Born in Halifax Nova Scotia in 1921, Joseph Quinn is a veteran who is proud of his service. He was trained as a medic in Canada, spent some time in Newfoundland, and then was sent over to Korea with a team of men. He recalls what it was like when they arrived in Incheon and then when they finally got to the staging camp. He describes the injuries he saw as a medic, remembering one specific man who survived thanks to Joseph Quinn’s quick thinking. Overall, he was able to help a lot of people through his service as a medic.
Arriving in Incheon
Joseph Quinn recalls what he saw when he first landed in Incheon on April 4, 1952. After landing on barges that took them to the beach, he noticed that nothing was there. He remembers that they then got aboard a train, but there were no lights, no water, and no food.
First Thoughts in Korea
Joseph Quinn describes that he was thinking when they first arrived in Korea. He remembers that they arrived at the staging camp and were given their mail, a meal, and some blankets. He then explains his first wakeup call.
Memories of a Medic
As a medic, Joseph Quinn saw a lot of injuries. He describes one of the worst injuries he saw, but is thankful that the man survived. It was his treatment that helped the soldier make it to MASH and get the proper care.
[Beginning of recorded material]
J: My name is Joseph William Quinn. The last name is spelled Q-U-I-N-N.
I: Okay. What is your birthday?
J: Eighth of February, 1921.
I: Eighth of February
J: Nineteen twenty-one.
I: How old are you now?
I: Ninety-five? You look like a 17 year-old boy.
J: Thank you very much.
I: What is the secret to maintaining your health?
J: Just good living, I guess, good living, good living.
I: Good living.
I: What’s good living? Tell me. That’s what I’m asking. Share the secret with us.
J: If I knew that secret, I’d be worth a million dollars.
I: Wow. You really look 70 years.
J: Thank you.
I: Oh, that’s great. Where were you born?
J: Halifax, Nova Scotia.
I: Famous place. Uh huh.
And tell me about your family when you were growing up.
J: I have a sister and a brother, uh. They’re both alive now. And my mother, of course she passed away, and we, we had, we had a very good time in, in our life.
I: Um hm.
J: And of course, I joined the Army when I was 16.
J: Yes, as a boy soldier, and that was the, uh,
Non, NPAM, Non-Permanent Active Militia
I: Uh huh
J: at that time. And, uh, as soon as school, uh, soon as school finished on the end of June, we were gone for the summer
I: End of June of nineteen
J: Nine, oh, that’d be 19, 19, about
I: Sixteen year-old, right? So it’s gotta be ’37?
J: Thirty-seven, right, 37, yeah., 1937.
I: So you graduate high school in
1937 or what?
J: No, no. We were still going to school
J: And then we go for all summer and then go back to school in the winter.
J: In the fall.
I: Um hm.
J: But I did, that’s where we did, I did it for a couple of years. Then, of course, when the War broke out, they just called me up and said get your uniform. You’re on your way. So on the first of September, 1939, I left home.
MALE VOICE: What was your Regiment in, in, when you first joined as a boy soldier?
J: Uh, 22nd Field Ambulance.
MALE VOICE: Alright then.
J: In Halifax.
MALE VOICE: In Halifax, Field Ambulance.
I: So you enlisted, right?
J: First of September, 1939.
I: Yeah. Enlisted. And where did you get the basic military training?
J: I suppose I never got really basic military training for years.
I: Because you been in Reserve, right?
J: But me being in the Reserve, I, I did, did my basic military training for two ye, two summers.
I: Um hm.
J: For two summers.
J: And when they declared war, I was picked to go down to see the, I guess it was air, air commodore at Halifax, and he said you will be going to Eastern Air Command to the, uh, dawn and dusk patrols with the submarine gates. I was, I was a medic cause they didn’t have any med, medicals then, in the, in, uh, at that time
in the Air Force. So I was the first medic, and I used to, I was there for when they did their dawn and dusk patrols with the [INAUDIBLE] flying boats.
I: Huh. So did you get any special training from, to be medic?
J: Not really at that time.
I: So what were you able to do as a medic?
J: [STAMMERS] over the years as be, as a, a stretcher bearer, you pick out certain things you can do.
I did, I did pretty good. And then I, uh, I ended up at the hospital
J: In Halifax, Old [INAUDIBLE] Hospital in Halifax. After the, I was, I was at the Air Force for a month or two, and then I went back to Halifax and got some training as a medic.
I: Um hm.
J: Then from there, I guess, I went from there, where, to, uh, to
St. John’s, Newfoundland to open a hospital there for the, uh,
I: Where in Canada, right?
J: In Canada.
I: Where is it?
J: Well, no. That was, yeah, but that was overseas [STAMMERS] Newfoundland was, was not Canada.
I: Oh. Where is it?
J: But is, is, is now it’s Canada, but it wasn’t then. It was Amer, uh, it was a British, uh.
I: I see. I see.
J: Belonged to Britain at that time. And, uh, we had a, we set up a hospital there on account of all the, uh, submarines and, and the, and the, uh,
convoys going through. We’d get knocked off.
I: Did you know anything about Korea around the time that the Korean War broke out in 1950? What were you doing and
J: [STAMMERS] I was an instructor with the, uh, with the [INAUDIBLE] in, in, in, uh, Camp Borden
I: Um hm.
J: at that time. And, uh, they said okay. They wanted us
senior SCO’s to pick some troops and, and go to Korea. So I, I had, uh, I, I had, I picked what I liked, who I liked to go, and we went to Korea.
I: So tell me about when you left for Korea. When was it?
J: The exact date, I’ll tell you.
I: No, a, approximately the month of the year.
J: Well, I, it was, it was, uh, 1952 anyway. So that’s why I put it down because my memory’s not too good, you know?
I: Um, good, yeah, yeah.
J: I gotta, I gotta get going here.
J: [INAUDIBLE] I don’t know. I [MUSTA ATE] it. Oh, here it is.
I: Yeah. Ninety-five year old.
J: There. Now let’s see. Uh,
I was, let’s see, I was aboard the boat on the 19th of March. We arrived in Korea on April the 4th, 1952.
I: April 4th?
J: April 4th.
I: Where did you arrive?
J: At, at, uh, Inchon.
I: So it was already almost two years after the War broke out.
I: Yeah, two years.
J: That’s right.
I: And did you know anything about Korea?
I: You didn’t know?
J: No, it was a foreign land to me.
I: Yeah, it’s a foreign land.
I: But still, you didn’t know anything about Korea?
J: Not really, not really.
I: And when you landed in Inchon April 4th of 1952, what did you see? Tell me. Describe the scene that you saw.
J: Ah, it was white, it was in the evening on board. It was quite dark.
We landed on landing barges on the beach, of course. There was no, nothing there then. And then, then we got aboard trains. We got aboard a train, no lights, no water and no food.
J: And we hadn’t eaten for many hours. So finally the, we got something to eat, and we moved the train to staging camp up, up North of Seoul.
I: North of Seoul, yeah. Where? Do you remember any names of the camp area?
J: No I, I can’t remember the name of that, the city. [INAUDIBLE] was a great big one. I can’t remember the name of it. But there was, I think, I think it was a English guys were running at us. When we went in, they had the food ready at, at, uh, 11:00 at night for the food and, and, I’m sure.
I: Um hm.
I: What were you thinking to yourself?
J: Uh, a little bit wonder what hell was going to go on. Uh, and, uh, but anyway, they fed us. We got our mail that we had
picked, uh, was there for us. Then we went to, they gave us blankets. We went to bed, and about, uh, I guess, 6:00 in the morning I heard [NOISE] and everything rattled. Brigadier Rockingham was sitting with, with his, with his, with his guns, fired a big gun and he says time to get up here. So we went out, and then he said gentlemen, remember. It’s 10 to 1 in front of you.
So just be careful what you do. Have a, have a good time. That’s it.
I: So what was your duty?
I: What was your specialty at the time?
J: Me? I was a medic. [STAMMERS]
I: Still medic, yeah.
J: So I was a medic, a Sergeant. And I was, went to the Headquarters of [INAUDIBLE] and they sent me up to the, uh, casualty collecting post behind the RCR and a, and the PPCLI at Hill 355,
and I had 34 men.
I: Under your control.
J: Under me, yes.
J: Right. And, and, and the doctor was a Major Dave Jaffee was a doctor.
I: Um hm.
J: And most, most times, most times I was a, most times I was a, most times I was a, I was the doctor really because he was always gone.
I: Um hm.
J: So I, I used to suture them and give them blood, whatever the heck I did.
I: So tell me about the
typical day of your duty, how many people, many people, often wounded, uh, die or
J: Well, let me see. [TOP OF THE] Day Duty would be around, uh, nine, 9:00 at night, when they, when, when, when the patrols went out, 9:00 at night, you ‘d get a few in with, uh, bruises and blood, and then a lot of time you get one with a, with a real bad wound, a sucking chest wound or a, a, a shrapnel in,
and you’d probably get about maybe, uh, I’ve, I’ve, but I had, uh, 8 or 10. And then I did triage on them. The ones that had to be looked at [INAUDIBLE] went to MASH Hospital.
I: MASH, yeah.
J: seen by MASH, or hold them all in the morning and a, and a, ask it to helicopters in and take them, and send them all by chopper in the morning.
I: Um hm. Do you remember any worst scene of wounds or
J: I think the worst, worst I saw was a man with a, a, a sucking chest wound with his, his chest wide open and, and they, and I was scared of his eye. I thought, I thought he was gonna lose his eye. So I baseball stitched it up, put him on his, on his, on his injured side so that the blood wouldn’t go to the other one and, uh, I put some dope in his eyes, and I, and I shut them, I think, sometime in, during the night the ambulance, my road ambulance drew
MASH over the right front bridge where we were.
J: and, uh, I, I got word back that he had lived.
I: That’s good.
J: I was quite proud of that.
I: Um hm, um hm.
J: And then, of course, [STAMMERS] you get them with, guys that are dead, dies with some that had a leg off and so on. So, and you
I: What was the typical kind of injuries that, that, that the people
J: Uh, just, well just, I, you know, some,
mostly, mostly was shrapnel or, or, or they fall down and, and hurt their, break a leg or something like this. But that’s normal, normal procedure in, in a war. It may be a shrapnel or, or, or bullets or what the hell, you know.
I: So you did operations, taking those shrapnel
J: No, no, no. I didn’t operate.
J: I, if it was, if I could see they might take him out and, and but that wasn’t my job. My job was just to, to look after them,
J: Keep them alive.
I: Um hm. Um hm.
J: Whether they needed, uh, some plasma which you could make plasma,
uh, ,uh, uh, give them maybe a shot of Morphine to, to quiet them down. and then, and then, then, uh, get them on the road to, to field dressing station or the MASH.
I: So what is the name of your unit? Do you remember? And what is the name of the
J: 37th Canadian Field Ambulance.
J: Canadian Field Ambulance.
J: Field Ambulance.
I: Field Ambulance, okay.
J: Yeah. You got the paper right there.
I: Um hm. It’s in my possession.
J: Right. You have it in your possession right now.
I: So, uh, was it inside of the tent or was it
J: What do you mean?
I: I mean the, the, the, the whole thing, where that you were, you worked? Was it inside of the tent
J: Well I, I , yeah, tent on a side of the hill. The tent was in your side of the hill so that, after the enemy shot at you, it would come over the top, you know? They were trying,
they tried to be out of the line of fire was shall we say.
I: What about the facility there, the resources, the medicines and, and medical tools?
J: We had them all in the tent. We had a, a kit, a bag, a, a, a,
I: No shortage of those?
J: No. No. We were, we were fortunate. We, we, well, there’s nev, never a shortage, you know. Had to make due, you know. You make do.
I: Um hm. Um hm.
J: But we had bunkers to sleep in. Everybody had a bunker and, and we had our own, uh, man that cooked, cooked for our, our, uh, cooked in the tent.
I: Ah, that’s nice.
J: And we had our own cook and everything.
I: What kind of food did you have?
J: The best of food, Americans, Americans had good food. And we, fortunately we were American rations at the time.
I: Uh huh. Like what? What did you eat?
I: You got a hot meal then?
J: Oh yes. All the time.
I: That’s good.
J: Cooked, cooked meals, yeah. And we weren’t in the front lines. We were just behind them.
I: Yeah. Yeah. That’s good. Um, were you able to write back to your family?
J: Yes, yeah. As I said, back through the, uh, Salvation Army. They used to, they were up in, I bought some, some gifts just for and, and they were delivered back home perfect. Absolutely perfect.
I: You bought the gift?
J: I bought a gift
J: From, the Salvation Army had a, a vehicle
with all these things in it, you know.
J: You’d look at it and say oh, I like one of those, and you’d write them, telling them what you wanted and give them
J: some money and away they, they’d send it back.
I: So, by the way, how much were you paid at the time?
J: How much was I paid at the time?
I: Yeah. What was your annual salary?
J: You’re asking me something I don’t know really. I don’t remember.
I: Hundred dollars? Was it American dollar or Canadian
J: Oh no, no, no. It was all Canadian. [STAMMERS] But it was more than that. I can’t remember now.
But we had to, you know, we, I,
I: Was it actual money or script?
J: No, I just gave it all to my wife. I just, uh, my man, my wife wanted to stay home.
I: So you were married?
J: And I had two children.
I: Two children.
I: Oh boy.
J: Yes. My daughter says she was about three years older than my [INAUDIBLE] when I left home.
I: What was the most difficult thing for you during your service there in Korea? What made you most difficult or what are the things that you hated
J: Uh, not, not much I hated. The only thing that would bother me was when they used to fire at us, you know. We had to be careful what the, what they, the shells coming in. I, but mostly I hated would be the snakes and the scorpions and the, the rats [INAUDIBLE]
J: Yeah. Oh yeah. But being as I was a medic, I knew what to do.
I: But, yeah, right. Being separated with your family,
especially with the wife, with two children, that must be very hard, right?
J: Well, yeah. But I think you just took, we were only going to go out, we knew we were only going down for a year or so. It, it was not too bad.
I: Were you able to get some pictures of your family? Did she write back to you and she send you
J: Oh, uh, one, one or two times, I, twice I could send them a picture, yes.
I: Um hm.
J: [INAUDIBLE] pictures, yeah.
I: Were there any Korean people working with you?
I: Tell me about them.
J: Uh, [STAMMERS] I saw what they call them in Korea. I forget now his name. Very nice guy, very nice guy. Anything we wanted him to do, he’d do it. So what we would do as once, when, when we back to rest, I made sure that he had some stuff to take back to his family.
I: Um hm.
J: And he told me, he said I got stopped, he said, and they were gonna take it from me. And I said well, what’d you do? He said I showed
them your, I showed them your letter, that’s your name on it and he said you gave it to him.
I: Um hm.
J: Then he said they let me go through. He said, boy was that ever great.
I: Oh. So you wrote a letter for him, and he, so that he could
J: Yeah. I said I gave him this stuff.
J: Like you see
I: What are the stuff that you gave?
J: Oh well, like soap and, uh, chocolate bars and stuff like this see. Stuff that they couldn’t get.
I: How old was he?
J: I would say about 17.
I: So was a boy actually.
J: Oh yeah, yeah,, yeah.
I: Uh huh. What did he do for you?
J: Oh, he’d look after my clothes. He looked after all the stuff that we wanted, whatever we wanted anything, you know. Really, he was a really nice guy, really. Really nice guy. We [INAUDIBLE] He was a really nice buy.
I: Um hm.
I: Um. Did, did you pay him?
J: We didn’t have any money. How we gonna pay him?
J: How you gonan pay him when you had no money?
I: What did he work for then?
J: I suppose for the food and for a place to stay and
I: Oh, I see. And you gave stuff to him so that he could
J: Why, why, yes. Sure.
I: Yeah. What were you thinking to yourself that what am I doing here in a country that I never knew before?
J: I never thought of that. I just said we were there to do a, do a job and we’re gonna do it. And the only thing was I just, often said one
night I had two Chinese, uh, Army guys in my, look after them. And I thought you buggers. There are, there, there, they were infiltrating, see?
I: And they were wounded?
J: But they were wounded.
I: So what did you do to them?
J: I fixed them up.
I: And then what happened to them?
J: I turned them over, back to the, to the cop, to the police, military police.
I: How were Chinese, two of them?
J: Pardon me?
I: How were Chinese to you at the time?
I: Those two soldiers wounded.
J: I said, you know, I was [INAUDIBLE] I, I gave them a shot. And I said oh, I’ve gotta get the shot ready and, you know, give me your hip, and he turned over. And I said you understand me, you bugger.
I: Um hm.
J: And I, he was a Lieutenant, right?
J: And I knew [STAMMERS] I knew he’d, cause everything I said, he did, right? I didn’t
have to show him what I wanted. He did it.
I: Um hm.
J: And I think the other guy was a Corporal, and they were, they were, uh, on, a, a, landline. They were putting, trying to get landlines in, never caught, never picked up.
I: How did they look? Did they have a uniform?
J: Oh yeah, geeze. They were well built and looked like they were well fed, yeah. Oh yeah.
I: Hm. So when did you leave Korea?
J: When’d I leave Korea?
J: Uh, it was Janua, January, something like that, January or February
J: Yeah, no. No, I left Korea, excuse me, I left Korea when I, I blown up [INAUDIBLE] I got blown up when the [INAUDIBLE]
I: Tell me about that. What, when, how did it happen? When?
J: I was bringing helicopters in to
pick, uh, I bring, I bring, bringing the helicopters in next to evacuate the wounded. And [INAUDIBLE] had a smoke. You had red, [STAMMERS] for danger and, and blue for this
I: Yeah, yeah.
J: So I picked a white smoke, pulled the pin, opened it up and, and it blew, and it was phosphorous. It blew in my face and burned my clothes off, it burned my hands
I: That’s how you got that
J: Oh yeah.
J: Yeah. So with that, I couldn’t see, you know. Every, everything, [INAUDIBLE] gone, everything,
and they shipped me off to Japan, to Korea, uh, to, uh, Kure, Japan
I: Um hm.
J: And when I got to Kure, Japan and they got me better and I said oh, I wanna go back, they said, the girl said I’m sorry. He said from that run, he said you, you’re gonna manage this place. You’re running this place for the next couple months you’re here. I said okay. What could I do?
I: So you were in Japan?
J: [INAUDIBLE] Japan.
I: Um hm.
J: Yeah. Just for a couple months.
I: Um. Have you been back to Korea?
J: No, I have not.
I: Do you know what happened after, after the War to Korean people and Korea? Now the Korean people?
J: No, but I, I, I understand they tell me all about it. I read it, read quite a bit of it.
I: So what do you know about Korea, contemporary Korea?
J: Well, I mean, I always think about, what, what Seoul looked like when I was there, I used to walk the streets of Seoul, and what it is today. And I said [INAUDIBLE] Like we were in, in, what was, I suppose that was an ol, Olympic vil, yeah, the Olympics in Korea
before the War?
I: Nineteen eighty-eight?
J: Yeah. I think we were there, I think that’s the building we took over in, uh, in, as a hospital, as a
I: You mean
J: But we were there.
I: before the War?
J: No, no. This, oh no, no, no. this
I: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
J: af, this was during the War. No, I wasn’t there before the War, no, no, no.
I: Yeah, yeah. Oh.
I: So you know how Korean economy is now.
J: Yes, I do.
I: Um hm. What would you say if you meet with the boy that worked for you, the 17 year-old boy
if I can arrange a meeting with him, what would you say to him?
J: That would be a [INAUDIBLE] I don’t know what I would say to him. But, I, I, I should, I should be, I’m certain it would be a pleasure to see him I’ll tell you that. Yes it would. Yes.
I: Would you wanna go back to Korea to see?
J: Well I did. But I thought maybe I just couldn’t hack, couldn’t go to all the functions, and I didn’t want to, to, uh, lag behind. Cause I, I, I, I’m getting pretty old, and I didn’t wanna do, do, uh, to lag behind.
I: What would you say to young Canadians about your service as a Canadian Army?
J: I said if I was young, I’d be back in it again, that’s it.
I: But these days, it’s not so popular to the young generation.
J: It is popular. What, that’s their problem. They should make it popular. I, I enjoyed it. They should, they could enjoy it, too
I: Um hm.
J: if they just put their mind to it.
I: Um hm.
J: But today, you know,
with all the dope and all this, uh, it makes a different world than when I was a young fellow.
I: Um. Any important thing that I forgot, I mean I didn’t ask about your service through the Korean War?
J: Not, no
I: Anything, just tell me more about your, your, your service.
J: No. I’m, I, well I mean, uh, what can I say? I was up in the front, I was at the CCP, I was at the, uh, dressing station. I was in Seoul. I was in MASH.
And [INAUDIBLE] down and, uh, I wish I could remember the name of the place over the, over the river in Seoul where we had a, a camp.
I: Tell me about it. I can’t, I can’t think of the name.
J: I was, I can’t remember. I wish I could remember.
I: Describe it.
J: Well, no. It was, well, we would just use it for our retirement. We used it up for a, we used to go for relaxation. We was in there, and everybody just put their bathing suit and stayed
there for a week.
J: And eat and swam and drank.
I: On the Hahn River, right?
J: Yeah, yeah.
I: Hahn River, yeah.
J: But I can’t remember. It was right, I know there was a lagoon
J: And we used to water, come in and they dra, and the drained the water, and we used to swim in there all the time.
J: I can’t remember, I just can’t remember the name now.
I: Any, anything you remember about the MASH?
J: No, just it was a big place and, uh, we used to fly in and, uh, and I, I, time I flew over to, I wanted to
know why, and I brought back some blankets and stuff that they kept.
I: Um hm.
J: And they didn’t send it back, so I went over to get them. So I had a trip on a, trip in a helicopter. And this time I, I was laid down looking up, I wasn’t laying on a stretcher. I was looking up to see what was going on. Interesting, very interesting.
MALE VOICE: May I ask, ask a question here. Joe, did you have any memorable leaves that you recall during the time you were there, any good leave passes?
J: Well, [STAMMERS] no. Uh, le, well that’s the only thing I had was a week or something. I’m not, never had a leave to, to Korea, to Japan.
MALE VOICE: You never took the leave in Japan.
J: I didn’t have to.
MALE VOICE: Yeah, but you were there for a while.
J: I was there for a while. I was in Kure. And I, I, they made me the, uh, the, uh, hospital Sergeant Major there for awhile. I, I had my own je, uh, Jeep, right? So I’d go anywhere I wanted to go.
I: Alright. Thank you so much again for coming for this interview
J: You’re welcome.
I: and sharing your service. Because of your fight, Korea was able to accomplish simultaneous unprecedented economic development and democratization at the same time. And now we are [INAUDIBLE] members and giving aids back to the country who needs, you know. So we are very grateful and thankful for your fight. And on behalf of Korean nation,
I want to thank you.
J: You’re welcome.
[End of Recorded Material]