Rene Rodriguez joined the Puerto Rican National Guard in August of 1950 while he was still in high school. By September 1950 his service had been moved to the Army. He left for Korea on November 3, 1951. After stops in Colombia, Panama, Hawaii, and Japan, he reached Incheon and was later transported somewhere along the front lines. He counts himself fortunate to see no combat action while serving in Korea. He confesses to not really remembering much about the war as it is just like a nightmare to him, and now it’s gone.
Arriving in Korea
Rene Rodriguez recalls arriving in Incheon before being taken by train for more training in Seoul. He remembers Seoul as being very cold as winter had set in. Upon transfer to the front lines he was instructed to make a sketch of where he was as no maps were available. He shares what life on the front lines was like.
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Crossing a Mine Field on the Front Lines
Rene Rodriguez does not remember any encounters with the enemies, but he does recall one scary moment when they had to retreat across a minefield that they had laid. He shares what his typical routines was like on the front lines. He recollects earning about $60-$80 each month but having no real place to spend it.
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Just Like a Nightmare
Rene Rodriguez does not want to remember his time on the front lines. He shares how it is like a nightmare and it is gone. He recalls the whole experience being much like camping where they had little. He notes rations were frequently dropped by helicopter and showers were few and far between when on the front line.
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INTERVIEWER: Hi, it’s a February 15, Lajas Puerto Rico my name is Jonwoo Han, I am the president of Korean War Legacy Foundation, and it’s great honor and pleasure to me to here and to be able to listen from you please introduce yourself. Your name and spell it for the audience.
RODRÍGUEZ RENE: My name is Rene Rodriguez I was born here in Lajas.
I: And what is your birthday?
RR: December six, 1932.
I: And what about your family when you were growing up your father mother and your sibling brothers and sisters.
RR: Well, it was fine, the only thing…
I: How many and what they were doing?
RR: A dozen.
I: What do you mean? What was your father was doing?
RR: My father he was a merchant, retail merchant.
I: Retail man, ok.
RR: But we had another charge in which we had all kinds of vegetables and Fruits.
I: So, farming?
I: Yeah, well how many brothers and sisters?
RR: We have five male and eight girls.
I: So you were 13Children?
RR: In all, yeah I’m number eight.
I: Your number eight.
I: What is it like to be number eight out of 13.
RR: I don’t know.
I: Tell me. Did your big brothers take care of you?
RR: No. we had to move around and one of my brothers joined the army in 1939.
RR: And the other one, the oldest one joined the army in the 1943 or 44.
I: Hmm, did you want to join the Army too?
RR: Well there was one of the things that we all like to do.
I: Tell me about the school you went.
RR: I went to Santa Rosa…
RR: …primary school until the fifth grade.
I: And then…
RR: Then we moved to San German in the sixth grade and up to the nineth grade.
I: What were you doing when the Korean war broke out in 1950.
RR: Well I was studying, I was going into high school.
RR: Never got to it…
I: Oh! and what did you hear about the Korea?
RR: Very little because we were youngsters, and we were playing fooling around.
I: Yeah, and did you know anything about Korea.
I: At that time?
RR: Never had since long before.
I: You didn’t know about my great country?
I: Oh boy.
RR: Not at all.
I: All right. Um, so when did you join the military? did you draft? Did you enlist?
RR: I wasn’t in National Guard, Puerto Rican National Guard.
RR: In August 1950, I joined the national guard and in September where we moved to the Army.
I: Army, so where did you get…
I: …the basic military training?
RR: In Puerto Rico.
I: Puerto Rico how many? How long?
RR: How long? the usual three months.
I: Three months, tell me about the training did you like it?
RR: Of course, we were unexperienced soldiers.
I: Always like…
RR: I was only seventeen.
I: What was your specialty?
RR: No specialty we had to do…
RR: I was a… I learned to use it, for the first time in my life I saw a rifle.
I: And were you good shooter?
RR: Hmm not that bad.
I: OK, and did you know that you will you’d be ending up in Korea and fighting the war?
RR: No well…
I: You didn’t know?
RR: To me it was just a game?
I: So, when did you leave for Korea?
RR: In November 1951.
I: Ok, so when you knew that you are headed to Korea were you afraid?
I: No? it was war.
RR: Because not.
I: It was war, you might lose your life.
RR: I know that. But didn’t bother me.
I: Didn’t bother you, oh my goodness you’re brave man. So, when did you leave for Korea? November?
RR: I think it was November.
I: November 1951. Where did you leave from?
RR: In Puerto Rico.
I: To? Tell me about the whole route?
RR: The whole route?
I: Yeah, from Puerto Rico where did you go and go?
RR: We went to Cartagena Colombia pick up some soldiers, then we went to Panama we got more and get water then we went to Hawaii…
RR: …and then Japan then Korea.
I: Ah when you went to Colombia to pick up brothers from Colombia the soldiers…
I: …how was it?
RR: It took a couple of days.
I: But when you first meet those soldiers from Colombia how was it?
RR: They spoke Spanish and most of the Puerto Ricans didn’t speak English…
RR: …I knew a little bit because I…
I: So, you were speaking to them in Spanish and you feel like you are meeting friends?
I: Uh-huh so how many days did you spend in Hawaii?
RR: In Hawaii?
RR: Only hours I guess.
I: Ah so you didn’t have time to play around the beach?
RR: Yeah, I did, not at the beach but…
RR: …We went into town and meet some people, they knew some, they knew about Puerto Rico but they spoke not Spanish.
I: Right and where did you arrive in Korea?
RR: I think it was a in…
RR: We had to get off the boat and in landing boats we got to the shore.
I: And tell me where did you go from?
RR: There by train we went somewhere I guess it was have been Seoul.
RR: There we had some more training.
I: And then what happened where did you go from there?
RR: From there, after a while we were…
RR: …going by bunches into the front lines.
I: Do you remember the place? Name of the place?
I: Was it in west or east?
RR: No, no, no way to know.
I: Ok. How was Seoul when you stay there for few days?
RR: It was cold. It was a in a nearly winter already.
I: Uh-huh, and how was people in Seoul Korean people?
RR: We had no contact with them until later.
I: How about the wholes villages and towns is it completely destroyed did you see around?
I: Tell me.
RR: Not exactly because we had no… we couldn’t go into town legally, we
RR: …we did there go but for short periods.
I: Okay, so when you go to the front line what did you do give me the details, please ask him to provide more details.
INTERPRETER: No se mueva quedese derechito y entonces trate de proveer as detalles.
INTERPRETER: Do not move, stay straight, and try to provide more details.
I: What did you do?
I: Usted que hizo?
I: What did you d?
RR: When I got into the front line…
I: Yes, yes, yes.
RR: I was told to make a sketch about where about it I was…
I: Uh huh.
RR: …because they had no maps…
RR: It was really cold.
I: Mhm. Where did you sleep?
I: Yeah. Where…
RR: Sleeping bags.
I: Was it outside or inside the bunker?
RR: We had a chance to get into the bunkers, yes, otherwise it was outside.
I: In the winter?
RR: In the winter.
I: You slept outside of the bunker?
RR: If we had time to sleep, we wherever we could catch ever
I: Must be very cold.
RR: It was.
I: Tell me.
RR: But it didn’t bother us because we had never seen snow or being in cold weather.
I: …any encounter with the enemies.
RR: No that I recalled.
I: Who was your enemy North Korean soldier or Chinese?
RR: Never met them.
I: Who was there I Chinese or North Korean?
RR: Have no way, once a prisoner was cut and what I heard…
RR: …that he said, in English he spoke English and he said that “he was there for no reason at all he did, he was not our enemy”.
I: Who was in North Korean or Chinese you don’t know?
RR: Must have been North Korean.
I: And he was able to speak in English?
I: Did you hear from him?
RR: No, I couldn’t get close to him.
I: So, you heard about it?
RR: I saw him at the distance.
I: Were there any dangerous moments during your service in Korea?
RR: Scared ones… we had to crush a minefield.
I: Ah, tell me about that. Tell me.
RR: It’s no fun because we had placed the mines.
I: You are laughing it now?
RR: Then we have to…
I: While you walking in the minefield?
RR: Yeah, but luckily nothing happened.
I: Anybody killed there in the minefield?
RR: No not that time.
I: Hmm so there was not many dangerous moments?
RR: Yes, they were dangerous all the time…
I: All the time.
RR: …but not what I was…
I: What was your routine, what time did…
I: …you wake up, what did you do?
RR: Well, we had to stand guard every couple hour, and rest a while and but we had to be alert of the time.
RR: But never had an encounter with the… nobody.
I: You were lucky.
RR: Yeah. Well, I really was and I’m glad.
I: Yeah. Were you scared?
RR: Yeah, I don’t think so.
I: Oh, you were surrounded by the enemies, and you were facing the enemies.
RR: We never got a chance to see them, they were on the other side, and we patrolled the area but on our side never saw them.
I: What was your rank?
I: Private, so how much were you paid at the time?
RR: I don’t know…
RR: …perhaps sixty – eighty dollars.
I: And you got combat pay right?
RR: Well, we saw very little of it because we had no place to expend the money.
I: Right, so what did you do with your money?
RR: My money never had it.
I: Did you send the money back to you family?
RR: I saved a few dollars.
I: And what did you do with that money later?
RR: Well like I was planning to go back to school.
RR: Bought me a car.
RR: A new car.
I: Very nice huh?
I: What car did you buy?
I: Ah, is it big?
RR: Normal Chevrolet.
I: Was it big car?
I: You bought the new one?
I: Ah, used one.
RR: An old one.
I: Did you have a chance to write letter back to your family?
RR: Very few.
I: What did you write?
RR: I can remember now.
I: Whom did you write to? did you have a girlfriend at the time?
RR: No, not exactly. We went dancing with girls would never had…
I: Real good.
I: …anything you remember at the time when you were there at the front line?
RR: Not much because I don’t want to remember the war.
I: Why you don’t want to…?
RR: It was just like a nightmare.
RR: It’s gone, I’m away and I don’t want to know more about it.
I: Right. Do you still have nightmare in your dream?
I: Not at all?
RR: I don’t think so.
RR: What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea? What really bothers you? what was the thing that you hate it?
I: Well, the things that we didn’t have. It was like being… it was like camping we had nothing.
RR: Nothing what?
I: Nothing that you have in the city.
RR: That’s right. no movie theater?
I: No movies, no place to go, you had to be watching for who was there but…
RR: How often were you able to take shower?
I: We were for a hundred and six days without the shower in the front lines.
RR: 160 days?
I: Six days.
RR: Hundred sixty.
I: Over three months.
RR: You were not able to take shower.
I: No there the rations were dropped by helicopter or airplane, little airplanes, and if you found it you were lucky.
RR: But you couldn’t go to a like a cafeteria or restaurant and you gotta get some coffee…
RR: …there was nothing like that.
I: Nothing like that?
I: You must have smelled bad?
RR: I don’t know.
I: Everybody smells bad so we don’t know each other.
RR: It was for all of us.
I: All of us.
RR: It wasn’t just for all of us.
I: Hundred six days you are not able to take a shower.
RR: All of us.
I: Were able to brush your teeth?
RR: Very seldom.
I: Very seldom. You still have a good teeth.
RR: No these I bought.
I: Oh boy, what did you eat what was your favorite C ration?
RR: No favorite it tastes like hell.
RR: There were hamburgers, corned beef, corn with fish, water that came canned water that was canned probably during the first War.
I: Did you smoke?
RR: Very little but cigarettes were given to us for free.
RR: From many places they sent cigarettes and cigars.
I: Did you have any Korean soldiers with you?
RR: Yes, there was one in the company.
I: Tell me about him.
RR: I don’t remember, he liked to sing, he played the harmonica…
RR: …and he sank Besame Mucho.
I: The Korean guy?
I: In Spanish?
RR: And he knew a few words in Spanish because he had been there with the Puerto Ricans whatever happened to him I don’t know.
I: How was the relationship between Puerto Rican soldier and…
I: … white soldiers? Were there any problem?
RR: Not that much because all our commanders we’re Americans, once I remember a colored guy was sent as an OP but he was not good.
I: He was good?
RR: No he didn’t know exactly…
RR: …where to send the fire and we told him “You can’t stay with us”.
I: Why not?
RR: Cuz he would ask for a fire, support fire and it come near us and we don’t want it near us, we want it outside.
I: When did you leave Korea?
RR: I was lucky I had…
RR: …the missions end in March I guess it was, yes.
RR: Yeah and I was sent to Japan, then when I went back to Korea, new troops were coming in and, I was sent back to Japan, and then to the US.
I: Oh you were lucky.
RR: Yeah lucky yeah.
I: …What is Korea to you now?
RR: Just like a dream.
I: Do you like Korea?
RR: If wherever I go, I try to get along with whatever I did there, sir.
I: When you left Korea in 1952 Korea was completely destroyed right?
RR: No. well…
RR: I saw a few things destroyed in Japan and Korea but that was from the Second World War.
I: Yeah, that’s for Japan but how about Korea? were you able to go other cities in Korea?
RR: No, no, no, no we had no time to go into town.
I: Ok, you never been back to Korea, right?
I: No? Do you know what happened to Korea? Korean economy? Korean democracy?
RR: Right now…
RR: …I know that they have now doing pretty well.
I: How did you know?
RR: By the news.
I: What did you hear?
RR: Right here.
I: Yeah, what did you know about Korea now?
RR: No, I don’t know anything, it was I just heard every now and then, that they’re building automobiles and the economy’s doing pretty good.
I: Had you thought about…
RR: And they have a good schools, and well-prepared people.
I: Hmm. So, what do you think about that, you went there, fight you fought for us for the Koreans.
RR: I didn’t fight, I was that boy I didn’t fight with everyone.
I: I mean, you were there to defend it, right, and part of it now, you know, that Korea is a very well, you know, in terms of risk its economy and very strong democracy, what do you feel about that?
RR: Good like we have progress too. In nineteen fifty, I think the whole world was in… everything was different than it is now…
RR: …and money was scarce too. Like it is now.
I: So, what did you do after you return from Korea?
RR: I went back to school.
I: Tell me about it, what school and what did you study? and for how long?
RR: I started in Puerto Rico and then I went to New York.
I: New York.
RR: And worked over there and I had to take…
RR: …the high school equivalent diploma because I didn’t finish high school.
RR: Only started and I took the high school equivalent diploma and kept on working then I applied it to University of Puerto Rico.
RR: And I was…
RR: …admitted to the school of engineering but I never finish engineering.
I: Why not? You did want it?
RR: I had to work.
I: Ahh. You didn’t get the GI Bill?
RR: Yes, I had it but I used it for shot time
I: So, what is the impact of your military service upon your life?
RR: But I guess it was good.
I: Very good.
RR: It helped me see things not my way but… the way they are.
I: Uh-huh. Do you want to go back to Korea? do you want to go back to Korea?
RR: Mmm, I don’t think so, if I had to go out go but it would be different now.
I: Right, don’t you want to see the changes we made? 24:58
I: Don’t you want to see the changes…
I: …being made?
RR: But the changes, I know everything has changed all over the world.
I: Don’t you want to look at that?
RR: No let me here.
I: Ok. Do you have a family now?
RR: Of course.
I: Tell me about it.
RR: There’s my daughter with two kids.
I: Ohh. Right…
I: …and any boys?
RR: I have one.
RR: Who was supposed to come but he had some relative of his woman died and he’s probably with them.
I: Ok, any other message that you want to leave to this interview?
I: Great Rene Rodriguez, right?
I: Thank you so much, thank you so much for coming, and share your story with us on behalf of Korea nation. En nombre de Corea gracias por todo.
RR: There was a pleasure.
I: Thank you, thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]