Korean War Legacy Project

Luigi Montani

Bio

Luigi Montani was born in Queens, NY and working in construction before he enlisted in the military. His military service was carried out from 1955 to May 1958. During his service period, he went to Japan in 1955, and later arrived in Incheon, Korea. He was stationed North of the Imjin River on the DMZ on the West Coast of Korea from 1955 to March 1958. Luigi Montani was in charge of the Infantry Unit and hooking up communication lines, and served along the 38th parallel, patrolling and keeping the North Koreans in check. He received the Korean Defense Service Medal for his commitments. After returning to the United States, he did construction work and married his sweetheart after being discharged from military service. One of his most memorable experiences during his service after the Korean War was visiting/working at the orphanages. He donated part of his paycheck to help the Presbyterian orphanage and children. Though he had frostbite in both feet and severe hearing loss, he says that he was fortunate not to have received major wounds. His hobbies include cooking (making spaghetti sauce) and gardening (growing tomatoes).

Clips

"A Constant Tension"

Mr. Montani discusses what it was like on the DMZ patrol. He vividly describes what the DMZ looked like: A no man's land with barbed wire, watch towers, and check points. Mr. Montani describes his time patrolling the DMZ as "a constant tension". This clip could be used to introduce students to the danger that still existed (exists) after the armistice along the DMZ.

Tags: 1953 Armistice 7/27,Imjingang (River),Fear,North Koreans

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uojvs2KPTK4&start=429&end=830

Prior knowledge and training

Luigi Montani discusses what little he knew about Korea prior to entering the military. He also discusses his basic training which included learning about communism as well as working in communications.

Tags: Prior knowledge of Korea

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uojvs2KPTK4&start=180&end=275

Korean Progress

Luigi Montani discusses how he never was able to return to Korea after the war. He discusses the progress they have made and how he has learned about their progress through reading and talking with friends who have traveled to Korea. He recalls going through Seoul during the war and seeing all the buildings leveled, burnt trucks and complete destruction.

Tags: Seoul,Physical destruction

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uojvs2KPTK4&start=1035&end=1148

Photos

No Man's Land Landscape

A view of no man's land on the DMZ. The mountains in the background are part of North Korea. Taken in 1957.

No Man's Land Landscape

Road along the DMZ

Picture of a road along the DMZ somewhere in Moonsan.

Road along the DMZ

Road along the DMZ

Picture of a road along the DMZ somewhere in Moonsan.

Road along the DMZ

Video Transcript

 

[Beginning of recorded material]

L:         My name is Luigi Montani.  My birthplace was, uh, Queen, Jamaica Queens, New York. Uh, I was, of course I was born and raised in, uh, Jamaica Queens, New York.  The only time I left is when I left for the military.  Uh, my family, my mother and father were immigrants from Italy.

I:          Ah.

L:         Uh, I have an older sister and two younger, uh, two brothers.

0:00:30

Um, my sister was born in Italy, and she came here when she was nine years old.  Uh, of course with, uh, with my, uh, parents and, um, my brothers and I were born here, okay.  I went to school in, uh, of course Jamaica Queens and, uh, did elementary school, junior high school. When I was 16 years old, I quit school.

I:          Um.

L:         I did not have a head for school.  I found it distasteful.  I was

0:01:00

left back which is an embarrassment, and I, uh, just didn’t want to go to school anymore.  I talked my mother into signing me out of school when I was 16, and I went to work.  Uh, pretty much everyone in my area, Italians did construction work at that time.

I:          Um.

L:         And, uh, I worked, uh, for a while, you know, doing construction work, and when I was 17 I wanted to volunteer for the military.

I:          Um hm.

0:01:30

L:         And,

I:          When was it?  It was 19

L:         Uh, that was 1953.

I:          Three.

L:         Three or four, I don’t even remember.  But anyhow, uh, I knew there was a war in Korea. I didn’t really think about it much, um. But they wouldn’t take me at 17 without permission from my parents.

I:          Right.

L:         So I waited till when I was 18, I went down and um, I enlisted with the, uh, I went to the local draft board, and I volunteered

0:02:00

for the military.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And, uh, it was only a short while after that that I went into the military, uh.  I was put into the Army, of course.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And, uh, uh, uh, I served two years in, in the Army, uh.  Also, to elaborate a little more on that, uh, I’m the first American born in my family

I:          Um hm.

0:02:30

L:         to serve in the American military, the American Army, and I’m very proud of that fact.

I:          Must be.

L:         And, uh, my father was a veteran of World War I. He served in Italy in World War I in the Navy.

I:          Wow.

L:         Okay?  Uh, my other brother was already married and had children.  My younger brother was too young.  And, um, I know they were drafting in my, uh, area and, uh, most of them were going to Korea,

0:03:00

and whatever. And I didn’t even really understand that much.  I didn’t know anything about Korea, and, uh, I didn’t know I was going to wind up over there.

I:          Um.

L:         But anyhow, uh, I was in, you know, inducted into the Army.  I was, uh, uh, given, I was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey and, uh, I did my military training there.

I:          What specialty?

L:         Okay, I did 16 weeks with infantry training.

I:          Um hm.

L:         Also, they gave me

0:03:30

a four-week course in communications.  There’s something called a field wireman which I don’t even know that they even use that anymore today.  Uh, I was in time, a short while after that I was put on a, uh, a ship, and the ship went to Japan.

I:          Uh huh.

L:         First you go to Japan.  And I was there for a short while, and they give you indoctrination classes.  They, uh, explain to you, uh, what you’re doing there,

0:04:00

with, with, with, what we’re trying to achieve here.  And, uh, the word Communist, I didn’t even know, I wasn’t even sure what it meant.  I didn’t know anything, really nothing about Communism.

I:          Um.

L:         And, uh, they explained about Communism, and they also explained to us that you’re here to stop Communist aggression and, uh, that was in 1955 and, uh, uh, like I said,

0:04:30

I didn’t understand much about it, uh, or, or even Korea for that matter.  Uh, when I first arrived in Japan, I wrote a letter home, and I told everybody I was stationed in Japan.

I:          Um.

L:         That wasn’t true. That was only a staging area.  Uh, it was a short while

I:          Do you remember when was that year and, uh, month?

L:         Okay.  Uh, I think it was around December of 1956 I think.

0:05:00

Yeah, ’56.

I:          1956?

L:         Yeah, I think it was just

I:          War, war broke out 1950 and ended in 1953.

L:         ’53.  Uh, to clarify that, I’m a post-war veteran.

I:          I see.

L:         Okay?  And, uh, uh, this, this organization, how I joined this Korean War Veterans Association, it was explained to me by other veterans

0:05:30

that, uh, that I’m entitled to join this organization because they recognize from 1950 to 1953 and any date beyond that because they feel that the war really never ended.  It was just a cease fire and the, uh, Korean War Veterans Association, uh, accepts this and, uh, I went with my DD2 form, my proper papers, and they, uh, they, you know, just did [INAUDIBLE] glad to have me.

0:06:00

The First Cavalry Division, uh, was on the DMZ.  They covered almost, most of the DMZ and I stayed on the west coast of Korea, uh, north of the Imjin River on the DMZ.  And, uh, I think, uh, I believe 16 months, uh, or so or whatever it was there and, uh, I think, they normally do 13 months.

0:06:30

But, uh, I, I just stayed for more time or whatever.  And, uh, I did my time there. During my time in Korea, I

I:          [INAUDIBLE]that’s a very interesting because mostly people would understand that the Korean War veterans only from 1952-53, and as you mentioned, federal government extended up to January of 1955

L:         Right.

I:          for the benefit wise.

L:         Right.

I:          But still,

0:07:00

after the war, there were very dangerous, and there are many soldiers like you from the United States to defend the DMZ, right?

L:         That’s 100% correct.

I:          So could you describe about the situation around the DMZ while you were there?

L:         Yes.

I:          How was it?

L:         Uh, we had, uh, checkpoints, uh.  They had set up barbed wire.  We had, uh, a no man’s land.  In other words, uh, pre-fire zone, uh.  My unit, the

0:07:30

companythat I was assigned to was an outpost.  We were pretty by ourselves.  Uh, like

I:          Far, far up to the DMZ.

L:         Yeah, we would, we were, you part, considered part of the DMZ, but we were like, we were on the west coast by ourselves. The, uh, main command was in back of us. It was south of us and, uh, we patrolled the DMZ.

0:08:00

And, uh, also we had, uh, checkpoints and, uh, we had some powers.  They, uh, one of the, some of the more dangerous place was, uh, the most northerly tower.  There’s the Koreans, uh, the North Koreans, uh, are very belligerent.  Uh, any excuse or anything, they would, uh, they would start shooting, and we were told

0:08:30

even if you confront them that we, we should not fire unless they, unless we, we, we, we returned fire, if they fire, and we, we, uh, uh, we, we patrolled it.  Uh, like I said, they called it the No Man’s, uh, no, uh, we went over a bridge which, us, spanned the Imjin River.  They said once you go over that bridge, it’s the point of no return and, uh, and I totally understood it from that point.

0:09:00

Um, my time there, I made some friends.  Also, they had South Korean soldiers mixed in with us, and they were very good and, uh, they, they, they’re consideredmy, my buddies, my friends.

I:          Um hm.

L:         Uh, it was a little difficult communicating, but, uh, uh, you know, they were right there.

I:          Do you remember any Korean katusa or Korean soldiers?

L:         I don’t remember their names, but there was, uh, three in my squad that, that were very good and, uh,

I:          Could you describe a typical

0:09:30

day of your patrolling over the DMZ?  Must be very dangerous because there are heavily mined, and I’ve heard from other Korean War veterans that there were no chance for them to even fire at Korean, uh, North Koreans or the Chinese during, during the Korean War.  But, I guess that there has been some cases.

L:         Yes.  Uh,

I:          Could you describe a typical day of your patrolling? Waking up, what time and so on?

L:         I, uh, you would be assigned, they had a roster that they would assign

0:10:00

uh, squads to patrol different areas of the DMZ.  Um, uh, uh, we were told to, uh, to not engage them unless, you know, you have to return fire or whatever.  We would always put someone up front and, uh, the Koreans, was a common thing with the Koreans that were in my unit was either

0:10:30

number one or number 10.  Number one means good.  Number 10 means bad.  And, uh, the one, uh, Korean soldier that was part of my squad, well, he was up front, and he come running back, and he’s yelling number 10, number 10.  He couldn’t speak much English.  We knew right away there was a problem, and it was, uh, uh, uh, North Korean patrol going the other way, and they were on the wrong side of

0:11:00

the DMZ.  We had a right to fire if we wanted to.  But we were told to avoid them.  And that’s what we did.  We avoided them.  But, uh, uh, I heard from other fellas, I was very fortunate in that respect, but I heard from other fellas that they actually engaged them and, uh, and, uh, I know, some of the reality and, and, um, and, uh, uh,

0:11:30

I remember that we also patrolled the river in back of us because they were known to flank us by coming down from the north on the river and coming up in back of us.  The DMZ was heavily mined, heavily mined.  We had tents facing both ways, north and south

I:          Um.

L:         that were dug in.  They were dug in like artillery pieces, uh.

0:12:00

What I did, uh, when it was called upon me was to run what they called field wire there, but I was doing a forward course on that.  And it’s pretty crude, but it works.  And, uh, what it is it’s a wire with a little fieldphone and what you would do with this thing is you’d connect the wire, and you would have connection between your two phones before point A and point B

I:          Uh huh.

L:         so you can communicate.  I don’t even know if they use that anymore. But I was stringing wire along the, uh,

0:12:30

uh, DMZ on the river side and, uh, somebody started yelling they’re flanking,

I:          Uh huh.

L:         And of course everybody takes a position and, uh, you see sometimes, the river was pretty wide and, um, sometimes you would see stuff floating in the river, but these were bodies.  There was bodies floating in the river, and we didn’t know what they want or whether they were fly, they wound

0:13:00

up to be dead bodies. There was some kind of a fire fight or something happened up north, and the bodies floated down past us.  But we were, of course alert and ready to fire, you know.  It, it was, it’s a constant, it, it was a constant tension, and um, and I’m, I’m very, uh, uh, very lucky in the respect that I, I didn’t get there sooner.  I did experience, I didn’t

0:13:30

receive any major wounds, but I did get frostbite in both feet and severe hearing loss

I:          Uh huh.

L:         from, uh, some of the shelling and whatever that they did at that time.  They constantly were, um, let, maneuver, kind   heavy, uh, heavily, uh, on guard.

I:          What was the living conditions while you were

L:         Okay.

I:          in Korea?  Where did you sleep?  What, what kind of food

L:         That’s a good question.

0:14:00

I:          did you have, and cold?

L:         We, we had, um, of course, we had to spend so much time in, we had bunkers.  We spent so much time in the bunkers observing, uh.  then we had some tents and some Quonset huts.  They’re, uh, made out of metal and, uh, we would have the heat, we would have a pot belly stove in there and, uh, cots to sleep on.  And it wasn’t too bad.  We had no running water, nothing, anything like that.

0:14:30

Um, we did have a mess tent that we had, uh, you know, most times we can get hot food and, uh, and, um, and when certain situations we had to eat C-rations of K-rations which was not so bad.

I:          What do you mean by K-rations?

l:          It’s just another form of, uh, a C-ration. It’s a package and, uh, there’s a can there of, uh, there’s a, a little pack of cigarettes.  At that time, they would give you cigarettes,

0:15:00

I:          Uh.

L:         a little can of fruit, some hard crackers and some coco or something where you mix with a little hot water and, uh, you’d eat them.  It, it’s, you know.  That, that’s, I didn’t think, you know, you, you survived just the same.  As far as water was concerned, the water that we got, they, we used to have to go get it, and they had a truck with a trailer, and we’d go to a, a, a,

0:15:30

I guess it was a well or something, and they would fill that trailer and bring it back into our area, and then you could fill your canteens, and then we, you, if you neededwater,we never took a shower.  If you needed water to wash yourself, you managed to stay clean, you know.

I:          You never took shower?

L:         I never had a shower over there.

I:          Oh my goodness.  How often

L:         I stayed clean.

I:          Huh?

L:         I stayed clean.

I:          Uh huh.  How often were you rotated from the, the DMZ service?

0:16:00

Actually, what you were entitled to, if you spent, I think it was more than three months at a time up on the DMZ, they would give you a seven-day R & R to Japan.

I:          Uh huh.

L:         And I had, uh, I had two of them and, uh, it, it, it, the conditions got a little, not much better, but a little better by the time I, I was ready to leave.  And, uh,

I:          Were you back into

0:16:30

the Seoul area or any part of the Korea while you are doing, served there?

L:         Uh, the only time we went to a, a raw, a rarer area was, uh, they had, if you were sick or you needed medical attention or you were wounded or something was wrong with you, they would, uh, they would service you there, but they also had a truck that would go back south to, we called them aid stations,

0:17:00

and, uh, something, like you see with MASH.  It was tents and whatever, and they would, uh, help you with whatever problem you might have, you know.  So if it was bad enough, they would send you to, if you were, uh, sick or wounded bad enough, they would send you to Japan.

I:          Did that happen to you, that, so that you had a chance to look around, uh, Korea, what was like after the war?  Have you had a chance to look around Korea?

L:         No, I’ve never had, uh, it was offered, the, the, u h, uh, the, the, 60thanniversary to go back,

0:17:30

but I’m a diabetic, and I got a few other problems and, uh, and uh, you know, I just, I could have went, but I, I was invited to go, but, uh, but I never did.  But I know from the other fellas and, uh, from what I read and from what I see and whatever, um, uh, the achievements that the South Korean people have made, and I, uh, let me just say this.  When I was on my way up north, uh, uh, uh,

0:18:00

I went, I believe I went through the city of Seoul, yes, and anything that I went through, I went to a, a, a transfer pl, and then I was put on a train that went north and, uh, I understand that train was, was, the railroad was built by the Japanese, and there were wooden, old wooden cars, and I remember the train going somewhere

0:18:30

near Seoul, going through Seoul [Abrupt End] All the buildings were down.  I mean, it was horrible.  I mean, uh, the Korean people suffered.  They, they really suffered.

I:          So you saw it.

L:         I saw it.

I:          Yeah.  You saw the devastation.

L:         Oh, unbelievable.   You know, the, the, the, the burnt out trucks and this and that, and the further north you went, the worse it got.  And then, there was one point when it was just nothing, and then, of course, uh, you know, you go over the bridge and into the, uh, demilitarized zone area

0:19:00

and whatever. And, uh, we also had an opportunity every, uh, to, um, go back across the bridge to more like r, uh, ru, uh, a rarer town or something like that. I only went a few times.  I did, uh, but I think about

0:19:30

there’s, of course, and it bothers me that, I still think about it till today to see them bodies floating in the water.  The, uh, the mined areas I would, you know, I know, uh, there was one occasion where some fellas from another unit wandered off into the, the somehow or another they got caught in the middle of that.  They had these, uh, engineers with mine techto get them out of there, you know, safely or whatever.  Uh,

0:20:00

My captain was a good guy.  And, uh, uh, and, uh, he was a god Christian and, and, um, they had a Christian orphanage to the rear, uh. I believe it was, uh, Presbyterian

I:          Um hm.

L:         uh, uh, they didn’t have much.  It was an orphanage for the children.  They had some tents and whatever and, uh, when we got paid, we all gave a portion of our pay to that orphanage.

I:          Oh, voluntarily.

0:20:30

L:         Voluntarily.  The captain would be there looking at you, but you don’t volunteer, and I was happy to do it.  [Abrupt start] For me, of course I’m a, as a post-war veteran, to me, and I can understand for the other fellas, that was not a conflict.  That was a war in every true sense of the word and, uh, and, uh, uh, forgotten, you don’t hear much about it.  If it wasn’t for the, uh,

0:21:00

Korean government and the, the, the South Korean people and whatever, there, there, there’s really not much you [abrupt end] The other thing I would

I:          Why, why?  Is it not because it’s a war in Europe which is familiar to you or was it because the Korea that you never heard of before and, why is it people

L:         Okay, that’s good.  That’s a good, uh, that’s a good, uh, thought.  I honestly don’t know why they call it the Forgotten War.  But it’s not, it’s not, it’s, it’s, it’s not justified

0:21:30

because it was a war in the true sense of the word.  I was there as a, I was also awarded the fella that served on the DMZ and whatever at the, was awarded the Korean Defense service medal, and the Korean WarVeterans Association recognizes us as Korean War veterans even though we served after ’53.  Uh,

0:22:00

I don’t know.  I don’t know.  All I know is that, uh, me personally, I was very proud being the first American born in my family to serve in the American Army.  I tried to do my job the best I could and wanted nothing, uh, short of a, a, a, an honorable discharge, uh, uh, uh.  I’m proud of the South Korean people, very proud.

0:22:30

I’m very proud of the fact that I served there and proud of their achievements.  Also, I feel it’s one of the, the only country that I know of that shows their appreciation to America and the other 21 countries that were involved in the Korean Conflict and the United Nations, I don’t wanna use that word conflict, the Korean War that show their appreciation for the help because

0:23:00

they wanted democracy. They wanted freedom, and it works. It works.  And they’re the proof of it.  [abrupt start] The future, the future is what I tried to explain before is that we have to defend, the agreement was made with the South Korean people and the United States that they would defend them as long as you have this armistice or cease fire.  Uh,

0:23:30

and, we, we have, we live up to our obligation and, uh, you know.  The United Nations, whatever they, whatever their, their pledge was, they have to live up [abrupt start] This is something I think, uh, the general public of the United States should understand that.

I:          Um hm.

L:         Not just Korean War veterans.

I:          Um hm.

L:         But, uh, the general public as to, because I don’t think they’re really truly aware of, uh, of, uh, how hard

0:24:00

the South Korean people worked to show their appreciation to the United States and to Korean War veterans.

I:          I think you mentioned about the importance of, uh, mutual alliances

L:         Yes.

I:          between the United States and Korea.

L:         Absolutely.  Absolutely.

I:          Right.

L:         But that, that alliance, uh, as far as I’m concerned, no matter what, when and where, it should never end.

I:          Um.

L:         Even if they’re uni, even if they’re unified, it’s even more important

I:          Yeah.

L:         and, uh,

0:24:30

you know, free people of the world should be there to help each other.  That’s why the United Nations went in and helped them.  Uh, being, quitting school at 16, I didn’t understand much.

I:          Um hm.

L:         I didn’t even understand what the word Communist meant.  [abrupt start] I got married, and I raised, uh, my family and two children.  I have a boy and a girl, uh.  They both have three children, uh.  I have five granddaughters.  I have two great-grandsons

I:          Wow.

0:25:00

L:         and, uh, I have a great-granddaughter.  Yes,

I:          Um hm.

L:         Yes, definitely.

I:          Um hm, um hm.

L:         Definitely, and I think this is, uh, uh, I think this is a great thing.  It makes more people more aware of what’s going on.

I:          Um hm.

L:         And it makes them aware of what happened from 1950 to 1953 and what’s happening from ’53 till today.  When I was 16, 17, most of the

0:25:30

older fellas in my area were drafted, and some went to Europe.  A lot of them went to Korea.  Some of them never came back.  But, uh, that was what was going on at that particular time.

[End of Recorded Material]