Joseph C. Giordano
Joseph C. Giordano was born in East Providence, Rhode Island, in 1929. He was drafted into the US Army in January of 1951 and received his basic training at Camp Polk in Louisiana before being deployed via the USS Brewster. He shares how a choice he made regarding his draft date landed him in Korea rather than in Germany. He recalls arriving in Incheon on Christmas Eve and describes the fear he experienced on the front lines as artillery flew over his head. He shares that he was assigned to the 120th Engineers Battalion and spent time near Old Baldy and Heartbreak Ridge among other locations and offers an account of not only the typical but also dangerous duties of a combat engineer. He recounts his experience with the Korean Service Corps and offers his thoughts on why the Korean War is known as the Forgotten War. He is proud of his service and of the progress South Korea has made over the years.
War Declaration and Draft Choice
Joseph Giordano shares that he knew nothing about Korea until the day war was declared. He remembers reading about it in a newspaper at his father's barber shop. He recalls the significance of being drafted on January 12, 1951, and a choice that landed him in the Korean War. He comments on the value of his Korean War experience.
Arrival and a Dangerous Combat Engineer Duty
Joseph Giordano recounts his arrival in Korea on Christmas Eve, 1951. He describes his fear on the front lines of not knowing if the artillery fire overhead was coming in or going out. He details one of his dangerous duties as a combat engineer. He describes having to advance beyond the front lines to ready trenches for occupation by the infantry and shares that he and fellow engineers had to clear out the dead Chinese soldiers from the trenches.
Typical Day for a Combat Engineer
Joseph Giordano describes a typical day a combat engineer in the US Army while in Korea. He speaks of waking up, eating breakfast, and then being assigned that day's duties. He recalls that they could range from clearing out trenches at the front lines to building an outhouse for a general several miles back behind the front lines. He includes that he dreamt of three things during his 18-month deployment to Korea and claims that hot and cold running water always reminds him of Korea.
Playing Games with the Enemy
Joseph Giordano recollects his duties as a combat engineer, particularly those of clearing the battlefield of dead bodies and setting up mines. He describes performing this duty while under direct enemy observation and "daring" enemy soldiers to launch mortars at him and fellow engineers. He comments on the difficulties of his work and how tiresome it was.
Korean Service Corps
Joseph Giordano describes the Korean Service Corps. He shares that the members were mainly older Koreans who were too old to fight. He recalls Korean Service Corpsmen being assigned to each platoon to help do various activities, and he speaks of the friendship that he developed with one such worker named Kim.
The Forgotten War
Joseph Giordano discusses why he thinks the Korean War has come to be known as the Forgotten War. He describes how he was treated when he returned home from Korea, sharing that there were no bands or recognition of his service. He speaks of how public sentiment regarding the war has evolved though.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
J: My official name is Joseph C. Giordano. My last name is spelled G I O R D A N O.
I: Obviously it’s Italian origin, right?
I: Your birthdate?
J: My birthday just passed, July 16, 1929. I’m an old bug.
I: You were born in the year of Great Depression?
I: Where were you born?
J: I was born not far from here, East Providence, Rhode Island. On a street named Freeborn
I: How was life at the time when you were growing up? It’s been hard for you, right?
J: Yeah. My father was a barber in East Providence, again, not far from here. Uh, not bad.
I: Didn’t he lose his job during the Great Depression?
J: No. No.
I: People had to have their hair cut.
J: Yeah. He, You know, it was tough,
J: but he, he opened up his barber shop in 1926. So he had been in business for three years when the Great Depression came, and it stuck around almost until World War II..
I: How did this Great Depression affect you over your life? Is there any positive impact upon you or . . .
J: No. Either way, you know. I was too young
J: to realize, uh. I was born during the Depression, and when do you start remembering things, four, five, six years old? Life wasn’t bad. We, uh, lived in a nice home. My father rented a bungalow off of the landlord, and he owned the barber shop, the store where my father rented. So we lived good.
J: During those days, people lived in cold water flats. We had steam heat, hardwood floors, nice home.
J: Five-room bungalow.
I: How about your siblings? How many?
J: Two brothers, two sisters. My two brothers are gone, and my two sisters, one older, one younger, still living. Good health.
J: I have an older sister, 95, and I got a younger sister, 77, 78.
I: What school did you go through?
J: I started out in East Providence, AP Hoyt, first grade, and I ended up East
Providence High School.
I: High School.
I: When did you graduate?
J: I didn’t graduate. The class was 1947, but, uh,
J: Having old fashioned parents, my mother was born here. My father in the old country, but,
J: you know, that’s the way it was in them days. When you became 16 years old, you quit school and went to work, and that’s what I did.
I: Did you know anything about Korea? Did you learn anything from your school or did you know anything about. . .
J: Not a thing until June of 1950 when they went to war, June 25.
I: What happened to you then?
J: They declared war, and, you know, being a barber, getting two newspapers
J: a day then, I read about it. That was in June of 1950. Little did I know I got drafted on January 12, 1951.
I: January. . .
J: Twelfth, 1951. I was involved in the largest, I understand, the largest peace time draft, uh, ever that took place. One hundred thousand
J: men got drafted on January 12.
I: Let me ask this question. Looking back all those years, you never knew anything about Korea. You never imagined that you would be in Korea.
J: Never heard the word. Don’t remember ever hearing the word.
I: Exactly. And you were in Korea during the war?
I: And you came back
I: And now you are doing this interview. What are you, what do you think of it? Why did it happen to you?
J: The interview?
I: No. The Korean War.
J: Well, I was right. I was 21 ½ when I got drafted. I just missed World War II. They stopped the draft six months before I became 18. So I just, my two older brothers were in World War II. Uh, one was in Marine, one, one was in the Air Force. I just missed it.
J: But when the Korean War started, I was just right.
I: Did you think that you would be in Korea?
I: When you were drafted, there were a chance that there can be in Germany, too
J: I knew I was going to be drafted, you know, when that war started. I never thought I’d end up there. January 12, everyone drafted that day went to the Far East.
J: There was a draft right after that, February 9th,
J: and I had a choice. I got a notice that said January 12thor you could go February 9thwe got a draft. So I chose the 12th. Everyone on the 12thwent overseas to Korea.
I: What about in the February?
J: February, everybody went to Europe, Germany.
I: See? So?
J: I guessed wrong. But now, I guessed wrong as far as being in, uh, combat,
J: uh. But I don’t regret it. I wouldn’t give you five cents for what I went through, but I wouldn’t take a million dollars for my experience.
J: Because it, I went, I did, I, I saw, I conquered, and I came back.
I: Cesare’s, right? Like a Ceaser’s?
J: Like Ceasers. A lot of my friends didn’t. So
I: So now, what is Korea to you?
J: What is it to me? I feel bad it isn’t settled yet, but, like my second country. I fought for it. I was there. It was nice. I didn’t see anything. Seoul was flattened when I saw it. There was nothing in Seoul.
J: Now it’s a big metropolis.
I: Have you been to Korea back?
I: Do you want to go back?
J: It’s too far.
I: Hey. Fourteen hours. That’s it.
J: I know. It’s too far.
I: Uh, you were drafted on January 12th. Where
I: Where did you go get basic training?
J: One week Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and we went on a train to, at that time, it’s Fort Polk now. Camp Polk, Louisiana.
J: We were there four months. Sixteen weeks of basic infantry training. From there,
J: two weeks’ furlough, back to Camp Polk. They took us to, uh, San Francisco by train, and from San Francisco, we left for Japan by ship.
I: When was it?
J: That was, We, We went to Frisco, We left there in June of ’51 by ship, and the name of the ship was The Brewster,
J: and we went to Japan, Hokkaido, Japan. I was there from June until the end of November.
I: And then?
J: We had, when I went to Japan, we got assigned to other outfits, and I was assigned to the 120thCombat Engineer Batillion, and we had intensive
J: combat engineer training.
I: Like what? Tell me.
J: Building bridges, bailey bridges, land mines, explosives, uh, all kinds of construction, from land mines down to pick and shovel. Ditching and
I: Did you like it, from barber to
J: No, no. It was hard work. When I got drafted, I think I was
J: 165 pounds, and by the pictures I brought, I, I went down to about 135, 139 pounds. We worked hard. It was, It was good, good labor, but we worked hard. Seven days a week, sun up to sun down we worked.
I: How was life in Japan?
J: Japan was good. I liked Japan.
J: We had a good time. It was good. We had,
J: you know, Saturday afternoon and Sundays off. I liked Japan.
I: But did you stay all in Hokkaido? Did you go to Tokyo?
J: Yeah. Hokkaido only.
I: No. Hokkaido only.
I: When did you leave for Korea?
J: Sometime, uh, I think the end of November. From June, yeah, the end of November, around the beginning of December because I remember distinctly.
J: I arrived on the front lines of Korea the first night I was up. Christmas Eve, 1951, and all our outgoing shells, our artillery was behind us. We were up front. All our outgoing shells went over our heads, and I was a young kid, 22 years old. I didn’t know if they were coming in or going out.
J: Scared out of my boots, but we got by.
I: Where did you arrive in Korea for the first time?
J: When, sometime in the middle of December.
J: Oh, Incheon.
J: Incheon had the highest tides in the world, 30’ tides. I think we came in the middle of the night, and 10 months, 11 months later when I left, it had to be 2:00 in the morning because that’s when the tides were up, and the LSD used to come get us.
I: And then, do you remember the name of the base camp in the front line?
Where was it? Was it like a . . .
J: I was in the [Chuowan] Valley. I was on old Baldy,
I: Old Baldy.
J: That was a tough battle, uh.
I: But you were in combat engineering, right?
I: So you were not in the front, front line, but you were
J: There was a couple of instances where combat engineers, a squad, would be assigned. We were in front of our infantry.
J: We had to go clean out trenches and get them ready for our infantry to attack and retake the hill, and there was, the Chinese would take it every night, and our infantry would take it back every day. And before they went back early in the morning, daybreak,
J: we had to go up and clean out the dead bodies, the Chinese dead bodies, get them out of there and clean up, uh, the trenches and make it roomy. Oh, and the stench, smell, I can still smell it.
I: Do you still see that corpse?
J: Yeah, I can see it. I can picture it. That’s ’64, ’60. . .
I: Does that bother you?
J: No. No.
I: You don’t have PTSD?
J: Yeah, a little bit. More for some of my friends
J: that got killed. I had guys drop dead right in front, next to me. Other guys got wounded. I escaped. It don’t, It bothers me, but, you know, what are you gonna do?
I: Describe the routine days of your service at [Chuowan].
J: Uh, I told you up, up there. Every day we fell out at 6:00 A.M.
J: We got our assignments for the day, like our company had four platoons, and there was four squads in each platoon, and every day we got out assignments, and we would go have breakfast, and at 7:00 A.M. we would leave for our assignment. One day I would be up in front of our infantry cleaning out trenches. For our infantry, they would re-attack the hill.
J: The next day I might get an assignment and I’d go 15 – 20 miles back and build an outhouse for a General. You never knew what you were gonna do. We used to disarm mine fields. We used to put in mine fields, uh, build foot bridges or we’d put up a Bailey bridge to, for the river. You never knew what you were gonna do.
J: It was like working for the Parks and Recreation Department or the Highway Department for a city or a town. We got assigned our duties, and we did it.
I: How was weather?
J: Just like ours. It was, It was cold. I lived in a tent for 18 months overseas.I dreamt of three things when I was in Korea.
J: Running water
J: Running water
I: Uh huh.
J: My sister used to make icebox cake. That was vanilla pudding, graham crackers and chocolate pudding and veal cutlets. That’s all I thought about.
I: Very optimistic.
J: And I finally got it. And every time I turn a faucet today, I think of Korea.
J: Never fails. Hot and cold running water. That, Because I wanted it so bad when I was in Korea that you can’t forget it. Isn’t that foolish?
I: Did you stay all in [Chuowan] Valley or did you move around?
J: We moved around. We
I: Old Baldy and then?
J: Old Baldy, [Chuowan] Valley, I forget
J: now some of the names. It’s really too far back. Yeah. Maybe I didn’t pay attention then. I remember Heartbreak Ridge.
I: Oh, you were there, too?
J: I remember, that and near it, uh I saw mistakes. I saw, uh, our jets Napalm our own hills and that happened.
I: Tell me about it.
J: Well, we said they’re bombing their hills. That was it.
I: Collateral damage.
J: It is, we did our duty, but you know, it was a matter of survival. Everybody you know, was on their own. You had to do your duty, do your fighting, do your work, but you’re always thinking of surviving. And many a times,
J: if we bunched up when we were doing our work in mine fields or putting in a culvert or ditching some roads or putting crushed rock on roads, we did our duty and under direct enemy observation. And if we bunched up too much, the Chinese would start throwing mortaring at us. Now, being young and crazy, we used to challenge them.
J: When I think of it, we’d go down in the mine field to start the, reactivate them, take out the bodies that got caught in the minefields the night before the Chinese patrols, clean up the minefields, get the bodies out. Then we would reactivate the Bouncing Betty mines, if we were one or two guys, we, we did all that work in no man’s land under
J: direct enemy observation, we were one, two or three guys, they wouldn’t bother us. But then we’d say one more, then another GI would come. That’s four. And then we’d go one more, and then fourth to fifth. Somewhere around five or six guys they’d throw in mortar. Now we banked on the first one. We knew.
J: They didn’t know where it was going. There would probably be 100 or 2 feet away, but then once they threw that first one, they knew where they were, and they would walk them up towards us. Now once they threw that first one, we’d throw off a rifle, our belt, out helmet, and we’d run up that hill. I was young, 22-year-old guy, 135 pounds. I was like a deer,
J: and we used to outrun the mortar, run up, jump in somewhere, foxholes, wait for it to calm down, and then go back down, finish our work. But that’s what we did. We played games with them, and we got away with it.
I: What was the most difficult thing to you while you were in Korea?
J: The work.
J: The work. Seven days a week.
I: Was it,
I: must have been very . . .
J: Seven days a week, sun up to sun down, the work.
I: And dangerous.
J: And it was dangerous.
I: Were there any moments that you might have killed yourself?
J: No, no.
I: Or being killed?
J: That thought was always there.
I: Always there. Demining. Did you do demining or mining?
J: We did both.
I: Both. Do you have any episode about it?
J: An article I showed you.
I: Explain it to me. Show it to the camera.
J: This is a, This is a company newsletter.
I: Uh huh.
J: And it was written by a fellow in the Headquarters Company. His name was Seymour Duel from New York. Never forgot it. And it’s a story about,
J: uh, 13 or 15 combat engineers who volunteered to go disarm some mines to clear a path for out infantry to go do battle, and, you know, when you were young, we, we took a lot of chances. We didn’t want to get killed, but we took a lot of chances. Uh, we dealt with a lot of
J: detonating dynamite to, uh, widen roads for our engineers and bulldozer operators. We used to jackhammer a hole, and then we’d fill the hole with dynamite and then we’d blast it so we could get part, get past the frozen part of the soil. Then once we blasted a hole and got to the part that wasn’t frozen,
J: then the bulldozers would go in and bust it up and make the roads wider. Uh, a lot of those holes we stuffed with dynamite, TNT and, uh, C3 with the blasting caps. They didn’t go off. They were damp or wet, and you were supposed to wait. We had to wait half hour, an hour and make sure it didn’t, it wasn’t delayed.
J: We’d wait a minute or two and go right back, take the faulty one out and put in another blasting cap. So you took a lot of chances. Playing with the Chinese border and, you had to do something to pass the time. I was there 10 months and one week, and finally we came home. We got rotated out. You needed to have points. You got three or points a month. I had, you needed 36 points to rotate out
J: of combat, and I had something like 42 points, and there was no relief, and I was there longer than what I should have been, so, you did anything to pass time. But then when it got near the end, you knew you were going to be rotated home. Now you became a little bit more careful. Didn’t take as many chances.
I: Did you have any Korean soldier fighting with you or any Korean boy?
J: Korean Service Corp.. They were Koreans that were too old to fight, but they were assigned. For every GI platoon we had, we had a platoon of older Korean workers. We called them, uh, Korean Service Corp., KOC, and for almost every GI
J: there was a, a, Korean Service Corpsmen, and they used to, they were laborers, and did, yeah, they were assigned.
I: They carried things for you guys, right?
J: Yeah, yeah. They worked right alongside of us. That’s Kim. He worked right alongside me. He did anything we wanted. He was, He, He’s not one of the older guys. He was a younger Korean assigned to our outfit. He was like a handyman, valet,
J: errand boy, he was a gopher. But him and I were good friends. He was a big, young, strong guy. You can see how big he was.
J: He was tough. He was a good kid. Kim.
I: Kim. And that’s who you, at the top, that’s when you were young?
J: Believe it or not, that’s me.
I: I cannot believe it.
J: And this is some of the work we did.
J: We’d camouflaged roads so that the enemy was right over here a quarter mile away, and our trucks used to use these roads that we built for supplies.
I: Where was it? Was it Charwon or . . .
J: That probably on the way up to Old Baldy, camouflage, camouflage
I: And I see that you are having haircut.
J: And I, I was a barber when I got drafted.
J: I used to cut my Army buddies hair.
I: Angel barber, huh, during the Korean War?
J: Don’t laugh. This is an outhouse we built.
I: What house?
J: This is an outhouse, an outdoor, wooden toilet.
I: Wooden toilet.
J: Yeah. And that’s in full combat gear, uh.
J: This is Betty Hutton, a popular actress and entertainer. In the early 50’s, she visited us in Korea with the USO.
I: I know. Marilyn Monroe was there, too.
J: Oh. Eddie Fisher came see us.
I: Bob Hope.
J: Bob Hope. I was on guard duty. I heard Eddie Fisher, but I didn’t see him. But, uh, I got to go see her, and
I: Very nice. You know, looking back all those years, right, very nice. But during your fight. When did you return to the States?
J: I got relieved of duty in Korea, I think it was October 14, 1952. And then . . .
I: What were you thinking when you left Korea? Did you
I: think about the future of Korea?
J: Not really.
I: Not really.
J: Just relieved and happy to, to have survived it, you know, because I knew a lot of fellows didn’t. Felt a tiny bit guilty, more so later. That’s where the PTSD comes in. Tiny bit of remorse and guilt and, I was relieved of that,
J: uh, by counseling and, uh, you know, just happy to survive.
J: In my older age, I, uh, got some medical issues, you know, medication and heart problems and, all things that older men get, and I participate, I go to the VA Hospital, and it’s
J: like a tie to the Army. I, I enjoy going to the VA, and the VA has taken care of me just great.
I: Any injuries, wounds?
J: Uh, yes and no. I fell off, we were building a Bailey Bridge in Japan, and I fell off the bridge. I only fell about 6’, but I hit the corner of a steel transom on my left hip,
J: this is the God’s honest truth. My left hip hurts me to this very day from that fall. But it was a week before we disembarked for Korea, and I, I complained to my platoon sergeant. I complained to my platoon sergeant that I had fallen and my hip was hurting me,
J: and, and most of the outfit had moved ahead of us to Koreaand our Medical Corp. Sick Hall was gone, and there was a, a skeleton crew left behind, and I wanted to go to Sick Hall because I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t get out of my bunk.
I: You know what happened to Korea, right, after the War?
I: What do you know about the modern Korea? What do you know?
J: Well, I got a Korean SUV, a Hyundai. I got a Toyota Avalon is 14 years old. It’s the best care I have owned. That was made in Japan, but the, my Hyundai made in Korea. I’ve kept track of Korea since I, uh, since I was there. The War isn’t settled yet. It’s too bad. It’s still the North and the South. They could go back to combat at any time.
- I would feel bad if that happens because, happened because I hope what I went through as a young fellow isn’t or wasn’t wasted. That’s the sad part.If it was wasted. If it was all for nothing.
I: What is the good part?
J: The good part, it’s a country that developed and is competitive in the world, and I feel good about Korea.
I: Why do you think it’s been known as a forgotten war? Why?
J: I remember when I got out. There was no bands. There was nothing. I got out, I got discharged. I got out on a Friday, and I went back to work Monday, no nothing. No recognition, and the Korean War was the forgotten war. Even for years when I got out I never even talked about it or thought about it.
I: Yourself didn’t talk about it, right?
J: Yeah. I forgot about it.
J: It didn’t, It didn’t even phase me. I just, that was one bad part of my life, and I discounted it. It’s, In my old age now, people are starting to recognize it, and, uh, no matter where I go now because if I dress on my lapel, I got the little Korean War, uh, symbol, that ribbon.
J: I got a little ½’ one, and people go what is that? I go that’s the Korean War, and now people say thank you for your service. Never had that when I was younger. All during my, I got discharged, I was close to 23 years old, so the rest of my 20’s, never talked about Korea. All of my 30’s, all of my 40’s, it was forgotten because it was right after World War II,
J: and that, World War II was such a tremendous war.
I: And victorious war.
J: Victorious. Such a tremendous, victorious war. We came home, we didn’t win anything. Everybody went there and did their part . We didn’t win anything. We didn’t conquer anybody. We held our line.
I: And World War II was for the country that you knew very well,
I: and the country that you originated from.
J: People don’t even know where Korea was, myself included before I got drafted.
J: It was partly our fault. But you know, the Veteran’s groups, I belong to every Veteran’s group that was available, and, you know, we kept it alive that way. Then little by little they started to get, you know, all the World War II veterans died
J: and now it’s us. Now there aren’t many of us left.
I: That’s why we need to do this interview before it gets too late so that we can hear from you, the Veterans, that because of those reasons it’s been forgotten, but it shouldn’t be, right?
F: Have you talked about the war with your family? Have they asked you about the war?
J: You know, in the beginning no. Like I say, of late. The older you get, the more that they realize,
J: you know. I got, my daughters now, they’re, one’s going to be 60, the other’s 55. Now they start to ask some questions. But, you know, they grew up with these pictures. So they just, you know, when you grow up with something you just assume it and take it for granted. But now, the older I get and I’m getting near the end of the line, they’re starting to realize, you know, I was a young guy, too, and I did my duty.
I: Do you have any questions?
M: Do I have any questions? So you said there was no fanfare like for the Veterans when they came back home.
J: Not at all.
M: How did that make you feel? Were you disappointed in your country for not giving you appropriate recognition? What were your thoughts on that?
J: No, at that time I was just relieved to be back, you know. But I enjoyed the Army. This is my original dogtag.
J: I had two. I had one on a keychain years ago. I
I: Show it to the camera.
J: I lost it, but I saved this one. I had this, This is the original chain, the original remaining dogtag and my original P38 can opener, original. After 16 weeks of infantry training in Camp Polk, Louisiana,
J: this is the graduation picture.
I: Where are you?
J: This is Camp Polk, Louisiana. I’m over here under that American flag. Because
I: Ahh, that’s why…
J: I put the flag there because people say where are you, where are you? You did. I’m under the flag. This is a collage of Army pictures, just highlights of, because I’ve got a lot of Army pictures I got a bag of them.
I: Yeah, you have
J: And I just picked out key
J: ones that mean something to me, and I put them in this collage, and they hang in my den. It’s a picture
I: In Japan.
J: In Japan, and that’s my friend Sal Lueshro. He’s my age. He lives in, uh, Hartford, Connecticut. He’s still living, one of the very few. Sal Lueshro and myself in Japan,
J: and we asked one of the fellows who ride the bike if we could take a picture on it, and he let us take a picture.
I That’s R and R in Japan, okay?
F: You recognized it, huh?
I: Oh yeah. Instantly.
F: How about this?
J: This is in Korea. That’s a 50 caliber machine gun that we had up, set up outside for our protection.
J: That was real, and we all were trained to use it if we had to. That was back a little bit from the front lines because we, we lived in that squad tent. That’s what I lived in.
I: I want you to think about going back to Korea. You will not believe in your eyes that what
J: Imagine that.
I: you’re going to see even though you know what happened through the pictures and,
I: and other medium. This video can be come up in one of the classrooms in the United States
J: Oh wow.
I: in 20 years, and they will still talking about the guy who never knew the country and made, and provided opportunity to the Korean people to rebuild their nation so that it become beautiful. Remember, can anything good come out of Nazareth that is Korea.
[End of Recorded Material]