Korean War Legacy Project

Thomas “Tommy” Tahara


Thomas “Tommy” Tahara was born on the island of Maui in Hawaii on June 29, 1931. Growing up, he lived on a farm with his family working alongside his father and siblings. After graduating from Baldwin High School in 1949, he joined the United States Army (he was already serving in the National Guard) and received further training at Schofield Barracks. In 1950, he was sent to Japan and then on to Korea. During his service, he was assigned to the 7th Division and 70th Infantry Regiment in Japan. Upon being ordered to go to Korea, he was reassigned to the 24th Infantry Division in which he served during the Korean War. He has visited Korea five times, is amazed at how successful Korea has become, and is proud of his service.

Video Clips

Arrival in Korea

Thomas "Tommy" Tahara describes being aboard a ship in the Pusan (Busan) Harbor for over a week waiting to be called into action in Korea. He recounts seeing dead bodies for the first time and experiencing combat. He speaks of the fear he experienced as an eighteen-year-old while in a combat situation.

Tags: Busan,Incheon,Fear,Front lines,KATUSA

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Horrors of War (Graphic)

Thomas "Tommy" Tahara shares his experience seeing the use of napalm for the first time. He recounts the horrible effects napalm had on the North Koreans. He describes how he still remembers what he witnessed.

Tags: Suwon,Fear,Front lines,North Koreans,Weapons

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Video Transcript



Veteran: Tommy Tahara

Length: 14:43


KEY: T = Tommy Tahara I = Interviewer



T: My name is Thomas Tahara. They call me Tommy Tahara.

I: So Thomas?

T: Yea. Thomas, yea.

I: And Tahara?

T: Tahara, like T..

I: Could you spell it?

T: T. A. H. A. R. A. TAHARA.

I: Okay

T: Yea

I: What is your birthday?

T: Oh it’s June 29th 1931.

I: Where were you born?

T: I was born in Maui, on the island of Maui, was a small town like Pu’unene.

I: Beautiful island.

T: Yea it is, yea.

I: Tell me about your family when you were growing up.

T: Well when I was growing up in the thirties, you know I was born in the thirties, so that was the depression days. So actually we didn’t feel poor because everybody was in the same boat, yea. And then my father was working for as a stevedore, what they do, the company for the railroad, they had a stevedore. He used to carry the sugar bags up the ship, and unload it; it’s like a mule you know.

I: (laughter)

T: One day he broke his leg his leg falling down or whatever, he couldn’t work as a stevedore. So we moved from Kahului to Waikapu, a couple miles from Wailuku, Maui. Started a farm over there.

I: I see.

T: it was about two acres and we planted tomatoes I remember that. So we had a lot of tomatoes. I used to eat tomatoes like I eat the apple.

I: So you are Japanese American?

T: Yes. I am an Issei.

I: I see.

T: Second generation.

I: Second generation, I see. Tell me about your siblings, your brothers and sisters.

T: Well my brother, I have one brother and three sisters, actually four sisters but one passed away when she was born, after she was born. So I had three sisters one above me I was the second in the family.

I: And tell me about the school you went through?

T: Well I went through actually I went, during the war, elementary school in Waikapu to about the fourth grade and I went through to what you do you call, to another middle school, an intermediate school at Wailuku, and after that high school, I went to high school at Baldwin High School, that’s in Wailei.

I: And when did you…

T: I graduated in forty-nine, nineteen forty nine, it was in June of forty nine and by then I was in the National Guard already, you know the local National Guard.

I: Yea…

T: So when I was training with the 60 millimeter mortar, you know heavy equipment, and about November I told my dad I wanted to join the army. So he said, he didn’t want me to go but I told him I’m going, so in November of 1949 I joined the army and I took my basic at Honolulu at Schofield Barracks.

I: What was your specialty?

T: Actually like I told you it was heavy, heavy mortar.

I: Heavy mortar?

T: Yea heavy mortar. but then after basic training was about 1950, around march, we headed to Japan, and then I was stationed in Sendai with the 7th division, 70th infantry regiment, company f, they called it Fox company at the time, Fox company. So I stayed there April, May, June and the war started, the Korean War. So what they did was they took a lot of people from our division and put them in the 24th and 25th division because those were the division that went to Korea first.

I: Yea


T: So our regiment got depleted. Maybe we only had a little over 100 people that’s all. So anyway up around august of 1950 we were down in Mount Fuji and then they brought in all these KATUSA about 9000 of them a little over I think. they integrated with our company and all of them naturally couldn’t speak English and in our company I was the only Japanese guy I could speak a little Japanese so the captain always called me and you know kinda like interpret what they say and even then my Japanese was bad you know but still I could talk to them and when they first came like Mr. Saw, wow they pick them off the street young boys and old men and you know when they came to our place at Camp Fuji they were surprised how thick the food was. even the coffee they put about three to five spoons of sugar inside, it was the first time they get sugar, they had a hard time because they had a lot of intestinal stuff, like diarrhea and all because of the food, the western food. Anyway we trained them for only about three weeks, you know?

I: In Fuji?

T: Mount Fuji, yea. Especially how to carry a weapon, how to shoot a weapon. And then about September any part of August or September we boarded a ship down in was it Yokohama I think. I forget what ship it was, I think it was the General Black or I forgot now. anyway they shipped us down to Pusan, took us only 19 and a half about a couple of days, we stayed in Pusan, our infantry, the 70th infantry, I think General MacArthur saved us as a reserve because he actually wanted one of the marine regiments the one that was up around the Pusan Perimeter and he had us in the Pusan as a reserve, so he pulled out one of the marine regiments, I think it was the first marine regiment and then if they needed us they would have pulled us into that area there but we didn’t know what we were doing on the ship you know, there was MacArthur’s Operation

Chromite already you know so we stayed in the Pusan Harbor for about a week maybe over a week we couldn’t get off the ship, we stayed on the ship all the time. And then later on, we sail up, let’s see it was about September, mid-September sometime I guess we hit a storm up there, it was a hurricane, or something, anyway about September the marine landed on the 15th and I think our regiment we landed we went overboard about the 18th. By the time we went to Inchon, you know everything was settled because the marines went through there already. You know Inchon, the mudflats?

I: Yea. Horrible.

T: Only a certain time you can go because you stuck in the mud. Anyway the first time we went I know we were, I was only about 18. I was 18 years old and the first time I saw dead bodies you know all over the railroad track on the side, most of them civilians. Because I don’t know, the civilians or North Koreans or I see dead bodies and then we kept hiking and walking and walking I don’t know, maybe about 18-20 miles we walked and then a couple days later we attacked a hill I think outside of Seoul, I forget what gate it was maybe East Gate or something, and it’s the first time I saw combat because we were up the hill crawling up and we see bullets flying up around all over the place, and they go ping all over you and you got scared, you know, you grabbed your shovel and you dig a hole, but anyway the first time one of our sergeant, right next to me, he got hit in the throat, the bullet in the throat, and blood came coming out and the first time I see that, you know. It was really scary. but anyway after that our regiment we went down to about to Soyan or somewhere down South because the North Koreans were coming up they were retreating so went down south the 7th division like the 31st, the 32nd, and the 17th and after awhile we have these small skirmishes like that because those Koreans were coming up and one time I remember we were pinned down so the Koreans they were in a small knoll over here and there was hiding there but we knew they were over there so we called in the air I don’t know which plane but they plane they came down and they dropped napalm. You know napalm? I ‘m telling you it’s the first time I’ve seen napalm and boom, and when we went in there the first thing I saw three North Korean soldiers they were dead but one of them was, his head was bleeding his head was broken off and you could see the brain and there were flies were coming in there and this guy, I’m telling you, without half a brain like that, and when the flies come, he goes with his hand like that, I’ll never forget…

I: Wow

T: The flies, you know what I mean. Because half a brain gone and yet when the flies come on his other eye he goes like that you know, chasing the fly away. And you know it took me a long time after that whenever I come home whenever I see a fly in the house I gotta catch the fly and kill the fly.


I: You still remember?

T: Yea.

I: What do you think about Korea now?

T: Oh it’s amazing. When you go over there, oh you can’t believe the way the economy and the people how they and even the people when you look at them, they’re beautiful people now, before they’re only in their white, with the mamasan, like a kimono…

I: Hanbok.

T: Yea and the black hat, you know the black hat. But now they’re modern you know.

I: So are you proud of your service?

T: Yea I am, I am proud. I am proud but still yet, that’s why I’m working hard for our chapter, our Korean War Veterans Chapter. I do most of all the paperwork and all the good stuff, like you know the program we get in, me and Jeannie, we’re working on that. Anyway, I’ll be okay.

I: So you couldn’t believe your eyes when you go back to Korea?

T: Yea I couldn’t. I went there five times. In fact in 2005 or 2006, we went to North Korea, you know, fifteen of us.

I: Wow.

T: You know up, up the Diamond Mountain on the east coast?

I: Yea, yea.

T: Where they are Hyundai, they built that place. We went there; we were the first Americans I think over there. First thing you go we were in 14 buses, all South Koreans and we were the first bus. And then when we were across the 38th parallel, all the North Korean soldiers with the rifles, they come in the bus check you, you know all that…we had a time over there.

I: So…

T: I’m going there again, next September; I’m going to take a group over there.

I: Okay so, what is Korea to you?

T: To me, Korea is just like my second country, honestly. It’s how I believe. When I look at them, the people over there, so strong and all that, to build that country from the past to what now, you know, it’s unimaginable. The town, the city, the people, even the people you look at them, they grew, the North Koreans, they’re all tall now. We’re all shorter.

I: Any other message you want to leave to this interview?

T: No. I just want to say that my friend, you know, the KATUSA. I give him credit because like he said you know, we always have one KATUSA to one American soldier yea. And then we just like brothers you know. But when I went in the 3rd division was different, because it was a second time, it was different warfare like trench warfare, the first time we were just going and going and running back and going again, the first time I went there. The second time was different.

I: So you recognize the role played by the KATUSA?

T: Oh yea, they helped us a lot. I’m sorry that the Korean government didn’t treat them correctly because they don’t have the records, like you know when they like, they got out of the army, they didn’t have DD214, they don’t have that.

I: DD214, they don’t have those.

T: But I’m pretty sure if you check, I don’t know but with your status, you can check what they did with the KATUSA’s record. I’m pretty sure they must have it in the archives some place in Korea you know. And then like you said, they don’t get paid like us, you know like the American soldiers and what about promotion and you don’t’ get promoted. Like Company Two we lost a lot of KATUSAs you know. Fighting just like the Americans, and what do they get, no benefits. I’m really sad about that.

I: Yup

T: Maybe with your status, maybe you can find out in Washington what our government can do for them too you know.

I: Right. Tommy, thank you again for telling all your stories to my foundation and this will be recorded and it’s been recorded and will be published to the internet, okay?

T: Thank you so much.

I: Thank you sir