Korean War Legacy Project

Jose E Hernandez Rivera


Jose E. Hernandez Rivera was born in Puerto Rico in 1933. He then moved to New York where he was an elevator man at a hospital until he was drafted into the United States Army in 1952. After completing basic training in Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, he went to Korea where he served for fourteen months. He describes what it was like guarding the Prisoners of War (POWs) at Koje-do Island and then the Big Switch of prisoners after the war. He also explains what it was like beyond the DMZ in 1954. His time in Korea would forever impact his life.

Video Clips

Guarding the Prisoners at Koje-do

Jose E. Hernandez Rivera describes what it was like to guard the Prisoner of War camp at Koje-do Island, Korea. He explains that they used to take the prisoners to the LSTs (ships) to load oil and equipment in the morning. He shares a memory of a time when a prisoner would not do what he was told and then moves on to tell of the deaths that took place in the camps.

Tags: Geojedo,Impressions of Korea,North Koreans,POW

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Big Switch of Prisoners

Jose E. Hernandez Rivera describes the “Big Switch”, which was the exchange of prisoners after the Armistice was signed on July 27, 1953. He recalls that they took the prisoners to the ships and then received American prisoners. He explains why the prisoners they were releasing did not want to go back to their home country.

Tags: Impressions of Korea,North Koreans,POW

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The DMZ After the Armistice

Even after the armistice was signed, Jose E. Hernandez Rivera served in Korea until 1954. During that time, he served near the DMZ. While there were no shots fired, he explains how it was still scary because they never knew if the North Koreans would retaliate.

Tags: Fear,Impressions of Korea,North Koreans

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

I:          It’s February 16th, 2016.  Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.  My name is Jung Woo Han.  I am the President of Korean War Legacy Foundation.  It’s my great honor and pleasure to meet you here and to listen from you about your service during the Korean War.  Would you please introduce yourself, your name and then spell it for the audience.


J:         Okay.  My name is Jose E. Hernandez-Rivera.  Spell it?

I:          Yeah please.

J:         The whole thing?

I:          Yeah.

J:         Okay.  J-O-S-E, E. middle, middle name, H-E-R-N-A-N-D-E-Z  R-R-I-V-E-R-A.

I:          Um hm. What is your birthday?

J:         My birthday is the 22nd of April 1933.

I:          Thirty-three.

J:         Thirty-three.

I:          You’re young.

J:         Yeah.

I:          How old are you?


J:         Eight-two.

I:          Eighty-two.  I think you are the kind of youngest among the Korean War veterans, right?  Yes.  Where were you born?

J:         I was born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.

I:          Right here.

J:         Right here.

I:          So this is your hometown.

J:         This is my hometown, yeah.

I:          Yeah.  Tell me about your parents and your siblings when you were growing up here.

J:         Well, my parents died.

I:          But when you were growing up.

J:         Oh, when I was growing up, my, my father was a, a bread maker, and my mother was a, a housewife.


I:          How many siblings?

J:         Siblings, to my, the first, the first marriage was, uh, we had, we were three.

I:          No.  Your brothers and sisters.

J:         Yes.

I:          Oh.
J:         The first time my, my father married, we had three.

I:          Uh huh.

J:         The second marriage six.

I:          Six.

J:         Yeah.

I:          So nine together.

J:         Nine together, yeah.

I:          Wow.  Tell me about the school you went through here.


J:         I went to school, uh, high school here.

I:          What is, what is the name of it?

J:         Aguadilla High School.

I:          Aguadilla High School.

J:         High School, yeah.

I:          When did you finish it?

J:         I didn’t finish it.

I:          Oh.  What, what

J:         Military service.

I:          Got it.  So when did you join the Army?

J:         Eh, September, September 17, 1952.

I:          Fifty-two.  So before you joined the Army, you already


knew that  there is a Korean War broke out.

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          How did you know about it?  Did you listen to the news or what people say about it?

J:         No, it was the, no.  I, I was here in Puerto Rico, and then I went to New York 1952, and I heard from the, from New York.

I:          Um.  What did you do, what did you do in New York?

J:         I used to work in a hospital.

I:          Hospital?

J:         Yeah.

I:          What did you do?

J:         Elevator man.

I:          Huh?

J:         Elevator man.

I:          Oh, okay.


So what, what hospital did you work in New York?

J:         Manhattan General Hospital.

I:          Wow.  Did, did they pay you well?

J:         Nah.

I:          So did you

J:         I went to the Army before I was working at the hospital.

I:          Yeah.  Did you join, did you enlist Army or were you drafted?

J:         I was drafted.

I:          Drafted?

J:         Nineteen years old.

I:          Nineteen years old.


And where did you get the basic military training?

J:         Basic?  Uniontown Gap, Pennsylvania.

I:          Pennsylvania.

J:         Cold.

I:          Very cold.  So you were preparing yourself for the Korean weather.

J:         Right.

I:          Uh huh.  How long was  the basic?

J:         Three months, from October to December or January.

I:          Nineteen fifty-two.

J:         From ’52 to ’53.

I:          Right.  And what was your specialty?


J:         In the Army?

I:          Yeah.

J:         Rifleman.

I:          Rifleman.

J:         Infantry.

I:          Infantry.  What was the unit?

J:         Uh, In training?  I don’t remember.

I:          So after that, what

J:         Oh, after that, I was, uh, stationed in Japan for six months  with the 24th Division.

I:          Twenty-fourth.

J:         Twenty-fourth division [INAUDIBLE]

I:          Uh huh.  So how was life in Japan?  Did you like Japan?

J:         Yeah, I knew it.

I:          Um hm.

J:         I was a young guy.


I:          Did you know anything about Korea at the time that you were growing up and working in the hospital and receiving basic training and went to Japan?

J:         I knew from Korea was, [INAUDIBLE[ Japan.

I:          What did you know?

J:         Well, ,they were fighting and, uh, ,poor people.

I:          Poor people.

J:         Yeah, poor people.

I:          Uh huh.  And had you imagine that


you’d be there in Korea for the War?

J:         I imagined, yeah.  It was in the Army.

I:          Yeah.

J:         At that time there was a Korean War.

I:          Uh huh.  So when did you leave for Korea?

J:         I left Korea in, uh, it was 1954.

I:          Fifty-four.

J:         Fourteen months in Korea.

I:          Uh huh.  So that was after the War.

J:         After the War, yeah.

I:          Yeah.  Um hm.  Tell me about where you arrived and where did you go?


J:         Okay.  We arrived in Korea July 4, 1953.

I:          July 4?

J:         Independence Day.

I:          Nineteen fifty

J:         Fifty-three.

I:          Three?  Then it was during the War/
J:         Yeah.

I:          You said it’s ’54.

J:         No no.  I left ’54.

I:          Oh, you left Korea in 1954.

J:         I spent 14 months in Korea.


I:          Got it, got it.  So you arrived in Korea on the day of July 4, Independence Day.

J:         Yeah.

I:          How was it?  Where did you arrive?  And tell me about it, the first scene of Korea that you saw.

J          Well, the first thing we saw North Korean people, Prisoners of War.

I:          Oh.  Where?

J:         In [Geojedo] Island.

I:          [GEOJEDO] Island.

J:         [GEOJEDO], yeah.  [INAUDIBLE]

I:          [GEOJE]

J:         Yeah.

I:          Yeah.  It’s [GEOJEDO] Island.  There was a


prisoner of war camp

J:         Right.

I:          So you went [GEOJEDO], prisoner of war?  Tell me

J:         I guard prisoners of war.

I:          Oh.

J:         The whole division was guarding prisoners of war.

I:          Twenty-fourth division.

J:         Yeah.  There were three camps.

I:          Um hm.

J:         Compound, uh, simply.  They had a North Korean, Communist, anti-Communist.  That’s where they had

I:          Yes.

J:         About 15,000.


I:          Yes.  Yes.  I had an interview with the people who work there in [GEOJEDO] Island for the camp for the prisoner of war.  So you are additional.  I would like to hear from you.  What did you see, and what was it?  How was it there?

J:         Well, uh, uh, when I was a guard, when we were guarding the prisoner of war, uh, they took, took them out of the compound, and they work in the out area, and then, uh, they, uh,


behind my tent, they, they, there was a, some guys, some, uh, North Koreans or whatever, uh, they were making a lot of noise with the beer cans.  We used to use the beer cans to make, uh, noise in the morning.

I:          Beer?

J:         Beer cans, yes.  Our, the beer we drunk.  The GI’s.  And, uh, they would make a lot of noise


I:          Why?

J:         about, to sleep.

I:          Why did they make noise?

J:         Huh?

I:          What was the purpose of noise?
J:         They making noise.

I:          Why?

J:         Why? I don’t know.

I:          You didn’t know?

J:         To wake us up.

I:          Asking for the food.  I’m hungry.

J:         Oh yeah.
I:          That’s maybe what they were doing with the, with the beer cans.

J:         They, uh, we used to take them to, to the, to LST, you know,


a ship to load, uh, oil or equipment from the, uh, the LST.  And one night I was in charge of the detail

I:          Um hm.
J:         guarding the, guarding them.  And about 10 or 11:00  at night they stopped working because they wanted to eat.  So we were scared.  And, uh, I, we, uh, I told the guy,


don’t shoot.  Let him, let him stay there.  And then we called, uh, uh, Battalion Commander, and they take him over and put him to work.  But they were nice people.  They, they were doing no, no harm.

I:          But you know what?  There has been many mortars inside of the camp.  Did you know that?

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          Tell me about that.  What did you know about it?

J:         Have I what?


I:          The prisoner of wars, they were killing each other inside of the

J:         Oh yeah, yeah, killing each other, yeah.

I:          Tell me about it.

J:         Well, uh, they have to separate them because they’re killing each other with the, with the, with the blades and, uh, we found, one day we found six bodies in a, in a hole.

I:          Wow.

J:         In the compound.

I:          Wow.
J:         And they fight because they, they don’t like each other like, uh, [INAUDIBLE] fought the Communists,


and the Communists fight the

I:          Anti-Communists.

J:         anti-Communists.

I:          What did you think about that?  That’s miserable, isn’t it?

J:         Was it miserable?  Yeah.

I:          It was not in the front line.  It was the far South island inside of the camp.  They are killing each other again.

J:         Yeah.

I:          There’s another war inside of the prison camp.

J:         Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

I:          What did you think about it?

J:         Pretty bad.  They had a, they had a, a,


Staff Sergeant, I don’t remember his name.  He was a interpreter.  Spoke Chinese and, uh, he used to tell us that you know, what they did inside.  They kill each other.  They fight .  They, they, uh, they want to go back to, to their country, you know.

I:          Yeah.

J:         Somebody did.

I:          Um.  Were there many  Chinese?

J:         No Chinese, no.

I:          No Chinese.

J:         No Chinese.

I:          Um hm.



J:         I, I don’t remember.

I:          Right.  How did you feed them?  How was the life for the prisoner of war?

J:         We’d feed them.

I:          Yeah.  How was life ?  Where, where do they sleep, and what do they eat?

J:         Oh, they  use a big round, uh, the compound, uh, around the company and, uh, they used to, uh, cut the grass  or we’d take them to the, even to the beach to swim.

I:          Oh.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Where did they sleep?  Was it tent


or barracks?

J:         No, tent.

I:          Tents.

J:         Tent.

I:          Uh huh.  And how many meals did you provide them?
J:         Meals?
I:          Yeah.  How many meals?

J:         Three, three.

I:          Three meals?

J:         Three meals a day.

I:          What kind of meals?

J:         Rice.  We did, you, that’s all they had, rice.

I:          Rice and what, soup or side dishes?  What, do you remember?

J:         I don’t remember.

I:          Um.

J:         I know there was rice, white rice.

I:          Um.

J:         That’s what they want, rice.


I:          What did you eat?

J:         Oh, c-rations.

I:          C -ration?  All the time?

J:         No.  Sometimes, uh, they, uh, they cooked, uh, good meals.

I:          Hot meals, right?

J:         Hot meal, yeah.

I:          Yeah.

J:         Sometimes.  The rest of the time

I:          Sometimes, okay.  Um, how much, how much were you paid?

J:         How much we got paid?

I:          Yeah.

J:         I got paid, uh, I don’t know, about $100 a month.


I:          What did you do with that money?

J:         Oh, we, uh, I kept it.

I:          You kept it?

J:         I sent some to my mother.

I:          You send your mother, right?

J:         Send my mother, yeah.

I:          Yeah.  How much?

J:         They had, they had a [CLASS 2] allotment .

I:          Um hm.

J:         I don’t know.

I:          Okay.

J:         I don’t know how much.
I:          What was the most difficult thing during your service?  I mean, things that still bother you.

J:         Well, I was in the Army two years, and I spent 19 in the Air Force.  I switched from the Army to the Air Force.


I:          Oh.  When?

J:         Nineteen fifty-four.

I:          Uh huh.

J:         Well, when I was in the Army, like I told you before, uh, we went to, I went to Japan and spent six months in Japan.  And then we went to Korea, uh.  The day I gave you, 4th of July, 1953 until August 1954.  Fourteen months.

I:          What was the most difficult thing to you when you were in Korea?


J:         Well, after the War, they put us, uh, to police up the area, clean up the area.  And we found, uh, a lot of things, ammo, bodies, uh, skeletons from the, maybe, uh, Chinese or North Koreans, whatever.  We, I found a, in a foxhole, I found a, a box of, uh, grenades.


I:          What?

J:         Grenades.

I:          What is that?

J:         Grenade.

I:          Grenades?

J:         Grenade, yeah.

I:          Uh.

J:         And then, uh,

I:          Where did they get those?

J:         [INAUDIBLE] up to the, the enemy.

I:          But you said the inside of the camp.

J:         A foxhole.  No, no.  We went to training after that.

I:          Oh, okay.  So

J:         I would police up there.  Every fellow knows that.  After the War, we police up the area, hey,


and clean up the area.  And we found all the, all those things, rifles and Russian rifle.  A friend of mine found a Russian rifle.

I:          In [GEOJEDO] Island.

J:         Right.  No, no.  That was, uh, parallel to the  38th over.

I:          Oh.  So you moved up to 38th Parallel.

J:         Oh yeah.  Yeah.  We moved all up to, three times.

I:          Okay.  Um, July 27, 1953, they signed the Cease Fire, and, so that what happened

J:         July, July 27, yeah.

I:          Yeah.  What happened


to the prisoner of war camp?

J:         Oh, we, we switched, big switch.

I:          Tell me about it.

J:         Prisoner.  So we, after the War, we, uh, switched prisoners of war for American.  They send us Americans, we send them North Koreans or

I:          So tell me when you began to prepare the exchange and how you prepare it.  Did you go with the prisoner of war together to the Panmunjom or what?  Tell me details.


J:         No, no, no.  We, we changed prisoner of war, and we took them to the, the ship.  And then the ship, they sent them, other people would send them to a, to the country.  And then, we received the Americans.  So it was a big switch.

I:          Big switch.

J:         That’s what they called them.

I:          So tell me about the days that they were about to leave for their own country.

J:         Oh, they don’t wanna, they don’t wanna go.
I:          They didn’t wanna go.

J:         They don’t, the do wanna go.  Why stay


because they say there’s enough food on the other side, no clothing.  They’re poor.  And t hey make, they make them to fight Americans.  They don’t wanna go.

I:          They didn’t wanna go.  Wow.

J:         Yep.

I:          So what kind of work did you do to get them into the ship?  How did you prepare it?  Tell me the details.

J:         Oh, oh.  We, uh, well, I detail,  we had a detail,


uh, to go on the convoy.  Trucks didn’t wanna go.  They had to push them with a bayonet.  So they would get on the, on the truck.  And the two-ton truck to the, to, to, to the boat, to the ship.  And then, uh, they didn’t wanna go.  They would start crying, and they want to stay because we,, we treated them good.


I don’t  know how, I don’t know how they’d treat Americans.  But the prisoners of war, good.

I:          I had a lots of interview with a prisoner of war, American prisoner of war in North Korea.  They were in Hell.  They were in Hell.

J:         I know.

I:          Only one meal a day.

J:         I know that.

I:          And they’d die of coldness.

J:         Oh yeah.  A lot of people die from cold.

I:          Many  people actually suicide because they don’t wanna


deal with those horrible conditions there.  So

J:         We weren’t supposed to talk to them.  But that’s, when I was guarding prisoner of war, unloading the, uh, LST, I, uh, I asked one Chinese, North Korean, Communist, how they fight.  You know what he told me?


With your weapons.

I :         Huh?

J:         With your weapons.  [INAUDIBLE] weapons.  Rifles.  Put the prisoner of war into the rifle, and they fight against us with our own weapons.

I:          That  means that they didn’t have enough weapons.

J:         They didn’t have, no.  They have no weapons.

I:          Any other story that you heard from them?

J:         Hm?

I:          Any other story you heard from them?

J:         Story.

I:          Story.  Story.

J:         Story.

I:          Yeah.  Any other, any

J:         No, we weren’t supposed to talk to them.


I:          But you said that you were able

J:         [STAMMERS] on the side.

I:          That’s why.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Do you have any other side story that you heard from them?

J:         I wasn’t supposed to talk to the, the prisoner of war.  They said, the only, that the only time

I:          That’s the only time.

J:         That’s the only  time.

I:          So when did that happen, the exchange?  When did you load them into the ship?

J:         When?

I:          When.

J:         Oh, August, August. August or September, sorry, I don’t know.

I:          August or September of 1950


J:         The War was over in July, by September, September [INAUDIBLE], somewhere in there.

I:          Nineteen fifty-three.

J:         Nineteen

I:          Fifty-three.

J:         Fifty-three, yeah.

I:          And then what happened to you?  Where did you go from there?

J:         We went to, back to, to, to our company or

I:          Where?

J:         division.   Same place, Korea.

I:          Where in Korea, 38th

J:         Oh, above the, the 38th parallel.

I:          Do you, do you re member the name of the camp?

J:         No.


I:          Was it Punch Bowl or, where were you?

J:         Well, our company, our division, replaced, uh, a National Guard Division above the 38th Parallel when the War was over, aye, and then we start cleaning up the area.

I:          Right.

J:         And training.  Clean up the area, train, clean up the area, train.

I:          Do, you don’t know the name of the area you were in?


J:         I don’t remember.

I:          Okay.  How was the situation there, DMZ?  How was it?

J:         DMZ, yeah.

I:          Yeah.  How was it ?

J:         Uh,

I:          Was it dangerous still?

J:         The, the, still yeah, yeah.  It was real dangerous, yeah.

I:          Tell me about it.

J:         Well because, uh, because it  was too early and, the War was over, uh, July 27, 1953, right?

I:          Yeah.

J:         Okay.  And  then, uh,


we were scared because, uh, retaliation from, from the, from the, from the other side, from North Korea.  It was still scary.  We didn’t really know how to react.

I:          Were there any occasion that you shot fire to them?

J:         No, no.  I didn’t shoot.

I:          Anybody from North Korea, they shot at you?

J:         No.

I:          No.

J:         Not while we were guarding prisoner of war.


I:          Um hm.  So you were not wounded.

J:         I got wounded.  But I, I, I got, I, I, fall down and broke my thumb.

I:          Um.

J:         Right here.

I:          You, oh boy.  The bone’s just still there, right?

J:         Yeah.

I:          Oh.  You didn’t get the medal for that, right?

J:         I didn’t get  nothing.

I:          Right.  So


J:         I’m still fighting for it.

I:          So, um, you said that you left Korea in 19, um, 54, right?  Yes.

J:         August.  I got out of the Army August 12, 1954.

I:          Uh huh.  And have you been back to Korea?

J:         No, I haven’t.

I:          Oh.  You remember the Korea in 1954, right?  It was very, how


was it?

I:          Yeah.  Uh, when I got to Korea in ’53, ’54, we got there, I was guarding, I was, uh, guard, lead guard on top of a hill.  But I thought  nothing.  It was that.  Mamasan, Papasan cemetery, right?

J:         Um hm.

I:          Big, uh, uh,



I:          Um.  Do you know modern Korea right now, about their economy, Korean economy, Korean society?

J:         Uh, yeah.  But

I:          What do, what do you know?

J:         In television.  [INAUDIBLE]

I:          What do you know?

J:         Uh, they improved a lot.  They improved a lot.  I’d like to go back to Korea.

I:          You’d like to go back.

J:         But no one, no money.


I:          Korean, Korean government  has a Revisit program.  They, you know, invite the Korean War veterans back so that they can see the changes been made.

J:         Ah, ah, a cousin of mine went back to Korea.  They invited him.  He died, ah, about  10 years ago.

I:          Um hm.

J:         He went back to Korea.

I:          Um hm.  Korea is now 11th largest economy in the world.


J:         Good.

I:          They are the largest ship making country, the largest one.

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          And they make a lot of automobiles, Hyundai, Samsung TV, cellular phones.

J:         Kia.

I:          Kia.

J:         Kia.

I:          Yeah.  So your honorable service during the Korean War make us possible to accomplish such rapid economic development and democratization.


So the Korean War has a great legacy in it, and I want you to be proud of your service, okay?  And on behalf of Korean nation and Korean government, I want to thank you.

J:         Thank you.

I:          [LANGUAGE]

J:         Thank you.  [LANGUAGE]

I:          Do you have any other story you wanna share with me?

J:         About Korea?

I:          Yeah.


J:         I don’t remember that much.  Uh, the, the people of Korea, they came over to our, to our company to ask us for cigarettes, candy, c-ration, all that stuff.  And we’d give it to them


because at that time, the Korean people, they were poor people.  They didn’t have nothing.  So yeah, I, I, myself, I used to give them my c-rations, my cigarettes, candy, whatever I got.

I:          That’s what you did.  You gave the water when Korean people were thirsty.  You gave


the food when Korean people were hungry, and when Korean people were in prison, like at war, you went there and you lived with them together.

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          You consoled them together.

J:         Right.

I:          That’s what Jesus said to the people, that if you did these things, give the water and the food and console, when people, least people in the prison, you did it for me.


When you, when you did good things for the least, that’s what you did for me.  That’s what  Jesus said.  It’s in Matthew.

J:         That’s right.

I:          That’s in Matthew, Chapter 28 I think.

J:         Yeah.

I:          That’s what

J:         The Gospel, the Gospel of Matthew.

I:          Exactly.  That’s what Korean War veterans from Puerto Rico and other 21 countries did for Korea.  So the Korean War veterans are blessed


by God, you know?

J:         Yeah.

I:          You give them what  they need when they were poor, miserable and the least.

J:         And thirsty.

I:          Thirsty.

J:         Yeah.

I:          You know?

J:         Uh, I don’t have any regrets against the Koreans.  I love them.  But I like was the, the miserable thing that the, the enemy did for them.  Now they, they want to, uh, they want to, uh,


throw that what, uh, nuclear weapon?

I:          Yeah.

J:         That’s not good.

I:          No good.

J:         That’s not good.

I:          Very, Jose, right?

J:         Jose.

I:          Jose.  Again, I want to thank you and remember all those people who were in the  prison of camp being taken care of well by you will remember

J:         Oh yeah.

I:          what’s been done to them, okay?  And that’s a very good thing


that you did.

J:         I don’t know what they did with the prisoner of war we had.  They exchanged them.  I don’t know what they did.  I don’t care either because, uh, you know, they fought against us, and they killed people, too, especially the Communists.

I:          Yep.

J:         With the red star.

I:          Yeah.  Any other things that you wanna talk?

J:         I don’t think so.

I:          Okay.

J:         Yeah.

I:          Jose again, thank you so much.  And we’ll try to


work hard so that you can get back to Korea to see the changes being made by your sacrifice.

J:         As long as it’s free,, I’d go anyway.

I:          Thank you.

J:         Thank you.

[End of Recorded Material]