Joseph R. Owen
Joseph R. Owen was born in Utica, NY. He went to the College of Forestry, Syracuse University before enlisting in the military. His military service lasted from March 1943 to May 1952. During his service period, he went to Inchon and was stationed at Inchon-Seoul, Wonsan and Chosin Reservoir from September 1950 to December 1950. He served in Company B, 7th Marines, 1st Marines Division as a private, and had transitioned to 1st Lieutenant by the time of his discharge. He was an Infantry Platoon Commander and participated in the battles of Inchon-Seoul, Wonsan, and Chosin Reservoir. For his commitments, he received multiple awards for his commitments in the Korean War, including a Silver Star, Purple Heart, Good Conduct, Korean ***/Asiatic Pacific. After returning to United States, he went to the US Naval Hospital to recover from his wounds. After being discharged from the military, he began learning marketing/business.
Lack of Preparation
Joseph R. Owen details the lack of experience his outfit had before being sent to Korea. They were trained for only two weeks at Camp Pendleton in California. He taught them the rest of their skills on the ship heading towards Korea. He describes how their lack of preparation showed once they had their first combat in Incheon.
Joseph R. Owen describes how the Korean War was not expected. Conflict leading to war was expected in either Israel, Russia, or Indonesia. Due to its surprise, there were not enough Marines, resulting in calling up the Reserve units.
The Chinese: Morale Destoyer and Fear Creator
Joseph R. Owen describes his greatest moment of terror facing the Chinese at the Chosin Reservoir. He had to persevere and be a leader despite the fact that the Chinese were coming in droves attacking. He describes the causalities witnessed on the scene as well.
[Beginning of recorded material]
J: But I started as a, I was an enlisted man.
I: Um hm.
J: And I, uh, at the age of 19, I was a Corporal of the Marines. I had a forward observer squad, and I was the for, and this was for a, uh, a 105 artillery outfit,
Charley Battery, 5thGun Battalion in the Pacific. And, it, but, it may be of interest to you
I: Everything is.
J: I had the, uh, my squad was composed of four Sioux Indians.
I: That is interesting.
J: And, oh, they were so called talkers,
and so they would transmit fire directions and so forth as passed on by the forward observers in their own language, Sioux
I: Um hm.
J: which the Japanese could not understand.
I: That’s a good code right there.
J: It was unbreakable code.
J: Uh, it was started by the Navajo. But anyway, by the time I, I got, uh, got involved, uh, we were using Sioux and, uh, we had, uh, we were in training. We were in training. And, uh, I was a good squad leader.
I: When was this?
I: When was this?
J: This was 1944. We were training up on the Volcano Island, the big island way up in the lava fields.
I: Um hm.
J: And apparently I was effective as squad leader to the point that I was selected to go back to the states for Officers Candidate School, Officer Training, and I did not want to do that. I wanted to stay with my outfit cause we went into my, uh, my artillery outfit was the only Marine
outfit that went into the Philippines with General MacArthur. Uh, but, uh, inconsequentially, uh, I begged the, I begged the battalion commander to please let me, let me stay with my outfit. I wanted to go, I wanted to go into combat. He told me I would be much more effective as a second lieutenant, so they sent me back to the States, and then
they sent me back to college. So
J: So you didn’t have to learn all over again.
here I was a, here I was a hotshot Marine wanting to fight, and I ended, I ended up the war in, in college.
I: Uh huh.
J: So, very, very unhappy. But, uh, I still had, I had the, uh, the, uh, desire at that time to become an officer of Marines
I: Um hm.
J: Which, to me, was the,
was the apex of, let’s say, uh, what a young man could accomplish, 19 years old, uh. So, I, the war ended. I finished, uh, I stayed in the, I, I got out of the, I got out of the Corps. to finish college at which point I went right back into the Marine Corps. because I did receive a commission. So,
there you go. There’s, there’s a story
J: story. You’re first officer of the day. I finished college
I: Um hm.
J: at Colgate
I: Um hm.
J: and immediately accepted a commission in the Marine Corp. as a second lieutenant.
I: Um hm. So, you know, you said that you wanted to fight
I: But the pulled you out to go to Officer Training School
I: But I guess you were able to redeem yourself because
J: Well, there wasn’t any fighting going on, but the, uh, I just had
a, a natural attraction to the Marine Corps.,
I: Uh huh.
J: And, uh, so I, uh, we didn’t make, we did not anticipate the war, the Korean War. The trouble spots of, uh, the world at that time were, were, uh, Israel. It was thought that, uh, possibly, uh, the, uh,
I: Um hm.
J: would attack Israel, and we were, we anticipated we’d be fighting there. The, uh, relations between the Russians and the United States were very bad. So were learning Russian tactics, uh, while I was in preparation to fight them since that time.
J: Yeah. That, that’s where we thought it would happen and, uh, uh, and, uh,
Indonesia, there were, there were troubles. So we did not know where we would fight. Now mind you, here we are, young officers in an organization that is known to be first to fight. I’m talking about United States Marine Corps. And we wanted to fight.
I: Um hm.
J: So when the Korean, news of the Korean War
broke out, we welcomed it, uh. It was at the beach at, uh, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and the word came through, and the first thing that every one of us, all the, all the young lieutenants without, without a, missing a single one of us, geez, do you think it’ll last long enough so we can get into it? This was, this was our thinking.
And we were delighted when President Truman said that we will enter this war on the side of the South Koreans. Quite frankly, we didn’t give a damnss what the cause was.
I: You just wanted to fight?
J: We figured the war where these North Koreans, we’ll go out and clean them up and get a little, get a little, uh, experience.
So, uh, it, it’s, most people don’t realize this, this facet of the Korean War. After, uh, after President Truman declared our involvement, uh, we shipped all the Marines that we could find up to, uh, California to form the First Marine Division, uh.
It was very difficult. It was virtually impossible to find enough Marines to reconstitute the First Marine Division, and therefore, the President said call up the Reserves. And suddenly there were thousands of young, youngsters who were 18, 19 year -old kids who had joined the Reserves,
possibly to get a few extra bucks or Saturday night drill and with the, the, the, uh, the ability to attract women wearing the Marine Corps. uniform
I: Of course, of course.
J: And none of them, none of them had any thought of, of going to war, uh. A few of them had been through summer training, most of them.
Most of those that, uh, that I picked up had not been,
received much training be, beside putting on the uniform learning the manual of arms. Uh, out in, and we, so all the Marines from, from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, shipped out to Camp Pendleton in California and in effect became cadre for the newly formed 7thMarine Regiment which was mine.
And I reported aboard, and I had a, uh, a, a, I was given the, uh, the mortars, the 60 mortars in Baker Company 7thMarines, and I went over to see my, the Marines that were mine. They were already assigned. They had nothing to say about, uh, how, what qualified
J: and they were a rather sad looking group, uh. The
I: Probably because they were in, they’re the Reserves so that they weren’t necessarily [INAUDIBLE]
J: You know, you were just called up out of nowhere and said you will report, uh, to 1stMarine Division at Camp Lejeune, and you will be assigned to an organization. This was on, uh, I forgot dates. But I had, from the time I first
stepped in front of my Marines, I had less than, I had two weeks to train them and put them aboard ship and to go, and to, to go to the, the, uh, what turned out to be the Invasion of, of Korea, South Korea
I: Um hm.
J: through, uh, the, uh,
the Inchon Landing. Uh, what I did with that two weeks, I tried to get the people into condition to the best that I could by running them up and down through the hills of Camp Pendleton, same time teaching tactical maneuver, tactical movement, just given them an idea of, uh, of
I: [INAUDIBLE]guys into
J: Say again?
I: of what they’ll be getting into?
J: Just, but, how they would be in, how they would, uh, respond to combat orders. I had no time to give them training and military courtesy and discipline, uh. I didn’t have time to tell them the, the, uh, proper means of communication, uh,
very little about them calling me sir or Lieutenant. As one of them put it so succinctly, what difference does it make what we call you? We all know you’re the boss [LAUGHS] yeah. It was to the, uh, to the horror of our regulars, our NCOs. You don’t understand NCOs where the, where the Corporals and the Sergeants, they are the backbone of any outfit. These, these were
all, uh, pretty well, pretty well, uh, experienced United States Marines. Many of them had fought up through the Pacific, and so they were combat experienced.
I: I’m wondering, you know, how you were actually able to equip the Marines with the ability. Maybe they’re a little afraid to go over to Korea and to actually fight. Whereas the officers, you know, your kind of responsibility is to coach them, uh
J: Sure, I understand what you’re saying, Uh. It was not
a question of, uh, whether we doubted if we could do it or not. We would do it, and we did do it. We just, we put them on, uh, unreasonable training schedule just to ram it into them as quickly as we could. The important things for them to learn was, were that: 1. Instantaneous response to their leaders which
could be the NCOs, could be Corporals and Sergeants and to their officers, uh. It was perhaps difficult for them to get this through their heads. Some of them, uh, let’s, let’s take a kid who had a tough time at home when Mom told him to get up, it was time to get up and go to school. Uh, I don’t want
I: You straightened them out pretty quickly.
J: Uh, we, uh, we applied very harsh
methods so that they would quickly learn that, uh, what I or one of the NCOs, uh, do list that was not a question of I’ll get to it and as you will right now.
I: So when, when you actually sit down and got into Korea, they’re hopefully better prepared to deal with that situation.
J: When, uh, first of all, we, we spent two weeks aboard ship
I: Um hm.
J: at which time we, we
broke out our weapons, and we had weapons training aboard ship. Uh, mind you, here we are. We’re, we’re showing young men how to fire machine guns, fire maintained machine guns. Many of them had never even seen one, showed them the, the use of hand grenades, how to, how to prepare and, and throw a grenade,
all this off the fantail of, uh, ships on the way so that by the time we landed, we had the rudiments down, not to anyone’s satisfaction, but we were committed. The First Marine Division was committed to the capture of Seoul.
I: Um hm.
J: We landed in, in, uh, a place called Inchon, and fortunately
we did not land under enemy fire. We came ashore, and we did, uh, just utilitarian work, helped low gear get everything ready, uh, for the, the outfits that were ahead of us and fighting till the first, the first time we went into the attack, and here is where our lack of experience showed.
I: Um hm.
J: Uh, it is for the best of trained troops first time under fire. You might describe it as a horrifying experience. The man next to you say gets his belly shot out. He goes down, and you’re next to a guy whose intestines are spilled out, and he’s screaming and yelling, and you have
never seen such a thing perhaps. Now mind you, these were 18, 19 year-old kids. Perhaps you’ve never even seen a dead person in your whole life. Well, all of a sudden the guy you were just talking to is a mass of bloody pulp. Now you’ve got to follow the orders of some big son of a bitch who’s telling you Goddamit, keep moving, keep moving, keep moving.
And for the most part, we did. The meth kept moving. And what, it was my first time under fire, and here I am. But we got up to a dike, a rice paddy, and I am over, my head is over the dike. Next to me is a Marine,
and I’m looking to spot a Mar, a machine gun, the enemy machine gun so I can call in mortar, uh, and next to me, closer than we are, a, the kid next to me, his head is splattered, and he goes down, and I look down, and then the kid who had been right next to me is now a, just a, a, a, a
bloody, his head is a bloody pulp. That fear is universal.
I: Um hm.
J: Came at me, and it could have at that moment, could have paralyzed me. But fortunately I had, I was a thoroughly well-trained leader of Marines. I knew that it was
function to keep this outfit going, to do what we’re paid to do. So I just forced myself
I: Um hm.
J: to take command of myself. That, that was my first, my first t error, feeling of terror.
I Um hm.
J: But I overcame it.
J: And, now what happens is that in that instant,
the men see that no matter what has happened, the Lieutenant is still giving orders and is still in, not cowering underneath the dike. He’s got his head up. He’s checking out the situation. So we overcame that situation., and we, we, we, we, that par, we moved properly, and, and we took our objection, objective that day,
moved down forward, and it was, for the first day of combat, it was not, not a terrible experience. We lost people. Had they been trained properly, uh, would have moved differently. Case in point, here’s one where I, I had a, I had taken one, one of my lads and made him my runner. And we were, we were pinned down pretty badly by
the, this, we’re finding North Koreans, though.
I: Um hm.
J: And they had us under heavy fire. So when I was moving, moving my, my peoples across an open area creating, doing all the right things, putting down the, the, suppressing fire, distracting fire and all that, and then giving the men the word move out one at a time, and the way they would move,
just get up, zig zag. Comes down to, uh, this lad, this lad Nichols. Fine, young man, and it’s his turn. He’s the last one. Alright Nichols, get ready. Okay lad, and he starts, and then he stops, and he turns around, and he comes back, and on his way,
they, they got him right in the chest, and he fell back into my arms.
J: You know, and the reason why it happened was that he, he wasn’t conditioned to instantly follow orders. Once he got started, he hesitated. So there, there was poor Nichols getting a case of lack of preparation. But we lost, we lost seven, some more men like that.
For the next five days, we fought outside of Seoul, fighting north, uh, against the remnants of the North Korean Army, and so in effect, we were getting combat training under enemy fire, most effective kind of training you could possible get.
I: Was it before the Chinese entered?
J: Oh yeah. Yeah, we were still fighting the, uh, fighting the North Koreans. But they were, they were, uh, dissipating.
So like I say, those five days of, uh, of, uh, exposure was outstanding
I: Um hm.
J: combat training. We finished those five days. My people felt as though they were, they had been, as they say, blooded, and they were confident. They had confidence in themselves. They knew that the next time they ran into the enemy, they would, they would be ready.
I: Um hm.
J: And they would know what to do. So,
that ends that chapter of, uh, of fighting, uh, against the North Koreans. We pushed them out of Seoul. We pushed them back across the border. As far as we were concerned, the war was over. Uh, the powers that be, and I’m a, I’m not involved in this. All I am is a Second Lieutenant feeling pretty dam, dam good about the job that we had done
I: Um hm.
J: and, uh, and ready for more if more came.
Word came that we would go up into North Korea now and clean out, eliminate, the remnants of the North Korean Army, and the [INAUDIBLE] the Chinese expressed their extreme displeasure and warned us that the United States is
not supposed to send its’ troops adjacent to the Chinese border. Now history will tell you that at that point in time, the, the Communist Chinese had assumed control command of China itself. They were allied with the Russians, and the Russians
and the United States were, were head to head at each other. It was to the Russian benefit that the Chinese Communist Army, uh, either defeat or at least embarrass the United States Army, the United States Armed Forces. So, uh
I’m explaining the warnings that were given to us. General MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the American forces in Korea and sub, subsequently Supreme Commander of all the United Nations forces said we will proceed to the Yalu River which is the border with China, and we will occupy
all the territory that we, that we overcome, and our purpose will be to eliminate the North Korean Army so that it won’t exist anymore, and most likely we will unify the two Koreas, uh, North and South so it will be one nation. The Chinese said that if you do so at, uh,
at, uh, our displeasure, and if you proceed, we will send sufficient forces down form across China into, into North Korea to stop you and your advances and furthermore to destroy you. The Supreme Headquarters in Tokyo, General MacArthur’s people, refused to
accept the warning, and we were ordered to proceed as fast as militarily possible to, up to the Yalu River to the border with China. The First Marine Division was assigned the central part of, of, uh, North Korea. We were to move up, up through that area called the Chosin Reservoir.
On our, on our, our left to the, to the west of us, the American 8thArmy had moved up the west coast of Korea. To our right, the, uh, a, uh, conglomeration of, uh, of American and South Korean forces moved up the east coast. Both on the east coast
and the west coast. The objective was achieved. The Yalu River was reached at which point the Chinese Army hit with, with, uh, with, with force that no one had conceived.
I: So they weren’t bluffing.
I: They were not bluffing.
J: They were not bluffing, and they hit, they hit the American and South Korean forces with literally hundreds of
thousands of Chinese soldiers who were ready to fight. They drove the Americans on the west coast, the 8thArmy. They, uh, they drove them back hundreds of miles back past Seoul, uh, worst defeat ever inflicted upon an American fighting force. Over on the
east coast, their effect was essentially the same, but the South Koreans and Americans who went up there were not in such numbers. In the middle, in the central part of Korea, the Chinese hit the First Marine Division. A little history: The Chinese hit us, First Marine Division, uh,
2 November. We had occupied a piece of territory the village called Sudong-ni. Prior to that, the South Korean Army had probed as far north as they could and were being shoved back by the Chinese.
I: Why don’t you tell the story about how the Chinese drove back and then
I’d like to maybe get more of your personal reactions in addition to the stories that you’re telling.
J: Alright. Let me, let me tell you the [INAUDIBLE] The, uh, South Koreans had, uh, had, had pushed up the central part of, uh, North Korea. The Chinese had come at them and drove, and driven them back. We were told to go up and reinforce
the South Koreans, stop the withdrawal. On 2 November at, at, uh, midnight, we were, we had taken positions. My battalion took three hills, set up three perimeters, and the Chinese hit us in forth, force with the intention as they said, of destroying
these Marines because the prestige in the Marine Corps. was such that should the First Marine Division be destroyed or seriously damaged, it would, it would do great, great damage to the prestige of the United States. So they hit us for the first time, the Chinese,
and they came at us that night and through everything they had, and it was one hell of a fight. They came at us in our, in our, our, our outpost. We withdrew slightly. They come, came at us, uh, their, tell you their, their style, uh. They would come up
as close as they could and then go into an assault which meant that they would send squads armed with burp guns, and they would come charging in at our first lines, and it didn’t matter how many casualties they took. Those who went down were, were followed by a new, a
new wave. Many in the new wave, wave, had no weapons. They just picked it up from those who had been hit. And they just kept by, by force of numbers, trying to, trying to push us out of our positions. They say it was one hell of a fight, and it went on for hours. I ran into, I had, I had my mortars
set up behind, uh, behind the, uh, the company command post. They come up at us, uh. I followed them and pushed them back, and, and the doing saw that there was a railroad tunnel down in the valley, and they were using that as shelter, and they were coming out of that railroad tunnel and setting up a firing line to hit the, uh, hit the battalion
which was down in the valley. Uh, this is a target, what we call a target [INAUDIBLE] one of the great moments, uh, in the life of a second lieutenant. So I set up a gun, and I just am going down that line that they’re setting up out of the tunnel, and I just cleaned them out. And I’ve gotta tell you, you know, that I mentioned to you moments of terror, uh. There are moments in combat,
moments of exultation. That was one of them.
I: Um hm.
J: So these, these things. I mean, you go from one end, one end to the one, one side of the spectrum to the other emotionally. The next morning after that fight were the 24thChinese Division were to release information that they had done irreparable damage to the First Marine Division and our own perimeter around Baker Company 7thMarines.
We counted an excess of 200 Chinese bodies. If we had given an inch, and from there on in, we kept following, chasing them up, up the, uh, up the valley to the Chin, to the Chosin Reservoir. I know you want to get moving on this. 27 November, we had been warned by the peasantry if you want to call them that.
The people living in the mountains, the North Koreans, that the Chinese were setting up many, many is the way they described it, and they were waiting for us to reach a certain point at which time they would attack the First Marine Division with full, with, the numbers vary. But that, that
perhaps a, uh, a ratio of 10 -1.
I: Chinese to Americans?
J: Uh, 10 – 1. So if we had 20,000 Marines, uh, at, they would have 200,000.
I: Um hm.
J: And their purpose is, again, to destroy the First Marine Division. Well, I saw so many instances of, of, the best, the best count, there, there is no accurate
account of how many of them came at us. The best description, you’ve heard of everybody who sees this who knows anything about the Marine Corps. will have heard of Chesty Puller, the incomparable Chesty Puller who had one of the regiments at the Chosin Reservoir and when asked how many Chinese are there up there, he said we got a whole shitload full,
and that was,
I: That summed it up.
I: That summed it up.
J: That summed it up because it is difficult, it is difficult for someone who was not there to envision the hoards, they were called hoards as well, as they came across the, the fields of the tank, and it seemed to us that they had no regard for life.
I: Um hm.
We put machine guns on them. We, we, we’d, uh, concentrate mortar and artillery fire on them, and they’d keep on coming and keep on coming. The only thing that saved us was that if we could hold them off during the night, in the daytime they were not effective at all in the attack because we had air support.
I: Um hm.
J: And our air could control the, the fighting
during the day. So the, the, the solution we found, the only way we were gonna get out of there is because we had gone so far. The Chinese that closed us off, they had us surrounded. The only way we were gonna get out of there and fight our way to the sea where the Navy waited for us to float us out of that place was attack, attack, attack.
And so we would attack all day. They would attack all night. They had more people than we did, and they were figuring by attrition they would wear us out.
J: Now here became a serious problem once again. We had leadership. We had to keep the men as alert as possible under these horrific circumstances. I, probably other people have gone into the matter of the
cold, uh, 20, 30 below zero, uh, blizzards, uh, climbing the mountains, fighting all of the, all, all of these things for which we were not trained, yeah. There we were, and so we just accepted these, uh, these problems and, and kept right on fighting. It was not without cost. My rifle company went into its’ first fight against the Chinese
on 2 November with 215 men. Over a period of, of five, five, uh, five weeks perhaps, constant combat, we received perhaps 75 or so replacements. These replacements came from artillery, supply, etc., etc.
But let’s say that there were 300, 300 names, Marines, uh, Baker Company’s roster. Our last fight, the last assault we made, I was the only officer there. We had a rifle company of 30 Marines.
J: The end of that fight, I wasn’t there,
and we lost three others killed. So the final muster, Chosin, after Chosin Reservoir, was Baker Company 7thMarines mustered 27 men, and that was it. Out of, they say, 300. And those numbers were not unusual. They were, uh, that was, there was pretty much the situation.
But here’s, and I, uh, now I go into my Marine Corps., uh, [INAUDIBLE] At the, it, it, it, even at the end, uh, here I am, a young, I was a junior officer, and I’m leading this assault, and my company of Marines is still fighting, like Baker Company 7thMarines, and they never, ever stopped. They just kept right on fighting.
I say this with my heart bursting with pride, yeah?
I: Yeah, it should be.
J: Uh, when, when you’re fighting, you no longer ab, you, you might go in filled with patriotism, and when you’re, when you’re in battle, uh, you’re not fighting for your country. You’re fighting for your outfit.
I: Um hm.
J: You’re fighting for the guys in the hole with you. You’re fighting for the guys who will move up with you, and you’re fighting for the guy, if you go down, he’s gonna make damn sure that you get out of there. He’s gonna make sure, is what I would tell them, you know. They, uh, they took the objective, but then they came back, slid me out a poncho, and, and, uh, dragged me out of there. So it was, it’s a matter, it’s a matter of family.
It’s, uh, and you love each other as family, and I mean love. There’s, uh, to this day, here it’s 60 some years later, you know. I’m still in touch with some of the Marines that I, that I led. I’ll give you a, I’ll give you a,a incident that is in total contrast of the first, the one I told you about Nichols getting
I: Uh huh.
J: getting killed because he stood up, and he hesitated. My company commander, Joe Cersava and I were standing together. Now, Joe and I had become fast, close friends, profession. We just, we had great respect for, for each other fighting. And right at the very end, Joe was telling me that I should take my platoon and try to flank the enemy position,
and Joe came to about here on me.
I: Um hm.
J: As we spoke, Joe, I saw a, I saw a dark spot appear at Joe’s forehead, right underneath his, his helmet line. And Joe’s eyes went dead, and I, he started to crumble, and I grabbed Joe so that he wouldn’t fall,
and I lowered him into the snow, and I wanted to stop beside Joe, get on my knees and pray. We were, and we were on the attack. I had to move forward and get the attack moving, even though I just lost perhaps my closest friend, right, I had to leave him.
but that’s what you do.
I: It’s hard to
J: Yeah. I think of Joe sometimes. I don’t feel any intense sorrow, uh. I don’t feel geeze, you son of a bitch. Why didn’t you just, you know? I did what I was supposed to do
I: Um hm.
J: and, and so we took the Goddamn position from the Chinese. That’s what we were supposed to do.
So, uh, yeah. The personal attachments are, are, uh, right now I’m telling you about Joe Cersava, uh. My, it, it hurts like hell.
I: Um hm.
J: But I know dam well that if Joe is, Joe would be, uh, he’d say oh Goddamit, you just did what you were supposed to be doing for Christ sakes, you know. So that’s, that’s what it is. It’s personal, but at the same time your, your first, okay. As a,
as an officer of Marines, my first obligation is to my Marines. That’s whatever it works for is to their, their, their benefit is what I’m supposed to be doing. There’s a great old saying, you know, I don’t think that the Marines own it, but it’s, it’s, it’s, uh, pertinent. You take care of your men, and your men’ll take care of you.
I: Um hm.
J: Ah, there.
I: I think that applies to everything.
I: Yeah, yeah. But at least,
like I say, we’re still, those of us who survived are still as close as family.
I: So how does that like, when you look back on your experience fighting
I: and your, in your civilian life,
I: back in the United States, how do you think that experience really impacted you? How did you, you kind of went about your life afterwards and your, your perspective on life by that change?
J: Uh, you know,
that’s a, you know, I, I could give you some noble answers to that.
I: I don’t want noble. I want
J: But, no, I could. But I’m, you know, the thing of it is, I went through a extremely difficult, difficult circumstance.
I: Um hm.
J: Uh, I got through it okay. The, one of the reasons I got through it is because I am,
I’m very proud, I’m proud as hell that I was selected to be an officer of Marines, you know. That is, that’s the epitome, okay, for, especially for a 19, 20-year-old kid. The other thing is that I know, I know that I am one tough son of a bitch.
And there ain’t nothing, there ain’t nothing that can beat me down.
I: Um hm.
J: Because I’ve been there, and I’ve done it, and it’s, the men I know who have been through circumstances such as what I’ve been through feel the same thing, you know. Bottom line is we’re proud as hell.
I: Um hm. So when you face a difficult circumstance now or in the past 60 years, you kind of think back on the war, like
I: I got through the war. This isn’t really,
This just doesn’t compare.
J: Yeah. You know, like it boils down to a, a couple of [LAUGHS] and we do it a lot, what can they do to me? [LAUGHS] you know? Really. So [INAUDIBLE] It boils down to, eh, if, if I were to, If I were to enumerate, list my, my emotions, I’d go, I’d start with pride.
I: Um hm.
J: Not conceit,
but pride. Remember that outfit I described up front, the people who didn’t know how to put their uniforms on?
I: Um hm.
J: Now they’re, they’re, they’re amongst the finest fighting Marines that the Corps. has ever put into the field. So, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of my part, and I’m proud of them that they did it. And then I am, the next thing is that
there’s a great line written by a, a Marine Colonel who, on retirement, he was, well that was a, and it was the Banhillas my, uh, Superior, and he says, uh, I take one step backward, retiring. I continue to look with tolerant scorn on the rest of the world for we are United States Marines.
I: Um hm.
J: Yeah. [LAUGHS] And that, you know, here I’m an 86-year-old son of a bitch. But I’m, [LAUGHS], I’m a, I’m a United States Marine, so, I guess I start up by enumerating my first emotion is pride, and I end up with pride.
I: Um hm.
J: I am very proud of what I did. Let me put in there somewhere gratitude.
Gratitude for one, the fact that we have a country such as ours that gives us such men
J: as Perkinson, Burris and Galapo and all, all those, all those great fighting Marines. And it gave me the opportunities that, that were, my Mom and Dad came, came from the Old Country,
so that their children could take advantage, or find and take advantage of the opportunities that are presented here. I’m sitting here thinking that, you know, my cousins over in the British Isles, great guys, but ain’t none of them, ain’t none of them had what I’ve had.
I: Um hm.
J: That becomes, because of them, I’m an American, so.
J: You mean uh, specific incidents?
I: Specific incidents or maybe, you know, fellow, uh, Marines that fell or
J: Well, Manchuria, oh, yeah. Here, here’s a, here’s a, here’s mixed emotions.
I: Um hm.
J: There was one, Jesus, the last, the last casualty that suffered by my rifle company, and this happened minutes after I went down.
They had taken that last machine gun that was stopping us, and then they kept trying to go on. I’m flat, I’m down on, on the deck in the Sorwon. I didn’t even see this but I hear of it. And we keep right on going and see if they can catch any, any, uh, uh, Chinese running away, and one of them,
Name is Kowalski. One of them gets up on the skyline. Stupid son of a bitch, and they get him. They kill him. And that, to me, was the saddest of all the casualties. You know, here, here we’ve taken the position, and, and he knew better. He knew better. Anyway, you know, he’d been
through three, all this combat, intense combat. Knew damn well that he shouldn’t have done, he shouldn’t have paused on the skyline, and the Chinaman turned around and killed him. And that, and that is one that, but I, well I think over the situation, I wish I had been there to kick Kowalski in the ass and tell him to get off this squad, you know,
stuff like that. Well. But you think of those guys with, think of them mainly with love, you know. I guess that’s the best way to describe and, uh,
I: I’m sure that’s a good, good way. Um, so, you know, over the years obviously you’re probably very knowledgeable about other wars, and a lot has been said about the fact that Korean War is this
I: And after World War II, people were kind of sick of dealing with it. Could you possibly talk about that a little bit?
J: Uh, yeah. Uh, look. We went over there. We fought one hell of a good fight, uh. As far as I’m concerned, we won. We did what we were supposed to have done. I know a lot of people had their lives torn up and disarranged, had some, uh, miserable times.
The point, to me, a war that, where victory or defeat was, uh, mangled, mangled by the politicians. You know, they get their hands on it, and it doesn’t matter. Look what they did to World War II which was a resounding victory. Look how they screwed that up. And, so when they say Forgotten War,
I think, I think of the great guys
I: Um hm.
J: Great Marines. Did I, that, that I fell in ranks with, uh? Where, where in the name of anywhere do you have opportunities like that, huh? Geez, the guys I could name to you, you know, are just outstanding people. I, they’re not forgotten
I: Um hm.
J: to me. I love them. I think of, uh, I love them. And I think that’s reciprocal. And I hear pissing and moaning about it. We weren’t appreciated and all that kind of stuff. Well, my choice is to say that, uh, well, here. Let me put it to you this way. People come up to me and say thank you for your service. And I say to them
I appreciate it, but you just don’t understand what a great time it was. There I am. The, a proud, a proud moment of my life is when I see the effect of 100,000 North Koreans who escaped out of the, of the, escaped the oppression
of the Chinese and the North Korean Communist government and came out with First Marine Division
I: Um hm.
J: Because we cleared the way for them. That was not our objective. I can, uh, recount only one, one specific. As we had fought down to one of the garrison towns and, mind you, the, uh, the, the masses of, uh, the Koreans who
were trying to escape with us coming out, they were a terrible problem. They cluttered up the, the, uh, the road, the main supply route, and, but to the best of our ability considering tactical involvement, we, we, we did take, give the full consideration, came into a little town, Hagaru-ri, and our people were, were dragging. We were beat,
and a truck pulled up, and in it were, was a, it was filled with, with rations, and it was intended for the North Korean refugees, and I saw them start to line up and suddenly burst through a group of South Korean soldiers. Now, these guys were supposed to be our allies. They were not very well trained. They were not trained at all.
They saw an opportunity to, to take those rations for themselves. They climbed up on the truck, and without an order being given, my Marines climbed up on that truck, and by means of rifle butts, they set up
a line so that the refugees could come over and, and get their rations. For a while, I had to pull my people off because we had, we had a assignment. But that was, as I look upon it, that was a very small but a, my head a significant, a significant gesture toward those people who came out. There’s another part of this, too,
that when we were moving north, came up to a [INAUDIBLE] a town called Yudam-ni, and, that picked people up in the, in the hills were coming to us and revealing Chinese positions and giving us intelligence about what they were hearing and observing about the Chinese tactically. When they were, and they told us
that, uh, and they would say Chine, Chine, monny, monny. And then they would say today they come. They come at you, you know. So They were very helpful to us, and so
I: So there’s, there’s some humanity then during a war it seems like. Even during war you could, you spot out those[INAUDIBLE] you know, when, when your men made
sure those rations went to the North Koreans.
J: Yeah, oh, Americans, Americans are pushovers, you know, for, for [LAUGHS] for, for the un, uh, for the unfortunate, you know. They’ll, you’ve seen, uh, pictures of, of wars, and you see the American troops giving the little kids candy and stuff like that. That’s, that’s what, that’s what they are, uh. The, uh, to give you an idea, I took a patrol out one day
way up in the hills, and I come upon this farmhouse, I think, and I came up to it and with, with one of my, uh, my, yeah. I had an interpreter with me, and we came up and, uh, the interpreter knocked on the door, and the door opened, and inside was this family cowering in fear, and
I went in with the interpreter, tried to explain to them that we meant no harm, and my men are digging into their, their
I: Trying to find candy.
J: their gear for candy and giving it to the little kids
I: Um hm.
J: and, you know, it was, it was chan, watching them, the, the Korean family change from fear just to, just to a relief, uh. But this, this is
J: you know. I mean I can’t say it was common to me. I didn’t have this happen every day, but things like that. But those were my few experiences with, with the, uh, with the North Korean people, and I’ve hear dome great stories about, great success stories about what had, uh, what had, uh, transpired in their lives if they, if they got out of there, uh. With a whole bunch of miracles there, too, so anyway, enough of that.
I: I’d like to get your idea of what you think the legacy of Korean War veterans have on American military and people in general. It’s a loaded question I know.
J: The, uh, legacy, geez, you know. Legacy to me is that one, you know, once a ye, uh, Sam Talking is, is a, a regular. I’m a pro. That’s what I did, and the
rest of it was a letdown after landing out of the Corps. cause I couldn’t get my trigger finger working again. But, uh, uh, uh, I look, look back, and I was in, I was in, uh, Seoul a couple of decades back, and I just, uh, I, I, it was a great feeling seeing that, the mad traffic
jams in a place where when, when we were there, and I went through it prior, uh, the traffic jams were tanks running into, uh, supply trucks, you know, and the town had been leveled, and now it’s, uh, it’s a, uh, it is a conglomerate of skyscrapers, of people running all over the place, bumping into each other. So we know that, uh,
I: That’s your legacy.
J: Well, yeah. so, uh, I got, I, a few Korean people I know have expressed their gratitude toward me, you know. I say thank you, and they say thank you. That’s, that’s it. I’m not gonna tell you that geez, didn’t we do a wonderful thing had the, had we been called into Indonesia or
any other place,
J: you know? It was, once again, I, see, I’m speaking as a, as a professional soldier. United States Marine and, so, I, I got called up for duty, and I’m proud of the way I did my duty. There.
I: That’s great. Uh, one last question.
I: As I said, you know, the, the whole idea of these interviews is to kind of get your experiences
I: and your thoughts on, on, um, this project that we’re doing
and on your experience in Korea, and I’m wondering if you could maybe provide a message or a couple lines, something that you’d like to transpire to future generations of children and adults who will be doing information on Korea and, and trying to find out a little bit more that they might not know, even soldiers that are coming home now, if you could offer some words of advice or a message or
J: That is, that is difficult. That is very difficult. Once again, I express myself as a professional Marine. Uh, I would say to, well, wait. I was out at Camp Pendleton a couple of months ago, and, uh, talking to Marines there about the shove off for Afghanistan, and they said to me
as, as, a guy who fought at Chosin Reservoir, geez, I don’t know how you guys did that, fighting in those mountains 30 below zero, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, and I said when we did that, we were not trained for cold weather fighting. We’re not trained to fight in mountains. The only thing we were trained to do is you go out and kill the bastards,
and you will do the same.
I: Um hm.
J: I don’t think that’s, that’s the, I don’t think that’s what you were looking for. I, I don’t have any high moral, uh, uh, uh, response, uh. I’ll, I’ll go back again to what, maybe five minutes ago. You asked me what my emotions were, and I said pride,
pride that I was, I functioned as, as a damn good United States Marine, pride that there is a Marine Corps., and gratitude, gratitude that we have the United States of America, that makes, makes, we’re sitting here because we have the greatest country in the world.
We’re fortunate to be, to be born here, to have this. I say gratitude, I think that, I thank God that I could do something to forward, to forward the purpose of this country, and, and circumstances, the contrast, the contrast
my family of six. To that family that I mentioned on a patrol up there, you know.
I: That house INAUDIBLE]
J: Yeah. So, yeah. It, I don’t know if that’s any kind of an answer, but I’m, I’m scraping, I’m that’s fine that fine scraping my brain trying to come up with one.
I: Um hm. Well, Lieutenant, I appreciate
J: That’s it.
I: you coming.
J: Aye aye.
I: It’s been a pleasure having you.
J: Okay my lad.
I: This Ambassador for Peace Medal that was given by the, um, government of the Republic of Korea
I: This is by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs and the Korean Veterans Association.
J: Yeah, yeah?
I: And if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to place this medal that they have given us for you around your neck.
J: OOOOOOOOOOOOO, look at that! Woohoohoo. Isn’t that
I: I see you’re decorated, but I’m sure you wouldn’t mind
J: That’s a fancy one.
I: having another medal.
J: Ha ha.
I: It says Korean War Veteran Honor in Korean.
J: Oh. Well, that’s, thank you. Ha.
I: Alright, and again, thank you very much.
[End of Recorded Material]