Thomas DiGiovanna was born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 11, 1931. He graduated in 1949 from Samuel J Tilden High School and recalls never learning about Korea prior to his service in the war. In July 1952, only a month after marrying his first wife, he landed in Pusan, South Korea. He recalls being taken immediately to his headquarters company along the eastern coast in North Korea, above the 38th parallel. Although he really wanted to be a cook, he attended a twelve-week boot camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where he learned Morse code. He served in the 157th Artillery Battalion Headquarters Company, supporting howitzer cannons where he served until the ceasefire was called. His wife, Andrea DiGiovanna, joined him at the interview.
Message to the Korean People
Thomas DiGiovanna recalls feeling pride after a visit from a Korean representative who gave him a medal and expressed her immense gratitude. The Korean representative tells him that if it were not for Korean War Veterans like himself, that she would not have even been born. He really enjoyed the visit and was full of pride.
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Memories of the Ceasefire
Thomas DiGiovanna recalls his experience when the ceasefire was called, which was one of the most dangerous periods of time he experienced. Instead of carrying their leftover ammunition with them back to base, soldiers were lightening their payloads by shooting off rounds of bullets into the air. Many of these bullets hit objects, and he was almost hit by shrapnel.
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Why Study Korea?
Thomas' wife, Andrea DiGiovanna, shared the stories he told her over the years. The two were married on October 10, 1993, and she recalls the stories he told her about the sea sickness he experienced on his way over to Korea. She also recalls stories about his father passing, as well as him finally returning from war and taking his first wife on their belated honeymoon. She also explains why it is so important to learn about Korea.
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My First Time Learning about Korea was in Korea
Thomas DiGiovanna attended Samuel J Tilden High School and recalls never learning about Korea prior to landing in Pusan, South Korea, in 1952. Immediately after landing, he remembers a really horrible smell and trying to hold his breath as he was exiting the ship. He learned soon after that, at the time, South Koreans used human waste for fertilizer.
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00:00:00 [Beginning of Recorded Material]
I: This is November 2, 2021. Beautiful city of the Villages in Florida. My name is Jongwoo Han. I am the president of Korean War Legacy Foundation, which has more than 1500 interviews of Korean War Veterans, not just from the United States, but also 21 other countries that were in the war.
We are doing this for the special occasion, which is the commemoration of the 70th Anniversary of the breakup of the Korean War,
supported by the Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of the Republic of Korea, where that gives you the metal there. The metal was made by the MPVA. So I want to thank the MPVA for this.
And we are doing this, first of all, to preserve your memory. You’ve told me that you are 90 years old, right?
T: Yes, sir.
I: So it must be more than 70 years ago, right?
T: Oh, yeah.
I: We’re going to find that out, how you were at the time.
And to preserve your memory but, also, to honor your service.
T: Thank you.
I: And to preserve your memory so that teachers can use in the classroom —
I: — when they’re talking about the Korean War because our textbook only covers about one paragraph, very dry, all about MacArthur and Truman, not — not Tom.
I: So that’s why we’re making this. Okay?
I: Thank you for coming again. And it’s my great honor to meet you, sir. You came with your wife.
I’m going to ask her to join you later —
I: — with you together.
Tell me, what is your name, and spell it for the audience, please.
T: My name is Thomas P. DiGiovanna. Thomas, T-h-o-m-a-s. P for Paul. And DiGiovanna is D-i-G-i-o-v-a-n-n-a.
I: That’s an Italian name?
T: I think so.
I: You’re not sure what you are?
T: No, I’m sure. In fact, my grandfather was from Sicily, so I am Sicilian.
I: So that’s Italian?
I: Great. I love [movie] there, Sicily.
So what is your birthday?
T: My birthday is February 11, 1931.
I: ’31. So —
makes it 90 years this year.
I: Wow. You look great, sir.
T: Thank you.
I: I don’t see much wrinkle in your face. What is —
T: Not yet. She won’t let them come. She keeps putting oil on the spots.
I: Olive Oil?
I: Where were you born?
T: I was born in Brooklyn, New York.
I: Wow. I’m from New York.
T: Yes. I’m living in Long Island now,
in a little town called Lindenhurst.
I: What do you mean, you live in Long Island?
T: Well, I have a residence in Long Island, besides the residence I have in Florida.
T: I have family in New York.
T: I go to see them for Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
I: So at least you have two houses, so far as I know.
T: Well, I’m down here more than I am up in New York.
T: I’m up in New
York for the three holidays. And I stay, like, a week and a half or two, and then I come back down.
T: I don’t like the cold weather.
I: Me neither, but I’m from Syracuse, New York.
T: Oh, you’re really cold up there.
I: We love snow.
Female Voice: Yes, you do, definitely.
I: So tell me about your family background, your siblings and your parents when you were growing up.
T: All right. I was —
I have a brother and a sister my age. My sister has passed, so right now it’s my brother and I. Our parents are gone. I have a daughter that got married and presented me with a gift of a little girl, so I am a great-grandfather.
T: And I don’t see the baby that much. We do it
iPad and we make an arrangement. And, of course, she’s now, oh, about four-years-old. But she doesn’t sit still. So we’ll see her for a minute or two, and then she’s gone.
I: Okay. So tell me about the school you went through in — was it Long Island or Brooklyn, did you go through the school?
T: Well, I was in elementary school and high school in Brooklyn.
I: So when did you graduate high school?
What school was it?
- Tilden High School.
I: Samuel J. Tilden?
T: T-i-l-d-e-n. Gentleman that ran for president and lost in about, I think it was 1929.
I: I see.
When was it? When did you graduate?
T: I — in high school, I graduated in ’49.
I: And tell me about this. Did you learn
anything about Korea when you were in high school?
T: No. No.
T: That was — Korea?
T: When I was in high school?
T: I didn’t know it existed.
T: Nobody mentioned it. No teachers mentioned it. Uh, there was no reason to bring it up in any conversation that I had. The first time I knew of Korea was when I landed in Pusan.
T: 1952, yes. It was in July of ’52. I was there a year and a month — uh, two months, a year and two months.
I: So you didn’t even hear about Korea in the textbook?
T: No, sir.
I: Not in the geographies?
T: No, sir.
I: You didn’t see Korea in the map either?
T: No, sir.
I: And, now, you landed in Pusan —
I: — in July 1952.
T: In July, yes.
I: What did you think about Korea that you saw at the time. Tell me honestly.
T: The truth.
I: The truth.
T: I had never smelled such a bad smell, except when I landed —
I: What kind of smell was it? Is it fish or —
T: Oh, no. I honestly don’t remember.
T: I do know I was trying to hold my breath getting off the ship, you know, come down the gangplank, because the smell
was so bad to me. I mean, in New York they don’t use human waste for fertilizer. And I believe that’s what I was smelling.
I: So called honey pot.
T: Is that what — yeah, exactly.
I: So there was fertilizer at the time in Korea?
T: Pardon me?
I: The human waste.
I: Yeah. What else? What did you — tell me the whole truth about Korea
you experienced at the time that you landed and a few days later.
T: The first — let me say that from boot camp in the United States, where I got on the ship, all right —
T: — the majority of the class that I was in went to Germany.
T: All right. There were three of us, out of about a hundred men, that went to the Far East.
T: Out of those three, two
went to Japan. One went to Korea. That was me.
I guess they needed a radio operator over there.
I: So what did you think about it? You — to be honest, right —
I: — you wanted to go to Germany, right?
T: Oh, you better believe it. In fact, when I was — you know, when you go into the Army, they don’t give you a choice. It was, you are this, you are this, you are this,
you are this, you are this, you are this. And you didn’t ask for it. And I wanted to be a cook. I enjoy cooking. Okay. So a cook.
I: Does he cook for you now?
Female Voice: No.
T: She —
I: So you’re lying to me now.
T: No, no. I —
Female Voice: When I was working, he cooked.
T: But it was unfortunate. You know, that’s the way it happens. You don’t choose. They choose what you — I was very glad that I was chosen
as a wireman, because that was one of three, is a cook, a radio operator, or a wireman. All right. I’m afraid of high places, so I would not have been a good wireman, climbing poles.
I: But, anyway, you joined the Army. When was it?
T: I did not join.
I: You were drafted?
T: I was drafted.
I: When was it?
T: In — I would — in November 19 —
T: — 51.
I: Yeah. Was it in Brooklyn?
T: It was in Brooklyn. I went to Fort Dix for my training.
I: Fort Dix, right?
I: In New Jersey?
T: In New Jersey.
I: And so —
T: In November.
I: Yeah. So when you — when you were drafted, you hoped that you could go to Germany rather than —
T: Oh, I never even thought that’s — all I knew was I was going to boot camp training.
had a sergeant that was in the service, a young man, a long time. And it was November. So we all head all out to the car. But the — [right]
T: And he said, you are a bunch of [whootsies]. Open up that button on the top and feel that fresh air. Here it is November.
T: And you don’t argue with Sergeants in the Army.
I: So when you hear that —
I: — you are going to go to Japan, what did you think about it, rather than Germany? Did you —
T: I was not — I was not too happy.
T: I mean, I — you know, because the greatest majority were going to Germany. There was no war in Germany, where there was a conflict in the Far East,
in Japan. When I — there was three of us that went over there, the whole group, three of us went to Japan, went to the Far East.
T: Two out of the three went to Japan. One went to Korea.
I: So where — where in Japan? Tokyo or Yokohama?
T: Oh, I have no idea where they ended up, no.
I: No idea?
I: So tell me, then, you were chosen —
I: — only one —
I: — out of those —
T: Out of all
the basic, it was a hundred guys —
I: To go to Korea?
T: To go — yeah.
I: Tell me, what did you think about it at the time?
T: It’s a [walk away] — it’s a way. I was not a happy individual. I can tell you that.
I: No, I don’t think you’re honest with me.
I: What did you say? Be honest.
T: Excuse my language. Oh, shit, shit. I don’t know — I didn’t know
[unintelligible] the Far East.
I: And then Korea.
T: And then — yeah.
I: What did you say?
Okay. So what was your unit?
T: I was in the 157th artillery battalion headquarters company.
T: Headquarters company.
I: Headquarter company.
I: And —
T: And we were supporting
105 howitzers. That’s the cannon.
I: So what — artillery battalion, what — where does that belong? What is the infantry, the division?
T: Oh, well, they’re in front of the 105 howitzers. We were [small] cannon.
T: And we would support infantry.
I: And you were —
T: And we were about a mile away, I would say, from the front lines.
I: Okay. So —
T: Probably closer.
I: What was your specialty?
T: Radio operator.
I: Radio operator.
T: Yeah. You know, da-da-ta-ta [making sounds]
I: Morse Code.
T: Morse Code. Spent 12 weeks in boot camp learning the Morse Code. And I could do 12 words a minute.
I: Twelve minutes — 12 words a minute.
T: No, no, no.
I: No, that’s not that good. More than that. Twelve words per seconds.
You have to understand, we were going in knowing nothing.
I: Right. So when you landed in Pusan, how was Pusan like? Was it destroyed?
T: I had — no. I did not see Pusan. I smelled Pusan.
We got on — we got on [unintelligible] the trucks. And we were taken up to our companies. We didn’t even stay —
T: — overnight at Pusan. We were taken out right away.
I: Right away.
I: Where did you go?
T: To my headquarters company.
I: Where was it? A city?
T: No, it was in North Korea.
I: In North Korea? No.
T: I don’t — I don’t know exactly where in North Korea. My memory is not that good. I was hoping maybe you would tell me.
I: Like camp name, like
[Boots On Me] or Pork Chop Hill.
T: Oh, no, no, no, no.
I: Where were you?
T: That’s my problem.
I: West or East?
T: I was — I believe I was west.
T: Uh, no, no, no, no, no. I believe I was on the East Coast.
I: East Coast?
T: East Coast.
T: Above the 48th Parallel.
I: 48th Parallel?
I: So, like, Pork Chop — Heartbreak Ridge?
T: Sir, I don’t know.
T: See, not being in the infantry —
T: — I was not in any of those hills.
I: Got it.
T: Headquarters company is probably about a half a mile behind your cannon. All right? I have to be close enough — we had to be close enough that the search lights that were stationed in the headquarters company would reach the front lines. And because they — the infantrymen [called] for the headlights, one of the big searchlights, because
the Chinese were coming up the hill and they wanted to see them.
T: And we helped with headlights, searchlights.
I: So was Chinese, not North Korean?
T: No. It was Chinese.
T: Yes, yes.
I: So tell me about — have you been back to Korea since then?
T: I’ve had a beautiful opportunity. I was invited, but — well, not I personally. All of the soldiers,
servicemen, were invited to return to Korea —
T: — at the expense of the Korean government.
T: And like a fool, I did not go.
I: Do you want to go back?
T: Not now.
I: Not now?
T: No reason to go back now. I mean, I would never know — you know, where would I go? To Seoul? I was on the — as far as I know — on the other side of the country, you know.
I heard they couldn’t go into North Korea, so, uh, there would be, I don’t think, any reason.
I: But do you follow up with what’s going on in South Korea right now, in terms of its economy and democracy and —
T: I have a book that I purchased that is about South Korea. And it shows all of the refurbished cities.
I: Is it Reborn Korea?
T: Reborn Korea, yes.
I: What do you think?
T: Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.
You know, I wish I had more of a — an adventurous spirit that I would have gone back. I think Andrea would have loved to go back. But —
I: We still have a program. You can go if you want to. I can put your name into it. And you can go with Andrea together.
Female Voice: That’s up to you, honey, you know.
T: You better do all the work.
I: So when did you leave Korea?
T: In September of 1953.
I: So you were there —
T: A year.
I: — a year.
Why? What, did you extend it?
I: Normally, soldiers are supposed to be there for six months.
T: They do now. Not then.
I: Huh, okay.
T: If the war —
— and I call it a war — was longer than that period of time, went into November or December, I would have been there for that period of time.
I: So when you left Korea, already war ended in July, right?
I: So tell me about it. Where were you when the cease-fire was signed?
T: Okay. I was with my headquarters company. All right. And we were asked,
each side, to pull back, I guess a half-mile, a mile, from the 48th Parallel. Okay.
T: And [me] with the headquarters company of 105 howitzers, we had to pull back a mile. The same with our brethren on the other side. Okay.
T: Well, these gentlemen were not stupid. They were not going to carry all those artillery shells back
a mile. They were going to get rid of them. Okay. So the firing started. We fired out artillery shells at them, and they did the same to us. And we got incoming rounds. And I remember running under a truck and saying, goddammit, I’m going to killed the last day of the war, because we were under artillery fire.
But, luckily, I’m still here, so I didn’t get injured or hit with any artillery shells. But we did pull back. That’s what I remember at the end of the war.
I: Hmm. So you were relieved, right?
T: Well, I was there until September.
I: No. I mean, when you — when you see that the war ended, you were relieved?
T: Oh, yes, yes. Oh, absolutely. You know, I mean, I remember one significant
thing, and this is remembering a long time.
T: Being in headquarters company, we were behind the lines. But we had a road that went up and down,
[unintelligible] for the soldiers that were going to the front. They were being loaded into a deuce and a half and brought to the front line companies, the rifle company. And the gentlemen in those trucks were very quiet. No laughing. No fooling around. There was also the gentlemen coming down from the — to be — that were relieved to go back. And the guys in those trucks were laughing, joking around, having a great time, because they were coming off the front line.
T: And they were glad about it.
T: So that — that
I definitely remember that.
I: So after the armistice, the cease-fire —
I: — what did you do?
I mean, the last minute there was severe exchange of artillery between —
T: Yes, yes.
I: — North Korea —
I: –and UN forces —
T: Yes, yes.
I: — because they wanted to gain even an inch of the land, right?
T: Well, I — well, my opinion was, they didn’t want to carry
it back, the artillery shells. One way to do that was to get rid of them.
I: And you were lucky —
T: I was lucky that — because they didn’t aim and say, oh, I think I’m going to hit that one. I think they just wanted to get rid of it and fired them all, so they wouldn’t have to carry it back, which is not stupid, you know.
I: But you might be killed, you know.
T: Yes, that could have happened.
T: Or even hit
with shrapnel or something, you know, be wounded.
T: But thank God, none of that happened.
I: So after that cease-fire, what did you do? What did your unit do there? There was no fight, right?
T: Right. No, no.
I: So what did you do?
T: We left. We pulled — we were — I — my unit — to my knowledge, the unit pulled back , say, a mile, if that was what the plan was. And then from that time in
I was picked up by truck, taken down to [Husong] and picked up by ship. I got seasick though coming back, as I did coming forward.
I: So you left Korea September of 1953.
T: Yes, sir, in September.
I: And be honest with me. Had you ever thought that Korea would become
like this today?
T: Uh, no, I never thought about it.
T: Because I was just happy about going home. That’s why. You know, I mean, I had been away — to me, a year and a half that I was away, say, was a very happy time. I mean, not happy time, but, you know —
I: It was war.
T: It was war.
I: How can you be happy?
T: Right. No, I was not happy about being
away. And I was — one thing I remember, I was very unhappy about missing Christmas —
I: I see.
T: — because that was a big holiday for me.
T: I had my family in the States, and being over there in a hooch. And a hooch is large cabin, underground, almost, three-quarters underground.
um, you now know that Korea was — smelled bad and very destroyed and everything.
T: Yes, yes.
I: And now you saw, from the book, that Korea —
T: New York City.
I: Like that.
I: What do you think about this whole thing?
T: I think it’s great. I honestly do. I think it’s a wonderful thing that those people that remained took it upon themselves, with a little cash help, I’m sure from the States, to rebuild
Korea, Seoul looks beautiful from the book that I see. And I give them a lot of credit for rebuilding that country.
I: Are you proud of your service?
T: Oh, yes. I would never, never do what some of the men in this country did during the Korean War of running up to Canada, to escape being drafted.
I: Oh, really?
T: Oh, yes.
T: I think they’re cowards, but that’s my opinion.
I: I see.
Were there any dangerous moments during your service in Korea, as a radio operator.
T: The only one, as I mentioned before, was at the end of the war, when we relieved ourselves of our artillery.
T: Because that was
just by luck that I didn’t get killed or injured because there was no special place that they wanted to hit a building. They were just firing away.
I: So tell us about — this interview will be watched by the young students, okay, and the teachers. So tell me about the routine day of your service there.
When did you — where did you sleep? When did you wake up? What did you eat? What did you do during the day and so on and so on.
T: My memory is not that good.
I: But just tell me. I know you can tell me.
T: Well, I do — I know we slept in what we called a hooch.
T: Was a building —
T: Yes. That — no, no.
Logs, tree logs as a roof.
I: So bunker?
T: As a bunker.
T: Half underground. All right. So it was only a half of the bunker was above the ground, with these logs as a roof to protect us.
T: We ate on — in our hooch. The chef had his kitchen.
And the food was passed out. And the thing —
I: What kind of food? Was it race — C-Ration or —
T: No, no, no, no, no, no.
I: — is it a hot meal?
T: Hot meal?
I: Hot meal? Like what? Scrambled egg or omelet?
What did you eat?
T: What you would eat. Breakfast, you know, got — there’s eggs. And we didn’t have ham and stuff like that.
T: But, you know, the scrambled eggs. And we actually go in
line and go to the kitchen and get our mess kit, the food, and bring it back. And, you know, you would sit down in the hooch or be outside. And I remember sitting outside and eating our breakfast, all right, and grumbling about the officers who sat a table.
I: So you were having picnic. They were miserable —
I: — eating inside, the officers. Come on.
T: Well, I said, boy, if I ever made the Army my career, I would always go for being an officer.
I: What was your rank at the time?
T: A corporal.
I: How much were you paid?
T: I have no idea.
I: Come on.
T: All I know is that we used to get our pay
and combat pay. You got combat pay if you came under artillery fire every month, okay, once a month. And I remember some gentlemen were not very nice to the U.S. government. They took a grenade and threw it up against the side of the hill in any month that we didn’t receive artillery fire.
T: So we got our
money, which we I sent home.
I: You were wise.
So were you able to write letters back to your family?
T: Oh, yes, oh, yeah, every day.
I: Yeah. Every day?
T: Every — well, I would not on — I was not a rifleman. If you’re a rifleman and you’re in a foxhole, that’s not the best situation. I was in a hooch, as I call it. All right. And that’s what it was called then.
And I could sit down and write a letter. And I would receive a letter from my wife at the same time, I did.
I: You were married at the time?
T: Oh, yeah, I was married.
I: Tell me about it. When did you marry?
T: I got — not with Andrea. Okay.
I: I know. I know.
T: This is my first wife.
T: We were 21 years old.
I: When was it then? Twenty-one is —
T: I got married — I got married in June
So you left to Korea in 1952?
T: No, sir. I left — I got married in June, and I — I was in boot camp in the Army. And I left in July. I had no — well, I had a honeymoon, but it was a two — a one-week honeymoon. I lucked out.
Okay. My wife was so stubborn, she wanted to get married before I went overseas. And I had — you won’t believe this. I had a wedding of, I would say, in a [hole] — a big [hole]. My father believed in inviting everybody whose wedding he went to.
So I had more guests that I could count in a hole. And this was in June 1st of 1951. I went on a one-week honeymoon, and then I went into — back to — into the Army. And from there, I was sent overseas.
I: What was your first wife’s name?
I: And did you know her during high school, or what happened? How did you know of her?
T: Yeah, well, my sister invited Marie to our house one day, and that’s when I met Marie.
I: And you never missed her, huh?
So come on. It’s so surreal. It’s hard to believe that she wanted
to marry to you, knowing that you were going to go to war.
T: Yes, absolutely.
I: What a brave woman she was.
T: Well —
I: You could be killed in the war.
T: Yes. Yes.
I: But she wanted to have a wedding ceremony.
T: Everything. [Let me tell you], White
dress, white gown, walking down the aisle in church.
Are you Christian?
T: Yes, I’m Catholic. [We’re both]
I: I have a book, by the way, there, and I want you to take one of those. It’s a Gospel. Okay?
I: But, wow, so you were married.
T: Yep, [unintelligible].
I: So you must have missed your wife so much.
T: Absolutely. I mean, you go to remember, I was on a honeymoon for one week, and then after that, overseas.
T: Didn’t fool around with any — in fact —
I: You were [full].
T: You won’t believe this.
I was in Korea. All right. I had — as a Korean War vet, we would get one week’s rehabilitation.
T: Back in Japan.
T: So I was sent to Japan. And I have to tell you, the young ladies were lined up for us. All right. And I didn’t take a woman.
As a gentleman, their gentlemen would say, oh, well, what do you have to do. It says, pick the girl you want.
I said, “No, I’m married.”
I said, “No, I made a vow. I’m not fooling around with any women while I’m in the service.” That’s it, and nothing more.
I: You were an endangered species at the time.
T: Yeah, yeah. Well, let me tell you,
when I went back to camp, my outfit in Korea, I was pointed on. “There’s the guy. There’s the guy that didn’t take a lady. There’s the guy.”
So my wife, I don’t think, believed me, that I didn’t take anybody.
I: Good for you. You’re a faithful husband.
T: Yes, I was.
I: And you — you keep the vow.
I: I respect you, sir.
And what was the most difficult moment during your service in Korea,
if I ask you to pinpoint one out of many.
T: I mentioned that already.
I: What is it?
T: When I was overseas, the last day of the war, we were being bombarded with our — with artillery shells. And I truly felt that I could be killed at that time, because, you know…
I: Oh, I forgot about it.
So you wrote back to your wife, right?
I: Yeah. And do you still keep those letters?
T: Well, I did keep them for a long time, until Andrea got jealous and through them out, so…
Female Voice: You got to blame somebody.
T: I don’t know what happened to them.
Female Voice: You should also tell them what happened with your dad when you were there.
T: Oh, yeah.
I: What happened?
T: Well, my father passed
when I was overseas —
I: Oh, I’m sorry.
T: — in Korea.
I: How did you know about it?
T: The chaplain came to me and told me. And my family in the States asked if I could come home on leave, just to be with the family at that time.
I: For the funeral?
T: For the funeral.
I: But they would not allow it?
T: The Red Cross said no [unintelligible].
T: And that’s why I am
not in favor of any Red Cross programs.
I: I — I’m with you. I’m with you. I’m sorry. That must have been really hard for you.
T: Yeah, yeah.
I: Were you close to your father?
T: Actually, yes. But I thought it was [unintelligible], so I saw the chaplain, and I knew he was going to tell me not good news. I thought it was my mother —
T: — because she was the one that always had something wrong with her. All right. My father didn’t.
They didn’t tell me. Like I was able to make a phone call at home from Japan when I was there, to home, and talked. So I talked to my mother and brother and sister, but not my father, who was right there, because he was very sick at the time. He had lung cancer, and he had the lung defibrillated and [knocked down]. And his heart wasn’t the best.
So he didn’t want to talk to me. He was, like, almost near tears, and I would hear him. But…
I: So you were able to talk to him?
T: No, he wouldn’t talk to me.
T: He was afraid he would break down and start crying.
I: I see.
So what do you think about this whole thing, the changes, the — saw — you — Korea smelly, really miserable.
Now Korea is one of the strongest economy in the world. What do you think about this whole thing, as you were there?
T: I think that’s great. I honestly do. I think the people, the Koreans that rebuilt the country did an excellent job. I mean, I don’t know the little itty-bitty things that went on, you know, how much money they got from the government to rebuild Korea. I
mean anybody that, you know, just doesn’t lie down and let somebody walk all over them, fine.
I: So it’s a great story to tell, isn’t it?
K: I think it’s a wonderful story that the Korean people are doing.
I: I mean, look at it. The United States into other countries since World War II —
I: — and fought the war, like the Vietnam War —
I: — war with Iraq and so on, and Afghanistan disaster.
But out of those — all the wars the U.S. been since World War II —
I: Anything that good came out of it is South Korea, isn’t it?
I: Look at it.
I: But why we don’t teach about these things in the classroom? Why we don’t talk about it? Why is it known as the Forgotten War?
T: I don’t know why. Because it’s a historians,
the education department, the government, is not putting it in the books. It should be. It was as much of a war as World War II. Men died in Korea. They died in World War II. And so, you know, when you get people killing each other, that should be in the books, [wide].
I: You have a book right over there. Can you pick it up?
T: This one?
I: Yeah. And could you show that to the camera?
What do you see? Can you read it?
T: The Korea War —
I: The cover — I mean, up — up to your chin.
T: [Complies with Interviewer’s request.]
I: Yes. What is it?
T: This is the — The Korean War and Its Legacy, teaching about Korea through inquiry.
T: Yes, The Korean War Legacy Foundation.
I: That’s my foundation.
We made it.
T: Yeah, you did? You wrote —
I: Yeah, yeah.
T: Very nice.
I: No, no, no. This history teachers of the United States —
I: — wrote it. My foundation —
I: — hired them, and they wrote it.
T: This will be a very interesting book to read.
I: So I want to give it to you.
T: Thank you very much.
I: That has nine lesson plans: Three for elementary; three for middle school; and three for high schools, so that teachers can teach about the Korean
War and the honorable service, like you —
T: Thank you.
I: — of the Korean War Veterans in the classroom.
T: That’s wonderful.
I: But — but that book written by our history teachers for the history teacher. They wrote it for their own teachers, so that they can talk about it.
I: But based on the interviews that I have done so far.
T: Have you been to Washington, D.C.?
T: So then you saw the statues, the memorial —
T: — [and watching it], yes.
I: You are great. This is another one.
Do you see that soldier?
T: Yes. Oh, yes. That’s just what they look like.
I: Yeah, they — could you show it to the camera, to your chin?
T: (Complies with interviewer’s request.)
I: Yes. That’s from the Korean Veterans Memorial Park in Washington, D.C.
T: Yeah, I’ve been there.
I: You’ve been there, right?
T: Yes. Yes, I have.
you see any names of solders being killed in there, in the park?
I: No, right?
T: Yeah. But they have what they call Vietnam Veterans.
I: Korean government donated —
I: — $24 million —
I: — to the Memorial Park Foundation.
I: And they are going to complete the Wall of Remembrance.
T: They are?
I: So they’re going to inscribe the names of those being killed during the action.
I: There will be a
Wall of Remembrance there.
T: Fine. I am so happy to hear that.
I: And so my foundation will make curriculum book about that.
T: Do you know when that’s coming?
I: Yeah. It’s going to be completed in May 2022.
T: Oh, wow.
I: And we are going to have a big commemoration event on July 27 of next year in the park.
I: And we are going to make a curriculum book like that for the Wall of Remembrance and [00:42:30]
DPAA, Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, which headquarters — which is headquartered in Honolulu, Hawaii. I am going to go to Hawaii to look around —
T: Oh, really, yeah.
I: — [on-site] visit, and so that we can make a curriculum book about those, Wall of Remembrance and DPAA. And that’s the way to complete our tribute to our hero. Okay?
T: Very, very nice. Oh, yes.
T: Very nice.
I: So your story will be also part of the whole thing. Okay.
T: I didn’t say anything.
I didn’t even know why I was coming today.
I: You wanted to go to Germany, not to Korea, right?
T: Well, as you can see, my memory is not exactly the best, so —
I: You have a vivid memory. You’re remembering the date of wedding.
T: Oh, yeah.
I: Andrea may not like it.
T: The last thing I remember, our wedding in 1993 with Andrea.
I: Anything you want to say to the Korean people about your service?
T: I was visited with — by the Korean representative — it was an Ambassador — who gave me the medal.
T: And she told — she told
me, besides the medal, she said, If the United States hadn’t sent soldiers over there, that she would not even had been born.
T: She says her country would have been overtaken with the North Koreans, and she would not have been available to hand me that medal today, that’s all.
I — that made me very proud at that time, yes.
I: That’s what you did.
I: That is your legacy.
T: Yeah, thank you.
I: Thank you, sir.
I: Really, I appreciate that.
[Start of New Interview, Andrea DiGiovanna]
I: Could you introduce yourself, please?
A: Yes, I’m Andrea DiGiovanna.
I: Okay. So you must be the wife?
A: The wife of Thomas.
I: Thomas, right.
And when did you marry him?
A: October 10, 1993.
I: October 10, 19-?
And tell me, did Tom ever mention about his service in the Korean War?
I: What — what did you —
I: — [formulate]?
A: He talked — basically, he talked about the — the trans- — the transport going from the United States on the ship, how he got seasick.
A: In fact, he got yelled at, or he was doing KP duty. And he went up to get some fresh air, and on the way to get some fresh air, he took an apple. And then his, I guess —
A: — sergeant or captain said, “If you can eat an apple, you’re not seasick,” so he had to go back down.
So he talked about his seasickness. He talked a little bit about what he did in Korea.
A: He really wanted to be a cook, but they made him a radio — a radio operator.
A: And then he told about — the story about his father passing. And then going — coming back to the States. And he finally was able to get a transport and finally have a honeymoon with his wife. And she wanted to go camping, and he was saying, “Camping? I just spent a year and a half in Korea on the ground. Why do you want to go camping?”
And that’s really basically it, you know.
A: But —
I: So you were
sitting over whole interview with Tom, and you overhear it.
I: He was not aware of Korea.
I: And now he is one of the heroes. And the whole transformation, Korea, very poor, one of the poorest countries in the world in 1952, now is the 10th largest economy in the world.
I: What do you think about the whole thing?
A: I think it’s amazing. I think what is basically lacking is the history of this country
and history of our country in relationship to the world; how things are forgotten.
A: How things are not stressed any more; how our service people, even our first responders, are forgotten. It — it’s just amazing how things have changed from when I went to school to the way children are being taught now. It just seems to be just glided over. The past is glided over.
Everything is towards the future. But future, sometimes, repeats the past.
A: So you have to pay attention.
I: Oh, excellent point. It’s going to be used in the classroom.
A: Oh, gosh.
I: It’s better than Tom’s.
T: Yes, yes. [Laughter] I always said she’s smarter than me.
A: I am a firm believer that history does repeat itself, if you don’t pay attention.
I: Uh-huh. Do you want to go to Korea with Tom?
A: I would love to. My only reservation
is, as you can see, he uses a walker. He has a number of health issues, which is, he has congestive heart failure, COPD. And to be away from home or medical —
T: Don’t forget diabetes.
A: And diabetes, yes.
I: Korea has the best hospital facilities.
A: I’m sure it does. I’m sure it does.
I: Right. So what do you want to say to his service as a Korean War Veteran?
A: I would like to thank him, and anybody else who has served
in any of the wars for their service, and for their sacrifice, and to their families for what they give up, today and in the past.
I: Do you have any message to the Korean people, while you knowing he served in Korea, and Korea has changed.
A: I think it speaks to the resiliency of the people, that they wanted to uplift themselves from the damages of a war and make a better life for themselves and for their
children. I give them a lot of credit. Not many people would do that.
I: Andrea, A-n-d-r-e-a.
A: — r-e-a.
I: And same last name?
T: I would hope so.
I: DiGiovanna. DiGiovanna.
A: DiGiovanna, all the vowels. Hit all the vowels.
T: Yeah, when you say the name, all right, just remember the vowel. D — and in Italian, an “i” has an “e” sound. So it’s D-g-o-vanna.
T: Yeah, except that you say it fast, DiGiovanna. That’s — if I say DiGiovanna, you’ll say what?
I: I am so thankful for coming for this interview and sharing your story with us. It’s going to be analyzed by the teachers and will be remembered in the classroom.
As Andrea mentioned, history repeats. We need to learn from the history. And that’s why we are doing this. Thank God that you brought your wife Andrea with you.
T: Hey, I wouldn’t be here unless she came.
T: You’ve seen me with the walker.
I mean, she — now, when I get up, I will have the walker. And Andrea will say, “One, two, three,” and on “three,” I bounce up and she helps me up.
I: Tom, anything you want
to say this interview?
T: No. Just thank you very much for having me. I really didn’t know what I was going to tell you. I said to Andrea, “Why am I going? I don’t even know what I’m going to say.” The only thing I was hoping that you might have a good knowledge of all of the outfits that were in North Korea years ago. I don’t know
what part of North Korea I was in. But because of the outfit — and my outfit was actually — what do they call it, the Guard —
A: The National Guard.
T: National Guard outfit from Oklahoma. And that’s what the 157th artillery batallion was attached to. So that’s it.
I: Excellent. Excellent.
Hold on. Hold on.
T: Oh, yeah, you got —
I: Let me take a [scale] shot of the two of you. One-two-kimchi.
Thank you so much again.
T: You got to unhook me.
[End of Recorded Material]