Joseph M. Picanzi
Joseph M. Picanzi was born on May 27, 1933 in Brockton, Massachusetts. After graduating from Brockton High School in 1950, he attended Chamberlayne Junior College in Boston, Massachusetts, earning an Associates Degree in business administration. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in December 1952 and was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training and heavy weapons training. He was sent to Korea and arrived at Pusan in May 1953. He was attached to the 25th Infantry Division, 35th Regiment, Company “L”. He spent the next sixteen months in Korea, taking part in patrols on the front lines before the armistice and training and taking part in maneuvers after the armistice signing. He rotated home and returned to civilian life in September 1954. He shares he has been active in the Korean War Veterans Association (KWVA).
Joseph Picanzi describes his first patrol while serving in the U.S. Army in Korea in 1953. He talks about when they patrolled, the number of soldiers taking part, as well as the kinds of weapons they carried.
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Two Types of Patrols
Joseph Picanzi talks about the two kinds of patrols: reconnaissance and combat. He describes the purpose of each of these patrols.
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Food on the Front Lines
Joseph Picanzi describes what soldiers ate on the front lines. He recounts eating two hot meals a day, served from the mess tent. He remembers the third meal, usually lunch, consisted of C-rations.
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The Evening before the Armistice was Signed
Joseph Picanzi speaks about what was happening on the front lines during the time around when the armistice was signed. Interestingly, he mentions that nearby Chinese forces were rapidly firing off artillery in an effort to spend the ammunition so that they would not have to carry it later.
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The Greatest Gift
Joseph Picanzi describes gifting a new harmonica to a KATUSA soldier attached to his unit. He mentions that the soldier was very grateful for the gift.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Joseph: My name is Joseph Picanzi. Spelled P, as in Peter, I C A N Z, as in zebra, I
Interviewer: What is your birthday?
Joseph: May 27, 1932
Interviewer: And where were you born?
Joseph: In Brockton, Massachusetts
Interviewer: B R O C K T O N?
Interviewer: Tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents and your siblings
Joseph: Okay, my parents were born in Italy, and they came over as grammar school children. And they settled, the family settled in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, because that’s where the jobs were in the jewelry factories
Interviewer: Jewelry factories?
Joseph: North Attleborough and Attleborough are known as the “jewelry cities” and as they got older, the family decided to move to Brockton, Mass, because there was a plentiful number of jobs in the shoe factories. Brockton was known as the shoe city at that time. My mother went to grammar school in Brockton and at the age of 12 she had to leave school to go to work to help support the family.
My father came over with his father when he was 17 years old and he also got a job in the shoe industry. His father decided to go back to Italy to bring the rest of the family over to America, but at that time immigration shut down anymore citizens coming to this country so he never saw his father again after that or any of his family.
Interviewer: How about your siblings? How many siblings?
Joseph: I had one brother that died before I was born and I had a sister that was 10 years younger than me and myself, so actually it is only two of us.
Interviewer: I see. So where did you graduate high school?
Joseph: Brockton High School
Interviewer: Brockton High School?
Interviewer: And when was it?
Interviewer: Oh, so did you know anything about Korea?
Joseph: Not at that time
Interviewer: Nothing? Location?
Joseph: No, when World War II ended I was only 12 years old, but I knew that Korea was in the far east, but that’s about all I knew really. I knew where it was.
Interviewer: So you never imagined that you would be end up in Korea
Interviewer: No? So what did you do after graduation of your high school?
Joseph: I went to college
Interviewer: What college?
Joseph: Chamberlayne, C H A M B E R L A Y N E, junior college in Boston
Interviewer: What did you study there?
Joseph: Business Administration
Interviewer: For how long?
Joseph: Two years
Interviewer: So you already knew that Korean war broke out?
Interviewer: How did you know?
Joseph: It was on the newspaper
Interviewer: Were you thinking that you might be drafted into it?
Joseph: No, I wasn’t thinking that at that time
Interviewer: You didn’t?
Interviewer: But many people enlisted and drafted, right?
Joseph: Right, I was eventually drafted, but I knew that, at some point, I knew that it was going to come someday, so I was happy to report to duty
Interviewer: When were you drafted?
Joseph: December of 1952
Interviewer: And was Army, right?
Interviewer: Yeah, so where did you get to basic?
Joseph: Fort Dix, New Jersey
Interviewer: What kind of training was it?
Joseph: Well the first, there was 16 weeks altogether. The first eight weeks was rifle training and the second eight weeks was heavy weapons training
Interviewer: Heavy weapons means what?
Joseph: Mortars. I was in a 75-millimeter recoilless rifle platoon, recoilless rifle is –
Interviewer: Could you repeat that? 80, 78?
Interviewer: What was your unit?
Joseph: Oh, I was in the 25thdivision
Joseph: 35thRegiment, Company M. Mike company, it was a heavy weapons company which involved 30 caliber machine guns and mortars 8.4. 8.1 mortars and 75-millimeter recoilless rifles
Interviewer: So where did you leave from here to Korea and when was it?
Joseph: Well, first of all I was drafted December of 1952 and I had 16 weeks of basic training, and form there, after a few days of liberty they put us on a troop train and we went by troop train from Fort Dix to California.
We were in California for one month waiting for our ship to come in and sothen we, from there they shipped us to Sasebo, Japan.
Interviewer: When was it?
Joseph: That would have been Ap-, April and May of 1953
Interviewer: Mhmm. So you arrived in Sasebo?
Joseph: We arrived in Sasebo and we departed from the ship and they gave us our weapons. We were allowed to test fire and clean the weapons and the very next day they put us back on the ship and we landed in Pusan.
Interviewer: I see. So it was April?
Joseph: April the, yes, the latter part of April, first part of May of 1953
Interviewer: Tell me about Pusan you saw, how was it?
Joseph: Well it was pretty much bombed out. And I guess we realized at that time what we were facing because they put us on a train heading north.
We could see all of the bomb craters and the burned out tanks and other vehicles and we spent the first night in Korea in Yeongdeungpo.
Interviewer: What were you thinking? Did you know why you were there?
Joseph: Well we were young. I was only like 20 years old and we didn’t think too much about it.
It was something new, it was a completely different lifestyle for us naturally.
Interviewer: Tell me about those lifestyle that you would encounter there, be honest, just describe it. How was Korea?
Joseph: Well you know we didn’t have any electricity. We didn’t have any running water, no hot water and that was a big change for us in our lifestyle. Also taking orders from our superiors, that was a change in our lifestyle.
Sometimes we were asked to do things we didn’t want to do, but when you’re in the military you have to follow orders.
Interviewer: Mm-hmm, Mm-hmm. How about Korea? Was completely destroyed or how about the people there?
Joseph: Well the only civilians we saw were the ones that were working in the rice fields, so we didn’t have much contact with them at all
Interviewer: How about cities? And how was Yeongdongpo was it really destroyed?
Joseph: Well we couldn’t tell because Yeongdeungpo had no running water and no electricity, so that was our first night in Korea. It was kind of an awakening process to what we can expect to the future
Interviewer: Were you shocked?
Joseph: Yeah somewhat
Interviewer: Really bad, right?
Interviewer: So from Yeongdeungpo where did you go?
Joseph: From Yeongdeungpo, the next day, we spent one night in Yeongdeungpo and the next day we were assigned to our units. I was assigned to the 25thDivision, 35thRegiment in Love Company, company L, which was a rifle company.
Even though I had a heavy weapons MOS. At that particular time they needed riflemen so we were, as I say, even though we had a MOS of heavy weapons, were in a rifle company and that’s where I experienced going on my first patrol.
Interviewer: Where? Where were you?
Joseph: We were on the Berlin outpost
Interviewer: I see
Joseph: Which was in the Chorwan, Kumwha Valley area.
Interviewer: Tell me about the situation at the battle line. Was it severe battles when you arrived there? Or how was it?
Joseph: Yeah it was pretty much stalemate at that time.
Give and take by both sides. Actually, it was trench warfare and we were in the trenches and we would go out on patrol. Every night there’d be patrol, you wouldn’t go on every one, but they’d say every night going out to see what they could observe
Interviewer: Tell me about it. What did you encounter there when you were on patrol?
Joseph: Well –
Interviewer: How dangerous was it? And tell me about any episode that you had.
Joseph: Okay, well, I was the youngest, at that first patrol., I was the youngest individual there at that time, on that particular patrol and they gave me a Browning automatic rifle. It was heavy. It was about fully loaded and weighed about 12 pounds I guess.
We had the platoon Sargent who was the point. The point is the first person in the patrol.
Interviewer: Most dangerous?
Joseph: Right. And it was very dark, it was, you could hardly see your hand in front of your face
Interviewer: Was it at night or in the dawn?
Joseph: At night. All of the patrolling when I was there, it was done at night.
And we got to where we were supposed to be to observe or hear or report back anything that would be beneficial, right, to our commander so it was, we laid there for 4 hours in the pitch darkness
Interviewer: Wow, must be very scared
Joseph: And uh, tt was. Your mind plays games with you, you know.
You look at a tree, you swear that tree, the last time you saw it it was over there, now it’s over here. So is that a tree or is that somebody moving?
Joseph: All you can see is an outline, a silhouette, So when we went out on patrol they gave us each two hand grenades. We hooked them on our harness here. And then when you came back you had to turn those grenades back in for the next patrol.
Oh yes they counted heads to make sure that the same number that went out, same number comes back
Interviewer: How many were all together one team? Patrol
Joseph: It could be 10 or 12
Joseph: Yeah, yeah. It’ll be, there would be a platoon, yeah.
Interviewer: Were there any squirmish or real battle in between patrols?
Joseph: Yes there were. There were search lights that could light up the whole area and we could see where we were going. Of course, the enemy could see us too. So we had to be very careful not to expose ourselves too much
Interviewer: Were there minings there? Mines? Landmines?
Joseph: I had one experience with mines. We discovered that, while we were on patrol we, at one time, we were in a minefield and so you can’t move around in the minefield, but you don’t know where the mines are. So they sent helicopters in that hovered maybe two feet off the ground. We jumped in the helicopters and they took us out of there. That’s the only experience I’ve had with mines. Yep.
Interviewer: So were there any real encounters with the enemies? Were they Chinese or North Koreans?
Joseph: They were mixed.
Interviewer: And were there any real encounters with them while you were patrolling?
Joseph: Yes, it was, we…
Interviewer: Tell me about that episode
Joseph: Well, we call it a fire fight.
When we were on patrol, well those fire fights were going on all the time. I don’t know what to say about that.
Interviewer: I mean real, so engagement with the enemies that you did while you were patrolling?
Joseph: Not man to man, but groups
Interviewer: Yes, groups. Talk about it. Explain what happened.
Joseph: Well, there are two types of patrols. One would be called the Recognizance. Recognizance patrol, which means that you try to avoid any type of fire fight.
You’re only out there to gain information so that the next patrol could use it or the people in the high command could use that information. So you try to avoid any type of fire fight. Then there’s the combat patrol, which is the direct opposite. You try to engage the enemy when it’s at your advantage to do so. So that’s about the way it was.
Interviewer: You were in both? Recognizance and combat?
Joseph: Yep, the platoon sergeant would tell you what type of patrol we were going to go on that night and we had a map of the area. He pointed out certain landmarks for us to be aware of.
Interviewer: So were there any dangerous moments that you might have been killed or wounded? Were you wounded at the time?
Joseph: No I was not
Interviewer: Wow you were lucky right?
Joseph: Yeah, I was the lucky one to come out of this without a scratch. The only encounter that I had where I could have been wounded was in the evening when we weren’t on patrol. We were in our defensive positions and the enemy was firing mortars at us and the mortars, when they exploded, had shrapnel.
My buddy behind me got wounded then, he got shrapnel in his lower extremities and he ended up going to an army hospital in Japan to recover. That was the only time that I came close to being wounded.
Interviewer: So where did you sleep and what did you eat? Where were you?
Joseph: Well, we –
Interviewer: Did you have a bunker?
Joseph: Yeah we had bunkers and we had fighting positions along the trench
Interviewer: So you can either sleep in trench or bunker right?
Joseph: Trench or bunker, right. We slept during the day. You couldn’t sleep at night with what was going on. You slept during the day, if you could.
You wouldn’t get a good nights sleep, but you could get some rest. And the trench, some of the trenches, were on the backside of the hill so the enemy couldn’t see what you were doing.
Interviewer: So what was the most difficult thing during your service there? There in Korea, what really bothers you or what was the most difficult thing that it was really hard to stand up?
Joseph: Well I guess like we spoke of earlier, would be the change of lifestyle. We were all from a country that was free going against a country that really wasn’t that free. I would say a change in lifestyle would be it, yes sir
Interviewer: What did you eat?
Joseph: Well it would depend on where you were.
If you were up on line, up on line means you were right in the trench, right in front of the hill then you got –
Interviewer: Sea ration?
Joseph: We get two meals a day from the mess tent, which was at the back side of the hill and the third meal, which would be the lunch meal, we called them salt rations, would come in a can.
We looked at the can. The can said packed in 1945. They were the world war two left overs, you know what I mean. We were getting them. But it wasn’t that bad. We got used to it and if you weren’t on line you were in the back area recuperating and then you get a hot meal. You get, we usually get powdered eggs and powdered milk, but in the back area we get real eggs, still powdered milk.
And you know, we had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner with turkey and all the fixings after they signed the truce. So that was a good thing.
Interviewer: And did you write letter back to your family?
Joseph: Yes I did
Interviewer: What did you write?
Joseph: Well at that time, not to get too personal here, but at that time I had a girlfriend back home that I used to write to and she used to write to me. At one point I stopped getting letters so I wrote home to my parents and asked them, you know, Marilyn isn’t writing to me, what’s going on and, come to find out, she didn’t want to wait for me so she went her way and I went mine.
Interviewer: Oh, must be hard, right?
Joseph: Yeah it was, yeah. But when you’re in that situation you keep yourself busy and you don’t think about it too much.
Interviewer: You had a lot to work with
Joseph: Yeah, I guess
Interviewer: You were there when the armistice was signed.
Interviewer: Tell me about the day when you knew about it and what did you feel about it
Joseph: Well we knew that they were negotiating the truce. They signed the truce July 27th, 1953. The night before the ceasefire the Chinese didn’t want to carry all their ammunition back.
They had to go back like a thousand yards each for the demilitarized zone and so they fired them at us so they wouldn’t have to carry them back. The night before, they knew the truce was going to be signed the next day and they were going to have to take all of their equipment and move back like we had to do and yeah, that’s what they did. They fired off thousands of rounds of artillery.
Interviewer: A lot of fireworks, yeah?
Joseph: Yeah, yeah, what’s going on here? We’re going to sign a truce tomorrow, you know, so that’s the way it was.
Interviewer: But you were relieved right?
Joseph: That’s right. Yes when they took my division off line we went to a place called Camp Casey. A guy by the name of Casey died in the war, but they named the camp after him. There was a town called [Moonsenee] there’s a rail head there. The railroad ended right there.
That’s the way it was after and after the truce was signed we were in Camp Casey and we were doing maneuvers about every single day through the summer of 1953. Then in the fall of 1953 we were situated on a hill.
I don’t know the, I can’t remember the.. the hills in Korea, as you probably know, there are so many of them they don’t have names, they just have numbers. And there was a hill we were on from September of 53 to March 1stof 1954 when we were relieved and then they shipped us again back to Camp Casey and we did all of our maneuvering from there through the spring and summer of 1954.
And in the, September of 1954, my division, whose home base was really in Hawaii, went back to Hawaii, but I had enough points, they had a point system to determine when you could go back to the States, but I had enough points to go back to the States, so that’s what I did.
Interviewer: So you left Korea in September of 1954?
Interviewer: Have you been back to Korea?
Interviewer: Do you know how Korean economy is now and democracy is?
Joseph: I’ve been reading about it and I’ve seen pictures
Interviewer: Tell me about it, what do you know about the contemporary Korea right now?
Joseph: Well I think that’s what makes it all worthwhile. That the Korean people, the South Korean people at least are free, you know.
One of the reasons they’re free is because of what we did over there.
Interviewer: Yeah, Korean economy is the 11thlargest in the world and we just impeached our president, how volatile the democracy is. So what do you think about Korea you saw in 1953-54 and the Korea you know? How do you put that into perspective in your life?
Joseph: Well, I guess it’s two Koreas – South Korea and North Korea and there’s a big difference I mean. I’ve seen pictures, taken from a satellite of the whole country of Korea, north and south. It’s almost like a line right there.
North of the line is all dark, no lights. South of the line is alive and prospering and again, that’s another thing that made it all worthwhile.
Interviewer: So that is your legacy of Korean war veterans?
Interviewer: Are you interested in visiting back Korea?
Joseph: No my health wouldn’t allow it, yeah, but it’s possible in the future if my doctor says I can.
Interviewer: Alright. So you never knew anything about Korea before you left. And when you left in 54, did you ever imagine that Korea would become like this today?
Joseph: I didn’t. I didn’t really think that much about it, but I knew that they signed the truce and that they, you know the saying is that freedom is not free.
Because of my experience, and not just me, thousands of others, the South Koreans are a free nation
Interviewer: Any other episode or story that you want to leave to this interview?
Joseph: Yes, it was one experience I had that I really liked very much. This happened in May of 1954. We were, at that time, my company was chosen to march in the Armed Forces Day, a parade in Seoul.
And we went down to Seoul on a Friday evening and we bivouacked on a soccer field. It was kind of erie because at that time, Seoul had electricity because they had generators. So the town, the city was all lit up. It was really, we didn’t have that where we were, you know. And we were chosen to march, as I said, in the Armed Forces Day parade which was held on May 15, 1954.
And at that time, Sigmund Rhee, who was the President of South Korea, reviewed the troops and it was a very pleasant experience.
Interviewer: So you must be very proud that you are ending the war and now you are parading with the Korean army together, right?
Joseph: Well we had Korean army soldiers, they called them katusa, that were assigned to us and I had about three in my platoon. They were very appreciative that we taught them English and they taught us Korean. I don’t think we learned Korean as well as they learned English.
Interviewer: So were they good?
Interviewer: The katusas, were they good in their work ethics and their –
Joseph: Oh yeah, yeah. They were very good. But we kind of felt a little bit bad for them because they were, they were in a different environment. They were eating like American food that’s, you know, which was good, but not something they were accustomed to. And yeah, so I remember one of the, one of the katusas was a gentleman in the South Korean army and he was 50 years old.
He was still in the army. I was going to r&r in Japan and this gentleman, he was in the Korean army, Katusa, was 50 years old as I said.
00:31:30 They called him [Papasan] and he used to play the harmonica. He’s pretty good at it too, but somehow his harmonica broke or something, he couldn’t use it anymore and he had no place where he could get another one. So I says look, and I told him, I’m going to go to Japan on r&r, I’ll go to the [px] and get you a harmonica.
00:32:00 Ohh ohh you number one, you number one. Everybody is either number one or number ten, nobody in between. So I got him a harmonica and you might have think I got him a thousand dollars. He loved that and I was happy for him, he didn’t have much, but I thought so we can help him, yeah. I enjoyed that, yeah.
Interviewer: That must have been the present of gift of his life
Joseph: Yeah, probably, yeah
Interviewer: Any other story?
Joseph: Stories.. well when we were at Camp Casey, there was a little town right outside the camp we used to call it little Chicago. This is the, you have to understand now this was a bunch of guys, we hadn’t seen a woman in eight months.
00:33:00 And all the ladies in that town all dressed in Western, they all dressed in Western dress with a nice beautiful make up, Western style clothing, and once in a while, when we could get away with it, we would just walk through the town just to look at them. They were beautiful, beautiful women and it, that’s about all I can think of right now.
Interviewer: Are you proud of your service?
Joseph: Oh naturally, yes I am
Interviewer: Joseph thank you very much for your fight for the Korean nation and because of your service we are there and we are prospering and we are the strongest ally to the United States so I am so thankful. On behalf of all Korean nation I want to thank you.
Joseph: Thank you
[End of Recorded Material]