yokohama to Inchon Korea.
Interviewer: Do you remember the day you arrived there?
John: In Inchon, it was about the third week, I couldn’t give you the exact date but it was about the third week of February.
Interviewer: well tell me about the scene when you first arrived to Inchon, for the first time in Korea. Tell me about it, what was your impression? What did you see actually?
John: The first thing we noticed was the smell. The smell, but anyway, the town was demolished, it was only two maybe three-
Interviewer: What smell?
John: well there was no sewage. The sewage was demolished and it was just running down the streets more or less. There was I think 2 or 3 buildings left in that town, at the time. See the fights had gone through there two different times, previous to me getting there, but they kept us over night and we loaded on a train to Chuncheon in Eastern Sector. We traveled at night.
Interviewer: So what were you thinking, what were you saying to yourself when you arrived in Korea and you got this sewage smells and all this destruction. What were you thinking? And what did you tell yourself?
John: I said Oh boy were in war zone. Haha I don’t remember anyone being scared so to speak. They said the fighting was about 15 miles north of us at that time, north of Inchon.
Interviewer: What was your unit? 7th division?
John: No, 19th group, 185 engineer combat headquarters company.
Interviewer: And what division?
John: no division let’s see, 10th core.
Interviewer: 10th core, well what was your rank?
John: Step Sargent
Interviewer: How come? How come you promoted so quickly, you were drafted in 1950, ohhh you’ve been working as a 2 years in the United States, right? So you are step Sargent?
John: yes, I had just a year and a couple of months in the United States before I went to Korea.
Interviewer: So what did you do in Chuncheon? Tell me details.
John: In Chuncheon, we spent the night there, well we got there during the night, it was all dark. And they put us in a tent there and we shivered our way through the night there, it was cold cold cold. They next morning, they loaded us on trucks north up to 19th group and they divided us up into different vertallians from there.
Interviewer: So where did you go?
John: Yangju, is that a name that rings a bell.
Interviewer: Oh yeah, I was there
John: Oh okay
Interviewer: It’s very hilly isn’t it?
John: oh yeahhh, it’s very hilly.
Interviewer: Tell me about it, tell me the details. What did you do there? What was your routine? The typical day, what did you do, tell me.
John: We just sent one night there.
John: They loaded us on trucks and took us further north. Up to Wong Tong Nee and the fighting had gone through there not too long before that but uh they had a small encampment there and that’s where I stayed there for about a month, close to a month. I ran a bulldozer on uh route 58, there was a pass there, they built this pass to shorten up the travel from the punch bowl to the Yangju, back and forth there. It saved many miles of driving.
Interviewer: So you were building the road?
John: yes, it was solid rock. They dynamited the rock and then we pushed it over the side.
Interviewer: How dangerous was it?
John: Well it was pretty dangerous but we didn’t pay attention, we were out here working on the mountains, logging and all. It was different, I was used to working with that solid rock, but there were lots of explosives.
Interviewer: Was there an enemy attack while you were working on the road?
John: Not right there, no no. But I was only there about a month and then they moved me to another job.
John: Wadshaun Reservoir
John: Wadshaun, are you familiar with that one?
Interviewer: Oh yeah, yeah
John: Yeah, we had to hike in by overland to get there; they were building a tram road. A cable went up over this mountain, up one side, down the other. We were building one from the reservoir up to the tram road over there. We were supplying ammunition to the ROK. That was our job there. A the that time we were about 3 miles behind the front lines there.
Interviewer: So you were like building steps on the mountain right? From the lake right?
John: We actually built a road up there.
Interviewer: A road?
John: So that they could drive their Nissan trucks up there, up to the end of the tram ram and then it went up over the hill and they load they tram car with ammunition and then bring it over on the trucks and then take it onto the front line.
Interviewer: So you were operating bulldozers and stuff like that, right?
John: I was working the bulldozers the whole time I was up there.
Interviewer: And what happened after that, from wadshaun, did you move to other places?
John: yes, let me see, we went over to a place called Yangju pass. That’s between Yangju and Quandary.
John: yeah, the path went over the mountain there, we went up there and we spent a couple of months widening that out, making a better road out of it.
Interviewer: What else?
John: Then they sent me down to 10th headquarters.
Interviewer: Where was it?
John: 10th headquarters, it was Quandary right, right downtown Quandary. There was an airstrip there, it was a mile long. 5,280 feet. Anyway, it just had river rock on it. They had been rolled down so we put crushed rock on there. We brought in rock crushed and we put down crushed rock. We paved that would you believe, we had no experience paving but I learned in a hurry. I was a Forman on that job.
Interviewer: So you were in charge?
John: In charge of the paving yes. We had a Lieutenant there but he has just come from the states and he didn’t have any experience in construction, so guess what? He was always following me around. But that was good.
Interviewer: Because you were in charge right? He was under your influence?
John: uh huh, yep. And I stayed right there on that airstrip and I finished it off until time to come home.
Interviewer: When did you leave Korea?
John: October of 52, It was toward the end of October, I couldn’t give you the exact date. I didn’t have a calendar. But they sent me up to camp Tripoli, which was the entrance of the punchbowl for a few days there to turn in my equipment and to get some other things to take home ya know? That was kind of a bad deal, I had to take a trip down to the air strip, they needed some help there with the paver and they wanted me to come down. Well I went down, and road down with some other fellows, came back, I spent a few hours down there. The next morning, the crew that I went down with, I was getting ready to go home, I was ready. In fact, I left that night to go back to uh 19th group. And that group that was going down was ambushed by a bunch of North Korean gorillas. They lost I think 12 men out of that group I believe. These gorillas had tracer ammunition and they set the gas tanks on fire of the trucks. The gas tanks hung down there on the side, ya know? And they caught fire, bad news. I was just real lucky to be out of there. I never went to church but we always, when I was up at the Wadshaun reservoir. Every morning our lieutenant made us make a circle, we held hands, see there were quite a few denominations there and they held hands for a few seconds and he said amen and we went to work.
Interviewer: Tell me the details about the life there; while you were in Korea, where did you sleep, what did you eat? I mean you were the construction Forman so you must have built your own barracks very well huh? Where did you sleep?
John: We would sleep in tents.
Interviewer: haha, so you didn’t build your home there?
John: nooo we build no homes, I slept in a tent for all the time I was there. Same folding cot, I kept in with me.
Interviewer: it must have been so cold.
John: I got a good down sleeping bag and I had ended up with three of the wool blankets. And actually I was warm, yeah. But that was very mountainous where we were up there.
Interviewer: what about food? What did you eat?
John: We were lucky; we had a cook with us the whole time. He opened cans and uh basically, we lived out of cans.
Interviewer: you mean c-rations or?
John: uh occasionally c-rations yes we carried those with us. Number 10 cans; are you familiar with number 10 cans?
John: They hold about a gallon and that what a lot of our food came in.
Interviewer: Well who was cook? American or Korean?
John: uh we had and American cook with a Korean helper.
Interviewer: Do you remember his name, the Korean guy?
John: uh yes, just a minute, uh oh golly, I’m having trouble remembering that, oh Kimbu Kan
Interviewer: Oh wow, you remember the whole name?
Interviewer: How was he?
John: He was a good man. He learned how to run a bulldozer too. And we had a young man staying with us, he was an orphan. His name was Kim J. Ku. He lived Kim Chong City. His whole family was killed there when the North Koreans came down and the Chinese.
Interviewer: So what did you do to him?
John: He was just out helper.
Interviewer: Houseboy, right?
John: Houseboy, yes he was. That’s close enough. He did our laundry and all of that stuff you know? Very good worker and we sent him off to school, just before I left over there. We sent him, he took up a collection and we sent him back home to go to school.
Interviewer: So tell me about it, when you left Korea, what did you think about the future of Korea? What did you—Did you have any idea how Korea would develop? Did you have any thought about it?
John: No, I had no idea what it was going to be like. It’s unbelievable really, I’ve seen a lot of pictures, I’ve talked to a lot of these folks that have been over there and visited, but I know one thing, that the Korean people were very industrious, good, honest, hard workers.
Interviewer: How did you know?
John: They worked with us. We had workers with us too
Interviewer: There were other workers than Kimbu Kan and Kim J Ku?
John: Oh gosh yes, we had like two dozen uh workers there, very dependable.
Interviewer: What were you thinking about you being there, I mean, you didn’t know where Korea was, not much right?
Interviewer: Annnddd when you left Korea you didn’t think about the future of Korea? You didn’t have any idea? Now, you’re back in your home and looking at all of those things happening in Korea, what do you think about whole things?
John: I think it’s a great thing they’ve done. They’re a great industrial power, and I’ve talked with a lot of folks from Korea since then and uh I’m really impressed with them. I’m impressed with the country. I’m impressed with the people.
Interviewer: Why do you think we were able to pull this out?
John: Well I know they had help from the United States and Great Britain and other countries there. We had people from Turkey there, Ethiopia, Canada. They Canadians were very helpful also working with the Koreans.
Interviewer: But despite such clear successful outcome out of the Korean War, right? Why do you think this war, the Korean War, has been regarded as forgotten, why?
John: Well, I actually see a lot of people seemed to have forgotten it but, a lot of us, we haven’t forgotten it.
John: Well, when I’m visiting with Ray, a lot of times we would discuss what we did over there.
Interviewer: What did you do there?
John: What did I do?
John: Well actually I was a construction Forman, but I ran a bulldozer for a good part of the time. I did demolition was too with the-
Interviewer: Yeah, I mean you told me all of this detail of your job that you did during the Korean War. Now looking back on all of those years, what do you think you did for Korea?
John: We, we trained a lot of their people for one thing. I had always hoped to make contact with this Kim J Ku and uh I had his address there and I one of the fellows from the Korean Embassy was going to see if he could look him up, but I never heard anything back.
Interviewer: What was the most difficult thing? Something you really hated while you were in Korea, what was it?
John: The extreme weather probably, but we had clothing and whatever. We were good. The weather was probably the worst, but worked with other units, marine core and the Turkish people. I didn’t work with the Ethiopians, but Ray did. I thought it was kind of good, I worked with Canadians too. It was good to work with those other people, good learning experience.
Interviewer: What do you want to say to Korean people now? Is there any message that you want to convey?
John: uh, I would like to congratulate them on the great job they did on rebuilding the country, the road networks they put in. The roads we put in were more or less just trails, ya know? But uh, I think that they have done a great job there. I would be the first to tell them that. I told a lot of the folks from the Korean Embassy that we met with from time to time.
Interviewer: So you don’t regret your service there?
John: Oh no, not at all. I learned a lot.
Interviewer: What do you want to say to young Americans who don’t know about the Korean War?
John: I would suggest reading some history on Korea. I don’t have any particular books myself, but I think they can learn a little bit about the country and the advancements. We have some pictures and whatever, the publications have come out with a lot of the improvements they’ve done in Korea. One of them is Inchon. When I left Inchon, the only thing left standing was the Bank Bold. There were 3 ridges across there at one time, they were all gone. We had a pontoon bridge across the so yang gang river that our unit put in. Now they tell me there is 3 universities in that city. So that’s a real accomplishment there.
Interviewer: Was there any dangerous moment there that you might have been wounded or killed?
John: Danger was always there.
Interviewer: Tell me example. Occasions where you were almost wounded or anything like that.
John: One night they sent me out with a bulldozer to plow snow off of the road and I hadn’t been there too awfully long. They sent a young man with me, as a guard. First thing I see when I look over, I look over and he is sound asleep. Hahaha, but anyway, I just let him sleep. But we were out there all by ourselves, and at night, its snowing. We didn’t know we were in a pretty wild country. There were no units or anything. We could have been attacked at any time, but no one showed up in that snow. I was just a little nervous. I recuperated from that in a hurry.
Interviewer: Thank you for this interview John.
John: Im glad to do it.
Interviewer: Thank you
John: uh huh