Korean War Legacy Project

Thomas Norman Thompson

Bio

Thomas “Tom” Thompson was born in Minnesota in 1934.  Upon graduation from high school, he volunteered for the Korean War draft at age 18, as a number of his friends had already been drafted.  His basic training was in Washington state at Fort Lewis.  He became a part of the 44th infantry from Seattle, Washington. Upon arrival in Korea in mid-summer of 1953, he was put on a boat at Busan, then transported to Chuncheon by train.  He was transferred to a transportation company outfit and delivered goods by truck and jeep around the time of the 1953 Armistice.  After 17 months, in April 1955,  he returned home from Korea via Incheon and Busan, then married his wife, and raised a family in southern Minnesota.

Video Clips

The Forgotten War

Thomas Norman Thompson recalls seeing small children who were bare feet in the snow as he describes devastation in Korea during the war. He says it seemed that civilians only had the choice of going to the rice paddies or mountains to get away from combat areas. He tells that although a cease-fire was ordered, some people did not realize it, causing him to be ambushed a few times as he attempted to make his deliveries. He tells why the Korean War is the forgotten war.

Tags: 1953 Armistice 7/27,Cold winters,Fear,Front lines,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Physical destruction,Poverty

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzkhps7jcWI&start=558&end=748

Laundry on the War Front

Thomas Norman Thompson recalls the winter conditions faced by men on the Korean war front. He tells that after he washed his socks in the cold river, he had to put them in his underarms, using his body heat to dry the socks. He remembers that Korean women would do laundry for the entire company he was in. Additionally, he would pay $1.00 for the women to clean and press his uniform. He tells of how much gratitude the Korean people continue to show American veterans.

Tags: Civilians,Cold winters,Front lines,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Pride

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzkhps7jcWI&start=1030&end=1241

Troops and Camaradarie

Thomas Norman Thompson discusses being happy that a fellow soldier from Nebraska took him under his wing when he arrived at his post in Korea. He states that it was difficult to get too close to people due to the fact that soldiers were constantly coming and going. He describes awaiting word that it was time to go home, saying he had to be ready within five minutes of hearing his name called for leave. He tells about building a type of "club" like a "VFW" for other soldiers before his departure from Korea.

Tags: Living conditions

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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzkhps7jcWI&start=769&end=1030

Video Transcript

00:00
Tom Thomson Thomas my real name buddy
00:03
went by Tom and born jun 11th 1934 and
00:10
on faribault County Minnesota which I by
00:13
not born on a farm lived on a farm grew
00:18
up on the farm and 18-year after school
00:23
high school 18 years old I I knew the
00:27
draft was coming for the Korean War and
00:30
some friends of mine it had run around
00:34
with the had already been drafted so I
00:37
just I volunteered for the draft I
00:39
wasn’t I wasn’t an RA so to speak
00:43
enlisted but I volunteered for the draft
00:46
is same or different than enlistment so
00:50
anyway I went and got in was inducted in
00:55
in Minnesota up here at the Armory up in
01:01
Minneapolis a bunch of us a busload of
01:03
us went up from 3,000 eased on southern
01:06
Minnesota and got inducted and went to
01:12
Fort Lewis or Fort Sheridan Illinois
01:15
wrote a bus all night and got there and
01:18
they did whatever they had to do and
01:21
then they put us on an old old airplane
01:23
influence to Fort Lewis Washington
01:26
that’s where I started my basic basic
01:29
training what was basically
01:33
oh it was a lot are a lot of different
01:37
things of course had never gotten you
01:39
used to and we work hard or at the 41st
01:44
Infantry Division at Fort Lewis
01:46
Washington that’s what my basic it’s six
01:51
seven weeks of that and then I wanted to
01:54
get in the Rangers and that’s extra to a
01:58
week’s extra training so I played for it
02:03
and they started in in programa tonight
02:08
they found out that I had flat feet and
02:11
so they said I can’t be a ranger and
02:14
jump out of an airplane I’d I would
02:17
break my foot or feet or whatever so I
02:21
got out of that I was a little
02:24
disappointed I wanted to to be one but
02:28
so i did my regular basic training got
02:31
through with that and i put me on a boat
02:36
17 13 days later I was in Korea I I
02:43
don’t actually know the actual date it
02:46
was in mid-summer i would guess towards
02:53
july or august or whatever yeah and we
03:00
had on the boat launched at Pusan which
03:06
is a southern tip of South Korea and we
03:10
got on a train and rode for seem like
03:13
ever forever and got a road up to the
03:15
north part of North Korea or south korea
03:18
and i was stationed then at chunqiang
03:22
which is a village right below the 38th
03:27
parallel so I was only able
03:31
about a mile away from North Korea most
03:33
of the day living there you know and but
03:37
i don’t know i went in as a as an
03:43
infantryman but then the war was
03:45
supposedly over in july but a lot of
03:49
people out there didn’t know that they
03:51
were they were still hidden in the
03:53
bushes and they were dug in and and so I
03:58
they transferred me over to the
04:01
transportation outfit and they did
04:06
moving supplies and people if they’re
04:10
you know wherever they had to go and
04:13
that’s where I spent most of my time
04:18
what was your military unit I went over
04:22
with the 44th infantry out of Seattle
04:26
Washington and then since they said the
04:31
war was over way they transferred me to
04:33
they didn’t need any more infantryman
04:35
they were shipping them outside in them
04:37
home so that’s what they give me a job
04:40
as a jeep driver truck driver whatever
04:45
they needed this transportation company
04:47
it was kind of like you today’s a freak
04:53
dealer or a free place you know where
04:55
they hall listening all out all over
04:57
that’s what we did mostly but we we got
05:02
into quite a few skirmishes because
05:05
there’s a lot of mountains I’ve I had
05:07
been dug in you know they didn’t know
05:09
the war is over he was not coming it all
05:12
gets shot at so
05:15
it’s a way we had to be on alert all the
05:18
time heavy guards and and I spent most
05:27
of my time there and time time time to
05:30
rotate to leave I was a month overdue
05:35
anyway and i finally got either i spent
05:39
17 months or at two winners and there
05:42
were cold ones they’re there to climates
05:46
a lot like Minnesota I mean we’re not
05:50
very far from the 38th parallel here in
05:52
Minnesota I guess I don’t know I’d ever
05:54
looked it up but anyway it snowed in it
05:58
blows there were a lot of times and you
06:01
know tent don’t feel too good but we
06:05
made it and I let’s see I went like I
06:14
said I spent it had been released that
06:18
did not discharge there because I had to
06:20
come back on to do that but I was they
06:23
were month late and getting me out of
06:25
there and I finally got out it and took
06:29
blood I the boat ride out of Incheon
06:32
which is a western part of a career
06:36
that’s where a lot of the shipping went
06:38
took place and I had to wait two or
06:41
three days thereafter we got on the boat
06:44
for them for the Coast Guard to do their
06:49
thing like load a bunch of trucks onto a
06:52
barge and take them out in the ocean a
06:55
dump them and had the way a lot of that
06:58
was going on after they at war you know
07:01
they weren’t allowed to bring it back
07:03
home to the United States and they give
07:07
them as much as they needed the South
07:10
Korea and
07:12
finally got going and take the big boat
07:16
right around back down to Pusan and then
07:20
headed home took 13 days to get home
07:24
took I got that wrong 17 days to get
07:29
home the 13 to get over there and I
07:32
spent three days three nights in a
07:34
typhoon up in illusion islands on the
07:36
way over and that’s that’s quite right
07:38
and the boat there with big waves and
07:42
storms and but we get through that too
07:47
supposedly an enemy territory so he had
07:50
to stand guard and stand outside on that
07:53
boat tied to the tide to the inside they
07:59
have these rails and that they tie it to
08:02
that so you do need washed overboard
08:04
went away when the waves hit and he got
08:09
home that got the Washington and I
08:14
should have been discharged right away
08:16
but they held me for a week and every
08:19
day they would take me in his room and
08:22
it’d be a full-bird colonel and myself
08:25
and they won median reenlist they were
08:30
just hammering on me the realist ulam so
08:32
but I didn’t because I had a girl back
08:37
home that I left that I was more
08:39
interested in at the time so I I got
08:46
i discharged and I went back to
08:51
Minnesota side of Minnesota and a couple
08:55
years we were buried and the rest is
08:59
history I guess we got it have three
09:01
kids of her own he had five grand grand
09:06
kids and now I have four great grandsons
09:11
so I don’t know I’m sure i’m missing a
09:16
lot of my are there any specific stories
09:20
or experiences that stand out to you I
09:24
think there’s a lot of them but to sum
09:28
it all up it was the the devastation and
09:33
the bad things that went on over there
09:37
you know that those poor people the kids
09:41
the lil ones are the ones that really
09:43
tear at my art idea all you have I know
09:45
like these little grandsons I got I
09:49
getting great grandson boy I just can’t
09:54
wait to see them but when you see a
09:57
little little kid but really old enough
10:01
to walk in the snow I’ve seen him
10:04
barefoot and it’ll wrap a gunnysack
10:09
around their feet for or something to
10:13
protect them in and there there were
10:16
just so much devastation and and that
10:22
was that’s what got me the most far as
10:24
being shot at or whatever and that I you
10:29
know that but it was the kids that
10:34
I don’t know how many of them were
10:37
killed during the war I mean there was
10:40
they had nowhere to go either the
10:45
mountains are the race patties you know
10:46
that’s what all he’s a lapped over there
10:50
it seemed like it was all you wet either
10:52
snowing or raining or Curtis they were
10:55
they raised race you know it can you
11:02
tell me about some of the skirmishes
11:03
that we’re taking place after the
11:05
signing of the armistice well we had
11:09
different ones you know driving a
11:11
deuce-and-a-half that’s a two and half
11:14
ton truck never know what the cargo
11:17
would be could Benny be anything from
11:19
fuel oil barrels to troops and I ever
11:24
you know driving what little roads I had
11:26
what we and pretty soon all heck breaks
11:31
loose you know and it would be somebody
11:32
dug in you know we drive into it and
11:36
that happened often you know like Rosa
11:42
was July middle of July believe they
11:45
signed a truce so to speak we never had
11:49
a war they had a police action you know
11:52
that that was a that was a big thing
11:54
hard hard to accept you know and that’s
11:58
why we’ve always been classified as the
12:02
Forgotten War you know and
12:07
that that there’s skirmish I called a
12:10
skirmish or ambushed a lotta ambushing
12:12
going on drive down a road in this guy
12:16
there was a box probably so squarely in
12:20
another the road alone drove ever
12:22
written bone blew up the truck and
12:24
everything into stuff like that you know
12:26
as little things you know and they
12:31
either soon they didn’t know that it was
12:35
over the war was over there supposed to
12:37
be over with or they just didn’t want to
12:40
give up that hard to figure out anyway
12:45
so what kind of friendships or
12:50
camaraderie do you feel like you formed
12:52
three years ago I had two real good
12:57
friends matter of fact or the question
13:01
before was that what was what my duty so
13:04
speaking morning when I got up there and
13:06
it got put in this company
13:08
transportation company my squad that I
13:13
was ended their fellow a big black
13:17
fellow from Nebraska he just kind of
13:20
took me under his arm and you all and he
13:22
knew as new he knew I was a new guy and
13:25
and I got along real good with him and
13:29
he rotated out of there probably two or
13:32
three months after I got there and he
13:35
insisted the company commander that I
13:37
take over his squad as a squad leader or
13:42
know basically squad leaders it wasn’t
13:45
the first sergeant michael me
13:47
but anyway I did and I had it till till
13:53
I left and he was one of my my favorite
13:59
had one more guy from Minnesota I got
14:03
you by the name of lloyd banks dead but
14:05
never after we parted that from there
14:10
and never saw him again never heard on
14:12
we’d sent him Christmas cards and that
14:14
but he never replied so I don’t know
14:16
what happened to the K and but that was
14:22
pretty hard to get really you know close
14:26
to anybody because they’re coming and
14:28
going all the time you know they’re very
14:30
yeah like I was there and some were
14:34
leaving and so on so forth but anyway
14:36
after after my I was supposed to get out
14:41
of there in 16 months while at that time
14:44
I went up and I still waiting and
14:45
waiting every day I would be sitting on
14:48
my duffle bag when that truck them into
14:50
our your name off you had five minutes
14:52
to get on there and get out of there
14:54
yeah so that’s what 17 months I stayed
15:00
there and that’s the long time and that
15:06
country can you kind of paint me a
15:11
picture of what did it look like what
15:13
what was it like during that time the
15:17
what you means about the okay anywhere
15:23
you look you’ll see mountains they’re
15:26
not they’re not high mountains they’re
15:28
not Rockies big Rockies they’re there
15:30
but there and then down in the valleys
15:32
and on the plateaus you’ll see rice
15:36
paddies you know that’s a basically the
15:40
scenery there wasn’t much left of the
15:43
landscaping after all that bombing and
15:46
allied you know that that is kinda
15:50
ironic we had about a mile from our camp
15:55
there was a across and made I made out
16:02
of wood they believe it was it’s a
16:04
regular car pretty good pretty high it
16:06
was pretty 10 foot high and trees all
16:09
around were gone they were all blowed
16:12
out and burned out or whatever but that
16:16
cross was standing pretty steady yet and
16:19
that and we had a lot of service church
16:22
services out in the open because they
16:25
the only national church by don’t need
16:28
one of the last thing we did our company
16:32
did before women tlie when most of us
16:37
departed was we built 10 tomorrow
16:43
Club the people out of whatever scrap
16:46
iron scrap metal or whatever over 10
16:49
would whatever we could get together we
16:52
built it for him the guy isn’t worship
16:54
still there you know kind of a club like
16:59
if you have W or that typing but it
17:02
wasn’t and I don’t know I guess I used
17:07
it I left to what would you know about
17:14
Korea before you went over nothing other
17:17
than it was a war I didn’t really
17:24
and I didn’t know I have relatives that
17:26
were in 11 cousin that was over there
17:31
when I never got to talk to him about it
17:34
you know so I really know nothing about
17:39
it I thought then that was cold and it
17:41
was mountainous and that tape thing and
17:49
really on the first couple years of the
17:53
war there a lot of GIS lost their feet
17:56
or from frostbite you know and then
18:00
today come with a Korean boot they call
18:02
it and now that that was a big savings
18:10
keeping their feet dry he stole our
18:14
shirts I caught in a river put him in
18:16
our armpits to dry mouth then I did chop
18:22
a hole nice to do that if you were on
18:25
the move most of the time we were at
18:27
Camp our camp you know if we could
18:30
welcome back welcome back minh and the
18:34
korean women usually would do her the
18:39
laundry for the company for our whole
18:41
company in ondo he did a good job where
18:46
we got I don’t know how much they got
18:47
work but seems to me was spent like a
18:53
dollar maybe cost me maybe a dollar for
18:56
having all my uniforms clean and pressed
19:01
and I don’t know where they did it they
19:05
had to been done by the river because or
19:08
they carried the water somewhere because
19:10
I saw that a lot on the way on the roads
19:13
that we these little villages that were
19:16
left
19:21
I just feel sorry for that but I’ve
19:24
never known a country to be so
19:28
appreciative as they are they are they
19:31
just bend over backwards to make a man’s
19:35
ER and they treat us you know not all
19:39
your standing as some kind of metals you
19:41
know and think the freedom peace and all
19:45
kinds of metals that even a president of
19:48
South Korea gets involved in I don’t
19:51
know if any other guys have told you
19:53
that but we had to two of their officers
19:56
them over here a couple years ago and
19:59
presented us with the peace medal to
20:02
regulate from the president of South
20:05
Korea and there’s a guy there’s a korean
20:13
gentleman up in minneapolis area arden
20:17
hills area every year he puts on a
20:19
technique for all Korean veterans he
20:23
gets up to 3 400 that’s up there he
20:28
calls oh he’s a professor he’s in a
20:34
college and he’s just a nice guy and he
20:38
just think they just appreciate
20:39
everything we do and they you know that
20:42
just a little bit too much sometime hmm
20:46
but I’ve had opportunity I still do but
20:52
I can’t take the plane ride no more i
20:54
would like to go back now i have a book
20:57
then and now and
21:01
when I when I left that it was then it
21:05
was just you know just shambles you know
21:09
now it is one of the top five industrial
21:15
cities in the world and I got beautiful
21:19
skyscrapers and buildings are 10 million
21:23
people in 1 Oakland City about size
21:28
Minneapolis st. Paul together but I’ll
21:33
do them like anybody there upload new
21:35
york and population and that’s all yeah
21:42
that’s an alarm I am I wife gave me a
21:49
key every once in a while because she
21:51
said you don’t you know talk about it
21:53
enough you know la for a long time I
21:56
didn’t I didn’t but what’s an oil and
21:59
brake I got a son that was spent 26
22:03
years an Air Force and he he understood
22:07
be pretty good you know
22:13
it’s just too bad that that has to
22:16
happen in the world anywhere no good
22:22
nobody wins what was the day you
22:28
returned home well the best my my
22:32
discharge papers are in the in a lockbox
22:35
in the bank and I didn’t go get it
22:37
because then I don’t remember the exact
22:39
date but it was in April first part
22:43
April I got home 55 1955 and what what
22:55
was it like transitioning back to
22:56
civilian life well it was it was not
23:04
easy I mean you weren’t we weren’t
23:07
accepted I mean it isn’t like well
23:12
Vietnam and them guys they didn’t get it
23:15
either and it wasn’t quite that when I
23:18
got off the boat in CL when I come back
23:22
I got a cup of coffee and a donut from
23:25
the Red Cross that’s there was my
23:28
reception but I was glad to be home I
23:33
had to made it no
23:38
but whenever I’ve never realized that
23:43
their the dream government was so
23:48
appreciative of what went on and how it
23:53
turned out until years later you know
23:57
that’s when me course they were head to
24:01
mammoth building project they hold I
24:06
know a the country state whatever they
24:08
called it it’s about size Minnesota they
24:12
had to rebuild everything and the ground
24:15
up so it had been and I don’t know where
24:22
they get their finances you know nothing
24:27
there to buy sell or whatever they make
24:33
it and I guess they’re building some
24:36
pretty nice automobiles machinery and
24:39
high-tech stuff they’re real big and
24:42
that i know i’d buy something there a
24:45
long time long before i go by from china
24:50
so
24:53
well I think we’ve come a long ways in
24:57
the last few years now they recognizes
25:01
us and they’ve got them monument in DC
25:06
along with Second World War and Vietnam
25:08
you know and I was fortunate enough to
25:11
see that monument the year after it
25:13
opened and Washington DC and it did very
25:17
well depicted what what what it was like
25:20
you know and nothing glamorous about it
25:23
and had us on the old trench coat and
25:27
mud up hill top your boots and that’s
25:30
the way we was called his dog fado fade
25:34
doughboyz dog face and whatnot but I I
25:43
would like to go back and just I don’t
25:50
know it’s amazing what they have done
25:52
and the last 50 years you know that’s
25:58
really something
26:01
yeah and I don’t like I think of
26:05
everything I’m I I did a lot of lemon in
26:09
17 months I was telling you that but it
26:16
was I feel I feel proud that I did my
26:21
part you know whatever you know Nala do
26:25
out of men our problems too yeah I
26:32
there’s guys you know like the the grins
26:36
would break into our motor pool or and
26:40
they would dream antifreeze out of the
26:44
radiators and they would concoct it with
26:46
something else and sell it as beer you
26:49
know uh Nana clears the guy gets second
26:51
one guy went blind and all that you know
26:54
no different than the drug situation
26:57
today I guess but we I I didn’t get into
27:06
any of that stuff
27:12
your time over there how did those
27:15
experiences affect the rest of your life
27:18
well I think I think it did me I think
27:24
it wasn’t was an asset maybe mail for
27:27
the places i worked didn’t make no
27:29
difference that much different anyway
27:34
but I considered myself lucky in the
27:38
business world or the working world I
27:41
got jobs are prevalent and I picked them
27:45
and worked my way up and got into a
27:49
partnership in a business and and split
27:53
that and went on to another one and if
27:57
we go the way we didn’t get multi rich
28:02
by no means but we live very good and
28:05
had a nice retirement so far coming up
28:10
on 20 years almost retirement got a nice
28:16
little kid that I love to play with and
28:19
that there’s 75 miles away and that’s a
28:25
no it isn’t something you want to drive
28:27
every day but mm-hmm although you got
28:31
that my far to go home yeah
28:36
but I I’m sure my name my immediate
28:42
neighborhood family they were they were
28:45
all conscious of what was going on
28:49
because I had two cousins they were over
28:52
there at the same time I wasn’t and we
28:54
didn’t know what we could have been
28:57
pretty close together at one time but
29:02
that’s not uncommon so is there a piece
29:08
of wisdom or a message that you could
29:10
pass on the younger generations yeah no
29:14
there there there is a lot to be learned
29:16
you know and I think a little more that
29:21
should be taught in schools so it should
29:24
have a long time ago like it’s about you
29:29
know the forefathers you know they got
29:33
the country going and ain’t a protected
29:36
it and then they went off and went to
29:40
war to you only in it it isn’t that I
29:43
don’t worry at all it’s just the fact
29:45
that they should be
29:50
knowledge have knowledge of it you know
29:52
and I got a grandson out in North Dakota
29:56
who’s a history teacher and the i sent
30:02
him materials from that i get like that
30:05
book than an hour and other stuff and
30:07
boy he lives love that he teaching those
30:10
people those kids up there and they
30:12
really liked it they enjoy it it’s
30:15
something there that they learn you know
30:18
that they want that’s all the different
30:20
you know and entirely different than
30:22
anything they’ve read before you know so
30:27
and i guess the biggest i don’t know
30:33
what i would call it that i have about
30:36
the whole situation as a devastation and
30:40
killing deaths than that that that’s sad
30:45
don’t know but i guess there’s somewhere
30:50
there’s a reason for it
30:54
what wheelie but 63 years ago it was a
31:02
lot different than it is not