Korean War Legacy Project

Roger S. Stringham

Bio

Roger Stringham was born May 10, 1929, in Berkeley, California. Post graduation from Berkeley High School, he enrolled in an art school to pursue his artistic interests, but his time there was cut short when he was drafted into the Army in late 1950. He received his basic training at Camp Roberts and was shipped to Korea soon after. He shares what he knew about Korea prior to the war and elaborates on the respect he held for the Korean people. He describes landing in Incheon and offers an account of his first impressions of Korea. He recalls his duties while serving and describes sending letters home with accompanying sketches as a means of telling the story of his experience. He provides an overview of his life post war and elaborates on Korea’s transformation through the years. He is proud of what Korea has become.

Background of accompanying veteran photos: All photos were taken during the mid-summer of 1951. The location for all photos is the rugged mountain terrain in North Korea above the Hwacheon Reservoir. These photos were taken by Jack Ober, the squad leader. As Jack Ober was being rotated out (going home), he threw the camera with the film to Roger Stringham and said, “You develop it.” I did, seventy years later. Roger Stringham kept the camera and film and finally had the film developed about ten years ago (at the time of this page creation) in Lihue, Kauai. Only six photos were recovered.

Video Clips

Introduction to Korea

Roger Stringham comments on his knowledge of Korea prior to the war and draws attention to the fact that Korea had been awarded to Japan following the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. He shares how he held a great deal of respect for the Korean people, acknowledging they had endured a difficult life under Japanese rule. He describes landing at Incheon and his first impressions of Korea.

Tags: Incheon,Impressions of Korea,Physical destruction,Prior knowledge of Korea

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0haGawZMZpg&start=329&end=527

Skirmishes in Korea

Roger Stringham recounts that he was attending art school when he was drafted into the Army in late 1950. He recalls receiving his four-month basic training at Camp Roberts in California and being shipped to Korea shortly thereafter. He offers an account of the skirmishes he experienced and speaks of lives lost from a machine gun burst.

Tags: Basic training,Front lines,Weapons

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0haGawZMZpg&start=804&end=945

Unique Letters Home

Roger Stringham recounts his parents' reaction when he was drafted into the war. He shares that it was very difficult for them, but to him, it was an adventure. He recalls writing letters home and details how he would include a sketch as a means of telling the story of his experience.

Tags: Impressions of Korea,Letters,Pride

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0haGawZMZpg&start=1017&end=1198

Out on Patrol

Roger Stringham explains that he spent his first six months in Korea serving in Item Company of the 21st Infantry Regiment and the last six months in Headquaters Company. He recounts his duties in Headquarters Company which entailed night patrols through the hills in temperatures that reached fifty degrees below zero at times. He shares he did not regret the experience but adds that he thought often of his friends while there and has since experienced PTSD.

Tags: Cold winters,Front lines,Impressions of Korea

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0haGawZMZpg&start=1301&end=1410

Post War: Career and Korea's Transformation

Roger Stringham offers an overview of his life post war. He recalls returning to school where he earned a degree in physical chemistry from UC Berkley, traveling the world and painting along the way for two years, and returning to Korea on multiple occasions to deliver lectures in academic arenas. He elaborates on Korea's transformation, describing it as unbelievable, and emphasizes how it shows what people have inside of them is magic.

Tags: Daejeon,Impressions of Korea,Modern Korea,Pride

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0haGawZMZpg&start=1433&end=1650

Video Transcript

00:00:00           [Beginning of Recorded Material]

I:          It’s the beautiful island of Kauai in Hawaii.  My name is Jongwoo Han.  I am the president of Korean War Legacy Foundation.  We have about 1500 Korean War Veterans interviewed, not only from the United States but all other countries except India.  So have a 21-country digital archive of Korean War Veterans.

We are doing this to preserve your memory, first of all, because it’s been a long time, and we want to honor your service as Korean War Veterans.

[00:00:30]

But most importantly, to make our young generations be aware of the legacy and the lessons of the Korean War, we are using this video in the curricular resources.  And we have all digitized metadata, and we’ve produced a curriculum book, the one that you will see there.  So we can honor your service, okay, and for education.  I think education is the

[00:01:00]

most important thing.

It’s my great honor and pleasure to meet you, sir, in this beautiful island.  Please introduce yourself.  What is your name, sir?

R:         My name is Roger.

I:          And what is your middle name?

R:         Oh, Sherman Stringham.

Roger Sherman is famous.

I:          Famous?

R:         Yeah.

I:          Why?

R:         He was part of the original congress,

[00:01:30]

Continental Congress, a very important member in writing the Constitution.

I:          Roger Sherman, yeah, yeah.

R:         Yeah.

I:          And are you the lineage of their family?

R:         That’s right.

I:          It’s my honor, sir.

R:         Well, it’s my pleasure.

I:          And what is your last name?

R:         Stringham.

I:          Could you spell it?

R:         S-T-R-I-N-G-H-A-M.

[00:02:00]

I:          And could you spell again your ancestor who wrote the Constitution, as part of — what is his name?

R:         Roger Sherman.

I:          S-H-E —

R:         — H-E-R-M-A-N.

I:          All right.  And what is your birthday, sir?

R:         May 10, 1929.

I:          1929.  So you are now — how old are you?

R:         Well,

[00:02:30]

I think it’s 92.

I:          I don’t see any wrinkle, other than beard.  What’s your secret to be staying young?

R:         Um, work hard.

I:          What kind of work?

R:         Well, I work in the garden.  I have a big garden.

I:          Mmmm.

R:         My main instrument is a chainsaw.

[00:03:00]

I:          So where were you born?  Where were you born?

R:         I was born in Berkeley, California.

I:          And tell me about your family background when you were growing up.

R:         Um, well, it was very much mixed up with the University of California.

I:          Oh.

R:         My

[00:03:30]

grandfather was the president from it’s very beginning until he died.

I:          You mean the UC Berkeley?

R:         Yeah.

I:          What’s his name?

R:         His name — let me see.  I forget things easily.

I:          [Laughs.]

R:         It was Washington Irving Stringham.

I:          Washington.

[00:04:00]

Wow.  What did your grandfather actually study?  What was his major?

R:         Mathematics.

I:          Mathematics.

And he was the president of UC Berkeley?

R:         Yeah.

I:          Wow.  Great to know.

So you were growing up in the campus culture?

R:         That’s right.

I:          Uh-huh.  How many brothers and sisters?

R:         I just had one brother.

I:          One brother.

R:         A

[00:04:30]

younger brother.

I:          And when did you graduate from high school?

R:         I graduated from Berkeley High School.

  1. Uh-huh.When?

R:         1947.

I:          And then what did you do?

R:         Pardon me?

I:          And then what did you do?  And then what did you do —

R:         Oh.

I:          — after high school?

R:         I went to an art school.  And I

[00:05:00]

was training to be an artist and the war broke out.

I:          What kind of artist were you looking for?

R:         I was a painter.

I:          Painter.  Are you good at it?

R:         Pardon me?

I:          Are you good at it?

R:         Yes.

I:          Can I buy your painting?

R:         Um, I’ll show you my paintings.

I:          That’s a good, good answer.

So

[00:05:30]

you were supposed to be the artist, the painter, but war broke out.  But before, you were pretty well educated in your family background.  Did you learn anything about — did you know anything about Korea or Korea history?

R:         A little bit.  I knew that there was a war, Russian-Japanese war.

I:          Russo-Japanese war, yeah.

[00:06:00]

R:         Yeah.

And I think politically, Korea was awarded to Japan for control.  And that was a very bad story because the Koreans were slaves.

I:          That was done by Theodore Roosevelt, the president.

[00:06:30]

R:         I’m sorry?

I:          That was under the President Theodore Roosevelt, the Russo-Japanese war.

R:         Yeah.

I:          And Korea was given to Japan by the President Roosevelt, yeah.

R:         Yeah.

I:          Oh.

R:         So I did know that.  And so I had a lot of respect for the Koreans.

I:          Mmmm.

R:         They

[00:07:00]

had a very difficult life.

And so when I arrived at Incheon in 195 — I think it was ’51 — it was a mess.

[00:07:30]

I:          Give me the detail.  What did you see?

R:         Well, I came with 2,000 other soldiers.  We climbed down nets into landing craft.  And we motored in as far as we could in through the mud and finally stalled and put the [print] down and we walked out

[00:08:00]

and — through a mile of mud — it was exhausting — to trucks that were waiting on a dusty road.  And then we were whisked away through a smoking capital.  It was nothing, completely level.

[00:08:30]

Little [eerie] smoke columns coming up.  Every so often you saw somebody in the midst of the rubble, but that was about it.  It was nothing else.  So that was my introduction to Korea.

That day we finally stopped in a big warehouse.  And 2,000 of us were left there

[00:09:00]

to sleep overnight.  And then we were parceled out to go to various places.  I made one contact there, and we stayed together and put together in a Jeep.  And we were taken up into North Korea —

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         — and dropped off

[00:09:30]

to the 21st Infantry Regiment —

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         — [item] company, the two of us.

Benjamin [Bennevetti] was a Mexican and a marvelous person, and myself, went to the headquarters of item company and then were sent down to a

[00:10:00]

squad in [item] company in the third platoon —

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         — with the third squad.

And the squad leader was — I can’t remember the name now at all.  I’ll remember it later.

[00:10:30]

He was a very interesting person.  I was, I think, 19, and he was 18.  He had been a veteran for over a year.

I:          Mmmm.

R:         And so we got some real horror stories about what to expect.

I:          Mmmm.

R:         And the

[00:11:00]

next day we were — we went out on patrol.  So things never slowed down.

I:          Mmmm.

Before we move on, you said that you were landing in Incheon, but it was 1951, not Incheon landing right, not — it was not 1950, when McArthur landed in Incheon.

R:         No, no.  It was there.  It was a port, but it really wasn’t a port.

[00:11:30]

It was mud.

I:          Right.  But it was after the Incheon landing by McArthur, right?

R:         Yeah, exactly.

I:          Yeah.  So still you had to land, like, Incheon landing and still mud and nothing really there.

R:         Right.

I:          Uh-huh.

What were you thinking when you saw Korea for the first time?  You said that you were — it was your introduction to Korea when you saw Seoul and the people.  What were you thinking?  Be honest?

R:         I said, what am I doing

[00:12:00]

here.  And —

I:          You didn’t know why you were there?  You knew, right?

R:         Not really.  Let me tell you a story.  I was in an art school.  There were a lot of GIs there.  And they were getting a little extra money and joined the Marine Reserve.

[00:12:30]

They — the attack on Korea, they were called up and given three days to get their belongings together and they said good-bye.  And of those, three days later,

[00:13:00]

we heard that they were all dead.  They died.  They all froze to death.  They were there in their summer clothes.

I:          Mmmm.

R:         And that’s — that was — that set the tone.  I was lucky.

I:          So you were in art school, but you were drafted, right?

R:         Yeah.

I:          And when were you drafted?

[00:13:30]

R:         When was I drafted?

I:          Yeah.

R:         Oh, in the winter of 1950.

I:          ’50.  Okay.

And where did you get the basic training?

R:         In Fort Roberts, in California.

I:          Fort what?

R:         Roberts.

I:          Could you spell it?

R:         R-O-B-E-R-T-S.

I:          R-O-B-E-R-T-S, Roberts.

[00:14:00]

And what — how long were you — was it?

R:         Um, it was probably four months.  And six months later I was in North Korea.

I:          What do you mean by that?

R:         Six months after I started my training —

I:          Yeah.

R:         — I was in North Korea.

I:          North Korea, where?

R:         I was with the 21st Infantry Regiment —

I:          Uh-huh.

[00:14:30]

R:         — [item] company —

I:          Yeah.

R:         — 1951.

I:          Wow, tell me about it.  What did you do there?

R:         Well, I was a private.  I had my M1 rifle.  And my friend, Benjamin [Bennevetti], had his rifle.

I:          Yeah.

R:         And we were together.  And we went through a number of

[00:15:00]

skirmishes.  And we were lucky.  And then we went through a major one.  And where it was a very bitter fight.

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         And we got caught in a machine gun burst.  Two people I was next to were killed.

[00:15:30]

And [Bennevetti], I never saw again.

I:          Mmmm.  He was killed?

R:         No, but I just never saw him again.

I:          I see.

So you were there.  You arrived in Incheon 1951.

And

[00:16:00]

when did you leave Korea?

R:         When did I leave?

I:          Yeah.

R:         Um, the whole company got transferred to Japan in March of 1952.

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         I spent about a year in North Korea.

I:          I see.

That’s very — I didn’t know

[00:16:30]

there were American soldiers in Chosin Reservoir area in 1951.

R:         Well, the Chinese were there, and we were there.

I:          Okay.  So is —

R:         We were only on the ridges.  We were never in the valleys.  And you could look down in the valleys and see supply lines.

I:          You could see that?

R:         Yes.

I:          Wow.  All right.  So —

R:         And we were there to protect those supply lines.

I:          Uh-huh, uh-huh.

So when you were drafted

[00:17:00]

to the Korean War, what did your parents tell you?  How did parents react to that?

R:         Yeah, that was very difficult for them.  To me, it was still an adventure.

Um, I wrote letters home.  In the letters home, in each letter I had a sketch.  And it sort of told the

[00:17:30]

story.

I:          Yes.

R:         So there were 60 sketches that I sent home in letters.

I:          Do you still have that?

R:         I still have them.  Does somebody want them?

I:          Absolutely.  I want to scan that.  I want to scan it.

R:         I’d like to find a home for them.

I:          What do you mean?

R:         Well, they were shown in an exhibit in — and I never saw it — but

[00:18:00]

in the San Francisco Museum of Art.

I:          You gave it to them?

R:         My mother was an artist, and she arranged the whole thing.

I:          Uh-huh.  So do you still have that with you, or should we go to the museum?

R:         No, I have them with me.

I:          Are you willing to show me?

R:         I have them at home.

I:          Yeah.  So can I see it?

[00:18:30]

R:         Sure.

I:          Oh, that will be amazing because I never heard about anybody who sketched in the letter back to their family.

R:         Yeah.

I:          I have a lot of letters that was given to me by the Korean War Veterans.

R:         Yeah.

I:          So we scanned all those things in this — in the Website.

R:         Yeah.

I:          And you can see those, but I never, never heard about any letter with a picture in it.

R:         Yeah.  I’ve got them,

[00:19:00]

60 or 70 of them.  Then I had some — I was shipped to Japan.  I spent six months in Japan.  I did the same thing in Japan, but that was a whole different situation.

I:          Exactly.  That’s peace there.

R:         Exactly.

I:          But it was war.

R:         Right.  That was heaven.

I:          I know.  But — wow, this is amazing.  This is amazing story.

So what did your parents do at the time, when you

[00:19:30]

left for Korea?

R:         What did they do?

I:          No, yeah.

R:         I think they worried to death.

I:          Why?  They were sick?

R:         Yeah.  And my father was very sick.  He had a brain tumor.

I:          Oh.

R:         And he never really recovered.  And so my mother had to go to work.

I:          I see.  Mmmm.

[00:20:00]

So you’ve been around, or did you stay one place in Korea, North Korea?

R:         I just stayed in this basically one area the whole time I was there.

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         It was where the 26th Regiment was stationed — or the 21st.

I:          Yeah, 21st Infantry Regiment.

R:         Yeah.

I:          So we’ll find that out.

And were there any danger — I mean, you mentioned a lot of those.

R:         Yeah.

[00:20:30]

We were near Kumsong.

I:          Kumsong.

R:         I don’t think — I don’t think it exists anymore.

I:          Okay.  Were there any other Korean soldiers fighting with you?

R:         No.

I:          No?

R:         I only heard them off in the distance, with bugles and trumpets and —

I:          That’s the Chinese.

R:         Well,

[00:21:00]

they were fighting each other.

I:          Right.

R:         And you could hear them.  And the yelling and screaming.  It was horrific.

I:          Horrific.

Any — any memory that still stick to you?

R:         I have a lot of memories.

I:          Can you share some of it?

R:         Well, I don’t know.

[00:21:30]

I’ve written two books.

I:          Oh.  What’s the name of it?

R:         They’re just books of my sketches.

The first six months I was there I was in [item] company.  And in the — on the front line, or reserve, depending on —

I:          Uh-huh, yeah.

R:         — what the situation was.

The next six months I was in headquarters

[00:22:00]

company.  I was in a company that went out every night and patrolled.  We would leave at sunset.  We were taken to the front.  And then we would go out into the night.  And we would walk all night long and then come back and get picked up.  We did that for six

[00:22:30]

months.  Sometimes it was 50 degrees below zero.

I:          Mmmm.

R:         Very cold.  It was in the mountains.

I:          Did you regret that you were there at the time?  Be honest.  Just …

R:         I really didn’t regret, but,

[00:23:00]

um, I had kind of flashbacks on where all my friends were.

I:          Are you — do you have PTSD?

R:         Do I have what?

I:          PTSD, post-traumatic —

R:         I’m sure — I’m sure I have.

I:          Oh.

R:         Yeah.  But I never, um, I never talk about it.

[00:23:30]

I:          So you told me that you published two books, but it’s all sketches about Korean War, or is —

R:         Yeah.

I:          Oh.

R:         I think it was 60 sketches.  And then I have more that I did in Japan.

I:          I would love to see that, and I’ll buy the books.

R:         Yeah.

I:          Yeah, yeah.

So you left Korea in 1952.  And what did

[00:24:00]

you do after that?

R:         When I left Korea, I went back to school and got a degree in physical chemistry.

I:          Physical chemistry?

R:         Yeah.

I:          You are the — you are the artist.

R:         Well, then I gave myself a two-year vacation and travelled the world, hitchhiking the world —

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         — and painting.

[00:24:30]

I:          Why — why chemistry?  Why did you …

R:         Because I’m really — I’m a scientist.  I — my job was in nuclear physics.

I:          So from painter to nuclear physicist?

R:         Yeah.  I would come back to Korea and give lectures

[00:25:00]

on my physical chemistry.

I:          When did you go back to Korea?

R:         Several times.

I:          Several times.

R:         I went to Daejeon, a very new city.  It’s amazing.

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         I knew a professor there.  And anyway

[00:25:30]

I gave some lectures.  And very — I was very impressed, to say the least.

I:          Uh-huh.

So think about this whole transformation.  You saw Korea completely rubble and muddy, Incheon.

R:         Yeah.

I:          And now it’s one of the strongest economy and democracy of the world.

R:         Yeah.

I’ll

[00:26:00]

tell you, it was just like a dream, just unbelievable.  Skyscrapers, beautiful freeways, no traffic police.  It has the traffic system there, which is basically cameras.

I:          That’s right.

R:         And you can’t fool a camera.

I:          Exactly.

[00:26:30]

You can have a lot of fines.

R:         Yeah.  Well, I think it’s a very smart way to do it, so —

I:          From watching surveillance.

R:         [Laughs]

I:          Well, what do you think about this whole transformation, and you are in the middle of it.  What do you think?

R:         Well, I think

[00:27:00]

the Korean transformation and the China transformation are unbelievable.  But I have to put China in there also.  And it just shows you, um, what people have inside them is magic.  It’s truly magic.

I:          Uh-huh.

[00:27:30]

Yes, it is.

You know the Korean War has lasted more than 70 years?

R:         Yeah.

I:          And still, it’s an armistice, not peace treaty.  What do you think about that?

R:         Well, I still hope for unification because it should be a unification.   But there’s — now, there’s a big culture gap,

[00:28:00]

and there never was.  So you have a culture to contend with.

I:          What do you mean, culture gap?

R:         Well, I feel like the South Koreans have grown up in a free society, and the North Koreans have grown

[00:28:30]

up in, basically, a slave society.  It’s a very hard thing to deal with.

I:          Exactly.  So it’s hard to combine both together.

R:         Yeah.

I:          Would you sign the petition if there is a petition for the declaration of the end of the war?

R:         No, I don’t think it makes any difference.

I:          Make

[00:29:00]

any difference, got it, if you are brutally honest about it, yeah.

Any message to the American people who do not really know or understand what is the legacy of the Korean War?  What would you say to them?
R:         Well, when there seems to be no hope, there is.

[00:29:30]

I:          So you think America right now is also in a very troubled …

R:         Well, I think the world is in a very troubled place.

I:          Uh-huh.

So you were an artist.  Now you went to chemistry and then physicist.

R:         So I’m now an artist.

I:          And now artist.

R:         Uh-huh.

I:          And you were in Korea.

R:         Yeah.

I:          1951 to ’52.

R:         Yeah.

[00:30:00]

I:          What a story to tell.

R:         Yeah, it really is.

I:          When —

R:         And I think I — I tried to tell it.

I:          Yeah, I’m still confused.

When did you move to Hawaii?

R:         When was it?

I first came here in 1960, and I fell in love with it.  And I bought a

[00:30:30]

house here, so it was in 1960.  I didn’t move here until 2000.

I:          2000, uh-huh.  Very good.

I think you made the right decision to buy in1960 because now the real estate market is so high.

R:         Yeah, I know.

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         I had a place on the beach, on the north shore.  I bought it for $20,000.

I:          Uh-huh.

[00:31:00]

R:         One acre and 200 feet of beach.  Nice, very nice.

I:          I was there.  I was in Tunnel Beach.

R:         You were where?

I:          In the Tunnel Beach.

R:         Oh, Tunnel Beach.  No kidding.

I:          Yeah.

R:         I know that’s where Howard Taylor wound up.

I:          How what?

R:         Howard Taylor, Elizabeth Taylor’s son.

I:          Oh, I see.

R:         He was a resident here, and she was here a lot, very

[00:31:30]

often.

I:          Oh.

R:         And we were good friends.

I:          Roger, any other story that you want to leave to this interview about your service as a Korean War Veteran?

R:         Well, I feel very lucky that I was a survivor.  I couldn’t wish for anything more.

[00:32:00]

I:          So you joined this chapter?

R:         I joined?

I:          This chapter.

R:         Yeah, I joined this chapter.

I:          You wear the same t-shirts there, right?

R:         Yeah.

I:          That’s a reunion.

R:         Yeah, it’s a reunion, yeah, yeah.

I:          Uh-huh.

R:         But nobody’s heard my story.

I:          Really?  You didn’t tell them?

R:         No.

I:          Why not?

R:         I don’t know.  I just wanted to be one of the guys.

I:          Well, I am definitely

[00:32:30]

interested in looking at your sketches in the letter you — you did in Korea?  Okay?  So —

R:         Well, you’re welcome to come out to the house.

I:          Yes, I will talk to you about that.

R:         Yeah.

I:          So, Roger, thank you for your service.  Thank you for your service.  And thank you for sharing your whole story.  Such a transformation.

R:         Yes.

I:          Such a transformation.  And I want to thank you for your fight, sir.

R:         Okay.  I’m still transforming.

I:          Transforming to what?

[00:33:00]

R:         Who knows.

I:          Who knows.

What a story, huh?

 

[End of Recorded Material]

Photos

Posing

Benjamin Beneventi and Roger Stringham looking into the mountains of North Korea with supplies and spent ammunition.

Posing

Mail

An encampment on the front lines. The squad leader brought water and mail to the men. Roger Stringham is second from the left. The soldier to the far right is Benjamin Beneventi from Mexico City.

Mail

A Lighter Moment

Benjamin Beneventi and another sharing a lighter moment.

A Lighter Moment

Squad Members

Group of squad members. From left to right: John, Ben, Harris, and Jackson (kneeling).

Squad Members

Posing

Ben and Roger Stringham at a supply delivery. Spent ammunition to the left of the men.

Posing

Mail Arrival

Reading the mail and doing laundry.

Mail Arrival