Joseph Lissberger was born on March 24, 1930 in Havre de Grace, Maryland. After high school graduation, he enlisted and served in the US Navy from 1947-1950. He transferred to the Army in 1950 and served as a basic training platoon sergeant during the first years of the Korean War. He was sent to Korea and arrived in Pusan in February of 1952 and was attached to the 1st Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company, 8th Army Headquarters. For the next 22 months, he served as a platoon sergeant tasked with carrying out psychological warfare. He transferred home in October 1953. He continued service in the Army until retiring in 1967. He worked civilian jobs for the next 25 years. Today, he is a teacher at El Paso Community College.
I Thought We Were Losing
Joseph Lissberger talks about being a platoon sergeant at the outset of the Korean War, tasked with training new recruits in basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. He mentions that 37 of the first 49 recruits he trained died in the fighting in the Pusan Perimeter. He talks about the changes that were made in response to what was happening in Korea.
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Danger Beyond the Front Lines
Joseph Lissberger talks about the danger of setting up loudspeakers beyond the front lines for psychological warfare. He mentions that five men in his unit were killed while performing this important duty.
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It Was a Hard Life, But a Good Life
Joseph Lissberger describes the daily life of a soldier assigned to the 1st Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company. He talks about the rigorous schedule and difficult demands of working in a print shop. Though difficult, he mentions that he enjoyed the service.
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Joseph Lissberger describes his journey home by ship from Korea. He talks about the bad conditions, an ensuing mutiny, and the aftermath of the voyage. Eventually, he made it home and was sent to Fort Knox.
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Life After the Armistice
Joseph Lissberger describes daily life in his unit after the armistice was signed. He talks about being able to train and getting into good physical shape, activities that were difficult before the ceasefire.
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Korea is a Good Friend
Joseph Lissberger describes his feelings about Korea and likens the country to a good friend. He talks about how he thinks it is one of the finest countries in the world and how it is dependable.
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Lessons from a Life in the Army
Joseph Lissberger reflects about the lessons he learned during his 23-year Army career. He talks about learning discipline, work ethic, and giving back to others.
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00:00 [Beginning of Recorded Material]
Joseph Lissberger: Joseph Franklin Lissberger. Born March 24, 1930 in Havre de Grace, Maryland.
Female Voice: And what did your parents do? What was growing up life like?
00:13 Joseph Lissberger: Well, my father was a laundryman, but he was also, they didn’t call them then, illegal alien from Germany and, he was moved from one laundry to another so we traveled all up and down the east coast: Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland. My grandparents were in Maryland so that’s where my mother was when I was born. And, life was, I considered pretty good. My father died when I was ten and we moved back to Maryland to be with my grandparents and lived there. And I graduated from high school and have degrees. And then I went into the service. That’s basically what life was.
Female Voice: What year did you graduate from high school?
01:03 Joseph Lissberger: 1947. And June of 1947 I joined the navy, in July of ’47 active duty navy. I was in the reserves from April until July and then I went on active duty and served in the navy for three years. And then got out and went in the army. And that’s when the Korean War started.
Female Voice: Why did you choose to enlist?
01:28 Joseph Lissberger: Being in, Havre de Grace is right outside Aberdeen Proving Ground. So, all my life during World War II I was acquainted with the military. I liked the life they had, I thought it was interesting, and it was a chance for me to get out of a, what I called dead end life because Havre de Grace is a small town. And had maybe 30,000 people when I lived there. And you’d walk from one end of town to the other in 20 minutes, so. I wanted to get away from there. I wanted to do something, and I joined the military. My uncle was in the navy during World War II, so I guess I tried to follow him. And then I found out the navy wasn’t really what I was looking for, and, I got out of the navy and decided I wanted to go into the army and I joined the army. Went to Fort Knox, Kentucky as a corporal, and stayed for 20 years. So, that was the life I was looking for.
Female Voice: What was it about the army that you liked?
02:36 Joseph Lissberger: I like being out in the field. I like, road marches, I like camping, and the army offered it to me as part of my job as well as doing on my own. I still like to go camping and I like to go out in the woods. I’m too old now to do it, but that’s what I like. I did that all my life. When I was in Havre de Grace going to school I was a Boy Scout, we spent our weekends out in the woods camping and that’s what I look forward to. The army offered it to me as because when I went in the army, like everybody else who was in Korea. We didn’t depend on trucks. We depended on our feet to get us where we were going and we lived out in a pup tents and we were in the field. That was the life I liked, that’s why I joined. And that’s why I stayed until my first wife said, “Quit or else.” So, I quit after 20 years.
Female Voice: When did you join the army?
03:46 Joseph Lissberger: In April 1950. And I was sent to Fort Knox, Kentucky to go through basic again because when you leave one service to the other you have to go back through basic. Then the Korean War started and instead of me going through basic I was now a platoon sergeant pushing basics. So, I spent, two months out of the sixteen weeks actually as a recruit and then the war started and automatically I became a platoon sergeant. And the world changed. The whole world changed for everybody. I joined the army in 1950, stayed in it until 1967. And so, I had seventeen and a half years in the army and three years in the navy.
Female Voice: So, during those first couple months of the war, what did that look like as you were training the new recruits?
04:49 Joseph Lissberger: It looked like, to be honest with you, it looked like we were losing. Because my first platoon that I had went right from basic, right to Korea. And at that time, the army kept us informed of how our training was going and how our recruits were reacting after they got in combat. And the first 49 men, 37 of them died within the first week. They went in Pusan Perimeter and they were just, there was no chance for them. They were undermanned, equipment was no good, they were using old obsolete equipment, and so. And after that we started changing our training and instead of training with a rifle alone we trained with a bayonet and all the other weapons that were available. So, we trained them how to use what they had instead of what they wished they had. I stayed there and trained one more cycle, and then I transferred to the armory school. And two years later I was sent to Korea. I worked in the print shop at the armory school for two years. Until February of ’52 they sent me to Korea. On Valentine’s Day.
Female Voice: Where did you land?
06:16 Joseph Lissberger: I went in at Pusan and they took me up to Seoul by train. And that’s where I served my time was in Seoul. For 22 months. I was with the First Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company, which is the first psychological warfare unit ever committed to combat. And there was a write up about my company in Life Magazine. It was called “Fighting the War with Paper Bullets.” And that was about my company in Korea. And that’s what we were doing, we were printing leaflets and putting loudspeaker teams on the front line. Broadcasting to the enemy trying to break them around; that was the purpose of our unit. And even though the Germans and Japanese used it during World War II, we did not, and the American army decided we needed to use it and psychologically destroy the enemy which it worked in a good. It helped a lot. A lot of the Chinese surrendered because they figured they’d get a better life as a prisoner than they would on the front lines. So, that was, we figured we did a good job over there. Today, you still have psychological warfare. You know the John F. Kennedy center in Fort Bragg, that’s where it all started. We were a part of Special Warfare.
Female Voice: What unit and division, etcetera, what were you a part of?
07:56 Joseph Lissberger: It was the First Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company assigned to the Eighth Army and we were not assigned to any division. We supported all the different corps, I Corps, Ninth Corps, Tenth Corps. We supported all of them with loudspeaker teams and leaflets. We printed the leaflets, we rolled them, loaded the bombs and artillery shells and then took them up and delivered them to our artillery people, took them to the airfield, and artillery and air corps delivered the leaflets for us, but we got them ready and prepared for them. And then there was a battalion, First RB & L Radio Broadcasting Leaflet battalion that was in Tokyo, Japan. And that was our back up because that was a battalion that was the same size as, well it was made up the same way our company was, but it was battalion-sized. They had a radio company where we had a loudspeaker platoon. They had a printing company which we had a production publication platoon. So, we were a miniature RB & L actually, but we were called the First Loudspeaker and Leaflet Company. And we were attached to the Eighth Army headquarters.
Female Voice: Can you tell me any stories from your time there?
09:30 Joseph Lissberger: Well, we had five of our people killed on the front lines. They were actually, one of them was captured and we found out later he was killed by the enemy after they captured him. We’d go up there and take their loudspeakers up, we’d go up there with two jeeps and trailers and they would stop at the infantry at the front lines and then they would take their loudspeakers out beyond the front lines and set them up and broadcast. And they had no protection whatsoever because the infantry wouldn’t protect them mainly because the loudspeakers would draw the enemy’s attention and firepower. Because they were targets, and so we were very lucky that we only lost five in the three years we were in the combat zone. Back in our area, we lived good. I will say that. Because we built our own club. And we had a real nice mess hall, we built it. And we built our own; everything we built, we wanted we built. We lived good but we worked hard. I was platoon sergeant. My platoon people worked 72 hours, they’d get eight hours off. But then they’d go back for another 72 hours. They didn’t even break for chow, the mess hall brought the chow down to them when they were working. The only time they actually got to sit down and eat was during their eight-hour break. And then they went up and partied. Actually, I don’t blame them I did too. But you put in 72 hours of hard work in a print shop and it’s not an easy life, it’s hard, but you do it because that’s the way it was. So, we lived good, so the eight hours we had off, we actually did enjoy. And we had the movies once a week right there in the company. We had Bingo games and for our troops, but like I said our troops put in hard days. Not a day’s work, three days. And what they would do is they would sleep like you’d be running a press and we’d get it running right, one man could operate all three presses and the other two would take a break and get a couple hours sleep or nap and then come back on. And this is a way you could go for 72 hours straight, otherwise you couldn’t do it, you just couldn’t pull it because manual labor, you’re lifting heavy weights and paper weighs a lot, and when you start handling ten/twelve reams of 32 by 42 paper you’re talking about several hundred pounds. And these people, that’s the way they lived. But they did it, and I had three ex-combat troops that had, what we call the honeymoon wounds. One of them got hit in the shoulder, the right shoulder, and he couldn’t go back on the front lines, he didn’t have sufficient time to come back to the States so they assigned him to my platoon. Another one was an escaped POW and he brought five other people back with him, but he only had three weeks on the front lines, not eligible to come home so he was assigned to the platoon. And the other one, I don’t know why but he was assigned. We had guys would go off the deep end. We had, what, four out of my platoon came back home in straightjackets. They just couldn’t take the stress and strain. Ah, family life at home, plus the stress and strain of 72 hours on, eight hours off, it’s just too much for them, and they cracked. And we just took them to 120 Purse and they sent them home in straightjackets. But this is, it was that kind of life but it was a good life. I think it was a good life. You can talk to other people who were in this outfit and they didn’t like it because, you know, it was hard. It wasn’t an easy life. If you were looking for an easy life you go to in the infantry live a lot better, easier, because you’re not under the constant strain of 72 straight hours. And they were such things as we would get, one example, we worked with citric acid, is one of the solutions we worked with. And we ordered it from Japan. And it would come in in glass bottles, marked citric acid. And when we started using it we found that it wasn’t citric acid it was sulfuric acid. And, as my fingers will show, there’s sulfuric acid burns on all my fingers from pouring it on cotton and washing the equipment down with it. Citric acid you can do that, sulfuric acid you can’t; it burned all my fingers. So, what they did is they just said, “Okay, get your fingers bandaged and get back to work.” And that’s the way the life was. And if you did something wrong, and got injured, and you weren’t supposed to be doing it in the first place, our C.O. said, “You’ve got a choice. We can court martial you or you can forget about it and go to work.” And ninety percent of us just said, “Okay fine, let’s go to work.” And that’s the way it was. It was a good outfit and they were good people. I enjoyed every one of them. One of them is living in Kansas, I don’t know whether your partner knew him or not. Paul [Wolfgere] you see him quite often in the Korean War Magazine that comes out, he was my student clerk, and he served under me for about twelve months. And right now, he goes around from one place to another in Kansas at schools talking the Korean War and I’m real proud of Paul he did a good job for me and now he’s promoting the Korean War and I think that’s great. But basically, that’s our outfit. I was not directly in any battles, we were in a lot of campaigns, but we would deliver the artillery shells, we would load them and deliver them during their campaigns, to the Triple Nickel and the Turkish Unit, and Seventh Division Artillery and various ones. We would load the shells and deliver them directly to the artillery units and they would use them during their campaigns. We would also build bombs and take them to Gimpo Airfield and then they would fly them over and drop some bombs over the enemy. One of the, there was a B-29 shot down over North Korea. The bombs on board there were printed in my company, the leaflets, and we shipped those in bombs, loaded them in the bombs and shipped them to the Philippines where they were loaded on the B-29, then the B-29 flew out of the Philippines and went up there. The North Koreans and Chinese both said that we had dropped leaflets with biological warfare, in the inks on the leaflets. Well, I’m here to tell you, that’s not true. Because I printed the leaflets, that they dropped, but as far as their propaganda come out and said that we were dropping leaflets that were contaminated with biological warfare. And we lost the B-52, the whole crew was killed, it was shot down. But they did drop leaflets before they shot them down. We had a platoon of, well they call them squadron, of Air Force people from the Philippines. They came and joined us there in Seoul, and we trained them to run the print shop, and the propaganda, right drawing the leaflets and stuff. We trained them there with our unit during, right during the war. They just moved in, they lived with us, Air Force, and they were trained how to do it and how to perform so the Air Force had some psychological warfare unit, but they had no training so they got permission from the Army to move them in and it was a great help because my platoon was supposed to be 49 men. I was down to 17. And when they came in, that naturally that brought my strength back up to where I had men and I didn’t have to try to kill my people working them to death. But like I said they worked hard, they played hard. And we allowed for that. We got them going. And you’ll see in this, if you look through here you’ll see the club and the mess hall and things that we actually had, we built it to make us happy and content while we were doing our job. And a lot of times our mess sergeant went out and bought food on the open market that, well it’s a black market I guess you would call it, because we would buy steaks, you come out of the officers’ clubs and stuff so that our troops would have something a little better than what the actual issue of the army was. We still ate our C rations and K rations when the army issued them to us, but we, you know, we, okay, let’s pitch in $5 for everybody we’ll go get us steaks and corn, corn on the cob, and fresh potatoes and we’ll have a good meal on Sunday. Something like that. We did that quite often.
Female Voice: Are there any particular friends that you remember?
20:03 Joseph Lissberger: It’s a lot of them but, I forget their names. I served with some of them after I go out of, after Korea. Over in Hawaii I served with Captain [Abbadon], he was my unit, one of my company commanders in Korea. He was, to me, quite a hero. I really liked the guy he was a ranger with Darby’s Rangers during World War II, he was an Australian joined the American army, and he was a straightforward type individual. I mean, you can sit down and talk to him, but he was the kind of guy that, what he did in Darby’s Rangers, he had a chest full of medals, he wouldn’t even wear his ribbons unless he was forced to because he said all the other men earned the same thing, and if they didn’t wear them, why should he? I only saw him twice with his ribbons on. And then there was another captain he went to Korea, then went to Japan and he was a good officer. As far as in the unit, Williams was the first black man, was the only black, assigned to my unit and he was wounded in the front lines and they assigned him because he didn’t have time to go back home. So they assigned him to my unit. He was a good man, a good worker, hard worker. Like I said, Paul [Wolfgere], in Kansas. [Bevens] from, I think he’s from New York, he was my photographer and he was a good kid. The rest of them, you know, we were friends, but they wouldn’t, you didn’t have time to strike up what you recall a strong friendship. You put too much time in work. When you left, you left feeling good about what you’d done. But, unless you really worked hand in hand with somebody you really don’t remember too many of them. Over the years, you get transferred so many times you don’t remember a lot of people. It’s not like the infantry. The infantry, you’re in a foxhole with somebody for, you’re there for, and he’s protecting you and guiding you. The only one I remember was one of the guys in the motor pool, his name was name was [Pinis] and he and I were in the same bunker during several raids that they hit on our company because they tried to take our company out several times. They knew we were hurting their morale, so the guerillas would come in and try to take us out. And he was in the same bunker I was in, down on the motor pool. He was a driver. We spent a few hours protecting one another, he was one of the guys I remember. The rest of them, they were just general, you know, it’s like you work with somebody for two years and then they go back home and you forget all about them because they weren’t that close. You just worked with them. And that was a type of unit, like I said we enjoyed our life, what life we had. It was a good unit, and we worked hard, but it wasn’t where you really made good friendship, because you just didn’t have time for it basically. Some of the guys you remember because there was something they did that was outstanding, but when you left you met other people who were just as outstanding in the same job, so that’s the way, basically, it is.
Female Voice: So when did you return from Korea?
24:29 Joseph Lissberger: October 1953. It was after the war was over. I returned on the ship that had 200 repatriates from prisoner of war camps in North Korea. And the ship that I came back on mutinied, the G.I.s mutinied on board. We had a colonel on board that had been relieved of command four times in Korea, for misconduct, and they put him as troop commander on the ship coming back. So, he took the ex-POWs and put them on K.P. on the ship back. He took all of our potatoes and ice cream and fresh milk and stuff that was aboard the ship and dumped it over the side. The ship originally, when it went over, carried cheese and rice for the Korean people. Well the Koreans do not eat American rice, and they definitely do not eat cheese, or they didn’t then. So, they refused to unload it. So, he decided that that’s what the troops were going to eat, was rice and cheese, on the trip back. When it was raining, you were restricted to the deck, the main deck, the open deck. When it was nice up on deck, you were restricted to the compartment. So actually, we mutinied and when we hit Hawaii we had six master sergeants, they were old timers, mutinied, they jumped ship, they didn’t come back on board ship. When we hit Panama, he had the Marines – – he gave us four hours of the ship going through the canal – – he tried to have the Marines put us back on board ship. There were 2200 of us and there was only 49 Marines and the Marines went swimming, we threw them in the canal. We didn’t dock in Puerto Rico, they made the Puerto Ricans go over the side in the whale boats to get on shore, and did the same thing in Columbia, South Carolina, and then when we docked in New York City they had two battalions of M.P.s patrolling the wharf and they took us off the ship and put us on ferries and took us right to Camp Kilmer and wouldn’t let us talk to anybody on the way. We were at Camp Kilmer, we got there about nine o’clock in the morning, by midnight all of us were on planes going to various parts of the United States. But the ship was written up in Reader’s Digest as mutinied at sea. So, that was, the roughest part was coming home. Being in Korea wasn’t half as bad as . . . we threw a captain over the side, coming home. An army captain. We tied rope around him, before they did it, but two master sergeants tied rope around him and threw him over the side because he tried to tell us what we were going to do, and he was out of his territory. It was a rough ride, but, we got home. It was all forgotten about. The army tried to do something about it and didn’t succeed. Other than that, everything was normal coming home. Everything up to Pusan and from Camp Kilmer on, was normal. But the trip itself was, it was bad. But the guys that jumped ship in Hawaii, I met them when I got to Fort Knox, because when I got home they sent me to Fort Knox. I met them there. The navy brought them back to the United States, put them on a plane and sent them to Fort Knox. Nothing done to them, even though they should have been court martialed, they didn’t. I think everybody realized the colonel was out of line. What he was trying to do wasn’t going to work. You don’t treat, well, number one we didn’t like him treating the ex-POWs, I mean, they suffered from it. They were prisoners of war, some of them were prisoners of war since the beginning of the war, and three years as a POW, then put on K.P. I don’t care, you don’t do that. It just didn’t feel right to the senior N.C.O.s on board ship and the rest of us joined in with the senior N.C.O.s. We went along with what they wanted to do, not what the officers wanted to do. That’s why it was called mutiny. Nothing happened out of it. Didn’t seem so because three months after I got home I was promoted to E6, so I don’t think anything ever come out of it. I think I did a good job.
Female Voice: You were in Korea when the war actually ended. What was that like? What did it feel like?
29:59 Joseph Lissberger: It went back to, as far as our unit was concerned, instead of working 72 hours we went back to actually training. Rifle training, P.T., running, things like that we went back to. They decided that we needed to keep busy and we needed to train so just in case something happened we would be trained and capable of doing it and for the 22 months I was there, training was a second thought, nobody worried about it. You were working 72 hours, you had eight hours off, you didn’t have time to go on a road march, or rifle training, or any of that. So, what they wanted us to do was, being if you weren’t producing leaflets and doing work, so now we had eight hours of training. Five mile road run for five miles, three times a week. Go out, practice marching and things like that so. [Bevens], our photographer was one of the photographers at the Korean village photographing the release of the POWs. He was a part of my platoon, but he was released to the Armistice Crew because they wanted a photographer, and he was a photographer. So, he went up there to do that, and I had keep track of him because I had to make sure he got fed and housing and stuff because I was still his platoon sergeant even though he was assigned up there for the time being. So, he was up there with them and the rest of us cleaned the equipment up, got everything, we got a new piece of equipment right at the end of the war. It was a new printing press, it was three color press, and we never had one of those before so we, all the pressmen, had to learn how to operate it, and that was the training. So, new equipment come in, we train on that. We train on regular army training gear: rifles and marching and running and physical training and things like that. That’s what we filled our days with. So, it was going from a combat type situation where you were constantly under stress, to training. In those days, that’s what the army did, and that’s what we were required to do. Captain Rodman who happened to be our C.O. at the time, he led the training, he was down there to make sure we did the training and did it right. He enforced army training to get us back in shape again. And it felt good to a lot of us. We didn’t like it at the time, to go out running. Why are we out running for five miles, three times a week? But then when we realized, hey this put us in shape, not like this, we’re back there in shape if anything did happen we would survive, at least get a chance of survival, and that’s what we needed.
Female Voice: What was your date of military discharge?
33:26 Joseph Lissberger: My final discharge? October 1, 1967. That’s when I retired here at Fort Bliss. That was 20 years and six months.
Female Voice: So, what did you do after being discharged from the military?
33:53 Joseph Lissberger: I went to work for, started with, a company at White Sands as an electronic technician. I worked for them for about six months and then I went to work for Raytheon Corporation as an instructor and I worked for them for almost two years. Then they had a big layoff, so I went to Greenland as a radar technician in Greenland for 30 months and came back to work and went to work for Lockheed Corporation as a technician and quality assurance specialist and I worked for them for 23 years. And after that I retired from Lockheed I went to work teaching at El Paso Community College, where I still work today.
Female Voice: So what does Korea mean to you now?
34:52 Joseph Lissberger: Korea, to me today, because I’ve been back there twice since the war. Korea is, to me is, a real good friend. South Korea is a good friend. I have a lot of friends here locally, that are Koreans, and we have respect for one another. We appreciate one another. I think that Korea is, to me, Korea is one of the finest countries in the world. I’ve been to Germany and Europe, and I didn’t like that tour at all; I like Korea. I like the Orient, and Korea happens to be one of my favorites. I have some very good friends that are Koreans. I respect them and they respect me. That’s what Korea means, it’s a friend. I know if I have any need, they’d be right there for me. I don’t have to worry about it.
Female Voice: What are some life lessons you feel like you learned from the military?
36:05 Joseph Lissberger: One thing is, nothing is free. You’ve got to work for what you get. There’s not anybody out there that’s going to give you anything. If you want it, you work for it, you earn it. It’s a lifelong profession, you’re never free of it. I still consider myself a soldier. Up until, what, four years ago I carried, what we call hip pocket orders. If anything happened and the government recalled us, I had an assignment to report to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for reassignment to my old unit. It was my life, and I still look at it that way. A lot of people don’t like it, but I consider myself to be a part of the army; it was imbedded in to me for 17 years that’s the way I lived, that’s the way I like, and I still consider today, that’s what the army is. It says, I don’t know, they taught us that you had to work for something. I still respect that same thing today. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be working today. I mean 84 years old and teaching. Somebody says, “Why are you teaching?” Because I can help somebody else out with my knowledge, and why shouldn’t I be there to help them and at the same time earn what I’m getting. I think that’s what keeps me alive. I’m working and earning and keeping going, and the army taught me that. They call it the forgotten war. There was a World War II, they need to go to Vietnam, they forget that Korea was there and we’ve got to get it out into the public’s eyes. There were 53,000 people who were killed in that war, in three years, and we’ve got to make the people understand that those guys didn’t die in vain, they died for us, and we should recognize that.
[End of Recorded Material]