Korean War Legacy Project

Joseph F. Hanlon


Joseph F. Hanlon was on December 18, 1928 in San Francisco, California. After he graduated from Lincoln High School in 1946, he went to work at a drapery company before being drafted into the US Army in January 1951. He received basic training at Fort Ord, California and was deployed to Korea via the USS  Marine Phoenix, arriving in Pusan in September 1951. He was assigned to the 3rd Division, 7th Regiment, Intelligence/Reconnaissance Platoon as a rifleman and participated in many battles. He was rotated back to the United States in February 1952 and finished his service. He went on to be an entrepreneur and lives in the San Francisco area.

Video Clips

Special Assignment

Joseph F. Hanlon talks about his special assignment as a rifleman in an intelligence/reconnaissance platoon. He describes being assigned by his commander to comb through the dead bodies of enemy soldiers in order to gather information.

Tags: Communists,Front lines,Letters

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Thanksgiving with the Vice President

Joseph F. Harlon talks about a would-be visit by Vice President Alben Barkley on Thanksgiving Day 1951. He describes building facilities and readying for the visit that never happened.

Tags: Food,Home front,Rest and Relaxation (R&R)

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I Forgot My Weapon

Joseph F. Harlon tells a humorous story about forgetting his rifle and his ammunition while on the front line.

Tags: Food,Front lines,Living conditions

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Recorded Material]

J: Joseph Hanlon

J: H A N L O N, last name.

I: mm-hmm.

I: What is your birthday?

J: 12-18-28.

I: One year before the Great Depression.

J: I caused it.

I: You caused it?

I: Where were you born?

J: St. Mary’s Hospital, San Francisco.

I: St. Mary’s Hospital in 


Ok, and tell me about your family, and including parents and siblings when you were growing up.

J: Well my parents, my dad was raised in an orphanage part of his life, and his sister was an indentured maidist far as we could tell in San Francisco and when she got a day off she would go down and scrub my dad because of the 


bed bugs, cooties, and mice and everything. My mother ran away at 15, her mother died at the age of 33, and her father was living with another woman so, she ran away from home and lived with her sister who was married at the time she was only about 16 or 17, she was married and so, eventually and then my dad was born in 1900, my mother was born in 1903, eventually 


of course they met and got married and I have an older sister, who is 93 and

I: Was she in the orphanage?

J: Pardon?

I: Was she was in the orphanage too, with you?

J: No, no just my dad. He eventually got out, he and my mother both had a 6th grade education, my dad eventually went to work as a mechanic for a company called, the Hoover Spring Company which was an auto repair


Brakes, realigning, things like that. Um, and he eventually broke off and he went into business for himself with a friend by the name [Frank Nunez] they eventually bought a building on 10th and Howard and turned it into an auto repair shop, and uh then we attended school my sister and I, she went to Washington Highschool, we moved to the Sunset District, and I went to Lincoln High School. 


I: When did you graduate?

J: In ‘46. Fall of ‘46.

I: And did you know anything about Korea? 

J: Not a thing. 

I: Not a thing?

J: Not a thing. And uh, eventually we knew about Korea because of what was going on in the news and I was drafted in 1951, in January of ‘51, spent my time at Fort Ord.


I: Mm-hmm

J: Uh, shortly after I arrived there I got very sick and

I: When did you arrive in Korea?

J: No I was talking about in, Fort Ord

I: Okay

J: I got very ill and if wasn’t for a friend of mine from grammar school in junior high school that went down to the cadre and told them that they better get me to the hospital 


and that was John Flemming, dear friend of mine and he was black and that was the last I ever saw of John because I spent two weeks in the hospital with pneumonia and 105 temperature. They eventually let me out and I went back into basic training, the new outfit seven weeks into basic training the sergeant said you’re sick, you’re going back on sick call in the morning so I did. 


And they took x-rays and said we’ll call you if we find anything. Three weeks later he said, you’re sick you’re going on sick call again tomorrow morning. I went back and found out, that I for 10 weeks through infiltration course did black fourth marches, I had pneumonia in a collapsed lung for 10 weeks going through basic training and finally the head of the hospital raised all kind of hell and I 


Was in the hospital for another 6 weeks. Um came out, back in about 2 weeks later for another week and supposedly was going to take care of it uh and finally I ended up in Korea, left you know out of San Francisco and funny thing is I was in the drapery business.

I: What business?

J: Drapery. Curtains.

I: Mh-hmm

J: And we had done


The draperies at Pittsburgh, California Camp Stoneman and of course when I was going overseas I ended up at Camp Stoneman I got to see the draperies I put in there 6 months before [LAUGHS] so ended up in Korea eventually in September.

I: When?

J: In September ‘51

I: Mm-hmm.

J: And the 

I: Where did you arrive?

J: Pardon?

I: Where did you arrive in Korea?


J: Poussan, I guess. The name of the ship was the Marine Phoenix and actually it went dead in the water between Korea and Japan uh and some of the guys aboard the boat were wondering if the North Korean’s had submarines.

I: Mm-hmm.

J: Which went no. [LAUGHS]



J: They were worried, so we ended up in Korea and I ended up on the 3rd division 7th infantry regiment.

I: I’m sorry again. What unit?

J: 3rd division. 

I: Mm-hmm.

J: 7th infantry division, my regiment.

I: Mm-hmm.

J: And I was in the Iron Arm platoon intelligence reconnaissance.  

I: What was your MOS?

J: Uh rifleman, yeah. And we met Lieutenant Richmond. He was an RA, uh had gotten a battlefield commission.


And he said I’m gonna need three of you four guys that are brand new, I’ll want you for a special assignment and that’ll be too when we take a hill that you will go over all the old all the dead bodies and pick up all the information you can off of them, letters, wallet, pictures, anything and this one fella 


said I don’t think I can do that I’ve got a heart murmur and so Lieutenant Richmond let him go  he then said I also need a volunteer today there’s a sniper out there and I said I’ll go and the reason I said that for my own protection 1. 1. It was daytime. 2. I’d be going with seasoned veterans, and I could get a 


Picture of the terrain, before nightfall and all the nights we were gonna be there. 

I: It was smart.

J: at that particular area.

I: You’re smart.

J: Yeah. So uh which we did not find the sniper. Uh so then on to the regular daily routine of manning outposts, going on patrols, uh and uh we also had at


One time the vice President Barkely was going to come visit us in particular.

I: Wow. 

J: And so several of us, we came off the line we went to the rear echelon to reconnoiter an area to set up for the President the vice President and this was also the day before Thanksgiving. And so we missed out on the Thanksgiving dinner we were supposed to have that the staff chaffe 


was going to bring up to the front line and we found a place we start to set up. We had to paint white rocks, build out houses, tent areas, for Vice President Barkely, his wife and the whole entourage that was coming with him, and they didn’t show. 


J: So poor chaffee had to go out


and scrounge up so more turkeys uh, to re-cook another dinner. He did cooked another dinner and he didn’t show again. So he cooked three turkey dinner and we eventually got one ourselves.

I: Good for you. [LAUGHS]

J: And the vice President never did show up. [LAUGHS]

I: What happened?

J: We don’t know, yeah. 

I: So from Poussan, where did you go?

J: Well all


Over there. Wherever the 3rd division was moved from one section to another depending on what was happening, you know. We sometimes pulled off to go uh to go another area because of the problems they were having. Uh we also had at one time we had the first CAB division on our left and we had thee the ROK army on our right. And the 3rd division had a reputation that Koreans,


 North Koreans didn’t want to mess with us too much and so they were being attacked on either side of us quite a bit. We had to watch our flanks all the time, eventually it took the Korean army off and sent them back for 6 more weeks of basic training uh it was their civil war and I would expect that a lot of them didn’t want to fight their own friends own neighbors maybe? On the North side so you know then there, 


Are different things that happened. Some funny things one incident in particular, we were manning outposts on the line and we had a bunker maybe half a mile, mile behind the lines where we would have built a bunker, and there was this fella Mike there who had been through so much uh that he had all kind of hand weapons with him. 


And one day he was going up to the line to deliver mail and he said who will ride shotgun? I said I’ll go with you it was very quiet day. So I get in the jeep we start off and get down about 100 feet and he said where’s your weapon? I said it’s back in the bunker. He backs up, I get in the bunker, I get my weapon it was a Carbi. 


So I get back in the Jeep, we take off, we get about the same distance, he looks over and says where’s your ammunition? 


J: I said it’s back in the bunker, so right back I go in the bunker, I go to get my ammunition but there’s a big milky way bar there and it fit perfectly in the chamber for the ammuntion and I said to the guy watch this. So i put the Milky


Way bar in there, went out got back in the jeep, sitting there like this here and he takes off and he looks over and oh not again. [LAUGHS]  He said okay I give up! 


J: So we delivered the mail, yeah. So you had to look at things you know, occasionally looked at things or trying to be humorous in what you were seeing and in what you were doing.

I: Were you disinterested in your service? Or was it absent minded? 


What was it? 

J: What was that now?

I: Oh were you absent minded? Or disinterested in your service? What was happening to you that you keep forgetting about it? 

J: Oh no, no, no, we were out on patrol and we were manning outposts and I was sent over to another division one day here that the Chinese broke through one time. The Chinese broke through all the time there was always Chinese running behind the line.


And I had to walk through a deserted village over to another outfit and walk up and introduce myself to the Lieutenant and he said what the devil are you doing here?  You want to get somebody else get killed? And so I had to get into a the trench hole by myself, didn’t know anybody and spend the night like that. And then we went out of patrol the next morning. And we were suppose to take in prisoners if we could find them. When we were on patrol


Because uh, they wanted information and you know a lot of time the guys got very hostile towards the enemy because of what was happening. Buddies getting killed, the enemy walking around in the white clothing like civilians and we didn’t know who they were we didn’t know if they were civilians we didn’t know if they were North Korean or Chinese or what. 


And so NM guys would be wounded or killed because of that they were worried the troops that go out and not bring back a prisoner thing. If there was one to have they would bring it back. They would shoot them, so that was one of the things we were asked to do to make sure that we brought some back if we could show. And you know that was just a regular routine. 


Of a couple squads that manned the outposts and we were on line most of the time.

I: At the 38th parallel? 

J: Yeah.

I: Do you remember any names of the locations? 

J: No i remember we weren’t there but we were near a hill they called [Dagmar]. 

I: Peng ma? 

J: Now

I Whitehorse you mean?


J: Yeah. Now Dagmar was an actress from England 

I: Oh, Tech ma.

J: Damar and she was richly endowed and that so that’s where the name came from 


And so that’s where the name Dagmar came because it was a high hill. 

I: Where? In the West or East? 

J: Uh, I think East. I think. Yeah.

I: Was it pork chop hill? Or?

J: No not pork chop hill, i know about that, we weren’t there. I know we moved around a fair amount.

I: Mm-hmm.

J: Yeah.

I: Were there any very dangerous encounters with the chinese or the North Koreans at the time you were serving there?


J: Where? Well the chinese were there of course. By the time we got there and you know.

I: How close was?

J: Well you know at times they were so close. We went on a patrol one time and they weren’t I’d say 100 yards away. 

I: That’s it?

J: They were in there in there bunk well they were in the cave and and it was we were standing


On  a finger of a hill and they didn’t fire at us and so they called back to the refs to rear us along and they said lighten a load. And that meant that we had the 57 recoaliness weapons and firing into their cave. They didn’t fire back and so.

I: You are lucky that you are still alive. 

J: In fact right, I’ve been so sick for so long.


And I ended up at the VA hospital two years after I got out up there to see my professor at College of San Mateo we had started a veterans club. And he said, I told him about the chest pains I was having and he said you get back up to San Francisco and you go to Letterman Hospital and you have them check you out. And I went up there and they took x-rays.


 And they said you’ve got an arthritic condition of your lungs, you’ll have it for the rest of your life goodbye. And so all the time I was over there I was not in question in great of health as I would like to been. And in fact on that particular patrol, I said I’m not gonna stand on the finger of this hill and be shot at, so I laid down and I feel asleep. 


And my troops took off. I was up there by myself. Didn’t realize it. 

I: They didn’t wake you up?

J: I just grabbed my weapon and I rolled off the hill and I ran down caught up to my troops and they turned around and said where you been? You know, but you know I was, it took me a long time to get over the  illness. 

I: Are you okay, now?

J: Oh yeah. I’ve been


Fine for years. 

I: Oh.

J: Just you know the way the VA treated me up there in Letterman and yet I go to the Palo Alto VA hospital now and it is one of the finest hospitals I’ve ever been in. The treatment is wonderful, the doctors are very caring, I’ve never been in a hospital that I would say I have cared for more. I’d put it up against Stanford.


El Camino, any of them.  So, uh, yeah. So that’s about it yeah. 

I: What was your most difficult thing during your service in Korea? Was it your sickness? Or is there anything that really bothers you, or the greatest challenge to you?

J: No at first when you come home, and you hear a car backfire you flinch or whatever you know and 


I came home on emergency leave and I didn’t go back. I was only there just under six months. But I went you know I went back up to Camp Stoneman uh went down to Camp Roberts, over to Fort Ord and they just had us, what they should have done, is said your finished going overseas, you’re no use to us anymore they should’ve said we’ll


Let you out of army early to save the government some money. In fact, heck, [i kanshiro] who was one of the sergeants they got, he was from Hawaii and when I got back I met him at Fort Ord. He had rotated home they had shipped him to Fort Ord from Hawaii to spend three month in Fort Ord and then shipped him back to Hawaii to discharge him. So you know, unfortunately it’s a lot of waste. Yeah.


I: When did you leave Korea?

J: Um February of ‘52.

I: Mm-hmm and you said you didn’t know anything about Korea and when you left Korea you already so [devested] in Korea, did you think to yourself of the Korean future?

J: Well, I, we had 2 


interpreters affectionately known as [Scotia] and [Taks on Lee] uh, Lee was the older one uh [Taks on] they call him and he and I would have long talks about Korea he was an engineer and he felt so strongly about South Korea and what he wanted to do for his government and that’s why he was there.  Uh, and we had wonderful talks about Korea then. 


And I’ve read so much about it and I’ve watched so many things on television you know and I have a store in Saratoga and one of my neighbors in the shopping center, his name is Sam Lee and he is from Korea and he was actually a South Korea Marine in Vietnam and I have that book there that you probably know of 



I: Korea Reborn?

J: Yeah.

I: Right?

J: Yeah. and I managed to get another one. 

I: Show it to the camera, please. 

J: I  managed to get another one, and I gave it to Sam. He is so proud of that book. He showed it to the family and he keeps it in the family now. So, that you learn more about. And the different things I’ve seen on 


television about The Forgotten War and how the people are treated in North Korea that gone it’s absolutely disgraceful. 

I: What do you mean?

J: Well I showed 1 hour of filming on Channel 9.

I: Mm-hmm.

J: And it talked about the people are starving North Korea.

I: You mean now? In North Korea?

J: Oh yeah. And how this one young man would go to China and get food 


and they finally caught him doing it. They killed him. Boom. Like that he’s gone. Because they didn’t have any food where they were living. Yeah.  

I: But when you left Korea did you think Korea would become like this today?

J: No I didn’t think and it’s so marvelous. That’s why this book is so great in its so and of course I could have gone back and the South Korean government


 has been so wonderful and they for I think about 10 years, you could go back and they would put you up in a beautiful hotel and treat you to everything. Take you back up to the 38th parallel so you could see what was going on. And I had so many friends that did and they just said it was so wonderful.  

I: You haven’t been back to Korea?

J: No. My wife won’t fly. [LAUGHS]

I: [LAUGHS] Could you show me pages you like


In the book?

J: Now, these are pictures that I had taken and they are letters. There are three letters here from three different guys that were in Korea, at the time I was. I came home, and so we corresponded.

I: Show them to the camera. 

J: Yeah we corresponded. 

I: Show them to camera, please. The letter, envelope.

J: Yeah, okay.

I: So, that’s from your friend?


J: Yeah, this was from a fella named, Ernie Peterson. He was in another division but we corresponded when I got back and he wrote and he wrote me a real long letter. There was another fella named Scottie [Stromar], that I knew from San Mateo and he ended up working in the Peace Corps over there with the chrome helmets and honor guard type thing. 

I: Yeah.

J: And then there was another one, named Fred Trap who him and I were 


college students together, and he ended up rear echelon over there at first and here is a picture of me, Fred took the last day I was in Korea. 

I: Mmm. Yeah. And?

J: There’s just other pictures. There’s a picture of the bunker I mentioned. 


I: Mmmm.

J: And this odds and ends, small pictures. Just a couple of fellas. That is Jim Cornelius. There is [i kanshiro], Jim Cornelius I never thought I’d see him again, but I ran into him at the library at San Jose State.


And he became a bike cop in San Jose and he had lived in Southern California before he went to Korea. So that’s why i said I never expected to see him again. 

I: Yeah. 

J: And of course [i kanshiro] I saw down at Fort Ord afterwards. And uh, really not much else. 

I: Yeah. Could you  show me some pages


In the book? 

J: Okay. That everybody went through. Well not everybody. There’s only about 10% of all service people that ever see combat and those are government statistics. Let’s see then you get into pictures like these here of the war and how 


Things were so and the weather of course, the winter you know. Then you get into things like this here, 

I: Could you look at the page, New Beginning. No, go back.

J: This here?

I: Yes, I want to capture that new beginning, so after the war, right?

J: Yes!



I: Show me some.

J: Well things like this here, the highways and the buildings. 

I: So when you see this kinda new beginning, new pictures of Korea, modern Korea, what do you think?

J: I think it’s wonderful.

I: Just wonderful?

J: The thing is when you were there you didn’t realize it but what 


You contributed, all the different nations that were there i think there like 22 nations there, this is the result of it, and so it was a very proud time.

I: Isn’t it?

J: For us. Yeah.

I: Those are the things that have been achieved after you left, after you protected us, right?

J: Uh-huh, yeah.


I: And can you think of any war that the U.S. has been involved in after World War 2 that has produced such a beautiful outcome like Korea? No?

J: No. No. What we had to do was the Marshall Plan, after World War 2 to bring back the countries like Germany and all the other countries.


That were in Europe that were so badly destroyed, but South Korea looks like they did it on their own.  They didn’t have any lend/lease or Marshall Plan given to them, maybe we did, I don’t know, I didn’t hear of anything, that the American governments of the other governments contributing anything or any form of 



I: Oh yeah, the U.S. has  provided a lot of financial aid

J: I’m sure they did, but you don’t hear a lot of it. 

I: Exactly. That’s the point that I want to make. 

J: Yeah.  

I: Tremendous transformation from devastated Korea to the modern Korea that you just showed in some of the pictures and that is the most successful involvement, of American involvement after World War 2.


J: Uh-huh. 

I: We don’t teach about this thing, we don’t talk about this thing. Rather, it’s been known as forgotten. 

J: Yeah.  The forgotten war which included South Korea.

I: What do you think about that? What do you think about that? 


Why has it been known as forgotten when there is such a beautiful outcome out of your service?

J: Uh I, you know, there’s a lot of things that our government and the press in this country ignores. And so we don’t always get a true picture of what is going on. I’m sure there were times that I heard about our contributions to South Korea but of course, I’m back in civilian life, I’m back in college, I’m working. A lot of it dissipates and you don’t remember. 


It or your concentrating on what you’re doing now trying to survive, but I was sure that this government did look what they’ve done. What they did to Japan when MacArthur was in Japan, what they did to Japan. And I think that was a lot more, what they did there, then what they did to Korea. 


And I think more of it was the Korean people themselves pulled themselves up by their boot straps and did it.  

I: What do you think we have to do, to let this wonderful legacy of the Korean War and your own legacy be transferred to our young generation?

J: Well you know, the colleges, the highschools they don’t want to teach anything 


about history. 

I: They do, they do teach about history.

J: Yeah but so much of it is so negative but in ways that it should be passed on.  I’m passing what I have on to my grandson and he is very interested, in fact he bought a book here recently about Korea. 


And I don’t know how far he’s gotten into it, he is so busy working. He’s single but I’m glad he is doing that so he will have some knowledge in history of Korea. And what can happen to a country if it wants to. Yeah.


Look at what’s happening now these people have no incentive in these other countries, their so over run by dictators, like North Korea they don’t have a chance. 

I: That’s why we are doing this. I told you that my foundation the Korean War Legacy Foundation has 

J: Yeah.


accumulated more than 900 interviews like this. We have more than 8,000 pictures and letters that you used to write back to your family, that’s why we’re doing this to make a digital history textbook that they can use in the classroom. 

J: Oh! Wonderful!

I: Wonderful isn’t it?

J: Yes.

I: And my foundation has an annual teacher’s conference we invite the teachers and educate them about your legacy 


That they can teach in the classroom. 

J: Yeah.

I: We are going to do that annual teachers conference in San Francisco next year. 

J: Oh uh-huh.

I: With the Korean War Memorial Foundation. John Stevens, Wallace Steward, Peter McCloskey, so yeah, I want you to be there okay?

J: Yeah. Okay.

I: That’s why we are doing this.

J: And we have been invited to so many things by South Korea, it’s so wonderful that they really appreciate it and 


they show it. They just don’t say it they sail. 

I: I know you don’t have much time, so I want to ask you the last comment.

J: Yeah.

I: What do you say to this your service? What is the legacy of your service? What would you say to the people about your experience as a Korean War Veteran?

J: Well the legacy is that we didn’t 


Much about Korea, we went, we were told to go, we were drafted but we’re so proud that after you’re back and it’s over that you did go and you did contribute to the history of 


South Korea and even though it was the forgotten war, not forgotten by us and by South Korea.

[End of Recorded Material]