Orville Oster was born on May 19, 1931 in Akaska, South Dakota and served in the US Navy during the Korean war from 1951-1955. Having graduated from basics in Great Lakes, Illinois, he was deployed to Europe twice before going to Japan. He then went to the waters surrounding Korea as part of the flight deck crew. Having never step foot on Korean soil, his job in the US Navy was very important for those who were on the ground and he was able to provide an invaluable service to the Korean war by serving on the battleship. His experiences with the war left him feeling overwhelmed and full of empathy for the people and the men that he served with.
Daily Routine on board a Navy Ship
Orville Oster describes the daily routine on board the navy ship that he lived on. He tells of his job responsibilities on the team of the flight deck crew. Although he was not in combat, his occupation on the ship was very important and extremely dangerous.
Leaving for Korea
Orville Oster describes his time aboard the military ship as they were traveling from Europe to Japan and then to Korea. His crew was operating with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and he saw ships from other countries, even the HMS - Her Majesty's Ship - The Queen of England. Orville Oster gives the specific job that he had on the naval ship.
Letters to Home
When asked if he wrote letters to home, Orville Oster explains that he wrote to his siblings and that his parents could not read English well. He shares that he wrote about his job. However, at one point he could no longer send letters because of an atomic bomb task.
[Beginning of recorded material.]
Respondent: My name is Orville Oster.
Interviewer: Could you spell that for us?
Interviewer: Great. And when were you born?
Interviewer: And where were you born?
Respondent: Akaska, South Dakota
Interviewer: Wonderful. Could you talk about your family at the time you were growing up?
Respondent: They were poor people and Germans and we had a hard time getting along.
Interviewer: Did you have any siblings?
Respondent: Two brothers, two sisters. One brother was in the service but he passed away and he’s buried up there in [unintelligible].
Interviewer: I see. And did you go to high school?
Interviewer: Where did you go to high school?
Respondent: Glenham, South Dakota
Interviewer: Great. Do you know when?
Respondent: From 19 – Graduated 1945-1949. I graduated in 1949.
Interviewer: Were you drafted or did you enlist?
Respondent: I enlisted for four years.
Interviewer: And what branch of the military were you in?
Interviewer: And do you remember your unit?
Interviewer: The unit.
Respondent: They made me serve for the USS [unintelligible] a World War Two aircraft carrier. It was too small for jets so we had to work with propeller planes.
Interviewer: Where was your basic training?
Respondent: Great Lakes, Illinois
Interviewer: Did you depart for Korea as soon as you were done with basic training?
Respondent: Say again?
Interviewer: Did you depart for Korea as soon as you were done with basic training?
Respondent: I departed for Korea whenever the commander made me. Me and 1,900 others. Me and 1,900 others were on that World War Two
Interviewer: Do you remember the date you departed for Korea?
Interviewer: And the year was 1951 though?
Respondent: I entered the U.S. Navy September 18, 1951.
Interviewer: Do you recall the year you left for Korea?
Respondent: We went to Europe twice before we went to Korea then they made us go to Korea.
Interviewer: And you don’t recall the date?
Interviewer: Do you recall how long you were in Europe?
Respondent: Eight months. We were in Europe operating with what was then the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. There were ships from other countries. The Queen of England had a ship beside us. HMS was written her ships. Her Majesty’s Ship.
Interviewer: Do you know where you arrived in Korea?
Respondent: No. I never did step foot on Korea. Japan I did. But in Korea, we could hear shooting and see black smoke but we were so far away that all our injuries and fatalities were from accidents and not shooting and war.
Interviewer: I see. Do you recall the waters you were in? where were you?
Respondent: No, I don’t recall the waters we were in. There was somebody they said was here and he was on an aircraft carrier and water was so cold that, and where we was, if were on the right hand side of the peninsula I don’t know, it was not cold where we was at.
Interviewer: So you were on the right hand side of the peninsula?
Respondent: Because the man was in an area up in Korea where it was so cold he could hardly stand it.
Interviewer: But you weren’t?
Respondent: No I wasn’t.
Interviewer: So you were on the ship the entire time of your service?
Interviewer: Could you talk about the daily routine you had on the ship?
Respondent: My job was raising four cables eight inches off the deck and four cables five foot off the deck. The ones – the eight inch cables caught the planes’ tails and stopped it. In the evening the tail would not catch one of those cables coming – the ones that were raised eight inches off the deck. I raised the ones five feet off the deck – the front end of the plane, the propeller would catch that and it would stop it and there would be fire and all that and we would have to fight fire.
Interviewer: Was that a dangerous job?
Respondent: It was dangerous because of the fires and the aviation gasoline and the bombs and rockets attached to the wings of the planes. If those would have ignited or exploded more sailors would have gotten killed and did.
Interviewer: At this time you were in Korean waters somewhere off the peninsula. Did you know anything about Korea before you got there?
Respondent: No. That’s why in history – well, the peninsula was so small we never did study that country in high school, we never did.
Interviewer: did you hear about it at all before you came?
Respondent: Only when I entered the Navy and the fighting that was going on over thre. They said eventually we would get there too. By we, the sailors on the east coast of the United States. Our home port was Quonset Point, Rhode Island.
Interviewer: You said you didn’t ever step foot on Korean soil but you did say that you heard and saw the effects of war. What was your impression about Korea?
Respondent: Well, I can just say what other people have said. War is Hades. And in this place there’s a person whose given name is Clarence. He was in the thick of it and it was bad but he was on the ground in the Army. It was bad.
Interviewer: What is your impression though? Did you have any thoughts about Korea?
Respondent: No. I didn’t know the people. I thought they might be the same as Japanese people and I couldn’t understand Japanese people either. Except Japanese people that learned English and talked to us. But there wasn’t very many of them.
Interviewer: So did you ever get sea sick?
Respondent: One night I ate pork chops and up until that time the only water I ever saw was that muddy Missouri. Well, now it’s lake Alahee. They dammed it up and people go fishing for Wali in there. But, no. One time I got sick when I ate those pork chops.
Interviewer: Did you exchange letters with your family when you were over in Korea?
Respondent: My folks couldn’t read English very good. So, yes with my brothers and sisters.
Interviewer: What did you say to them?
Respondent: I said, “We’re over here…”, no, I just told them about my job. That’s all I could do. And then, after Korea we went, they made us go on an atomic bomb test and I couldn’t write nothing. The mail wouldn’t leave the ship.
Interviewer: How was your relationship with foreign soldiers? Did you come in contact with anyone else?
Respondent: I didn’t come in contact with any. Walking down the street I did but they all knew English. The ones that talked to me knew English.
Interviewer: Walking down what street?
Respondent: In Japan I would walk down the street and buy souveneirs.
Interviewer: Was there any point in battle that was very difficult or dangerous that remains in your memory?
Respondent: Not for us. For us there were no bombs exploding or people getting hurt that way.
Interviewer: So, you were there, you were in Korea for how long?
Respondent: If I can remember how long. Until it ended.
Interviewer: Until they signed the armistice?
Respondent: Until they signed the armistice or until shortly after Dwight Eisenhower sat on that Jeep fender and ate that sandwich. Shortly after that the war ended and then we came back home. Then, they said we’re going to circumnavigate the globe. Then a dadgum MATP, a Military Air Transport Plane crashed in the mountains south of Japan. They sent us up there with doctors to see if there were any survivors. First of all, they sent helicopters and the helicopters said they can’t get down because of some kind of air currents. So they came back and they called the doctor and some sailors and they hired natives from that island. And they chopped with machetes to get up there and it was a mess. There were no survivors.
Interviewer: That means you must have been in Korea less than a year?
Respondent: No, it was longer than a year.
Interviewer: Longer than a year?
Interviewer: Ok, so during that year in Korea did you move around a lot or were you pretty much in the same area?
Respondent: The ship brought us down for R and R in Japan and then we went right back up there. We launched the aircrafts and waited and waited when they made their runs. They loaded them bombs and rockets and everything. When the pilots came in they got fuel and ammo too. We guessed that they shot them at some targets but I don’t know.
Interviewer: Do you recall if you were on northern waters, southern waters? Do you have any recollection of where you were?
Respondent: No. I don’t know if were north of that DMZ or south of it. Or, like in the United States, once you’re off a three mile limit of a foreign country you can be their, I don’t know what it is over there. But, no, the only thing we went to Korea and then after the pilots needed some R and R and we would come down and work on the ship.
Interviewer: Did you have any close friends on board that you recall?
Interviewer: So your time in Korea, did it dissuade you from quitting?
Interviewer: You wanted to stay part of the Navy even after you came back?
Respondent: Yes. Well, I had to. They wouldn’t give me no discharge after I signed up for four years. And then after my four years was up they released me from the Navy. They wouldn’t give me no discharge. I was in the Naval Reserves for four years and then four years later in a mailbox up in Mulberry my discharge came and I got it up there in a suitcase.
Interviewer: Were you happy when you were discharged?
Interviewer: What did you do when you came back from Korea?
Respondent: Worked with cattle. Kept cattle alive. And horses, roped horses to where you could ride them. Here and down in Texas.
Interviewer: Was that with your family?
Respondent: No. They stayed in South Dakota. I took off by myself.
Interviewer: What do you think the impact of the Korean War was on your life?
Respondent: It made me think why in the thunder are we placed on this planet when so many dadgum people have got it so hard. Little bitty babies, not old enough to walk. Their arms and legs are just like toothpicks and in front of them they had a stomach half the size of a volleyball, a little bit smaller than that. Malnourished, not enough to eat. Their parents couldn’t earn enough to eat. Or some parents were hoodlums and wouldn’t purchase. That made me sick.
Interviewer: Do you know about Korea now? Have you been back to Korea?
Respondent: I haven’t been back to Korea. But six weeks ago or two months or something, some people from Korea came back here and they thanked us for – they were from South Korea – thanked us for what we did for them. But, I’ve never been back to Korea to see if South Korea is like Hon Springs – if you can walk into a store and buy something or if you can go walk somewhere and get a job. I would have. I didn’t have no money. My parents were not wealthy.
Interviewer: So the poverty you saw in Hong Kong was very much what was happening in Korea at the time you were there. And on land there was a lot of that devastation and poorness. But, after the Korean War ended and the armistice was signed Korea began to rebuild. And it was because of people like you who served over there that South Koreans were given a second chance to be able to do that.
Respondent: I don’t know why people have – well, in some countries they have money but the leaders are so mean they don’t care what the average people are having to live like. But in some countries they are just plain poor.
Interviewer: What do you think we need to do to resolve that?
Respondent: You’ve got to find leaders that won’t cheat. The leader of South Korea, he must know something or he wouldn’t have been the leader who built South Korea up.
Interviewer: Is there any kind of message that you would want to send to anybody watching this about Korea or about what you saw and experienced and generally about the world?
Respondent: Well, I’m not smart enough. But how can you keep people from suffering so bad? For the necessities of life.
Interviewer: Is there anything you would like to say before we end this interview?
Respondent: Maybe not. There’s just so much pain and poverty is all.
Interviewer: Thank you so much for your service in Korea and thank you for what you did to allow us to come out of poverty and create a new nation.
[End of recorded material.]