Richard Whitford is a Korean Defense Veteran, meaning that he went to Korea after the armistice was signed. His role there was to be a radio repairman and assist in communication. He describes his basic training, including learning this trade. He also explains how Korea has transformed today because of the war.
Richard Whitford describes his experience in Basic Training. He first went to Lackland Air Force Base and then South Carolina where he learned to march and survive in tough terrains. He then began his training in radio repairs.
The Korean Economy Today
Richard Whitford describes what he knows about the Korean economy today. He made a comparison to how Japan developed after World War II. He states that they went to Korea to help, not to take anything away.
0:00:00 [Beginning of Recorded Material]
R: Richard Whitford. W H I T F O R D.
I: What is your birthday?
I: So, you’re pretty young?
I: Compared to other veterans.
R: Yep, I’m 80 years old.
I: So, just 80 years old.
R: Yep, just 80.
I: [chuckles] Where were you born?
R: I was born in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Well, I…that’s the biggest city there. It was actually Institute. We had a, my dad had a farm there. And I was born, I think, on the farm.
I: What is the name of the….
I: So, I …
R: The best known fact about it would be Sevastopol.
I: Oh, Sevastopol. Could you spell it? [pause] S E
R: S A V A S T O P O L E. Or P O L, I think. I’m not sure that’s how it’s spelled. I don’t even remember.
I: Okay, Wisconsin, right?
I: And tell me about your family when you were growing up. Your parents and your siblings.
R: Well, I lived up there until I was eight years old. On that farm. I went to Sevastopol school and, uh, well we had a 60 acre farm. And my dad worked in the shipyard at Sturgeon Bay.
I: Mm Hmm.
R: He drove back and forth and, uh, we…while we had a small, you know, for the cows. We’d get a couple cans of milk and we had some chickens and ducks and other things that, like, farmers do. And it was more of a self-survival farm. That’s what it amounted to. And I lived there until I was 8 years old. I was in the third grade and my mother and father were divorced and I moved with my grandfather and grandmother on my mother’s side with my mother…
I: Mm Hmmm.
R: To.. in…that was in Nasewaupee. And, uh, I don’t know how to spell that either. Oh god…
I: Don’t worry about it.
R: It’s right on the west side of Sturgeon Bay. It’s on the side of the bay before you cross…The other one was up on the northern side. [0:02:30 – Holds up hand]. It’s shaped like that and we were up here at Sturgeon Bay right here. [Motions to area between thumb and index finger].
I: Mm hmm.
R: We were up in here.
I: So, when did you graduate high school?
R: I graduated, I didn’t graduate. I quit in ‘54.
I: ‘54. And did you join the…
R: I joined the Air Force right away.
I: Right away.
R: I was, I think, just turned 18 or just…I can’t remember.
I: Mm Hmm. And…
R: So long ago. I had the car accident and my memory [motions to head].
I: And in your school, in your education, have you learned anything about Korea?
R: Oh, we knew…we knew we were in war with them.
I: Yeah, right.
R: We, you know, studied a little bit about, you know, the country, the terrain, and we knew it had a lot of hills and rice patties and stuff. And uh…
I: You learned it from school?
R: Yes, we did.
I: Wow, that’s good, actually. Because other Korean war veterans, they never learned anything about Korea. Because they are the ones who, I mean, they were born around ‘29 and, you know,
they graduated around the time the Korean War broke out. And before that, they didn’t learn anything about Korea.
R: No, I don’t…During the Korean War, I learned about it.
I: Because the war broke out, right?
R: We learned what the terrain of the country was and, uh, we knew some of us would be going in.
R: So, we, you know, you know, some of us learned a little bit more about it. We took it, what we would be and while when they were fighting, 180, 190. Then, uh, we learned what it was and there was also, uh, motion pictures brought back the history of the country and what we were fighting over there.
I: Oh, you saw that motion picture? What did you see? What do you remember?
R: Oh, alls I remember is the shells flying and the explosions and a lot of land mines, vehicles were supposed to drive over. And, uh, I just remembered the war part of it…
I: So, Korean War, right?
I: So, it was the motion picture before the movie begins, right?
R: It was, uh, it wasn’t a motion picture. It was some clippings of what others had sent or had sent home. And put together in a small 8mm film made out of it. And, but uh, out of the clippings, they blew them up and got the explosions and stuff. Made it, made everything look worse than it was. I think, I don’t know.
I: Hmm. Mm Hmm.
R: After we got over there, stayed a little bit more. We did move around. We found out where these places were. I went…. I flew into Seoul, which is near….
I: Hold on, hold on. You are going too fast. So, when you enlisted to Air Force, where did you get the basic training?
R: I got it in Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio.
I: San Antonio, right? And how long was it?
R: Well, three months, about. Is what basic training is. And we went to South Carolina for special troop training and that was only about six weeks. It’s just something over and above what we had at basic.
R: We learned how to march, and we learned how to survive in the rough. It’s the thing we would have to survive it. And, uh, and we went to the second school. [0:07:00] And we were…they assigned us to what they call TIA school. Those are technical education schools, which was radio mechanic.
R: Yes, 3042b was the nomenclature of it. I, uh, we were ground radio repairmen.
I: How was it? Did you, were you able to learn really quickly?
R: Yes, I was good at what I did, uh, until I had my head injury and my, everything I can’t grasp stuff.
I: We’ll talk about that injury to your head, but later. And so you learned to fix the radar.
R: Right. Radios.
R: Right, to operate radios. It was to intercept, where we transferred…Sayings we intercepted from other places, we transferred them back to Japan.
R: And, that, you know, the interceptor was a place where things came in and back out.
I: But this was just learning in the school, correct?
R: No, this was in Korea.
I: Right, okay. But we’re talking about after South Carolina, where did you go?
R: Oh, Scott Air Force Base in Illinois. That’s where we took the radio training school.
I: Uh huh.
R: I was there, I don’t know, about six to eight months. And I was transferred right away to Korea.
I: Korea, from where?
R: From Scott Air Force Base to Korea.
R: I, uh, we flew out of Scott. [pause] And we landed at some other base and then we, uh, took a bus the rest of the way to San Francisco.
And we did, we got on the US W.A. Mann, which was a ship, a ship that transported troops. And, uh, I can’t even remember how long we were on the thing. But uh, I remember going down between the waves and looking up at the sights. And you know you would be way down in [motions with hand] and coming back up, sitting up top. And uh, when you see it, it’s scary and all, but if you don’t have the stomach for it, you’d get sick.
I: But when did you leave for Korea? 1950?
R: That’d be ‘55.
I: Okay. And where did you arrive in Korea?
R: At, uh, we arrived in Japan first, then we flew from [unintelligible] Japan to Korea.
R: K55, which is at Seoul.
R: Well, it’s near Seoul.
R: It’s…I don’t know.
I: K55. K15?
R: No, K55. K 5 5.
I: Okay. And, you learned, you learned something about Korea, but not much, right?
I: When you first landed in Korea and, first time you ever be in Seoul, how, what did you see? How was the situation there? And what were you thinking?
R: I was. I would. I don’t know. I was just thinking about where I was going and uh, where they were going to put us and that was just our headquarters. I can’t remember what it was, it was a SAC base. [pause]. I don’t exactly remember what it was. We had big planes there. [pause] But I mean, I can’t figure it out today.
I: Mm hmm.
R: And uh, [mumbles] oh we had C119s and C124s and C46s, 47s. It was, uh, a big, I think it was SAC.
R: I’m not sure. I know a general, general, the head Air Force man was the big wheel there.
I: Mm hmm. But I want you to tell us about the Korea you saw for the first time. How was Seoul? How was the area where you landed? And how did people, Korean people, look to you? And what were you thinking? What was your first image?
R: By that time, our Air Force base were built up. We had, you know, had time to build…see the armistice was signed on the 31st of January in ‘55.
I: Mm hmm.
R: And this was after the armistice was signed. I was over there.
R: So, everything was, everything was run pretty smooth.
I: Uh huh.
R: Korean people were glad to see us.
I: Mm hmm.
R: And Annyeonghaseyo. I can’t remember a lot of the things I learned. Uh, that was the way of saying hi. And uh, we, then we were more or less kept quiet. I don’t know why, but we were put into a barracks and then we were uh, told we were being transferred by truck to K2.
R: Which is Taegu.
R: And we went, that’s about 100 and some miles south of Seoul.
I: Yep. And what was your unit?
R: We were, we were just…what were we called? I can’t remember. Intercept. We were, uh, radio intercept for, which, and transfer.
We transferred signals to, like I said, Japan and, I think we had one of our FM sites was set up to go to, uh, we transferred between sites and each site was transferred, would transfer back to Japan or one of the other countries we transferred it to. And all this information was being sent back to the states.
I: What kind of communication did you intercept? Did you know what’s the content of the communication that you intercepted?
R: There was no way. We were crypto people, but we could not intercept the actual messages and interpret them.
R: So, this is all interpreted by special people.
R: And they, once it’s coded and put through, FM is line of sight transmission in which we didn’t have the modern day stuff.
I: So, they have to decrypt it and then decode it so that they can learn what’s the content of it.
R: That’s right.
I: But how do you know that this is the enemy communication? How do you intercept it?
R: We…there, we had….everybody had certain frequencies that they heard. And we have radio receivers
that would pick up these signals. And we’d automatically put them in…we would put them through a crypto and would send them back to our country. That’s where they were supposed to go.
I: So, there is no way that the enemies can use the same frequency as you?
R: yeah, they can intercept our frequencies.
I: Yeah but they can use
R: they’ve got theres.
I: But they can use same frequency as you or ours, right?
I: So, how do you know that this is the enemies other than, uh, you know, it’s a friendly communication between us?
R: um, that’s, well at one point, I don’t know how it. There are, when it, when their stuff comes in, it was on a different…like, uh wavelength of the frequencies.
I: I see.
R: Then it breaks down into…
R: Like you got so many FM stations, but you’ll get 93…..and…
I: Yes, yes.
R: but on the frequency, each one of them is assigned to their own country and that’s what they were supposed to be using. And they had the right to intercept ours too.
I: How many intercepts per day can you average out while you were there in Taegu?
R: Um, we never really, we were just, we had the equipment and we intercepted it, and put it right back out. Our receivers received it and our transmitters transmitted back out. See we pick it up coming from, uh, say, um way up north…up on the Manchurian part.
It’d be that far, you know, they were transferring messages back and we’d, we’d intercept it and then re-transfer it back to our people at the coordinate.
I: so you are able to cover that far?
I: Up in the north there in Manchuria?
R: Well, FM is line of sight. It was a straight line and with all the mountains and stuff is
why we had to have certain points at such a height in order to pick up our own signals that were transmitted back to us.
I: Mm hmm.
R: and we just happened to be in the line that, theirs were coming through and we’d pick them up and just transfer them back to our headquarters.
I: Tell me about the life in Taegu. Where did you sleep? What did you eat? How was it?
R: We were our station about a mile away from our, the compound was the eighth army, had a medical compound there. And, uh, we were stationed on there, in their buildings. And we ate their mess at their mess hall. And uh, went to their, and their anci-….I think everyone went to their ancillary officers club. And there you met the girls on Saturdays.
I: Mm hmm.
R: There we were, uh, transferred and we…in the mornings we were at the…if we were working nights or we were working mornings or whatever we were working. We get in our jeeps and drive over to…uh…drive through the city of Taegu up to this…to one of their schools. One of the Korean schools. It was a pretty nice building and everything. We were transferred up there. Well, we had all our own quonset huts set up and everything and they still used the building.
Just used the hill. It was the highest point at that level that we could put our intercept.
I: Where did you sleep? In the quonset hut? Or…
R: We slept…uh, well we hat quonsets down on the…what do you call it? Uh, the army, army medical center there. I keep forgetting the….
the eighth army had a medical center that looks like a MASH unit, which was the big thing in Korea. That were assigned…they were assigned certain places and they couldn’t…they moved.
I: Mobile hospitals.
R: And uh, but they stayed…they were there when we came and there when we left.
I: Mm hmm.
R: We got…our unit got shut down and we were sent back to K-55.
And that was…we were there about six-seven months. Then we went back to K-55. We drove…we put all of our equipment in the trunks then drove it.
I: Was Taegu downtown pretty much destroyed or, how was it?
R: No, Taegu downtown was in very good condition.
I: Uh huh.
R: It hadn’t been too, too badly hit from the war.
I: How about Korean people there? Were they looking for anything to eat? Was it desperate situation, or how was it?
R: Uh, they were, they weren’t real desperate, but we were…had, went over all their rice patties and all that, well, was messed up, but uh, and the walls that were built to hold the water, a lot of them, there were places where pieces were blown away.
I: Uh huh.
R: Because we used to drive our jeeps up on top and driving down the wall, you could only go so far because there was a big chunk blown out of it.
And you better be able to back up straight. [chuckles]
I: Yeah, right.
R: Because they were only so wide and you had a, you know, back up right straight down. The reason we done this is for entertainment and for a chance to go swimming and stuff.
I: What was your rank at the time?
R: I was Army Second Class.
I: Which means?
R: I was the, let me see…
basic, third, and second. I was A…what…A4.
I: But rank means here, not PFC, but private?
R: It’s like uh, like a PFC.
I: Okay, PFC. Okay.
R: It’s uh…actually, a PFC would be a second and we were…
I: PFC was tge….
R: Next to a staff sergeant. We weren’t the staff sergeant but we’re next to it.
R: We had…
I: It was like a private.
R: Right. We had a…see…there’s Army Basic, Army First, I mean Army Third, Army Second, and Army First. Then you become a Staff Sergeant. So, there were five.
I: Mmm hmm. How much were you paid?
R: [Laughs] I don’t know. We were, at the time, I think we were getting 79 dollars a month.
Oh wait, I…might have had a lot going home. Because I sent my family money, you know, to help out. Uh [pause], I think 79 dollars a month is what we get. That was what they paid then.
I: But still you were able to save it, right? Because there is not much to spend it for.
R: Well, you would….you had to buy all of your own, um, stuff for shaving and that kind of stuff. And you had…see we were stationed on..then we went back to K2 to where the port PX was where we could buy stuff. That’s the only place where we could buy because while we could buy at the army PX still. But it wasn’t it… they didn’t put the PX where the K2 was.
The Air Force seemed to have more stuff in their PX and stuff then the army did.
I: What was the most difficult thing to you during your stay in Korea?
R: Most difficult I think was getting back and forth to the school because of the snow and stuff.
I: Snow? Oh okay.
R: In the wintertime. And that’s the biggest part of the time I spent was in the winter. And uh, well the Koreans, they had a tendency to walk out in front of you. They didn’t, uh, you could lay on your horn and stuff so that they’d know you were coming, but they still walked out in front of you.
I: And there were no enemy threat at all, right? Especially in the south like Daegu.
R: No, we were that far south that it was quiet. The only time that we had a few that wanted to get into the compound, but uh, the army took care of that. They, uh, they had their guards and we had to patrol it too, but uh, the army had their guards and they took care of it. Their MPs took care of it.
I: Were you able to write letter back to your family?
R: Oh yeah.
I: You were not married at the time, right?
I: Whom did you write to and what did you write about?
R: Well, I wrote a list of what we were doing and what was happening in, what we were seeing, and uh, how the difference of living there and, like you were asking about if people, if the Koreans had enough and stuff. Well, how they were eating and, well, they had their Kimchi and stuff.
Their pots, they’d bury them in the wintertime and yeah, or in the summertime. Whenever they put it in the kimchi pot, then they would bring it out in the wintertime and eat it.
I: Mm hmm.
R: And there was…
I: Did you taste it?
R: Oh yeah.
I: Do you like kimchi?
R: [shrugs shoulders] It was, it’s cabbage and all your vegetables fermented. Well, not fermented. They’re, uh…
I: Yeah, it’s fermented. Yes.
R: Okay, that’s…they, they cure them. And uh, they’re soft and everything’s soft. You don’t, there isn’t much meat in Korea because…
R: They had very few cows and stuff. They were slowly brought in but…I did see small, like a small dairy farm. I think, that would have been down in Cheju.
We went down there for R-and-Rs. Every so often, we’d get to take off from our compound or, where we’re staying and fly down to the island.
I: So you, you did go to Cheju island, right? Korean War veterans went to Japan.
R: Right, most of them, well, we had the right…the choice. Well, this was like on a pass.
I: Oh, you were able to go to Japan too?
R: We went to Japan on um, we had to have at least, what was it, a two week pass. And when we went down to Cheju, we could go down in three days.
I: I see.
R: And that was mainly the officers that went down there. And we were considered higher-ups because we were alone. We weren’t stationed on an Air Force base where they went through their training processes,
the marching and all that. We didn’t have our inspections like everyone else did.
I: Where did you get…how did you get the injury to your head?
R: My, uh, that was in ‘57. I was in a car accident.
I: In…after you came back from Korea?
R: Yes, I was back from Korea.
I: I see.
R: I was home on leave and I was on my way back, driving my own car and, um, in Lewisburg, New Mexico. I, uh, it was monsoon season, [0:28:00] like you call over there. That’s what happens that while the southern states, they get rain and it washes roads out and everything. It still happens.
R: Well, it’s still happening today. Look at the trouble they’re having uh…when…
I: Yeah, go ahead.
R: With the roads and stuff today, they’re still warning you not to take certain roads, and stay off of them because,
if they’re under water, don’t drive on them, because….
I: Yep. Um, what was your first feeling when you landed in a country that you never really knew much about it? What was the first feeling? What was the first image? What were you thinking to yourself? What will be the adjective to describe your feeling when you saw the first time the Korea? Be honest, okay?
R: Well, uh, as good as I can remember it. Uh, I remember coming in, we were flying over the hills and we landed at Seoul. Well, we landed on the out…what they called Seoul. A K-55. And uh, we didn’t get a chance to do much. We kept rushing around, rushing around. And then they put you in the barracks and you’re held there until they decide where you’re going.
They set us up there on that biggest hill there and our sergeants and officers for our unit were stationed and…
I: Yeah, but after, I mean you don’t…it doesn’t have to be the first, the moment that you landed, but after you were there in Korea, what were you thinking about Korea? What did you think about Korea? At the time.
R: People there got pretty bad living. That was some of my first thinking. And uh, I know how hard they had it and they had a large number of people a lot of times, sometimes that there, was sometimes nothing to eat there.
R: They’d gladly, you know, take bread or anything that they could get from us.
I: Mm hmm.
R: So uh, it was, uh,
just the idea of trying to be friendly is why we were giving them some of our stuff.
I: So, it looked miserable, right?
R: Right. It looked miserable at that time.
I: The K-55 is Osan.
R: That’s Osan.
I: Yeah, Osan. Okay.
R: We always said Seoul because that was the biggest city there I think.
I: Mm hmm.
R: And, um, the biggest thing on that… [0:31:00] we said Seoul because we said Seoul on our letters.
I: Have you been back to Korea since then?
I: No. But are you following up with the Korean economy and Korean democracy? What’s going on there and how, how the Korean economy is now?
R: Well, uh, it’s just about [unclear] to say that South Korea, that the North Koreans want to take it over all the time. They wanted control of it. [0:31:30] Uh, or as far as we’re still over there.
I: But do you know about the Korean economy or how big that is now?
R: Oh, it’s tremendous.
I: Tell me about it. What do you know about the Korean economy?
R: Well, from what I’ve learned about, you know, how it’s been built up and uh…
I: How did you learn about it?
R: Well, from just, the cars and stuff that comes over here that are built over there and uh,
we learned that, we’ve done the same thing in Japan. After the war and after the bombings and stuff, then we built them, we tried to build them back up. To show our gratit– to show our friendship, that we were there to help, not to hinder. We weren’t there to take anything away from them. It was to help them.
I: Have you seen modern Seoul, Korea?
R: [shakes head and mouths “no”].
I: Picture, picture?
R: No, I haven’t had a chance to.
I: But you know how drastically improved, right?
R: From what it was said, they said there are building there that….there were huts and stuff before. There was a few bigger stores, but mostly that stuff had got wiped out from the war.
I: Yeah, the Korea is very small country. You know that right? It’s a little bit bigger than the Indiana state.
R: It’s that small? I never realized that. Wow.
I: That’s very small, right? And you know, completely destroyed and people were miserable looking for…
R: Looking for anything to eat.
I: Anything to eat, right?
I: Now it’s the eleventh largest economy in the world. There are about 200 countries in the world.
I: And South Korea is the eleventh largest economy in the world.
R: Wow, I have to get back over there and go back about it.
I: Yeah, you better go back. You better see it, right?
R: Well, I’m too old to go back now.
I: No, you are very young. Now the Korean War veterans are there, are going back. 85, 86. They still going back.
R: Oh yeah.
I: You will not believe your eyes if you see Osan Air Base right now.
I: It’s so big. My father used to work there.
R: [nods head].
I: He was Air Force. Yeah, he retired as a, what is it, uh, Major General.
R: Major General. [mumbles] he had three stars. [Motions to right shoulder]
I: No, two stars, I’m sorry.
R: Two stars, that’s a Lieutenant General.
I: Lieutenant General. No, no, no, no, no. Major General is two star and Lieutenant General is three star, right?
R: Well, I don’t know. Whatever.
what do you think about this transformation from the country you saw in 1955 and now you know Korean economy is very strong. What do you think about this transformation?
R: That’s tremendous. Well, uh, the Korean people, they could take a beer can and make a cigarette lighter.
R: And, umm, well, our people wouldn’t do something like that. I mean, not from this country, we don’t…
I: You don’t have to.
R: No, we had everything given to us. Well, and we had to work for it, but we still, like, it was there. Everything was here. We could do everything because we had everything. This country was a gift of God’s. We had more minerals more everything than any other countries got.
I: Korea has no drop of oil. We don’t have any oil.
R: [Nods head]. I know that.
I: But we import 100 percent of gasoline, I mean oil, from other countries. But we are now eleventh largest economy and seventh largest trading partner to the United States. Do you know the largest trading partner to the United States?
I: Japan, European countries, right? EU.
But Korea, that small country, is the seventh largest trading partner.
R: And it’s only the size of Indiana. Whoaaaa [laughter]. I always thought it was bigger than that.
I: No. Just about the Indiana.
R: When you’re over there, you don’t…when you’re up on the hills and you see from one hill and you [points finger], it’s just. Well, there’s Hill 180 way up there. And we got our big telescopes and such [0:36:30] and we could see them. Even back in the fifties, we had big equipment like that.
I: So, you are called a Korea Defense Veteran.
I: Because you were there after the war, right?
I: But since after the war, since the war in 1953 ended, there has been US forces there in Korea all the time.
I: Sometimes up to 20,000. Mostly 60,000.
R: Yeah, that’s mostly 60,000.
I: Now we have about 30,000. Little less than 30,000 US forces there and 300,000 American people living there.
R: Hooo [makes surprised face]. Well, I know a lot of them. GIs that went back who were married to Koreans.
I: But there are many Americans working in the economy in Korea, you know.
So, you are the Korea Defense veteran and you have contributed to the development of Korean economy, and you know?
R: Well, we tried. We’d buy trinkets and all that. Like I said, cigarette lighters from beer cans and you’d see the emblem in the beer cans and see inside the lighter, the can was folded. But they worked hard to get chrome-plated and all that.
I: The were skillful, right?R: Very skillful. And they didn’t have nothing to work with. Look what they done with jeeps that were blown in pieces. They made jeeps out of them.
I: Oh really?
I: So, what would you say to our young student in the school about the Korean War and your service? About Korea?
R: I’d say, well, you’ve done a very good job, [0:38:30] at, uh, your people are…well, I can’t really say that, I don’t like the way it makes Americans sound, but that you’re a lot smarter than most of us. We have better educations, most of us had, but uh, because well, you didn’t all have it. But you had schools and everything. But, you learned your basic necessities from what we could see, from the schools that were alongside of us. We were stationed right on [mumbles] there.
They didn’t come on their bicycle or anything. There weren’t balls or anything to play ball with. They were glad to get one from us. We’d be out there playing catch and throw a ball one in awhile. And they’d play catch and, and this was in, and the war was over. But they were still, I’d say, dependent on it.
They were looking, that hill was protected because we were on it.
I: Yep. Great to talk to you. Thank you for sharing your story and thank you for your service.
R: Thank you.
I: Thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]