Kenneth F. Dawson
Kenneth F. Dawson was born and raised on Niue Island in New Zealand. After joining the New Zealand army, he was assigned to the 16th Field Regiment and traveled to Korea in 1952. Upon arrival, he served as a carrier for ammunition. He respected the Korean people and did all he could to help them. Kenneth F. Dawson witnessed many battles and deaths during his time in Korea.
War is War
Kenneth F. Dawson trained in Waiouru in New Zealand before sailing to Japan and then Korea. Assigned as a driver in Korea, he carried ammunition to the front lines. The work was dangerous and several men had been blown up before he was assigned to the job. He drove ammunition to Panmunjeom, but he dismisses the danger of being blown up by asserting that "war is war."
The Children Prayed for Him
Kenneth F. Dawson describes an incident in which he heard cries for help on the front lines. A soldier had been hit and needed a stretcher. As he reached the soldiers who had called, a mortar hit them. Upon return to his truck, he discovered bullet holes in the door. Kenneth Dawson attributes his survival to the children of Niue Island.
Kenneth F. Dawson describes his experiences delivering supplies to the front lines. No one wanted to accompany him due to the danger. One cold night in the middle of a battle, he drove with his lights off to the front lines to deliver food and cigarettes to the soldiers. Flares lit his way to the top of the hill.
Hill 355: Death and Danger
Kenneth F. Dawson remembers being in the thick of fighting when the Chinese tried to take Hill 355. Driving up to deliver ammunition, he met an oncoming truck of Canadians. Blood was pouring out of the truck. Another time, on the Imjin River, he pulled the body of a dead American from the water and buried it in a sand bank. In a third instance, he drove a family north to the 38th Parallel so they could rejoin their relatives.
"I Want to Go Back."
Kenneth F. Dawson speaks of wanting to go back to Korea. Friends have told him that the economy is amazing, and he wants to see the shopping malls. He is proud to have served in the Korean War and would love to return for a visit, though he mentions that Korea was too cold for an island boy when he was there during the war.
Seoul Was a Dead Place
Kenneth F. Dawson describes the cruelty of Chinese soldiers and their murder of a Korean woman as they retreated from a battle. He recounts the destruction that took place in Seoul. He is proud to have served the Korean people and asks to join a group of veterans returning to Korea for the 70th anniversary celebration.
[Beginning of recorded material]
K: My name is Kenneth Fanzne Dawson.
I: So Fanzne is your middle name, right?
K: Fanzne is my middle name. That is the name I used to be in the Army to come over there.
I: Great. And what is your birthday?
K: My birthday is the 25, one, 25.
I: I’m sorry?
K: My birthday, I think I was born [INAUDIBLE] My memory, My, it was 26, one, 26.
I: Twenty-six. So you born in 1926?
K: Yeah. I was born in 1926, [INAUDIBLE]
I: Wow. So how old are you now?
K: Now I’m nearly 100 because I am, uh, 94 if my memory serves me right.
I: Yeah. And you born in January 26.
I: Wow, you look very young
K: I was born in, in Niue Island, N-I-U-E.
I: In New Zealand, right?
K: No, yes. On the Island, Island, from here to the Niue [INAUDIBLE]
I: Um hm.
I: And how many, tell me about your parents and your, uh, siblings, brothers and sisters, when you were growing up.
K: Yeah. When I was growing up, I have, uh, one, two, three sisters.
I: Uh huh.
How about, , no brothers?
K: Yes, three sisters and, uh, four brothers.
I: Four brothers.
I: So are you the eldest or what?
K: No. I’m in the middle.
I: You are in the middle.
I: Okay. What about your parents?
K: My parents
I: Uh huh.
K: Is, uh, my grandmother is a German someone
I: Um hm.
K: And my father is half Welsh, Welshland, Welshman. He is a wise man.
I: And tell me about the school you went through.
K: I went to the school, and I used to walk in the school before the chickens come down early in the morning.
K: to the school in [HOKOBU]
I: Uh huh.
K: [HOKOBU], to that school.
I: Uh huh.
K: Always walked. But before the chicken gets up. I always walk all the time, no transport there. Walk.
I: And when did you finish your school?
K: I finished my school. They just gave me a job near, near the Island Post Office.
I: Um hm. Post Office.
K: Yes. I was in the Post Office.
I: When was it?
K: Oh, around about, I, I forgot now.
I: Um. And when did you join the Army?
K: I joined the Army in, uh, as soon as the [INAUDIBLE], uh, start, I joined.
I’m, I [INAUDIBLE] about my age so I can get there at 25 years old.
K: that time.
I: Actually, how old were you?
K: Oh actually, I was 17 when I arrived here. Seventeen in the Army because they might check me out.
I: Yeah, right.
I: It’s too late.
K: Yeah. I’m good as I come to your country.
K: And to fight for your freedom. I met a lot of Korean people. They were nice people.
They have boys who [INAUDIBLE], the Korean. We come there to help for their freedom.
I: Um hm.
K: We didn’t come there to, and that was always new to them. There was a college, girls’ college about four miles from, uh, Seoul going up north. And then I used to go there. On day I was going to the river t here to wash my car, uh, truck. And then I hear a giggle, giggle, giggle, I look around
and there were girls standing up on the bank, and they come down and gave me a hand to wash my truck. And I find out they were good girls. They were very good. And I help them. I give them every time a rice, bag of rice. Don’t tell them, they already will know.
I: You gave them rice?
K: Yes, I go there, and they [INAUDIBLE] go to our truck, I give them a bag of rice. Every time. I don’t want any money. I want, I like to help them.
I: Okay. So tell me about when you joined the Army. Where did you get the basic military training?
K: We have our training here in, uh, we’re [ONLY SOLDIER] training here in Waiouru. Waiouru.
I: Um hm.
K: And then we shipped to Australia.
K: We got to Australia by the boat, [INAUDIBLE] a boat going to [INAUDIBLE]
I: Uh huh.
K: We landed at Sydney. From there, they changed us around, and I was in Liverpool that time.
I: And then, where did you go? Did you go to Japan or Hong Kong?
K: Yeah. And from there, we traveled to Japan by the troop ship, troop ship.
I: And when did you go to Korea?
K: I go, I went to Korea when the War was still on. Mostly, we traveled
by train from [INAUDIBLE]. Korea.
K: Pusan I think, yeah.
I: Oh. When did you arrive there?
K: I arrived in Pusan maybe, uh, my memory [INAUDIBLE] But I’ve been there right in the middle of the War, and they thought that the, a dangerous job. And I always go down to Seoul to the ammunition dump over there. Day in, day out.
All the time I go down there by myself. I meet a lot of Koreans. I see them walking in the road. I bow to them. I respect them. It’s their country.
I: And you don’t remember it was 1950 or ’51, ’52?
K: Fifty, fifty-two I think. Or or
I: Fifty or fifty-two?
K: Fifty-two I think, yeah.
I: So you arrived in Pusan 1952.
So what did you do before you went to Pusan?
K: I went to Pusan.
I: Before you went to Pusan, where were you?
K: [INAUDIBLE] come off the ship or go by train up North somewhere in Japan that troop ship. And then we go to the camp [INAUDIBLE]
I: So what is your unit?
K: My unit is 16th Field Regiment.
I: Sixteenth Field Regiment.
I: And what was your specialty?
K: My specialty was driver, one of the dangerous job as a, you carry out full of ammunition.
K: And going down to the ammunition [NEAR SEOUL]. And I go slowly. Slowly there. And Korean boys are loaded in my truck. At the bottom, I don’t walk.
I: So it was very dangerous, wasn’t it?
K: It was a dangerous job, very, very much so, dangerous job.
I: Did you drive alone?
K: Yes, drive alone.
I: Nobody working together with you?
K: Nobody. Supposed to be a shotgun to drive with me, but that didn’t [INAUDIBLE]. Nobody didn’t want that job. They were all, nobody wanted to go with me because that job was really, a couple of them already died before I come there.
K: Blown up by the [DOGS].
I: So were you in Seoul or where?
K: In Seoul, yeah.
I: You were in Seoul.
K: We were going up to Panmunjom
because I went up there one time.
I: Panmunjom you mean or Pyongyang?
K: Yeah. I was up there one time with one of the officers, Colonel, uh, one of the officers. I think it was, uh, Len or something. I don’t know.
I: Hm. And were, were there any moments that you might have been killed?
K: A very, very much [INAUDIBLE], very, very possible that you get killed.
I: Yeah. Think about it.
K: But what can you do? War is war.
I: How was it? I mean tell me the detail. When you was that you almost killed?
K: Yes. I was almost killed one day. [INAUDIBLE] and got three [BADGES. BADGE One, BADGE Two, BADGE three]
K: That day when I went up there, it was so, so bad.
And I, I heard somebody calling out to me, out to me because not to them, bring the stretcher. I know that I’m Sergeant Madigan. I think [INAUDIBLE] die now because I don’t like him. Nobody liked him.
K: So two boys were beside me. So I told them to go and get the stretcher. And then I think that a mortar shell landed right in front of them, and they fell face down.
I moved all the [INAUDIBLE] , they both die. So I didn’t know that they died.
K: And later I come back again, and hobble into my truck. Luckily for me it was a [INAUDIBLE]. If I was getting out, I’d probably be killed because there are about three or four bullet holes at the door where I would sit, right there.
K: And I was lucky because I could always drive down and [INAUDIBLE],
K: Yeah. But how will I get out then.
You were very, I mean, it was really something that protected you.
K: Yes. I think because I’m a Niue Islander, and every [TUESDAY I WOULD HEAR THAT] and believe it always applies on me. Every, every [TUESDAY] Island [INAUDIBLE], Island congregation chooses me. They always pray for me.
I: Yeah. Are you a Christian?
K: Yes, and I’ve been a long time to be a Christian. I was 20 or 30 and studied the Bible
so I become the, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
K: And I was married to my wife, and I lost my wife 35 years ago now.
I: Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.
I: Yeah. So, um, what was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea? If I ask you to pinpoint one thing, what was the most difficult thing?
K: The most thing, then did I say to go down the main road by myself all the way by
49 or 40 miles to that medic where the, the, the ammunition.
K: And then driving there slowly.
K: Very slow. And the Korean boys on the other side, the other side loading my truck up. And when it was full, I go. And sometimes I go and get my, a [RUSSIAN]. I put extra riders [INAUDIBLE] No, I don’t get any money.
I give it to them. And I say share, share.
K: They share it. I do a lot for the Korean people because it is their country I believe. So I respect them. I always bow to me, uh, bow to them, always [INAUDIBLE] in the road. They’re very good people. I know there are drivers who are being cruel to them.
K: I told them,
I said I don’t care about them. They can do what they like. But I know, all the time I was in Korea, I was very lucky to get away from being killed.
K: because who was gonna do the [INAUDIBLE]? Nobody. One night I was only 40, 45, uh, feet down underground to stay there. One night it was four, 10:00 rather,
I nearly got to bed. It was too cold. So anyway, I put a message to them [STAMMERS]. I went there, and they wanted me to go up and take some food for those [INAUDIBLE] working to help me up to the top, the top line. They ran out of food and smoke and drink. So I went up in the dark because I know, you know you can’t drive [STAMMERS] lights I mean at night.
That night was full of flares, all flares all over the place. It was a big war going on. But I never turned back why they are [INAUDIBLE] take the food for our boys. So I did do that job. Finish and I come back to bring them [INAUDIBLE] all by my own.
K: Right through.
I: So you were always alone.
K: Yeah, I was, all alone at night time. No one wanted to go up because it was too dangerous, that job.
I go there to fight, so what are you gonna do?
I: Did you know anything about Korea when you were in school or before you went to Korea?
K: No, but I know one, I think Mr. [INAUDIBLE] was the Prime Minister at that time. I think he’s going to sign the Peace, too, you know. And then there was a big fight that night , very big fight I can tell you. Very big war that night because the Chinese and the [INAUDIBLE] trying to take
the hill 355. That hill, that hill is a tall where you can see all around Korea.
I: Were you there?
K: I was there. I was there. I was in the middle of that fight. I was there.
I: Were you there in, uh, hill 355?
I: Little Gibralter.
K: That’s how, that hill they called it 355. And when I go up there in the morning to get some more ammunition, I meet a car. I thought someone driven by a Canadian
fellow, Canadian fellow. They come around and [INAUDIBLE] I get off my truck I see them salute. I know because the blood was rolling out from the truck. And the driver of the, this truck said to me come and have a look. So I went and had a look and then said if you know where there’s a hill you come from, [INAUDIBLE] I don’t know. I know there’s
only one hill I can see there’s dead people there. Anyway, when you go to a war, what can you do? So I salute and I go back to the truck and I was with the Canadian started to go past and then go get hill to take the mortars, 355.
K: The Chinese [WERE ONE BOY FOUR….] same. They tried to get but they picked the wrong people because that hill there was got
by the United Nations, Commonwealth Division.
K: Very terrible what happened. So they lose a lot of men. They pull back again.
I: So you were there, and you witnessed all the battles of
K: I was in every battle [INAUDIBLE] in the country.
I: Oh, any particular memory you have, any particular episode that you mem, I mean, you still remember?
K: Yeah. I remember one time going in the River Imjin. It’s a river there.
I: Um hm.
K: And I looked down and I saw a [INAUDIBLE] on a snake or something, and I looked down, there’s a body there in the [NAVY]. And I have a look and I put a damp, it was American Negro. I pulled to pick him up, and I take him up to sandbag and gave him a good burial there by myself. And the boys said what are you gonna do with that man? I said don’t worry. I buried him under the sandbags.
K: And his eyes [INAUDIBLE]
I: What did you think about it?
K: What do you mean what did I think about it? I think that man was going to the River Imjin where you throw in but it’s really slow, slow running.
K: And I take him up and buy him near somebody. And one time, I come out from [TURU] come up to go up for ammunition, and there was a lot of people want to go up North like, uh, mamasan and the children and
I: They want to go North?
K: Yeah. They wanted to go up North. And I said no, no, no. It’s too dangerous. Too dangerous. Oh, never mind, never mind, never mind. So I told them I’ll go right through American is more , the one that manned the bridge over the Imjin River, and they always ask. But I tell them [INAUDIBLE]. And then I go, very really I can see is the 38thParallel and I let them go and I said go.
K: And I go back then to my unit, to Division, to get, uh, ammunition.
I: Have you been back to Korea?
I : Have you been back to Korea since then?
K: Do you know, I always wanted to go back to Korea, always wanted to go back
K: because I had one, two, three, four friends that died and there wasn’t a time to come back home. If they come back home on the right time, there was [INAUDIBLE]
I: So you tell me, uh, another names of your friends who died there?
K: Joe Schodlin
I: Uh huh.
K: He was married. And another was Mortimer
K: [INAUDIBLE] somewhere.
K: If we would have come, as I said before, on that time they come back, they would be still alive.
K: I would have said that. But they always stay that long, and they were killed in, during that time.
I: But you never been back to Korea since then.
K: No because every time I put my name, everybody wanted to go back. And they have no room to come back to Korea.
I: What do you mean?
K: I know, I know the, um, they, people go back, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. They had been before.
I: Revisit program.
I: Revisit program, Korean government invites veterans back to Korea.
K: Yes sir.
K: They invite us.
I: But why you were not able to go?
K: Well, I wanted to go back.
The others are going back. But I wouldn’t get the room to go back because there are others want to go back again. Some of them go back two times.
I: Oh, that’s sad.
K: Yeah. That’s right.
I: Yeah, that’s really bad. You should be able to go back.
K: Yeah, I know.
K: And after I hang up all the time but I never. [INAUDIBLEL]
K: But for me, it was my heart on those people I fight for. And I never been cruel or anything to them.
K: I told them nice. I bow my head and they bowed their head. They wave at me. I wave at them.
I: So do you follow up with what’s been done in Korea in terms of Korean economy and Korean democracy and so on? Do you know what’s going on in Korea now?
K: I don’t know because I want to go back again, but I can’t go back.
K: No room.
I: You, do you still want to go?
K: Yes sir. I really want to go because they told me that department stores and everything in Korea no. It was before always be burned, and now it is whole. Every place was burned. The Chinese and Korean, North Korean go back, and they burn the place up in Seoul. All the buildings are burned.
I: Can you take flight, 14 hour?
K: Oh yes. I, I can go. I say take me now, man. I can.
I: Oh. But you, you couldn’t even lift up from your chair.
K: I can move up slowly. I have to have help. Help me.
I: Got it. So I will, I will, uh, inquire
I: the organization, okay?
K: I really want to go.
I: Yeah. So let me talk to them
I: and do you know that Korean economy is now 11th largest in the world?
K: Oh. They told me. Those people that come back.
K: They told me that department stores
and also in Seoul and all that, yeah. Because when they come here on a fishing boat, I, I was working on a wharf at that time, and I take cause a few boys from the ship, Korean ship. As I said, they all bow and they all laugh. And they say you go back to Korea now, big stores in Seoul, motorway all big lane [INAUDIBLE]
I: Yeah. So the Korean economy is bigger than New Zealand.
K: I, I know I believe, my friend. I do believe.
I: Can you believe that?
K: I don’t believe. They are working people, the Koreans. They are working people.
K: They’re working. They’re working people. I meet a lot of them.
I: So are you proud of, to be a Korean War veteran?
K: I am. I’m proud to be in the Korean War, to fight their freedom.
K: So I do my, my assignment right to the end before I come back. When I come back, I was really too good that time because you know
your climate is very cold over there.
K: I was born on the island, my friend. I never seen ice before. When I go over there, all [STAMMERS] you allow me to [INAUDIBLE] and I go drive that truck one time, and I get off to do [INAUDIBLE] and I can look for the snake. It disappeared, not there because it ‘s too cold, I gotta find it. I can’t find it.
I: Yeah. It, it is cold.
K: Oh, very cold.
I: So when did you come back from Korea?
K: Yeah. I come back from Korea, I don’t know, [INAUDIBLE] ’54 or something. I forget.
I: Was it after the War ended or before the end of War?
K: After the end of the War when Mr. Rhee signed the agreement.
K: And it was a big fight then, the night I have never been able to sleep, never sleep at all. I come and go, I come and go there [INAUDIBLE] And what happened one night, when I came back, they tell me the guns
was just in a ridge. I had to go in front of the gun, and if they see me going, going slow, not to fire. But when I go it is the one, one bomb. And I just fall, I don’t know where I’m going, and I stopped to talk to my, till I get picked up again.
I: Had you thought that Korea become like this today, 11th largest economy in the world? Had you thought about it?
K: I never thought that it.
But I know because I read a lot of [INAUDIBLE] and they tell me man, you go back, you go and now you’ll see. But I really want to go. [INAUDIBLE] I’ll go, I’ll go.
I: Um hm.
K: to see every But I know it’s rebuilt now. Very, very fast.
I: Um hm.
K: But a nice woman, Pier Four.
K: I see some that time, one time, the girl tell me the, the,
[INAUDIBLE] and the Chinese take [INAUDIBLE] of the girl that was down below when they retreat. And one of the girls [INAUDIBLE] to talk and got killed. They shot her and leave her there. They were men, cruel people. I’m glad to offer my service to the Koreans.
I: Um. By next year, is going to be 70th anniversary of the Korean War.
K: Why don’t you take me there?
K: Why don’t you bring me there?
Let’s talk about that. But I wanna ask you this question.
I: What would you say to the world about the War that you fought for and it’s still technically at war.
I: It’s never been replaced with a Peace Treaty. So what would you say to the world about the War that you fought for?
K: Well all I know now my, about the boys I met here. They tell me the story and [STAMMERS] boy that had come to, uh, see me
in the morning to, care giver. He told me everything.
K: He always bow when he come to clean me up, put my clothes on in the morning
K: He always bow to me. I bow him, too. I get used to have it. But I know, I look at Seoul during day light. It was nothing there [INAUDIBLE], nothing. All the big buildings, they take a shovel, close them down. Seoul is, there’s nothing at that place. But now, the boys tell me
you lost because you would have been more [INAUDIBLE] bigger than New Zealand and to go up and stores are going up and then more [INAUDIBLE] are going up. Oh, thank you, thank you.
K: I lam glad I did my part to help.
I: It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
I: Yeah, to know that everything good, something good came out of your service.
K: [INAUDIBLE] I know now my service come to something. All is that the country pick up again. Why?
Because you’re all working people.
I: Um hm.
K: I done my part.
I: You did.
K: With all my heart. Missed could be killed very, very close. But I drive that truck, who’s gonna drive it?
I: Um hm.
K: No one wanted. I go there to help. I go only, if you die, you die. A war is a war. But I always good to them. I’d like to go and see Seoul now and, and Pusan and them, you know.
I: So I will talk to the, uh, VA Office here and Korea so that you can be invited back to
K: You do that, sir, and I’ll come.
I: It depends on your health condition.
K: Oh. I can get up slowly, you know.
K: And you know that I’m in this country, they don’t care about you. They only care [INAUDIBLE] I don’t get the wheelchair. Where is it? The bloody parts, they always break down. They never supply me with a wheelchair. Why? I done my part. They don’t care about you.
I: Could you leave a message, special message to the Korean people?
K: I want to leave a message. I had done my part to fight for your freedom. And I don’t care whether I die or not. But I wanted to get the freedom what I come for. And now your country, a pretty country. They tell me, I know all about it. I want to go and have a look. I think I’ll be lost because all the [FACTORIES] over there are all cleaned up.
Everybody is living those places now. The places that you work. Thank you for your people. I know you are hard working people. I never [INAUDIBLE] I do my part from the middle to the end. Because I live, and now your country is pretty again because you are hard working people. Not drive away and everything is [INAUDIBLE]I’m glad, I’m glad I done my, my to [INAUDIBLE] and help you
for your freedom. Thank you.
I: Thank you. That’s wonderful.
[End of Recorded Material]