Joseph Lewis Grappo
Joseph Lewis Grappo is the youngest of twelve kids. He forged his baptismal certificate to get into the Army as a freshman in high school. After enlisting and being sent to boot camp on August 26, 1948, he was trained in the heavy mortar company and was shipped to Korea for the Inchon Landing. Without fear, he then was sent to retake Seoul with the Marines. His regiment was sent to take the land by the Yalu River which ended up being a very deadly set of battles at the Chosin Reservoir. While fighting the Chinese, he was shot through the leg and shoulder in addition to being held captive in the cold for twelve hours. After running through gunfire, he reached the Chinese who sent him to Japan and the back to the US to recover.
Inchon Landing and Seoul Recapture
Joseph Lewis Grappo explains how he participated in the Inchon Landing as a sixteen-year-old. He shares how he had little fear since he didn't know what to expect. He explains that since he was a part of the heavy mortar company, he created a defensive line behind the US Marines in order to recapture Seoul from the east side. He explains that he then went to Busan awaiting orders for the next invasion but there was a delay. He describes how he then traveled to Hamheung. He shares a memory from Hamheung where he witnessed money coming from a looted North Korean bank so he took some and bought apples from the locals.
Battle at the Chosin Reservoir
Joseph Lewis Grappo describes heading towards the Chosin Reservoir. He shares how he was meant to advance to Yellow River but stopped. He shares how he didn't hit any resistance since they defeated that North Koreans and the men thought that the Chinese would not get involved. He describes the frozen ground and how it was so cold that the soldiers couldn't dig a fox hole, so they slept on the ground in their sleeping bags. He shares how the Chinese attacked them and there was nowhere to hide.
"It Was the Fourth of July"
Joseph Lewis Grappo describes that they were stuck at the top of the hill because of a roadblock created by the Chinese. He shares how this maneuver blocked the US soldiers in with their trucks, supplies, and ammunition. He shares how he along with other men charged the Chinese blockade but were outnumbered. He shares how he was shot an injured. He describes how once the trucks were filled with injured, Chinese continued to attack the soldiers from all sides. He explains how he was shot again but this time in his soldier. He describes shots by the Chinese that sounded like the 4th of July.
The Taste of Death
Joseph Lewis Grappo discusses grabbing a smoke. He shares how another soldier gave him a pack of cigarettes from someone who had died. He describes the vivid taste.
James Gill Interview Transcription
My name is James T. Gill. My friends call me Jim.
And when were you born?
In January 26, 1933
Where were you born?
Ah. So please tell me about your family when you were growing up, your
parents and your siblings
When I was very young, we were a very very poor family. My father was
titled a stonecutter. What he did was to make, he made headstones for graves.
We lived in a time when people didn’t have an abundant amount of anything
But we had a great amount of love. When I came home each day from
school, my mother was home. When my dad got homeoff
came home. We were a family who worshiped together and we took care of
So you Christian?
Yes, I am
Oh so from the very early childhood.
Yes. My mother and father were Christians my grandmother and
grandfather were Christians.
So you believe in Jesus Christ?
Absolutely I believe in Jesus Christ.
And you believe in the, that resurrection of this?
I absolutely know he was resurrected, yes.
Great, I am Christian too!
I’m proud of you
Oh, It will be great to talk to you today. So tell me about the schools you went
through. By the way, how many siblings?
Siblings? It was 3 boys and three girls.
And you are the?
I’m in the middle. The three girls were oldest and I’m the olderst boy.
You said 3 girls or 3 boys?
Three girls, also three boys. Six children
Six children? Big family right? Tell me about the school you went through
The public school? It was a small school in a town that was mostly
farming community. It was so dedicated to farming that they closed the
school down in the fall and the children went home and helped to harvest the
I’m very surprised in this day and age that this little town, country town
in Tennessee had such a good school system and such good teachers, that a lot
of things that my grandchildren learn, we learned at about the same age and I
think that we learned a lot of other values, too. When I was going to school,
they taught things like health and personal hygiene and morals. So we got a
good education and it prepared me for the future.
But when I was finished the 9th grade and I was just 15 years old my
father died. I was the oldest boy so I quit school and went to work to help
support the family. Later on in life my mother married, remarried and she
didn’t need me to support the family anymore so I joined the navy
What did you work after you drop out of the school?
I was a butcher.
Butcher. And when did you join the Navy?
Do you remember the month?
It was uh, it was about November.
Why Navy? Because I had never been anywhere. I never had seen
anything much outside of the county I had lived in. So I wanted to see some of
the world. At the same time, I was from a very patriotic family and I wanted to
help with the war against, uh, battles in Korea. My 3 sisters were 2
married to soldiers, 1 was a navy medic. My two brothers later became Air
Force personnel. All 6 of us were involved in military.
You knew that there was a Korean war broken out?
How did you know?
Through the news media.
News media. Did you know anything about Korea?
No, I didn’t know anything about Korea except that I think I believed it
was in Southeast Asia. But I did know that the communist armed personnel
from China and Russia and North Korea were invading South Korea.
So you knew that the communists attacked South Korea?
Yes, I did.
And you wanted to help Korean people?
Even though you may lose your life there?
Well, that’s a risk everybody takes.
Hmm. Very nice of you. So, where did you get the basic military training?
In San Diego, California.
Nine plus, plus sixteen. I had 25 weeks.
Wow, that’s quite long.
Long basic military training. What did you do?
Well, we did the basic training part but we were held over for
reason I didn’t knowbut
we were held over, so they sent us to an old
abandoned camp from World War II. And they, we did a lot of weapons
Hand held weapons like the uh, the uh…
Military .45s and then the 1903 Bolt action rifles and the Thompson
submachine guns, and we had to qualify on each of these and I qualified
expert on the rifle.
But you’re in the Navy, right? Do you need rifle (laugh)…to battle?
At times, yes, sometimes. Well in the amphibious force, you sometimes
Oh that’s right, hm.
And when you’re landing troops on the beach, if your boat gets for any
You have to protect them.
…If it gets crackedif
it gets where it cannot go back to the ship, then
you have to go in with the troops. You become part of the landing force.
Sometimes the weather conditions alone where
the sea is so violent
and slamming its throwing the boat into the waves so hard, and throwing
them down into the sandsometimes
it breaks down the boat. So the sailor has
to either get back to the ship the best way he can, or join the forces going in.
What was your specialty in the Navy?
Well, in the beginning, I started offI
was a baker and a cook.
Ummm, and then?
Well, that went on for several years. When you’re going to land troops
on a beach, that back then was called 1Able
which would be 1A, 1Alpha, or
station for landing troops on the beach was in an
amphibious assault boat. So, when we fought in Korea when
I was landing
troops or landing for whatever reason to
retrieve troops, or to land them on
the beach, then my station was not in the galley. I was a lower ranking baker
so I went to they
assigned me to the boats. And that’s where I got boat
training, and also amphibious landing training.
Um, When did you leave Korea from where?
[laugh] When I left Korea, It’s almost like a jokeit’s
almost like a
comedy! I had orders and the negotiations for peace were just about to
materialize. And they call me one day into the ship’s office and says, “You have
orders for shore duty in the United States.” And they said I was going to SRNC
in Maryland and nobody, including my commanding officer, knew what that
was. We didn’t find out where that was out until I got there. But When I left
the ship, The ship was in Inchon harbor
You left San Diego only 1951 to Inchon, right?
No to Korea, We were up and down the coast of Korea.
Ok. So you were around the coast of Korean Peninsula?
All the time. One of our duties was to go to Japan and load up army or
marine corps troops and take them to the coast of Korea. We did that many
times over ‘51, ‘52 and 53.
So that was your main mission, right?
It was to land the troops and to get them out of Japan to Korea or out of
Korea back to Japan and to move them up and down the coast. Sometimes we
would take troops from Korea and go to another place on the coast of korea
and offload the troops there
One morning we had 1200 marines from the 12th marine division, I
believe, and we were to land them under fire and I don’t know where, you
know, it was just a beach. So, as we approached that area, the cruiser Toledo
was in the harbor, and the two American destroyers were in the harbor. And
they were firing inland to drive theto
try to drive the North
Koreans back so
we could land the troops. So we landed these troops under fire but we also had
that behind us we had those ships firing ahead of us. So we landed 1200
marines. Uh, Before the year was out, we picked up some Marines at another
place, but it was only about 600, and I asked one of them I
he said yes, that was the ship he came in on. And I said
“well, what happened after you left us?” and they said, he said “600 of us 12oo
were killed almost immediately.”
When they landed? And you don’t remember where that was?
To us in the Navy you’re just looking up there and you see a shoreline.
And no town, you don’t land at a town, you land out there somewhere and all
you see from the ship is just a thin line and when you get in closer you may see
the trees and such.
Wow, that’s a real…
Most of the time, we don’t know where we are and they don’t bother to
tell an ordinary sailor. It’s just you’re going to be at a do a certain job at a
certain beach at a certain time of day and that’s it, that’s all you need to know.
So most of your mission was to carry soldiers into certain areas and them
sometimes you bring them back to Japan because they are wounded or they
are Rand R?
No, It’s maybe R and R. and some could be going jack to the States.
They’d leave our ship in Japan and then who knows? I don’t know where
they’d go, but some went back to the states.
And What was the name of your ship?
USS Henrico HENRICO
And what kind of ship was it?
It was an APA hull Number 45. Number 45. The APA is assault personal
sorry auxiliary personnel attack
What do you mean by personnel?
That means people.
So, “auxiliary personnel attack” how big was it? how many crew were there?
The crew was about 325 enlisted men and about 125 officers.
So all together it’s about 500?
Close to it.
Oh, That’s pretty big!
And when you’re out there doing things like fill in for the coast guard,
help out the coast guard. Help out the coast guard patrol for mines in the
water, it IS a pretty big ship because the coast guard uses small wooden ships
for this job.
So what is the main mission of this ship, could you explain it again?
The main mission of this ship is to move troops from one place to
another. My orders said the first place to stop is Fleet Activities, Inchon and
I’m seeing nothing but burned out land and nobody and there’s a little hut
down the road. This old guy comes out and says “Where you goin feller?” I
said” I’m supposed to report to Fleet Activities, Inchon.” He said, “I am Fleet
He took my orders, signed emlaid
em on my back, and signed ‘emgave
em back to me and said “Stand over there on that road, it’s all bombed
out but stand on that road and somebody will come along and offer you a ride
and tell them you want to go to Young Dun Po” I said “OK”
I went over there with my sea bag on my shoulder and after a while a
jeep came by with a little one axle trailer behind it. two soldiers in it they
stopped and said “where You goin soldier and I said I’m going to Yung Dun
Po. They said put your sea bag in the trailer and sit on it.
They had a time, They had fun all the way to Yung Dun Po because I
was in there sitting in that sea bag in that trailer and they hit every bombed
out hole in the road and bounced it up in the air.
And we got to Yung Dun Po and they said , “Ok this is it get out.” And I
got out and there were just some Korean people and no American’s nothin.
And nobody spoke anything but English. So, eventually, it was a US airman
walked up that street, And I asked him “How do you get to someplace where
the military is?” He said “Follow me I’m going back to the base.” So we walked
back to the base, found out it was k16, it was an airstrike. So we stayed there
and it was an air raid. They bombed it a while and then went on their way and
eventually I rode a plane that was carrying mail back to Japan. And then that’s
how I went inland so far.
And you saw clearly this road in Korea in 2010?
When I went back there were superhighways, we were on a tour bus
going 70 miles per hour down a superhighway, there are high rise buildings
everywhere, a super modern city, everything. What really shocks us all is all
the hills were full of trees and green. One of the people escorting us asked
them about the trees and they said Korea had a tree planting, the government
had a tree planting program and they reforested all the mountain, all the hills
and uh, In Korea, if you cut down a tree without the government’s permission
you’ll go to jail.
A lot of people never know about how the tide how at Inchon I think it’s
the 2nd most rapid and 2nd highest tide in the world. And sometimes the
amphibious ships would be caught in that high tide, ocean would go away and
a ship’s sitting in mud hundreds of yards out. And we went in one time and
our boats got caught in that tide and we’re sitting there in the mud up close to
the beach, and we can’t do anything until the ocean comes back to visit us
again. So again, we had to go ashore, we as American troops. When we see
what South Korea has evolved to, and people tell us we didn’t win that war, I
tell em “OK you compare North Korea with South Korea and tell me who
won.” And I also, I feel like, in a small way and all of us do, all of us Korean
veterans feel like we did something we didn’t know what we were doing, we
just did what we were told. And we made it through we did a good job, we
came back, nobody gave us any credit but now that we’re old men, we realize
that we had a small part in Korea being able to be one of the best nations in
the world. And so we had just a small part of it, but we did it.