Korean War Legacy Project

Robert M. Longden


Robert M. Longden answered a call for compulsory military training at age eighteen and volunteered to go to Korea with the New Zealand Army. He arrived in South Korea soon after the truce was signed and was struck by the hungry children in Seoul. Stationed near the DMZ, his regiment endured cold winters to protect the area. He expresses hope for a unified Korea through the meeting between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

Video Clips

Service Conditions, Cold, and Fear

Robert M. Longden constantly feared the Chinese and North Koreans would break the armistice while he was stationed near the DMZ. Winter was brutally cold. At one point, his hand stuck to a frozen chain while he worked with his truck. Soldiers had adequate winter gear and slept in military tents, but food was very basic.

Tags: Imjingang (River),Chinese,Cold winters,Communists,Fear,Food,Living conditions,North Koreans

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Trump and Kim Jong-un

His message to New Zealand children would include the incredible hospitality offered to veterans by the Korean people. Further, he articulates the importance of forging a peace deal. He hopes the meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un can achieve unification so that families in Korea can see one another again.

Tags: Message to Students,Modern Korea,North Koreans,South Koreans,Weapons

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Miraculous Change

Robert M. Longden arrived in Busan in 1953 to witness terrible poverty. He and his fellow soldiers gave their rations to hungry children. Construction work had already begun in Seoul. When he returned to Korea a few years ago the change was miraculous. Hard work had returned Korea to great prosperity. He is grateful for the hospitality of the Korean people during his visit.

Tags: Busan,Imjingang (River),Seoul,Impressions of Korea,Physical destruction,Poverty,South Koreans

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Digging Tunnels North of the 38th Parallel

Robert M. Longden shows photos of his experience in Korea. One photograph features him serving as a wireless operator. Others include images of Hill 355 north of the 38th Parallel. His regiment dug a fifty-meter tunnel to get to the outpost while avoiding exposure to the enemy. He has agreed to scan his photos for young people to view as they study the Korean War.

Tags: Front lines,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

R:        I am Robert Marshall Longden.  The Longden [INAUDIBLE] surname.

I:          Um hm.

R:        L O N G D E N, Longden.

I:          What is your birthday?

R:        My birthday?

I:          Um hm.

R:        is the seventeenth of February

I:          And?
R:        which is in two days’ time/

I:          Yeah.  What year?
R:        Nineteen thirty-two.

I:          Thirty-two?  So how old are you now?  Is you are, 80

R:        I will


Be 87 on Sunday.

I:          So your birthday’s coming up.

R:        Yes.

I:          Happy birthday, sir.

R:        Thank you.

I:          Ah.  You’re 87.

R:        On Sunday.

I:          Everybody looks here young.  What’s going on?  Is that because air or water

R:        I, I swim.
I:          You swim?

R:        Three days a week.

I:          Oh.  Where?

R:        In the heated pool in [INAUDIBLE], and I play one game of golf a week at the [Waitangi] Golf Course.


I:          You still play golf?

R:        Well, I have to have a cart.

I:          Yeah.  But still that’s really special.

R:        Um hm.

I:          Wow.

R:        Perhaps I have a good wife who feeds me well, too.

I:          Where were you born?

R:        I was born, um, what is now Hamilton, but it was called Frankton Junction.
I:          Um.  And tell me about the family background when you were growing up.

R:        I grew up in various parts with, uh, various relations for a long time.


I:          Um.

R:        I lived with my grandmother in  Hamilton.  I lived with an uncle and aunt little farming district called [Mokorti].  I went back to Hamilton with an uncle and aunt, Roger, um, Carlin and Lars Brewster, and then I went to a place called [Wymeha] where my father had a farm.

I:          Wow.

R:        And I grew up on a farm from about 1942.

I           So what was it like to grow in the farm?


Did you have to work a lot?  Did you, what is it?

R:        Well, yes.  I

I:          What is the fun part of it, and what is the hard part of it?
R:        Well, when we owned the farm in [Wymeha] in 1942, they didn’t have any electricity.  And, uh, the telephones were very primitive, what we referred to in conversation was party lines.  And my, uh, and life was generally very, very hard.


And I left school at 14 years of age

I:          Um hm.

R:        to work on the family farm.  And then when I turned 18, I was called up for Compulsory Military Training.

I:          When?
R:        It was in 1950.

I:          Yeah?
R:        In 1950, I did three months Compulsory Military Training,

I:          Um hm.

R:        came back to the farm.  I did, uh, two annual three weekly camps to keep


up with the plan. I was in the Artillery.  And then when I was 20 years and 6 months old, I volunteered to go to Korea with the Army again, um.  That was in 1952.  But I didn’t  leave until 1953.

I:          So when did you leave for Korea?

R:        I left for Korea in August 1953.

I:          Um.

R:        The truce had just been signed.

I:          Right.


And, so when you joined the military in 1952, where did you go to get, uh, basic military training?

R:        Papakura Military Camp.

I:          Could you spell it?
R:        P A P A

I:          Um hm

R:        K U R A

I:          Papakura.

R:        Yes.

I:          And what kind of, uh, basic military training?  How was it?

R:        That was [INAUDIBLE] the first six weeks was the normal military training.  Um, but the balance of it, I trained as a radio operator.

I:          Radio operator.

R:        Yes.


I:          And then, when you were headed, uh, to Korea August of 1953, already War ended, and how did you feel about it?
R:        Well,

I:          You feel, you felt more safer, right?
R:        Well, we did.  But we were also disappointed.  We’d done all the training, and we didn’t actually get to, to fight, although we were there.  The tru, it was only a truce that was signed.

I:          Um.

R:        So when we got there, we were so,


uh, [INAUDIBLE] patrol months.

I:          Um.  And so, when you volunteered to join the Army in 1952, but, did you know anything about Korea before you left for Korea?

R:        No.

I:          I mean, did you learn anything from school or did you learn anything or knew anything about Korea?

R:        No.

I:          Nothing.

R:       Nothing.  Virtually nothing.

I:          And


R:        Oh I, I knew there was a war on there.  I, I was pretty aware of that.

I:          Yes, because it was all over in the news media, right?

R:        Um hm.

I:          And when you go to Korea for the first time, where did you landed?

R:        Uh, Busan.

I:          Busan.  And tell me about the Busan you saw for the first time or Korea overall, when you saw the Korea for the first time in, in  your life.  How did you feel it?  What did you see?

R:        It was absolutely devastating to


arrive in Busan and see the property there.  And then when we moved from there by train, a 12-hour train trip to Seoul to see children, hungry children, that we gave our rations to.  And, um, obviously Seoul had been, suffered greatly during the War.

I:          You were in Seoul?

R:        We went  to Seoul, and then from Seoul we went about 40 kilometers


north, north of the Imjin River, over the Imjin River

I:          Um.

R:        to where our camp was.

I:          And tell me about Seoul you saw at the time, detail.  Give me the details, everything you saw and you remember now.

R:        Well, we got off the train in the dark, so I didn’t really get to see much of Seoul then.  We got onto a truck, and it was dark.  But we did go down to Seoul on a couple occasions.


And, um, I saw very little of Seoul then.  But we did see how the work was starting to take place that the  place was slowly, immediately

I:          Um.

R:        work was being done to repair the damage.

I:          Did you see any people in Seoul street?
R:        Yes, we saw a few.  But when I went back, uh, the second time

I:          Um

R:        yes, we saw quite a number of people.

I:          What do you mean second time?
R:        Well, when I came, I had to go


from the Regiment, uh, to, um, Inchon

I:          Um

R:        because we had a training course there, and NCO training course.

I:          Um.

R :       And I did see, did see a few people then.

I:          When was it?

R:        That was in 1953.

I:          ’53.

R:        Yes.

I:          So  have you been back to Korea since then?
R:        Yes I have.

I:          When?

R:        I went, um, I’ve been back on three return visits.

I:          Three.

R:        And they’ve always been in April,



I:          2000?  When was it?

R:        I know it was a couple of years ago.

I:          Um hm.

R:        But it was about three years before that [INAUDIBLE] see a little bit here. And one was about three years before that.

I:          Okay.  So

R:        They were to, they were to go to, uh, remembrance


for battles at, uh, Gloster Valley and also at Kapyong.

I:          Um.

R:        That Kapyong was about a famous battle where the New Zealand was backed up

I:          Yes.

R:        the Australians and the Canadians.

I:          So tell me about Seoul and Korea you saw second time, when you went there, were invited by the Korean government.  What, what did you, just give us detail.  What is the change?

R:        Well, it was miraculous.


From what I’d left in 1954, to what it was then, it’d been completely rebuilt.  Unrecognizable.  And,  uh, the prosperity.  Obviously, the Korean people worked very, very hard to repair t he damage done in their country.  And they set an example, I believe, to the world.  I really do.  And the hospitality we received was absolutely out of this world.


And we’re extremely grateful for that, for that hospitality.  It was wonderful.

I:          When you left Korea, uh, during the War, when did you leave Korea? That you, you went there in 1953, and then when you left, when was it?

R:        The, 1954, in 1954, the 16th Field Regiment which I belonged to

I:          Um hm.

R:        returned to New Zealand.

I:          Um hm.

R:        But I was transferred to, uh, Japan


to our base camp at [Hero] in Japan.

I:          So you left  Korea in 1954, right?
R:        That’s right.

I:          Yeah.  When?  Uh, month?

R:        About November.

I:          November.  When you left Korea, November of 1954, had you ever thought that Korea would become like this today when you saw in 21st century?

R:        You couldn’t possibly visualize the technology that had taken place in


what Korea there is today.

I:          You never thought that Korea would become like this, right?
R:        No.  But, but then, we didn’t realize it was going to be the internet

I:          Hm.

R:        and computers, computers hadn’t been invented, and the internet.  So we, uh, the technology we used by today’s standards was quite primitive.

I:          What was your specialty at the time?  Specialty.  What did you do

R:        When?

I:          in Korea?
R:        In Korea.  Oh, I was a radio operator.

I:          Radio operator.
R:        [INAUDIBLE]


what they described as a driver op

I:          Um.

R:        I drove a small vehicle with a radio in it, and I had a team of, uh, six radio operators under me.  I was a, a, I got promoted to last bombardier and then bombardier.

I:          Um.  You belong to 16th Field Regiment and, um, Company?

R:        Um, I was in Dog Troop.

I:          Dog Troop.

R:        162 Battery.

I:          162 Battery.

R:        Yes.


I:          So you were in the Artillery.

R:        That’s right.

I:          Um hm.  But you did radio operator.  So it was after the War, what was your mission?  What was, what did you do, a daily, uh, routine?  Could you explain?  What did you do there?

R:        In Korea?

I:          Yeah.

R:        Oh yes.  Uh, we did a lot of training.

I:          Um hm.

R:        and we, one time, several times, there was, I thought that perhaps the Chinese were going to attack again, and we would go from where we camped

I:          Yeah


R:        to our position, and I spent a considerable amount of time, uh, preparing an OP on the line they called, referred to as the Kansas Line,

I:          Um hm.

R:        and, uh, I was , helped to put a tunnel right through a hill which I have a photo of there.

I:          Oh.  Can you show that to us?  Show that up to your chin so that we can,


you have a many, many pictures.

R:        Yes.

I:          And did you take that pictures?
R:        Yes.

I:          Wow.

R:        Now that, that’s guns going off.  If I was up at the front

I:          Will you turn it around and show that to the camera?  Where?  That’s the Kansas Line?

R:        No.


No.  That up there.  This is just guns going, guns going over there.

I:          Um.

R:        More there.  Excuse me.  I’ll just turn it around, alright?
I:          Sure.


R:        That’s me as a, as a wireless operator.

I:          That’s you?

R:        Yes.

I:          Uh huh.  Very serious.  Wow.


R:        That, well that’s an old 355.  I don’t know

I:          Where?

R:        North of the 38th Parallel.  That hill’s 355.

I:          That’s the  355.

R:        Yes.
I:          That’s famous 355.

R:        That’s right.

I:          Just give me a second to focus on that.  And that’s where you were?

R:        I was just, we were south of there.

I:          Um.


R:        No, we were north, we were, were north of the 38th Parallel.

I:          Um, Bob, let’s talk about that picture because I want, can you scan those pictures?  Do you know scanning, how to scan?

R:        Uh,

I:          This pictures?

R:        I’m  not very good at scanning.  I could probably get someone to teach me.

I:          Yes.  Do you, do you have any, um, grandchildren?

R:        Yes I do.

I:          Yeah.  I think they can, they can scan t hose.


R:        That’s right.

I:          And if you, if you scan those pictures and send it to me, I can put those pictures with your interview together

R:        Oh yes.

I:          so that everybody can see it.  Alright?
R:        Yes.

I:          Okay.

R:        There it is.  That’s the tunnel.  That’s the OP, and that’s the entrance to the tunnel

I:          Um.

R:        and that is the tunnel.  We blasted it through rock.

I:          You blasted?
R:        Yes.

I :         And why did you make the tunnel?

R:        The tunnel


was to get through to the OP without having to be exposed to the enemy.

I:          I see.  How long was it?

R:        Um, I’d say 100 meters.

I:          That’s long.

R:        Uh, hang on.  Oh, I’ll, I’ll correct that.  More like 50 meters.

I:          Fifty meters?
R:        Yes.

I:          But still, that, that’s very long actually, right?
R:        That’s right.

I:          Yeah.  Amazing.  This is important because, you know, the, our, not even me.  I didn’t know that there is a tunnel, and so that, if we can scan this all and


put it on the website,

R:        Yeah.

I:          young children will look at it, look at your picture, and they will compare the Korea in 1954 and now, okay?

R:        Um hm.

I:          So let’s do that, okay?
R:        Yeah.

I:          Alright.  Thank you.  So we were talking about your located in the North of Imjin, and when you were there in Korea, were you able to


really think through how it happened, and were you, were you proud of it, being part of the Korean War?

R:        I am very proud of the fact that I served in the New Zealand Army

I:          Um.

R:        [INAUDIBLE] and I, I’m very proud of the fact when I see how Korea has, uh, recovered from that War, and I’m very proud of the fact that I was part of it.

I:          And


do you have any, um, descendants of your own teaching in the school about History?  Do you have any?

R:        I have a granddaughter who has just graduated as a teacher.  But I don’t  know what subject she’s teaching.  She just, just graduated.  My, I have a daughter in Australia, and I have a daughter in, uh, in [Touranga].

I:          Granddaughter who just graduated.

R:        Yes.


I:          and begin to teach.

R:        Yes.

I:          What’s her name?

R:        Her name is Paige.  Paige Sly.

I:          Um.  And can you find it out?  Where is she?

R:        She’s in Palmerston North.

I:          Close from here?

R:        No, a long way.

I:          Long way.
R:        Yes.

I:          Um, in New Zealand, right?

R:        Yes.

I:          Yeah. Can you find it out whether she’s teaching Social Studies?  If so, you let me know.

R:        She’s teaching at an Intermediate school.

I:          Uh huh

R:        So I don’t know,


she will be teaching a variety of subjects.

I:          Maybe then she will teach History, too.

R:        Yes.

I:          Yeah.

R:        Yes.

I:          And if so, I can invite her to conference we pay for all the, you know, expenses

R:        Um hm.

I:          and she can learn about Korea more, and she can teach more about the War of Korea that you fought for.

R:        Yes.

I:          Isn’t that nice?
R:        That’s [INAUDIBLE] yes.

I:          Yeah.  So please let me know, okay?

R:        Yes.

I:          You have my business card, right?

R:        Yes, I will.

I:          Yes.  And ask her to scan your pictures.


R:        Uh huh.

I:          She will, she will know how to do those things, okay?

R:        That’s right.

I:          Yeah.  Um, were there any dangerous moments during your service in Korea?
R:        Um, only one not related to the, to the actual conflict.  But, uh, I had a, a driver who was inexperienced, and he tipped, tipped the truck over, over a bank.  The only other


uh, problem was, was when we were driving of, on, through snow, and the snow melted and still froze

I:          Uh huh.

R:        and we started to skid.  But fortunately, we didn’t hit another truck.  But then we had to stop and put chains on the truck to, for gripping the snow.

I:          Yes.

R:        And, uh, although we had big gloves on, I was having trouble putting the chains on.  So I took the gloves off and


tried to put the  chains on with my bare hands, and I fell and the chain stuck to my hand.  So I very quickly put the gloves back on again.

I:          Um.  How was the situation over the, uh, DMZ line?  Were there any skirmish or were there any danger?

R:        There was always a risk and, of, of

I:          What kind of risk?

R:        Well, the risk of perhaps the Chinese

I:          Uh.

R:        would break the truce or the North Koreans.


I:          Um.

R:        And, uh, yes.  In simple times, we did what they called Bug Out from where our camp was back to the defensive line while I would go up to that, that OP position.  So we were very aware of that sort of thing.

I:          Um.  But you were not threatened or scared at the time, right?
R:        No.

I:          because War was over.
R:        Right.
I:          Yeah. How was the living


condition at, uh, when you were there in Korea?  Where did you sleep, what did you eat, soft side of the, your service.

R:        Very, the food, well they had a cook house, was very basic.  And when we used to go out on maneuvers or trainings, exercises, we got fed, but it was very, very basic.

I:          Um.

R:        food.  You know, [INAUDIBLE] nothing fancy whatsoever.  Just got


corned beef and meat and bread, that sort of thing.

I:          Where did you sleep?

R:        In, um, we slept in tents.

I:          How many in one tent?
R:        Um, there were various sizes.  Some would have about six or eight.  Another would have four.  And

I:          How many did you sleep with?
R:        Well, there was, uh, one, one, one tent   so a fellow friend of mine[INAUDIBLE]  mid-winter when the snow piled up outside.


Um, there was only four of us in that.  And in the biggest ones, the bigger one, we actually had a little stove in there as well, a diesel burning stove

I:          You didn’t have stove when you were sharing with other three in the tent?

R:        No, we never had much warmth there.  Sleeping bag.

I:          It must be so cold.

R:        Sleeping bags, special winter weather, winter gear, uh, and you’ll see one of those photos there where I’ve got a bit parka on.

I :         Um hm.  So wasn’t that cold?


R:        It was cold, yes.

I:          Oh.

R:        Yes.

I:          But you were able to

R:        Yes.

I:          stand it.  Um, if I ask you to pinpoint what was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea, what would you say?

R:        Probably, uh, going out on maneuvers in very cold, wet weather.


I:          Um.

R:        That’s the most difficult part.

I:          Um hm.  What was the most rewarding moments you ever had there?

R:        Well that, too, probably


as we were leaving, and the Korean people waving us goodbye.  Almost saying thank you.

I:          Um.

R:        Thank you very much.

I:          Were there any Koreans that worked together with you or Korean boy or girls that actually served?
R:        No, not with me as an individual.  There were the odd Korean boys that did, uh, work in the Regiment

I:          Um.
R:        with


uh,  um, with the officers, and they did various work there, too.  But I never had the, I personally, never had any personal contact.

I:          Um.   So when you returned to New Zealand, what did people say about your service there?  Did they ask you where have you been or something like that?  What was the response?

R:        Well, when I


went back to where I was, came off a farm, most people there were very pleased to see me ret urn safely and made me feel very welcome to be home again.

I:          Um.

R:        And all of them knew where I’d been.

I:          All, so that’s good.
R:        Yes.

I:          Yeah.  Were you able to write letters back to your family?

R:        Yes, yes.

I:          What did you write about?

R:        Well, I just, day to day things that happened.  That’s what, I got up today, and it snowed or things like that.


Mundane sort of things.  Oh, if I went on leave to Japan, I’d be able to write about that, um.

I:          Um hm.

R:        And, uh, or, the river’s frozen over, things like that.

I:          You still keep that letter?  You still have those?

R:        I do.  They, my family did keep one or two of them.

I:          Um.

R:        And, uh, I,  I’ll have to search, research it to find out where they are.

I:          Right.  So when you


see all this transformation from very poor and, you know, miserable conditions to one of the largest economy in the world, what would you say to the children in New Zealand of, when they learn about Korea?   What would you say to them?

R:        I, well, I would try to explain the difference.  But it,


it would be difficult for them to comprehend what was very primitive to the economy that’s there now.  It’s absolutely But I’ve always emphasized, the people I’ve spoken to

I:          Um.

R:        is the incredible hospitality we have received from the Korean people when we have returned.  And the image of the Korean people [INAUDIBLE] is way up there.  Marvelous.


I:          Marvelous.  Now this War becomes 70th old, 70 old war.  Have you heard about those?  Never been replaced by the Peace Treaty at all.  We are technically at war.

R:        That’s right.

I:          What would you say to the world about this?
R:        Um, it, it’s incomprehensible really


that there hasn’t been a, a, a, a peace deal signed

I:          Um.

R:        between North and South Korea.  And it must be quite devastating to Koreans whose family have been split and haven’t been able to reunite, and there might be a glimmer of hope on the horizon at the moment.  I hope it comes to something.


I:          Um.  What do you think about the current negotiation between Trump and Kim Jung Un?

R:        Trump is the only President that’s met with a North Korean leader.  There was a lot of criticism about Trump, but he, he had [INAUDIBLE] any nonsense.  When North Korea got their supposed rockets fame where they could attack, um, Trump more or less hit on them, you believe yourself,


or else we’ll blow you to pieces.  And them he turned around and said to Kim Jung Un, let’s have a meeting and see if we can’t work this out.  And he is the only American President who should be able to do that, who’s even tried to do it.

I:          Um hm.

R:        So

I:          That’s an exact point.

R:        That’s right.  I think he is the only President that has tried and has been successful.  And it, they just talk about him meeting again, too.

I:          But do you think that negotiation will, uh, result in success?


R:        I, I think, I think the North Koreans would like, from what you read now, what I read now, they would like to be joined up to South Korea.

I:          Um.

R:        But, the power brokers don’t, the North Korean power brokers, don’t want to lose their power.

I:          Right.  Um, do you have any special message to Korean people in the context of 70th anniversary?


R:        Yes.

I:          What would you say to the Korean people?
R:        I would hope, uh, that in a very short time, the North Korea and South Korea will be combined under one leadership as soon as possible, and those families who have been parted can have the happiness of rejoined together.

I:          Um.

R:        And I


would, once again, like to thank them for the hospitality I have received and the generosity I’ve received from the Korean people.

I:          Thank you very much for your fight and your service.  Is there any other episode that you want to leave to this interview?   You didn’t share that with me yet.

R:        No, I think I’ve, I think we just about covered all I can cover.

I:          Uh huh.  Bob, it’s my great


honor to meet you and thank you for your, uh, service, for the Korean people, and we will never forget what New Zealand did during the War, 1950 –’53.  We are going to make this as a curricular resources I hope.  That’s why I’m meeting with a lot of scholars and professors here in New Zealand and also so that I can connect with the teachers here.

R:        Um hm.

I:          And we are using this interview as a, one of the resources for the  lesson plans and


modules and primary and secondary resources for the teacher so that they can talk about the Korea.  And that’s how I think that we can keep your legacy forever.

R:        Thank you.

I:          Thank you so much, sir.

R:        It’s good.



[End of Recorded Material]