Korean War Legacy Project

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.

Video Clips

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.

Tags: 1950 Inchon Landing, 9/15-9/19,1950 Seoul Recapture, 9/22-9/25,Busan,Hamheung,Incheon,Seoul,Chinese,Civilians,Food,Front lines,Living conditions,North Koreans

Share this Clip +

Share YouTube:

Share from this page:


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.

Tags: 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 11/27-12/13,Aprokgang (Yalu River),Chinese,Cold winters,Front lines,Living conditions,Weapons

Share this Clip +

Share YouTube:

Share from this page:


"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.

Tags: 1950 Battle of Chosin Reservoir, 11/27-12/13,Aprokgang (Yalu River),Chinese,Cold winters,Fear,Front lines,North Koreans,Physical destruction,POW,Weapons

Share this Clip +

Share YouTube:

Share from this page:


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.

Tags: Front lines

Share this Clip +

Share YouTube:

Share from this page:


Video Transcript

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?

Jackson Tennessee

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


Great Depression

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

from workmy


came home. We were a family who worshiped together and we took care of

each other.

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?

In 1950.

Do you remember the month?

It was uh, it was about November.

Why Navy?

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?

Yes, yes.

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.

How long?

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


What kind?

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

go ashore.

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.

Right, right

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


My 1Able

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

thought I

recognized himand

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?


And what kind of ship was it?

It was an APA hull Number 45. Number 45. The APA is assault personal

attack I’m

sorry auxiliary personnel attack


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

Activities Inchon”

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.