Ross Pittman saw Korea from aboard ship while serving in the United States Navy during the Korean War. His experiences in visual communications as well as basic life on board fill many of his recollections. He speaks of his ship’s mission in helping U.S. ground forces and destroying enemy targets. He recounts some of the destruction he saw from aboard ship. He reflects on his role during the war and speaks proudly of his service and contributions in helping South Korea. He expresses that the developments made in South Korea since the war are incredible.
Ross Pittman explains his job specialty in the Navy during the Korean War. He shares that he specialized in visual communications which entailed relaying messages between ships. He recounts that semaphore code was utilized to pass along the messages. He also shares that unofficial questions were asked between those aboard each ship as an attempt to locate friends.
Visuals aboard Ship
Ross Pittman expresses that their main mission aboard ship was to help ground forces and to destroy enemy supply lines, warehouses, and the like. He explains that they traveled the coast to hit targets. He remembers the terrain as hilly and explains that the weapons on board were capable of hitting targets 20 to 25 miles inland. He recalls watching a crane topple after a location was fired upon and recounts other visuals of destruction.
Revisiting Korea and Reflections
Ross Pittman shares his thoughts on Korea after his post-war visit. He acknowledges that the developments made in South Korea since the war are incredible. He expresses his pride and good feelings for having contributed to the South Korean growth. He shares his thoughts on the scenery's beauty and explains that he did not realize the terrain was so mountainous. He reflects on the importance of everyone's job during the war, by land and by sea.
I’m Ross Pittman. ROSS PITTMAN.
When were you born?
And where were you born? In Sumarall, Mississippi.
S U M A R A L L Mississsippi
Ah. Tell me about your family when you were growing up. Your siblings. Your parents.
I had one brother that was 10 years younger than I am. He passed away about three years ago. My father served in the First World War, in the Army. And, uh,my mother… all were born in Mississippi. Both. Father and mother. They were native, native Mississippians. Uh, I grew up in Marin County, Mississippi, graduated from high school in Columbia, Mississippi.
What was the name of your high school?
Columbia High School, Columbia, Mississippi.
Yeah, When did you graduate?
Wow. So as soon as you graduated you came to the Korean war, right?
No, right after I graduated I was in the National Guard. I joined the National Guard when I was 17 years old. And after I graduated high school, uh the unit National Guard unit I was in was being mobilized and I did not want to go to the Army so I got a release from the National Guard and joined the Navy.
When did you join the Navy? April the 15th, 1951
So you knew already that the Korean War broke out?
Yes, I was aware of that. Up until then I was unaware of Korea, I didn’t know where Korea was. But I was aware that there was a war, yes.
And were you thinking that you might drag into that war?
Uh, not until I got notice that the National Guard unit was being mobilized and then it kind of dawned on me that I might be going to Korea?
Yeah.Why did you join the navy not Army or Air Force?
The navy, I had three cousins that had been in World War II in the Navy and I decided that I’d rather be in the Navy than I would the Army.
Where did you go to get the basic military training? San Diego, California
San Diego. Umhm. And what kind? At what time?
I mean how was training? What kind of training did you receive? Oh, uh just basic training in San Diego.
Tell me, It can be basic to you but not to us.We don’t know Seamanship…
What is seamanship?
Seamanship is well, how the Navy operates I would say. As far as living aboard ship, the military customs.
How do they teach you how to live in a ship on the land when you get to basic. Do they have a model of ship?
They had a model.
Tell me about those details that is what we especially young americans want to know because it happened a long time ago. They don’t have any idea about how you got trained.
Honestly they had a model and it was a mock of a ship with the inside, the hatches. They tell you how to go through the hatches. How to batten the hatches down, or lock the hatches down. They tell you seamanship about how to tie the knots the ropes, the halliards… they teach you all that. And just military regulations.
Where did you leave from to Korea? When
April the first, 1952.
So today is April first. Yeah, yeah, ironically.
From Long Beach California
And where did you go, did you go to Korea directly or what?
No, we stopped for, I believe, a week in Hawaii Pearl Harbor. From there we went to, uh, Ucusca, Japan.
And then on April the 8th we got on the bomb line. The bomb line was referred to as a cruising area up and down the east coast of Korea that was considered the bomb line.
So you were there around april the 8th
Tell me about what happened after that.
Uh well Let’s see, April the 8th we conducted gun strikes against the enemy supply routes and won some in… SongLin area (These names i don’t pronounce good.)
That’s ok, that’s ok.
And April the 9th we joined the bomb line with strikes against the troops. Concentrated supply areas and suspected gun positions in the vicinity of SuwanDan and Kojo.
It was very intensive few days right?
Yeah and this day after day was what we did up and down the east coast of Korea
What was your specialty? What was your job?
My job was visual communications.
Yeah, so, Isn’t that difficult ?there are too many signals, right? Tell me about those.
Well, we had semaphore which is manual. Then we had flashing light which we used the light was semaphore. Semaphore code. Dot dot dash, so forth
Did you do that? Yeah
Wasn’t that too difficult, too complicated?
It was difficult to learn but once you learned it it wasn’t to complicated. You could sit there and work the light without any problem. And you’d talk back and forth ship to ship: messages from the captain to the other captain most frequently is that is what we did.
What was the most frequent messages: come and eat or fight or are you short of fuel? What kind of messages can you think of?
Well, offhand, I don’t’ remember. Mostly it was was cruising: what distance you’re’ cruising and you know. I don’t’ know, just different messages like that.
Were you able to joke with other soldiers in other ships with that light?
What kind of joke? Tell me please.
You would ask if anyone was from your home town. Do they know of anyone from Mississippi. And where they’re fromwere they from just conversation.
That’s fun, huh?
Oh yeah. Yeah, it was very interesting. And we would send messages. Maybe one guy on one ship knew somebody on your ship. Well he would send a message over and you’d take it down to him.
That’s very nice.
a buddy of his or something
Nice surprise to everybody, right? Oh yeah yeah
Uh what was your ship, what was your ship? My ship was USS Iowa
Uh huh. BB61
What does BB stand for? Battleship
Battleship. So what kind of weapons did you have? What kind of weapons? We had 9 16inch guns …
Wow that’s a big
Uh, huh. 50 caliber, yeah they were big. We had 20 5inch guns. We had 80 40millimeters, which was antiaircraft, basically.
Wow 80 of them?
- Yeah. They were twin mounts.
So that ship USS Iowa must be a big one. How many crew members and how many wh… Tell me about the size.
Iowa was a 45000 ton battleship 887 feet long and 800 no, 108 feet wide, that’s in the beam, or the center.
How many crew members were there?
I think at the time we were in Korea we had about 18 or 1900 crew members.
Wow that’s a lot.
That’s officers and enlisted.
How can those so many, you know, soldiers live in a ship. How did you live there? what was the living conditions? Tell me about those details.
We had compartments what was called compartments and we had bunks. Your bunks were stacked oh, 5 or 6 high, depending on the height of the compartment. And, uh, that’s where we bunked ,heh, that’s where we slept (heh, heh)
How was it sleeping there 5 or six bunks in height?
It wasn’t bad. You get used to it. It wasn’t the best conditions, but it was good. We could, we had chow hall. We had three chow halls.
What is that?
Eating. Where we ate. Dinner. A dinner room, I guess you’d say. We had three. We had chow in the morning and at noon, and then in the evening.
What was your main food?
Main food? Well, usually it was a three course meal. You had a meat, and a couple of vegetables and a dessert. Just about every time you had a dessert. That’s the reason I wanted the navy, because I took my bed with me!
Haha. Very luxurious, huh? Yeah, I had my bed with me.
How much were you paid?
Gosh, I don’t remember. It seems like it was… We had two paychecks: the first and 15th of every month. At that time it seems like it was I don’t remember, 40 or 45 dollars a paycheck. Roughly 98 dollars a month. Depending on your rate, uh, rank.
What was your rank?
My rank? I was Petty Officer Third Class.
What did you do with that money? There was not much to do there right?
No,not aboard ship, no. We had a ship store. We could buy supplies like cigarettes shaving cream razor blades. We could buy all of that at the ship store. Also we had what they called a geedunk stand, which was like a soda fountain. You could buy ice cream milk shakes, whatever.
Much better, huh?
Yeah, yeah, candy…
Were there any dangerous moments? Did you have any encounter with a battleship?
There was an island off the coast there. And we got a couple of water spouts which, you know, they hit the water a couple of times. But not the ship. No, we never got any…Now we had a destroyer, the USS Thompson, that was steaming with us, and they were hit from that island i think it was two maybe three on it that were killed. And they brought the bodies aboard the Iowa because we had refers, or storage. Refrigeration where we could store them til we went back to Japan.
When did you um… what was the most difficult thing during your service in Korea? The most difficult? Gosh, I don’t remember any difficult (huh huh).
Not too much, right?
No. You got a 19 year old kid and everything is new every day. I don’t know of any
Were you close enough to the land that you could see the scene, scenery of the Korean land? Oh yeah.
How was it, What did you see?
Yeah. and, uh, mostly the coastal region was what we could see.
Was there much destruction?
Yeah, several times. I was on a signal bridge which was an 03 level up. We had a 32=power binoculars that we could watch stuff when they, you know, when we fired the 16 inch, we could see the results of that.
Oh yeah.Tell me about how intensive was your bombing into the land of North Korea, right?
Yeah, uh, 16 inch…See, their targets could be up to 2025 miles inland and a lot of that you didn’t see. Now we went in to Wan San harbor and they fired upon warehouses and ammunition storage dumps there, and we could see the results of that.
How was it?
Uh, destructive. (heh). Uh, and I remember in Wan San harbor they had a… I guess it was a crane in a shipyard and I was watching as we fired 16 inch in there. And you could see the crane topple.
Yeah, I guess it was a shipyard.
Um, so main mission was to bomb, right?
Right, our main mission was to, uh, of course, help ground forces and destroy enemy supply lines, warehouses, storage places like Wan San… Oh there were several. In fact, we went up the coast 40 miles from Russia on targets.
To do what?
No, no, no. We went up to the coast line and we were 40 miles from the Russian border
Oh, No we didn’t uh…
That means you went very far north which borders from Russia ,right? Yeah.
When did you leave Korea?
We left Korea in October the 17th of 1952 and we headed to Long Beach, California, with a stopover in Hawaii. I think it was two weeks in Long Beach and then we went from Long Beach through the Panama Canal to Norfolk, Virginia and that was our home port from then on.
What was the impact of your service on your civilian life? How did it affect you? Anything good?
Did you get the Gi Bill or anything? What did you do? Tell me. Oh yeah I went to college.
Southern, University of Southern Mississippi under the GI Bill. I went three years then I went to work for a television station.
What did you study there?
I studied speech. Film work. I did no announcing or anything. No oncamera stuff!
So you are familiar with this interview setting?
Uh, basically yeah. somewhat.
So it turned out good for you, right? GI bills and you were educated, and you… Yeah.
Very good. Have you been back to Korea?
Yes, I was there, Ii guess it was three years ago or 4 years ago.
What did you think about the revisit ? Oh, entirely different.
Oh, it was very enjoyable. I was there as a guest for a military academy. I can’t think of the name of it, but it was a military academy there. I think it was in Degu.
Yeah something like the Third Military Academy, yes.
I guess. I think the academy was in Degu. Or out from Degu. But it was very enjoyable.
The scenery; the development that they had made: highways, railroads…it was just incredible.
In 60 years, they had rebuilt the country. And it was beautiful! I didn’t realize, really, that it was so mountainous.
Because you were in the sea!
because I was on the coast but inland you realize how mountainous it is those army guys and those marines, that’s when you reallly I really felt for them because they were up and down those mountains.
Every day. And that is really when I felt, my gosh. It kind of makes me feel like I didn’t really contribute that much. They’re the one that’s contributed. Of course, everybody has their job, you know.
And every job is important.
Very nice of you to think that way, but everybody has their own mission you chose it and you completed it so… Yep.
And you were proud of seeing all those developments in Korea, right?
Very much so. It gives you a good feeling that you’ve contributed to a country and helped them grow. It does, it gives you a good feeling.
And you told me that you have three grandson in the colleges. And you know that my foundation has a Korean Veterans Youth Corps that annually meets in Washington DC. My foundation covers almost every expense. And they going to go learn about Korean War, they going to learn about Korean veterans sacrifice. They going to go visit Pentagon, all those. So ask them to contact us soon as possible because there are limited number of admissions ok? I will. Well it just makes me proud to have served and helped the country
Any other messages you want to leave to this interviews?
None that I know of.
Thank you so much for first for the foundation. We are here because you foght for us. You’re quite welcome. My priviledge.
Thank you, sir. Thank you.