Luis M. Juarbe
Luis Juarbe was drafted from Puerto Rico as a part of the United States Army. He viewed his service as a badge of honor as both a Puerto Rican and United States citizen. His experience during the war took him from front-line combat, as a radioman, to back-line work, as a newspaper writer for La Cruz de Malta. He describes the harsh living conditions he had to endure while serving. He shares how he felt pride when asked to escort the newly adopted Puerto Rican flag to the front-line to sit beside the American flag.
Printing Puerto Rican News in Korea
Luis Juarbe describes the many different roles he fulfilled for his regiment ranging from radioman to newsman. He describes his responsibilities for creating and distributing a daily newspaper, La Cruz de Malta, that lifted the morale of many Puerto Rican troops throughout his unit. He explains how he helped oversee roughly nine months of consecutive news coverage.
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The Struggle for Sanitation and Sleep
Luis Juarbe remembers the living conditions he endured while serving in Korea. He describes how the winter was brutal, and he shares how he had on "four pairs of pants and five shirts" in order to keep himself warm in the negative fourteen-degree weather. He recalls that the sanitary conditions were not ideal and that he had to wait three months to bathe at one point in the war. He recalls receiving letters from home and that he wrote letters to family.
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Most Rewarding Moment
Luis Juarbe shares how he was given one of the largest honors during Puerto Rico's involvement in the war. He explains how he was tasked with carrying the newly created Commonwealth flag (adopted by Puerto Rico in 1952) to the front line. He shares how it was an honor as a Puerto Rican but also as an American citizen.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
L: I am Luis Juarbe. I, uh, was born in the city of [Mia] West Puerto Rico. I had a medium-sized family. I went to school in a metropolitan area. I spent some time, uh, working before going into college. In the meantime, I, I also, uh, I, my period of, uh, in my life when I went into the army, and that was in
19, when I was 18 years old and, uh, traveled to Korea to join the 65th Infantry Regiment in Inchon.
I: Okay. So before we get to Korea, I want you to tell me something, uh, about you. Did you come from a large family? Did any other brothers or fathers serve in the military?
L: Yes I do. I have three brothers and two sisters and, uh,
I, my family, uh, was a number of medium-sized family in Puerto Rico. Well, I can’t remember anything special about them. They’re a normal family. And, uh, they, they, they were medium size in the economics and, and family, okay.
My father, uh, was a [serviceman] who traveled a lot, and that caused, uh, a separation from my, uh, family, uh, nucleus. And after that, we have to go to work and, uh, support ourselves, uh, being, uh, just, uh, in the [just] age, uh. But normally, we have time to complete our studies and
them there, and then went to a schools before going to college.
I: Before you went to the Army, you were not in college.
L: No, no. I,
I: What was your education up, up to 18?
L: Yeah. I, my college education came after the Army. And after some work in a private agency.
I: So before you went to the Army, what, up to what grade had you studied?
L: [STAMMERING] High school only.
So, um, did you speak English? How well did you speak English before you entered the Army?
L: Oh, I spent some time living in the State of Florida, and also, I went to school in, in Florida, went to college in Florida
I: This was after the Army, no?
L: That was after the Army.
I: Okay. So let’s start again. Before you entered the Army
L: Uh huh
I: did you know a lot of English?
I: You had problems in the Army with English?
L: No, few, few words only. Just high school.
I: So explain that in a full sentence.
L: Well, before going into the Army, uh, the English I, I was, uh, fluent in. It was just normal school English, nothing to start a conversation for a long, long conversation.
So,, uh, I learned my English I know after the Army, after going, going into, going into college. That’s when I learned it.
I: So did you have trouble in the Army with the language?
L: No, not at all, not at all. All of my fellows in there were Spanish-speaking personnel.
I: Okay. So what were you doing before you entered the Army? Were you studying? Were you working?
L: I was half finished my high schooling. I went into the Army in March. So I, I, I, I was a graduate from high school around that [INAUDIBLE] also. They call me into the Army, and I was a, no more draft. And, uh, I went into training
in [Totudaro] and, uh, spent some, some time in, in, in, in that period before getting on a boat and going direct to Korea.
I: How old were you when you entered the Army, and what year was that? So, I need to get an idea of the time and, and your age and so forth.
L: I was 18 years old, and the date was, uh,
- Nineteen fifty-onewhen I entered the Army, um hm.
I: And, um, did you know about the Korean War? What did you know? Did you know anything about Korea? Did you know about the War? Tell us something about that.
L: I didn’t know anything about Korea, nothing. Just Korea was a new experience for me. Not a good one, but a new experience.
So when I, uh, like it left every young soldier in that, in that, in that time, Korea was a place where, very far away. I never thought of it anyway. I, I knew about where Japan was and China was. But Korea was new. Korea was a new word. Um hm.
I: Did you have any opinion about the beginning
of the Korea War? Was it announced in Puerto Rico? Did they say this is a Korean War? Did you know anything about the politics, what was going on?
L: No, yes. We knew by the news. We knew that, uh, condition and the things that were going on in Korea. And, of course, being young you knew that you were gonna be called into the Army some time. There was a chance that you might get to go to Germany instead of Korea. I, I was sent to Korea instead.
I: And how did you feel about these, you know, military, obligatory military service that was applied to Puerto Ricans?
L: Well, I, I, I knew that that was a duty we have to contend with and, uh, uh, that was a, like our responsibility to serve in the Army also and be an American citizen.
I: So you did not have a problem.
L: I didn’t have a problem with it, no.
I: Okay. Um, you were gonna tell us something about your basic training. You said you were sent to Camp [Totudaro], no?
L: Camp [Totudaro] was very hard, a very hard training. It was 14 months training and, uh, no, 14 weeks training, not 14 months. And, uh,
it was very, very, very hard.
I: Okay, so let’s try it again and, and say, you know, it’s 14 weeks training
L: Um hm.
I: And when you tell me something about your training, I would like to know whether you felt it was gonna prepare you to go to combat. So tell me about your training.
L: Okay. We were, we, we had to go to Korea, uh, and we knew that. So before that, they sent us to [Totudaro] for, for basic training. And it was very hard training. It was a 14-week, uh, training,
and with out little, uh, liberty, you know, for being in the, outside the camp. So after, after that training, immediately we were put on a boat and sent to travel to, to, for the travel to Korea, I mean to Korea. Um and that trip took about a week, a month because we had to make stopping in, in, in California someplace and also in Hawaii.
And, uh, we landed in Korea, uh, one night, and it was my first real hard experience because one of my buddies was killed on my side, and I saw him dying there. Somebody came in, pushed me up and said get out of here soon.
So that, that was a real bad experience which I can’t forget. I, uh, sometimes in my dreams I se this guy dying there and, uh, it really hurt. And I, I feel sorry for that all the time. That’s my worst experience in the Army because a special time in Korea, I spent in the front and also in Headquarters doing the paperwork. I was in charge of the, the, uh, the Regimental paper once a month
which, of course, I written and distributed in one day every day on the front lines. That’s where I spent most of the time in Korea, front line al the time.
I: So, um, tell us something about the newspaper.
L: The newspaper was a single piece paper,
and we used to tell stories about Puerto Rico for the Puerto Ricans in, in Korea and the Regiment. And also I tried to put some fun in it, I mean, like pictures and, uh, and, and funny stories about, uh, Puerto Rico and sports just to keep the soldiers informed and away in their minds the situation that they were living in.
I mean, help them in, in that psychological condition that we, we, uh, I think, uh, we made a good job.
I: Tell me how you used to make it in wartime. How do you publish a newspaper?
L: Well, in those, in those days, uh, in those days, uh, they only thing we had was a mim, mimography. We used to type onto paper,
uh, stories on, on a piece of paper and copy through the night so it’s for the morning and mailed to, around the companies, to [INAUDIBLE]. It was a daily paper. Everyday we had to do one.
I: How many copies did you make?
L: One, uh, copies? Probably, probably a hundred or so to, to be distributed among the different companies.
And that, we made that every day for, I would say, maybe eight or nine months daily, daily. I, I still keep some of the copies because I, I don’t want, I don’t want to lose them. That was many, many years ago, 65 years ago.
So I want to know what your first impression was of Korea because you had never been out of the island before, right?
L: Just to visiting the States. I went to Chicago. Before that, I had, I had been in Chicago, uh, [they give INAUDIBLE], and that was my other ability besides, uh, the high school diploma.
That was my only trip outside of Puerto Rico before Korea.
I: So you went right to Korea, and what, what is it that you see? What, what is around you?
L: Oh, Korea, mountains and, and snow and soldiers everywhere and, uh, hard living.
It is one experience really. Korea was something that I don’t want to go again to, go through that, through that again in my life. Well, I can’t now. But it was very hard. Korea, I, I came to see a city when I went into R & R in, in Tokyo. That was the first city I saw. Beside that, everything was rural areas.
And, uh, mountains and, and dead people. It was, it was hard.
I: Did you, many of the veterans have told me that they would see a familiarity or it would remind them of Puerto Rico and some of the poverty that they saw. Did you feel that when you went there?
L: No, no I didn’t. No I did not. I did not.
I: You did feel like you were in a foreign country.
L: That, that was it.
Foreign language, foreign country, the different people, different looks. The only family since you, you were, uh, getting used to was a, your company fellows. All the, all the soldiers and, and, and [INAUDIBLE] and you [embattlement].
I: Did you have contacts with some Koreans in the ROC, all soldiers or
L: Ah, just once, uh. One night I found a Korean,
enemy soldier in my bunker. He was afraid, and I was afraid. So he looks like, uh, any other Korean, uh, soldier in the area. So I let him go. And some other Koreans in the area saw that and got him. He was from the north.
And he was stealing food, after searching for food. We had the problem every night. They used to come into our lines to steal the food. And I remember when we were in the front and they dropped food from airplanes to us to, to, to eat, they ran to grab that also, and we used to shoot them.
I: So they were starving.
L: Yes, yes, yes. It was very hard. I, I suppose pretty hard for them cause there were so many, so many. You keep seeing them everywhere all the time.
I: So how could you tell who was your friend and who was your enemy?
L: Hard to tell. They all look alike, same clothing, same looks. It was very hard to tell.
But anyhow, well, our side, they were armed . That one, you can determine by that, uh. He was a friendly soldier.
I: You didn’t have, they don’t have uniforms?
L: Ye, they have uniforms, yes. Same color.
I: Okay, the ROC. I don’t know if you told me this, when and where you arrived in Korea and what unit you were assigned to,
what company, what regiment? Did you say that?
L: No, but I, uh, can tell you now. Uh, when I, as soon as I landed in Korea
I: Which was when, so start again and give me an idea of the date.
L: Okay. Uh, the date I’m not very sure if I can remember that specific date of the landing in Korea. It was [INAUDIBLE] It was at night. And as soon as we landed, uh, it was
confusing situation with all the firing and, uh, people running around and, uh, they pushed a group of us to a, a, separate, secluded area where they pick up, the, uh, truck com in and, uh, grab some of the soldiers and took them to the mountain to the, where the company was. I was sent to, uh, I arrive at EZ Company, E Company.
And I remember the officer in charge, uh, was a Captain from [INAUDIBLE] Lieutenant Manuel [C. Veg]a. I have to remember his name, yes. And he asked me what can you do? I said well, I can, I’m a soldier. That, that’s all I, I know. He said well, do you have any special training? I said yes, well I have a high school diploma. He said okay.
You are the radio man. And they took me a radio man back on, learned to use it. Tomorrow you’re going, going on a patrol. And the next morning, I went on a patrol with Lieutenant Vega. The next morning, second day in Korea, in a patrol at night. After we, we landed in Korea on
October of 1951, and I was assigned to EZ Company and the 65th Infantry Regiment.
I: And you told me before what the specialty was that they made you
L: Alright. I, I, being a high school graduate, the Company Commander, Lieutenant, uh, Captain [Manuel C. Vega] assigned me to, uh, to be the radio man of the, in EZ Company. And I was
assigned to the 2nd Battalion.
I: You know that Captain [INAUDIBLE] is still alive.
I: And lives in Florida.
L: Uh oh.
I: He wrote a book.
L: I want to see
I: I’ll give you his information.
L: Do you know his address? I want to see him.
I: I have it. don’t worry, I’ll give it to you. Alright. So, um, I already, I think I asked you what your first impression was of Korea, right? So can you remember some of the places you were sent to or some of the, you know, locations of Korea or
something, you know, that’ll, of the assignment?
L: It is, it is very hard to know the place where I was sent to, where we were located. There are a few names I can’t remember, Charwon, uh, Seoul, uh, [Chingpon] I don’t even know if it’s pronounced like that. But there were a few, uh, names in the, in the area were hard to, to learn.
Anyhow, I didn’t know where we were going to. Nobody told you. There was nothing like uh, [INAUDIBLE] where you can. No that, no that, it was very hard, and I can’t remember that.
I: Do you remember anything about your living conditions, like what food you were eating or your uniforms or where you slept or anything about what your life was as a soldier?
L: Well, the life was hard, I told you before.
And living conditions were none. Uh, we had bunkers and in reserve, uh, uh, tents with no sanitary conditions, and you had to do everything on the outside. I spent three months without taking a bath. Three months without taking a bath.
I can’t remember, December, January and February. Full three months without taking a bath, just wiping my, my, my, my mouth. That’s it. It was, you were living in snow. So, no sweating.
I: So do, do you remember, uh, a bath in three months. I mean, it would have been, uh, important for you
because that was very not like Puerto Rico.
L: Yes, that was very bad, very different.
I: What was?
L: Very, very, uh, very hard because the climate conditions were harsh, so different to Puerto Rico. You had to get to use it. I used to, uh, wear heavy clothing all the time just to protect myself from the cold weather. And, uh,
many times you had to sleep with that all the time also in the ground, no facilities. We were in the front. Once you were move out to the [certain] areas where you had cots and, and more decent conditions like some heat and good food. At that time, anything was good in food.
I: Did you write letters to your family?
Did you write letters?
L: Yes, I did, yeah. I, uh, even when my family, at that time was very small, I used to get mad all the time from them. It took time, but I, I, sometimes I could answer them. But I really didn’t know how, how long it took from the mail from Korea to Puerto Rico. The mail was sent to someplace in San Francisco which
was a APO area. That’s, uh, that’s all I know about our mail. But we, we used to get letter, everyone used to get, mail was one of the best things you could get in Korea. That will make you very happy to get [INAUDIBLE] a few lines from your family, especially one from my mother and my father because they, they were very worried about what’s going on in Korea.
I: Did, did they support the War? How did they feel about it? Were they angry that you had to be there?
L: I don’t think they were angry. They knew that was our duty to, to be there, uh, because everyone’s duty. And I don’t think they, they were angry for that. They, they took it like everyone else. Hard for them, but harder for us.
I: Um, how were you treated by the, uh, officers, the American officers? What, how were you, what was your impression of them and how you’ve been treated as a Puerto Rican soldier?
L: No, we had Puerto Rican officers all the time, Navy officers, and uh, a few American Commanders. But once we got, uh, our Colonel Cordaro, Davila who was one [INAUDIBLE] Regimental commanders, everything was just like a, we were
on a separate unit. Spanish was spoken everywhere. If you, I remember one American officer in our area, in, uh, Headquarters by the name of Henderson and, uh, that was, that was about it. The rest were Spanish-speaking officers and soldiers. And we were a combat unit
like, like every, like everything was different outside our, our Company.
I: Tell me about the 65th.
L: The 65th was, uh, our unit was integrated and, uh, we were like a special group.
I: The 65th was different than the regular Army unit, right?
L: The 65th was unique in that. We were different because we were Spanish,
uh, Spanish-speaking people. So we were like in, in a group, joined together by language. And, uh, like that, we, uh, were more familiar in terms of getting around and knowing the others and, and their feelings also. So, uh, even though
the other Regimental units, uh, I mean the other Division, Division units were different in terms of the language they, they speak. But we were getting together. But somewhat separated from them because of the language. Communication was a, is a way to be, uh, be together.
I: So you think that the, you, you were able to function
as a unit successfully?
L: I, I do think we were able to function as a unit because of, uh, our special group of Spanish-speaking people only. It happens everywhere, even, even, even when you live in the, in the States and a civilian life, you get together and joining group separated. There was something
like that in, in, in, in the front lines.
I: Alright. I think, I don’t know if I asked you about how the weather affected you. Did you go into that, about the cold weather? I think you, you mentioned it a bit earlier, right?
L: Yeah. Well I was familiar with that because living in the States before when I was in Chicago, Chicago is very cold and, and I felt more, uh, cold weather in Chicago but in Korea, even though
when Chicago was only, uh, I was in Chicago at the, eight degrees and below zero and in Korea at 14 degrees below zero. And to me, it was colder in Chicago. And Korea, of course, the clothing has to do a lot of, a lot with that. In Korea, I had four pants, five shirts.
I: Alright. So do you remember, uh, what, well, you were not on the front lines. You were like in the back, right? But do you remember any major battle that you can recall that really pressed upon you?
L: No, I don’t remember that. I don’t remember ay major battle. I heard about that after live in Korea. But I, I never was in big battle at all. Just normal, uh, confrontation in,
in the front lines when they were across each other.
I: Um hm. And, um, what was the most memorable experience? Let me explain this. The one that you felt either was the most difficult or the most dangerous or the happiest or the most challenging, the most rewarding memories of your duty that you look today and you say I still remember that event.
L: Okay. I’m glad you asked me that because my
better memory was when, uh, we took the Puerto Rican flag to the front lines, and I was there along with Colonel Cordero who was taking the flag himself. And that was something we can, we were very proud of it. I can remember that, I still remember that many times. And that’s, and that is my best memory.
L: Alright. You need to explain to the public who may not understand
why the, what Puerto Rican flag you’re talking about? What’s that? You may need to explain the relationship of Puerto Rico with the U.S. that year, they got a new flag, right? All that you have to explain because [INAUDIBLE]
L: Well remember that after 1952, we were, uh, in 1952 we, we became a Commonwealth. So we acquired flags. So that’s our symbol,
even though we have the American flag in our, in our areas also. But it’s, uh, some, symbol of, uh, having something that you really love, you were proud of that, of that flag. And taking it to the front lines meant a lot to us. Everyone was very happy
when they learned about it. And I, I can’t tell you how, how proud I was with that, uh, and being there myself I mean, that was something special to me.
I: Why? What, what is staking a flag in Korea, Puerto Rican flag, what did it represent?
L: Well, it was a symbol, our symbol of, uh, of unity in the front lines.
It was something that here we are. Here we are. We are Puerto Ricans. We are here also as a unit, as a group, fighting for the same things everyone else is fighting on this side of, uh, of the line. We’re part of this.
I: So to you, it’s just as important as representing the
American flag is that you felt it was also important to represent Puerto Rico.
L: How’s that again?
I: In other words, you are an Army, a U.S. Army unit.
I: Really your flag is the American flag.
L: the American flag, yes.
I: So you felt as soldiers that just as important was Puerto Rico’s flag, right?
L: Right, right. Being different somewhat, uh, it was very, very important for us to,
to say here we are and, uh, this is our symbol. And we, we know we are under the American flag also and, which is why we were there fighting. But our flag was there joining us in our fight.
I: Okay. So, uh, tell me, um, how long you were in Korea and when, the date more or less, when you came back.
So how many months or what the date approximate and when you came back, what date you came back.
L: Okay. I came back, uh,
I: You were how, how long were you there?
L: I spent 14 months in Korea. And I came back on December 1952. And as soon as I, I arrived in Puerto Rico, I, I got, I mean a discharge from the Army.
I: And what did you do with the rest of your life?
L: Went to work. Went to work. I studied, I went to school again and I spent my next 30 years working for the government.
I: I want to know what the impact of the Korean War was in your life. Did it impact you at all? Did you move on? Did you forget about it? Do you, did it impact you at all and why?
L: Well, I, I, I can tell you that it was hard for me, but I forgot it. I mean, I went on as, as, as it never happened before. I, I tried to get that off my, off my life because I never like it, liked, uh, being in the Army myself. I was not a soldier, [INAUDIBLE] like many people, they love that kind of life.
I was not like that. I served because it was my duty to do it. But that’s when I said I got out of it, and I forgot it, everything. I still keep some of, uh, things in that era. But just, just to look at them I remember. But, I’m proud of them. I have to admit that I’m proud of my service.
But, um, I’m not a, familiar with the Army life. That’s what I, I, I can’t take [INAUDIBLE] my way of living is different. I’m, I’m more a civilian myself. I’m a servant in civilian life, not in the military or any military organization which is a special way of life.
I: Did you have troubles, like nightmares or [INAUDIBLE]?
L: No, I have not. I have not. I, I have everything out of my mind.
I: That’s good. Okay. So I wanna know have you been back to Korea at all?
I: If you have like a picture in your mind of Korea before, like when you were there during the War, and then after, like how
it is now, do you have an opinion?
L: No, no. I don’t have a picture of, uh, of how Korea is to compare it to what I saw in Korea in the wartime. No, I don’t.
I: So have, are you aware of the simultaneous achievement of rapid economic development and democratization [INAUDIBLE] after the Korean War? The progress of the country now
[INAUDIBLE] Are you aware of that or no?
L: Yes, I’m aware they, they changed a lot. You can see it everyday here. Many, uh, industrial companies are, are in, around the world including Puerto Rico. And they’re Korean manufacturing. So we, we’re closely connected to some of the, uh, developments in Korea
as well as in Japan because they are industrial countries that [STAMERING] we don’t have that kind of, uh, changes in Puerto Rico. So we, we get to know them by what they do.
I: So what, after so many years, what do you think about your participation in the Korean War? And you know something a little bit about what happened to that country because of the Korean War because of what you did in the Korean War?
L: I’m not sure. I don’t, I, I, I am not sure of what happened in Korea after the War. I know they, they, they stay separated from the north. And, uh, their development is, is known to us only by the news, not by knowing what is really there.
I: So what do you feel about your participation during the Korean War? [INAUDIBLE] What do you think? Do you think in other words was it worth it? Do you regret it?
L: No. I, I think my participation in the Korean Conflict is, was helpful to them, and I’m, I’m happy because I was part of a, and, uh,
I hope that they, they ought to [stick] remember participation our effort to help them in, in, with their fight with the north. I’m happy for that, yeah. I think, I, I think we can, I will be happy to go it again with any other country if, if our effort helps
them to get better.
I: And do you think your effort did help them?
I: Do you think that your effort did?
L: I think so. I think, I think our effort did something on that and they because they stayed there, and they, they have to separate the country. They’re democratic people now. [INAUDIBLE] well you know the late, uh, news about North Korean people and the
effort and, in getting their Armies came first which is, preaches a very, something to worry about.
I: So do you support the reunification of the two Koreas because there’s some people that believe in that?
L: I think they should do it. They should do, uh, do that.
I: Do what?
L: Get united and be only one single country and, uh,
unify their efforts for the better way of living. They both say this. That should happen every kind of world. We might, we are having wars, and we’re having people killed because people still want to be separated. It, it’s, it’s something that, it’s,
it’s still going everywhere in the world.
I: It’s true.
L: Um hm.
I: I want to know in, in conclusion is there any last comments or anything you wanna say about your experience during the Korean War? Any message you wanna give to anyone who watches this.
L: Okay. I believe that the Korean War
was a lesson to us, to everyone in our world and, uh, something that happened because the desire are someone who wanted to get more from others. And that’s a conflict everywhere today in the world. I think that, uh, I think that Korean people have to
learn a lot from the world and that they should try to shared united to prevent more killings and more, uh, uh, maybe, uh, more suffering among the people. You get to do more things for the world
in terms of benefit among every, everyone in, in, in our environment. It’s, uh, it’s very hard to see people fighting against each other. Families should get separated, even, that happens even here in, in America and in, in both [INAUDIBLE].
[INAUDIBLE] going on in south, in Mexico, in South America and everywhere. Good things they’re gonna do, things with Cuba are getting better. That’s a good example. The, the Cuban experience is a good example.
I: Thank you so much.
L: I’ll be happy, too.
[End of Recorded Material]