Richard Bartlett enlisted in the Air Force in 1960 and served in Korea as a defense veteran until 1961. He describes his duties in radio maintenance and the importance of keeping the equipment working and operational. He recounts his unique experience playing for the Air Force All-Korea Basketball Team during his time serving there. He reflects on the legacy of the Korean defense veteran and commends their efforts along with the success in maintaining separation between North and South Korea. He is proud of his service and experiences while there, but wishes he had done more to help the Korean people during his service.
Radio Maintenance Specialty and a Civilian Encounter
Each soldier is trained with a specialty to strengthen the military. Richard Bartlett's duties were to keep the radio equipment working and operational as it was used to guide aircraft along the 38th Parallel. There was a lot of on-the-job-training. While stationed at Osan, Richard Bartlett encountered many civilians off base.
The Air Force's All-Korean Basketball Team Experience
Richard Bartlett played for the All-Korean Basketball Team while in the Air Force and stationed in Korea. He traveled to Seoul and played a variety of Korean teams. These experiences allowed him a chance to get to know some Korean civilians. The Korean teams were comprised of talented basketball players.
Legacy of the Korean Defense Veteran
Richard Bartlett believes that the defense veterans serve and fill the void after the Korean War ended. He feels defense veterans over the years have done a very good job keeping the North and South Koreans separated since the war. He wishes he had personally done more to help the Korean people while there.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
Richard Bartlett: My name is Richard Bartlett. R-I-C-H-A-R-D B-A-R-T-L-E-T-T
Interviewer: What is your birthday?
R: I was born on July 5th, 1940.
I: And where were you born?
R: I was born in Boston, Massachusetts.
I: Ah-hah. Tell me about your family when you were growing up.
R: Well, I–we stayed in the
Boston area through World War II. Actually, we were right near Harvard University–
R: and I used to watch all of the Harvard University ROTC soldiers or cadets marching and I used to march with them and all. It was–it was great. And, in fact, gosh, this is a–a flash back, one of my good chums while I was growing up through World War II
was a boy named Junior [Kobiashi].
R: A Japanese boy who used to ride his bicycles with me. And Junior–I–I didn’t put any significance to it, but that must have been quite a challenge for him, being a Japanese boy in Cambridge, Massachusetts–
R: during World War II.
R: But, but none the less, when I was
six years old, I then moved up in the–to the north shore to Newberry Port, Mass. and really spent my whole youth, the rest of my youth, in–in Newberry Port, Massachusetts, which was a–a–a great place to grow up.
I: When did you graduate your high school?
R: I graduated from Newberry Port High School in 1958.
I: So, around the time that you were graduating high school
did you know anything about Korea?
R: Yes. I had a–an–an uncle who had served in the Korean War.
R: And, as a matter of fact, had sustained a very serious injury. He tried to accompany a grenade into a bunker and it didn’t work. The bunker won– I mean the hand grenade won.
R: He came in second place. So,
and he was disabled. He came–came back after–after getting out of the hospital.
I: What did he tell you?
R: Pardon me?
I: What did he tell you about Korea and the Korean War?
R: It was–it was hell on wheels. He–it was very, very difficult being on the–deaths foots–front doorstep all–every day of the–
of the activity so, it was–it was not a–not a pleasant experience.
I: Did you learn anything about Korea from the school?
R: I did not.
I: Even–you are the–the post-war generation and you didn’t–you didn’t learn anything about Korea from the school?
R: Oh I–I–I–yes, I knew about it, but I–it was very casual. I–I didn’t–
R: Yeah, I–I–I–just didn’t…
I: So, after you graduate from high school, what did you do?
R: I then went to–went to Bo–Northeastern University in Boston.
R: Unfortunately, it was a–it was a short career. I was there for one year and was invited not to return for my second year and I had an opportunity to either be drafted or enlist, and I opted to enlist
in the U.S. Air Force.
I: Mmm. So, where did you get the basic?
R: I–I went to basic training at Lackland Air Force Base.
R: But after basic training, I then went to tech school, the career school in Mississippi. Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. And went through–went through the entire,
you know, training process down there and at the last– I had indicated that, throughout school, that I would–kind of had a yearning to go overseas and they invited me into the office and told me that I was one of the luckiest guys in the world. There are only two positions left, and they’re in Korea, and you have one of them.
R: Oh my gosh. [laughing].
I : When was it? When did you enlist?
R: That was in–
I–I enlisted in January of 1960.
I: Uh-huh. 60?
R: 6-0 yes.
I: Yeah. And when did you learn that you going to go to Korea?
R: In October of ’60, per–perhaps October or November.
I: What was your specialty?
R: I was a radio maintenance.
I: What does that mean?
R: That means keeping communication equipment
working, operational, and all kinds–. It was electronics training, but the task that we had was to guide air craft along the back and forth.
I: The runway?
R: No, the–when they were airborne–
R: have–follow them up and down the 38thparallel, to make sure that they didn’t
go over the line. But–I guess they were doing aerial surveillance, at the–at the time.
I : So, how did you learn this–all this things? You’d been to technical school and were you comfortable with the technology that you need to deal with?
R: Yes. Yes. It was–and–and then there was a lot of on the job training one–once I–once I got to Korea. Yeah, we flew into Tachikawa, Japan. And then from
Tachi, we flew into Osan, and that was where I–
I: Did you arrive at Osan?
I: Ah. Tell me about the Osan that you saw for the first time in your life.
I: Be honest, okay?
R: It made–it made no impression on me. It could have been Wichita, Kansas. It real–I mean, it was an American base and everything on the base was–
I: It was America actually.
R: Was America, yeah.
Really. To see what was on the other side of the fence. And I–
I: What did you find?
R: Well, I found a little old lady who let me get about 10 paces off–off base, and then she came over and grasped me by the uniform–
R: And I think it cost me $10 to get back. I kept yelling, help! Help! And they said, we can’t help you, you’re off base. So I–appar–
I: What did she say?
R: She–she asked me if I–I said gee I want to go back to the base. She said give me some money and I’ll let you go back on base. Oh gosh I would–I would estimate that she was 70 years old. What a grip though. Oh very, very strong.
I: So, she wasn’t prostitute.
R: No, no, no she was not. She was a stick up girl. A hold up person.
I: What was your unit?
R: It was the
R: Communication and guidance squadron.
I: Communication and guidance
R: Yes. C and G.
I: And did you work with the pilot?
R: Well, w–yes. Yes. We had–I mean we had radar
R: and we–you know–we would track them and then–. And actually we didn’t directly correspond with him
we would have a –there was an officer who was–doing the technical work,
R: However, we were–we were on–on board just to make sure that if either of the radio or the radar whatever malfunctioned that there was someone there to immediately correct it, or try to. So, that was–that was our function.
I: Did you have any feeling about being in Korea where that your uncle fought?
R: No. That–that–I mean, the fact that he had–had fought there and got injured there was irrelevant to me. Actually, why–I had–I had some interesting experiences.
I: Tell me.
R: Well, I–while I was at Osan I was fortunate enough to make the
All-Korea Basketball Team.
I: You made it?
R: Well, I was one of 12 or 15, I don’t know how many fellas were on the team, but it was a great experience. We, every Sunday, would go into Seoul and play Korean teams.
R: And that was–that was a good experience. We got to talk with
And–and get to know some Korean people.
I: What position you did?
R: I was not the center on the team, trust me.
I: What is it?
R: No, I was–I was the guard.
I: And what team did you play with?
R: Well, it was the–
R: The K–no, I mean, it was the Air Force team was the. It was the elite team for the U.S. Air Force in Korea.
R: The competition was–
R: It was honorable. I mean, everyone played by the rules and complimented each other on good plays and died laughing on bad plays, you know?
I: You won all the game right?
R: No. It was surprising. I figured heck, this would be no problem. There was some very talented basketball players. And surprise, surprise to me, some–quite a few of the fellows were considerably taller than I.
I: [chuckled]. Oh really?
R: Really! Yes!
I: We got you! [laughing]
R: Oh thanks a lot! [laughing].
I: A-ha ha yeah! [laughing].
R: Yeah. So, I mean, that was, that was a good experience we would take a bus and go, you know, back and forth every week.
I: So, 1960, still 7 years from the Korean War.
I: What did you see in Seoul? And how was it?
R: It was n–nothing there that was
a surprise or a shock to me. It was–I mean transportation was moving and it didn’t–I didn’t see any bombed out buildings. I–I–I just–I–I didn’t pay attention, frankly, I mean we were driving, riding on a bus thinking basketball, but there was–there was nothing that was scary or surprising.
I: Maybe you took for granted because it was the country that, you know, had the war–
R: Very possible.
I: short time ago.
R: Very possible. I–I mean, but like I say, there was nothing distressing about it or surprising about it. And it was–it was good–one of the –one of the challenges that we had in being there was we really– I would say, in 95% of the cases couldn’t communicate with the people therefore,
I mean, there was just no comingling. There were a bu–, well obviously, the–the staff that worked for us on the base, the kitchen staff, and the–the waitresses and all, they were fluent in–in English and–and very pleasant.
R: Very nice. Went out there and–and it–that was–that was a very, very intriguing experience.
I: You mean the pila–PY island?
R: PY– PY-do, yes.
R: PY island, yes. it–it was–it–not a–not a very large island. All of the farming that was done there was done with animals and, I mean, it was–
R: Primitive. That’s a good choice of words.
R: And–I was, coincidentally the stone that was used to make Noritake China,
which I–I don’t know, I’m not familiar with it, but I understand that it is a very desirable dishware, Noritake China, and that stone came from PY-do.
R: I saw a–a two or three times–it being carried in convoy from one side of the island to boats on the other side to get it to Japan to–to go through the thing and the process of moving it was
very interesting. They all had the back
R: deck packs and load them up with 7,000 pounds of stone [laughing].
R: Have a nice trip, ya know? [laughing]
R: Whoah. But it–it was a–it was a–it was a good place to–to be. We lived in Quonset huts. It was–the discipline was kind of like M*A*S*H on–on TV. The only way that we could get from Osan
to PY-do was–and– and this was kind of–kind of a–a proud fact that we had–we had the only runway in the Air Force that was resurfaced twice a day.
I: –the far north.
R: It is right on the 38thparallel.
I: Exactly, yeah.
R: And I–I don’t know. I–I did visually see an island that was–it–it seemed as though it was three or five thou–miles as well as, which was a North Korean island.
But it was very, very visible. We could see the–the barrels of–.
I: North Koreans, right?
R: Yes North Korean. What? I’m sorry.
I: Because it was North of the real demarcation line.
I: 38thparallel goes this way, but demarcation is go this way.
R: That is correct, yep.
I: So it’s a far North of Korean territory.
R: Yes. And–
R: But every day we would look down the barrel of a machine–of a gun that was on the North Korean island.
I : Were you married at the time?
R: No, I wasn’t.
I: Mm. What was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?
R: Truly, I can’t think of any.
I: Isolation really?
R: Not really.
I: Not too much in–
R: Not–not–not really. I mean, we had.
I: But you were back–member of basketball team, you know, that’s a very exceptional.
I : How many–how many U.S. soldiers be on the team, you know?
R: Well, not–not many. But the–one of the secrets of the military, and I found out after–the reason, or one of the main reasons, that teams from Korea don’t win games in Japan is that as so– [imen] are being transferred to Korea they–their–their military records are checked and if they have any sports capabilities they get suddenly
mysteriously transferred to a base in Japan.
R: So that–. They–they keep all the talent in Japan so…
I: We need to sue them.
R: I was one of the lesser talented people.
I: Oh [laughing].
R: I was the mys–I was the mystery man.
I: You are too honest.
R: Shame to–shame to admit it.
I: That’s your problem.
R: [laughing] Right.
I: What do you see–when did you leave Korea?
R: I left Korea in the–around the end of 1961.
R: And from there–one of the–one of the real benefits of being stationed in Korea.
R: Was you had your choice of assignments when you left. And I went consecutive in Germany and spent two years in Germany before I was separated.
R: Unfortunately, I had an –a pretty serious car accident in Germany on Friday the 13thof September 1963 and…
I: On Autobahn?
R: No–I–I’m not sure. It was late in the evening and returning– I was in the back seat returning–
R: from a night on the–on the town.
I: You know, that’s what happened to the Korean War Veterans who enlisted or drafted. They wanted to be in somewhere in Europe, Germany,
I: but ended up being in Korea.
I: Went through all this hell at a war, coming back, but now the Korea came out
beautifully out of that miserable devastation. So that’s why they are proud of themselves.
I : And that is the legacy of Korean War Veterans. You are the successor of the Korean War Veteran, right?
R: That is correct, yes.
I: Korea Defense Veteran. What do you think is the legacy of the Korean Defense Veteran? Korean Defense Veteran. What is–what is the legacy of them? You? What is your legacy?
R: I–I–I don’t think that
we have a legacy. We served. We filled a void. We–we’ve done, in my opinion, a very good job of keeping the North Koreans separated and minding–almost minding their own business.
I: Yeah that’s it.
R: I mean there’s–there’s a challenge there, but I mean we–we certainly drew the line and–. It–it–it really is it–it–its interesting. I–I belong to a couple of,
you know, military organizations, Air Force organizations.
I: Like what?
R: Oh. Well, the Korean War Veterans. But the d–Disabled American Veterans.
R: The Sampson Air Force Base Society.
R: But every time that we get together and have a lunch or talk over the table, invariably the rock will come–be mentioned.
R: And someone will look and say–
I: Yeah. Yep. Yep.
R: When were you at the rock, on the rock? You know, it was a–
I: Wow. Do you want to go back to Korea?
R: I would, yes. I would–
I: You’re a little bit hesitating.
R: No not, no, not at all, I just–I–I treasure the memories of being there. I wish that I–probably wish that I had been more involved and
done more. We had–on PY-do there was a–there was a Catholic missionary who had come there.
R: And helped the–the Korean population improve on the–on the island. It was interesting.
I: What do you think about your service in Korea and the Korea that you know now and how do you put that together?
R: Well, I–I–I was I was proud of my experience there. I really was. That’s unusual situation spending most of my time on PY-do there wasn’t a heck of a lot that we could do. I mean, there was no recreation, other than playing softball on the beach.
And playing cards a lot after. When–when we weren’t working, everyone would get together. That’s was really all there was to do.
R: The like–like I say, everything was in Quonset huts in–in–including the latrines. At 3 o’clock in the morning chugging across the cold [laughing]. Cold open spaces to get to the bathroom was…was…
Male Voice: doesn’t sound like fun.
R: Well, it was interesting. But–
Yeah I–I’m–I’m–I’m all on board with–with your effort. I think that that would be… I think its–I think its overdue. It–it–it gave me a real clear vision of how misunderstood the National Guard and Reserves
R: are thought of. They–they contribute the same as the active forces
do and yet everyone thinks of them as just National Guard.
R: and that’s–that’s not–not keen.
I: My next focus is about the Korea Defense Veteran because they’re never been really nationally recognized–
I: About their service.
[End of Recorded Material]