Ted Kocon was drafted into the United States Army during World War II and later served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. During the war, he was stationed at Brady Field in Japan, assisting in flying troops and supplies to Korea. He recalls a flying airplanes with supply drops to Korea, including a drop where a parachute malfunctioned, including his memories transporting wounded soldiers from Korea. He shares that he is glad to have served and aided in stopping the spread of Communism. Ted Kocon considers his military service a great experience in his lifetime.
Switching from Foxhole to Airborne
Ted Kocon shares that he joined the Air Force following World War II as he did not enjoy living in a fox hole while in the Army during the war. He recounts receiving his orders to go to Japan in 1952, leaving behind his wife and child. He adds that he was stationed at Brady Field in Japan, served as a crew chief and engine mechanic, and assisted in flying cargo planes carrying troops and supplies to Korea.
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Parachutes Opening Too Early
Ted Kocon details carrying supplies and troops to Korea once a week. He recounts an incident during a supply drop along the coast of Korea which involved the parachute of one of the bundles opening prematurely after an ejection. He recalls the parachute and bundle creating a drag on the plane causing loss of altitude until the bundle was finally freed.
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Memories from WWII Resurfacing in Korea
Ted Kocon shares his soft side of service and well as some memories from World War II. He recollects his earnings and sending money home to his wife. He shares that seeing wounded during the war brought back memories from his time serving in World War II. He recounts his departure from Japan in 1953 and receiving the Air Force Commendation Medal for his service during the Korean War.
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[Beginning of Recorded Material]
T: My name is Ted Kocon. K O C O N. Pronounce the C like an S.
I: Where is the ethnic origin of this last name?
T: I’m Polish. Yeah.
T: Don’t I, don’t I look Polish?
I: I couldn’t tell you.
I: You look like a Korean.
I: So tell me about your family, your parents, oh by the way, when is your birthday?
T: Uh, February 22nd, 1925.
I: 25? Well how old are you now?
T: I’m 90.
T: Yeah. Plus, a couple months.
I: Where were you born?
T: In Lansford.
I: Can you spell it.
T: L A N S F O R D.
I: Very close to where I live. New York.
T: New York?
I: New York State. Syracuse, New York.
T: Oh yeah, right.
I: Yeah. Tell me about your parents and your siblings when you were growing up.
T: Well my parents came from Poland.
T: And I had three brothers and three sisters. My dad was a coal miner and worked at the coal mine for 45 years.
T: My mom was a housewife, taking care of our kids.
I: Were you the eldest?
T: No, my sister, uh she’s a nun, she’s still living, she’s about 95.
T: I was in the middle. Yeah.
I: Tell me about the school you went through there.
T: Uh first I went to a Catholic school. St. Peter and Paul Catholic School for 8th grade. Then I went to St. Ann’s High School. Catholic high school.
I: Can you spell it?
T: St. Ann. A N N.
I: When did you graduate?
T: In 1942.
I: Are you Catholic?
T: I am Catholic, yeah.
I: And, what did you do after the graduation of your high school?
T: I worked for the, uh, coal company, with the forestry department. Cutting trees, bushes, stuff like that. For the coal company.
I: And then?
T: And then, when I turned 18, couple, about a couple of months after I turned 18, I had a letter from President Roosevelt.
He said, “Greetings. The country needs you. Report to the induction center.”
I: So, did you like it?
T: I had no choice.
I: Did you like it or not?
T: Well yeah, yeah, I liked it cause there was no work in the coal regions. I, first, I knew about it was the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was at the time. Before we knew it, we found out it was in Hawaii.
I: So, it was after Japan
attacked Pearl Harbor?
T: That’s right.
I: And it was during the WWII.
T: That’s right. Yes.
I: So, had you ever imagined that you would be in WWII as a soldier?
T: I never thought I would be, but my mother said, “Yeah, you’ll be involved in the war.” Yeah. I came home from school, in the early 39’. My mother was in tears and my father was listening to the radio, throughout all that static, about the invasion, about Hitler invading Poland.
Since he had some realtors in Poland, he was really concerned about it. I told my mom, I said, by the time I am old enough, the war would be over. She says, “No, you’ll be in the war. You’ll be there.”
I: Mmm. Army?
T: Army, yes.
I: Tell me about the year and date, that you can remember, that you enlisted to the Army?
T: Okay. Uh, it was May 1943. I had basic training in Fort Riley, Kansas.
T: They told me, Fort Riley was the biggest cavalry camp in the world. I said, “Oh great, I want to be a horseman.” You know and get a horse. Instead, they gave me a rifle.
I: Oh yeah.
T: And I carried a rifle for the rest of my duty. I got basic training for about 6 months, Fort Riley, and I came home on a 5 day leave, then by then, my dad walked me down to the bus station
and on my way to Fort Ord, California. Fort Ord, California is a, not far from Pebble Beach.
T: Yeah, I’m sure you know. In Fort Ord, California, we still do some training. Rifle range, uh calisthenics, and all that. Before we went to Lacker, we were able to get an overnight pass to go to town, day pass.
For four or five hours. Provided we pass rifle inspection. I had happened to be in the front row, and an officer came down, took my rifle, saw it was clean, so they issued me a pass to go to town. As he walked, got his way down to the far far of the column, my friend was already standing right behind me. He said, “Ted, let me have your rifle. I want to get a pass to go to town.” So, I didn’t mind changing rifles with him.
As the officer came out of the sitting column, picked up his rifle, which was my rifle, looked at it thoroughly and said, “Dirty rifle soldier. No pass for you.” [Laughter] I felt sorry for him, so I gave him my pass. Me, I went to the gym, excited. A couple days later we boarded the train, uh, to San Francisco. I boarded the ship on the USS Georgia Squatter. I could just picture silly gutter over the gate bridge.
T: Some of the boys, already got, were sea sick. After we board ship, we traveled out to the South Pacific for 29 days, finally landed in New Caledonia. Which is an island, a French colony, off the coast of Australia. I’m sure you know where that’s at.
T: From there, uh, we went to basic training, and one day…
I: Basic training again, there?
T: Yeah, we trained a whole lot of
a lot of training.
I: What was your original mission in New Caledonia?
T: Well, we were just waiting for orders to ship somewhere else. It was like a replacement depot. I can remember at one of the restaurants, and some of the GIs were sitting at the bar, and in comes a native man with grey big bushy black hair, skimpy pair of shorts, and he was walking on his hands. So, the boys were throwing him coins: nickels and dimes.
He stood on one hand, picked up a quarter and put it in his mouth. When his mouth was full of coins, he got up and walked out the door. Never saw him since.
I: Hmm. So when did you engage in any combat mission?
T: After we left Caledonia, we boarded ship, went to Melbourne, Australia to refuel.
T: Yeah, from Melbourne, I took that same ship to Guadalcanal. That’s where I joined my outfit,
the 164th Infantry, with Americal Division. I was in Guadalcanal for about two months. Then from there, we went to Fiji Islands for some R&R. We did a lot of training in Fiji also. Well, we had a full day fuels march. Carried four fuel pack. We marched from sun up to sun down. Took a break about every hour for a 10-minute break. Carried our own supplies and all. By the end of the fourth day
we came back to camp, had a good meal in the mess hall, couple of the boys wanted to go into town to Suva Fiji, which is about three miles away. So, we hiked to Fiji, to Suva, had a coconut ice cream after a long hike. Few days later, we boarded the ship headed for Bougainville. We made a beach signal landing on Bougainville on Christmas morning, 1943.
I: Mhm. So when were you discharged from the WWII?
T: In November 1945.
I: Mhm. And what happened to you?
T: And then after the war, I stayed in the reserves, but the coal regions were going broke, so I decided to join the Airforce, cause I was tired of living in a foxhole.
I: Uh huh.
T: That’s when the Korean War started.
I: Smart. Yeah, now you thinking.
T: Yeah, now I’m thinking.
I: So, when did you join the Airforce?
T: In 1947.
I: In 47?
I: Long before the Korean War broke out.
T: That’s right, yeah.
I: And, what was your specialty?
T: Well, I was a draftsman and then I decided I went to aircraft and engine mechanic school in Texas. Then I was transferred to Mitchell Phil, New York.
T: In Long Island in the June of 52, I got my orders to go to Japan.
I: So you were in the state until 1952?
T: That’s right, yes.
T: 1952, I was with Mag, my beautiful wife. It had my daughter Terry, which was a year old at the time. When I went to Korea they stayed with my, with her parents, which was a blessing for me.
I: So, you went to Japan and what did you do there?
T: We landed in Yokohama.
T: Okay. From Yokohama, took a train going to South, 15 miles under sea tunnel. Landed in the island Kyushu.
T: Then stopped in Brady Field, Japan, which is about four miles from the city of Fukuoka. That’s where I stayed, Brady Field. From there, I flew. I was crew chief and a mechanic, fixing airplanes, C-46 airplanes.
I: So, transportation?
T: That’s right.
T: Now, true carrier
I: So, were you belonging to the fiftieth or fortieth? What was the unit?
T: It was 318th Air Division.
T: Air Division. Yeah. 19th Troop Carrier Squadron.
I: Mhm. And you are repairing the
T: Crew chief.
I: of the 46th?
T: Flight engineer, yeah. From there, we flew into Korea.
I: When did you flew into Korea?
T: Well, when I was in Japan about maybe, maybe, three or four days. Every three or four days.
I: After you…
T: After here. After got to Brady.
I: So, can you remember the month that you fly into Korea?
T: It was about in July.
I: In July of 1952?
T: That’s right, yeah.
I: And what was your mission?
T: Well, carrying the troops supplies, everything. Cargo plane.
I: And where did you arrive?
T: Uh, there are several places in Korea. I’ve been wondering about one experience I had when, a plane we would load the plane up, it would taxi out to the runway, before we took off we pulled a final engine check, okay.
T: Then we took off as long as the engine alright. But that was discontinued at night time because it was so dark. About the flight line, we just took right off because a few days before that an enemy soldier caught a bomb to the tailwheel and at a certain altitude the bomb exploded. So, we lost an airplane.
I: Whole airplane?
T: One airplane, yeah.
T: A C-46. And then uh,
Korea, I’d say was the coldest place on Earth. I guess everybody will know that, at that time. We’d land the plane and we didn’t even turn the engines off because we figured the oil would congeal, would be hard to start again. So unloading the plane with the props going that, that cold wind blowing, it was miserable. As cold as it was.
I: So, you didn’t station in Korea but you were flying from Japan?
T: I was stationed at Brady Field in Japan but flying to Korea
back and forth.
I: Back and forth, back and forth. How often was it? Do you remember what proximately?
T: At least once a week.
I: Once a week?
T: At least, yeah. When you had to come back, you had to repair the aircraft because a lot of problems with it. Load her up, and when they, we were dropping supplies over near the coast of Korea.
I: Mhm. Was it North Korea or South Korea?
T: South Korea.
I: South Korea?
T: Yeah. Dropping bundles long distance over the Sea of Japan along the coast.
I: We call East Sea.
I: Sea. East Sea.
T: Oh. Sea of Japan, oh.
I: No, no, it’s not Sea of Japan.
I: Sea of Japan to Japanese but to Koreas is East Sea.
T: Okay, whatever it was, okay.
T: Yeah, okay. We’re dropping off about 15 big heavy bundles. Prepared by parachute, you know?
I: What’s in there?
T: Every thing. Supplies, food.
T: Medical stuff and everything yeah. But it was going for pretty good.
T: Until the last bundle that we had ejected. The parachute opened prematurely.
T: Opened up the, heavy bundle hit the tail section. Heavy bundle was below the elevator and the parachute was above, which
Created a terrific drag on an aircraft.
T: We’re losing altitude. Fortunately…
I: You are in that plane?
T: Yes. Fortunately the heavy bundle damaged the tail section with jagged sharp edges and before we landed, the sharp edges cut the parachute shroud. The bundle fell down and parachute drifted off.
T: We gained altitude linearly and I noticed the U.S. vessel they let sea,
Sea of Japan [Laughs]
I: East Sea.
T: Okay, suja made U-turn following us in case we had a ditch.
T: Here, in HC, but fortunately we gained altitude. We turned back to Brady Field.
I: So that was 1952?
T: 52. Yes.
I: So once a week that you flew into Korea?
T: After that, aha, I had pretty close shades, you know. So, I, without flying status, I returned to being a crew chief and a mechanic. I was an inspector, inspecting maintenance, repairing generators. Then I was in charge of the ground power section.
I: So, let me ask you this different. You never stationed in Korea right?
I: Let me ask you this soft side of your service. How much, what was your rank and how much were you paid at the time?
T: I was a tech sergeant. E6.
I: Technical sergeant, right?
I: Yeah and how much were you paid?
T: Hmm. I don’t remember that. But when I was started and joined the army we’d get paid fifty dollars a month.
I: Fifty dollars per month. So, by time you became technical sergeant, must be 150.
T: Probably so. Something like that. I can’t remember.
I: Not more than 200?
T: No, no.
I: What did you do with that money?
T: I send some home.
I: To your wife?
I: What were you thinking? You were the World War II veterans and now right after the World War II in five years you are participating in another big war.
I: And the country you never knew before, the Korea.
T: That’s right.
I: What were you thinking?
T: Well, a lot of times while hauling supplies and even the wounded soldiers from Korea, reminded me of the World War II soldiers
that were killed and wounded. It really brought back memories.
I: You saw many wounded during the World War II?
T: Yes, oh yes. Yeah, I carried a flamethrower during World War II. It was rough. I was close enough to… I better not talk about that.
T: So after I got, after I left Korea, after that incident with the parachute,
You know? I went off flying status. I became a crew chief again and maintenance inspector. I fixed, I repaired generators, hydraulic stands. I ordered supplies. And for that I received the Air Force Commendation Medal, which I’m proud of. In November of 45, I left Japan. Left my outfit.
I: Oh 53, yes.
T: 53, yeah. Go back on a train again and went through the same 15-mile tunnel under water from Kyushu to Yokohama. Oh well when I was in Korea we lived in a Quonset hut and the lights were out already, a young black boy came in quietly. He spent most of the evening
in the village. Couldn’t quite
I: What do you mean? In Korea or in Japan?
T: In Japan.
I: In Japan?
T: In Japan, yeah. Spent most of the time in the village. He came in one night real quiet. Turned on his radio real low. He picked up a broomstick and started to dance.
T: Quietly, I woke up to him and said more! What are you doing?
I: You said this a young black boy?
T: Yes, a young black boy.
I: Okay, so..
T: He says, “I’m practicing to be a ballroom dancer.” I said, “Well you’re doing good. Keep it up!”
So, he kept on dancing, while I went to bed.
I: So, after you returned from Japan, what did you do?
T: Well after I returned from Japan, aboard ship, go again 14 days aboard ship on a USS Man. I was on a many ships during the World War II but it’s the first time I got seasick. It’s a hell of a feeling, I tell you! And while we were aboard ship
I bought myself a harmonica. A small harmonica because I played it when I was a kid. A friend of mine says well I want to learn how to play. So, he bought one also and I tried and tried to teach him how to play harmonica. Simple instrument like that. He couldn’t even play “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” So finally when we debarked in San Francisco, he gave me his harmonica. From there, I came home, saw my family.
I: What was your job after you come back from Japan?
T: I was transferred to Greenville, South Carolina and was a mechanic on a C-124 aircraft.
I: So you are still serving in the Airforce?
T: That’s right, yeah. I put 23 years in the service.
I: What do you think is the legacy of the Korean War veterans?
T: Well, you know, coming home, they were ignored. Some of them.
Just like the Vietnam veterans, you know. All soldiers are ignored. I wish the politicians would do something better or us but that’s life.
I: So what do you think? What is the legacy of the Korean War veterans?
T: I’m glad we were there to stop the North Korea coming out. Communist country, yeah. And I’d go back again if I was young. It’s a great experience being in the service. You travel the world. When I was
in the Brady Field, Japan, during the monsoon season, I never see that the rain so hard for such a long period of time. For two days constantly, heavy rain. Brady Field was a mud hole. The mess hall was flooded. Couldn’t get a hot meal, so they serve us sea rations. Cold sea rations. Which reminded me of eating a cold sea rations when I was in World War II in a foxhole. It brought back memories.
I: It must feel very hard in the trench warfare during the World War II, right?
I: Tell me a little bit about that trench warfare experience in the foxhole.
T: The fox hole?
T: I lived out of a foxhole for seven months, an hour out of Bougainville. The mosquitos ate me up. Yeah. I was cutting, going through a thick jungle. I had a big machete, cutting the jungle. You know what I mean. Went through the tear, and I cut my knee here. I said, “Boy, it’s a good time for me to get out of here.” So I dumped dirt in it. I hoped it would get infected. The next day, it was healed.
I: No luck.
T: No luck, I was usually a first scout in the patrol going through the jungle. The captain says, “You guys want to see what a Jap looks like?” I said, “Yeah, of course!” I was 18 years old. We’re all gung ho. Let’s go get them. I was the first scout climbing up the Hill 400. I put my prop top of the hill. There was a great big banyan tree there. I put my hand on the tree and looked around and there was a Jap in the foxhole.
So he took a shot and missed. My buddy with the VAR or automatic weapon took care of him. So I took that Japanese steel helmet as a souvenir. You know that we had a saying during the war that the Germans fought for Hitler, right? The Japs fought for Tojo, right? But the Americans fought for souvenirs.
T: That’s true, yeah. So, I got the steel helmet. I took it back to the CVs
and traded it for a bottle of whiskey. Seagram seven. Brand new bottle. Came back and one guy says, “You drink?” I said, “I don’t drink.” He says, “I’ll buy it off you.” I said, “What will you give me.” “I’ll give you a hundred dollars.” Sold.
I: So would you please introduce yourself. Your name?
M: I am Margaret Kocon.
I: Margaret Kocon.
I: Am I pronouncing okay now?
T: Great, yes.
I: Okay, and when did you marry him?
M: In 1949. October 20th, 1949.
I: October 20th. You’ll never forget, right?
M: On my 21st birthday.
I: And you never imagined that he would be in another war, right?
M: I was sad. I wanted my husband home because by that time,
let’s see, we had a little girl. Didn’t we?
T: Yeah. Terry was already one year old.
I: Terry, could you join? Just stand behind them. So you are Terry?
D: I am Terry Kocon.
I: And you were one year old.
D: I was one year old. I don’t remember it but I saw lots of pictures.
I: Mhm. And tell me about it.
M: And we lived with my mother and my father
while Ted was travelling back and forth from Japan to Korea. Said, that was how many? I don’t remember how many years that was but
T: 18 months.
M: 18 months.
T: I was over there for 18 months.
M: I don’t remember how often I got that money but I know I opened an account at the dime bank in Lansford, Pennsylvania.
I: With one hundred dollars, what could you do at the
M: Well I couldn’t do much until I saved some more and then I helped my parents. Yeah, to buy groceries and that was about it.
I: Um, did he write letters back to you?
M: Did he what?
I: Write letters.
M: Oh yes.
I: How often?
M: Very nice letters.
I: Tell me details. Give me the details.
M: Um, he missed me very much. He wished he were at home with me and our daughter. Wasn’t a very pleasant place to be. “It was the coldest place in the world,” he said. And I don’t know what else. My love letters. They were love letters.
I: Do you still keep those letters?
I: What did you do with that?
M: I don’t remember.
I: Must be very difficult for you to raise your daughter without your husband.
M: Yeah, it was difficult and I don’t know what I would have done had my parents not helped me. It was pretty hard.
T: She did a good job. Look at her!
M: And as when she was younger, a year old, she had colic. She cried a lot
but she grew up very well. It was nice living in the same town as Ted’s parents. Terry’s other grandparents. It was nice to visit them. They were very happy to see her all the time. I would put her in a nice stroller and take her for a walk.
D: My name is Terry Kocon.
I: Terry Kocon and you don’t remember anything when you were a one year old.
D: I don’t remember that at all. There were lots of pictures at the time. Pictures that I still have of us at my grandmother’s house with my mom but I still have things Dad sent home to me from Korea. Some little boxes. Some little presents. I have a little jewelry box that Dad sent and I even have somewhere in storage… Dad, remember you sent records home?
T: Oh yes.
D: Lots of records. So I remember those things. I remember
seeing pictures of me in little, like, I guess, Japanese pajamas that Dad sent home. So he was always sending little presents. I’m sure Mom had lots of presents from Korea too, right? Yeah.
M: Yes, a nice kimono and a purse. I don’t remember if I had any jewelry or not. I can’t point.
T: I couldn’t afford jewelry.
M: Yeah, with a hundred dollars.
D: So, I don’t remember the time because I was only one year old but throughout the next few years, three, four, and five years old, I remember I still had those things. Maybe a little doll.
I: So you still have those right?
D: I still have them somewhere, yeah.
I: And do you have pictures that you took?
D: Pictures, mhm.
I: You know, I really want you to take a picture of scan it and burn the CD and send it back to me.
D: I’ll send you the picture.
I: These are the things that we think is some kind of artifacts
and oral history that can teach our young generations about the importance of the Korean War and their honorable service. So if you send those things, we’ll preserve it and it’s the best way to preserve it in the internet, not in the museum.