Tony Espino was born on January 19, 1930, in San Antonio, Texas. He grew up in a large family and at the age of eighteen enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. He was deployed to Korea in 1950 and was assigned to the Fifth Marines, Second Battalion, “E” Company as a mortar operator, gunner, and forward observer. He participated in many battles including Pusan Perimeter, Inchon Landing, and Chosin Reservoir, and he shares his experience at both Inchon and the Chosin Reservoir. He comments on the Korean War’s successful outcome and laments that little light is shed on the war in textbooks.
Tony Espino describes his experience as a United States Marine during the Inchon Landing. He shares it is a date he will never forget and speaks of his boat ride towards Red Beach. He recalls the fear he experienced as the boat grew closer to the beach and comments on the casualty numbers.
Battle of Chosin Reservoir
Tony Espino comments on his experience as a United States Marine during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He recalls his company digging in at a canyon and not being able to utilize mortars or flares against the Chinese as a strategy to keep their positions hidden. He remembers a significant number of Chinese soldiers pouring through the canyon.
Tony Espino comments on the Korean War being forgotten despite its successful outcome. He feels that no other war post World War II has rendered the level of prosperity as seen in South Korea over the years. He laments that textbooks in the United States cover little of the war and its outcome.
[Beginning of Recorded Material]
T: My name is Tony, T O N Y
I: Um hm.
T: Espino, E S P I N O.
I: What is the ethnic origin of this?
I: The Latin name?
T: Oh, Latin, yes.
I: Yes. What is your birthday?
T: January the 19th, 1930.
I: Where were you born?
T: San Antonio, Texas.
I: Ah. I’ve been there. A beautiful town.
T: Yes it is.
I: Tell me about your family when you were growing up.
T: Well, we were a family of seven. Growing up during, just right after the Depression, it was hard on just a lot of people, you know, and well, we survived.
T: We grew up doing many of work, working wherever we could. When I
was old enough to join the Marine Corp. and be self-sustained you might say.
I: I see. When did you join the Marines?
T: In 1948.
I: Where did you get the basic?
T: In Marine Corp. Recruit Depot in San Diego.
I: San Diego?
I: Right here.
T: Right here.
I: How was basic training?
T: It was hard.
Of course, after you’re through with it you’re, you’re proud of yourself, and you laugh at a lot of things that happened to you which you didn’t at the time. I learned that. It was alright.
I: Um hm.
T: Training at Camp Pendleton was hard. I spent almost two years at Pendleton before Korea, and
I: Did you know anything about Korea before?
T: Never heard of it.
I: Had you imagined that you’d be in Korea and, and, and participate in one of the most severe battle?
T: Never in my life did I imagine that I would be in the area, you know.
I: So when did you leave state for Korea?
T: I left August the second, I’m sorry, July, the middle of July.
I: Um hm.
T: I arrived in Korea, in Pusan, August the second.
I: Wow. You were there early for the Pusan Perimeter.
T: Yes. I was there for the Pu, the Inchon Landing and
I: And how was Pusan at the time?
T: Well, all I remember is seeing some barracks when I arrived in Pusan, and then when they took us out to a bivouac area to
spend the night for the following day to move out, I didn’t see much of anything out of the barracks where we arrived. It was when the USS George Clymer aircraft when we arrived there. From there on, it was just march, march, walk, walk and of course fight.
I: To where?
Was it Naktong River, Naktong River?
T: I, we, we went there, yes. We fought there at the Naktong.
I: Tell me about that, the battle that you fought there. How severe was it? How close the enemy and how was the situation?
T: Well, it, it was very close. For me right now, it’s like a, a dream, you know. I, I can’t remember a lot of things. But I remember the river. I remember crossing, and all the firing
shells, mortars, incoming and, of course, we would try to return fire. But it was very severe.
I: Um hm. What was your unit?
T: E Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marines.
I: Second Battalion and what?
T: Second Battalion and 5th Marines.
I: 5th Marines.
T: I was a mortar gunner and also acted as forward observer sometimes.
I: That’s a very dangerous mission, isn’t it?
T: Well, yes, yes it is.
I: Um hm.
T: And of course I didn’t do a lot of forward observing, but I did some. But mostly as a gunner and even then because of the terrain, sometimes we would be setting up a mortar next to a machine gun, and that was no fun because
a mortar, you have to have kind of solid ground, you know, level.
I: Right, yeah.
T: But setting up a mortar on a hill is, it’s a task.
T: Some digging and [inaudible]
I: Yeah. Were you thinking that you could survive that war?
T: No, not. I, I never gave it a thought, really. But later I didn’t think that I would make it home.
I: That much severe right?
T: That severe, yes.
After seeing a lot of my friends get killed, you know, I always wondered well, I guess I’m next. So, I lost a lot of good friends, in particular the one that, that, well kind of
He didn’t talk me into it, but he mentioned that he had gone in the Marine Corp. in 1948, so I followed him. I joined because of him.
I: But he was killed. But he was killed.
T: He was killed in Korea, yeah.
I: Did you see him killed?
T: No, no I didn’t. He was in the 3rd battalion, and I was 2nd battalion.
T: George company. So I just heard through other Marines so.
I: What were you thinking to yourself when you were in the middle of that war in Naktong River, and did you regret or were you afraid or?
T: Well, it, everybody’s afraid. Some say they’re not, but
you are afraid. You just continue blindly, just go. You get the word you move, and you move out. That’s it.
I: How long was it in average, you know, day, for a day, like how many hours did you engage in a battle?
T: I, I don’t remember, but it was long.
T: Yes, I remember that much. Like I say, it’s more like a, a dream you don’t remember a lot of things, you know.
I: From there, where did you go?
T: I believe, we kept going up north. Normally I move, that was a time that we went to Kimpo Airfield.
I: From, from there?
T: No. Well I don’t remember if it was from there or not. I know we kept moving up.
I: Did you participate in the Inchon Landing?
I: You did, right?
T: That, that’s when we went to Kimpo I think.
I: Right. So you took a ship from Pusan and go to the Inchon.
T: Right. We made the Inchon landing.
I: When did you landed in Inchon?
T: On, that’s one date I’ll never forget, September 15.
I: So you were at the first wave.
T: I believe it was the first, yes.
I: Yeah. Tell me about it. How was it?
T: Red, red beach
I: Red Beach?
I: How was it?
T: Well, it was
scary for one thing, coming down the Nak. I met a good friend of mine from San Antonio, lowering the Higgins boats so we could get lowered, and he tells me after we unload you guys, we’re going to the States, and I’m gonna on leave. Do you want me to tell your mother anything? I said well just tell her that I’m alright, you know. I was just getting, down, going down the Nak and from there circling around
before you hit the bridge. He, he was found right in the boat, but the closer you got to him you heard the firing and shooting, whatever. Then you started getting a little scared.
I: Um hm.
I: Were there many casualties when you were landing?
T: There were several. Really don’t know how many. I remember
close, pretty close to where I was, the, the Lieutenant did, got killed going over the ladders like we were all going over the ladders, you know. He got killed, Lieutenant Bladometal Lopez,
I: Um hm.
T: And the word kind of spread around, and then everybody said hey man, they’re, they’re shooting at us. And I, it was funny at times, being shot at, you might say.
But you overcome that. You’re scared, but you, you just do it, you know.
I: And from there, you went to Kimpo?
T: Then from there, yeah. Kimpo Air, Airfield? Yeah. And that night we dug in for the night, and it was night, 9, 10, 11 at night. We heard a train, the whistles and the,
and then they was silent, and then about half an hour or 45 minutes or something like that, maybe an hour, we heard a lot of shouting and, a lot of movement,
I: Um hm.
T: That was from the North Koreans got off the train I guess, and they attacked us that night. We fought [inaudible] all night, and, well all night because it was daylight when
they, as soon as daylight got in, we could see them, and then we would just like a turkey shoot, you know, just pick them right off. So some of the guys would say, no I got that one, and someone would say no, that one’s mine. [LAUGHS] You know, it’s, it’s funny. You laugh at it afterwards. But at the time, it’s
I: I understand that. Yeah. From there where, did you go to Seoul?
T: We went to Seoul, yes.
I: Tell me about the Seoul you saw.
T: Well, it was all mostly torn down. One of the building that was fairly erect was the Women’s University?
I: Uh huh.
T: I happen to, to take a break there, they told us to break and we’re leaning, I’m leaning against the building, and I’m looking at a humungous mortar, and I said oh my God. Is that what they’re shooting at us?
T: Big old,
to me, it looked like a 16”. Could have been itty, must have been smaller, but looking at it, it looked very, very big. And I always wondered how they could put a shell in there. I didn’t see any hoist or anything
T: for them to lift it up and. All I saw were like steps, wooden steps, and a little platform on the side of it. So that was weird.
I: Huhuh. That was in the Women’s University?
T: We, they had it set in the courtyard I guess, yeah. In the middle of a courtyard. So I’m sitting back there resting and I see a, one of my friends from San Antonio, real nice and clean
I: Um hm.
T: with two machine gun ammo cans, and I had already been through a little comeback so
he arrives there, and he says hey, Tony. What’s happening? What’s going on? He was, had that look, you know, he was scared.
T: Poor guy. He came from Okinawa
T: And I don’t believe they did a lot of training up there other than guard duty and all. So a lot of Reservers came into our unit and, guards, MP’s and what have you, and they caught up with us there.
So then from there on, we proceeded on to going farther north, across the 38th Parallel Island up to the Capital, and then we kept going so.
I: Capital of what?
T: Of North Korea.
I: Did you go to
T: We, we went right through it.
T: Tell me about the Pyongyang you saw.
T: I really don’t remember other than torn down buildings
because our aircraft, you know, the Corsairs, they tore the heck out of it. They really tore it down you know.
I: So your case is quite different because most of the Marine that I did interview here, they went from Seoul to Inchon again and went to Wonsan, the Harbor, North Korean Harbor.
T: Okay. Okay. With the 5th Marines,
see, I, I, I get my things mixed.
I: Yeah, yeah.
T: But I remember going back around, I went around, and after that is when we went up to
I: Chuncheon Reservoir?
I: But you went to Capital city of North Korea.
T: I’m pretty sure I did, yeah.
I: Okay. And then from Pyongyang, where did you go?
T: Some small villages
going up, I remember seeing the, those huge pipes of water coming down from the Reservoir
I: No, no, no, no. From Capital city, where did you go? Did you take a ship?
T: No, I think that ship went to Wonsan.
I: Right. Did you take that ship?
T: I was on the ground all the time.
I: All the time?
T: Going up mounds, going up north, yeah.
I: So you were in the Pyongyang,
the Capital city of North Korea
T: I’m, I’m pretty sure we went by there, yeah.
I: Uh huh. From there did you go to Chuncheon Reservoir?
T: We walked.
I: Just walked?
T: And, I don’t remember if they give us a ride in a truck
I: Uh huh
But not, not a long ride. But most of the time, I, I walked over.
I: So you were all the time at the land after the Inchon Landing?
I: Okay. So where did you go in Chuncheon? Where were you in Chuncheon?
T: In the Capital of North Korea?
I: No, no, no. Chosin.
T: The Reservoir.
I: Your Reservoir.
T: At the Reservoir?
T: I believe it was a west end of it
T: The 5th Marines were the furthest out.
I: Yeah. Yudamni?
T: Yeah. I think it was Yudamni.
I: Um hm.
I: Tell me about that battle there. What happened to you?
T: Well, we were
dug in, and the Chinese had not attacked yet. So we were at the, further out, up north, and we dug in in this area where there was a canyon, and our officers decided that we should set up a defense or perimeter
T: protecting the canyon because [inaudible] have any approach for the enemy.
So we were all dug in in there, and that night is when the Chinese came in.
I: That’s November 27.
T: I believe so. I’m not sure.
T: We named that Easy Alley, the Belle of Easy, Easy Alley, yeah.
I: Hm. Why?
T: Easy Company. E Company.
I: And how was it? How was Chinese? How many? How did they come to you?
T: Oh. We did, we
I: Describe in detail.
T: We, we couldn’t fire our mortars, and I was a mortar man. We couldn’t shoot a flare to see anything. We had orders not to throw any flares or nothing.
I: Why not?
T: Because we didn’t want to give our positions away, see/
T: So leave the mortar and get your, whatever you’re armed with, and get up in the front line with a
rifleman. So that’s what we did. And you pick up whatever weapon you can because there’s a gunner always armed with a 45 and a pair of binoculars. Can’t do much with that. That night there was a lot of hollering, screaming coming towards us, and we were silent other than shooting. We had a real good position. We had our machine guns cross firing.
You could see a lot of flash from the enemy firing at you, but you couldn’t see, I couldn’t see how many. But there were, there were a lot, a lot of Chinese. From the muzzle of the rifles that they were using, you could see that there were a lot, lot of Chinese coming. They weren’t supposed to be there according to our Generals.
I: Tell me about that part. What did you hear from the Generals? What did MacArthur said?
T: Well the word was that Truman kept asking MacArthur, in fact he asked him three times what are the chances, chances of the Chinese coming in, and MacArthur assured him that no way that they would come in. So that’s why we just went straight in. We
had a real good General, O. P. Smith. He kind of slowed the pace because he could sense there was something wrong because the North Koreans would attack and run back, and everybody said hey, we got them on the run. And Army General Almond, he promised MacArthur that
he would capture, or he would be at the Yalu River on such and such a date so he’s pushing everybody so at the time they were luring us in.
I: How did you all know about this?
I: How did you know about this?
T: Through different people that were up[inaudible] had a couple of friends up there that heard all these stuff, and they
would relay it to some of us.
I: Um hm. And did you hear directly from anybody about that you going to be back by, to home by the Christmas, and there is no Chinese. Did you hear something like that directly from your superior?
T: From superiors? No.
T: The ones that heard it relayed it back to us.
T: Our Sergeants and whatever.
I: And, so what do you think? If MacArthur or General Almond tell, told the truth about the, that the Chinese were there, do you think we could have avoided this Chuncheon Reservoir?
T: Yes. Exactly.
I: But how do you know about all this things as a facts or the correct truth?
T: Through the grapevine.
But we call the grapevine friends that had heard things from some of the Sergeants and whatever
I: Um hm.
T: And they, everybody talks about it, and you hear about these things.
I: So after that
what happened on the night of 27th?
T: Well, it, it got daylight, and they, you could see the Chinese running away from us. So then, that’s when we started to pack up our stuff and move, move south.
T: We got to, I believe it was a Battalion
I: Um hm.
T: And I said whoa, we got it made. We’re not trapped anymore. They said no,
we’re, we’re trapped, too. So that night we stayed there, and the next day we moved out. I believe it was the next day that we move out to a next station depot that we, that we had set up that, there were four positions
I: Um hm
T: That, we got to the second one, and they were trapped, then to the third one, they were trapped, and then we got to the fourth one, and I believe that’s when the, we even had tanks pointing their cannons like a rifle, yeah. Ev, every, everything we had were, we were shooting at the Chinese because by then I, I suppose they, they were desperate to really get rid of us then.
I: Do you know that U.S. is now colliding with China in South China Sea?
T: How’s that?
I: South China Sea, there is a, China is building up their aircrafts in the middle of ocean, and U.S. is, you know,
T: They’re, They made some islands.
I: Yeah, yeah.
I: So this war that you fought for hasn’t finished yet.
T: I know.
I: Do you know?
T: I’ve read about it.
I: Isn’t this amazing?
T: It is.
I: You fought war with China against China 65 years ago, and
still we haven’t solved that issues yet.
T: None. Not at all.
T: It’s very disheartening for some of us that, that fought it, you know, and we, to me, I feel that we didn’t accomplish anything. All the suffering and what we went through, they’re not accomplishing anything, yeah.
I: But you have accomplished something very big Do you know that?
T: Well, we did help Korea so they’re surviving, they’re doing good.
I: Yeah, that’s the legacy.
I: That’s, that’s your legacy. You did accomplish a beautiful thing.
I: What do you know about the current Korea right now?
T: Not much. My wife has a nephew that was the Assistant to the Ambassador to Korea.
I: Hm? Who? Ambassador who?
T: I don’t remember who the Ambassador was, but my nephew is Oliver Gardsal,
I: Uh huh.
T: And after
he left Korea, he was made Ambassador to Nicaragua
I: Uh huh.
T: Yeah. He was in Peru and all around.
I: And what did he tell you about Korea?
T: That it was beautiful, for us to go visit him.
T: I never got the chance to go. I was still working at the time and couldn’t get away for
I: So you’ve never been back to Korea?
T: I never have been, no.
I: Korea is 11th largest economy in the world. Do you know that?
T: I didn’t know that.
I: It’s a
T: That’s great.
I: strong economy
T: That’s wonderful.
I: And you know that the Korean government has a Revisit Program?
T: Yes I’ve heard of it. Is it still going?
I: Yeah, yeah. You can go if you want to.
T: Well, I’d love to go, sure.
I: Okay. I will, I will let Korean government know, okay?
I: And from there you went down to Hungnam, right?
T: Hungnam, yeah.
I: And then go to Pusan and Masan?
T: Um hm. Masan. Yeah, I remember that.
T: Well, we had a rest period there.
T: Yeah. We rested
I: You know long time.
T: Yeah, not, not for a long time, but we
I: No, after, after Reservoir.
T: Yeah, after the Reservoir.
I: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
T: Yeah. I have a couple of pictures that were taken in a little town there close to Masan, Masan or Bean Patch, whatever they called it.
I: Yeah. Yeah.
T: That’s a
I: Wow. That’s you?
T: That’s me, 20 years old.
I: Beautiful man.
T: You’ll notice that the camera or something happened. My 45 is on the left side there, it should be on the right side. I’m right handed. The writing on my chest there should be on the other side.
In fact, the, if you turn it over, or right there I can see it perfect the way it should be. It, it was developed backwards.
I: I don’t get it.
T: See, the pocket there with the writing?
I: Yeah, yeah.
T: It should be on this side.
T: If you look against the light on the back
I: Uh huh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
T: You can see the 45 is on the right side.
I: That’s funny.
T: Yeah, it is. Of course, they had the, these real old cameras, you know, a small village, the ones that when you turn the flash on it explodes? Smoke comes out and, yeah.
I: So and then from there, where did you go, up to 38th Parallel?
I: Again. Any battle that you remember?
T: No, not really. Right there, my mind just kind of went blank, you know.
And then when did you leave Korea?
T: In March of 1951.
I: What were you thinking when you were leaving?
T: Well, I was thinking that well, I made it. I, I’m going home. Finally.
I: [LAUGHS] Thank God, finally, right?
T: Finally, yeah.
Just thinking of the cold and the, the misery that we were going through and thinking about going home and sleeping in a warm bed or, I didn’t know at the time that Truman was going to extend me for another year of service. So that wasn’t, it was a piece of cake you might say, being, being in the Marine Corp. for another extra year, it’s no problem. Yeah.
I: What was the most difficult thing during your service in Reservoir?
T: I’m sorry?
I: What was the most difficult thing?
T: At the Reservoir? Oh gosh. Trying to stay clean. Trying to go to the bathroom. [LAUGHS] I don’t know where this is going to, but yeah, it, it was, it was a test, you know. Everything would freeze. We had the, the old little cans like spaghetti or meatballs
and beans, pork and beans and whatever.
T: Well, we had no problem trying to open it because it would, you know, burst with the cold. So you get your bayonet and dig out whatever you can to eat, you know. Yeah, it’s, it was hard.
I: Did you see the North Korean refugee in the ship?
T: Yes. I was right there when they were loading them.
I: Tell me about the scene.
T: It was
so sad to me seeing all the little children and whatever trying to get aboard the ship, you know, and it was very, very hard to see something like that. I, I’ve met the, a Dr. Bailey
I: Um hm.
T: and his wife. I’m not quite sure, but I believe one of them was one of the refugees that came back with us. It, It might have been his wife, I’m not sure because he was like an interpreter for us
I: Um hm.
T: Not, for the, another company. We had our own, Mike Scholl, and we kept in touch. In fact, he came to one of our reunions here in San Diego.
We sent for him and his wife, and he came over to see us.
I: It’s never been waste. Your service because Korea is now very well developed, and we are the closest ally to the United States.
T: Um hm. Right.
I: That is the legacy. Are you proud of that?
T: Yes I am. Very proud of it. Yes.
T: It’s, it’s so difficult, you know, to describe what we, or what I went through and what my friends went through and to hear that Korea is doing so well makes me proud and happy. The happiest.
I: Yeah. That’s why you have, that’s why you have to go back and see what’s been changed.
T: I’d love to go back, yes.
I: I will make sure that I’ll let Korean government know. I cannot guarantee anything, but
T: Well, I understand, yes.
I: But since World War II, U.S. has involved in dozen war, you know, including Korean War, Vietnam, Whirlwind, Afghanistan, Iraq, or small war, limited war like Somalia and Kosovo and so on,
can you name any war that came with such concrete outcome like Korea?
T: No. I can probably say that, World War II? the Bataan [inaudible] Iwo Jima, Tarawa. Probably there’s more, the Philippines, but of course in Germany, the Normandy Beach and whatever
I: Yeah but that’s World War II.
T: World War II. But since then, since Korea, no.
T: That I know of, no.
T: Not as bad.
I: Our history textbook in the high school and middle school doesn’t really cover much about the Korean War.
T: Well, I believe where I’ve read there’s only half a page in the United States in the schools wo, you know
I: Why is that?
T: Forgotten War.
I: Why is it forgotten with that such concrete outcome?
T: Well we don’t have probably such a good propaganda machine you might say like [inaudible] or. I know the Army; they gave the Army a lot of credit for a lot of the fighting up there that we did. I’ve heard these and I’ve had friends that
went to visit Korea, and they see all these big signs up there, 7th Cavalry or 1st Cavalry or whatever. Welcome to Korea and that they fought there or whatever. Those are battles that we fought and then they came in, you know. So they do get a lot of credit, and we don’t.
I: That’s why we are doing this. We’re
going to use this material for the teachers so that they can teach about the Korean War and something beautiful thing came out of your service which is Republic of Korea.
I: Prospering economy and democracy.
I: And do you know of any history teachers around your region, Social Studies teachers?
T: No. I was thinking about my daughter.
I: What does she teach?
T: She’s administrative, she’s got a PhD in education.
But she’s not in history.
I: My foundation hosts annual conference for Social and History teachers or any teachers who are interested in learning more about the Korean War. We invited 90 teachers, 90 teachers from 25 states to Orlando, Florida this year. We going to invite much more, 200, to Mt. Rushmore next year in South Dakota,
And to educate our educators so that they can educate their own students.
I: Could you help me to spread this information to
T: I certainly will. Yes, of course.
I: That’s how we can keep your legacy permanently.
T: Sounds good. I will.
I: Tony, it was my great pleasure and honor to meet you here and to hear from you directly about your service, and I want to emphasize again your
suffering never been wasted. We Koreans never forget about it, and we continue to thank you, and that’s why we want to invite you back, that’s why my foundation wants to educate our teachers, to help us
T: That’s real good, yes.
T: I certainly will, yes.
I: Alright. Thank you, sir.
T: Thank you.
[End of Recorded Material]