Manuel Gonzalez Del Pilar
Manuel Gonzalez del Pilar was born in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico in 1934. He came from a military family with a tradition of military service. His father and each of his brothers served in the United States Armed Forces. He was drafted into the Army in 1953 near the end of the Korean War. He intended to serve but did not get the opportunity to go to Korea. Although he wasn’t in Korea, he explains what it was like for a Puerto Rican soldier compared to soldiers from the mainland. He is proud of his military service and believes all youth should join because of the opportunity it gives through the GI Bill.
Manual Gonzalez del Pilar details what basic training was like for Puerto Rican soldiers during the Korean War. He describes how they were required to do five months of training. In comparison, American soldiers trained for three months. He describes this extra training as unnecessary as it was English language training with no proper lessons.
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Segregation of Puerto Rican Soldiers
Manuel Gonzalez del Pilar describes the discrimination many Puerto Ricans experienced while serving during the Korean War. In particular, he reflects his own experiences. He recalls limitation in rank despite high scores on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (APQT).
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Be One of the Nation
Manuel Gonzalez del Pilar gives advice to younger generations of Americans and Puerto Rican’s, advocating they join the US Armed Forces. He urges youth to be one of the nation. He also urges them to be proud of their service.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
I: It’s February 16, 2016.
I: [INAUDIBLE] Puerto Rico.
I: This is, my name is Jung Woo Han. I’m from South Korea and the President of Korean War Legacy Foundation. And it’s my great honor and pleasure to meet you, to be able to
M: Pleasure’s mine.
I: to listen from you. Please introduce yourself. What is your name?
M: Well, my name is, like I said before, my name is Manual Gonzalez. I’m from Puerto Rico.
I: Ah, could you spell it, your last
M: My, uh, first name Manuel, M-A-N-U-E-L, Manuel. Gonzalez, G-O-N-Z-A-L-E-Z, Gonzalez.
I: Do you have another last name, your mother’s name?
M: Oh yes, yes.
I: What is it?
M: My mother’s last name is del Pilar, d-e-l, del, separate, Pilar, P-I-L-A-R, Pilar, del Pilar.
I: What is your birthday?
M: March the 25th, 1934.
Next month I’ll be 83, 82.
I: Uh huh.
M: Where were you born?
I: In Puerto Rico.
I: What town?
I: Right here?
M: No, this [Iworea] Two, uh, uh, further north.
I: Um hm. And
M: About a half hour from here.
I: Tell me about your family when you were growing up, your parents, your sibling.
M: Well, uh, my parents, we, uh,
they, they were really in love. We were, had nine brothers and sisters, five brothers
M: Actually four brothers and five sisters. The five of us were in the Army.
I: Uh huh.
M: Uh, the sisters [INAUDIBLE]. My, uh, father, he couldn’t make it in the 2nd World War because he was surprisingly flat footed. That’s why he got rejected for a foolish thing at that time. And, uh, my first years
I spent in Caralius. I graduated from high school real young. I was 15 only. Not from Caralius, further north
I: How come, how come were you able to graduate so young? Were you good student?
M: I was.
M: Yes. Not anymore, but I was then.
I: So you skipped a year?
M: And, uh, I went to New York, then I studied X-ray Technician and practiced in New York.
Didn’t work in that. That’s when I got in, got called into the, uh, service. I transferred my induction to Puerto Rico. I kept on waiting a long time so I told them myself you gotta call me right away, I’m gonna go back again and join the Navy. As a matter of fact, I gave a friend of mine a call about it, and he said
I: When did you join the Navy?
M: No, I wanted to.
I: Wanted to.
M: Because I kept on waiting so long for the induction which I had requested.
So I told myself I’d rather go to the Navy,
and that’s it.
I: Um hm.
M: My, uh, desire to become a, uh, a, in the military was, you know, to make a career. If it wasn’t for my father, I’d be in 30 years. He made it good. He was a Master Sergeant . So I told myself, I might, I might make something. On the other hand, I told myself here’s my good chance to go to, through college, get an education through the GI bill right, which I did. Luckily I made it,
went back to school, I’d say, the, the college, and I finally graduated from the University of Puerto Rico in 1959. I graduated
I: Nineteen fifty-nine.
M: Yes. I started to work the next day after graduation with the Puerto Rican government. I, uh, I worked with thirty-something years for the, uh, Puerto Rican government. I retired, and ever since I’ve been bouncing back and forth fishing, hunting,
traveling, you name it.
I: Were you in Korea?
I: Not at all?
M: No. I got inducted on July the, uh, 20th, 1953, exactly a week before the, uh, War ended. That was my intention, be sent to Korea. So I finished my, uh, basic training, my whole company, basic training company was assigned to a Regiment
which was up, uh, stationed here in Puerto Rico, to 95th Infantry, to 95th or 96th. About two weeks later, they told us now you belong to the 65th Infantry Regiment. And I kept on being there for, uh, until discharge.
I: Hm. So what did you do after discharge?
M: Went to college.
I: College. Again?
M: Yes. I had the chance to go back with the Reserve as an officer
because I qualify one year, uh, [INAUDIBLE] and things like that. But, uh, my wife was telling me what they want you for? Be [INAUDIBLE] radiological. That was too risky in the, uh, uh, Viet Nam War. You gotta listen to your wife. You gotta listen to your children. You gotta listen to everybody in the family. So I didn’t accept it. I thought to myself well, I’ll keep on working with the government which I did.
Did you know anything about Korea?
M: Yes, everything.
I: What do you know?
[Audio lost 0:05:36 – 0:11:36]
I: U.S. and Korea is the strongest ally to each other.
I: What do you think we have to do to, to take care of the Chinese power and Russian and North Korea?
M: That’s hard to say because they’ve got so many
people. I remember General Eisenhower when he hit the Yalu River way up north, he intended to invade China. At the time, President Truman told him good. We’ll kill millions. Who’s gonna feed the rest of the population? I, I recorded that, and I haven’t, I think, I’ll never forget, who’s gonna take care of
who stays behind? So that’s one thing that’s gotta be kept in mind. On the other hand, I mean, they try to [restore] me, I gotta defend myself the best way I can.
I: But U.S. economy is heavily depends on Chinese product.
M: Well, from, from when, that’s a good question.
I: What do you mean when? No.
M: Now, yes. When did they start that way?
I: Nineteen seventies.
M: Who’s got the food?
I: Don’t ask my. You answered my question.
M: We have the food, uh. Silos in the States providing food to everybody. In 1953 when I joined or when I got inducted, I was eating this dried, um, beef meat. Back in 1942, that means the United States had reserves to fight for many, many years ahead.
And I think if they [INAUDIBLE] same thing, should stand there.
I: Um hm.
M: So, uh. That’s risky in all ways.
M: And on, on the other hand, weapons are hard to control that. If you’re a vulnerable, susceptible to anything. So
I: You are very, one of the few who knows the official definition of the Korea War period
by the Federal Government.
M: Um hm.
I: Officially, Korean War started on June 25, 1950, and it ended with the cease fire signed by the three countries on July 27, 1953. But the Federal Government extended up to January 31, 1955. And that’s the Korean War era veteran. Uh, let’s go back a little bit, uh, back. Where did you get the basic military training?
M: Here in Puerto Rico, Camp [Tadugaro]
I: Uh huh.
M: That was a [INAUDIBLE]
M: In the States, they only had three months of basic training. Over here, five months.
M: And not only that, for Puerto Ricans who couldn’t speak English, no way they would give them, I mean, everybody was attached to the whole group, to give t hem classes in English, stupid things like for instance the liner of the, uh, which goes on below the, uh, the helmet.
They would go trainee, this is a liner. What is it, trainee? A liner. What a memory.
M: That was the way English was taught to Puerto Ricans in basic training in Puerto Rico. That was some stupid thing.
I: Uh huh.
M: So I, I’d say a lot of time was spent irrationally. If you get to
watch the basic training given to the Columbian guerilla, it surpasses many, many, many
I: Um hm. What was your specialty?
M: Yes. And I was 1745.
M: But I was always, after basic training, I was always attached as the driver to the, uh, Company Commander, the Captain.
I: So where did you go after the, uh,
M: I stayed here all the time all the time.
I: You stay all the time.
M: Yeah, with the 65th Infantry, they kept me here.
I: Uh huh. You know Korean War broke out at the time? Um hm. Did you know any, any other soldiers who came back from Korean War? Did you meet them?
M: My cousin.
I: Your cousin?
M: Yeah, one of them got killed in Korea.
I: What’s his name?
M: Uh, his last name is Ruiz. His first name I can’t recall.
He died so many years ago.
I: Oh boy.
M: He was a Master, he was a guerilla in the Korean War. He got killed in Korea. One of my cousins got killed during the 2nd World War. Three weeks before the end of the War, right on the outside of [INAUDIBLE]
M: So, uh, but there were a lot of friends of mine from the neighborhood, from camp, from nearby towns. Puerto Rico was small country, small island rather.
And, uh, you get to know a lot of people usually.
M: And then newspapers, were, were [INAUDIBLE] who came back, who didn’t and all that at.
I: So there was a segregation policy, right, for Puerto Rican veterans.
M: I would say so.
I: What, what is it?
M: In the first place, the, uh, Commanding Officers, most of them, above Company 11, were all Americans.
I: Uh huh
M: I didn’t meet a Puerto Rican Major or Lieutenant Keller
I: Um hm.
M: Company Commander like Captains or First or Second Lieutenants, alright. But above that, no one.
I: What else can you tell?
M: Well, uh,
I: Tell, tell audience about this.
M: This Korean nation
I: What kind? Tell me.
M: My FQT, you know, at that time was 96, the highest in my Company above the, uh, first [INAUDIBLE] I was like
M: My FQT
I: What is FQT?
M: AFQT, Armed Forces Qualification Test at that time. I was supposed to go to leadership school which was right then together where we did the, uh, basic training, and, at the end of the, uh, basic training. They wouldn’t send me. They didn’t tell me anything.
I: Because you are Puerto Rican.
M: I don’t know. When I finally got assigned to the 65th Infantry
so I told them, uh, I can’t remember the name of that fellow. He was a clerk in the Company. So I told him, Dela, Delacruz. I wanna be sent to the school or something. What kind of school? Well, send me to cooking school. I wanna learn cooking.
M: Three days later they sent me to a, to a driving school. It was good. I didn’t know how to drive. I learned to drive jeeps, trucks, 2 ½ ton trucks. And that was it. NO more chances, no more nothing.
M: So that was some discrimination. Finally they let me, lead me, uh, aside.
I: For the Leadership school, right?
M: For the Leadership school. Well, I was only a boy then, I’ll say, 19 or 20 years. But, uh, still I met a 21 year-old Captain here, in Ramie, one of these Air Force shows when it was active. I asked him who brought that plane here. I don’t know. It was a Phantom 7 or something.
I brought it. I was only 21 years old. The United States has the confidence in its youth and displays confidence in who deserves it, no matter about race, creed or what. If you’ve got the brains to do this, do the one [time of it]. Over here, a lot of things happen. It’s not easy to say because
if I say this publicly. But, uh, I met so many comrades. They had, [I’ve been there] They claim they had sugar cane fields on the outside. I didn’t have any. Everyone had a, a house by the beach. I didn’t have anyway. So that’s a challenging for us, for what,
I: The Puerto Rico is the territory of the United States.
M: Yes, since.
I: It’s not a State. What do you think about that?
M: We wanna become a State.
M: We want to become a State. If this turns into Republic, my passport is ready. Next day I’ll fly to the States.
I got a granddaughter. She’s in the military. She’s a Captain now. She’s in the Nurse Corps and, uh, I lived in New York. I lived in Louisiana and all that. What’s the use of staying here now? This would be worse than Cuba. Who knows what else and that? But nothing has happened here because the Americans [INAUDIBLE] on everyone here and, because there’s no line over here to, for anybody to hide.
That, uh, were it not for that, things would be happening over here because I’ll say that [INAUDIBLE] over here are afraid of two or three leftists, I’ll call them leftist and depends on all that, and they go for [INAUDIBLE] hell, charge him, charge him. Tell him what the score is. So we’re hoping that somebody back in Congress hears us, listens to us and finally says they will give us Statehood. We deserve it.
We’ve been a possession in 1898, Americans citizens since 1917. Now they’re having, uh, they said, uh, voting’s, Presidential voting, they come here for vote for your Republican, Democratic. What’s the use in voting for that if I’m not entitled to vote for President of the United States. You know, do you know that?
I: I know.
M: What is the impact of your military service
upon your life?
M: Wonderful, had it, had it not been for it, I wouldn’t have been able to go to college, and I attended University of Puerto Rico.. And I’m real proud about it.
I: What did, what did you study?
M: Natural Science, Biology and Chemistry.
I: Very good. Very, very good. Um, do you have any other story you wanna share with me?
M: I don’t know. If I can, we kept on moving back and forth, going to the beaches, go fishing on the, something might, might arise.
I: Do you have any message to young children of the United States and Puerto Rico?
M: Join the, join the military.
M: It pays off. It’s a duty I consider it. Join it. Show initiative you were one of them. Be proud of it and
I: Um hm.
M: My grand, like I said before, my granddaughter is in the military, and I said before she’s already a Captain.
She’s proud of it. I’m proud of my mother, my daughter’s are proud of it. And, uh, I have a lot of friends, a lot of friends about my age. They, uh, relentless about the reason why they didn’t go into the military. They found a way to evade the military service. I was stupid. I was, it pays off, makes you feel happy. You feel, in the United States, you walk along the street in the, uh, Veteran’s Day and all that,
you got, got your cap or something telling you’re a veteran, everybody looks at you with respect, congratulate you, you deserve, you served for our, uh, principles and all that and that’s it.
I: Great. Very nice meeting you in this beautiful island. You, um, were in the Korean War period, okay, and you served very proudly
I: in the Puerto Rico,
and I’m so glad that you joined us, okay, so that our interview can be preserved for the, you know, for the young generations to learn from your experience and your service.
I: They, I told you, they kept me serving here in Puerto Rico. But they, they took me back to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey for discharge. On our way there, we stopped by uh, Gitmo, Guantanamo.
This is very funny. Eventually I was, uh, an Instructor Trainer for Lifeguard, CPR and First Aid. I was the one chosen by the, by the, by the Federal Government to go there and recheck the, the lifeguards, the CPR instructor and all that. That’s funny, eh?
I: Um hm. Alright. Thank you.
M: If they accepted me again in the Army,
I: Uh huh.
M: I would go, I would gladly go.
M: It’s, uh, bigger than, years they measure them anyway. Do not want together parallel,
age, you never can be a soldier cause you’re too old. No. Perhaps [INAUDIBLE] Winston Churchill wasn’t a young man.
M: He was the Prime Minister did, did, way good. President Truman, he wasn’t a teenager then. Did what he had to do, and he did, making the decision of dropping the A bomb.
What would have happened?
I: Right . Thank you very much again.
M: Thank you, too. And, uh, what’s gonna come out of this?
I: We going to upload this interview into the Internet so that everybody can see it.
M: I see, I see.
I: Alright. Thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]