Korean War Legacy Project

Kenneth Dillard


Kenneth Dillard was born in Granger, Texas in 1933.  After graduating high school from Fort Worth Technical School in 1952, he enlisted in the United States Navy.  He went by train from Dallas, Texas to San Diego, California, to attend basic training.  In 1952, he was assigned aboard a destroyer, and deployed to Korea.  He was stationed with Task Force 77, in both the Yellow Sea and the East Sea during the Korean War.

Video Clips

Life in the Navy

Kenneth Dillard describes his learning experiences during basic training. He recalls learning to swim, as well as using his own clothing to make a flotation device. He explains how he came to be stationed on a destroyer ship, where he regularly had to ration water while aboard.

Tags: Basic training,Living conditions,Message to Students

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Living in Tight Spaces

Kenneth Dillard describes his job monitoring powder for making gun shells. He recalls that the sleeping quarters were small, leaving little room between the bunk levels. He explains that eating aboard ship was difficult because of the constant moving on water.

Tags: Food,Living conditions,Rest and Relaxation (R&R)

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Two Trips to Korea

Kenneth Dillard describes his experiences at sea during the Korean War. He was on one of many destroyers that were stationed in the East Sea and Yellow Sea. He recalls chipping ice off the ship, and chasing submarines in the East Sea.

Tags: East Sea,Yellow Sea,Chinese,Cold winters,Communists,Front lines,Living conditions,Physical destruction,Weapons

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of Recorded Material]

Kenneth Dillard

K:  I am Kenneth Dillard. I was born in Granger, Texas – which is about in the middle of Texas, 1933. On September 10, 1933.    My dad died when I was about two so I lived in an orphanage home for 9 years in Waco, ok and then I came to Fort Worth when I was 11. I got my first job making any kind of money at a bowling alley setting pins for six cents a game.


K:  I was making about $10-$15 a week after school. Buying my own clothes and everything.  I had 5 sisters and 1 brother.  I went to school in Fort Worth, all the way from first to high school at Northside High School in Fort Worth.

I:  When did you graduate high school?

K:  I graduated in 1952 at Fort Worth Tech, technical school. I went there the last two years.


K:  Two weeks after I graduated from high school the Korean War was going on and I decided I was going to get drafted in the army, so I decided that I didn’t want the army, I’m going to join the Navy.  [Laughs]… So I went down to Fort Worth talked to the recruitment officer- he sounded pretty good about all the travel and everything so I said well I am going to join the Navy.   I went home and told my mother that I found a good job that is going to last four years and she asked me what it was and I said, well I joined the Navy today.


K:  She didn’t get excited, she just said, well I hope you enjoy it and learn something while you are in there.

I:  What’s the date?  Do you remember? That you enlist?

K: 1952, June of 1952 is when I joined the Navy.  I rode a train all the way to San Diego.  It was my first train ride. And it took about 2 days, I think.  I was about 16 years old. You know we didn’t pay much attention to it.


K: ‘Cause you know World War 2 had just been over a short while so it wasn’t much talk about the Korean War. You know kids that age were just hoping to have fun and pass and get out of school.

I:  Where did you took the first train and headed to where?

K:  All right, I took the train in Dallas.  I had to go all the way to Dallas and we road all the way to San Diego where I had boot camp.  I had 13 weeks of boot camp training.


I:  What did you learn there?

K:  In boot camp?

I:  Yes

K:  How to march.


I:  Why did you need to learn march in the sea?

K:  I don’t know.  It’s just what we had to do.  We had to learn how to take orders, discipline, and we had to learn how to swim. They had a diving board that was 20 feet in the air.  We had to dive off of there into the water.


K: We had blue jeans on. We had to take them off. Throw them over our head and tie the legs in a knot. And then you throw it over your head and catch the air and that made a float so you can stay afloat with just your pants. And we had to be able to do that. And if you didn’t pass that you had to stay another couple of weeks, swimming, the training part.


I:  These are the good things young folks want to hear. Wants to know. What kind of training especially designed for the navy crew ok.  So if you have any other very unique to the navy stuff, please tell me ok?

K:  Well I can’t think off hand, other than that, you know we went to the rifle range.  We had to learn to shoot.  We went on board, September, October 1952, just right out of boot camp. Before we got out of boot camp we had to take a test, all kinds of skills, to find out what kind of ship they were going to put us on.


K: So I guess I didn’t score high enough in certain things, so the guy I joined with, they put him on an air craft carrier and they put me on a destroyer. So he just made a higher score I guess.  The higher the score you got, you got put on an air craft carrier, where planes and all that was.


K: We had to learn how to make fresh water out of salt water. You know they had a machine, with big gauges you know, and had to keep the bubbles even.  And if you dozed off and the levels got too high on one side some of that salt water would get in the fresh water tank. And we had to ration water at sea, you know. Cause they used a lot of water when they had to go about 25 knots.


K:  Every time the air craft carrier lost planes, we had to go like full speed to keep up with them. They were pretty fast so they used a lot of water that way.  We had to learn how to ration water that way by taking a shower.  We’d wet down, turn the water off, soak down, turn the water back on and rinse off.  You could do all that in a couple of gallons of water.  I had an uncle in World War II. He told me they were allowed one gallon of water a day on the ship he was on. There was a drinking water, cleaning your body and cleaning your clothes all on one gallon of water…. [Laughs]


K:  So things have changed. So I felt fortunate to get at least 2 or 3 gallons…

I: I don’t think our young generation will understand that you can do all those things on one gallon of water.  But you were able to do it?

K: Well they had people that if you stayed in their too long, they would turn the water off. You know, then you would have to rinse off with salt water. They had a hose hooked up to salt water you know and you didn’t want that because that salt would dry and you would feel like you had rolled around in the sand.


K:  Well they had different parts of the crew.  Some of them worked the depth charges, you know. Some of them worked the torpedo rack and my battle station was handling the powder, for the shells, and the 5 inch guns.  We had five, five inch guns and when they had general quarters that’s where I went. Just a short distance from the engine room. Where I was stationed.


K:  And we would pass the powder, you know to the guys putting in the shells.  We did a lot of shore bombardment you know and sometimes we would fire day and night continuously…you know at night time we would  star shells, that lights up the sky… then they’d see what they was shooting at.


K: But uh, that’s about all the training. Just had to learn to read the gauges and record them and then I would stand the throttle watch, you know where you had all these wheels up on the bridge and if you wanted to increase the speed to five knots you know, a knot is about 1.5 miles an hour. Well we just open up the thing and let in a little more steam.  It was pretty simple.  Places we had to sleep wasn’t much wider, they were about that wide.  You know little bunk beds, had a little bitty curve. And it was stacked four high. Well the guys that had seniority would get the top ones because they had more space.


K: But where I was at was like second up and if a guy happened to be a extra heavy it would sag down and I couldn’t even hardly turn over in the night..


K: I had to just sleep with my arms spattled out like I was skydiving. You know I couldn’t turn over. And then when it got really rough out at sea, you know a big wave and all that, that had a strap and they’d strap us in. Because some of the guys if they didn’t strap themselves in when they would make a sharp turn, they would come tumbling out about six feet crashing down to the floor.


K: Because they didn’t strap themselves in, you know.  It didn’t happen a whole lot of times.  It was interesting. You just have to learn to do things in smaller areas, you know, in restrooms, sleeping quarters.  When you ate, you had to wait outside in a long line.  If it was raining or cold, you just had to take it.


K:  And of course, after I got out, they came up with new destroyers where they had everything inside, what they call midship passageway. And even when we were eating we had to hold our tray with one hand and eat with another hand. Because you know the ship is always going up and down or sideways and your tray of food will go sliding down in someone else’s and they get upset and maybe slap you up side the head because you knocked their food tray over.


I: Were there any facilities for your living, like a gym?

K:  No, no exercise at all.  The only exercise you got is walking through to and from the mess hall.

I: You had enough exercise? By just walking there?

K: No nothing. The only exercise you got was what you created for yourself. You know, if you had some kind of heavy weight and decided you wanted to increase your muscles. You just did that on your own.


I: Was there a theater?

K:  We had movies at night. Sometimes it was inside the ship, sometimes it was on the fantail, which is the last part of the ship. In open air, in the Phillipines when it was hot.  Sometimes you get the same film over and over again. And then you memorize the lines, what they were going to say next.


K:  But the big aircraft carriers they got the best.


K:  When we left port, about three or four days after we left port all the milk stuff would run out and they would serve powered milk. The fresh potatoes would be all gone and they would serve mash powered potatoes. You know, stuff like that, you get used to it, you know.

I:  So when did you leave for Korea?

K: Well, I left in 52. Let me see. 52 and 53 I made two trips. The second one.

I: The first one, when, what month was that?

K: Oh, I don’t remember. It was 60 years ago. It was in the winter.  Probably November or December of 52 yeah. But it was so cold. They had ice about this thick. One morning, at least 6 inches thick all over.  They had everybody getting out there with hammers and pick axes, everything you could, chipping it off the torpedo racks, the depth charge racks, you know. If you had to use them, you couldn’t because everything had ice on it you know. We spent a lot of time chipping ice and getting it off of there.


I:  What part of sea where you at in Korea?

K:  The Yellow Sea.

I:  Oh, you were in the Yellow Sea?

K:  Yes, and the Sea of Japan.

I:  You were on both sides, west and east?

K: Yes, we went through a big canal. I don’t remember the name of it.

I: Takeshima?

K: We went to Yakuska..no, I’m sorry, that is in Japan. Yes, we were in the Yellow Sea and then the Sea of Japan.


K:  And of course, when we went south, in the Phillipines. You know the South Pacific.

I:  We call that East Sea. Okay.

K: Ok. I called it the Sea of Japan I think.

I: It’s the East Sea. In Korea it’s the East Sea. So please use that.

K: Okay.

I:  Tell me what was your mission?  What did you do? Did you fire to the shore? What kind of things happened?


K:  Mainly, most of the time we were always operated with an aircraft carrier because they did a lot of flying and bombing and strafing and all that.

I: Do you remember what aircraft carrier was there?

K:  Oh, there was several of them.  Some of them from World War II. I don’t remember if it was the Midway or exactly what.

I: Princeton?

K: No. It was just so many different ones. I operated test for 77 and they had all kinds of ships. We mainly escorted the carriers to keep the submarines from slipping in and torpedoing so you know.


K: There were over 100 destroyers in on the Korean War. American and British and so forth and..

I:  Oh British?

K:  Yeah, the British had some ships out there too. Once we had to pick up a couple of them that got thrown overboard.  A couple of guys got in a fight and got thrown into the water and we had to pick them up and transfer them back to their ship. (LAUGHS)


I: So what was your real battle mission and what kind of battle did you engage?

K:  Well mostly you know just chasing submarines, and dropping depth charges. They claim we sunk a couple of them. Um, let me see.  I have 5 battle stars. We were in 5 different battles. We got fired at a few times and luckily they missed us, but if they had hit us we probably wouldn’t be here today.


I: What summer was it? Was it Chinese?

K:  Probably the Chinese or Russians. I don’t know.

I:  What sea was that?

K: It was around the East Sea.  We would ask the guys who did the sonar, you know, the sonar room, after several hours of chasing and firing and dropping depth charges and all of that.  We would ask them, well did we get any? Did we hit ‘em or what? They’d say yeah, we had some stuff come up.  You know, like a few bodies and things like that.


K:  Well back then the ship, the destroyer I was on was like World War II class, alright, and this is like 6 or 7 years after WW2 was over and we were still using the same know how.  But the torpedoes, the sonar would say, well there’s a submarine 500 feet down. Well they did something to the depth charges and set them at 500 feet. Then they would roll them off and they would go down 500 feet and blow up the submarine.


K:  Well, after I got out years later they said they had developed a new type of depth charge. Instead of just going straight down at a certain depth, they came in with the circle and they would go down lower and lower, you know, and cover a bigger area.  You know even if they missed it by 50 feet, you know guessing how deep it was, it would still explode if you got anywhere near it you know.  So they didn’t have to worry about setting the depth. You know, that’s something I learned by talking to guys in other divisions.



K: That’s about all the things I knew about the depth charges. Some they would fire, you know, the depth charges are big ole things, you know, about five hundred pounds. Then they had a bunch of K-guns. They would fire it and it would go up, you know, and shoot a bunch of them at one time and it’d go down and do about the same kind of job, maybe not as big, you know, then we had torpedoes.


K: They had I think about five torpedoes on the torpedo rack they could fire, but I don’t think they fired any of those in battle, you know, because everything is mostly underwater or we did a lot of shelling you know, the guys in land see, fired five in a half or ten miles, you know, at a certain location. Well he’d set the charges and then it’d start shooting for several hours and then call us back say well ya’ll guys did a good job we knocked out fifteen trucks or tanks or whatever you know [laughs]


I: Do you remember that, uh, where was it in the East Sea or West Sea that you actually show the land inland so that you did something. Do you remember? When was it and where was it?

K: Well, we was about like maybe a mile from shore, and uh, they said one time there was an ammunition train that belonged to the Koreans that we had to keep in into, keep it from coming out, you know.


K: Every time we’d fire and explode, well these guys would run out and start building the track back up you know and they knew when to run and when to come back out, you know. It’s just kind of funny seeing these people trying to repair something and then here we were trying to blow it up. You could get some binoculars, see these guys running back into the cave every time we fired, you know, they’d do it a couple of seconds later.

I: Were you able to see them actually?

K: Yeah, with binoculars.

I: Yeah


K: Yeah but, you know it was pretty far off and there were ships moving up and down and they used us one time to draw fire, you know, there was a little inlet thing and…

I: Where was it? Do you remember where was that?

K: I don’t remember the names of the places it…

I: Was it close to 38thparallel or North or South?

K: No, it was further south, further south but uh, anyway um, they used us to draw power, fire power, they thought we was the only one out there I guess cause…


K: We was just slowly cruising along and then as soon as they fired well we radioed the location and then we took off like about, you know, taking off real quick and then the big, uh, battleship New Jersey came in and opened up on them cause they knew where this fire power came from, but they was using us for a decoy.

I: Decoy


K: That’s about all I know. The location I couldn’t tell you. I was down in the engine room all the time.


K: Most, well on watch, you know. It was real hot and all that and we had to wrap a towel around us. I mean it would sweat so much and get up a handful of salt tablets and wasn’t no air conditioner we just suck the outside air and blow it in on us and that’s the only way we had to keep cool, but we sweated a lot, that help you

I: Do you know the temperature inside the engine room?

K: Oh yeah, it was about 110 to 125 or more

I: Ah

K: (inaudiable) all this machinery, you know, turning, it gets hot and…


K: a lot of it was wrapped up, you know, real thick pads, you know, to kinda keep some of the heat out you know, but….uh, it was interesting (laughs). I got pictures in there, of some of that machinery in there.

I: Was there any real dangerous moment that threatened your life?

K: No, they, uh, ran into a whale one time, but what it did it uh knocked one of the screws or you might call it a propeller….


K: but in the navy it’s a screw, it knocked it out of balance so we had to go back into port into the dry docks and get it fixed you know.

I: What other country did you go?

K: We went to Okinawa, Formosa, Philippines, uh, Midway Island and then of course Hong Kong and then caught a ferry, went on over to China from Hong Kong, Kowloon, you’ve heard of Kowloon?

I: Mmmmm…


K: Well, we went there uh…

I: What did you do?

K:  Hong Kong was my favorite port cause we got to stay there about a week, you know and you could do a lot of things there you know, buy a lot of stuff, and rode in a rickshaw and, you know, they said, they told us before we went ashore not to pay more than fifty cents if you rode a rickshaw anywhere in town. Well anyway I got in this one told him I wanted to go to the Queens Theater to see a movie and the guy shook his head, “yeah I got you”


K: So I was just looking, he started off, I was looking around and after while I got to notice the same thing over and over, and I said that guy just running me in figure eight you know, trying to run up my fare.

I: (Laughs)

K: And it told him, I said stop, you know, they had a police man standing up on a big platform in the middle of the street directing traffic and I told him, you know, he had a sign that said I speak English, so I said hey I wanted to talk to this guy, he’s running me in circles and I’m trying to get to the Queens Theater


K: and he’s just running me in figure eights trying to run up my bill and fifty cents is all I want to give the guy. And so he talked to him awhile and he got kind of mad you know cause I was on to what he was trying to do

I: What is the contribution that the U.S. Navy made to the Korean War?

K: Well, we did a lot of fire support uh, you know, helped the air force guys uh, and uh well, the people after, we got out,


K: I discovered that the Korean people were more thankful that we liberated their country from the Communists they knew more about it, what was going on the American people over here knew, you know, they couldn’t tell you were it was, if it’s on the east or west side of the map or what but uh the Korean people they, since I’ve been in this group here they’ve come to meetings

I: You mean chapter 215

K: Yeah, they’ve talked to us


K: They’ve had on shows, they fed us, did a lot of dances, and they always give you a special medal, you know, commemorating the sixty years since the war and it just real good to know that the people cared, that we had so many people that gave their lives, there was over a million people involved in that war, you know, the Americans, the British and Australians and other people and of course I got a lot of that in there, how many got killed and how many POW’s we had and all that


K: It was, uh, worthwhile, we helped them from, keeping uh, becoming a communist’s state you know, cause they already had the north pretty well sewed up and uh they was trying to take that. They said if they’ve got uh Korea they would’ve gone on tried to get something else you know, but luckily we saved the bottom half of it, the 38thparallel on down. Go back to WW2 all the countries that were once our enemies like…


K: Germany, Japan, all these people have prospered since, you know, the end of the war, and uh, we became friends and now they’re allies with us you know uh, German and France a little bit (laughs) but uh, I think we helped countries out most of the time their gonna appreciate us you know but uh, anyway I don’t want to get into politics about today cause a lot of these countries were helping out today….


K: Hate our guts. They just want our money, but uh

I: But uh

K: As far as the legacy I don’t know how to explain it, it’s just, I think we’ve done a lot of good for them and they’ll one day do something you know, with their economy to help other countries close by, you know, like we’d help them.

I: Any message to our young generations about your service and Korean War?


K: Yeah uh, I just like to tell them that uh I wish more of them would be interested in the military, you know for uh, I wouldn’t say making a living but you know, you grow up and they say like 4 years in the military is equivalent to at least two or three years in college as far as what you can learn you know you learn the people, the customs, the habits and things like that. You come back home you appreciate America a whole lot more than you did before.

[End of recorded material]