Martin Rothenberg (77) was born in Brooklyn, NY. He was working as a TV repairman in New York City when he was drafted into military service which he carried out from 1953 to 1955. During his service, Martin Rothenberg went to Pusan and was stationed at Seoraksan (Peak), Inje, Chuncheon, and Seoul from May 1954 to August 1955. He served in the 71st and 304th Signal Battalion as Private First Class before his discharge. He was in charge of radio relay maintenance, radio repair, and training forward air controllers. He started his university studies after being discharged from military service.
First Impressions of Korea
The train ride from Pusan to Seoul was incredible. Martin Rothenberg saw so much beauty on the trip, particularly with the rice crops. While the rice crops were in their stages of growing, the vistas of patterns within the fields was beautiful. Poverty was all around, especially at Seoraksan Peak where people were living in cardboard straw-thatched-roofed homes. The villages always smelled because the sewage laid in a trench that ran through the middle of the street.
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Civilians' Lives in Poverty-Stricken Villages
Martin Rothenberg was stationed at the base of a mountain during the winter of 1954 near a village that was poverty-stricken. This village had a wood-burning flute that ran under the houses to keep the floors warm and the villagers slept on the floor. He also saw a round stone based where the villagers had planted colored flowers. Martin Rothenberg thought that it was nice the way South Koreans took the time to make their homes special.
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Mission Impossible: Speaking a Foreign Language
Martin Rothenbert was proud that the US Army had provided soldiers with a book containing Korean instructions and he used it to ask simple questions to the Korean people he met. He recalled a time while in the village at the base of the hill, an older Korean man wasn't friendly to anyone and never spoke. Therefore, Martin Rothenberg took the time to learn some basic questions to get to know the older Korean man and his attitude totally changed. This made all the difference to build a bond between soldiers and civilians.
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Literacy Would Prevail
Martin Rothenberg noted that there was a little girl he befriended who's mother worked in the wash tent and she would talk to him because she wanted to learn English. When Martin Rothenberg left Korea in 1955, he knew there would be a massive economic boom in South Korea because the majority of the people were literate. Plus, South Koreans had a desire to be educated and work toward the reconstruction of their country after the Korean War.
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[Beginning of recorded material]
M: Uh, Martin Rothenberg. Age 77.
I: Great. So, as you know, we’re here interviewing Korean War veterans for the Korean, uh, War Veterans Memorial database, and the idea is to just have kind of a, a short glimpse and hear your experiences about, uh, your life for future generations and children or adults that will be doing research or just kind of interested in
looking up information on the Korean War. So let’s start out with, uh, getting your, um, your idea of this project, how you feel about participating in the project?
M: Oh, I feel fine. I think the, uh, uh, my experiences in Korea were very important to me, and it’s nice to be able to share them.
I: Um hm. So, it is an important thing that you participated in this I guess.
M: Yes. For, uh,
I have all these pictures and, and memories, and it’s nice to, to, uh, share them with other people.
I: Yeah, that’s great.
M: Well, I was a television repairman.
I: Um hm.
M: And, uh, fixed television sets, and I worked in, uh, actually I was in Florida, and then I came back to New York City, uh, and I couldn’t really continue my career because I knew I was going to be drafted.
I: Um hm.
I: Why did you know that?
M: Well, it, I was the right age, and I was healthy.
M: So the, the draft was coming, so there was no chance of like starting a business or anything like that.
I: Yeah. And what year was this?
M: That was in ’53.
I: Okay. And so you were, you ended up being drafted
M: Um hm.
I: Tell us about that, how, how did you feel about being drafted? I mean, I guess you knew it was coming, but there’s a difference when it actually happens.
M: Yeah. Well the truce had started when I was, just before I was drafted,
and, but you could, the fighting could always start again.
M: So I was hoping to stay in the United States
M: or go to Europe and, uh, but instead they sent me to the West Coast, then I went on a troop ship and, uh, stopped at Japan and then, uh, ended up in, uh, Pusan, uh, and, uh, then I took a train to Seoul and, uh, each time I was going more and more closer
to, uh, where the fighting could be. And then I had, was in a 2 ½ ton truck. I never knew, they don’t tell you where you’re going.
I: Yeah. That’s the impression I get. You kind of just go wherever you’re told.
M: That’s right. And so they put me on a 2 ½ ton truck bouncing along the roads. The roads weren’t really roads then. They were just rocky, uh, you know, paths, right. And, uh, uh, we went to Chuncheon, stayed there for a couple of days, and then I went to
[INAUDIBLE], um, and then I got a, and it, that was a ¾ ton truck. Each time, the truck would get smaller, and then I stayed in [INAUDIBLE] a few days. They put me on a jeep and, um, left me on a mountain pass with a few other soldiers, and we had to climb Seoraksan Mountain and, uh, and the station that I was in for, for a few months, then, was at the peak of Seoraskan Mountain.
It was a radio relay station.
I: Um hm.
M: And that, our job was to relay messages from inland down to the coast.
I: So, was that your concentration when you were training in California before you left or?
M: Yeah. I was a radio repairman, right. I had training in that before. I was a television repairman, so
I: Um hm.
I: So it was natural placement for you I guess.
M: Well, actually they were going to make me a, the s tory behind that was funny.
They were going to make me a, a pole lineman, climbing telephone poles to splice, cable splicer, to splice cables, but I had all this training and a, and a diploma and, uh, first class radio telephone operator’s license. So I went to the, uh, camp, and I asked for something more suitable
M: and, uh, they made, put me into radio repair.
I: Um hm. What was your impression of what was going on and, and what was like, the media coverage like and other people’s impressions?
M: Well, I didn’t think of it too much. I was busy, uh, water skiing in, in Florida.
I: Right near you?
M: Yeah. And just being young.
M: And, uh, I didn’t think about it too much. Uh, I didn’t look forward to being drafted, but I did what, uh, what I was told. And, um, uh, the, uh, uh, uh, I,
I didn’t, we were told that it was a necessary United Nations, uh, endeavor to, uh, keep the south, keep Korea from being Communist, and I went along with that. But I didn’t think too much about it.
I: Um. And you said people remain Communist, I guess so. Do my part, right?
M: Well, it seemed right. But you know, the thing that, when I look back at the pictures,
I: Um hm.
M: The ones that affect
me most emotionally are the pictures where the, uh, my buddies there were out of uniform, maybe drinking beer at a, at a, a, a, in a, at a party or something like that. And then you could see they’re not soldiers. They’re 19, 20, 21 year-olds who don’t even know what’s going on. They’re just there.
M: You know.
I: Yeah. That’s the impression I, I’ve gotten doing these interviews with a lot of veterans.
A lot of times I ask them how they feel about going into the war and if they’re afraid or timid or anything, and they’re just all kind of, I guess echo the same sentiment, you know, I was young, stupid, didn’t really know what was going on, just kind of followed my orders and
M: Yeah. That, that’s what impresses me. You know, here’s some young people who didn’t really understand what was going on and, and if, if there was combat, they would be the ones to go into combat. The, our, our job was really to keep
away from the officers, you know.
I: That’s the scariest part.
M: Right. That was the scariest part.
I: Cause you’d know they’d put you to work or something?
M: Well, yeah. They had, they could tell you to, um, to do anything, and you had to do it, you know. If you had to be on guard duty or, or peel potatoes or whatever. But, um, in fact that’s the nice thing about being at the peak of Seoraksan. You had to climb the last few miles up this path,
and, um, and the officers didn’t like to climb the path. So we never saw an officer up there.
I: So you’re always volunteering. I’ll go up the path.
M: [LAUGHS] Right. Yeah, after you were there a while you liked it, you know, because you were away from the people who could, uh, cause you problems.
I: Yeah. So when you’re going, you know, cause you were stationed on a, on a, on a peak, I don’t know. It’s interesting that, that, listen to you explain
how you went from one place to the other. Was it, you know, did you have any sense of fear at all or anxiety as you were kind of getting maybe closer to the action or getting to wherever you were going to be posted? Or was it a sense of relief. I finally I’ll be where I’ll be for the next couple
M: Well, I came from New York City, you know, and I was used to big, uh, places where there were a lot of people, and the idea of going to this place where there was only maybe seven or eight of us, well actually, there were Korean soldiers there learning how to do that, too. We were
training the Koreans, you know, uh, in, in the use of the radio equipment.
I: Um hm.
M: But, uh, uh, in fact, I have one slide of the Korean soldiers and the American soldiers playing volleyball at the peak.
I: That’s good training.
M: Yeah. But, uh, uh, this take, what was the question, um?
I: Just if you, I guess if you had any kind of anxiety?
M: Yeah, no. It, it’s just that, uh, I wasn’t used to that
M: to, to being that far
from, from, um, other people, uh, cities, towns
M: and, uh, like hot showers. If you wanted a hot shower, you had to climb down the mountain, get a ride in a jeep into the, the company area, take your shower and, and then get a ride back out and climb back up the mountain, and that was rather unusual for me.
I: So, I mean, was it, was it peaceful on the top of the peak?
M: Sometimes you woke up in the morning,
and you, you went outside the door, and you were above the clouds
I: Uh huh.
M: and, uh, there’s a, a cliff right next to us, you know. But you got used to that.
I: Yeah. So when you were actually stationed there, was it after the cease fire or
M: Yeah, after the cease fire.
I: After the cease fire? So I guess there wasn’t as much of a, you know, a boo, a thought that there was this looming attack or, or anything like that.
M: No. We didn’t think about it. We didn’t hear or any
any sign of the cease fire breaking down. I mean, we had a, um, the signs of the war were there. I, I remember taking a walk around the Perimeter. You could, you knew what the Perimeter, where the Perimeter was because of the, uh, field wire that was stretched between little places where, where the, uh, where soldiers had dug in.
M: In fact, there’s one picture of, uh, a skeleton that remained.
One of the soldiers that they hadn’t found, um. But, um,
I: An American soldier or Chinese?
M: Uh, from the sign the, the helmet was, uh, was uh, a Korean-American helmet, uh. But, uh, and it had a hole in the, the front of it. But, um, uh, so you could see the signs of it. We had a 50 caliber machine gun, you know, but
M: But there was no, but it was over.
M: Yeah, and they were like on one side of the peak, and we were on the other side of the peak.
I: So how was that, interacting with them and
M: Uh, we didn’t interact too much at the peak. It was more down in the company area later on. I was only there for three or four months. Then we, we moved out of that, uh, up there. We and, uh, I had other duties.
I: But you got a chance to play volleyball with them.
M: Well actually the, the picture was not of me playing volleyball. That was a picture I got from
somebody else which
I: Uh huh.
M: uh, which was taken just before I got there.
I: It, it seems just so interesting to me that, you know, cause a lot of, most of the interview that we’ve done, a lot of the soldiers ship out immediately after the cease fire. So it’s a different perspective that you might have
I: on the country. You know, what was your impression of the country when you arrived and when you were stationed on the peak?
the first impression, Pusan was a big, was a, a large city, but it was just little hovels, you know, and shacks and, and, uh, all spread out. And then I took the train ride to Seoul, and I was very impressed. It was in the season when the rice crops were just starting to grow, and, and the whole, you had a vista of all these different colored patches,
like a patchwork quilt of the rice at different stages, uh, and that was, that was very beautiful.
I: Did the poverty strike you at all or the fact that there are shacks mostly?
M: Yeah, uh
I: Especially coming from New York City, right? You come from this big city and
M: Well that was a big impression, uh. It was, there was poverty and, uh, the, uh, the village
near the camp when I came down off the peak was, consisted of houses made of, um, cardboard from, uh, uh, military boxes, packing boxes with straw roofs and the, um, the villages always smelled because the sewage system was, uh, was a groove, a trench down the middle of the, uh, village street. And, um,
I: So, what were your thoughts?
I mean that’s
I: What were your thoughts when you saw that?
M: I was just taking it all in and, uh, who were, but, but I, there’s one picture I have that I thought was very significant. Here’s this village consists, consisting of people living in poverty, heating their house in the middle of the winter with a few pieces of wood with a flue uh, and,
um, in a fire, the flue of which went under the floors, and they’d sleep on the floor and, and yet there’s, in the middle of the village was, um, were flowers planted. There was a, uh, a round, um, a stone base with dirt in it with colored flowers. And in other words, they took the time to, to
add a little beauty to the place.
I: So did you see this after you moved back to camp coming down from the mountain?
M: Yeah, were, that’s right, yeah.
I: And you said that you had more, more of an opportunity to interact with the Koreans once you were
M: Yeah. When we were bored, you walked through the village or, uh, I found out in the Army you, you make friends in the motor pool, the truck drivers cause then you could always get some, some wheels.
I: Yeah, go wherever you wanted to.
M: Right. And you could go somewhere. So sometimes you, you would walk through the rice paddies, uh, to get to the village. Other times we would get a ride inti the village and, and, uh, we’d talk to the people there a little bit.
I: What was that like?
M: But, and there was also people in the camp.
I: Um hm.
M: And I remember I, I, uh, I, this is very significant in my life later on. I thought I
couldn’t learn a foreign language. But the Army gives you a little book with some Korean, uh, instructions in it and, um. and, and I learned a little Korean and, and I would try it out, you know.
I: That’s great.
M: So, uh, you know, uh, [KOREAN PHRASE], uh, or
I: What does that mean?
M: Uh, it’s a greeting.
I: Uh huh.
M: Yeah. Uh, is,
[KOREAN PHRASE]is peace with you. Or, uh, if I wanted to buy something, I knew how to say [KOREAN PHRASE]
I: Um hm.
M: Uh, and it, so, and I discovered that it wasn’t a har, uh, if I just got used to the fact that the verb is always at the end, it just sounded right that way. And I discovered that I could learn another language, and I ended up studying many languages after that.
I: Oh, that’s great.
M: Yeah. I had this one incident that
was very significant. There was a, a, an older Korean worker on, in the camp, and he was very unfriendly, you know. He wouldn’t talk with me. And then I said a few things to him in Korean like, uh, where do you live and, uh, how are you, and he suddenly became very friendly
I: Ah, yeah.
M: and he started talking so fast in Korean I couldn’t understand what he was saying.
M: Yeah, but, um, but I saw the difference
M: that knowing a little of
the language meant in terms of, uh, that, that I was interested in them.
I: Yeah. So I guess maybe originally the local Korean civilians might have maybe a little bit of fear for these soldiers stationed next to our camp. But then if you go out and you make the effort to interact with them and they see, you know, they’re just people
M: Um hm.
I: You know, we can interact with each other. We can be friends.
M: Yeah. I never,
that’s, I think it was hesitancy. In all the time I was there, that’s one impression I have, um. There were children I interacted with, and you could, and, uh, adults. I never saw any real friction between soldiers and Koreans.
M: You know?
I: Did you notice that they were gracious at all for, I mean, did they understand what the war was all about and why the American soldiers were, were there in the country? Did you get a chance to
M: Yeah, I, I, I didn’t think about that too much. I think we were just all trying to do what we, we had to do, you know, at the time.
I: Uh huh. And did you, were there other foreign troops from the United Nations as well?
M: I didn’t see any.
I: No? Maybe they shipped out.
M: Probably after the fighting stopped they went and, the uh, the remaining soldiers were American. I never saw any other soldiers from other countries.
I: And how long were you in the country after the cease fire then?
M: About 14 months.
I: Fourteen months? That’s a long time.
M: Well, I, yeah. I was there 14 months, yeah. That was, You know, the one, one thing that, um, impressed me, though, I, and one reason I felt, uh, I felt that there was something wrong in the war later in Vietnam was that the, uh, in Vietnam, a lot of
the, uh, local population was antagonistic toward the, uh, the American soldiers. But in Korea, you never felt that. You always felt safe.
I: Maybe that’s a good gauge to know whether or not a war is legitimate.
M: That might be. That’s what bothered me about the Vietnam War.
I: Um hm.
M: You know, when you got to Seoul, I think you had to be a little careful. You know, there was always, we called them the slicky boys, the,
you know, the kids who were trying to, uh, make deal which is not financially to your advantage.
I: [LAUGHS] Yeah.
M: But, uh, but that’s, that’s, uh, life, you know?
I: [INAUDIBLE], yeah.
I: You deal with it I guess.
I: What was that like? Was it a relief to
M: I was ready to go home, yeah. And it, it’s a long time to be away from home, and even, even though it was not uncomfortable, uh, I wanted to go back.
I: What do you think the most difficult part of your 14 months there was, I mean, the most challenging moment? Is there one moment that kind of stands out and you say man, this was not want to be doing? This is hard.
M: Well, climbing the mountain for the first time when you’re not used to the altitude, but, uh, aside from that, um, oh, the cold.
M: That, I’d forgotten about that. I’ve re, repressed it.
I: You tried to get it out of your memory.
M: Yeah, because, um, you had to, I remember getting frostbite on guard duty and my hands becoming numb, uh. The cold, uh, they did, I had my mother, uh, send me out some hand warmers. That was very good. So I could put them in my mittens.
I: Uh huh.
M: Uh, beca, uh, ordinarily you, you, you’re in the, um, inside
in the cold weather. But, uh, if you had to stand guard duty, you had to stay for three hours out
M: out in the cold.
I: And so you were able to exchange letters and communication back home.
I: That’s nice that you were able to get the care packages.
M: Yeah. That was, uh, that, I think the, um, the Army overlooked that, the effect of the cold. I think, I’ve been told by other Korean veterans, especially those who were combat veterans,
that, uh, they all came back with, uh, uh, the, the after affects of, um, uh, frostbite. Right now, in the winter, I go to Florida because I can’t take the cold. I like to go running in the morning, and I have to put on three pair of mittens.
I: Well, that’s like six months of the year at least.
M: Yeah. Right. Yeah, in, in Syracuse, yes. Well,
the most rewarding experience, uh,
I: Your happiest.
M: Well, there was, meeting the few people that you would meet, you know? You were on the Army base, and, and most Koreans couldn’t speak English. So you, there wasn’t too much room for communication. But, um, I remember a few things like there was this, in, this was in, uh, Seoul. There was one young boy who, um, was an
orphan, and he was at a Catholic mission, but he didn’t like it there, so he would come around the base, and he would sleep in our
M: in our, uh, sometimes in our Quonset hut with us, and it was really interesting to see him making, learning English and, uh, and, he’s probably a famous banker now because I found out what he was doing.
M: Yeah. He’d come around and, uh, uh, ask to change Korean money into American script, American money.
I: Oh. Gotcha.
M: Then the next day it would be American money into Korean money. And I was wondering why he needed to do all this, all this changing. And then I realized what he was doing, um. Let’s see. There’s a word for it in banker’s, in banking terms. Um, but every time he made
the change since the exchange rate was uneven, uh, see, see, he was such a nice, friendly kid you’d give him the benefit. Like if certain amount of won were, was, uh, came out to .92, you’d give him a dollar.
I: Um, right.
M: So every time he’d make a change, he’d end up with a, a little more money. And that’s
I: Smart kid.
M: Yeah, he was smart. And, and that’s why I said he’s, he probably became a banker later on
because he under, he was learning English and learning how to be a business person.
I: And I’m sure that the soldiers that were stationed there kind of liked hanging out with him cause it was something different.
M: Uh, yeah. It was nice to see him come around. He was friendly. We’d find him some blankets to sleep on and, But, uh, there was another little girl. I have a picture of her, uh, in the camp in, near Inja, uh. She would come around.
Her mot her worked in the wash tent, washing clothes, and she’d come in and, um, to learn English
I: Um hm.
M: And I think she fixed, she, uh, fixed on me, you know. She’d come into my tent and, to talk and, uh, that’s, um,
I: So maybe that’s where
M: Yeah, that was nice.
I: your love of languages started. I mean not started but maybe continued cause you
M: I could see people learning Eng, uh, you know, the, the other thing that I learned a lot that was important
to me, um, that when I came home, I told my parents that I thought that there’d be a very rapid economic development in Korea. The reason was is because even at the end of the fighting when, in the middle of the poverty, a, a large percentage of the population was literate. Because of the,
the ease of learning to read the Korean alphabet, that, uh, and, and the, uh, the strength, the desire for education, uh, I thought that made a, a big difference in, that would make a big difference in Korea, the high literacy rate and the desire for education.
I: Well, you predicted correctly.
M: Yeah. I, the, I saw that and, uh, I was just a, you know, 21 year-old, but I could see that
at the time.
I: Maybe you got the intuition.
M: Yeah. I had the intuition that would happen, yeah.
I: that would happen. Yeah. Well, just talking to some of my colleagues today, and apparently Korea was one of the 20 poorest countries before the war. Now it’s, you know, top 20 economies. So.
M: Yeah, and the first thing they did when the fighting started, I have some pictures of one of the newly built Korean schools. They started building schools.
I: Um hm. Did the American soldiers participate in any re, reconstruction or, or anything like that? Or
M: Well, they were, the American, the engineers were constantly rebuilding the bridges which would, uh, go out every time there was a flooding, a flood season.
M: I have pictures of that, too, you know. Uh, they weren’t built high enough or strong enough, uh. So those, and I think that they did help out in the building of the schools, but I’m not positive about that.
I: Yeah. Alright. So let’s talk about you coming home. What was that like? You were happy
to come home. What did you do after? Did you, were you dispatched when you came home or
M: Yeah. I was discharged, and I
I: Or discharged?
M: uh, I, and, um, uh, I started, I signed up to go to college. I had never thought about going to college before. I was tired of school after high school and, um, and then, uh, they, you had the GI bill. But it was, it wasn’t just the availability of a free education.
It was, um, that, uh, when I, I saw what was going on in the world, and I wanted to find out more about it.
I: Um hm. So that really
M: It was really stimulating. I couldn’t wait to start college.
M: It was a big difference from two years before when I couldn’t stand another day of school.
I: So like maybe that’s one of those, that’s probably the biggest, one of the biggest impacts that your experience had. It made you, gave you an appetite to learn.
M: It did. That was, it was very, very strong.
M: I couldn’t wait, yeah.
I: So you started pursuing languages and
M: Yeah. I, I’ve studied Spanish, Russian, Swedish, German
I: Well, that’s great that you discovered, you know, a passion.
M: Yeah, from, from somebody who I changed my high school curriculum from an academic curriculum to a technical curriculum, electricity and radio, in order to
avoid studying a foreign language.
I: And now you’re all about the foreign languages.
M: So, Korean, the Korean language, uh, and my experience in Korea, just changed that entirely.
I: Um hm. But
M: It made me more interested in, in, in, um, our military ventures and, and, and keeping peace in the world, you know, uh,
and social issues and, uh, one, like there’s little things. Like for example I was looking at the pictures. See, the last few months I, I was assigned to a school to train forward air controllers. Forward air controllers are important because they, they would go out, these were the ground-based ones, not the, um, flying ones. You’d take a jeep and radio
equipment, and you’d go out and mark a target, and you’d be there to spot the target and make sure you’re, that those are the people that, that the airplanes want, really wanted to kill, not the wrong people. And, um, and you’d be in contact with the, the aircraft, the, fighter bombers, and we had training exercises and, and then when I hear about, like drone, uh,
drone aircraft killing people from a high altitude that they really didn’t, couldn’t identify, that bothers me because, you know, my insights and my experience really was that you don’t do that. You have somebody there who, who, who marks the target and makes sure they’re enemy combatants and not civilians.
M: Yeah. That, uh, I’m very sus, as an engineer, you know, a part engineer communications engineer, I’m suspicious of
the claim that you could read a penny from a drone video camera. That might be in very clear, still days. But, uh, I’m sure that, um, well, the fact that they don’t go up in bad weather means that you, you can’t always do that. I, uh, the, the images on most days from, a blurry, you know, if, if there’s any fighting around there’s smoke, you know. So. But those are the things that my
experiences, um, Uh, I, I also like, I went to see, um, this fellow who’s, who’s, uh, who wrote Three Cups of Tea, uh, uh, and, um, who’s advocating building schools
I: In Afghanistan?
M: Yeah, and, um, and I think, I, I saw that. That, I think that’s very important. It’s, I saw the importance of education
and, and educating girls for example, and I, uh, those are insights I got from being there.
I: So, that’s, uh, interesting that you mentioned that because I guess one of the untold stories of the American military does now is also they, they do help build schools and infrastructures. Do you think it’s their role to participate in that?
M: Somebody has to build them. And
I, I, I suppose that in, in some, uh, countries, you might want to have the local people build it because they’ll build if to the standards that, uh, and it gets employment to local people.
I: It’s important that they develop their country.
M: Uh, yeah. Uh, uh, though, uh, there’s nothing wrong with, with, uh, military helping. I mean, these are just engineers.
I: Um hm. Alright. Um,
so, let’s see now
M: Well, I went to, uh, I went on to graduate school. It was engineering school, and then I, uh, uh, I got married, uh, just after graduating.
I: And did you have a chance to share your stories with your wife?
M: To what?
I: To share you stories with your wife and family?
M: Uh, yeah. Well, I had a lot of pictures and, uh, and I did share stories with my wife, yeah.
I: You got the pictures digitized
M: Yeah. Well, I had slides in those days
I: Uh huh.
M: and, and my slides went into the slides of the family.
I: Right. So what do you, what are your thoughts about Korea nowadays, you know? Obviously. As you mentioned it’s a powerful economy, very developed, and this is a stark contrast to North Korea which many people know that it’s not developed at all. How do you feel about the division between the two countries now?
M: I don’t think it can last. I think it has to, eventually it’ll be unified, if not in my lifetime in your lifetime. Um, and, um, the way, I, I happen to have, I’ve made some Korean friends recently, uh, people here studying at the University, and they are wise. My, my wife now is, she was teaching English to, uh, a couple of Korean wives, and we socialized
with the families, and, uh, a, and these people had been into North Korea, so I was interested in, in what their impressions were. And the way that you can keep the North Koreans in pov, living in those conditions is to, to eliminate, uh, information about the rest of the world, to control their information. And I don’t think that that
can happen, um. I, yeah.
I: You don’t think it should happen or you think it’s not possible that the government actually maintains that
M: Yeah, I don’t think they can maintain it. Uh, the communication is, is too, omnipresent, you know? Uh, there’ll be people, there’ll be young people who will, will be able to get on the internet and smuggle videos and, and, uh, when that happens,
uh, then there’ll be a cry for change.
I: Hopefully the people won’t be shot down or, or maybe the government will respond. Do you, do you see this unification being, is it possible it’s a peaceful process?
M: Is what?
I: Do you think it’s possible that unification, when it does happen, is a peaceful process?
M: Yeah. Excuse me for not hearing you. I, I had some tinnitus that started on the rifle range actually.
M: So, uh, uh
I: I should speak up.
M: Yeah, no. That’s okay. Uh, it, it’ll be a peaceful process? Uh, you know, I can’t predict how it’ll happen. It’ll have to happen inside of North Korea, um. I can’t see with nuclear arms on both sides, I can’t see a full scale war. It’d be too devastating. So, um,
uh, I don’t know. It’s just like in, in the, uh, Middle East, each country is a little different, depending on, on the Army for example. There’s a lot of people, uh, I was told that there, a lot of the, uh, government people in the north do go to the south, and they know what’s going on. So you can never tell when those people who have some significant power in the north
will help, you know, bring about a change.
I: So what do you think about America’s role in all this then? It should be a facilitator of peace and unification or, you know, obviously it’s a stronger ally to South Korea, and it’s very antagonistic towards North Korea in many ways.
M: Um, well, I think the American government would like to see a unification, uh.
I, I don’t have any bad feelings about our participation in, in the, uh, Korean War. Uh, I, I, I see that, uh, maybe, I, I can’t predict how things would’ve, what would have happened had the, um,
had things went different, ha, ha, if things were different, um, if the U.N. and the American soldiers didn’t come in to help, if General MacArthur didn’t have such a big ego and tried to get so close to the, uh, Chinese, to bring the Chinese in, there are, there are a number of mistakes that were made signaling to the North Korea, to the North Koreans
that the Americans wouldn’t come in which, and, which, um, which, uh, led them to think that they could invade the south and, without repercussions. There were a lot of mistakes that were made, but, uh, we’re all human. We make mistakes, you know.
I: So thinking, you know, over the past 60 years, do you ever think about your experience
and how often do you reflect on your time over there?
M: Very often, and, and, uh, I, I mentioned before I’m going back in June and, um, I think that, I’ve been putting that off for a long time and as I look at the pictures, I know that Seoul and Chuncheon are gonna be entirely different. I won’t recognize them. But I want to go, the ceremonies that the Korean government
has for us returning veterans will be more on the west. But I want to go to the east, near Inja
and Suracksan National Park
I: Where you were?
M: Yeah, where I was because the mountains don’t change.
I: Right. The landscape stays the same.
M: That’s right. I’m gonna take those pictures and try to find the places where I was then.
I: That’s what I was just going to suggest. That’d be great.
M: Yeah. I’d like
I: Bring back some memories I bet.
I: And, um, that’s in June, right?
M: That’s in June, yeah.
M: Well, they seem to been forgotten. They were, uh, no, people think in terms of World War II veterans and, and, uh, and Vietnam veterans, uh, uh, but, uh, the, uh, Korean War veterans, uh, it didn’t seem to have been a war in the American consciousness. And I feel a little bad about that, but, uh,
I: How does that make you feel? I mean it’s a war.
It was a war.
M: It was a war. A lot of people got killed and came back with injuries and, and, um, it was a war. But, uh, but that’s not important. We had the GI Bill for those that survived it and, uh, and the veterans weren’t treated badly.
I: Why do you think it was considered as forgotten?
M: I don’t know. Uh, I really don’t know. Um, maybe,
at that time, the war in the American consciousness was World War II, you know. I lived through, as a young teenager, through World War II, and that was such a major, uh, that had such a major impact on the American consciousness that the fighting in Korea, uh, it was small compared to that. There were no sacrifices being made.
I: Right. But there were.
I: There were American soldiers there, right?
M: The soldiers, but the American population in general.
I: That’s right.
M: If you didn’t have a, a son, mostly it was sons. Maybe there were some daughters, going over there, uh, it didn’t, uh.
I: Didn’t really affect you.
M: It didn’t affect you, no. In the World War II, there were no more cars being, all the factories were, uh, being made, all the factories were producing tanks and, and weapons of war. But that didn’t happen during the Korean War.
I: And the media wasn’t covering it.
M: No. It wasn’t,
not to the extent of World War II.
I: Okay. So
M: Well, maybe, uh, I think that, uh, for example my granddaughter who was born in Korea that, uh, there should be some memories of what people went through during the Korea War and actually in the war before. I mean, things were pretty bad in Korea even before the war, uh.
during the Second World War and, uh, maybe when, when Korea becomes unified and, and the Korean people could put their attention outside of their, their own country
I: Uh huh.
M: maybe they could, uh, try to be, uh, a, a, a, um, a means or a tool for peace in the
world and other countries.
I: So you need to educate the people.
M: Yeah, I think they could see the role education had if, in, in their country, maybe they could, uh, reach out to other countries where there are similar problems where poverty is holding people back and, and war’s threatening.
I: Well, Mr. Rothenberg I appreciate you coming sitting with us.
M: It was nice.
I: As a token of appreciation, uh, we have a medal for you that’s actually from the government of the Republic of Korea. It’s the Ambassador for Peace Medal from the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs as well as the Korean Veterans Association, and they have this medal for you, and if you don’t mind, I’d like to place it around your neck.
M: Sure. That’s quite a medal. You like that, Rachel? The medal I’m getting?
I: You did a good service. There you go. And [INAUDIBLE] it says Korean War Veteran Honor.
I: Thank you very much for coming.
M: You’re welcome.
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