Korean War Legacy Project

Joseph De Palma


Joseph “Joe” De Palma was born in Italy in 1931.  His father was a United States citizen and moved his family to Fair Lawn, New Jersey shortly after he was born in 1931.  Upon graduating from Fair Lawn High School, he was drafted into the Army in May of 1951 and received his training at Aberdeen Maryland as a Tank Mechanic.  In November of 1951, he arrived in Korea at Kimpo Air Base with the 3rd Infantry Division and was assigned to help clear an area of all civilians.  This area would later become part of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).

Video Clips

Creating The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ)

Joseph De Palma describes his experiences during the creation of the Demilitarized Zone and his interaction with the local Koreans who lived in the area along the 38th parallel. He describes the day a woman with two toddlers needed to be moved south to safety. He recalls that along the way she wanted to stop and build a fire and prepare a meal for her children but since that was not feasible, he gave her cans of food and she and the children sat on a rock and had a picnic.

Tags: Civilians,Food,Front lines,Women

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Family Serving in Korea at the Same Time

Joseph De Palma describes visiting with his cousin who was also serving in Korea at the same time with the 1st Marine Division. He explains that he and his cousin grew up together since they were toddlers and he was very happy that he was able to locate him. He explains that he later received a letter from his sister saying that his cousin had been shot and had returned home but died from complications from his injuries.

Tags: Home front,Personal Loss

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Then and Now

Joseph De Palma describes the changes he saw when he returned to South Korea in 2010. He recalls how Seoul had been flattened the first time he saw it. He marvels at how big and amazing the city is now with its tall buildings and expressway.

Tags: Aprokgang (Yalu River),Busan,Seoul,Modern Korea,Physical destruction

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

J:         My name is, uh, Joe De Palma and, uh, I was a, I was a like Italian parents or im, immigrants. Matter of fact, I was born in Italy cause my father who was a, he was an American citizen that went back to Italy to, uh, get married and, uh, and it took him 18 months to get my Mom a green card


I:          Um.

J:         and I mentioned I was born there.  I was only a few months old when I come to the United States and, uh,

I:          When was it?

J:         This was in 1931, I mean 19 uh, yeah, 19, I was born in ’31, so the same year I come back, I come out as a baby.  I went to a Catholic school, Our Lady of Mount Car, Lady of Mount Carmel, Ridgewood, New Jersey and then I,


that, uh, my hometown was Fairlawn, New Jersey.  High school I’m in the draft, it, uh, when I was drafted, I was in high school, Fairlawn High School.  Matter of fact, the first year we had a high school in that town.

I:          Were you aware of Korea?  Have you heard about Korea?

J:         Well, no.  I never heard of a Korea really.  I mean I was


I:          But they didn’t teach you in the high, history class about Korea?

J:         Well, no, nothing there.  We had Lit and History.  I was a, Geography was my favorite subject, and Korea never come up.

I:          Hm.  Do you remember what date that you were drafted, and where did you go to receive military training?

J:         I was drafted in the first week of May.  I don’t remember the exact day, in 1951 and, uh,


because of my, uh, mechanical background with, uh, cars and trucks, as a toddler I spent my year, my time at home in my buddy’s junkyard and repair garage.

I:          During your high school days?

J:         During my high school days, and they sent me right to tank school after basic training.  I went to tank school and then right, from there I went right to Korea.

I:          Where did you go to receive military training?

J:         In, Aberdeen, Maryland.


I:          Do you remember when you arrived in Inchon for the first time?

J:         Yeah.  In a troop ship.  Of course, we got down off the max.

I:          What, what was the date?

J:         That was in November, last week in November and that’s, I don’t remember the date.

I:          1951.

J:         One.

I:          Um hm.  How was the Inchon area?

J:         Oh, I don’t, uh, there’s nothing that I can recall there,


just, there was nothing exceptionally.  I went right to my, uh, [INAUDIBLE] company that, you know, you, 3rdDivision, was assigned to the 3rdDivision in Japan, and they, they sent me a, I spent about only a couple days at Inchon, and then I went right to my, my company.

I:          Where your company was?

J:         Company was up, up in the,


all I remember is about 20 miles north of Uijeongbu.  That’s all I remember.  And the 38thsomewhere around.  It was located.

I:          And were you tank commander?  What was your role and mission?

J:         Well, my, I was a tank mechanic.

I:          Mechanic.

J:         And, uh, basically what it was, we had a, we were a team of, a team of five mechanics,


and the, well, we had one sergeant and four mechanics, and we were all about the same age.  We were all about 20, 21, 29 and, uh, you gotta remember most of the tanks in Korea were Persian tanks and, uh, Sherman tanks from World War II [INAUDIBLE]  I was with the 3rdDivision, 3rdInfantry Division, and we had, uh, Shermans, the latest and newest and, uh, and, uh,


there was nothing more, much to do other than just tune ups, keep them running, maybe I’ll, maybe I’ll change a track, track once in a while. But, uh, like I said, tracks were very, up to a point with tanks, the ac, action was very limited, and that was my job, you just keep trucks running.

I:          When did you discharged?

J:         Well, it was, I was discharged from the service in, uh, uh, February ’53, and then I had to serve


a, I was keepin, what they called them at that time, and I don’t know if it’s still active, but it’s called the Ready Reserve.  They gave me a whole new set of uniforms to be ready for five years.  December 1951.  This is when they decided to make the, uh, main line, uh, the, border across Korea non-combat area which is referenced today as


in the DMZ, the DMZ.

I:          Right, right, right.

J:         Right.  The DMZ. From the east, east coast to the west coast, it was a one-day operation.  Everybody got involved except for the guys that were actually in the bunkers

I:          Um hm.

J:         holding the line.  And, to declare the, those ravines, everybody had to, had to clear everybody out of the subject area.  And, uh, the only thing that


problemI ever got with anybody is, uh, we come to an old farmhouse, me and the, my partner at the time, and there was, there was a young lady there with two little toddlers.  I remember we, we got it so we sort of took her with us, took her up to where the train is, where the staging area where the trucks were parked, and they were taking them all back to south of Seoul somewhere.


And, uh, after a while we were walking.  She had a, she had a bag of some sort.  She stopped. She took out a frying pan, put it on some, uh, I remember some corn, cereal, or whatever it was.  I remember, I definitely remember the corn.  And she, she wanted to feed the kids.  I said fine.  We’ll just wait and let her feed the kids.  And, uh, then she wanted a, then she started collecting sticks.  She wanted to make a fire.


Oh we can’t have a fire and uh, no way, and, and uh, when she insisted on making a fire for, warming up the, she had a jar, a small jar.  It was like milk, milky, flu, a little fluid in there, white, looked like milk. It was some white fluid, and she wanted to feed the kids.  So what I, what I did that day, we have a, besides the K, well, she heard of K rations, and they come in cans,


so a regular size can is only a few inches tall.  But they had another ration at the time.  It’s called, we called them sub rations.  They were a little like little sardine cans, and I, and I loaded up my pockets full of them. So, so then I said, I opened one of these cans.  I said well, I’m gonna feed them, feed them this, you know, and, you know, that was great stuff.  This, I think it was, uh, like a, it was like eggs with bacon in it.  That’s the stuff I liked most


and those are the cans I really loved.  And said okay, and we walked over to a flat rock and I unloaded all of my cans, opened them up, there like little what we used to call a P38 or a little can opener and, uh, it seemed we had a little picnic there.

I:          What was the reaction from your family and your friends and people?
J:         So my, I, I grew up with a, a cousin, and his name was Red Selano.  He, uh, he found


me one time when our division was in reserve, he found me there in Korea.  This was the summer of 1952, and he located me, and he, got, I was really glad to see him, and then I got a letter from his sister saying that he was shot and then, He finally did make it home, but they couldn’t control the, uh

I:          Your cousin were in Korea, too?

J:         Yeah.  He was with the First Marine Division in Korea.

I:          Oh.

J:         And he, he located me when I was in, when I was in Korea.


I:          So were you able to see him?

J:         Yes.  He come and visit me.  Really surprised to see him.  Like I said, we did, uh, we grew up just, uh, as toddlers we grew up together [INAUDIBLE] and the just, uh, he was only there a few hours and then he had to make his way back home, back to his own, his own outfit again.

I:          When did he die?  And out of what?

J:         He died, he was, well he, he was, he got a shoulder wound that they couldn’t control the blood poisoning.  They sent


him home, and the, he died when he was home before I got back.

I:          Have you been back to Korea?

J:         Yeah.  I’ve been there.  I went back there to make a, in, in June 1910, uh, 20, 2010.  And we were over there make a

I:          2010 you mean?

J:         Yeah.

I:          Yeah.


J:         Went there to make a, a, a movie like with a, with a, our chapter.  We were, 10 of us went there.  And then that wasn’t, [INAUDIBLE] biggest thing is that I’ve been in the, I drove through Seoul once going to my ou, outfit.  I come back on Seoul and I drove through the city of Seoul my way home, I went, I mean, I went to Japan


three times when I was in Korea. I, I, so I drove through Seoul three more times just to go to the airport at Kimpo, fly to Japan, and, uh, I seen the city.  I seen the city was flattened.  [INAUDIBLE] few of anything standing and, uh, when I went in the, to see a city, to see Seoul today, it’s, it’s the biggest thing that amazes me in my life I think.

I:          Um.

J:         To see what these people done is like, just


like being back in the subway, tall buildings, uh, expressway.  It was [INAUDIBLE]drive.  We drove slowly and went down to Pus, ah, Pusan for a while there and, uh, compared to those old dirt roads that was there before hand, before, uh.  This, this is the most amazing thing


in such a short time. The truth is at first, when I first left Korea, I always thought this is an awful mistake that, uh, I should have, Mr. MacArthur went back to the Yellow, but, uh, that’s amazing what the, I think that was the, I still think it was a big mistake.  They wouldn’t go back to the Yellow, but what they did today makes me, who would think that we’d be driving Korean cars today


and, uh, the thing what happened like I say, uh, I can remember like World War II, when the soldiers come back and they would have to ship them over to, into port, and they would have bands and everybody meeting them.  I come, we come to the, like in my case, we pulled into the city of Seattle, it was at night and, uh, most I remember was a, a donut truck with donut and coffee truck and


some woman standing by it, and that’s, from there we just went home.  They, they were, maybe a lot of them were still worried about the second World war.  There was only about five years or so after the second cause I can remember, uh, I can remember second World War as a kid because, uh, we had, across the road from us, I used to live at a, a block from the, uh,


Curtis Wright plant Number Three where they built the, uh, engines for the B17s, and across the street from our house, the Army built a couple of towers that had anti-aircraft guns to protect the plant, and this was during the war when I was just a kid it was like well, the rationing and everything took place there.  I used to go to, we used to go to school, we used to pieces of scrap, we used to save, pick up the piece [INAUDIBLE] we found something and we’d take it to the schoolyard


for scrap drive.

I:          2013 will be the 60thanniversary of the Korean

J:         Yes.

I:          Armistice.  Have you heard about any war lasted more than 60 years after official cease fire?

J:         No, I, well, all I remember is my history book of a 30-year war and

I:          But that’s a long time ago.

J:         Yeah, a long time ago.

I:          Yeah.  You are the one who were there actually, fought against the Communism, and there are many problems remaining there but symbolically I think


you are the most legitimate voice to say that enough is enough and let’s end the war peacefully. So you are willing to sign that?

J:         Yes, yes, of course.

I:          Okay.

[End of Recorded Material]



Joseph De Palma and Teammates

A picture of De Palma and his five teammates for the Six Man Team, which was directed to different units of the 3rd Infantry Division. Their job was to keep the tanks, trucks, and Jeeps running. The picture was taken at the 10th Combat Engineer's Base Camp, which was in between the Imjin River and Yeonchon. Taken in 1952.

Joseph De Palma and Teammates

Joseph De Palma

Joseph De Palma in the 10th Combat Engineer Base Camp. Taken inbetween the Imjin River and Yeonchon in 1952.

Joseph De Palma

Joseph De Palma

Joseph De Palma standing in front of many trucks in the 10th Combat Engineer Base Camp. Taken inbetween the Imjin River and Yeonchon in 1952.

Joseph De Palma