Richard A. Mende
Richard A. Mende was born around 1930 in Rhode Island. After high school, in 1952, he was drafted into the US Army. He received basic training at Field’s Point, Rhode Island and Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania before being deployed to Japan for engineer school later that year. He arrived in Pusan in early 1953 and was assigned to the 54th Engineer Field Maintenance Company. He spent the next 16 months in Korea helping procure supplies for allied units. He left Korea in August 1954 and was discharged from the Army. Today, he lives in Rhode Island and is active in his local KWVA, serving as Assistant Commander.
POW's after the Armistice
Richard Mende describes seeing POW's in Pusan after the armistice was signed. He talks about the prisoners being moved on trains and the poor condition of their clothing.
Getting Acquainted with Korea
Richard A. Mende talks about acquainting himself with knowledge of Korea once he learned about the war.
Impressions of Korea
Richard A. Mende recalls this first impressions upon his arrival in Pusan.
Mende, Richard A.
Transcribed by Matthew Sudnik on 6/19/19
[Beginning of recorded material]
Interviewer: Do you remember the day that you became aware of that?
Richard Mende: Yeah very vaguely but I remember listing to it on the radio and they mentioned what had happened. And, uh, that’s how I got acquainted with the Korean War. Immediately went to the library to figure out where Korea was.
Interviewer: Oh really?
Richard Mende: Yeah
Richard Mende: I’m very inquisitive when it comes to things like that.
Interviewer: So right after you listen from the radio about the Korean War you went up to library to look it up.
Richard Mende: To figure out where is Korea and what’s going on and so forth.
Interviewer: What did you find? Tell me, please.
Richard Mende: Well I was rather vague at this point it goes back quite a few years now but I looked it up on the dictionary first of all, went to the encyclopedia. There’s a map of Korea, and it gave the whole history of Korea. How it had started — I don’t know somewhere back in
what, one thousand thirty five or, somewhere, ten thousand thirty five, or somewhere way back in that area. So I got acquainted with it through the library. And then the next day I went back to work and that was the end of it for actually a couple years because I wasn’t drafted until I was 20.
And that’s when I got my letter from the government.
Interviewer: When did you receive it?
Richard Mende: It would have been August of ‘52
Interviewer: And where did you go to get the basic military training?
Richard Mende: A place called Field’s Point which is in Rhode Island.
Interviewer: Fear’s point?
Richard Mende: Field’s Point. F I E L D
Interviewer: F I E L D Point.
Richard Mende: Yeah.
Interviewer: And tell me about the basic training?
Richard Mende: Okay well …
Interviewer: How was it?
Richard Mende: It was tough. I had 16 weeks of basic training, and I learned everything as far as what military had to offer at that point. At that point, it, uh, was the, towards this, after the second world war so I went through basic training with second world war uniform and that’s what they had for me at that particular point.
I went to Indiantown Gap which is in Pennsylvania. Sixteen weeks in basic. Halfway through basic I had a choice, I could have gone in to become a second lieutenant if I wanted to. At that time second lieutenants over in Korea were not lasting very long.
Richard Mende: So I decided I’m not sure I want that.
Interviewer: How did you know about that, that second lieutenant doesn’t last very long?
Richard Mende: It was pretty obvious what was happening up there at the lines and because they would go to their patrols and you had a second lieutenant that would be leading the patrols. I just didn’t want to be leading that patrol so I stayed as an enlisted person.
Interviewer: So you are as enlisted or drafted?
Richard Mende: Well they call it enlisted.
Richard Mende: And what they do is as far your like US 51155920
that’s, I will remember that forever. That was my identification number. If you joined on your own you had an RA in place of the US
Interviewer: I see. Did you know that you were headed to Korea by the time?
Richard Mende: Pretty much because what happened after basic training, there was a few that went to Germany and to other parts of the country.
Interviewer: How do they decide who goes to Germany and who goes to Korea?
Richard Mende: I think it’s a lottery really. I don’t really know but it just happens to be that way. They need so many for this and so many for that. They needed me in Korea.
Interviewer: Did you — be honest with me, okay — did you want to go to Germany or Korea?
Richard Mende: Actually I really didn’t care. I was going…
Interviewer: Come on. Germany was in peace. No combat.
Richard Mende: Yeah that was my heritage. Well Austrian, which is not really Germany but it’s pretty gosh darn close to it. But as far as, I just accepted it. It’s like my going to a doctor. Doctor says you got to have this done and so forth. I put my faith in the doctor. And it was the same thing. I guess I’m going to Korea. I accepted it. I didn’t fight it.
Interviewer: But there are much more possibility that you are going to be killed in Korea.
Richard Mende: Yeah that had some bearing when I started to go. I went to the west coast. Troop trained. Went by boat to Yokohama, Japan.
Interviewer: From where Pendleton or Seattle?
Richard Mende: Seattle.
Richard Mende: Seattle. Yeah.
Interviewer: Do you remember when was that? When you were departing for Korea?
Richard Mende: It would have been towards the end of 1952.
It would have been December of ’52.
Interviewer: When you told your family that you were headed to Korea, the country in the war, how did they respond to you?
Richard Mende: Well they were little shooken up really as to what was going on but that was about it really.
Interviewer: Did you have a girlfriend at the time?
Richard Mende: I had a couple girlfriends but nothing serious.
Interviewer: Couple, just couple, right?
Richard Mende: Well I used to date occasionally. You know if I had beautiful daughters and a wife like you I’d probably have a handful of them.
Interviewer: [LAUGHS] How did they respond to your decision?
Richard Mende: They were probably glad that I was leaving.
Interviewer: Oh. [LAUGHS] Are you kidding me? Are you sure?
Richard Mende: Oh I don’t know. I didn’t have anything serious, by no means. I belonged to this German club that I mentioned to you earlier. It was a combination of women and men, and we used to do a lot of things together.
Interviewer: Tell me about your journey to Yokohama in Japan. How was?
Richard Mende: We went on the troop ship. It was 14 days. Then we went into Yokohama.
Interviewer: Did you like the travel? Did you ever seasick or anything like that?
Richard Mende: I was for one day as we were going through. The first day it was calm as could be. The next day it was a violent storm.
Everyone got sick. I wasn’t sick at that particular point. But we had to go down into the bottom of the vessel and you would get your food. And the fella in front of me was sick, the fella in back of me was sick, soon as I got my food the guy next to me, he was sick and that set me off.
Interviewer: Throwing up, right?
Richard Mende: Yeah, but the next day I was fine.
Interviewer: It must be messy and very smelly.
Richard Mende: Yeah it wasn’t the best. It’s something that you wouldn’t look forward to going though.
Interviewer: By the way, what was your unit and what was your specialty?
Richard Mende: Originally I was infantry. And when I got to Yokohama for some reason or another — to this day I don’t know why — they decided to pull me out of infantry and send me to school. So I went to school in Yokohama for six weeks. This was prior to going to Korea.
Interviewer: What school?
Richard Mende: It was an engineering school. And I actually worked with the Japanese, uh, into office as well as field and I had the classroom. It was two, two, and two. It was a total of six weeks.
And after that I, along with seven other individuals, we went by civilian train and we went from Yokohama and we traveled through Hiroshima, Nagasaki – those are areas that were bombed out during the second world war through the nuclear bombs. And this is early 1953 now and those areas were still devastated.
Everything was just amazing. Went to [unintelligible] and I was back in the army again. They put us on [unintelligible], from [unintelligible] to Busan, and from Busan all the way up to Seoul.
Interviewer: Tell me about the first scene of Korea you saw in Busan. What did you remember?
Richard Mende: Very first thing that happened to me when I got off the ship, and I was in the area just prior to going up into Seoul, Yong Dong Po area. They put me on guard duty, and the first thing they said, you had orders to shoot to kill. Well that did not go well with me, by no means.
Interviewer: What do you mean by that? Be specific.
Richard Mende: Here I am on guard duty, and I was up in [Atara]. Then we had…
Interviewer: Are you talking about Yong Dong Po?
Richard Mende: No. No, I’m down in Busan.
Interviewer: Busan. Okay.
Richard Mende: The orders were, you’re on guard duty now and if anyone goes into the compound your orders are to shoot to kill. And that’s when it really hit me I’m in a warzone.
Interviewer: So you didn’t follow the order? Is that what you mean?
Richard Mende: I had an opportunity. I just sounded the alert. Because there was an individual that had gone into the compound. And the compound completely shut down. And they did find the individual. Fortunately didn’t have to kill him.
Interviewer: That’s good actually, right?. You didn’t have to kill them, right?
Richard Mende: No I had no desire to kill anyone.
Interviewer: Was it dangerous in Busan by the time that you were there? It was already 1953.
Richard Mende: It was January of ’53.
Interviewer: Almost approaching to the end of the armistice. Right?
Richard Mende: Armistice was, we had just had it.
Richard Mende: July 27th
Interviewer: But was it still dangerous in Busan area?
Richard Mende: Well, yeah. It certainly was. It was the case where the war was still going on. And they had a problem too because you couldn’t really tell
who was South Korean and who was North Korean. And that was difficult. Even when I got up into Seoul area and so forth you never knew who was who.
Interviewer: Already many of North Korean soldiers, former soldiers or spy, already being in the crowd …
Richard Mende: That’s true.
Interviewer: And sometimes they do sort of a sudden attack? Right?
Richard Mende: That’s right. So you really had to be careful.
Interviewer: How was Korean people and the scene that you saw in Busan?
Richard Mende: I found the Korean people great.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Richard Mende: I had no problem really with the Korean people. We had a group with us, Rock Soldiers. And the Rock Soldiers were great, too. They lived on the compound with us. Outside the compound, of course, was all barbered wire and so forth. There was a whole village out there.
One of the things that was quite active over there — beer — drinking beer. If you looked in the villages you could find these little huts as so forth that we made up with a lot of beer cans. I told you about being in gymnastics earlier. There was one Korean out there that I got familiar with. He would do giant swings right outside my tent. I’d see him in the morning.
He’s be doing one giant swing after the other after the other and after the other. So I got to know him pretty well. I says, could do that too.
Interviewer: What were you thinking when you first landed in Busan and Korea, the country you never knew before? And you went to the library to look it up. What were you thinking? Why am I here? What am I doing? Did you have anything like that?
Richard Mende: Well, at that point I knew why I was there.
Richard Mende: Because of the communists coming in and the North Koreans being communist. And at that point I knew I was in an area that was not going to be that happy for me. But I was there. I accepted it.
Interviewer: What were you thinking? Were you afraid?
Richard Mende: Yeah I guess I was afraid but I just accepted it really at that particular point.
Interviewer: Was Korea pretty much destroyed or what was the scene that you saw?
Richard Mende: When I got up into Seoul the whole metropolis of Seoul as it is today was nothing but ruins. Everything was just sheared off. Of course it had gone through a couple occupations back and forth and you can imagine how Seoul is really. And that’s how it was at that particular point.
Interviewer: What was your unit? You went to the engineering school.
Richard Mende: I was put into a field maintenance. 54th field maintenance.
Richard Mende: 54th
Interviewer: Field maintenance of what?
Richard Mende: Well we took care of any maintenance supplies that were needed for any of the areas in Korea around there.
They would come to us through requisitions. We would turn around and we would supply them. If we didn’t have them then we’d get them out of Busan. If Busan didn’t have them then we’d get them out of Tokyo. If they didn’t have them we’d go to San Francisco. And that’s how we were able to get that stuff over to them right away.
Interviewer: So was 54th field maintenance unit located in Yong Dong Po?
Richard Mende: Yong Dong Po.
Interviewer: Yong Dong Po. So give me some example. What kind of logistical items did you supply to soldiers?
Richard Mende: Well it would be all mechanical items that would be needed say for instance for trucks, for tanks, and any area that was necessary at that particular point. We had a certain amount of them that we would stock.
And those we’d see if we could help them immediately with that. And that’s how it worked.
Interviewer: What was your rank at the time?
Richard Mende: When I first go over there I was nothing but an E-1. That’s the lowest rank that you could be. When I left I was a staff sergeant
Interviewer: Staff sergeant?
Richard Mende: Yeah
Interviewer: Okay. How much was your salary there?
Richard Mende: Geez you know I don’t remember to be honest with you. I used to send three quarters of it home to my mother. I know that.
Interviewer: Hundred? About $100?
Richard Mende: Probably. And I want to say maybe 90 to $100. Something like that. But every payday, because there was really no place to spend it over there. Because I was pretty well at the unit all the time. And even if I went into the town there wasn’t any much of a town around there.
But what money I had all went back home.
Interviewer: So you send money — three fourth — to your mom?
Richard Mende: Yeah I’d keep very little for myself, really.
Interviewer: Were you a drinker? A smoker?
Richard Mende: I never drank really that much and a never smoked that much. I don’t smoke today, and I haven’t smoked for sixty years. But I was not a keen smoker. And I was into
physical fitness all my life.
Interviewer: [Unintelligible] moments that you might have lost your life?
Richard Mende: Other than Bed Check Charlie … as far as … Fortunately, I wasn’t up on the lines. So I was very fortunate as far as that was concerned.
We had guards out there every day around our compound constantly, and they were able to keep what was out there that was bad away from us. Rock Soldiers, they were there for us too. So I can’t say that there was anything that really got to the point where this might be the end.
Interviewer: When did you leave Korea?
Richard Mende: In August of ’54.
Interviewer: So you were there when the armistice was signed.
Richard Mende: I was.
Interviewer: And what did you think about it? I mean, what did you feel?
Richard Mende: We were all quite happy about it. There were celebrations going on. But as far as how I felt, I was happy really. It was kind of nice to know that it’s over. It’s not over yet after all these years.
Interviewer: That’s the point I want to discuss with you about. Have you been back to Korea?
Richard Mende: No. But I’ve had the opportunity.
Interviewer: Why do you think we have to teach our young generations about the Korean War? Why?
Richard Mende: For one thing, we was able to stop communism. That would be one of the main things.
Richard Mende: We were able to put South Korea back on their feet again.
Richard Mende: And they’ve done a remarkable job as far as that part is concerned.
As far as the Korean people, as far as the GIs are concerned, they’re always having events for us really and we’ve had people come up and they’ve spoken to us who have come from Korea and it’s just one of those things that, it’s history. And if you don’t teach youth today it’s just forgotten about really.
Interviewer: Did you think that Korean would outcome like this today?
Richard Mende: No. I didn’t, but I knew that things were changing because I was over there for after the truce it was another year before they… I had sixteen months entirely over and as far as what was happening, as far as Korea, you could see some adjustments that were taking place.
Interviewer: You told me about the book that you saw about modern Korea. What did you see?
Tell me about the Korea now that you know.
Richard Mende: Well I’ve seen a lot as far as pictures. As a matter of fact, the Korean people… Last year we were invited to a place in Lawrence, Massachusetts. And there was a movie that they brought us to. And that took place
from the first day of the Korean War and worked it’s way right on up. And that movie you could see different things that were happening. And that was a big improvement.
Interviewer: [21.15] And now U.S. and South Korea is the strongest ally in East Asia, challenging the rising power of China. Right? Together.
Richard Mende: Absolutely.
Interviewer: But our history textbook doesn’t talk about it at all, about the modern Korea.
They only talk about the Korean War in a paragraph. Why is that?
Richard Mende: I don’t know really. It’s not right. Korean War should be right up at the top with all the other wars. No doubt about it.
Ben Esposito: My name is Ben Esposito. I’m a rising senior at the Wheeler High School in Providence, Rhode Island.
Interviewer: And why are you here today?
Ben Esposito: I’m here to learn more about the Korean War from the people who fought in it, the people who helped
with the United States’ efforts, and maybe to learn something about interviewing as well.
Interviewer: Did you learn anything about the Korean War from your school and from your textbook?
Ben Esposito: I think like you said it gets a very small section in our textbooks. I just took a United States History course in my junior year, and it got one or two pages, which seems like a lot but that’s such a small amount for the Korean War.
Interviewer: Anything you remember from that textbook? Let me test you.
Ben Esposito: Okay. Yes, it’s good.
Interviewer: This is SAT Two. World History. Okay?
Ben Esposito: Okay. Well the communists invaded first in about June of 1950, and they took over most of Korea, I believe, all the way down to Busan. Then United States, they came in with a United Nations mission, pushed them back to China, and then China pushed us back down.
And it just went back and forth until the armistice really with no…
Female Voice: You have to confess you took that online Stanford course about Korea.
Ben Esposito: I know more about Korea than just from that, from those two pages.
Female Voice: He did a course online at Stanford online about it.
Interviewer: You are amazing. Actually you describe the whole Korea War very good.
Ben Esposito: Thank you. Yeah.
Interviewer: You are exceptional.
Ben Esposito: I know, I also like American history a lot.
So I like to read about it, and I’m able to remember it.
Female Voice: And his grandfather was involved.
Ben Esposito: Yes, he was involved.
Interviewer: Tell me about it.
Ben Esposito: Well he was not involved from the 1950 to 1953 part but in the ’60s he was a judge advocate general in Korea. I think during the Vietnam war he was stationed in Korea.
Interviewer: And you told me you returned to your college, right?
Richard Mende: I went to college — went originally — when I first got back
we had two back-to-back hurricanes here. And my aunt had called me because my other brother was in Korea at that point.
Interviewer: Your other brother was in Korea?
Richard Mende: He was in Korea. He was in Busan. My brother Bob, he was drafted actually about two months after I was drafted. But he did go over there and he was over there towards the end of the Korea war and he was in Busan. Now he was the carpenter in the family,
and so while he was in Busan he ended up working with the Koreans, and they did carpentry together.
Interviewer: Is he alive now?
Richard Mende: Oh yes. He’s a year older than I.
Interviewer: Where is he now?
Richard Mende: Yong Dong Po.
Interviewer: You saw him?
Richard Mende: He came up and visit with me.
Interviewer: Describe the scene that you saw your brother.
Richard Mende: Oh it was great really. So we had a few days together before he had to go back.
When I was being discharged from the service I had to go back down to Busan. And when I was down there he was able to get me out of the little compound every night because he had a little pull down there. And I got to know a lot of the workers that he worked with. And I’d go out into the village, and we’d actually sit with them. There were no chairs. Nothing like that. You sit right on the floor and so forth.
But I can remember this one particular night sitting with them and we had a meal. And before we ate anything or drank anything, they made sure that there was no poison, no nothing with that food. They took care of us just like we were family really. And that was one of the last days that I was in Korea before I shipped back to the United States.
Interviewer: Wow. Tell me about what is the legacy of the Korean War and your service. Why is it important for you?
Richard Mende: First of all I think this is great, really. We’re getting this on camera and as long as I didn’t ruin the camera, perhaps a number of people will gain something from this here. And as far as my getting involved. The first thing, I really didn’t get to much involved with the Korea War vets until I decided to retire from my job.
And that’s when I really got involved with it. And now I’m the assistant commander of my group here. But as far as legacy and as to keeping it, again, active so that people know what took place over there really. I can remember when I was over there
right after the truce, we had train loads of prisoners that would come through, and these prisoners were a lot of Chinese and of course a lot of North Koreans, too. They were dressed in practically nothing. Half of them didn’t even have shoes. Maybe sneaks. Their attire was very, very small. There were not dressed properly whatsoever.
But I can remember seeing thousands and thousands of these poor guys being shipped back, and they were on their way down to Busan. That was kind of interesting. That’s something I remember.
Interviewer: Are you proud of your service?
Richard Mende: Absolutely. I’d go back tomorrow.
Interviewer: Would you?
Richard Mende: I would.
Interviewer: I had a wonderful time. You made excellent points about the forgotteness of the Korean War.
Richard Mende: I’d like to just thank you for having me here.
And hopefully something good will come out of this. I’m sure it will. And I wish you and your family the best. And God bless you.
Interviewer: Thank you. Thank you so much.
[End of recorded material]