Paul H. Nordstrom
Paul H. Nordstrom enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in Korea following the war. He shares his impressions of Korea as functioning generations behind the United States at the time of his service. He recounts living conditions in the freezing temperatures of Korea, something he felt slightly accustomed to having grown up in Minnesota. He shares his experience involving rats while serving as a mail carrier in Korea, the rodents flourishing as their predators were used for food. He commends the Korean people for their work ethic and views his time spent there as a good memory.
Generations Behind in Korea
Paul H. Nordstrom shares his memories of Seoul and of the country he saw while serving in Korea. He recollects the living conditions and way of life as being generations behind the United States at the time. He shares that the United States was more mechanized in comparison to Korea then.
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Braving the Cold as a Minnesotan
Paul H. Nordstrom details his living conditions while in Korea. He comments on meals, sleeping arrangements, and the climate. He shares that he was more accustomed to colder temperatures than others due to having grown up in similar conditions in Minnesota.
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A Flourishing of Rats
Paul H. Norman shares a particular memory from his time on the mail route in Korea. He recounts driving at night and seeing numerous large rats. He adds that the Korean people were eating cats and dogs as a means of survival, leaving the rats to multiply due to fewer predators.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Paul H. Nordstrom: Paul H. Nordstrom. P-A-U-L N-O-R-D-S-T-R-O-M
Interviewer: What is your birthday?
Paul H. Nordstrom: October 19, 1934
Interviewer: So you are pretty young compared to other Korean War veterans?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Right
Interviewer: October 19th, right?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Right
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I was born in Atwater, MN
Interviewer: Could you spell it?
Paul H. Nordstrom: A-T-W-A-T-E-R
Paul H. Nordstrom: Water, yea. At-Water. [Laugther]
Interviewer: Atwater? A-T-W-A-T-E-R?
Paul H. Nordstrom: That’s correct
Interviewer: That’s in Minnesota?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Minnesota
Interviewer: Tell me about your family while you were growing up. Your parents and your siblings.
Paul H. Nordstrom: Okay. My parents were farmers in South Dakota. I moved there from Minnesota in 1939. And lived in South Dakota basically ever since. Although, I have moved around at different times. I had a…well…
Interviewer: Your siblings?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Five siblings. Four sisters and one brother. No, four sisters and one brother. Yea
Interviewer: How about the school you went through here?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well. I went to grade school and a rural country school, Norway #6 was the number. No longer existence, but it’s there and we were right next to the school house so the teacher would spend the winter with us.
Paul H. Nordstrom: At the place, so I was constantly supervised.
Interviewer: Must be a good student
Paul H. Nordstrom: I don’t know
Paul H. Nordstrom: All I know is that there probably was a parent conference session every meal.
Interviewer: When did you graduate high school?
Paul H. Nordstrom: 1952
Interviewer: What is the high school name?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Sisseton High School
Interviewer: Could you spell it?
Paul H. Nordstrom: S-I-S-S-E-T-O-N High School. That be a Sisseton High School. South Datkota. Northeast corner of South Dakota
Interviewer: And did you know anything about Korea when you were in school? Did you learn anything about Korea?
Paul H. Nordstrom: (Long Pause) Nothing about Korea except the last year or two. National Guard got pulled out, all these people you knew were involved in it. The war going on, so we understood that. And we looked at the newspapers daily. And that would be our education on Korea and where it was.
Interviewer: That’s it?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yea, that’d be it.
Interviewer: And, what did you do after graduation of high school?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well, I looked for a job. I was old enough to go into the service and subject to the draft.
Interviewer: You were drafted?
Paul H. Nordstrom: No, I volunteered because I wasn’t ready to be drafted because they were drafting older folks than I. And what had happened was after I would get a job and working on the farm, that was about it. You couldn’t find a full-time job any place.
Interviewer: At the time?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yea
Interviewer: So you enlisted in the army?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps
Interviewer: U.S. Marine Corps?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yes
Interviewer: Oh, and?
Paul H. Nordstrom: The reason that was they were having a group going out the day I talked to the recruiter and he said, “we are going Monday”. And I said, “put me on the list”.
Interviewer: When was it? Do you remember?
Paul H. Nordstrom: November of 1953
Interviewer: So, where did you get the basic training?
Paul H. Nordstrom: San Diego
Interviewer: And, where did you go from there?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Camp Pendleton
Interviewer: And then go to Korea?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Korea
Interviewer: From there?
Paul H. Nordstrom: From there.
Interviewer: And, where did you arrive in Korea?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well I think we can call it Incheon.
Interviewer: Remember the day that you arrived there?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Not really. It was in the spring of the year.
Interviewer: Of 54?
Paul H. Nordstrom: 54
Paul H. Nordstrom: We left in April. We got there about May. Or sometime in May, I guess we got there end of May. And we left in April I think it was.
Interviewer: Do you remember the Incheon use saw?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I remember parts of it, yes. I remember going in to a restroom and sitting there and I looked up at all the initials and carvings on the wall. Right in front of me was a guy I was in grade school with.
Paul H. Nordstrom: A gentleman wrote his name, a couple years older than I was. He had been over there but there we were , in the same stoop.
Paul H. Nordstrom: (Laughter)
Interviewer: And what’s the name of it?
Paul H. Nordstrom: His name was Whittman, James Whittman. He’s no longer with us.
Interviewer: You’re sitting with him?
Paul H. Nordstrom: No, no. I just seen his name.
Interviewer: His name inscribed in the wall?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Right.
Interviewer: Okay. (Laughter)
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well I just left him a few months before that
Interviewer: You remembered the name?
Paul H. Nordstrom: oh, well yea. He was, small little schools, you know. Were all neighbors
Paul H. Nordstrom: And there he was. And I thought, gee that’s great. So I tried to scribe my name under it.
Interviewer: (Laughter) What a coincidence? What a small world, right?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yea, small-small world.
Interviewer: oh boy. And other thing that you remember about Incheon when you arrived?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well, not so much on that. I mean, sitting in the back of the truck you get off the ship and there…
Interviewer: Where did you go from there?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I went to my company that was…
Interviewer: What was your unit? I’m sorry.
Paul H. Nordstrom: I was a truck driver
Interviewer: What was your unit?
Paul H. Nordstrom: 7thmotor battalion.
Interviewer: I’m sorry
Paul H. Nordstrom: 7thmode of transportation battalion. I was able company
Paul H. Nordstrom: Battalion
Interviewer: Battalion. What about regiment?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well we were attached to the 1stMarine Division
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yup.
Interviewer: And you were a truck driver?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Truck driver, yes.
Interviewer: So, what did you do, from Incheon? Where did you go from Incheon?
Paul H. Nordstrom: From Incheon we went up to our location where the company was assigned
Interviewer: What location? That’s what I am asking. (Laughter)
Paul H. Nordstrom: I wish you had a map. I’d show it to you to get an idea.
Interviewer: Was it in the west or east?
Paul H. Nordstrom: It was in the north
Paul H. Nordstrom: North, just right straight up from Seoul.
Interviewer: From Seoul?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yup, Seoul. I think it was. You know, I can’t tell you directions, but I drove it many times after that for the next year.
Interviewer: How was the country that you saw? How was Seoul? What can you remember now, the Seoul that you saw?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well, the narrow roads. Basically, I’m looking at everything. And on the way up, I had that privilege the rest of my time to drive around the country. So I did see a lot of Korea.
Interviewer: Tell me about those in detail. How much damage was done? How was people and all those things that you saw? The country you saw in 1954?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I saw a country, that I feIt was, well, whole method. I mean people walking. Their transportation was walking or boxcart. And the roads were just a little wider than that because they had widened them out a little bit. But you had to be careful where you drove because you might hit a soft spot and be off. So you had to watch that. This was after the firing was done and you seeing things. That part was interesting. I mean all the sudden there’s a little rice patty with somebody out there, you know, working the field. Completely different from what we see out here in the Dakota’s. I mean, we still were somewhat close. We weren’t too far removed from the horses, but we were all mechanized. Where there was a different story. There was all manual labor. Understood some of that. I don’t know how to explain it. It was different, it’s like we went back a few generations in life as far as the progress that South Korea had been in. It was a country that had just been opened to the public at that time, the way I read. Buildings were small, everything was there.
Interviewer: How did you see the people there? Do they look happy? Were they poor? How much damage was done to Seoul city, do you remember?
Paul H. Nordstrom: There was some, but you know, going through, you didn’t look for that. Lot of times I’d drive through going there to Incheon. One time, I had a job I enjoyed was so driving the mail route for the division. That was fine, I had that for a month, and I enjoyed it very much because I was on my own schedule. I would go through at night and the one thing that struck me and really bugged me a little bit was the only light you see was me driving through. And all I’d see is big monster rats running around and I think it had to do a lot with the concept of finding food and they found, they used their cats and dogs to devour for food that was their protein. So, it left the rats to live on their own. It was kind of counterproductive, but it was survival.
Paul H. Nordstrom: That’s the way I would look at it.That one thing that always stuck in this mind you know because you know, we have rats on the floor and stuff you try to get rid of and there they were they just control the place. All this at night and I’m the only one coming through the lights and I could see things. Boy! This looks different. And I enjoyed driving around, that was my job because we was basically a service company and I got around different places and…
Interviewer: What was your mission, what did you carry, transport?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well we were a service it just did about a little everything that we needed to be when they needed transportation for some place in the division but usually to subsidize their local trucks and stuff
Interviewer: Were there any dangerous moments?
Paul H. Nordstrom: No I don’t think so. I don’t think there was any if it was I would didn’t understand it. I’ve done some dumb things driving, you know. One of the first days out there, I go with another guy and he says, “Well you take this” and give me another guy from the 7th Battalion or Marine Battalion that was up and above
Incheon at the time just below the DMZ. So I get a chance to drive through there. I always recall one thing, what they call the Freedom Gate Bridge.
Remember seeing that in a few newspapers and I’m quite a bit before I even went in the service. So I remember that and looking down and here we got wildlife and I’m interested in that. There was a little deer; you know it was a full grown deer. You had small ones there and that was impressive to me and its different so yeah I did I had a different view of things I guess than other people.
Interviewer: Please tell me your perspective what you saw what you thought, that’s important.
Paul H. Nordstrom: Okay well let’s put it in this way one day I got a job with a bunch of other ones to drive to move some displaced personnel from one place up cross their down through Seoul back around up and above a road that went across a river. We were forded across and we dropped him off. That was about Christmas of 54, when I had that job. And it was interesting. Fact, the Stars and Stripes had a picture of me and my truck hauling these people.
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yea. That’s why if they had a map I could tell you where I was but I was resettling them.
Interviewer: Do you have that picture?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I did it one time but I tell you quite a few moves since we come back here. I don’t know where it got put away for safekeeping; we won’t find it till someone wants to dig it out again.
Interviewer: How is life there? Where did you sleep what did you eat? What did you do?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well we had our own food coming in from shipped in all the time that was all, we had all American food.
Interviewer: What kind of food did you eat?
Paul H. Nordstrom: It was whatever the…
Interviewer: Hot meal?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Hot meals, yeah I was hot meals at that time because I was in there at quote, “the truest time”. Okay, so we had standard there. We’d cook and the chow-hall was there. There was some restrictions. Now when I was you was hauling the mail out I could always go down to the air base and also different world I mean they had everything up at fast food from what we got now.
Interviewer: Where did you sleep?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Sleep in a tent.
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yes.
Interviewer: Still in tent?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yea. We were in tents.
Interviewer: Was it okay? Cold? Hot? too much?
Paul H. Nordstrom: They were they were okay, didn’t bother me. Some people maybe come from urban area maybe felt different, but in the rural. I was used to twenty below. So cold temperatures and stuff and didn’t bother me. I mean, growing up our room upstairs wasn’t that much warmer until after we got the furnace started in the morning or stove. So that’s you know a different we were not that far removed from coal-fired heat and stuff like that. We had oil heat in the tent it wasn’t bad. We did have a little advantage on other people.
Interviewer: What is it?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well we would haul things around and sometimes plyboard never made it back to where it was and ended up sealing our tents up. We are a little warmer than a few other people. I mean we improvised.
Interviewer: What was your rank?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Private first class
Interviewer: At the time?
Paul H. Nordstrom: At the time, yep.
Interviewer: When you left, what was it?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Private first class.
Interviewer: PFC all the time?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yep.
Interviewer: You haven’t promoted, why is that?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I don’t really know other than the fact that one day I was supposed to be getting a promotion and then all the sudden there was a disgruntle. I got in late one night, it was not my problem but I went looking for the dispatcher and went talk to him and he said, go down to the office down there and so I walk with him and he stopped and had an argument with somebody else and I got involved in the argument without an even knowing it. And I said, “I don’t care I’m not going to live here anyway forever and I won’t be in the Marine Corps forever”
Interviewer: So because of that argument?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yeah otherwise I was all right. About a year later we had a change of company commanders and went back in the U.S. and he said, “how come you’re still a private?” I said, “that’s not too hard to tell look who’s in your office up there”. Yes I know, I asked the question, you’ll have it tomorrow.
Interviewer: What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?
Paul H. Nordstrom: (Long Pause) Most difficult, well I don’t know if there was anything that we couldn’t accomplish. The reason I say that I’m told to go to a certain place and try to remember where you were and we had no maps and had to memorize the roads.
Interviewer: You didn’t have maps?
Paul H. Nordstrom: No, I’ve never seen one. Take this road, go up there, and take that way. So we did. First day out I was got in trouble on that one loaded up a guy finished off that took a load stuff up to the outpost, I guess, they call it. We were supposed to take a left. Well alright we took a left but there were two roads heading left and I took the wrong left road. So I wandered around. That ain’t working so but I remember going across stuff Freedom Gate Bridge twice said no we don’t go on that one, you sure? Yeah. Well I don’t want to go any further so turn around and let’s go back and start over and finally got there. I was late, I was not coming in when I should have and dispatchers asked me to come in he said,” what happened?” I told him he said well I sent military police officers look up looking for you. I didn’t see anybody anywhere on the road all day long, just me. (Laughter) but I made it back.
Interviewer: When did you leave Korea?
Paul H. Nordstrom: In April of 55
Interviewer: What did you after you returned?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well we came back on an LST and we sat out there in the water for 30 some days little bit. And we were lucky, what happened was the ocean was just as calm as you could have and it was a fleet of them coming back and they had all been involved in moving people from the month before and some of them got into some storms and the ship that we were on had a couple busted medals in there, we needed that and had a good ride back.
Interviewer: Have you been back to Korea?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I stopped there one time on a trip.
Paul H. Nordstrom: Oh, I was, must be 10 years, 12 years. Oh no must be longer than that. Must be 25 years.
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yea.
Interviewer: And how different Korea was?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I got up the Seoul. Got there and took a ride back up where I thought we were but nobody seemed to know anything about where it was and I couldn’t figure out was road was what because where there was only one or two roads now you go on Google and find 6 billion of them. You’rewell popularized and really did some good. You know and you look up and see what happened above to your friends in the north and they’re just stymied, not having anything they just lost out and it just didn’t work you know. But you guys have done great. You know how to take off and you did jobs and developed and learned. Now one of the things that’s kind of interesting was we had dispatch tent was a young boy.
Interviewer: Korean boy?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Korean boy that was there and stayed with us and we took care of him enjoy him when we couldn’t take him back with us so I don’t know whatever happened to that guy. I just know that he, I’m sure if he did well.
Interviewer: What did you think of him? When you saw him, so young, right?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yeah, is young little kid. About maybe one of my younger sisters’ age, just a little
Interviewer: And he had to walk like you know and then how did you feel about him?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I no problem with him, I enjoyed him yeah he was part of us.
Interviewer: Part of you?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yea. I mean that’s the way it was. We took care of, we we didn’t look at him negatively I mean he was something that needed help.
Interviewer: And you paid for that?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well we little bit there, we kept him in the dispatcher’s tent and that’s where he stayed, and that was his home. Everybody expected him. It was no different than ours. As far as I know we all got along with him.
Interviewer: The Korean now is the 11th largest economy in the world.
Paul H. Nordstrom: I wouldn’t doubt it. I wouldn’t doubt it. You really have hustled and worked.
Interviewer: I wouldn’t you doubt it?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well, you were ambitious, you took care of yourself
Interviewer: Did you know that?
Paul H. Nordstrom: You could tell.
Interviewer: At the time you were there?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yeah, you could tell they were always out there looking and grabbing food grabbing food and take care of themselves. They were for what we seen. I didn’t see anybody that wasn’t trying to take care of themselves. We are out there helping them. At least in the area that I was you know, you go down creek to wash or river or something to go wash your truck, take our laundry down there and they be down there we willing to help us too, so, they were in need.
Interviewer: The Korean government has a program called Korea Revisit Program and they cover a week program including hotels and meals and they take you around the PenGun Jun and the DM Z and you pay half of the airfare and that’s it. Do you want to go back and see?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Pardon?
Interviewer: Do you want to go back? Do you want to join the program, Korea revisit program?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Yes I would. Yeah. I would have a I would like it if you could do something like that.
Interviewer: This is my business card. And if you want to, please let me know okay.
Paul H. Nordstrom: That’s interesting that’s interesting. Because I think it would be something now that I’m supposed to be retired, it’ll give me something to do. I would, I have no problem with that. What type of, is it, what’s the arrangements? Just invite us over and then take of us over? Or we just get a trip over there? Who do we book it with? Or stuff?
Interviewer: So if you want to I will let you know and they will contact you. Okay, that’d be great. Yeah, I will try to put your name I cannot guarantee anything but I will try okay.
Paul H. Nordstrom: Sure. You know it’s just different things you know and I’ve often wondered about those people that we resettled. One thing about that time, we pulled up to the crematory in Seoul there and we loaded up a bunch of the rock off there. Well they were loading the rock and I went wandering around. Kind of interesting and I walk in the back door the crematory and just you know wandered around in my own going through and I get up there front end and I see and his family’s coming in with carcass. Somebody that’s a corpse going through their deal what was going on, what was going on with said I don’t know. I was just observing and it’s, then I realized the time I found out that life expectancy of a child is probably, 6 at the most. If you get to a certain age, the death rate was very high and families and that’s what it was and you could see it. You know, kind of bug you a little bit when you’re used to over here having a different lifestyle, but I remember a couple times being involved in that and I remember going back and above that area and I just don’t know which area part that was just interesting.
Interviewer: Yeah that would be interesting. And there has been sea changes been made.
Paul H. Nordstrom: I imagine, no doubt I could see that when I was there that time and we stopped for a couple days coming back from another trip that we had booked. And that was it’s were. But I would there course the wife liked it to go down to the merchandise market and she could find all the clothes she couldn’t look at or not. Probably I’m due to get a new suit anyway.
Interviewer: It’s a very strong economy 11thlargest economy and very substantive democracy very active really so we came out beautifully out of that.
Paul H. Nordstrom: The south did good, but the north half is such a pain. It’s just sad when you look at you can see you look at Google Earth and you can see the lights in the South and nothing in the North. It’s just like we signed off too soon. But then I don’t know why in get into it up on it at all. But nobody wanted to have another war and we that’s the way we look at things now so
Interviewer: What is Korea to you now?
Paul H. Nordstrom: Well, it’s a good memory. Enjoyed my time there and I have no problem with what I did, worked. I got to drive over certain parts of it and seeing different things and part of it was kind of interesting and then sometimes we wonder, how, why do we get into there? Because before we left we were that’s when a lot of troops were leaving Korea in 54 and this would have been 55. They were leaving and I remember taking, well twice I had to go up on what they call Heartbreak Ridge and those things were and that mountain area. The last time I wondered, my gosh why am I doing this? And there was one company coming down one and one fleet of trucks coming this way and I was going up. We had to maneuver ours over so both my duels were sticking over to get the other ones if the other ones come back down around. We succeeded it, without any trouble. But if anybody would have lost their brake, you never know what would have happened.
Interviewer: Any other episode you want to share with me?
Paul H. Nordstrom: I remember them but I got to think about, you know I have to think just you know first time out getting lost and didn’t happen to me but one time, at the depot where we used to pick up food and supplies for different places. One day we come in there and couldn’t go to the same spot. We have been moved out a little bit for loading and unloading because somebody the week before backed in their loaded up back in there the mine exploded from below and took part of that vehicle.
Paul H. Nordstrom: But that was the hazard for everybody and I think a lot of your people have the same problem trying to raise rice and whatever it was. Finding these because you seem stacked along the edges of the patties and oh boy, you know what’s there? So it was a hazard to them too. And you recognize that but, other than that and I got to see a lot of that part of Korea, where the Marine Division was and sometimes over on the others. My mail route I enjoyed that. Coming back I get to see things and you know it was good on that part but as far as any combat area, no we were service people.
Interviewer: Who was there in the peacetime it’s just right after the armistice and we were settling down and that’s when you serve so obviously yep
Paul H. Nordstrom: And it was there trying to bring people around and I always remember picking up that one group and just before Christmas out here. And that was interesting and often wonder, you know, who they were, where we took them, you know. And they apparently were on this side the river but still there and we took him around to get them on the other side of the river and to get them there we went all the way around to the Seoul and back to, was it Kimball? Yep, yeah. Or someplace little boat that would load us up and take us across the river and back. I did make a couple trips up there. One time was a little bit different because I had to haul some posts up there, telephone poles with a trailer. Fine, when I’m driving I can see the trailer, but coming back I don’t know where it is. I got a back down this hill. You couldn’t find out where that trailer was going so there was no way of how you’re going to direct it, so it didn’t work. But I finally just drove on it and took me over and part of the ways and drop me off in the middle river and says, “good luck.” (Laughter)