Robert Fitts served in the Korean War as a mechanic and later as a Staff Sergeant. He provides insight to a serviceman’s journey to Korea as he shares his personal account. His experiences as a mechanic and Staff Sergeant along with what he considers the most difficult part of service both left lasting impressions on him. He recalls his return home from service overseas encountering nonchalant Americans who didn’t care about his service in the war, including family members. He speaks highly of his service and is proud of South Korea’s accomplishments since the war.
Seasickness En Route to Korea
Robert Fitts details his journey to Korea aboard a ship. He experienced sea sickness and as did other servicemen on board. He recounts his arrival in Japan and narrates his transport from there to Korea and to his post in Korea via train.
Driving to the Front Lines
Robert Fitts was promoted to Motor Sergeant/Staff Sergeant and was in charge of assigning drivers to tasks among other duties. He shares the story of a driver's willingness to carry supplies to the front lines for another driver who returned with a vehicle maintenance issue. He details the outcome of the second attempt.
Most Difficult Part of Service
Robert Fitts vocalizes his opinion on the most difficult part during service. He expresses that learning to get along with others was difficult due to constant rearrangements of servicemen. He attributes his ability to think on his own to this reality.
Return Home with Veteran Pride
Robert Fitts shares his experience returning home to no reception. He states that no one, including his family members, questioned him about his service. Looking back, he shares he is proud to be a Korean War veteran and is proud of what South Korea has accomplished since the war.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
R: Robert Fitts. R O B E R T F, uh, Fitts. F I T T S.
I: Fitts. Does have any ethnic origin of this last name, Fitts? Is it
R: Not necessarily.
I: Not nec
R: My great, great grandfather was in the Civil War and, uh, that, and then, uh, I had an uncle in the second world war. But, uh, that’s about it.
I: Okay. What is your birthday?
I: One year after the Depression.
I: Wow. Where were you born?
R: Mount Vernon, Illinois.
I: Mount Vernon.
R: No, No. Mt. for here.
I: And tell me about your family, uh, including your parents and siblings when you were growing up?
R: I was growing up, uh, in a, a family.
It was kind of a backwards family, living in the hills of Southern Illinois, and, uh, I was one of five children. I was in the middle. Older brother and older sister. Younger brother and younger sister.
R: And, uh, uh, my father grew up on the farm, but he come in and started running a, a gas station when I was in, uh, uh,
R: And, uh, high school, and, uh, I, um, of course when I was in high school, uh, you’d kind of go, come home from school, eat something and then go and run the station from 5:00, 5:30 to about 10:00.
I: Gas station?
R: Gas station.
I: So your father owned the gas station?
R: He, yeah. He didn’t own the building, but he, yeah, he owned the gas station.
I: Oh, that’s nice.
R: And we run, uh, and, uh, I, [INAUDIBLE]
So I never got to participate in any
R: Sports or anything
I: Spo, oh,
R: Because I was always working and, uh, that was part of our legacy. I mean, you worked, you know,
R: And you didn’t fool around.
R: And, uh, the worst, the unusual part about it, my mother was, uh, a very backward person and very angry, frustrated person.
And that made it, had a deep effect upon me, uh.
R: You took a bath in the tub, bathtub or, uh, you know, tub behind the heating stove, uh, maybe once a week and then if you, if she had been angry at you, you got beaten black and blue
R: And, uh, and she, and that was, uh, and then, uh,
my older sister and my older brother didn’t graduate from high school. I graduated from high school.
I : When did you graduate high school?
R: Mt. Vernon?
I: Mt. Vernon, and when was it?
R: Uh, in 40, uh, 8.
R: Yeah. I graduated ’48.
I: And did you know anything about Korea at the time that you were learning in school?
R: No. Uh uh.
I: They didn’t teach about Korea?
R: No, no, no. There’s no, uh, World War II was the big thing when we were there, and, uh, they, uh, one of the things that I mean I don’t know if you want this or not. But anyway, uh, in the fourth grade they sent me back. They said you can’t read, or you can’t learn. And that just knocked all my confidence in me and
R: Finally, the second year, the teacher
said well, did you ever have his eyes examined? No. What’s getting eyes examined? My parents they didn’t know anything about it, and, uh, they examined my eyes, and the only thing I could see out of this eye was a great big E. So I wore glasses thick as Coke bottle [INAUDIBLE] you know and, uh, but it, I feel that that had a real effect for me getting confidence back when somebody tells you and puts you back, you know.
R: It, uh,
But, uh, the second year, second [INAUDIBLE]. But, and, uh, then I grew up and, uh, I got married for all the wrong reasons, uh. We didn’t, never been out of Southern Illinois. Never been out of town. Al the girls are getting married you know, and and back then when you come out of high school, you got married, you know. And,, uh, the marriage was, wasn’t that, very good. But anyway, um,
the Illinois National Guard came around and, uh, in 19, uh, after second world war was over, uh.
I: So you joined the National Guard?
I: Uh huh.
R: I joined the National Guard. They come around and said well, World War II’s over. No more wars, and you can make some extra money. Of course, that was a part of the Depression and, anything you could do to make a dollar was very, very important. And so that was in 19, uh, ‘48
that I joined and, uh, anyway, uh, and then in 1951 they activated us.
R: And we, uh, uh, were activated, and, uh, I went to Fort Leonardwood in Missouri for three months, mechanics training of course. Growing up around a service station, that was kind of how they have cars and working on cars and being around cars and stuff.
So you were activated in 1951 and went to Missouri to do what? I’m sorry?
R: Uh, mechanics school.
R: Yeah, as a
I: So you were serving in the Army.
R: Yes, uh. When we were activated in, in September of ’51.
I: Um hm.
R: And I went to, uh, Fort Leonardwood for three months’ mechanics training, and then we, as the 44thDivision, we went to, uh, we were sent to California, and after my three months, I
went to Camp Cook, Camp Cook, California and that, for a few months, and, uh, then, uh, they, uh, I got my orders for Korea. I thought we’s gonna go as a unit, you know, the 44thDivision. But they shipped us out individually.
I: You told me that you didn’t know anything about Korea, right?
R: No, I had, I never heard of Korea.
R: And when they said Korea, we said what? What’s that? What’s that, you know?
Where, we didn’t have no idea. Uh uh.
I: Now you are Korean War veteran.
I: And you never imagined that you would be drug into the Korean War, right?
I: So what do you think about that right now? Looking back those 65 years.
I: Um, liv, living as a Korean War veteran and witnessing the modern Korea and everything, what do you think all this?
R: Well, it, it was kind of different, but, uh,
reviewing it from a dis, I feel good about it, you know. It taught me a lot.
R: You grow up, well, in combat. I served with the 7thDivision 32ndInfantry. We were heavy weapons, mortars, machine guns and recoilless, and we were on line on the 38thwhen I got, I got there in September of, of, uh, ’52.
I: Tell me about where did you depart from the United States to Korea.
I: California. Where?
R: Uh, San Francisco.
I: Uh huh. And where did you go?
R: To Japan.
I: So how was the, the ship?
R: We was on a single stacker that bounced around like a cork, and there’s, I think there’s 2,000 or better of us there. You were sick from the first week. I mean, you,
R: Seasick. You were never so sick in your life as that, and you couldn’t, and finally after about, uh, the fourth or fifth day, uh, one of the guys that wasn’t sick, he brought me some crackers and, uh, I kept them down and, um, but you wanted a drink of water, and you’re hungry and you want a drink of water and as soon as the water hit the bottom, you’re, it’s coming back up.
I: Oh boy.
R: You were sick. And the boat where you, uh,
where the bathrooms, they, they were up in the bough and, the boat would flop up and down. If that didn’t make you sick.
I: Oh boy.
R: So it was a rough time going over, and we, 21 days we were out in the boat.
I: Where did you arrive in Japan?
R: Uh, it was September, uh, 11th[INAUDIBLE] of September.
I: Um hm.
R: And, um,
I: Where? Sasebo or Yokosuka?
R: Yo, uh, the main, I can’t remember that,
R: But it was the main part. I mean that’s, and there they put us on and shoot us M1 grands and put us on the firing line as they rode them in. And then we, we was on there about three days or so, and we was on our way to Korea.
I: Where did you go to Korea? Where did you land?
R: At, at, um,
I: Um hm.
R: Tell me about the
Inchon when you first saw it. I mean, you never knew about Korea. Now you saw the Korea, Inchon, that was first. What was the first image? What are the scenes that you remember?
R: Uh, when we got there early in the morning, and it was getting cool then, you know, and it, they said we were gonna disembark, and we stood on the deck of that ship cold metal almost all day. Getting
toward evening, they put us on the train and started us up North.
I: So there must been early October?
I: Uh huh.
R: Yeah. Probably that. But I can remember it was pretty cool that day, and uh, we got on that train and, uh, we drove the day and maybe in, and then, uh, while we were riding, uh, I remember the kids coming out to meet the train, wanting
candy and stuff, but we didn’t have anything, you know, to give them. But and, uh,
I: Were they saying candy, candy?
R: Oh yeah. And the train slowed down and they, you know, the kids were out, uh, and I said we felt bad because we didn’t have anything, you know. Any treats or anything like that to give them. But, and then they put us out in the middle of the night at dark, and they stopped the train and said well, this is where you disembark. So we got and they said there’s some camps out there. It’s completely dark.
You funneled your way and finally found the tent. You had, of course you had your sleeping bag with you, and I bought a pocket warmer in Japan. You know what a pocket warmer is? It’s a little silver thing like that, and it burns lighter fluid.
I: And that makes you warm.
R: It heats up.
R: Hunters use them in their gloves and stuff now. But, uh, I think that helped and, uh, then after that, uh,
the next day, of course some of this is, you forget it I guess, you know. But, uh, I ended up then, up on the front line and, uh, reported in at, uh, I was 7thDivision, 32ndInfantry, How Company.
I: Hold on. What, what was your unit? Slowly.
R: Uh, 7thDivision,
I: Uh huh.
R: 32ndInfan, uh, Regiment.
R: And How, the Company was H Company.
I: H Company.
R: We called it How Company.
I: Uh huh.
R: And went in, and the, um, Officer said, uh, you know anything about machine guns because we were machine guns, recoilless and, and mortars, and I did not have any training on the machine guns and I kept. He said well I need people on the machine gun. I said I’m sorry sir. I, I don’t know any, anything. Course I had no idea what, what was going on, you know? And, uh, I said no. My MOS is
mechanic, and so he finally said well, I’ll call them. Got on the crank phone and called the Motor Pool and said come and get this damn mechanic, you know. So I ended up there and, uh, I knew car, I knew vehicles. I had 13 Jeeps, three ¾ tons and a 2 ½ ton Jeep. They were World War II vehicles and to keep running and, uh, I got there, and there’s
drivers, you know, and, uh, there was a ¾ ton setting out there. I said oh, what’s that? Oh, nobody can fix it. I said I can fix it.
R: So I went out, worked on inspecting those vehicles that are three prime things. You had to have oxygen. You had to have a spark, and you had to have fuel. If it didn’t run, well, those three were missing.
I: Spark. Yeah.
R: You know you had to have a, one of those, uh, if one of those things wasn’t there unless they, then if that’s okay, then you dug deeper and, uh, the, uh, I was their mechanic, and we got maybe a shower once a month, but we was on the line and we was off the line. We was on the line and off the line.
I: Where were you actually? Do you remember?
R: No, I don ‘t.
I: Was it Chorwon?
R: I don’t know. I mean, you get over there, and, or you get there and they don’t
tell you where you’re at or anything else, you know. We just
I: Was it east or west of Korean Peninsula?
R: I don’t know. I,
I: Camp name?
R: Uh, uh, I, there’s no, I don’t, probably didn’t understand the names anyway, you know.
I: Old Baldy or Heartbreak Ridge?
R: Uh, no. Uh, before I came home, I was at, uh, the one I remember was I was on next door to Pork Chop.
R: It was when we, but that was on the truce, I was there when the truce was signed.
I: So you around the DMZ.
R: We went all over the area. I mean anytime they wanted us, uh, and when, uh, I was there and I was a Private when I went, and they gave, made me Corporal, and then I wasn’t a Corporal three months till they said you’re Motor Sergeant. So I became a Staff Sergeant, Motor Sergeant.
I: Um hm.
R: And in charge of the vehicles, and that was my duty to keep some vehicles running
and keeping them, uh, keeping drivers and keeping them going. And so that was my prime and, uh, we were, uh, uh, I said we were back and forth, so we was up on the 38thand, I don’t know, different places, and of course when you moved up, you moved at night, and you didn’t know where you were going or anything. you just followed the convoy, you know, and we brought up the convoy of vehicles and, well I was, I was a mechanic and
And, uh, but, uh, and, uh, but, so I served in that capacity till after the truce was signed.
I: How was the situation, the front line? Were there severe battles always,
R: Yes, there were.
I: Many casualties?
R: Yeah, yeah.
I: Tell me about those.
R: The, uh, thing about it was, uh, like I say we were on 38, and we had put the mortar pool right up against the back of the hill, and
so they couldn’t drop artillery at us, on our mortar shells. They’d go over us and hit out in the road or out there. Of course, the roads were just cow paths.
R: And they would get out there and explode and, uh, but, uh, uh, they, if, kept sending drivers out. I had a good group of guys, and there’s a real camaraderie, I mean, you know, they’re, we’re all doing our job.
And say you got a shower maybe once a month if you was lucky. You’d go down a stream and, and, uh, you’d strip, and they, uh, and take a shower, and they’d come in and give you clean clothes and, uh, I think one of the interesting things the Turks were there with us.
R: Talk about fighters. And, uh, this, if you come in with a shower and, uh, we were in line, and they were
south where we’re in, and a Turk and me and of course and other, other people, you know, and that counter was about that high, and when the South Korean came through, the South Korean behind the counter gave the South Korean almost a new pair of fatigues. When the Turk came in, not too nice a pair of fatigues. He was on that counter and nabbed him by the throat, and, and you could have counted to two till he was up there where
that Turk had him, but he said I want a good pair of fatigues. [LAUGHS] and he was shaking.
R: But, uh, that was one of the stories, I mean, the funny things that happened in the showers. But you really respected them, and they respected you, and they would, uh, we’d send patrols out at night, you know, to see what was going on and listening and so forth, and, and
I: Did you do the patrol, too?
R: Because in motor school.
But, uh, we supplied vehicles and stuff anyway. But, uh, they went, uh, going out there, and they’d build fires. Why do you build fire out there? Well, we put two guys around the fire, and then we got guys all around, and we’d bait them to come in to get the two guys, you know. Then they’d come home with, uh, strained ears.
They carried knives.
I: Yeah. They tough.
R: Yeah. And, uh, that was it. The, I guess, I don’t know how much of this you want. But, uh, the worst part was, um, uh, well, I gotta tell you a funny one first, and I got another one. Uh, the funny one was, uh,
I: Could you speak up a little bit?
R: I, yeah. The funny part one was, uh, I had a, a, we was back in Holding. We’d get,
every once in a while we’d pull back for a couple weeks in Holding and redo the vehicles make sure everything was properly fixed and running and, uh, then we’d move back up closer to the line. And they sent this young man back to be a driver. Of course, if you were there a year, you got to rotate.
I: Um hm.
R: So I had drivers rotating all the time going home. And, uh, I come back and I said where you from, and he said Chicago. He was African-American.
You ever driven a vehicle? No. So I had two weeks to train him, and he caught on pretty quick. He, uh, some of my greatest drivers were African-American.
I: Um hm.
R: And, uh, in fact the company Commander, uh, I put him driving the company Commander was the only Jeep that had a heater in it, and anyway, uh, he caught on very quick, and we were, uh, like, then between Christmas and New Year’s
we was moving back up the line, and we had four vehicles going up, we forded a stream with the vehicles, uh, you know, and it was not a really deep stream. When you get the brakes wet on those vehicles in that cold weather, they’re not the best. But anyway, he got up there a ways, and here he sat in the middle of the road. I said what happened? He got out and said like it’s, I don’t know. It won’t start. We had a short cable with a loop on each end, and hook it on the bumper, on the
trailer hitch of the Jeep and around the bumper, and we kept on jerk and it would start most of the time.
I: Jump start.
R: Yeah. Yeah, a pull start. And, uh, I started to give him a pull to get it going, and I noticed he wasn’t behind me. He, he’d like, he went down an embankment and, uh, it was a dark night, no lights and, uh, I got there about the time he was getting out of his Jeep. Never saw a man’s eyes so big. That’s all I could see of him.
But he, I don’t know if he messed his pants or not, but he, he became a real good driver. I mean, he was really, that qualified him to drive, you know, through rough conditions and everything else. But that’s the first one. But the worst one was, uh, I had another driver, one of, one of the 15 drivers, one of them. Every time I sent him out, he would call me, call, get back to us if, uh, it come back,
He had to come back he broke something or the Jeep wasn’t running or something, and it, I was kind of disgusted at him anyway. So I had another driver that had been driving for two or three weeks and up on line all the time, in and out, and I said, uh, Jim, I want you to come back to the Motor Pool, and we’re driving on line but at least you’re a little more safe there. And I said take some time and, and
maintain your vehicle and make sure it’s running, and I sent this kid up and, and, uh, he, uh, got worded back or came back to the Motor Pool, I don’t know how it happened. Anyway he came back to the Motor Pool. There was something wrong with the Jeep, and Jim was standing there with me and talking and, and, uh, and I, and Jim said well, Bob, he said, I gotta get, supply them guys that need ammo or they need food, and they need this and they need that, and he said I got, and they always had a trailer full of ammo or something by it.
And I said Jim, I, I hate to send you back up, you know. You’ve been up there and doing a good job. You’re one of the better drivers and, uh, so he, uh, and he said Bob, I gotta go. I said okay. So, um, he, um, 4:00 that afternoon they got word to me he, a shell hit him, hit the back of the Jeep. So I had to go up and get the Jeep.
so I went up to get the Jeep, myself and another mechanic and, uh, we go the Jeep and, uh, but he, course he was gone, and the Lieutenant was with him [INAUDIBLE], you know, you didn’t know really what happened. But anyway, but while we were there, um, a, they, uh, they yelled incoming, and when in, when they yell incoming, you hit the dirt.
I hit the dirt. I bounced.
I: Um, what was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea?
R: What was the what?
I: The most difficult thing?
R: I think, uh, learning to get along with other guys. I mean, you’re totally, your parents are not there. Nobody you know’s there, you know? Learning
to get along with people, with other guys and finding that you’re, you’re got, you’re in a common situation, and everybody’s important and everybody does their job.
R: But you’re alone, you know. You’re, and that’s, I think, one of the worst, uh, going over was, you’re with a group when you got on the ship. Of course everybody’s crowded, you know, and, uh, you meet some guys and talk to them and, uh,
when you get to Japan, you’re with another group, and you get to
I: Right. Constantly new people.
R: Oh, new people all the time.
I: Yeah. And you have to deal with them.
R: Yeah, with what, and I said lack of self-confidence, I learned it in a hard way, that I could think for myself and I didn’t have to have my parents or anybody else around. And so anyway. The, uh, but that was part of it. But I think that
with Jim was
R: and I’ll always remember Jim and, uh, he won the, we talked and had talked before, and he wanted to go home and get married and study for a doctor. But, uh, anyway, that, uh, that, it’s, that was it and, uh,
I: Let’s talk about the self-side of the service there, uh, where you sleep, what did you eat? I mean, you said that you had a, you be lucky to have a shower
once a month, right?
I: So tell me about that side of it including Korea.
R: Uh, including Korea, well, you ate a lot of C-rations, and of course we were there over the winter and, uh, if, if we were up close to the front line, they had a cook’s tent, uh, you had your mess kit and you’d go in and a lot it was powdered milk, powdered eggs and powdered, everything is powdered, you know, and put it in
your metal mess kit and run outside and try to eat it before it snowed and 5 or 10 below, you know, or zero, it’d cool. And so it was the, that was it. Then in sleeping, uh, trying to keep warm sleeping.
I: Where’d you sleep? Tent or quonset.
R: We had a little tent, there was four of us in it, and we had a, we did have a, well, it’s like a two-piece pot, and
we had fuel oil running in the bottom of the sand, and that would burn. And that gave off a little heat. But, uh, usually you slept in your sleeping bag and your clothes and your blanket and
I: Must have been very cold.
R: Yes. And, uh, we found if you could get newspapers anywhere or newspapers, newspapers are really an insulation, uh, if you had them on the ground or, or something
R: But it was, it, you just survived, you know. You never thought too much about it. You just did the job and, and, uh, waited, you know, and lived day by day and, uh, the, the [INAUDIBLE]without the driver that had set up and heated when he was at, I was told by the First Sergeant, Sergeant Smith, I told him, I said this is what’s happened, and he said you tell that driver that he’s no longer
a driver. He’s Point Man for Machine Guns Platoon which was ¼ mile or so out in front of everybody. And he was gonna kill me and all this, I said get your butt out of here and, uh, I don’t want to ever see you again, you know. But
I: Were you able to write letters to your family back?
R: Yes. Yeah.
I: What, tell me about the writing letter and receiving letters in the middle of war. What, what was it like?
R: Uh, mail call was a very important thing.
I: What call?
R: Mail call.
I: Okay. Mail call.
R: Mail call is the delivering of the letters or mail, and you always looked to have a letter, and the only one I ever heard from, I never heard from my folks or nothing like that. I did hear from my ex-wife now. But, uh, she’d write me a letter once in a while.
I: Were you married at the time?
R: Yeah, I was married, yeah.
I: Huh. So you were exchanging mail with your wife.
I: Did you have a kid?
R: Not then, no.
I: No. So how was it like to receive letter from your wife?
R: Well, it’s, I mean good. Any mail you could get was, was helpful because I wanted to hear what was going on at home and, and so forth like that.
I: But wasn’t it kind of more, uh, painful because you think
about your wife, and you couldn’t do anything about it.
I: So the letter might have been a kind of reminder of your, sort of isolation and loneliness, things like that, right?
R: Yeah, it was, yeah. And, uh, then, uh, uh, so we got a motor officer in that was, he had lost a bunch of guys up on the front line, and, uh,
he was real, I don’t know how to describe him. But, uh, he didn’t know what he was doing. Anyway here we are working on vehicles and trying to keep them running and everything, and he had, we understood he lost a bunch of guys up on the front line, so they sent him back to be motor officer. But anyway, he said to me come over here. I said what’s wrong with you? I don’t know what’s wrong.
He said that kid’s hat was on crooked, and he didn’t salute me correctly. And then he wanted the vehicles all, if we had them parked at night, he wanted them all in a straight line. I mean, he was just no good and, uh, we didn’t get along very good [INAUDIBLE]Anyway, that was, uh,
I: Um hm.
R: And then, uh, I don’t know what happened, uh, but, uh, I got my eyes infected. I couldn’t open and, uh,
the, uh, they watered and, you know, and they sent me back, uh, to the, all, all the way back to [INAUDIBLE] and, uh, the doctor didn’t know. He said you’re allergic to something or someone. You, you should pour gas and water in, on my eyes, and for a couple weeks, I was there a couple weeks and finally they cleared up. And then we come back up, and then, course I’d left the Motor Pool and, uh, to help, we were digging bunkers
on the line. I was Staff Sergeant sort of thing, and, uh, we, uh, but, uh, then when we were up there we realized that we was on the hill next to Pork Chop, and I never got into the battle, but, uh,
I: How was the situation in Pork Chop Hill?
R: Well, I walked up there after the truce was signed, and you could pick up the
dirt, and it’d fall through your hand and, and uh, uh, there is a, a what we call a weapons carrier. It’s a tank with a top on it, you know, and the back doors open, and they’d haul the wounded and stuff in, and it’s, uh, and, uh, there was one setting there that’s blowed up, and they said it was full of wounded.
I: Um, when did you leave Korea?
R: Let’s see. It was September, uh, sometime in September, I don’t remember the exact date, but
R: Yes. After the truce was signed.
I: After truce. So tell me about the day that truce was signed. What were you doing, and what, how did you feel?
R: Oh, we were all so thankful, yeah. We’s all glad it was over, you know, and, uh, like walking, being able to walk up on
Pork Chop Hill and see the devastation and the, how the, they blowed everything, every tree and, you know, blowed up and everything, and the ground was just saturated with
I: Have you been back to Korea?
I: No. So do, do you know what happened after you left in Korea?
R: Well, I’ve talked to other guys that were pris, I had to [INAUDIBLE]for all those prisoner of war, and he was recuperating, [[INAUDIBLE]and, uh,
but, uh, no. I, uh, I come home and, uh,
I: Did you forget about it?
R: Well, yeah. You do. You try to, I guess, not on, not try, you don’t try to, but you do. I mean, subconsciously. I come home and, uh, the, uh, uh, the, nobody said boo. Nothing, you know.
[INAUDIBLE]fire them up and, allegedly, but [INAUDIBLE] there probably for 25,30 years before anybody said boo. M y parents never asked me about it. My older brother was, had lost out on the family, my older brother is the king, and I, according to my dad, could never do anything right. And, uh,
I: Isn’t this kind of, uh, weird that they don’t really asking
you about your war experience? I mean if your son just returned from the war, you would have asked him, right?
R: Yes, I would, yes.
I: And concerned about it, what happened, what’s going on there, are we doing right or wrong, how was it?
R: I, I think it was an insult to my family that I graduated from high school and my older brother and sister didn’t.
I: I mean, so the American’s really didn’t pay any attention to the War.
R: Nobody said, no.
I: What do you think about that?
R: What could you think about it? There’s nothing you could do.
I: Oh boy.
R: Ah, we were, I got together once in a while with some of the guys in the Illinois Guard [INAUDIBLE]when they were back. We’d get together once in a while, uh, maybe every six months or say we’d just have a meeting, you know, and get together for comments yet. But, uh
there’s no chapters or organizations or anything back at the, you know, just
I: But you know Korea is now 11thlargest economy in the world. The Inchon, the, Inchon that you saw in 1952, not it is known as the world, the best airport, international airport.
R: Yeah, I know, yeah.
I: So you know all about this?
R: Yes, I’ve heard quite a bit of it, and, uh, ship building, it’s one of the biggest ship builders in Korea and
I: Now we are losing edge of that largest ship building business. But what do you think about this? I mean the Korea you saw in 1952 and the Korea you know, you, even though you didn’t see it, you know what’s going on there, what do you think about this?
R: I’m very proud of what they’ve done with what we did, and anytime I’ve tried to recruit Korean War veterans which I do very often, all the time,
is look. If you guys that came in after us, didn’t come in after us and protect and secure what we created, we’d all been down the tubes.
R: You know. And, but I appreciate, and what makes me feel good is that the Korean people have done with the freedom they were given, you know.
And I think that’s very, very, uh, much a part of it, and, uh, so
I: So are you proud?
R: Oh, yeah. I’m proud to be a Korean veteran. I’m, I feel that it was, it was a, a real positive impact upon me growing up in Southern Illinois and not knowing anything about the world or anything. So it’s, it broadens my experience in life, and
uh, I finally begin to life, realize what life was about and so forth.
I: What would you do to make this Forgotten War, the war that Americans never pay attention to it, make it as a more, um, popular or recognizable by the students and school? How, what would you do?
R: Well, I think I, we go in and talk, tell America programs and
the schools and tell them about it. But, most people don’t care. I mean they, World War II was over, and they were sick and tired of war, and I think that was a part, big part of it and, and, uh, even today a lot of people don’t know the, what’s Korea has done and, with what they received, and, but I said that’s one big thing. I really appreciate that, the sacrifices
and say the guys, I know the driver’s killed, too, you know, and. But it’s, it’s, what they’re, they’re sacrificing and talking to other, every Wednesday morning now we got, we’ve been going for 13, 14 years. Every Wednesday morning we have breakfast, and we’ll have anywhere from 12 to 20 guys, and this has been going on 13, 14 years, and it’s a
lot of healing here, uh, you don’t talk about it. Nobody understands what war is itself, you know, and, but when you get a bunch of guys together that’s been there and done that, they begin to talk and then you, you, and I find that they guys, it’s healthy for them to turn loose, finally be able to share. But you gotta have that comradeship and, of course,
you know the ones that’s blowing hot air. I mean, you can almost recognize when they open their mouth.
R: And yeah, that’s about others.
I: But you, as you know, you are 87, right?
R: Yes. 87, yeah.
I: So average age is form 85 – 86 or 7. We not going to live forever, right? So once in 10 years, nobody will survive, and you not going to be able to do, Tell America program, maybe
in the Heaven, but not in here, what are you gonna do? I mean, who’s going to carry your legacy and
R: Well, I think that’s why I try to recruit a lot of Defense veterans, and I do a lot of, uh, I was recruiting, the appointed me as a recruiter last year, and I did that and created a new brochure and everything for recruiting, and we did a lot of work with that. And, uh, to tell people about it
and in fact when I go back, Veterans Day, I got to speak to one of our high schools, about, not only Korean but war in general, [INAUDIBLE] veterans. But I’m, I get bring in my war which is Korea as an example.
I: Yeah. And that’s why we are doing this.
I: You, you understand, right?
I: My Foundation is doing this, and we have more than 800 interviews
R: Yeah, yeah.
I: And it’s going to be permanently speaking.
I: Twenty, 30, 100 years. It will be there in the Internet
R: Yeah, right.
I: And school children and teachers will learn from this interview
I: About the way that the American public reacted to your return.
R: Yeah. Yeah. [IMAUDIBLE]
R: But, you know, it, it’s, you go, you come home and, and, uh, I don’t know if you want to hear what I did or not after I come home.
I: Yeah, but I want to talk about National Director.
You are the National Director of Korean War Veterans Association.
R: Yes, yes.
R: Um hm.
I: Are you the Commander of Illinois still?
R: I was Commander of the State of Illinois for about seven years.
I: You was, right? You were.
R: Yeah, I, I finally gave that up when they voted, made me National Director because I didn’t want to, I want to give other guys a chance to just know what you’re talking about to get over it and help the nation
so people will know this.
I: I know Illinois has a lot of Korean War veterans and Korea Defense veteran, right?
I: But I haven’t had a lot to do a series of interviews like this.
I: Would you be helpful organizing series of interviews in your State?
R: Oh yeah, yeah. I think it would, and I’ve, we have a, about three or four people that want to write books, and ever, you know, they approach you, uh,,
and we back off the guys, you’re background and what you’re doing I think is very much more important than the people who want to write a book or write a story and make money off of it, and I back off. I said no.
I: Um hm.
R: We, we’re not gonna do that, and, uh, there’s a guy in college now, and he came around and he, he wants to do stories, uh. Abraham Lincoln’s library in Springfield, uh,
they did a, a, six, seven years ago they come up and did something, and that was a little gentleman grewand several of our guys. But we got some guys that probably, and some of them, we got a Marine that was in the Chosan, and he [INAUDIBLE] I mean he went through hell.
I: Yeah. I just came from San Diego, all of us this year I had a interview of 60 Chuncheon Battle
R: Uh huh.
I: veterans. Sixty of them, Chosin Few.
R: Yes, yes.
I: So we have a so many interview already
I: But I want to, uh, have a chance so there are, my Foundation can go your state and go around local chapters and as many as possible because as you know, the importance of this interview will be your legacy.
R: Yeah, yeah.
I: In 100 years.
R: Yeah, yeah.
I: And we need to tell
and teach. So
R: Yeah, right.
I: So as a National Director of KWVA, please help us so that we can have a series of interviews in Illinois which is big
R: Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah.
I: Both Korean War veterans and Korea Defense veteran.
R: Yeah, right. Well, we got some the Rock Island Arsenal there, and I’ve been recruiting people from there that are active now that have been in Korea, served in Korea, and so we, we’re pushing that now.
R: To get ne, new recruits and, uh, and then the Vietnam guys that have also served in Korea, we got several of those that are already members of our chapter
R: And were, re, re, it’s hard work. The Korean veterans themselves now, they got physical problems. They got family problems, and, and joining an organization isn’t top priority.
R: For their, uh,
R: For them.
So let me help you.
I: We visit there, and then we do interview we can use as a history textbook, digital.
I: Right. You want to say about the, your life after you returned from Korea? Yeah. Do it. What is it?
R: Okay. Uh, I was, had a youth group, church youth group and, uh, we were,
uh, uh, there’s four of us that went out of that youth group to Korea. We all joined the National Guard to get, you know, [INAUDIBLE]came back, and one had, uh, two of us in artillery over there, and one was in Springfield and Japan, and another one stayed in the States. Anyway, t wo of them said Bob,
we’re going in the ministry.
R: You should go. I said no, not me. I didn’t think I had the qualifications or right to do it and, uh, so, uh, the spirit was working I guess and, uh, so I began to, I guess, it was part in my mind and I, I very much believed in the spirit of God, or the Holy Spirit. And I began to look, look for work
and, uh, we couldn’t find anything in Southern Illinois, and a friend of mine was going up in Indiana and he had a job up there, and he said go. Then another good friend of mine, he said come on. Uh, you guys go up with me and we’ll see if we can get you work. We couldn’t get work. And so we was coming back, and we was hitch hiking, of course, home, and uh, we, uh, his, in November, late November and it was cold.
And, and you get a ride and, and something, they drop you off because they, they are where they want to go, you know. And, uh, anyway, uh, we were hungry, had no money, and we’d been all day and, uh, this, uh, I guess [INAUDIBLE], anyway, so this old Studebaker went by, and pretty soon it came back and said where are you guys going, and we said to Melbourne, and he
said well, I’m going down Tennessee. I’ll take you right by there. He said there’s some bread and bologna in the back seat. Have a sandwich.
R: And all the guy, that driving car, all he could talk about was what God had done in his life, and I finally said in my own mind okay, I said. I get the message.
I: So what happened?
R: So I came home, started college. I was in college six months and they assigned me two churches, old coal mining town churches for the guys that worked themselves to death and what was left is 60, 70-year-old women.
I: Um hm.
R: It is rough. The salary was $1,000 a year. Thank God for the GI Bill.
I: Um hm.
R: I was driving 66-mile round
trip just school and, uh, money was scarce, but we didn’t just say you’ll do something for the spirit. I came, I’ll give you extreme, I came home one afternoon, and my ex-wife, by then my son was a few months old, or just a baby, and he said, uh, my wife said you got any money, and I said no.
I don’t have any money. She said what are we gonna do? I said I don’t know. She said Bob Jr. needs some help.
I: I’m sorry?
R: Bob Jr., needs milk. That’s my older son. I said I don’t know what I’m gonna do.[KNOCKS] on the door. We had an old lady across the street. She come over and said I thought you might need some money. Here’s $5.000. That was the biggest $5.00 I ever saw.
R: But it was like that. You did the job. You got by. But there was always some invisible support. So I went to college, graduated from college. It was an insult with my parents when we graduated school. When I graduated from college,
it was another insult. And then when I went on to three-year seminary, it was another insult.
I: Um hm.
R: Not one dime. Not one dime was ever given by my wife’s parent s or me, or my parents [INAUDIBLE] My older brother was an alcoholic and died when he [INAUDIBLE] they bought him two houses [INAUDIBLE] They bought my sister a house.
I: So you become pastor?
R: For 27 years.
R: And then I, uh, I was, uh, okay. Anyway, uh, I was, uh, uh, 27 years, served churches throughout Southern Illinois, and the last five years I as serving a church outside of Quad City Seracomb Island. And when I went there, uh, they, uh, they was at, start on the 28thor 20-member auxiliary police force, and the mayor said, uh, Bob, why won’t you join?
I said no, I don’t think so. He said yeah. He said we need you. I said okay. I joined it. And the funny part of this was we carried 38 revolvers, uh, the old, you know what a 38 is?
R: [INAUDIBLE] Anyway, we carried 38 revolvers, and we’d practice, uh, once a month on firing, and we had a firing range. And uh,
after the first year they gave me the trophy for second place all around. And the guys the other guys, my God. I didn’t even know a minister knew which end of the gun the hole go let alone [INAUDIBLE] They were insulted. And so
I: You are the Korean War veteran.
R: Yeah, and, uh, I became known as the pistol packing pastor
I: Oh, why didn’t you pray for the meeting yesterday and before?
I: When we had a
R: Uh, I don’t know. The gentlemannever has said anything to me.
I: Oh, they don’t know you were a pastor?
R: Yeah. I, I think he does. I, I never bragged that I, that I was a pastor.
I: But Tom Stevens know that you are pastor, right?
R: I hope so, yeah. I, I, say I, I’m sure because every, it was in my resume when I sent it in
the last event.
I: I’ll remind him.
R: Okay. And we were, uh,
I wouldn’t mind being Chaplain if the other guy, the other guys absent now because of sickness. But I, I never did brag because you meet people and carry on a conversation and, uh, well, what’d you do? Well, ordained clergy, United Meth, oh my God. And I told you that story? Or I said those words, and, and
the relationship is no longer there. They didn’t know that about you, and you, and so, and you learn very quickly. But, uh, then, and, and I, uh, met the lady I’m married to now, uh. I, we, I went, we went, I went through a divorce, and when we met I found my other half. And
it’s been 35 years. I never knew like I do now. It’s so beautiful.
R: It’s alright.
I: Now you’re at peace. Good for you.
R: Very much so.
Now the Spirit is with you on your marriage, and
R: Yeah. It, uh, I never knew
R: Grown men from my parish, what it was. I found it in the churches with a lot of people, and I got a lot of respect from, I always felt
the, uh, my main thing was being a pastor. I preached, but any sickness, hospitals, that was my, our
R: Talking to people.
R: Yeah. I know.
I: And counseling
R: Counseling a lot.
R: And that was a strong point. And, uh, I said you have a lot of strange experiences, and I hadn’t been in church very long and they called one night and said there’s, can you go to the hospital, and I said I guess. There’s a man over there that needs to see you. I don’t know where he got my name or how they got me. I went over there, and he was scared to death. He was, they told him he was really sick and may die, and he was going on and on, you know. Just fearful, and he was almost shaking. And I
said did you ever ask God to forgive you? No, I’ve been too bad. I’ve been too mean and on and on. I kept pulling and I said well ask God. No. And then he, he blurted out, I mean you could hear him all over the hospital almost, but he said God, forgive me. The complexion in him changed.
I: When did you meet your current wife?
R: In 1980 uh, let’s see. No, wait a minute. Let me back, back off of that. Yeah, it was, uh, beginning of 1980. The last five years in Ministry, a bishop asked me to run a[INAUDIBLE]a Criminal Justice Program. I would go into the jails and prisons and talk to guys
and women and, and she, and then I train people in churches. And, uh, she said, uh, she was in one of the churches, and
I: You mean your new wife?
R: Yeah, my new wife, and she was one of the volunteers that was learning. And she told me later, she said when you walked in with your suit and tie on, she said something said to me there he is.
She said I never knew I was looking. So we went out for a year and finally decided one of us is going to have to leave the country. And so we both asked for divorces, and we started over at 50 years old financially. And I was gonna, the Bishop said well, you can keep your credentials and, and everything and, and got to, uh, and
do what you want to do. And, and anyway, the, uh, a friend of mine, he said what will you, uh, Bob, won’t you study with IDS American Express. I was a financial planner. I said no. He said yeah. He said you’re sending out resumes, and I said okay. So I start sending out, had to go to Chicago and take a test and pass the test and everything. Anyway, Nashville, Tennessee had a program like I’d been running, a job developing trades with them and working with them.
And anyway, he, uh, uh, and so they said well, you’re one of the top three, and anyway they said, uh, uh, uh, okay. We thought we was going to go to the Springfield. We got married by then. And they come back and said no, we need a minority or a woman. So IDS, I said then American Express, they said you want to be appointed?
I said well yeah. Let’s go. Well, that was stuff I got to do. And from there it went up. And my wife, she got, became the, the Churches United it’s, it was 100 churches in the Quad Cities. She did ministry of singles, migrant workers, all those
I: Very good.
R: that have the Outreach Program.
R: And she was good at that. She’s an intelligent, excellent person,
but we, we’re, uh, we were out, but we didn’t, I mean we had no money. We had no jobs, and we want, she wants some of her furniture out of her house, and we were down there in Springfield getting it come back at her, coming back, and I looked at her and said, uh, we’re the most stupid people in the world or we got more guts and courage than anybody else in the world, and we were happier
than we’ve ever been in our lives. But it’s been that for 36 years.
I: Um. So you’re happy.
R: Oh yes.
R: And well my, our kids got along with her, and her kids get along with me. In fact, her youngest son just graduated as Bird Colonel by the Air Force
R: after 27 years.
I: And thank you, thank you for sharing your story.
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