Korean War Legacy Project

William O’Kane


William “Bill” O’Kane was born in East Syracuse, New York.  He was employed by the New York Central Railroad in Syracuse before he enlisted.  His military service was from August 1951 to August 1954.  During his service, William O’Kane went to Sokcho-Ri, Korea and was stationed in Headquarters Company 2nd Battalion 11th Marines from March 1952 to March 1953.  He was assigned the job of telephone lineman and wireman.  He received a medal for Good Conduct and Meritorious Promotion to Corporal.  After returning to the United States, William O’Kane went to Camp Pendleton, North Carolina and then cruised the Mediterranean.  Following those events, he returned to New York Central Railroad, and then went to X-Ray school once he was discharged from military.

Video Clips

Arrival in Korea in 1952

William O'Kane arrived in Korean in 1952 at Sokcho-Ri. He was assigned his job as a wireman with Head Quarters Company 2nd Battalion 11th Marines. He remembers a lot about the conditions in Korea when he arrived and the conditions of the villages.

Tags: Gangneung,Civilians,Front lines,Impressions of Korea,Living conditions,Physical destruction,Pride,South Koreans,Weapons

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Interaction with Korean Marine Corps and Anzacs

William O'Kane worked with a seventeen year old Korean interpreter for his battery group. The Korean Marine Corps were tough and they worked on the left side of William O'Kane's regiment. He also fought along side with the Commonwealth Division of New Zealand (Anzacs/Australians) and had fun sharing stories about politics.

Tags: Gangneung,Civilians,Front lines,Living conditions,Pride,South Koreans,Weapons

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"The Forgotten War"

William O'Kane felt that the Korean War should not have been called "The Forgotten War." He really became upset when the war that he fought in was called a Korean police action or the Korean Conflict. Soldiers from around the world fought and died during the Korean War, so William O'Kane wished that more people remembered the war.

Tags: Impressions of Korea,Message to Students,Personal Loss,Pride,Prior knowledge of Korea

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Volunteering After WWII

William O'Kane volunteered for the Marine Corps because his brother was in the military along with many of his friends. While in bootcamp at Camp Pendleton, SC, he read about the war and followed it because many people he knew were involved in the war. He said that since he was so young when he enlisted, he felt that he was invincible.

Tags: Basic training,Civilians,Cold winters,Front lines,Home front,Impressions of Korea,Personal Loss,Pride

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Video Transcript

[Beginning of recorded material]

W:       Yeah.  My name is Bill O’Kane.  I’m 81 years old.

I:          Okay, Mr. O’Kane.  Um, so just getting started, let’s, I’d like to kind of get an idea of how you feel about participating in this project, what, what it means to you.

W:       Um, it, it makes me feel great that, uh, people think of us that, you know, that they call it the Forgotten War and, uh, I don’t, I don’t really think that was true, so

I:          Yeah.

W:       you know, yeah, yeah.


I:          So I guess originally they went in saying it was gonna be a, a, police

W:       action, yeah.  Well that was our President Truman’s version of it, yes.

I:          Right.

W:       And

I:          Clearly that was wrong.

W:       Yeah.  Yeah. And other people call it a conflict which, that’s another thing.

I:          Yeah.  Well at least it has the, the title Korean War now.

W:       Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I:          So, uh, last week we were in here and Norm, uh, brought to my attention that I guess it was in 2004 Bill Clinton acknowledge the


fact that it was a war

W:       Yeah.

I:          and it was maybe one of the first time it had such a high profile person mention that.

W:       Um hm.

I:          Do you remember that [INAUDIBLE]

W:       No I, no I don’t because I, be, I was upset many times before that

I:          Yeah.

W:       hearing it was a conflict, but that’s unimportant, yeah.

I:          Yeah.

W:       Yeah.

I:          So what does, what does that mean to you, that [INAUDIBLE]?

W:       Um

I:          I guess the Forgotten War, you know,

W:       Yeah, yeah.  It, um, it still, it just bothers me when people call it


the, the main thing as a conflict, and it’s a, you know, negative, you know.  But it, like water off a duck’s back

I:          Um hm.

W:       doesn’t bother me much, yeah, yeah.

I:          I guess over the years you

W:       Yeah [LAUGHS]

I:          get used to it.

W:       Yeah.

I:          But yeah.  I mean you guys are over there fighting and

W:       Yes.

I:          you know, you’ve seen people be killed and you’ve seen the violence and the destruction that happened, and it

W:       Yes.

I:          must be a little frustrating.

W:       Yeah.

I:          Okay.  So, um, let’s start out before the actual war.


Um, you know, what, what were you doing before the war?  What, you know, did you, were you working?

W:       Well, I, I’ll go back.  It was 1945, just before the end of World War II

I:          Um hm.

W:       I got a job on the New York Central Railroad.  At that time, I was a messenger and a call boy which is the term they don’t use today.  But, uh, I worked nights on the railroad 11 – 7 and went to high school


days, and, and then I stayed with the railroad until 1951 when I went, enlisted in the Marine Corps..

I:          And why did you choose to enlist?

W:       Well, all my friends were gone and going there and, and I hesitated eight months or so after the war started so I figured I better do it.  I was 21 when I went in.

I:          So it was a peer pressure thing.

W:       Yeah, sort of, sort of.  I can’t be the last one, I can’t stay home and face them guys when they come back, you know?


I:          Uh huh.

W:       Yeah.

I:          So were most of your friends enlisting in the Marine Corps. as well or

W:       Most of my friends were Marines, yes.  And, uh, and other, others were drafted in the Army and stuff.  That’s, my brother was in the Navy, you know, stuff like that.  But

I:          Okay.  And you said that you enlisted after the war had started.

W:       started, yes, um hm.  It  been, I, I enlisted in August of 1951, and the war had been on for almost a year, you know.

I:          Okay.  So


so what did you think, you know, I guess, what did you know about the war before you enlisted, and how did, how did that I guess

W:       Well

I:          enter your, your thought of

W:       Followed it quite closely because of all my friends and, uh, several of them were in the Chosin Reservoir Campaign, and three of them were wounded and, uh,

I:          This was before you even enlisted?

W:       Before I enlisted, yes.  Um hm.  Yeah.

I:          Okay.  So, you know, it must have been kind of scary to know about all the stuff was going around.

W:       Um, at 21 I was too dumb


to be scared. [LAUGHS]

I:          Yeah.

W:       You don’t have that, you know, that, uh, this ain’t gonna happen to me. [LAUGHS]

I:          Right.

W:       Yeah.

I:          So you, so you did your training, or you enlisted, you did your basic training.

W:       Yes.  I, I went to boot camp at Paris Island, South Carolina.

I:          Um hm.

W:       And then went to Camp Pendleton, California for infantry training and then from there went to Korea, yeah.

I:          So what was it, how were you feeling when you actually shipped out, you know?


Were you excited to start fighting?  Were you kind of scared to

W:       Um, just, just wondering where I, what kind of an outfit I was gonna end up with and, uh, you know. You, somehow at that age you manage to keep the bad part out of your mind, you know.

I:          Right.

W:       There’s nothing, you know, that’s hard, hard to describe.  But, uh,

I:          I guess you, you have a support group with the rest of the

W:       Yes, right.

I:          soldiers that you were with.

W:       Yes, yeah.

I:          So.

W:       The, the ones, it depended what your,


they call, military calls your MOS, your military occupational specialty.  If you were like 0300, you automatically knew you were gonna be an infantry man.

I:          Um hm.

W:       And mine was 2500 which was communications.  Could mean, could have meant anything.  I had no idea what I was gonna do when I got there, you know.  So, but, uh,

I:          So I know a lot of, um, ships stopped in Japan on the way to Korea.


W:       Yes.

I:          And you guys did the same?

W:       Yes, we did.  That’s all you’re gonna get out [LAUGHS]

I:          Okay.  So I guess you didn’t stay there long you, you

W:       We spent, we spent 24 hours in Japan, just long enough for liberty

I:          Um hm.

W:       you know and, uh,

I:          Um hm.  So how was landing on the shores of Korea?

W:       Um.

I:          Can you describe that, how you were feeling then or

W:       Yeah.  We, we had went to the east coast of Korea and landed at a place called Sokchuri.


It was, um, we, we climbed off of our ship then got onto a, an LST which is a smaller ship with, uh, uh, I’m sorry, an LSU.  It was manned by Japanese, and they took us ashore.  And then, then we got onto trucks and was taken to the First Marine Division Headquarters.

I:          Um hm.  Was that where you were stationed throughout or?

W:       No, that’s where we got, when we got there, then they assigned us to all the units that we


were gonna go out to, you know.

I:          So you still didn’t really know

W:       No,

I:          where you were

W:       I had

I:          going when you

W:       I had no idea until I got to the final unit what I was gonna be doing, you know?

I:          So what’s that like?  You know, you land and

W:       Well,

I:          then you’re kind of wondering

W:       Yeah.  I got there, I got to the 11thMarines which is an artillery regiment, and they said you’re gonna go to the 2ndBattalion 11thMarines alright. So I got there, what am I gonna be? You’re gonna be a wireman. Okay.  What’s a wireman? [LAUGHS]

I:          Um.


W:       So I found out it’s a telephone li, telephone lineman and, uh, I had no idea, no training, and so everything I got was kind of on the job as I went along and, uh, which worked out well.

I:          That’s a dangerous job because

W:       Yes, it was.

I:          Snipers are,is looking out for you and everything.

W:       Yes, yeah.  It was, uh, and it, it turned out very interesting and

I:          How

W:       Yeah. The reason, the reason I got that because at first very short while on the railroad


I operated a teletype which was, uh, you know, kind of an electronic typewriter that sent messages over wire and, uh, that, I think, is what got me into communications and from there to being a wireman, yeah.

I:          Yeah.  Well I guess that’s communications, right?

W:       Yes.  [LAUGHS]

I:          So, uh, what were your impressions of Korea? I guess, how much did you have


between landing in Korea and actually moving to your station?

W:       Um, about 24 hours.

I:          Ah, so [INAUDIBLE]

W:       Yeah, yeah.

I:          So did you get a chance to observe Korea at all, you know, the landscape or

W:       Yes, I did, and it was quite, where we landed, it was going up to the, to the join the 11thMarines, it was quite, everything was quite devastated, uh. The, the houses were all gone, and things, there was no, no civilians around or anything like that.  It was a, you know


I:          What was that like?  Devastated because of war obviously.

W:       The war, yes, gone, that had gone through, probably gone through the area two or three times, you know, before it was finally stabilized, you know.

I:          Yeah. So most of the local civilians fled the area?

W:       They, they moved, they moved the civilians out of the combat zones and move them behind, you know, maybe 20 miles behind the lines and stuff like that.

I:          So what was it like to actually see the destruction first hand at first?

W:       Yeah.

I:          I assume after a while you maybe got a little into it, but


W:       Yeah.  It was, it was disturbing to see what that must have been like, you know,

I:          Uh huh.

W:       for a, yeah.  But, uh,

I:          Okay.  So, um, I guess, so while you were there, how long were you stationed at your post?

W:       We, I, I went, I ended up in headquarters 2ndBattalion 11thMarines and, uh, it,


about three days after I was there, they told me I was gonna go on mess duty which is, um, working in the kitchen cleaning pots and pans.  Only it wasn’t really a kitchen.  It was only a tent

I:          Um hm.

W:       and you cleaned the pots and pans outside

I:          Yeah.

W:       over a barrel that was heated with a gas fire [LAUGHS] you know.

I:          So how was that?  I mean

W:       They’d only la, I said, you know, I’d come all this way to, to do mess duty, right?   But

I:          Yeah.

W:       as it turned out,


being, being older than the average guy, you know, four years, three years older, um, they needed somebody to drive a, a jeep, well, troubleshooting wire team jeep, and I had driven a jeep when I was on the railroad, so that lucked out and got me that job, and I got off of mess duty and, uh, started learning my trade.

I:          So seniority helped you out I guess.

W:       Yes, yeah.  At, in fact all the way through the Marine Corps., being, being four years


older than the average guy, uh, makes a difference.

I;          Did people look up to you because of your age?

W:       N, other than calling you a father [LAUGHS]

I:          [LAUGHS]

W:       and things like that, no.

I:          Messing around with you?  So, you know, looking back on it then and, and now, are you, do you consider yourself fortunate that you weren’t necessarily fighting on the front lines?

W:       Yes.  Very, very fortunate, yes, yeah.


I:          Probably, I mean it’s like two different worlds.

W:       Yeah, cause, cause that’s where most of my friends that I went over with ended up, you know, and neither infantry men or machine gunners and things like that, you know.  So

I:          Did you feel like you were, you know, this kind, obviously you trained with these men.  They’re your good buddies

W:       Yeah.

I:          You might want to be there for them, fighting with them.

W:       No. [LAUGHS]

I:          No.

W:       I can see what they’re going through. [LAUGHS]

I:          [LAUGHS]


W:       Yes, I consider myself fortunate

I:          Yeah.

W:       and, you know, yeah.

I:          Okay.

W:       But somebody has to do it, you know. [LAUGHS]

I:          That’s right, that’s right.  Um, so did you get a chance to interact with Korean soldiers or the Korean Service Corps. or anything like that?

W:       We, we did, the Korean Service Corps., and when, eventually we moved completely across Korea to the west coast of Korea.  We, the division next to us was the Korean Marine Corps.,

I:          Um hm.


and they were, they were excellent.  They were really tough and a, and a, we were proud of them, you know?

I:          Did your unit fight alongside of them?

W:       Yes.

I:          And how did that work?

W:       Yes.  They were, they tied in with us on our left side of us, yeah, yeah.

I:          And you had pretty good communication going [INAUDIBLE]

W:       Yes, yeah.  We used to go back and forth with them.  We had, uh, in, in, when I originally got to Korea and for the first couple months we had a,


um, a Korean lad who lived in the tent with us who was, he was, he was the interpreter for the battery.

I:          Oh, yes.

W:       And, um, I, unfortunately, cannot remember his first name.  His last name was Kim, but, you know, so was, so was just about everybody else

I:          Um hm.

W:       had that last name.  So I, you know, had no idea what his first name was.

I:          So what was that like, you know, exchanging [INAUDIBLE]

W:       Very interesting, you know.   And, uh, he, he was probably 17 or 18 years old

I:          Yeah.

W:       but he spoke very good English.

I:          Yeah.


W:       and the, you know. So

I:          Did you, did he get a chance to kind of explain about Korean culture at all or was it just

W:       No, we didn’t, we didn’t go through

I:          Just military talk?

W:       much with him, yeah, yeah, yeah.

I:          And did you interact with the Korean Service Corps. at all?  I know a lot of soldiers

W:       We did, yeah, we did.  We had, um, on occasions we, we would be with them when they were going off to supply the lines and things like that, you know, for…We did, we didn’t actually have them in our battery, but



I:          Yeah.

W:       yeah.

IL        I guess when the, the Koreans and the Americans were together, there’s a communication

W:       Oh.

I:          barrier anyway.

W:       Well, but, he, he managed to get along quite well, you know, with, with, uh, hands and arm signals and get through to each other somehow, you know.

I:          Plus you’re on the same side, right?

W:       Yeah, yeah.

I:          You got that going for you.

W:       Yeah.

I:          Um, and how about any other foreign


troops from other countries?

W:       We were, we were tied in on our right flank with the Commonwealth Division which is, I, I managed to get over there.  The, the, the Communications Officer that I worked for was a Second Lieutenant who was married to a lady from New Zealand .  So he asked me, we would, or told me we would drive over to the, to the ANZACs is what they called them; Australia, New Zealand. So I man, had, managed to get over there


for a day, um, while he visited with his brother-in-law who was in that, that outfit, and that was another interesting story.  Uh, President Eisenhower was, was running for election at that time, against, you know, and the Armed Forces radio, half of the things that were on it were about the election.

I:          Oh yeah.

W:       And, uh, I was sitting drinking beer with these


New Zealanders, and that, they were complaining that the only thing on the radio was politics. So I, being Irish and not having too many brains said how many times did you vote for the Queen, you know,

I:          Yeah.

W:       and, uh, there was about a 10-minute silence and

I:          [LAUGHS]

W:       [LAUGHS]

I:          You’re like whoops

W:       When I told the Commo on the way back what happened, he said you know, you’re lucky you’re alive [LAUGHS] and he got up


But that was one of my favorite stories.  But, uh, yeah.

I:          At least you were doing it over a beer so

W:       Yeah, yeah.  I mean they were great.  We had a great time at the…I went through the, through the chow line with them, and they had the little mess kits that we had, and they piled everything on, mashed potatoes, all this and on top of it was a big scoop of ice cream.[LAUGHS]

I:          Really?

W:       So you’d, you had to eat like the devil before your ice cream melted


into all the, the thing.  But that was, it was different, and, and it was fun, yeah.

I:          I guess when you’re in that situation you try to pile up [INAUDIBLE]

W:       Oh you do, yeah.  I, I mean that, that was great.  I’d never thought [LAUGHS], you know.

I:          Well that’s a cultural exchange right there

W:       Yeah.

I:          You could

W:       Yeah.

I:         have brought it back

W:       Yeah.

I:          to your unit?  Um, so throughout your, your time there, I’d like to maybe hear about the most challenging or, or difficult experience you might have had while you were over there.

W:       Um, oh,


the few, the few times, it wasn’t, it wasn’t very many times, but the few times that happened to be where, you know, we were getting, we were getting shelled and things like that, the, the, the, that would, uh, get quite nervous

I:          Um hm.

W:       and stuff like that.  But, you know, and a couple of my friends were killed and that, you know, that bothered me a lot.

I:          Yeah.

W:       But, uh, yeah.

I:          What was that experience like, you know?

W:       Um, really, you know, I think how can that be, you know.


A guy’s 19 years old, and he’s not here anymore, and, yeah,

I:          [INAUDIBLE]

W:       Yeah. Yeah.  Really and, uh,

I:          Maybe we could take out that picture of you

W:       Yes.

I:          of your, uh,

W:       There was the, the three of us, um, at the time I wrote on the back The Thing and Two Friends.

I:          The Thing, what’s the thing?

W:       They had a, they had a song at that time about the thing was some kind of a monster. [LAUGHS]

I:          Uh huh.

W:       But, uh,

I:          Maybe you could show it to the camera really quickly.

W:       Yes. Can you see that?

V:        Um hm.

W:       Um hm.


W:       And this,

I:          And

W:       this was Luke Caldwell.  He was from Alabama, and he was killed on the Hook which is one of the battles we had, and he was awarded the Navy cross after that which is the second highest decoration the United States have

I:          Um hm.

W:       And this guy’s name was Bon Kamp, and he was wounded, I don’t remember where he was from, but he was in, he was a great guy. We were close friends.

I:          Um hm.

W:       Yeah.  And, uh,


I:          And that guy in the middle?

W:       That guy in the middle was [LAUGHS]

I:          The big guy?

W:       Yeah.  That, the ugly one.  That I thought you’d recognize me just looking at the two of us, you know. [LAUGHS]

I:          [LAUGHS]

W:       Yeah.

I:          Well, we appreciate you bringing that picture in.

W:       Yeah.  And this was, uh, a Polaroid picture.  The Polaroid camera had just come out at that time, and the guy was selling pictures for $1 a piece which was like, it would be about $100 equivalent in today’s, today’s money.

I:          Yeah, that’s, that’s good money.


So what kind of, I mean, when you look at that picture, does it bring back any specific memories or

W:       It does.  I mean, yeah.  It does. It, uh, I miss this guy so much. I mean, I, I’ve been always considering going to, to Alabama, he lived in Wadley, Alabama to see if I could find

I:          Um hm.

W:       anybody it was left to, but I, I never did, and I felt bad about that, you know, that I didn’t, uh, yeah.


I:          And, let’s, let’s cheer up the mood a little bit. What about the most, you know rewarding or the happiest experience during the war?

W:       Um, was, when we got our beer ration. [LAUGHS]

I:          [LAUGHS] I’m sure.

W:       Which, uh, which was once a month. And, uh, you’re supposed to, you were supposed to get like one can of beer a day, but you ended up being able to get it in a case lot which, you know, uh, trouble is it was warm, warm beer


I:          I guess that’s better than no beer though, right?

W:       Yes, but we used to, we used to put, we, we had a, a five gallon can of gasoline set in the ground, and for some reason that would stay slightly cooler, so we would keep our beer in there.

I:          Um hm.

W:       [LAUGHS]  It would probably be about two degrees cooler.

I:          Yeah.  That’s enough though, right?

W:       And taste like gasoline. [LAUGHS]

I:          [LAUGHS]

W:       Yeah.

I:          So when, when did you rotate home?


W:       I rotated, I, I got there in March of, first of, uh, ’52, and I rotated home, uh, approximately, just about the end of February of, of 1953.

I:          Um hm.

W:       And, uh, arrived at San Francisco I think around the 14thof, uh, March.  It was usually a 21-day trip back and forth by ship, by troop ship, you know.

I:          What was that ship home like?

W:       Uh, that was good.  We got to stop in Japan for another,


another day and got issued our, our C bags that we had stored the year before and got our, you know, our uniforms back and got ready and then, then really looking forward to get to San Francisco, you know, for a, yeah.

I:          Maybe you could show us the, uh, countdown, the calendar that you have?

W:       Oh yes.  This is, this is my calendar that I started, I started some time in November think, you know, well, it’s almost time


to go home, so each day I would scratch off and, uh, I, one point in time I forgot, and I, so I scratched off three weeks [LAUGHS] and then, then, uh, kept it up till we got home, till we got ready to go.

I:          That’s incredible that you still have that.  I mean, that must be, that’s probably the happiest time of the war

W:       Yes, yes.

I:          too, you know the last day that you crossed out.

W:       [LAUGHS] right.  And saying goodbye to all your friends and, uh, yeah.


Cause you, they didn’t rotate out by outfit.  You went out in, individually, you know.  Yeah.

I:          By [INAUDIBLE]you get or

W:       Huh?

I:          Was it by the points that you get while you were a serviceman?

W:       No, you, you replaced, you did a years’ service and you, you’re, like I was the 18thdraft going over, 18thReplacement draft and then there’d be the, the, the draft that came in was probably the 30ththat relieved, relieved the members of the 18thdraft, then we went back, you know, for.


I:          So you arrived in San Francisco

W:       Yes.

I:          In 1953

W:       We, yeah.  Spent a week at Treasure Island they call it.  It’s a, was originally, uh, before World War II, it was, um, a World’s Fair site

I:          Um hm.

W:       and then the Navy took it over for World War II, and that, and I don’t know if it’s still operating or not.  But, uh, it was right on, right about the middle of the Oakland Bay Bridge

I:          Um hm.


W:       and you, you went to the right you went to Oakland. If you went to the left, you went to San Francisco

I:          Um hm.

W:       on the bridge

I:          Hope it wasn’t Alcatraz.

W:       Uh, yeah.

I:          Hope it wasn’t Alcatraz.

W:       No, Alcatraz is very near.  You could see Alcatraz

I:          Um h

I:          Uh huh.

W:       Treasure Island, yeah, yeah.

I:          So what, what did you after you were, you, I assume you were discharged when you?

W:       No, I come back.  I, I, uh, still had 18 months to do, so I went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina


I:          Um hm.

W:       and ended up in another artillery battery, and then I went to the Mediterranean for six months.

I:          Oh.

W:       which was unbelievable.  I mean, to get, I got, I managed to get very interested in ancient history and things after that, you know, cause we toured, we toured from, uh, Algeria all the way around the Mediterranean to Spain, and we would stop just about every week, uh,


we would stop in a port for a week

I:          Wow.

W:       then I’d get to go, you know.  So

I:          So this

W:       It was like a civilian

I:          sharp contrast to

W:       it was just like a civilian crews, I mean.

I:          Yeah.

W:       It was, you know, really, but it, it was on a troop ship which, which meant you had

I:          all men

W:       you’d have, you had 200 men in one room sleeping six bunks high, you know,

I:          Uh huh.

W:       Side by side

I:          Uh huh.

W:       Then, uh, living out of a C bag.  Other than that was, was just like being in a civilian crew this was, yeah.

I:          Yeah.  Well maybe it was a reward for


the soldiers

W:       I, I’ve always thought that was my payback, yeah.  But we got to go to, to so many sites, um, you know, Crete and, and Athens and, Istanbul, Turkey and five ports in Italy and from them ports we get to go, went to Rome and Florence, Venice, you know.  I got to see all the things that, uh, that just made a big impression on me and got me interested in a lot of things, you know.

I:          Yeah, so.  I, I’ve talked to a lot of veterans


and they say one of the reasons why they enlisted in the military in the first place was to get a chance to see the world.

W:       See, right, yeah.

I:          So

W:       I, I managed it, yeah, did, did very well. Actually, we went from, we, we went to, uh, Istanbul, Turkey.  In Turkey, half of Turkey is in Europe

I:          That’s right.

W:       And the other part is in Asia.  So we took a ferry over across so we could go to Asia just to say that we’ve been to both ends

I:          Yeah.

W:       both ends of Asia, you know, over, yeah.

I:          Great.  It’s a different world, huh?


W:       Yeah, yeah.  And, um, so I went to x-ray school up in Saranac Lake, NY and, where I  met my wife.

I:          Okay.

W:       And for 30 years I’ve worked in, in radiology in Syracuse and, uh, retired as, uh, department administrator at Krause X-ray and, um.

I:          Great.

W:       Yeah.

I:          So I guess throughout, you know, those years after you were back, I’m wondering how the, your service in the Korean War


impacted your life at all.

W:       Well, it, it’s always there in the back of your mind, you know.  It’s one of the things in your life, one of those highlights or a lowlight or low life, you know, with the.  But it’s, it’s always there, you know, it, uh

I:          So did, did the military influence your life at all?

W:       It did.

I:          How did it change your life?

W:       It got, I say it, it got me more interested in education,


furthering my education and, and trying to do something better and, uh, it, it changed my life, yes, um hm.

I:          So why did it get you interested in education?

W:       Um, just, just touring, touring the countries and seeing, you know, seeing what people had, had managed to do with themselves and uh, you know, am I gonna be a clerk on the railroad forever which, you know, wasn’t really that bad, but, you know, thought I should do something.  So…


I:          So I guess when you got a chance to see the rest of the world, that

W:       Yes, yeah.

I:          kind of changes your perspective.

W:       It did, um hm, yeah.

I:          That’s great.  And did your service, do you think, you know, did that affect, you know, the family, your, your relationships in the future?

W:       It did, um, my son, uh, managed to go the Naval Academy and spend 28 years in the Navy and retired as a Captain which I’m very proud of him for that and, uh,


I:          Great.

W:       I think he may have done some of that because of, because of my service.  I don’t know, you know.  I never, I never preached it to him, but, uh,

I:          Well, I mean I think that speaks for itself. You never preached it, but

W:       Yeah.

I:          the fact that he entered the military must have had a really

W:       Yes, yeah

I:          big impact, you know.

W:       Yeah, and he did, he did very well in the Navy. He was even up for. for Admiral, but he still decided to retire,

I:          Um hm.

W:       you know, so the, yeah.

I:          Did you get a chance to share your stories with your family?


W:       Um, not really.  Some, not something that I talked about, maybe a few good times or if I met one of my friends or something, we would talk about it, but I didn’t, uh,

I:          And is that a conscious decision that he made because maybe you didn’t wanna

W:       No.

I:          bring back the memories or just

W:       No, it just, it just never occurred to me to do that, you know.  I had my pictures.  The kids all looked at the pictures and stuff like that and they never asked that many questions, and I, I never pushed it, you know, for them.


I:          And, have you been back to Korea since?

W:       No I haven’t.  I, I really thought about it a lot cause the Korean War veterans have a, a program to give, and the Korea does.  But I just, I don’t know.  I never, the flight seemed a little long,

I:          Yeah.

W:       you know.  But, uh,

I:          So, um, I’m wondering if you could possibly speak to what you know about Korea nowadays,

W:       Yeah.

I:          maybe the development and, or the economy

W:       Yeah.

I:          or the political situation.


W:       What, I, I’m so proud of, of what I, I participated in to help Korea get from where they were then to what they are today.  I think that’s just amazing what they’ve done with the country and how many, how many of them were killed and, and, and one of my very fond memories is I never saw a single motor car, a civilian motor car in, in Korea.  Now today,


they’re one of the top manufacturers and things like that.  I think it’s just fantastic what they’ve done.

I:          So do you feel a connection to that?

W:       Yes, I did.  I, I, I’ve always felt at least that’s one thing the United States have done that worked out well.  They may call it the Forgotten War, but I’m sure that the people who in, that live in, lived in Korea at the time never forgot it, you know, because, because they’ve done so well with it and, you know, for a


I:          That’s the impression I get.

W:       Yes, yeah.

I:          And how about maybe do you, um, have you thought about the political situation or the United States relations with Korea nowadays?

W:       I, I think it’s fantastic that they’ve maintained, and that they, they stationed troops there to help them just in case something and, which I’m sure the, I, I refer to him as a maniac that runs North Korea that


I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they’ve done something, something dumb, you know.  But uh

I:          So

W:       Yeah.

I:          if you were a 21 year-old again and something happened, what would you do?

W:       [LAUGHS]  I, I would, I would miss my service.  I, I would do it.  I would go, yeah.

I:          Really?

W:       I, I volunteer at the airport military courtesy room at Hancock Field

I:          Yeah.

W:       and we spend all our time with the troops coming back and forth, and these kids today are just fantastic.


I:          Um hm.

W:       I’m, you know, the, and many of them have been to Korea that I’ve talked to, quite, quite a large number of them have, you know.

I:          You’re talking about the younger soldiers now?

W:       Yes, yeah, um hm.

I:          So okay.  I guess, you know, referring to these soldiers, is there maybe a message that you could give to, to soldiers, you know, or something that maybe you could say to them, offer them some advice?

W:       No.  I just, I wouldn’t offer them advice because I think they’re,


they’re excellent. They’re very professional and young gentlemen that, you know, we were, we were kind of swaggering and braggarts and devil raisers.  But these lads are just, they’re just very normal people.  They, they’re fantastic, yeah, yeah.

I:          And how about to, maybe something that you could say to people that will be researching you or the Korean War once this whole project is finished with,


maybe it’s something that you could say to them about the Korean War, your experience?

W:       Yeah, it’s, all I can say it’s something I’ve never regretted doing and, um, so happy the way it’s turned out.  I wish it had turned out better where the war would be finally over, you know.

I:          Yeah.

W:       But, uh, that’s, that’s about all I can say about that.

I:          Do you think the war will ever officially be over?

W:       I think so, yeah, that somehow the politicians will manage to


arrange something, you know.  But, yeah.

I:          Um hm.

W:       Yeah.

I:          And, and what can you say about the legacy of the Korean War veterans in general?

W:       No, um, I don’t know.  That’s, that’s a difficult question for me to answer.  I don’t, I don’t know if I could.  I haven’t given it that much thought, you know or, yeah.

I:          [INAUDIBLE]

W:       Yeah.

I:          Um, so maybe, I guess to finish up we could go through some of the, the pictures and the map that you brought to the

W:       Yeah.


I:          get an idea of your experience then?

W:       Yeah.  This, this, um, picture here are, is, um, the communications platoon in, in our tent. We, we had about 12 men to a tent

I:          Um hm.

W:       and this, this was our Christmas party

I:          That’s great.

W:       And you’ll notice I have a can of beer in my hand

I:          Yeah, well you gotta celebrate on Christmas.

W:       Yes.  [LAUGHS] Someone, someone managed to find a tree to pass for a Christmas tree and


I:          Yeah.

W:       and

I:          Well you look kind of, you don’t look happy.

W:       Yeah.  We were very happy and, uh, they, they were quite a different bunch of guys.  There, some were married.  Very few people at that time were married in the service.  The guys that were, some of the guys that were drafted were married and, uh, but, uh, this guy played football for Arkansas Razorbacks

I:          Oh, yeah.

W:       and, uh, this guy told me he managed to marry the daughter of the Gallo, the Gallo Wine company.


I:          Fortunate for him.

W:       Which [LAUGHS] yes.  And this guy was just plain ugly. [LAUGHS].  Yeah, yeah.

I:          You know, there’s something I’ve always wondered. I guess, I don’t know if it’s a, it’s something that actually occurs, but I’ve heard that on, on Christmas, you know, there’s no one fighting.  People, you know, from both sides might even come together and celebrate it.

W:       Yeah, it, it didn’t happen there.  In fact, uh, on some holidays,


and I, I don’t remember about Christmas.  I remember New Years and stuff they’d fire, on our side we fired double the amount of artillery that they’re using fire just to kind of celebrate, you know.

I:          Uh huh.

W:       Yeah.

I:          Uh huh.

W:       But, uh, there was, there was no truce or anything like that, you know.  But, uh, and I’m, I’m, I’m sure there were guys that were killed that day.

I:          Yeah.  Of course.

W:       One, uh, side thing.  This one


George Company, um, 3rdBattalion First Marine Regiment, um, on the last day of the war, they had 25 killed in action.  And

I:          This was when people knew that the war was gonna end, too.

W:       The day that it ended, yes.  The Chinese made a, um, tried to push to, to gain more territory just at the end, at the Armistice.  But can you imagine being in that company and have 25 of your friends,


that, that’s for the week that there were 35 killed for the week, but 25 were killed that last day

I:          That’s probably hard.

W:       It’s just hard to, to, you know, I wasn’t there but, uh, it’s just one of the things that, uh, stuck with me.  What a terrible thing to have happen, you know

I:          For the last day.

W:       Yeah.

I:          when it’s all over.

W:       Yeah, yeah, yeah.  And, uh, this is a military scrip that we got paid with in, uh,


I bel, they, they used this during World War II in certain places, too, rather than using American money.  This fancy looking thing was worth five cents.

I:          You should try to go to a store nowadays

W:       And see what

I:          see if you can pay with it.

W:       Yes.  [LAUGHS], really.

I:          See what happens.

W:       Yeah, yeah, yeah.  United States Military Payment Certificate, but they called it script, you know, for, yeah.

I:          So how much, so you got paid while you were over there?

W:       Well, you could, you could draw, you could draw money,


I think up to $25 a month, and the rest of it they saved, and you got it all when you got back to the States.  So, I, I don’t think I spent $10 a month if I did even that when I was there.  No sir.

I:          Yeah.

W:       I had the wonderful sum of about $900 when I got back after a year.

I:          Yeah.

W:       [LAUGHS]

I:          [INAUDIBLE]

W:       Yeah, yeah.

I:          Not, necessarily enough to get your life started with.

W:       No.

I:          Yeah.  How, how, how about this map?


Oh, this map, there’s a, pardon me, an FO, forward observer, artillery forward observer’s map of a small section of, of the 1stMarine Division front, and the front lines were down approximately about this area here, and these were outposts that were manned by the Marines.  At that time, um, we were, it was like trench warfare, just like World War I.


I:          Yeah.

W:       But they called it the Outpost War because these would be maybe two platoons or a company would be out on these outposts out in here, and this, this was all Chinese territory.  They had much higher mountains back here than we did.  You can see the topography that was all.  But this was the natural pathway to Seoul, the military

I:          China was trying to

W:       Yeah.

I:          get up through here and

W:       Yes.  The reason they moved us


here was to, to block that, uh,

I:          Uh huh.

W:       that natural thing right down into Seoul for.

I:          Well you guys did your job.

W:       Yeah, yeah.  And, uh, Panmunjom, the Peace Talks were over here, and the strangest thing about that was it was all in between the lines, and they had big aerial balloons there.  You couldn’t fire in that direction.  It was like plan, fighting a war


under football game rules, you know.

I:          Hm.

W:       You couldn’t fire in this direction.  They could fire from there, but you couldn’t fire back

I:          Really?

W:       and, uh, it’s visa versa.  We had some places where we could shoot and they couldn’t shoot back.  Then, uh, it was very strange at that time, yeah.

I:          Well good thing you weren’t caught with this thing on you.

W:       Oh, I know.  It, well, this lieutenant asked me to hang onto it and, uh, I still got it. He hasn’t come back for it yet so… [LAUGHS]

I:          I wonder if he’s still wondering about it.

W:       And uh, I never realized I had it


if, uh, you know, they found it in my back yard, I would probably still be somewhere looking through bars. [LAUGHS]

I:          [INAUDIBLE]

W:       Yeah, yeah.

I:          Well, I think that about sums it up.

W:       Well, thank you very much.

I:          Uh, thank you for coming and sitting down with us.

W:       Thank you, sir.

I:          It was great to hear about your experiences.

[End of Recorded Material]



Bill O'KANE holding his gun

Bill O'KANE holding his gun

Dead bodies of enemy

Dead bodies of enemy

Body of a Chinese soldier

Body of a Chinese soldier

Artillery canon

Artillery canon

Korean service corps carrying barrels with a Korean A-frame on their back

Korean service corps carrying barrels with a Korean A-frame on their back

SEOUL - downtown

SEOUL - downtown

A Korean man carrying a Korean A-frame

A Korean man carrying a Korean A-frame

A Korean old man wearing traditional outfits and an US soldier

A Korean old man wearing traditional outfits and an US soldier

Imjin river, broken bridge

Imjin river, broken bridge

A distant view of mountain with smoke going up

A distant view of mountain with smoke going up

Propaganda banner

Propaganda banner

Three of topless soldiers

Three of topless soldiers

Bill O'Kane and his friends at Christmas

Bill O'Kane and his friends at Christmas

Bill O'Kane wearing fur coat in middle of snow

Bill O'Kane wearing fur coat in middle of snow

Korean money: one thousand won

Korean money: one thousand won

Korean money: one thousand won

Korean money: one thousand won

Certificate of Service for William Joseph O'Kane to serve on active duty in the USMC from 29 August 1951 to 28 August 1953

Certificate of Service for William Joseph O'Kane to serve on active duty in the USMC from 29 August 1951 to 28 August 1953

Certificate of Service for William Joseph O'Kane to serve on active duty in the USMC from 29 August 1951 to 28 August 1953

Certificate of Service for William Joseph O'Kane to serve on active duty in the USMC from 29 August 1951 to 28 August 1953

Military payment certificate: five cents

Military payment certificate: five cents

Military payment certificate: five cents

Military payment certificate: five cents

Bill O'Kane marked his days left before discharge on this calendar

Bill O'Kane marked his days left before discharge on this calendar

A distributed card with tips for preventing injury on it

A distributed card with tips for preventing injury on it

Handkerchief with a map of Korean peninsula is painted on it, Mr. Bill O'Kane bought it from a Korean woman during Korea War

Handkerchief with a map of Korean peninsula is painted on it, Mr. Bill O'Kane bought it from a Korean woman during Korea War

An article from the Leather Neck Magazine in December of 1952. Page 1 of 4

An article from the Leather Neck Magazine in December of 1952. Page 1 of 4

An article from the Leather Neck Magazine in December of 1952. Page 2 of 4

An article from the Leather Neck Magazine in December of 1952. Page 2 of 4

An article from the Leather Neck Magazine in December of 1952. Page 3 of 4

An article from the Leather Neck Magazine in December of 1952. Page 3 of 4

An article from the Leather Neck Magazine in December of 1952. Page 4 of 4

An article from the Leather Neck Magazine in December of 1952. Page 4 of 4

Marines being lowered down to sea in a water vehicle.

Marines being lowered down to sea in a water vehicle.