Each of our veterans has his or her own unique story to tell about their experiences in the U.S. armed forces. We are pleased to share a few of them with you.
(Des Plaines, IL) Joe was born in Seoul, Korea, the son of a preacher. With Korea under Japanese rule, the Korean religious leaders thought Joe’s father was in danger from the Japanese government. In 1935, when Joe was a young boy, his father was sent to America. Finally, around 1939, it became evident that war between the United States and Japan was inevitable, and the leaders decided to reunite Joe’s family. In 1940, when Joe was ten years old, the family came to America to join his father.
After graduating from Lane Tech High School, Joe attended the University of Illinois to study engineering. Many of his high school friends had been drafted or joined the service. Joe felt guilty that so many of his friends were fighting and dying defending his native country. In March 1952, when Joe was a sophomore in college, he enlisted in the armed forces with the intent of going to Korea.
Normally, enlistment would be for three years, with only 12 months’ maximum in the war zone of Korea. Joe wasn’t interested in two additional years in the Marines outside Korea, so he found a provision in the law that allowed for “voluntary induction” for just two years. So Joe was “voluntarily drafted”, and that is how he became a Marine.
After going through three months of basic training and three months of combat training, Joe sailed for Korea on a troop transport ship. The trip took about three weeks, spanning three Sundays. Since he was a “preacher’s kid,” he volunteered to set up chairs and distribute hymnals for the services. Joe noticed that the first Sunday, just out of San Diego, the service was sparsely attended. The second Sunday’s service was about half full, but by the third Sunday, just before Inchon, it was so crowded they had to have a second service. “People say that religion doesn’t make a difference, but it sure does.”
After landing in Korea, Joe was asked by an officer if he would like to visit his grandmother in Seoul. The Marines had located her. Joe was put in a Jeep with a correspondent and photographer and headed to Seoul. Soon, he was posing for pictures with his grandmother, cousins, nephews, and nieces. “Before leaving for the DMZ a few days later, I borrowed $100 from a childhood friend and gave it to my grandmother. I later found out that this money provided for her family for three months.”
While visiting with his grandmother, he had stayed over one night in her home. “I was getting ready to sleep in my sleeping bag when my young nephew, about 10 years old, asked if he could sleep with me. We slept together in my sleeping bag. After I got back, the guys at the base opened up the sleeping bag -- and it was full of lice! Those were the conditions in which many Koreans lived. The guys stripped me naked, sprayed me with DDT, and burned my sleeping bag and clothes.”
Soon, they were loaded onto a truck and headed north. “The sergeant yelled “lock and load” and that was when I finally realized that I was in a war. I spent the next five months on the southern banks on the Imjin River, which was considered a combat zone. The Imjin River varies in width, and in some places, the river was narrow enough that the enemy mortars could reach us.”
In order to be eligible for combat pay, regulations required that you had endured twenty enemy mortar rounds in a given month. “As soon as we received the twenty mortar rounds, our captain would rotate his units so that another unit would be in place to become eligible for combat pay. The captain’s report, however, reflected that he was rotating his men because he did not want any one unit to be in harm’s way more than another.”
In May 1953 Joe was assigned to Munsan-Ni, to support the exchange of prisoners with North Korea. He was on the Prisoner Receiving Team, composed of both American and Korean Marines. Joe was the head interpreter at the prisoner receiving point.
The date of July 27 1953 had been set by the Armistice as when all military personnel, supplies and equipment was to be withdrawn from the line of demarcation, creating the DMZ. “But during that last week of war, both sides used their ammunition. Estimates were that as high as one third of the war’s casualties were sustained during that last week of the war. I was safe, but I saw the continuous heavy artillery battles being fought for several days.”
With the prisoner exchange completed, Joe went to ASCOM City (ASCOM Depot) to serve his last few months of deployment as an MP.
Joe would like to remember the valiant efforts of President Syngman Rhee who demanded the Armistice Agreement include: 1) a unified Korea, and 2) that only willing North Koreans be repatriated to North Korea. Joe believes the fact that these demands did not materialize shows that Mr. Rhee did not have enough power.
Joe currently resides in Des Plaines with his wife, and they have a son and a daughter. Joe is a member of the Republic of Korea Reunification Advisory Council and is very active in the VFW and the Des Plaines Zoning and Planning Board.
Welcome home, Joe! Thank you for your service. We hope you enjoy our well-deserved Honor Flight.