Korean War Legacy Project

Leon Steinkamp


Leon Steinkamp was born December 11, 1931, during the Great Depression in Wall Lake, Iowa. The oldest of ten children, Leon attended school until the tenth grade when he quit to help his father on the farm. Due to an eye injury at age five, his vision was impaired, but he was able to pass his army physical by memorizing the eye charts. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1952. During basic training in Missouri, he attended cooking school. He departed for Korea but was disappointed to learn that he had instead been assigned to a camp outside Sapporo, Japan. He served there as a cook and later as an Assistant Mess Sergeant of the First Calvary Division, 15th Medical Battalion. He describes daily life in the military while serving in Japan as well as recounting that he frequently went bowling while serving in the Korean War. He was discharged in March 1954.

Video Clips

Typical Day of a Military Cook

Leon Steinkamp describes a typical day of duties as a military cook. He explains that he would get up in the morning at 4:30 a.m. in order to serve breakfast by 6 a.m. to 250 men. He reflects on their favorite foods while serving in the military, primarily having a fondness for baked ham.

Tags: Food,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions

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Life in Japan

Leon Steinkamp describes his daily life in the military as not too bad. He explains that he and the other cooks would go bowling almost every day while in the service. He recalls that the hardest part of service was the distance from his family.

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

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Video Transcript


[Beginning of Recorded Material]




Leon Steincamp:

I’m Leon Steincamp.  L-E-O-N S-T-E-I-N-K-A-M-P.



Right. So, what is your birthday and birthplace


L:         My birthday is 12/11/31, Wallick, Iowa.  I was the oldest of 10 children.  Eight brothers and one sister.


I:          Wow.


L          Lived on a farm.  Come up through the Depression, so we didn’t have much.




And, my mother was busy doing the laundry down the basement one da-, one morning and I wanted something to, some sugar to put in my oatmeal–


I:          Uh Huh


L:         –and there wasn’t any. So, I was gonna go up the steps, I opened this, I asked mom to do it. Well, she said can, will you wait until I get done–


I:          No, no, you just keep going


L:         –with this laundry and I’ll open the sugar bag. But a four-year-old can’t wait that long. So, I went up and–




–opened the sugar bag, and the paring knife slipped and it went into my left eye. I cut my pupil in my left eye.


I:          Ehh.


L:         So, then, everything was ok, I went to the hospital, and they couldn’t sew it up. But now this, this, if it would’ve happened now, they could have sewed it back together, whatever. But–


I:          Where was it: Can you show me?


L:         Right in the pupil.


I:          Where?


L:         It’s not round.


I:          Just point it.


L:         It’s not round.


I:          Uh huh. Right there?


L:         Yep, right in the pupil, yep.


I:          Oh.




L:         And when it come to be take my physical, I went and took my physical and memorized the eye charge for the left eye.  So, I passed my physical. I didn’t even finish high school, I only finished 10thgrade.


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         Dad got sick and I had to hel- help on the farm.


I:          Oohh.


L:         Move farm equipment around and do it, a lot of it with the horses yet. And, yeah, I helped him for three years and then my other brother graduated and then I had a go and find a job.


I:          Mmm hmm.




L:         So, I started hauling milk.


I:          But, because your father was managing the farm, so that actually, wasn’t it actually better for farmers, and the family with the farm, surviving better than those people in the city.


L:         Oh yeah.


I:          Because you had the food and meat and–


L:         We had, we had everything, we had our meats, eggs, milk, yeah


I:          Yeah.


L:         Oh yeah.


I:          Yeah.


L:         Yep, but I can remember when we didn’t hardly have any, enough money to buy flour.


I:          Uh huh.




L:         Which, that we had to have flour and sugar. But, yeah, we done, we did, we done good, yeah.


I:          So, tell me about the school you went through there.


L:         I went to Catholic School.


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         Kinder-, well, the first four years was country school out in the country–


I:          Yeah.


L:         –and then I went to the town school, for the other six years.


I:          Uh huh. And then you said that you couldn’t high school because your father, right?




L:         I, we, I quit at the 10thgrade–


I:          10thgrade.


L:         –and then I went to help farm.


I:          Mmm hmm. So when is that 10thgrade?


L:         Sophomore.


I:          Yeah.


L:         Yeah.


I:          What year was that?


L:         In ’48


I:          Right


L:         Yep.


I:          So, you was in charge of your whole farm.


L:         Yep, milk, I think, 14 cows and ho-, ho-, we didn’t have tractors to–




–move our grain up from the, ele-, from the, where we grind it to the feeders. We’d have to carry that with a bushel basket on our shoulders.  Hard work.


I:          Hard work, yeah.


L:         Yeah, yeah.


I:          So you were the farmer in Iowa?


L:         Yeah, I was.


I:          And so, you turn into a military man


L:         Yep.


I:          Well, how, how did it happen?


L:         Well, I wouldna had to go, like I said, I wouldna had to go on account of my left eye, but I wanted to go.




I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         And, I got through basic at Fort Leonard Wood, Missiouri. Took my basics.


I:          Where, when, when did you join? What-, did you enlist or?


L:         I was draf-, I was drafted.


I:          When was that?


L:         ’52.


I:          1952


L:         Yes, sir.


I:          Into Army?


L:         Yep.


I:          Mmm hmm.  So where did you go to get the basic military training?


L:         Basic was at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.


I:          Fort?


L:         Leonard Wood. L-E-O-N-A-R-D–






I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         Missouri.


I:          I see.


L:         MO.


I:          What was your t-, just basic infantry training?


L:         Yeah.


I:          Yeah.


L:         Basic infantry and it was in June, July and August, which was very hot when you take a 20 mile hike, come back and your fatigues are all white with salt


I:          Mmm.


L:         And I got done with my eight weeks of basic training. I went to–




–cook school.


I:          Ahhh.


L:         For eight weeks. And then when I got done with that, I got, I got my orders to go to Korea. I came home on leave and got over to Korea in November


I:          So, when did you leave, left for Korea, from where?


L:         I left for Korea for, from Fort, oh, what’s the name of that?


I:          Fort Lewis?


L:         No, it was, it was California.


I:          California.




L:         In November of ’52.


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         I was on the water for 13-14 days, I think.


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         And landed, well, when I got, I was on the boat, on the way to Korea, they called me down to a lower level. And they said we need a cook in Japan, we’re going to send you to Japan, instead of Korea.


I:          Ahhh.


L:         Yeah. That hurt my feelings. Because I wanted to really to go to Korea.


I:          Why, why did you want to go to Korea?


L:         I don’t know, I don’t know.




I wanted to be with the rest of my men that I–


I:          Trained together?


L:         Yep.


I:          Mmmm.  Wow, that’s a sudden change, right?


L:         Yeah.


I:          Mmm.


L:         Yep, it was, yep.


I:          So, what happened?  Please tell me about the, your service in Japan.


L:         Well, when I go to Japan, I was a, a first cook for the first eight weeks after I got there. And then they asked me to go to Mess Steward–






I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         So, then I went to Mess Steward school for eight weeks and I got back, and I was an assistant mess sergeant for about four months, or five, then the–


I:          Jap-, Where in Japan?


L:         Sapporo.


I:          Sapporo?


L:         Yeah, Satoshi One.


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         Yep, I was with the 1stCalvary–


I:          Ahhh.


L:         –Division, 15thMedical Battalion.


I:          1stCalvary Division and what?


L:         15thMedical Battalion.


I:          Medical.


L:         Yep.




Fed the MPs and the medics. We got good food. [laughs]


I:          Aaah, yeah.


L:         Oh, yeah.


I:          So, you just stayed there, and work-working for this 15thMedical Battalion?


L:         Yep.


I:          Mmm.


L:         Yep.


I:          And it was in Sapporo, right?


L:         Yep, right, yeah, right out, right out of Sapporo, they called it Satoshi One. There was two camps, Satoshi One, Satoshi Two, I think it was about 30 miles from Sapporo.


I:          Mmm hmm. So–




–tell me about the typical day of your duties in, in, in that battalion.


L:         Well, you get up, you get up about 4:30 in the morning.


I:          Uh huh.


L:         Have to have breakfast ready by 6:00. And we fed 250 men.


I:          Wow.


L:         And we made. We made a lot of S, S–


I:          What is it?


L:         SOS.


I:          [laughs] What is that?


L:         Sh-, SOS, it’s hamburger, gr–




L:         –ground hamburger with gravy on a biscuit. Favorite they would like was baked ham–


I:          Baked ham?


L:         –and mashed potatoes and gravy. Yeah.


I:          Mmm.  Where did you get that materials to cook?


L:         Where did we get it?


I:          Yeah, it is, was it from Japan or is it–


L:         I think, well–


I:          –carried from the States?


L:         I think a lot of it was from the States–


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         –because we got a lot of Spam. That’s, that’s, from the Austin.


I:          Tell me about your life–




–in Japan.


L:         Well, it wasn’t too bad, It, we had a bowling alley right three doors from our barracks, so we’d get off, get off at 3:00 in the afternoon and then we’d, some of the cooks who worked with me would go bowling, just about every day.


I:          What was the most difficult thing that you were serving there at the time?


L:         Away from family.


I:          Family.


L:         Yep.


I:          Oh.




L:         But as long as you got the Lord on your side, you’re ok.


I:          How much were you paid at the time?


L:         Oh, gosh, it wasn’t very much. I think it was $36 a month?


I:          That’s it?


L:         Yeah.


I:          And no combat pay, right?


L          No combat pay.


I:          Oh.


L:         No.


I:          $38?


L:         30. 30, $38, I think it was. Yep.


I:          What did you do with that money?


L:         I s-s-sent $30 of it–






I:          30?


L:         Yep.


I:          $30?


L:         $30, every we-, every month home. Yep. When I got home, I used that money to buy a new car. And the car only cost me $2,100.


I:          $2,100?


L:         Yep, brand new Chevy.


I:          So, your, didn’t your family spend the money?


L:         Nope, they put it, they put it in the bank.


I:          So, they were able to manage their one life?


L:         Yep, they were.


I:          Very good.


L:         Yep. I was, I put, put, I sent it home to–




–help them out, but they didn’t have to have it. So, they didn’t ne-, they didn’t use it. They saved it for me.


I:          Wow. That’s very nice.


L:         Yeah, it was.


I:          Mmm.  So, when did you, did you just stay as a cook there until you finished?


L:         Yep.


I:          When did you finish your duties in Japan.


L:         In March of ’54.


I:          Did you–




–leave for state?


L:         Yep.


I:          Wow.


L:         Left, they, well, you know, when my time was just about up, they called me in. I was up for another stripe, and they called me in and they said you, reenlist, we’ll give you another stripe. I said, well, you give me another stripe and I’ll reenlist. So, they wouldn’t do that, so I-I’m going home.


I:          Mmm.


L:         Now I wish I’d stayed another nine months or a year.


I:          Mmm hmm, Mmm hmm.


L:         But I got home and, got to Fort Lewis–




–Washington, and from there they shipped us to Camp Carson, Colorado. I got discharged at Camp Carson.


I:          Mmm.


L:         Yep.


I:          So. you came back to home and–


L:         Yep.


I:          –continued to work in the farm?


L:         I, well, when I got back home, I, before I left, I was d-driving a milk truck–


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         –and I tr-, got that back when I got back.


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         So, I was hauling canned milk for about two years.


I:          Hmmm.


L:         Then I got married about a year after we got–






I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         In April and we’ll celebrate our 60thWedding Anniversary next April.


I:          60th.


L:         Yep. We’ve got eight children of our own, six boys and two girls.


I:          Wow.


L:         Yep.


I:          Anybody in your family, the grandchildren or great-grandchildren, doesn’t matter, if, as long as they are in the high school, or the college or in their 20s, how many do you have?


L:         Well, we got 1, 2–




–we got 5, 6, 8 grandchildren in, in school. One of ’em’s just about re-, one’s going to graduate this year and one graduated last year, and he’s going to college. And then we got 16, 18 greatgrandchildren.


I:          This decendent organization–


L:         Okay.


I           –of the Koren War Veterans.


L:         Okay.


I:          So, your grandkid or greatgrandkid–


L:         Could belong to that.


I:          –could belong to that. And–


L:         That’s great.


I:          –we invite grandchildren to the Washington, D.C.




L:         Okay.


I:          We provide the hotel, meals, everything.


L:         Okay.


I:          And we cover half of the roundtrip transportation.


L:         Good.


I:          Half.


L:         Pretty good.


I:          For three nights and four days.


L:         Yep.


I:          So, please talk to them. That’s the best way that we can activate them.


L:         Yeah.


I:          Let them know about what happened to you.


L:         Yep, yep.


I:          And why is it important to continue on this legacy. What do you think about your service as a Korean War Veterans? What is the meaning of it?




How did it affect your life?


L          Well, you know, think, thinking back, I don’t, I don’t think it affected it too much, but just took me away from my family for 24 months. But otherwise, I woulda liked to went to Korea. I think that I, I’da had to work in the field there, but that would have been okay, ’cause–




–I was, I knew how to do it. But, I weren’t that lucky.


I:          Tell me about your chapter, Rochester. When did you join and how, what’s the activities and?


L:         I joined about a year, a year ago.


I:          Mmm hmm.


L:         I didn’t, I didn’t even know it was around and I should of. People did say nothing, they just didn’t. I had, I lived two miles in town, or the guy in town that–




–was a member. And I went to the church about a mile and a half from us, was there for a funeral, and this guy had a Korean jacket on.


I:          Hmm.


L:         And I said, and I read it, and I said I didn’t know there was a Korean club. He said yeah, he said we, we meet every Monday morning at Grandma’s Kitchen. I said, he said show up next Monday, so I did. And I’ve been a member–


I:          Mmm.


L:         –about a year and a half now.




I:          What, how, what is the activities you guys doing? Do you like the chapter?


L:         Oh yes, yes, yep.  They bring us up to date on what, a lot of the stuff that’s happening, yeah, and keep, there’s always somebody that’s passing away. We go to funerals. We go to the schools, they thanked us for being there.


I:          Well, people should know that the Americans who were the soldier during the era of the Korean War, are Korean War era veterans.


L:         Yeah.


I:          Thank–




–you again.


L:         You bet.


I:          Coming for the interview. The Koreans will never forget what the America did-


L:         No, I know they won’t.


I:          –60 years ago.


L:         Thank you.

I:          Thank–


[End of Recorded Material]